Resources for Mindfulness in Western Massachusetts
What is meditation? Carrying different meanings in different contexts, Wikipedia defines meditation as, “a practice where an individual trains the mind or induces a mode of consciousness, either to realize some benefit or for the mind to simply acknowledge its content without becoming identified with that content, or as an end in itself.” In other words, when people meditate, they are focusing their awareness on the present moment, often times to their breath, allowing thoughts to enter and pass through their awareness without attachment, constantly balancing their attention back to the present moment.
According to health psychologist, Kelly McGonigal, because the brain is like a muscle which strengthens with practice, meditating can also help to exert willpower in other areas of your life. The prefrontal cortex is the area of the brain associated with reasoning, problem solving, impulse-control, and perseverance. Being mindful of the present moment through meditation, as well as some other activities like physical movement, sends blood to the prefrontal cortex. McGongial suggests that a regular practice of meditation could help you accomplish many other goals which require the same kind of perseverance and attention.
Mindfulness is something you can practice at any time, in any place. Still, if you don’t know anything about how to meditate or practice mindfulness, you may want to find guidance and support in the form of community-based classes or groups. Luckily, western Massachusetts is home to many organizations, courses, and sanctuaries for people to learn about and practice mindfulness.
The Insight Meditation Center of the Pioneer Valley runs sitting meditation sessions for various ages, demographics, and experience levels. There are special sessions for parents, experienced meditators, people of color, and young adults between the ages of 18 to mid 30s. This organization is located in Eastworks in Easthampton, MA.
Inward Bound Mindfulness Education is a Massachusetts-based organization with many resources for learning about mindfulness on their web site, including a lecture on teen brain development and listings for adult and teen retreats.
Besides workshops, sitting sessions, and retreats, there are also beautiful, peaceful places in Western Massachusetts where you can go to practice mindfulness independently. The Peace Pagoda in Leverett, the Three Sisters Sanctuary in Goshen, the Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls and the Chesterfield Gorge in West Chesterfield are just a few suggestions.
In addition to being a worthwhile way to improve strength and flexibility, and decrease pain, yoga practice can be paired with mindfulness practice too. Yoga sessions often ask participants to focus on their breath and the present moment as they hold postures. There are innumerable yoga courses available for purchase in the region, including free yoga classes often times offered at public libraries. The Pelham Library offers yoga sessions on Mondays at 5:30pm and the Forbes Library in Northampton offers a weekly Dharma Gentle Yoga class on Wednesdays from 10am-11:15am. The Forbes also offers a Tai Chi/Qigong class, a meditative form of martial arts, on Wednesdays at 1pm,
An interest in mindfulness can support learning about psychology while an interest in yoga can support learning about anatomy. And both can support an interest in learning about traditional spiritual practices of other cultures.
[Photo credit: (cc) woodleywonderworks]