Louisville Magazine

JAN 2017

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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40 LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 12.16 Like a stack of gold coins. at's how Quentin, one of our instructors, says we should posi- tion our spines while practicing mindful meditation. Eyes closed or at slightly downward gaze. Feel your feet on the ground, your back touching the chair. "Focus on the breath touching your lips, or as you breathe in through your nose," Quen- tin says. "When your mind wanders, bring your focus back to your breath." After about 10 minutes, he rings a bell. We open our eyes. About 120 people — folks from Brown-Forman, GE, Hu- mana, Yum! Brands, orntons — are in the tall-windowed lodge at Beckley Creek Park, a section of the Parklands of Floyds Fork east of the Gene Snyder. We're here for a workshop Leadership Louisville has brought to town called Search Inside Yourself. SIY, as it's called, was born at Google and is a sort of introductory smorgasbord of mindfulness practices. Over the course of two days in early November, we learn about journaling ("ings that annoy me are…"), mindful eating (remembering to pause and actually taste each bite; during lunch one day at SIY, I realize I don't like roast beef ), mindful listening (giving full attention to the person talking, without interrupting). During a mindful walking exercise, we head outside, concentrating on the sensation of our shoes crunching leaves in the grass. To an outsider, we must look like 120 people searching for a lost contact lens. "I only walk slow leaving Derby after several drinks, with battered, blistered feet," one woman says. It's not just Leadership Lou- isville. For the past three and a half years, U of L's School of Medicine has offered mind- fulness instruction to combat burnout among students. "A way to armor them," says Jon Klein, the vice dean for research. Initially, dean Toni Ganzel was skeptical. "Quite honestly, as a surgeon and a scientist, I really rolled my eyes at this stuff," she says. "It just sounded a little bit like magic crystals, a little touchy-feely, a little kumbaya-y. But there is true neuroscience associated with it. It convinced me. ese practices are changing our brain anatomy. We can see changes in stress-hormone levels." (Ganzel likes the mindfulness app Whil, which is available to medical students.) In the fall, Greater Louis- ville Inc. offered a 10-week introduction to mindfulness. Joe Mitchell, who founded the Passionist Earth & Spirit Center off Newburg Road, led the classes from 8:30 to 9:30 on Tuesday mornings in a board- room overlooking the Ohio River. "People are stressed, and mindfulness reduces stress, so people are listening," Mitchell says. "But these practices go back 3,000 years." His col- league, Kyle Kramer, says, "If you meditate for 20 minutes every day, those 20 minutes should radiate out into your life." Next month, Mitchell will start teaching another 10- week course, this time at the Kentucky Center. His advice to beginners: "Find a place that's relatively quiet and a chair that's comfortable but that's not a La-Z-Boy that will put you to sleep. Mindfulness is focusing on an object of attention. It's an arbitrary choice. You can simply focus on body sensations for 10 to 20 minutes." U of L's office of Health Promotion in the Student Activities Center teaches several mindfulness practices, includ- ing a half-day silent retreat or, if that's too intense, this simple exercise: Spread out the fingers of one of your hands and slowly trace it with the index finger from your other hand, breath- ing in as you travel up a finger, out as you go down. "e word meditation can be intimidating, but anyone can meditate. It's about being in the moment," says Karen Newton, director of Health Promotion. "e mind has an endless capacity to chatter. e human brain craves this type of respite." I became editor of this magazine three years ago, when my daughter was two months old. All that life change seemed to lodge a chronic ball of anxiety deep inside my chest. I'd read about mindfulness as a stress-reducer and decided to give it a try. For me, that meant waking up 15 minutes before my family so I could sit in a chair downstairs and focus on breathing with my eyes closed. I still get distracted and have what Mitchell calls a "popcorn mind." But med- itation is still part of my morning routine. And the anxiety ball is a little looser now (except, oh, right now, as I type this story the morning we're sending this issue to the printer). In an email after the workshop, the SIY teachers suggested several daily mindfulness practices: notice the first breath you take outside in fresh air or after you turn the lights out at night, be aware of the smell and flavor of food or the sensation of water on your body in the shower, walk mindfully from your desk to the bath- room. For me, I hope shutting my laptop is making me a more mindful listener with colleagues. And since SIY, I've been trying to notice every time I pass through a doorway. Try it. It's hard. About a month after the work- shop, Leadership Louisville pres- ident Cynthia Knapek told me that "meditation is like reps for the brain. Focus is a muscle. You get better the more you practice. "I try to be in the moment. When my eight-year-old grabs my hand, I'm mindful that he still wants to hold my hand." Sean O'Leary, CEO of a local analytics company, says that, after the workshop, he set up a "relaxation room" for employees to use in the office. How many times has he used it? "Now, as I'm talking to you, I realize not enough," he says. "So in two years I'll be in another class to recharge my battery." — Josh Moss

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