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Longmont Center Offers Mindfulness for the Masses

March 30, 2019 GMT

When Cindy Garner was laid off as a result of “restructuring” at the Twins Peak Charter Academy in 2016, she wasn’t even that mad.

It was a chance for her to start anew, to pursue her new found passion; Mindfulness Based-Stress Reduction, an evidence-based mediation model developed at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center by professor Jon Kabat-Zinn.

As a former middle school teacher with a daughter entering elementary school, she was particularly interested in the science showing its effects on reducing stress, anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts in teenagers.

Soon after seeing a 2014 study from Brown University reporting that sixth graders who participated in meditation as part of their curriculum “showed reduced risk of developing suicidal ideation and self-harming thoughts and behaviors,” she enrolled in classes to become a registered Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction instructor at the Centre for Mindfulness Studies in Toronto.

During her meditations there, her vision was expanded far beyond the classroom.

“When I was training I was given the opportunity to attend these luxurious retreats with days and days of silence, and the word privilege kept coming up in mind,” she said.

“Not everybody gets a chance to come sit in silence in this beautiful place and yes, there’s all this great contemplative work happening in Boulder at Naropa University and the Boulder Shambhala Center, but it feels like it’s only available to the Boulder elite and people who have the funds to pay for this and go on retreats.”

In August 2018 Garner founded The Rocky Mountain Mindfulness Center with the goal of creating a hub for mindfulness teachings in Longmont.

While she was able to greatly reduce the costs by hosting these workshops locally and obtaining 501-(c)(3) status, the trick was finding a time frame in which she could effectively teach the material and keep her students engaged.

Garner started by running eight-week retreats that meet once a week for three hours, but quickly found that it was too long for many of her students. When she trimmed each class by a half-hour, each class had more participants.

She then began offering a wider range of courses, including two-hour intro classes, half-day workshops, as well as classes gearedtoward Spanish speakers and the elderly. This summer she’s even launching a week-long mindfulness summer camp for teens aged 13 to 16 at the Cal-Wood Education Center near Jamestown.

Each class begins with a mindfulness practice, like a body scan, where participants simply try to focus on the physical sensations in one part of the body.

“The body scan is the foundational practice for Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction,” she said. “It’s the practice of deliberately cultivating attention, shifting attention, and sustaining attention. So it’s like a workout for your mind. You’re building your mindfulness muscle.”

Garner said life in the modern era is brimming with stress triggers.

“Because we’re living in such chronically stressed times,” she said, “this stress response is happening when we hear our phone buzz, when someone cuts us off in traffic or when we get that look from someone. So we’re walking around all day with the prefrontal cortex turned offline.”

Learning to recognize what that stress response feels like, by practicing techniques such as body scans, allows people to create an early intervention strategy. That can be as simple as pausing to taking a deep breath before deciding how to react.

Once practioners master the body scan, they move on to more complex issues such as allowing one’s thoughts to come and go without attaching meaning to them.

The effects, according to Garner’s students, are “amazing.”

“The biggest part for me was just learning how to slow down and not worry about what’s coming up or being mad about what happened in the past,” Kirsten Ringer, said.

“I moved to Colorado two years ago with my 10-year old who has special needs, and with a change of environment, being away from family and friends, the stress of life just got to me and I didn’t know to handle it. I started to notice I was getting more impatient and I knew if I didn’t do something to change, that it was going to get even worse. This course really pulled me back to a good place.”

Taxter Williams, an accountant in Longmont, decided to take a full-day workshop as he was ramping up for tax season. Ever since, he said he’s been more productive and far less stressed.

“It re-set me,” he said. “It just let me get it all out, even though I wasn’t talking. It was like a day of flushing.”

At the end of the day, Garner gives each student a rock as a reminder of what they learned. Williams has his above his keyboard on his work computer.

“It reminds me to not get so stressed, and I’m not nearly as stressed as I was last tax season, because I have this rock as a reminder,” he said.

“When I get an email from someone making excuses for why they haven’t got their paperwork to me, instead of taking it in and trying to figure out how to solve their problem, I say ‘I don’t care, it’s not my problem.’ If you do, you do it, if you don’t, you don’t. It’s a lesson that affects every day.”

John Spina: 303-473-1389, jspina@times-call.com or twitter.com/jsspina24