A practice in presence
An interview with Mindfulness Northwest’s Karen Schwisow, by Marnie Jackson
Better health. A brighter outlook. Greater life balance. Boosted immunity. Relief from pain, stress, and anxiety. Practitioners of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) experience these changes and more—and since 1979, the science supporting MBSR for health and wellbeing has stacked up. This August, Mindfulness Northwest is offering a 5-day intensive program at the Whidbey Institute to bring MBSR practices to beginners and experts alike.
When Mindfulness Northwest Senior Teacher Karen Schwisow spoke with me about the upcoming Residential Training at the Whidbey Institute, she was clear that no week-long mindfulness program can be a silver bullet for resolving all of life’s challenges. “The science clearly shows that mindfulness-based stress reduction works to support health, mood, immunity, and productivity,” she said, “but I don’t like to see any program making lofty promises about instantaneous transformation. The ‘you’ that arrives will be the same ‘you’ that departs. However, you will have learned and practiced skillful ways of meeting that ‘you’ that can result in a significantly greater sense of well being.”
Karen said that Mindfulness Northwest’s five-day training is designed to provide an intensive introduction—or, for more experienced practitioners, a wide-ranging refresher—to MBSR practices. It will include activities such as sitting meditation, body scan, mindful movement/yoga, walking meditation, mindful eating, and more. It will give students a chance to experience not only dedicated, silent meditation but also mindfulness work that can fit into everyday life.
“This session was designed for those who can’t fit an 8-week training into their life, but who still want a thorough introduction into the practices of MBSR,” Karen said. “It’s appropriate for anyone, and it’s a great opportunity for someone who’s new to MBSR as well as for someone looking to commit more deeply to their existing practice. Participants will gain the experience they need to choose, establish, or strengthen the mindfulness practices that work best for them—and that can yield lasting results.”
“Participants will gain the experience they need to choose, establish, or strengthen the mindfulness practices that work best for them—and that can yield lasting results.”
When I expressed my own concerns about meditation—“I can’t seem to stay comfortable on a meditation cushion,” I said, “and I feel self-conscious when my back begins to ache”—Karen said that she and her co-instructor Richard Johnson are committed to making the practices accessible to people of all experience and comfort levels.
“We encourage sitting in chairs, using supportive cushions, and adjusting as needed to keep your body comfortable,” she said. “The work isn’t limited to sitting meditation,” she added. “The mindful movement that we do can be modified to be done safely standing, lying down, or in a chair. We also teach a number of strategies for bringing mindfulness into everyday activities.”
“In our day-to-day lives, we each spend a lot of time walking, eating, or commuting,” Karen said. “With practice, each of these moments becomes an opportunity to be more present and deepen our awareness.”
The Mindfulness Northwest MBSR Residential Training runs from August 4 to 9 at the Whidbey Institute and is based on a program designed by Jon Kabat-Zinn and the Center for Mindfulness at the UMass Medical Center. Sliding-scale fees range from $780 to $1290, with additional discounts available for those lodging offsite. Space is limited, and early registration is encouraged. Adults of all genders, backgrounds, and experience (or inexperience) levels are welcome to participate. To learn more, visit https://mindfulnessnorthwest.com/event-3173353.
Senior Teacher Karen Schwisow, E-RYT 500, has been teaching yoga and meditation to individuals and groups since 2005 and facilitating 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction courses since 2011. She has been building a foundation of mindfulness in her own life since the early 90s. Her discovery of yoga in 2001 felt like finding a short-cut to a quieter mind and calmer heart. Training as a yoga teacher and co-founding Three Trees Yoga & Healing Arts Center in Federal Way, Karen has continued to learn and deepen her understanding of these ancient wisdom traditions and how they are relevant to our lives today. She has completed Therapeutic Yoga training through Subtle Yoga and is Certified to teach Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction teacher by the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Through compassionate listening, authenticity and humor she creates a welcoming container that empowers participants to experience their own innate ability to thrive.
Senior Teacher Richard Johnson, PhD (Harvard 1968), a retired professor, received his training to teach Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction by the Center for Mindfulness at the UMass Medical School in 2010. He was trained to teach Mindful Self-Compassion by UCSD in 2017. Teaching mindfulness and compassion, he has been inspired by the way participants change, even transform their lives through their mindfulness and compassion practices.
He has taught university and community classes for over 50 years and has practiced meditation for over 40 years. He is a member of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh’s Order of Interbeing, a group of monastics and lay practitioners dedicated to mindfulness, compassion and long-term social transformation.