MBSR NYC by Dr. Myra Weiss: In Oprah Magazine

MBSR NYC Featured In Oprah Magazine

Oprah Magazine (October, 2002) published an extensive article examining several approaches to relieve stress, written by Michelle Burford. I was honored by her conclusions about my Basic Stress Reduction Course. -Dr. Weiss


It's not that our friends don't know the truth about stress--they simply lie because they love us. "Oh, honey," your girlfriend coos when you tell her your world is heading toward an 8.5 on the Richter, "it's not that bad." It is. Next comes loving lie no. 2: "Don't worry-you'll look back on this one day and laugh." Ha. And then the whopper you have no doubt endured regardless of whether you were grappling with a sinus cold, a tax audit, or repeated death threats: "Just be sure to exercise, get plenty of sleep--and drink lots of water." Thanks.

No one's denying that you should be well hydrated and properly nourished while you're falling to pieces. But let's get on with a grown-up's guide to anxiety. In a time when most of us have more available cell phone minutes than we do face time with our friends, and in a nation that spends billions on antidepressants and antianxiety medication, might it take more than a stint on the stair climber and a good snooze to chill us out?

In search of an antidote, I asked three women with nerve-racking demands on their time and energy to test three much-touted stress-reduction techniques.

No wonder Leslie is overwhelmed. She's completing a thesis for her master's degree in urban planning at New York University; she and her husband are expecting their first child; and they're closing on a house in Brooklyn. In addition, Leslie works as a mediator of John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. "Some days I'm so exhausted from all my tasks that my mind is all over the place and I can't concentrate," she says. She agrees to try mindfulness-based stress reduction in the hope of gaining a clearer head and more emotional stamina.

When I meet her at the Manhattan office of Myra Weiss, PhD, Leslie's in her third trimester and looks about ready to pop. Weiss, a psychotherapist in practice for more than 25 years, teaches an eight-session mindfulness-based stress-reduction course using techniques popularized by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. I've asked Weiss to boil the course down to the most powerful principles: focused meditation and conscious breathing.

As Leslie and I sit across from Weiss, she leads us through a total "body scan" meditation, turning our attention to various areas of the body to de-stress. "All kinds of thoughts will inevitably pop into your head, so you have to gently escort your attention back to its focus. No judgment--just start again," she says. "The technique teaches you to tame your mind by bringing your awareness where you want it to be." Awareness, attentiveness, focused breathing, staying present--all synonyms for the mindfulness that Weiss espouses--alleviate anxiety, as science has repeatedly shown, and can even lower blood pressure.

During our session, Leslie dozes off (me, too!) with Weiss's voice softly calling us back: "Bring your attention to your lips now. Then the tongue. The throat. All the way down the body and up again. Feel your breath coming in and out of your lungs. If you're falling asleep," she says, probably eyeing us both barely sitting up, "just bring yourself back to the present." After what feels like an hour but was only about ten minutes, the sound of a bell revives us.

Weiss wants to know, "What was that like for you, Leslie?"

"Nice--but my mind wandered a lot."

"That is called monkey mind--it's completely normal," she says. "Just begin again and again--however many times it takes. Every new breath is a rebirth."

I cut in with a question: What exactly can mindfulness do for Leslie when she's feeling the heat of impending deadlines? "When you're the most frantic," says Weiss, "that's the moment when you should stop, if only for a minute, breathe deeply, and bring your focus back to your body." How does that change the problem? "It doesn't--but you can accomplish the same tasks without feeling scattered," she explains. "The point is to calm yourself so you can move through the task, not get rid of it."

After our session, Weiss hands Leslie a 20-minute mindfulness-meditation cassette with instructions to do the guided body scan twice a day along with deep breathing. I ask Leslie to keep a journal for a week.

Entry I: "Scheduled tape into my daytime routing. Fell asleep--hard to stay alert because of pregnancy and heat." Two days later: "Noticed that with more focus on breathing, I could stay awake. As my attention moved from my head to shoulders, my breathing grew deeper." The following evening: "Planned to do morning and evening sittings but only got to one. But I did find myself using the technique to focus my mind." A day later: "Looked forward to doing the tape today--envisioned myself using the technique to calm my mind when I go into labor." The last day: "Amid lots of phone calls regarding the house closing, I took time to listen to the tape. Felt like a great release. At night the focusing kept my mind from racing. Slept quite soundly."

But is it necessary to listen to an entire tape every time you want to practice this technique? Weiss says you don't need to limit yourself that way. "You can use mindfulness when you're brushing your teeth or buying groceries," she says. "While you're standing in line somewhere, pay attention to what's happening in your body. Stop. Inhale. Exhale. Do it again. Notice what your body is feeling. The whole point of sitting down to meditate is to make mindfulness part of your everyday life--so that when the roof does fall in, your instinct is to practice awareness to get through it."

Final stress report: Mindfulness-based stress reduction gets my vote for the best shortcut to calm. You can squeeze the breathing exercises in between the back-to-back episodes of Frasier reruns--or even while your girlfriend's fibbing, "Honey, it's not that bad." For more information on Myra Weiss's course, visit www.mbsr-nyc.com.

By: Michelle Burford