For people who are facing chronic pain, anxiety or high levels of stress, a Stress Reduction group starting in April at Carlington Community and Health Services will introduce a variety of proven techniques to reduce your stress. The theme is “mindfulness”: helping you to live fully in the present moment.
“This is a group very much based on doing: we'll teach a variety of skills such as meditation, visualization, yoga postures and deep breathing,” says Rena Lafleur, who will be working with experienced leader Melodie Benger to offer the eight-week course.
“There are exercises and cassettes to help you practise at home,” says Lafleur. “Our goal is that you will experience what it feels like to be relaxed and centered and then you will be able to recapture that feeling when you want. The techniques are useful both for people who are basically well and want to maintain that wellness, as well as for people who are really suffering and need new ways to deal with it.”
First developed at the University of Massachusetts in 1979, the Stress Reduction Program has been proven to alleviate chronic pain, anxiety disorders and post-polio syndrome.
The physiological effects of stress, particularly on the heart and on the immune system, are very real, especially when people face additional challenges such as unemployment, poverty or insecure housing. The program helps you be aware of when stress is breaking down your defences and how you can get back in control.
“If you feel that you have been trying to get out of your body, because it feels uncomfortable to be there, this helps you move back in,” says Lafleur.
“Being fully present in your body and aware of what's happening is the goal,” says Donna Munro, another Stress Reduction Program leader who works out of the Centretown Community Health Centre. “We use meditation, yoga, breathing awareness and body awareness.” The body scan teaches participants to become more linked to their physical body and recognize how it reacts to stress. As always in adult education, people learn from each other through sharing their experience, “but it's educational, not therapeutic. We don't spend a lot of time looking at the past, we focus on the tools and using them.”
It's also an intensive experience, say graduates of the Centretown program. “Once you get there you find out it's not a quick fix, there's a lot of work to do,” says Tony.
“We give you half-hour audio cassettes to listen to each day. We're fairly strict about asking for that,” says Munro.
“Yes, I wouldn't recommend it to just anybody,” agrees Marie, another graduate. “I don't think you'll ‘get it' unless you're prepared to work at it... This wasn't a course but the beginning of a new way of approaching things.”
Marie points out that the health centre makes it a safe experience on many levels. “I always wanted to learn meditation but I couldn't quite find a place without getting involved in a whole lifestyle thing, a belief system. I am not willing to turn my life over to any belief system. I have my own... It is the first time that I can ask stupid questions, they are pretty cool. They don't treat you any different if you are living on a low income; a lot of places do.”
Participants are interviewed and fill out a questionnaire before and after the eight-week program. Their evaluations include comments like:
- “I have learned what I can and cannot control.”
- “I feel empowered, less victimized.”
- “I am sleeping better.”
- “I learned how to acknowledge my pain but not focus on it.”
- “I feel healthier - less lethargic.”
The time may be right for you to make the commitment to getting back in touch with your body. If so, please call Rena Lafleur at 722-4000 to register. You must attend one of two Information Session, either on March 8 or March 22, from 7:00 - 8:30 pm. The group sessions take place weekly on Wednesday evenings in April and May, at the health centre at 900 Merivale Road.