Julie Potiker’s stress level was so high she began having symptoms of a brain tumor. After ruling the tumor out, her neurologist suggested an eight-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program.
It was a game changer for Potiker, a practicing attorney. She became proficient in such areas as Mindful Methods for Life, Mindful Self-Compassion and Loving Kindness Mediation and trained as a Positive Neuroplasticity Professional. Potiker, also an author, left her law practice to help others with her Mindful Methods for Life classes in La Jolla, Calif.
“Loving Kindness Meditation teaches us how to be better friends to ourselves," says Potiker, noting it’s a Buddhist practice that has a person call to mind an individual that makes him or her smile. “Then, while holding the visual of that person in your mind’s eye, you silently repeat phrases of goodwill.”
From there, you add people to the meditation, expanding your circle of focus — potentially to encompass the planet.
Traditional phrases of goodwill are “May you be safe, may you be happy, may you be healthy, and may you live with ease,” says Potiker, adding that Loving Kindness Meditation has been shown to make people more likely to help others.
Fabiana Souza Araújo, assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences at University of Chicago Medicine, practices such mindfulness and self-compassion.
“Mindfulness is awareness,” she says. “In simple terms, we try to do the opposite of multitasking: we focus our full attention on one stimulus. Your mind will wander, emotions might arise, body sensations will catch your attention — that’s all part of the process. The core of the mindfulness practice is to kindly bring your attention back to your anchor."
Our inner critic voice can be merciless, says Araujo, who says self-compassion can overcome the negative thoughts that take over our lives.
The three components of self-compassion are self-kindness, or being understanding and warm with yourself when you feel inadequate.
The next, Araujo says, is understanding that we have a common humanity and that we all struggle.
The third is mindfulness and learning to notice our inner experiences. “Through regular mindfulness practices, we increase our ability to notice narratives we create about ourselves. We learn to acknowledge those self-critical thoughts, detach ourselves from them, and redirect our attention to the here and now — to life as it unfolds in the present moment.”
Araujo recommends starting small. This could include a 3-5 minute breathing exercise once or twice a day.
“Better yet, try to attach it to a well-established habit, like brushing your teeth,” she says. “That will facilitate the development of a new habit and from there, if you want, you can progressively increase the time you dedicate to formal meditation."
Araujo notes that we can do any activity mindfully: Make a point of noticing your surroundings while you are driving to work or focus on your feet as you are walking from home.
Arlene Santiago, a certified personal trainer, Precision Nutrition Level 1 practitioner, National Academy of Sports Medicine corrective exercise specialist and International Sports Sciences Association senior specialist, understands that mindfulness is a way of focusing on the present moment and acknowledges our senses and feelings.
“For someone who is an emotional eater, it's recognizing their emotions before they grab something unhealthy to eat," says Santiago, who conducts classes at Methodist Hospitals as well as public libraries in Park Forest and Homewood. "Maybe it's asking themselves if they are really hungry in the first place? Stressed? Sad? I help them identify their negative thoughts and change them into positive ones."
Santiago says that using positive mantras can help change the way we think about ourselves. Such mantras include “I can be healthy, fit and strong"; "May I feel love to the tips of my fingers"; and "May I be a positive influence on all lives I touch.”