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Mindful meditation
By Theresa Grimaldi Olsen

Meditation is a practice of self love that helps to relieve stress and chronic health problems.

That's how Bridget Rolens describes the art of mindfulness meditation that she teaches every Tuesday at the Prairie Heart Institute's Center for Living at St. John's Hospital.

Linda Murphy, director of the Center for Living, said medical research has linked chronic stress with increased risk for heart attacks, stroke, digestive disorders, backaches, cancer and other diseases. Research also has shown that meditation reduces stress and the symptoms of stress-related diseases.

Rolens travels to Springfield from her home in St. Louis each week to teach the classes, but she is no stranger to the capital city. A 1971 graduate of Sacred Heart Academy, Rolens was a practicing nun in the order of St. Francis for 20 years in Springfield, serving the order by planning the liturgical music, Mass, prayer and worship services.

After leaving the order, Rolens moved to St. Louis, became an occupational therapist and experienced several difficult life changes. The mounting stresses of life led her to meditation, she said: "Meditation was a lifesaver for me. I embraced it for a spirituality that fit me. It's a helpful tool for living. It goes along with being a human being. You have to learn how to care for yourself."

For the past 11 years, Rolens has been teaching and coaching people in meditation techniques. Rolens teaches a particular kind of meditation called mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation is designed to focus on what is happening in the present moment - the breath, sensations, sounds, thoughts and emotions, she said. It takes you away from thoughts of the past or the future and settles the mind in the present.

Mindfulness meditation is modeled after the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program developed at the University of Massachusetts School of Medicine by Drs. Jon Kabat Zinn and Saki Santorelli.

"For over 25 years mindfulness meditation programs have been used not only to help healthy individuals manage the stressful circumstance of their lives, but also as complementary therapy for those suffering from cardiovascular problems, hypertension, depression, anxiety, cancer and chronic pain," Rolens said on her Web site, www.pathwaystomindfulness.com.

"The program is being utilized in more than 240 academic medical center, hospitals, university health services and freestanding clinics," the Web site said. "It has been adapted for the needs of groups as diverse as corporate employees, educators, attorneys, judges, correctional institution staff and inmates, health care professionals, clergy, and athletes - including the world-champion Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers basketball teams."

Mindfulness meditation differs from other forms of meditation that focus on visualization or concentration on one object.

Meditation differs from prayer, Rolens, the former nun, said: "Prayer is conversation with the divine. Prayer uses words." Meditation uses no words. In meditation, the focus is connecting with the inner self and directing the mind.

Rolens teaches and coaches meditation classes, workshops and individuals all day on Tuesdays at the Center For Living at Prairie Heart. The classes are supported with a grant from Friends of St. John's Hospital. There is a fee for most of the classes. The Meditation Circle that meets at noon on Tuesday is free. For more information about the classes, call 544-LIVE or visit www.prairieheart.com/



Story published Friday, January 9, 2009 ( Volume 4, Number 1 )

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