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Q & A with Dr. B. – Why The Focus On Practices?

Dr. Larry Berkelhammer

Dr. Larry Berkelhammer

The purpose of this website, my book, and the Community Education course I teach at the College of Marin, is to teach people how to live a vibrant, meaningful life through the cultivation of self-empowerment and self-efficacy. In this monthly Q&A column, I post questions from students and from people who attend my presentations along with my answers.

Here is this month’s question:

QUESTION: Why The Focus On Practices?

ANSWER: In his book Full Catastrophe Living, arguably one of the best books on mindfulness ever written, author Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness: “It is the awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose in the present moment, nonjudgmentally.” This definition is intended to describe what is meant by the practice of cultivating mindfulness through both formal and informal mindfulness practices, which become a way of life. He says that mindfulness is both the goal as well as the method. He also describes it as: “a living practice, a way of being.”

Kabat-Zinn makes it clear that: “The essence of mindfulness is denatured or lost if viewed as a concept rather than as a practice and way of life.” The practice, in his words: “emphasizes that it is a living, evolving understanding, not a fixed dogma related to a museum honoring a culturally constrained past.”

Again, in Kabat-Zinn’s words: “The heart of mindfulness-based interventions lies in a deep silence, stillness and openheartedness that is native to pure awareness and can be experienced directly both personally and interpersonally. The consequences of such cultivation may go far beyond symptom reduction and conventional coping adjustments, defining new ways of being in the body and in the world that are orthogonal to the conventional perspective on both health and well-being.”

After retiring from clinical practice, I came to realize that the practices I had been teaching to clients living with chronic medical conditions could be very useful for anyone interested in learning how to develop new life skills that catalyze a greater sense of wellbeing. I also discovered that I could create an environment in the classroom that also was based on love and trust. It turns out that when students participate in the class for a certain period of time and adopt these practices, their health and wellbeing both improve.

Most of the people in our class do not live with any serious illness; they are taking the class for reasons of personal growth. Some of them are also taking classes in tai chi, chi gung, and yoga. The practices we teach in our course are designed to increase presence and aliveness through self-compassion, self-empowerment, and self-efficacy.

By practicing healthy behaviors repeatedly throughout the day, every day, these new behaviors gradually begin to replace the unhealthy ones. The brain rewires and each time one of the new practices is engaged, the neural circuits associated with the healthier practices get reinforced. In that way, the new healthy practices gradually become the new, automatic default behaviors.

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