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Om is Where the Heart Is

Eastern wisdom and Western tradition merge for mindful living on the East Side

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Eastern traditions – characterized by the broad term mindfulness – have everyone from Anderson Cooper to Lady Gaga boasting their powerful benefits. Indeed, mindfulness has gained traction within popular culture as of late. Howev.er, the marriage of Eastern-based traditions with Western modalities has been steadily moving to the forefront of the professional mental health community for almost three decades as an innovative and proactive therapy. We’ve put together a list of local places to put you on the path to mindfulness. Whether it’s your mind, body or spirit you’d like to focus on, there’s a peaceful place right around the corner. 

Building Physical, Emotional and Mental Strength Through Yoga

The East Side offers a veritable treasure trove of locations and organizations to pursue well-worn methods that build the foundation for radiant health and wellbeing. “The sense of interconnection is unshakable here,” says Bristol Maryott, owner of Jala Studio: Yoga & Art over on South Main Street. “People know one another, and when I run into students around town, I’m reminded that I’m teaching my neighbors. It’s a true spirit of community in action.” 

Jala Studio champions warmth and inclusivity as “Everyone’s Yoga Studio.” As the only yoga school in Providence to offer classes in the Ashtanga and Jivamukti traditions, the curriculum at Jala Studio synthesizes and integrates the traditional ashram-style structure of Mysore Ashtanga with the more accessible Jivamukti approach. 

“By now, most people have been told to practice yoga,” says Maryott. “It’s often the physical aspect of the practice that can spark their interest. Any yoga is great, physically – there’s nothing wrong with having a great butt,” she says with laugh. “But the most powerful effects exceed physical goals. Overall well being means growing strength and flexibility in mental and emotional health, as well as physical.” 

For Maryott, the willingness to take time to nourish mind, body and spirit is substantial: “When we’re exhausted, we take shortcuts. We always feel like we should be doing more. But in skipping self-care, we restrict our ability to cope, which limits our ability to participate in the world.” 

Living in the Moment Through Mindfulness

Is the modern popularity of mindfulness an indication of a healing culture? Or is it only an indication of how many are mentally and emotionally suffering? There seems to be a widening interest in shifting to a more holistic healing culture, specifically on the East Side. 

Mindfulness practices act as a vehicle in shifting awareness to the present moment, as opposed to filtering experience through a torrent of conditioned responses. This makes mindfulness a tremendously helpful application in navigating strong emotional reactions. Up the hill on Waterman Street, The Mindful Living Center offers mindfulness-based psychotherapy to manage and reduce depression, anxiety, stress, trauma/PTSD and chronic pain. These therapies have proven beneficial for emotional eating, addictions and ADD/ADHD, as well. 

“I view [it] as a fusion of East and West teachings and healing modalities,” says the Center’s licensed psychotherapist Susan Hurd. Hurd has 20 years of experience teaching Mindfulness Meditation, and ten years of integrating mindfulness-based therapies into her private psychotherapy practice. 

Using the breath to calm reactionary emotions and conditioned responses – in addition to emphasizing themes like non-judgment, acceptance, compassion and interconnection – are Eastern concepts that are integrated into her therapies. The goal is to introduce and incorporate mindfulness “in such a way to make it accessible to all,” says Hurd, and “to not alienate people from different religious and spiritual beliefs and cultures... keeping [it] accessible and comfortable, and meeting a person where they are at.” 

The Britton Lab at Brown University facilitates mindfulness research studies on meditation for managing anxiety, depression and stress, and The Britton Lab integrates mindfulness into group therapy programs. Our community now has mindfulness-based treatments available in places people might not have anticipated. 

The Art of Helping Others by Helping Oneself

Whether managing day-to-day stress and agitation, or plumbing the depths of a deep-seated trauma, the art of actively paying attention can be therapeutic in and of itself. Consequently, techniques that bring you to a place of stillness, clarity and openness can lead to an understanding of one’s emotional suffering. Those who meditate gain mental balance and a heightened level of acceptance and insight. 

Channing Gray of the Shambhala Meditation Center of Providence practices Shambhala Buddhism, a secular path of study and meditation. It is steeped in the principle that the fundamental nature of basic goodness lives in us all. By deepening their understanding of citta, or “heartmind,” meditators in the Shambhala tradition cultivate an “Enlightened Common Sense” in dedication to living with clarity and wakefulness. These practices have the healing benefit of fostering compassionate care for self and others, and meeting enlightenment in every situation or state of mind without ever abandoning critical thinking. 

“It’s learning how to make a difference by not picking and choosing our experience; by being brave and cutting through conditioned notions about reality,” says Gray. “In developing mindfulness, an emerging spirit of contribution is inevitable. In the process of opening, we let go of everything pertaining to ‘me.’ A direct perception of things as they are arises, and with that comes a desire to be of service: ‘How can I help? What can I do to be of benefit?’” 

“Ultimately, learning to be human is what meditation is all about,” says Gray. “It’s not just reserved for peace and light.”