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In 2004, I was a college senior suffering from anxiety. I took an elective mindfulness course toward my psychology major, thinking it would be easy. Instead, I discovered just how unruly my mind was.
When I practiced seated mindfulness meditation, I wanted the thoughts to stop, I wanted to be able to control my attention, and I wanted to feel calm. But none of those things happened.
What is wrong with me? I wondered. I can't meditate; my mind is too busy.
Although I gave up on the formal practice of seated meditation, I noticed how much I benefited from informal practice; bringing attention to the present moment throughout the day. I noticed that I could ease my anxiety if I remembered to feel my feet on the ground or to take one intentional breath. This was often enough to take me out of the cascading/spiralling thoughts and give me a choice about how to proceed; Does it make sense to react out of fear and anxiety? Or do I have other, more skilful options?
Following a car accident a few years later, I developed chronic daily headaches and frequent migraines. I used my understanding of mindfulness to cope with the chronic pain. If I could remember to step back from my escalating and distressing thoughts (often worrying about worsening pain) and notice the present moment, I could sometimes prevent the nasty headaches from progressing into migraines.
In 2018, I took an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) class. This MBSR class provided the support I needed to develop a consistent sitting practice, busy mind and all, which has been transformative. I understood I didn't need to clear my mind or produce any special feelings when meditating. Just noticing the thoughts and feelings as they are is good enough.
As I continued with my consistent formal mindfulness practice, I began experiencing other changes in my life. I was calmer and kinder to myself and others. My relationships were more satisfying, including my relationship with myself. I found I was enjoying more of my life. In many ways, I was showing up for the first time.
When I experienced a personal tragedy in 2019, I found that my practice was a life raft keeping me afloat. Despite the shock of the trauma reverberating through my world, I was grateful for the peace and wholeness I could sometimes touch in seated practice. These brief moments of reprieve gave me hope as I crawled through, and finally out of, the darkness.
Inspired by the impact of my meditation practice, I decided to pursue a graduate degree in mindfulness. In the fall of 2020, I started as a master's student in the Mindfulness-Based Approaches program in the psychology department of Bangor University. Part of our course requirement was a daily 45-minute body scan meditation.
I hadn't thought much about how the traumatic event would impact my mindfulness practice.
When I became increasingly focused and disciplined in meditation, I began to experience increased distress, overwhelming sensations, and upsetting memories. In short, the practice that had been so beneficial became fraught, complicated, scary, and destabilising.
I had stumbled head-first into the need for embodiment and trauma sensitivity in my own mindfulness practice.
I wondered, Should I give up meditating?
Eager to continue to benefit from my mindfulness practice, I sought the council of experienced teachers who encouraged me to approach my practice with increased sensitivity to the needs of my body and mind. My dharma teacher and master's tutor encouraged me to keep practicing and gave me suggestions for how to work more skilfully with the difficulty I was encountering.
As part of my master's program requirements, I read Dr David Treleaven's book, Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness (2018). His work profoundly changed how I approached my practice and gave me the sensitivity and confidence to continue deepening my practice safely.
As a result of this deepening, I realised that I had become disconnected from my body and wondered if I had ever been connected in the first place. Decades of chronic pain had robbed me of joy and turned my body into the enemy. My whole body felt tense as if bracing against some unseen danger. I felt like my body was a cage of tension, stifling my breath and limiting my range of motion.
In 2021, in search of a deepened sense of embodiment, I completed a 200-hour yoga teacher training through Kripalu in western Massachusetts, followed by a 20-hour Trauma-Sensitive Yoga training. These intensive trainings greatly increased my awareness of my body. I learned to notice and respond skilfully to the tiny sparks of tension before they ignite into pain.
Later that year, I was humbled and grateful to be able to teach the 8-week MBSR curriculum that I had found so transformative and beneficial.
In 2022, further interested in teaching Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness, I took Dr Treleaven's Beginner and Advanced Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness Trainings. I also engaged in a year-long personal mentorship with Dr Treleaven, where I could ask questions, deepen my own practice, and enhance my teaching skills. In the summer of 2022, I was honored to assist Dr Treleaven at the Oxford Mindfulness Foundation's Advanced Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness training, where I led the participants in Trauma-Informed Mindful Movement.
When I took that mindfulness course back in 2004, I was looking for an easy A. Instead, I found a rich approach to living that has been a source of healing, joy, and peace, and changed the trajectory of my life. I am humbled to be able to offer what I have learned with you.
Kalyana holds a BA in psychology from Skidmore College. She is a current master’s student at Bangor University (Wales, UK) in the psychology department’s Mindfulness-Based Approaches program. She is studying the theory and practice of teaching mindfulness in general, and MBSR in particular. Her areas of interest include embodiment, interoception, trauma, nervous system regulation, and group practice.
All of the writing, photos, and artwork on this website are Kalyana's personal work, unless otherwise noted.
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