The word “mindful” has become a big buzzword lately. There are plenty of products and services that promise to help you slow down and be your best self, but what is mindfulness, really?
Research shows the potential of mindfulness to heal and support those with many different health conditions, from heart disease, stroke, depression and trauma to everyday wellbeing.
Here to talk to us about what mindfulness is and how we can do it is Roz Grossman, MA, a meditation instructor who runs her own business called Mindful Stress Relief.
Listen to the interview at the link below or read the transcript that follows.
UVM Medical Center: The word, “mindful” has become a big buzzword lately. There are plenty of products and services that promise to help you slow down and be your best self, but what is mindfulness, really? The practice itself is much more ancient than today’s trendy slogans might have you believe. This ancient practice is finding new life in the medical world.
Research shows the potential of mindfulness to heal and support those with many different health conditions, from heart disease, stroke, depression and trauma to everyday wellbeing. Mindfulness can help reduce stress, improves memory and much more.
Here to talk to us about what mindfulness is and how we can do it is Roz Grossman, MA. A meditation instructor who runs her own business called Mindful Stress Relief, Roz has offered workshops for cancer patients, caregivers and staff at the University of Vermont Medical Center since 2010. She’s certified in the Mindfulness Base Stress Reduction Program and has a background in nursing and health education. Thank you for joining us, Roz.
Roz: Thank you, Alex. I’m really happy to be here with you to talk about mindfulness.
UVM Medical Center: We’re so excited to hear more. I guess first things first, there might be a little bit of confusion among listeners about what mindfulness really is. Could you maybe give us an overview of what it is?
Roz: Sure, you’re right that mindfulness really is very much a popular idea right now and it’s out there and I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding about what it is. I use a really simple definition and that’s mindfulness is about paying attention. It’s about being present in the moment, moment to moment. That’s not so easy to do because, as humans, we spend a lot of time — I know I do — thinking about the past, worried about the future or, often, we’re on automatic pilot. How many times are we driving down the road and then, all of a sudden, we wonder, “How did I get here?” Or we go upstairs to get something and when we get there, we forget. “Why did I come up here in the first place?” Then we have to go back down again and maybe we’ll think about it.
That’s human. That’s human nature, because we have these wonderful cognitive minds. Being able to be mindful and be more present in our lives allows us to just inhabit our lives, be with our lives more than we may be able to do because of all that thinking that we do about the past and the future.
UVM Medical Center: When you say, “pay attention,” what do you mean by that?
Roz: What I mean by paying attention is really being with what is, noticing, noticing our sensations and moods, what we need, or we’re hungry, why did we just react in a certain way. It’s not necessarily about just being aware of the pleasant things in life, but also the things that might be difficult for us. Another definition of part of mindfulness is when we’re not being mindful, which we’re not going to be mindful sometimes, that we don’t judge ourselves for that, do this in a non-judgmental way, do this with some kinds of kindness or self-compassion.
UVM Medical Center: We need a little bit more self-compassion today, I think, for sure. What is the difference, then, between mindfulness and meditation? I think we see those two words either interchanged or they come up in the same kind of conversations. What’s the difference?
Roz: I think that’s an important question and an important differentiation. Mindfulness is like I’m saying, it’s about being present. It’s a way of being in our lives. That sounds simple but it’s not so easy. Mindfulness meditation is a way to be more mindful, it’s a practice. It’s very much like exercise. In order for our muscles to get stronger, we need to do something about that. We need to go to the gym or go running or do a sport or something that will make those muscles stronger. Meditation is a way for us to be more mindful. It is a practice. It builds the muscles of our mind.
UVM Medical Center: When you work with patients, do you primarily work on building a meditation practice? How do you approach working with patients to help them with mindfulness?
Roz: I’m trained to teach a very particular form of mindfulness meditation and a particular program that was started in 1979 by Jon Kabat-Zinn. That program is an eight-week program that teaches a variety of practices. Some sitting meditation, what you would think of as just your regular breath meditation, but also doing some gentle yoga and then having some class discussions about stress and looking at habits, the stress habits that we have. Stress is a really important factor in understanding how we are in the world and the kinds of things that we do. It’s a whole variety of practices, which makes it be a really interesting and fun program to do.
UVM Medical Center: As we see, you mentioned working with patients in the medical setting as we see more people embracing mindfulness as a tool for stress relief and for other benefits. What kind of research has been done to show the health benefits of mindfulness and, as part of that question, what are some of the health benefits? What do you see in your work?
Roz: Those are two really good questions. Let me start with the benefits, and then I’ll talk some more about the research. I generally tell people when I do workshops or present at conferences, that there’s three main benefits to mindfulness practice. The first one is that it helps us to be more focused. If you sit and you notice your breath and watch your breath coming in and out, that helps us to be more focused. We also watch our thoughts. We see the thoughts coming and going. One of the misunderstandings, one of the greatest reasons why people don’t meditate or tell me, “I can’t learn to meditate,” is because they say, “I can never stop my mind from thinking.” That’s true. You can never stop your mind. Our minds are going to think, but we can come back. That ability to focus in our lives is a great benefit for any of us.
It also helps us to be flexible. That’s important, too. In our lives, we know that things are not going to go the way we want them to go all the time. There will be things happen, illness happens, things change, the weather happens. We need to be able to respond to that in ways and understand that life is not always the same and that there’s a sense of impermanence. The last one is that idea of compassion or self-compassion, it’s another benefit. When we start to pay attention to ourselves, we can start to be kinder to ourselves. If we can be kinder to ourselves, then maybe we can be kinder to the people around us, too.
The research is exciting and it’s very promising, but it’s also very new. The mindfulness research, if you look at the number of studies, it’s just over the past, say, 20 years, has just grown exponentially. One of the things that was discovered in my lifetime, which is exciting, is this idea of neuroplasticity, which sounds like a big word, but it simply means that over our lifetime, we do make new neurons, we make new neurons or brain cells. We make new brain cells throughout our life, which is amazing and is promising, because that means we can change some habits.
Stress itself is really important to be aware of when you’re learning mindfulness and in our lives, because we’re hardwired to take care of ourselves when there’s danger. That’s something that we’ve been able to do since ancient times. We have to take care of ourselves, we have to be aware of danger, but it can also be, stress can also become chronic and we can develop habits around stress that can lead to, and it’s known right now that certain stresses are a factor, I’m not saying that they cause a particular disease, but they’re a factor in many, many diseases.
I do work with the cancer community a lot. I’ve done that since 2010, because I am a cancer survivor, so that’s been an important community to bring mindfulness to because it’s been so useful in my own recovery. I invite patients, people who are in treatment, survivors, caregivers, friends, family members, also come to my classes and they find it very, very useful.
UVM Medical Center: Our guest today is Roz Grossman. She’s a meditation instructor with her own business, Mindful Stress Relief, and she has also worked with our patients here at the University of Vermont Medical Center since 2010. You were just talking about your own personal experience. I wonder, if you’re open to it, if you could tell us a little bit more about your own journey and, as part of that, maybe how mindful helped. How did you develop your interest in mindfulness?
Roz: I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1994. That was a long time ago. At the time, I was just really scared, and I was having a lot of other stressors in my life. I had a child who was just leaving home, I was taking care of my sister, who is disabled, and just the normal stressors of life. I have a tendency to be somebody who has some anxiety with worries or sleep difficulties. I had been doing yoga, I had been doing yoga for many, many years, but I had never meditated and I thought that might be helpful. I tried it and it just seemed to click with me immediately. I really loved it.
Then I began to learn more about it and develop a mindfulness meditation practice myself and set an intention, even way back then, to someday I would hopefully work with and teach this to, and work with the cancer community, which I’m so grateful that I’ve been able to do.
UVM Medical Center: You’re speaking of the Women’s Health and Cancer Conference coming up in October, right?
Roz: I am, I am.
UVM Medical Center: What are you talking about there? I’m guessing mindfulness.
Roz: I am talking about mindfulness and I have for, I think this is about the sixth or seventh year that I’ve been talking about mindfulness at the Women’s Health and Cancer Conference. I also speak at Stowe Weekend of Hope and I do some smaller workshops, too. I teach an eight-week workshop, but I also sometimes teach a three-week workshop with the Steps to Wellness Program at the Cancer Center and, in the last couple of years, I’ve been working with employees at the hospital, too, through the Employee Family Assistance Program.
UVM Medical Center: For people who are listening and want to get started, what would you recommend? What would be some first steps to take to embrace mindfulness and meditation?
Roz: The good news now is that there’s so much out there. That’s the good news and also the hard news. I would say to people that there are many, many books that you can read. If you want to get on my website, which is www.mindfulstressrelief.net, there’s a bibliography on my website, so you can start it that way. There’s classes, and I would say to people, if you’re going to take a class, just do some research on has that teacher been practicing mindfulness. One of the ways that I have been able to be certified is because I’ve had a practice, a sitting mindfulness practice of my own for a long time and studied with many teachers and through a lot of retreats. Do a little research on that.
There’s also a lot of apps out there. I think that there are some really good apps out there. Calm is one, Headspace is one. Insight Timer is another one that people tell me about. The Center for Mindfulness, too, at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, where I received my training, they’re doing a lot of online classes right now.
UVM Medical Center: That’s great.
Roz: So you can get on their website, or you can get on their website and find teachers, too.
UVM Medical Center: Fantastic. Wonderful. Our guest today has been Roz Grossman. Roz, thank you so much for being with us today. This has been very informative. Roz is a mind meditation instructor with her own business, Mindful Stress Relief, and she has worked with us at UVM Medical Center for many years. Thank you for joining us.
Roz: Thank you, Alex. It’s been a pleasure to be here with you today.