To an outsider, Lina Shastri appeared to have it all: a loving family, nice home, and well-paying job. Yet the Acton resident felt so stressed, overworked and fatigued eight years ago that she was unable to enjoy any of it.
Shastri experimented with numerous mindfulness and meditation techniques before discovering the nonprofit Art of Living Foundation, where she was exposed to the research-backed breathing technique called Sudarshan Kriya. She says practitioners use it to achieve a deep state of meditation through which they are able to lessen stress, anxiety and depression.
Shastri, a meditation leader and certified yoga instructor, teams with fellow Art of Living instructor Raghu Krishnamaneni of Westboough to offer free introductory workshops at public libraries and other venues throughout the Merrimack Valley.
Maynard resident Michelle Olsen-Petty, another colleague of Shastri’s, teaches the full nine-hour Art of Living Happiness Program at the Tranquility Wellness Center in Westford. Participants pay $395, but then have lifetime access to no-cost practice groups.
In most cases, according to Shastri, the hardest but most rewarding step is the first one taken in discovering the many benefits associated with mindfulness and meditation.
“It’s like swimming,” she says. “You can talk about it all you want, but at some point you have to get in the water.”
Finding balance as a modern spiritualist
Spiritual teacher Danielle Federico says it’s common for new clients to worry that they will be unable to meditate due to constant intrusive thoughts about to-do items relating to their families, jobs and never-ending chores. Yet it is through meditation and breath work, she says, that people achieve harmony and feel more at peace.
“It takes practice and discipline, but anyone can learn to clear the layers of the mind and bring it to a standstill,” says Federico, who lives in Methuen and owns Modern Spirit Wellness in North Reading. “That’s when the magic starts happening.”
Federico offers free phone consultations to determine which of her dozen focus areas are best suited for each individual. Breath work, for example, is taught in an hourlong group session for $25, or through personal coaching to help bring awareness to the mind and body.
According to Federico, meditation exercises and breathing techniques rid practitioners of emotional blockages while easing them “into a journey of internal joy and acknowledgement toward deep healing.”
Once the practice becomes a lifestyle, she says, individuals see past themselves and learn to live peacefully while continually striving for balance and overall wellness.
Mindful of the need to slow down
Patricia Howard, who has taught mindfulness and meditation at the Steinberg Wellness Center for Mind and Body at Emerson Hospital in Concord since 2005, says her students are typically seeking relief from health challenges or just being “bombarded with life.”
The Mindfulness Meditation workshop for $25 teaches participants how to focus on the present, with practices including gentle yoga, sitting meditation and walking meditation.
For deeper study, the Jamaica Plain resident offers an eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program for $540, with a free orientation. Developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, professor emeritus of medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, students devise methods for centering and transforming fear-based reactions and habits into effective responses.
Graduates of this program, as well as those with an established practice, may take Deepening Your Mindfulness Practice & More for $300. The “more” is integrating the daily element of forgiveness of one’s own self as well as others in order to release negative attachments to the past.
According to Howard, the practices of mindfulness and meditation have a healing effect on all human aspects: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.
“These are very simple but powerful tools and insights with no harmful side effects,” she says. “The work is so rewarding because it’s as if I’m introducing people to their true selves.”
Art of Living
Modern Spirit Wellness
North Reading, Mass.
Steinberg Wellness Center for Mind and Body at Emerson Hospital