University of Pennsylvania Health System

Penn Program for Mindfulness

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Welcome to the Penn Program for Mindfulness blog!

We are so incredibly excited to introduce our new blog.  It has been a long-time wish of ours to establish a mindfulness community, one where individuals can go in any moment for support, learning and inspiration.  Over the years our efforts to create such a community have manifested in many ways, some of which Michael Baime, MD will share in a future post.

Since our humble beginnings in 1992 as a “Medical Stress Management Program” at the former Graduate Hospital, well over 5,000 people in our region have been trained in the foundation's mindfulness-based stress management program.

Today, if you stop and notice, you’ll see how mindfulness is beginning to creep into our culture in various ways, supporting people to be more present in their lives, more conscious of their choices and more authentic in each moment.

Our wish for this blog is to create another doorway for people to participate in our budding mindfulness community.  In our present-day culture, with our ability to subscribe to listservs and blogs on any topic, what better way for us to connect!

We invite you to stay connected to us – subscribe to our blog entries  to learn what’s happening in the world of mindfulness, what’s happening at the Penn Program for Mindfulnes, and how others – your peers – are bringing mindfulness into their lives, their work and their world around them.

In our next post, program director Michael Baime, MD, will share more about the efforts being put forth to establish a mindfulness community.  Stay posted!

Mara Wai
Program Manager, Blog Master
Penn Program for Mindfulness

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Healing from Within: The intersection between mindfulness and psychotherapy

In a recent interview, Michael Baime, MD, shared the role of mindfulness in the psychotherapeutic process. Excerpts from the interview follow.


What is the connection between psychotherapy and mindfulness?
Michael Baime: Mindfulness has always been a component of healing.  The goal of psychotherapy is also to heal.  Recently, we have begun to recognize the intersection between these areas and to train people to use mindfulness as an intentional part of the therapy process.  Becoming mindful allows both the patient and the therapist to notice more; to see more clearly.  You can help people to understand when they have an inaccurate view of what is happening in their lives, or of what it means.  Mindfulness helps us undo these cognitive distortions and see where we are getting stuck, so that we can develop clear strategies for addressing the issues in our lives. 

What is the value of identifying those feelings?
MB: Often, our responses to situations are driven not by what we know, but by what we feel.  When we experience stress, the strength of the emotion can disconnect us from our rational brain, basically hijacking our system with a kind of primordial response.  That's really what we mean by a "panic attack." Our bodies listen to the loudest voice, unless we can pause and let ourselves become aware of what is happening in that moment.  Then we have the opportunity to bring emotion and cognition together, and achieve some balance.



Are there physiological bases for mindfulness in therapy?
MB: There are very good data that demonstrate how mindfulness does have an effect on the physiology of the brain.  What these physical manifestations mean is still very much open to interpretation but we see measurable differences in the gray matter of people who go through even a short, eight-week training program for mindfulness.  Something is changing at a cellular level in terms of our connectivity, and that connectivity allows us to experience the world differently.

The analogy that I like to use is that practicing mindfulness is like exercising a muscle.  You aren't going to change the function of that muscle but you might improve its efficiency or help it to work better under specific circumstances.

How would you characterize the benefits of mindfulness?
MB: By becoming aware, we are in effect turning off the autopilot, and that gives us choices.  This is not an abstract concept.  It has very real applications in our lives.  We can use mindfulness to choose not to overeat--to leave that quart of ice cream in the freezer--or to choose not to lose our tempers.  These are very real, concrete behavioral issues, the kinds of things that people bring to their therapists. 

At the deepest level, mindfulness is really the place in which you meet the world, the vehicle through which you experience everything you are,  know, taste or dream.  Awareness allows us to create positive experiences for ourselves, to feel connected, to take pleasure in simple things, and in moments.

How would you summarize the benefits of mindfulness in psychotherapy?
MB: Mindfulness based tools are user friendly.  They are convenient, simple to learn and to practice.  They support healing and growth.  For this reason, they are an excellent fit with the therapy process.  They work well together to help patients connect, understand and accept themselves, and apply these techniques to specific areas of their lives. Research shows that patients who practice mindfulness can sometimes reduce the medication they have been taking.  We are also finding that the therapists themselves benefit from learning and practicing mindfulness techniques.  Therapists are showing a great interest in learning and advocating mindfulness.

Questions: email mindfulness@uphs.upenn.edu or go to pennmedicine.org/mindfulness

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Real Happiness and Cancer?

Cancer survivors share how mindfulness helped them accept and cope their diagnosis, treatment and survivorship, one breath at a time.

A few weeks ago, the Penn Program for Mindfulness delighted to host Sharon Salzberg as she spoke to a sold-out crowd about her latest book, Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation.

Sharon is one of America’s leading mindfulness teachers and authors, and for almost four decades she has played a significant role in teaching mindfulness and meditation in the U.S. Sharon shared frankly and in simple terms her difficult and traumatic experiences early in life, and how her meditation practice (which she first learned while in college) helped her to shift her thinking and relating to life experiences in ways that allowed her to be kinder to herself and more open to others.

In Real Happiness, Sharon defines meditation as “training our attention so that we can be more aware—not only of our own inner workings but also of what’s happening around us in the here and now.
“Meditation has made me happy, loving, and peaceful—but not every single moment of the day. I still have good times and bad, joy and sorrow. Now I can accept setbacks more easily, with less sense of disappointment and personal failure, because meditation has taught me how to cope with the profound truth that everything changes all the time,” she said.

Donna Branca and Nancy Stewart, participants of a 2009 mindfulness program for patients of Penn's Abramson Cancer Center, and Andrea del Rio of program participant Patricia del Rio, shared with the audience how learning mindfulness helped them to cope with cancer, from diagnosis through treatment and recovery.

A free, weekly mindfulness training for people with cancer will begin in early May at the Abramson Cancer Center. For more information email mindfulness@uphs.upenn.edu.

Seated: Author Sharon Salzberg. Standing: Andrea del Rio Kline (daughter of the late Patricia del Rio); Michael Baime, director, Penn Program for Mindfulness; Donna Branca and Nancy Stewart, former participants, Penn Program for Mindfulness.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Managing Uncertainly with Mindfulness

For many of you, the extreme winter weather this year has turned the normal course of your day-to-day lives upside down. What seems like continuous school and day care closings, the piling up of work responsibilities and other priorities have shifted you off course from your normal routine. And on top of that, you need to shovel and salt, and chip the ice from your car.

Much like the weather forecast, your lives are riddled with uncertainty. Although you can make predictions about what will happen in your life based on past experiences, the truth is, you really don’t know what your futures hold. What WILL the weather be like tomorrow morning? Will you be able to drive on the roads? Will you need a babysitter? Will you be able to get to work? And if not, what then? These kinds of questions can circle around and around in your mind, leaving you feeling scattered, frustrated and downright exhausted.

What happens when you bring mindfulness right into these moments of uncertainty?
Mindfulness is a tool that when learned and practiced regularly provides a stable support for you to rest, right in the moment of uncertainty. In the moment, you can actually REST, even in the midst of what might seem like chaos all around you. Mindfulness teaches you how to observe your reactions to such things as weather predictions without actually being completely affected by them. In time and with practice, you can actually learn to not engage with powerful emotions when they arise.

How has mindfulness helped you during period of uncertainty or unpredictability?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Take a Fresh Start, Enroll Now in a Penn Program for Mindfulness Class!

New beginnings -- the turn of a new year, the dawn of a new day, even the next cycle of our breath -- bring with them the possibility to start anew. This ability to take a “fresh start” is actually even possible right NOW. If people look closely they find that each and every isolated moment of their lives is completely unique: Never exactly like any past moments, or any other moment that will happen in our future.  Each life moment is one of a kind.

In the hustle and bustle of everyday lives people often miss these opportunities.  They get caught up in fixating on the “To Do” lists, or planning for the future, or perhaps fantasizing about what they wish would be rather than what is actually happening.  If they actually take time to become familiar with, and fully experience, actual lived moments that are happening, they realize that these moments are like hidden gems.  They have the potential to provide wisdom about everyone and how they are living their lives. If people stop to notice, they can perhaps feel the bubbling up of emotions as they arise rather than stuff them down or brush them away or not notice they are there, causing them to fester inside.  Noticing these moments also allows people to become aware of their thoughts. They can become familiar with their thought patterns and maybe even make choices that are more aligned with their wants and needs. When they stop and experience life in this way – as it is actually happening – they realize that each moment is precious and that there is richness in even the most mundane, ordinary moments.

This noticing is one of the gifts of mindfulness.  Mindfulness is a powerful tool that assists in fully experiencing each moment as it happens. It is a process of learning how to pay attention and cultivate awareness of exactly what is happening in life experience.  Once this skill is learned, it is like learning to ride a bike.  On some level it never actually leaves. If actively practiced, it can be a powerful tool for managing daily stress and enhancing overall well being.  When applied to everyday, ordinary life, mindfulness allows for more depth, meaning and purpose. 

What better moment to take a fresh start than RIGHT NOW.  Take a Penn Program for Mindfulness class, and learn mindfulness in the support of a group with an instructor. Penn instructors have taught thousands of people in the greater Philadelphia area mindfulness techniques. Penn is slowly and gradually working to build a community that is more mindful, and living and working with more purpose and skillful action.  Join the program. Take a fresh start. What better time than now.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Power in Numbers

At first glance, mindfulness and meditation seem to be uniquely solitary activities. Some people might imagine bearded hermits practicing in mountain retreats, or nuns contemplating timeless truths in monastic stillness and silence. So it could come as a surprise to realize that work with mindfulness finds it fullest expression in community rather than solitude. Community is an essential ingredient in bringing mindfulness to life.

This has always been so. Mindfulness practitioners have always come together to practice and study, and the oldest teachings about meditation invariably mention the necessity of community. But because mindfulness is relatively new in today's culture, a tradition of communities that support mindfulness practitioners in a fully secular context does not exist.

Graduates of the Foundation Stress Management Course know they can accomplish a tremendous amount in just eight weeks. But for many of these graduates, that may be the first step in an ongoing journey that leads to progressively deeper healing and growth. It is, however, difficult to take that journey alone. The Penn Program for Mindfulness is committed to support the development of a community of practitioners in completely new and unique ways. A vital and vibrant community helps to integrate some of the most important truths of mindfulness practice into everyday lives.

One way of supporting the program graduates is through the development of a year-long program called Deepening Connections. Members of this group come together on one Sunday morning each month to deepen their mindfulness practice and to talk about its application in their lives.  In the interval between monthly meetings, members meet in small groups to practice together. Deepening Connections was established in 2004 to help participants take the next step. A long-standing group of committed participants provides a stable nucleus that supports new members and ongoing growth .

What is it about community that supports the practice?  Some Deepening Connections participants explain how this community supports them.

“The experiences and stories of other members of Deepening Connections really resonate with me,” says Kinjal. "The program," she continues, has “helped me feel ‘less alone’ in the community as well as with my practice.”

Another member “feel[s] a unified bond to the other members of the group and unconditionally supported.”

Similar sentiments are heard from other Penn Program for Mindfulness participants. Although meditation seems to be a personal practice, it is often difficult to sustain without the help of others.  Donna, a long-term meditation practitioner in the ongoing group, noted a direct correlation between "attending Deepening Connections regularly and the ability to practice regularly.” Again, it is something about the group.

“There is a very positive energy in the room,” writes Daniel. “It is such a great feeling to meditate with 40 other people,” he adds. Daniel said he feels “deeply touched by the emotions and thoughts that are shared by other members.”

We gain confidence in our ability to find the direction that is best for us because we have seen that there is no one ‘right’ way. The reflection of others allows for new types of reflection in the self.

It is also something about community that makes the acclaimed Foundation Mindfulness-Based Stress Management program meaningful and rewarding for the thousands who have participated. The group format assists every individual in learning the subtleties of mindfulness and meditation. While a personal commitment is required to learn and practice the techniques regularly, it is largely the interaction in the group where people learn from each other how to personalize their practice and bring it into daily life.

The Penn Program for Mindfulness wants to hear what works for others. What is it about community that supports practice?


These postings from the Penn Program for Mindfulness  explore similar themes about what makes mindfulness and meditation beneficial and more meaningful in peoples'  lives…