Mind and body connect in meditation
As Islanders begin gearing up for the busiest time of the year, Martha's Vineyard Hospital is offering the rare opportunity to slow down, take a deep breath, and become more balanced. Elliott Dacher, M.D., an author and counselor with extensive experience in meditation and mind-body health, will lead the course that begins on April 9, under the auspices of the hospital's Wellness Program.
Entitled "Meditation and the Art of Living," the series comprises 10 weekly sessions. Each two-hour Wednesday evening meeting will consist of a presentation by Dr. Dacher about such subjects as "Mindfulness, Vigilance, and Attention," "Open Heart - Open Mind," "Integral Health," and "Meaning in Work," as well as questions and feedback from participants about their meditation experiences. But most of the course time will be dedicated to actually practicing meditation. Dr. Dacher promises no one will have to sit in an awkward position or endure physical discomfort. Along with attending weekly sessions, participants will be asked to mediate every day on their own. Each student will receive a written manual, a CD of guided meditations, and one private consultation.
After decades of practicing and researching the technique, Dr. Dacher believes in meditation, both in his own life and in his practice, as an invaluable tool for health and well-being.
"It's amazing," said Dr. Dacher. "You really can alleviate suffering." All suffering occurs in the mind, he explained, and can be shifted by applying the right approach.
The benefits of meditation are far-reaching, according to Dr. Dacher. They range from relaxation, stress reduction, peace of mind, and greater stability, to powerful insights, self-knowledge, and spiritual growth. Studies have shown that meditation has a beneficial effect on overall health and immunity as well.
"You're not going to be the same at the end of the course," said Dr. Dacher. "People are going to find themselves calm, happier, and feeling more in charge of their lives."
The modestly priced program evolved from a course Dr. Dacher conducted for hospital employees last spring and repeated in the fall with some community members joining in. The first program came about when Len Bernstein, an Educomp employee who oversees the hospital's computer system and is an experienced meditator, met Dr. Dacher. He suggested that Dr. Dacher offer a course for employees and helped arrange it.
"It's definitely changed my meditation and brought it up a notch," Mr. Bernstein said. "It really softened me to be a lot more empathetic to everybody, to look at things from the other's side. It's had a profound effect on everything around me."
Mr. Bernstein was so enthusiastic that he organized meetings at the hospital where meditators could get together and practice in between classes.
After Susan Markwica, assistant director of human resources, participated in the course she realized it could be a valuable addition to the hospital's wellness program. "It became a profoundly spiritual experience for me," she said, adding that she found herself reacting less strongly to stressful situations and feelings. "Insight comes up from a deeper place; it's not an intellectual process. It's really taught me about how impermanent thoughts and feelings are. I don't attach so much so I don't react as much."
Ms. Markwica found that another positive effect of meditating for her was "learning how to quiet oneself so you can be present when you're talking to someone."
"For me it was stress relief, as well as getting in touch with a different side of my life besides the everyday mundane things," said Diane Reed, a hospital employee who participated in Dr. Dacher's first course. Ms. Reed said she had meditated in the 1970s and very much enjoyed getting back to doing it. She attended the group meetings and meditated daily during the course.
"I think the most difficult thing is disciplining yourself to take time out of your life to practice," Ms. Reed said.
One benefit of the course is that it provides the motivation and time to meditate regularly.
Dr. Dacher is encouraged by the fact that a meditation course will be offered under hospital auspices. "It's an opportunity for them to provide the community with health promotion services that address the body/mind connection," he said.
For more information or to register for the meditation series call or e-mail Susan Markwica, 508-693-0410, ext. 216, firstname.lastname@example.org; or Len Bernstein, 508-693-9187 (evenings) email@example.com.