Chicago Zen Meditation Community

The Chicago Zen Meditation Community now has two meetings a week for zazen: Wednesday afternoons in the Loop, and Sunday evenings in Lincoln Park.  Each meeting has a short instruction in meditation for newcomers, a period of sitting meditation, and a dharma talk by Myoshi Roger Thomson, a teacher in the Soto Zen Buddhist tradition.  All are welcome.  You can find the details and contact information on their website,

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"Low-Dose" MBSR is Highly Effective

Another study has recently been published confirming the benefits of an 8-hour version of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.  The study by M. Klatt et al, (2012) investigated the stress reduction effects of a program for staff of a Surgical Intensive Care Unit.  The mindfulness training was given one hour a week (at shift change) for eight weeks.  In this wait-list controlled study, self-report measures of depression, anxiety, stress, and quality of sleep all improved  for the participants in the MBSR training.  Work satisfaction also increased.   At the biological level, a salivary stress marker (alpha-amylase) was reduced in the MBSR group.  The authors concluded that:

Given the nature of the job, work-related stressful events in the SICU will not change, but the resiliency tools offered via the intervention may help maintain wellness and prevent the deleterious effects of stress.
At Integrative Health Partners, Dr. Becca Meyer has been offering a four-week Mindfulness and Stress Reduction course for a couple of years.   Our experience has been that people benefit greatly, and finish the program with an interest in continuing to explore mindfulness practices.  Since the shorter program (each class is 2 hours) is more accessible as a time and financial commitment, people who would otherwise not be able to learn MBSR have a chance to develop their mindfulness practice and deal more effectively with the stresses of their lives.

MBSR-LD is a real-world mindfulness program that can be customized for businesses and for individual needs.   Our next Mindfulness and Stress Reduction Program will begin in March, 2013.  Contact Dr. Meyer for details at meyer AT integrativehealthpartners DOT org.

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Millennium Park Zen Group

The Millennium Park Zen Meditation Group is a month old now.  We meet every Wednesday afternoon, from 2:15 to 3:30 pm. Each meeting, we practice the Zen tradition of sitting meditation (zazen) and walking meditation (kinhin), and we also have a discussion.  I've been trying to post something weekly about the most recent discussion, and you can see these posts in our blog section, if you like.  If you are interested in joining us for meditation and discussion of Zen meditation and mindfulness, just contact me at

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Zen in the City

I'm hoping that therapists and healthcare professionals who work in downtown Chicago will be interested in a group for mindfulness meditation.  On Wednesday afternoons, starting May 2, I'll be leading a Zen meditation group that's open to all, but especially geared toward therapists, MDs, nurses, PTs - people who are engaged in the bodhisattva activity of helping others.  We are a group who really need a way to restore and center ourselves so we can be available to our patients and clients.

The Zen Buddhist tradition has a lot to offer mindfulness practitioners.  The instruction for our style of meditation, called zazen, is beautiful in its simplicity: just sit.  Wouldn't it be interesting to just do one thing, whatever it might me, without being preoccupied with our typical fog of thought?  This is the art of zazen, and in the Zen tradition, we feel that our meditation doesn't end when we stand up.  As my teacher is fond of saying, "the world is your monastery."  The real impact of meditation is that it reminds us of what it is like to be truly present, and encourages us to find that presence in all of our activities.

Zen has a 2500 year tradition of encouraging zazen, and I'm happy to share it as best I can in group practice and discussion.  Email me if you are interested in sitting with the group sometime: thomson AT integrativehealthpartners DOT org.  You can also reach me through my Blogger profile and my website,  I'll be happy to give you the details and talk to you about your interests.

Deep bows,
Roger Thomson

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Getting Back to Beginner's Mind

In yesterday's Mindfulness and Psychotherapy seminar at the Fourth Presbyterian Church Counseling Center, we were talking about psychological flexibility.  So often, we forget that the way we think about our relationships, our jobs - the world - is just the way we THINK about it.  Recognizing the limitations of our views is the first step to developing psychological flexibility, which sometimes can be called "Beginner's Mind."  Seeing the bigger picture is one way to recognize the narrowness of our typical picture.  This video (contributed by Tom Schemper, the director of the counseling center) might help with that.  Thanks, Tom. 

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Mindful Eating and Weight Loss

This winter, our course in mindful eating will begin soon after New Year’s Day, on January 11.  For many people struggling with food and weight related issues, the New Year is not particularly happy. The holiday season often leads to overeating and weight gain as people are presented with even more calorie dense foods and alcohol than usual.  Add holiday stress to the equation, such as internal pressure to secure the “perfect” gift, or to create a memorable holiday despite financial or time constraints. The often painful discrepancy between how we think our families and our celebrations ought to be and the way they actually are can be difficult to tolerate. This stress and negative affect can result in impulsive overeating and overdrinking, because in the moment the rest of that cake and the eggnog promise some comfort and relief.

Overconsumption, increased stress, and resulting weight gain often propel individuals to a wish for change, such as making a New Year’s resolution to get control of eating and to lose weight. Unfortunately, many people make the same New Year’s resolutions year after year because goals such as “lose 75 pounds” or “get up at 5 a.m. daily to run” are typically not achievable or sustainable. A large amount of psychological research also underscores the importance of selecting goals that are realistic and moderate rather than extreme. An “all or nothing” radical change program frequently results in “nothing” because it’s not possible to maintain a 500 calorie a day “cleanse” without binge eating in response to an overly depriving diet.

Sadly, even if we are being more moderate about weight goals, more research is finding that, as millions of people have experienced for themselves, it is very difficult to lose weight and to maintain the loss (see this article in the New York Times). We have known for some time that only a minority of individuals manage to sustain significant weight loss, but now we understand more about how and why this is so difficult. Humans evolved in a “feast or famine” environment, and our bodies developed numerous mechanisms designed to ensure our survival. We seem to be hard wired to prefer sweets, fat, and lots of variety, all of which were adaptive in our ancestral environment. Diets tend to be viewed by the body as alarming indicators of potential starvation that must be abated by a metabolic drop, and actual weight loss seems to result in ongoing secretion of chemicals designed to increase food intake and restore the lost weight.

Does this mean it’s hopeless to try to lose weight? Not at all; I know many people who have done it and maintained their loss. Individuals who binge eat and respond to negative emotions by overeating can frequently change these patterns and gradually lose weight. Also, stress is a significant contributor to weight gain; stress results in the secretion of cortisol, which promote abdominal weight gain. Research is demonstrating that mindfulness based interventions can be very helpful with such issues. Dalen et al. (2010) conducted a six week mindfulness class that showed numerous beneficial outcomes on eating variables as well as emotional factors. Participants reported weight loss, reductions in binge eating, increases in feelings of control around food, and improvements in their levels of stress and depression. Daubenmier et al. (2011) conducted a four month mindfulness based program for stress eating. Obese treatment participants showed large decreases in cortisol secretion. Although they did not lose weight over the course of the study, they maintained their weight, whereas control group participants gained weight and showed no changes in cortisol. Finally, a one day mindfulness and acceptance workshop (Lillis et al., 2011) was found to decrease self reported binge eating in a three month follow up.

Mindfulness based interventions enable individuals to become more accepting of internal experiences rather than avoidant. Being able calmly and compassionately to sit with a painful feeling and to recognize it as a transient mental event lessens the urge to self-medicate with food. Becoming more aware of what hunger and satiety feel like promotes more attuned responses to these signals from the self.  Such attunement fosters the development of an sensible eating program that may result in weight loss. Feel free to  read more about Integrative Health Partners’ six week Mindful Eating Class, designed for people who want to find a way to actually live their New Year’s resolutions.


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Mindful Eating Class Begins Jan 11

Integrative Health Partners' next class in Mindful Eating, taught by Mary Connors, Ph.D., will begin on January 11, 2012.  We know that the new year is a time in which we reflect on our goals and our health, and we want to provide this support for people who want to move in a positive direction around issues of eating, weight and nutrition.

Our mindful eating class is a six-week program.   In it, Dr. Connors will help you clarify your needs and goals and provide really useful information on eating, dieting, nutrition and psychology.  She will teach a variety of mindfulness techniques to help you find emotional balance and respond more effectively to the stresses that can trigger emotional overeating. This class can help you learn to be more aware of your real needs regarding food, and more capable of being truly self-nurturing. Mindfulness provides a way to actually be present with your eating, and so helps you experience greater enjoyment and reduces the ‘automatic’ nature of overeating problems.

The class is a great chance to learn to develop a mindfulness practice and to apply it to a really important area of daily life.  Be sure to call Mary if you are interested or have any questions: her phone is 312-372-5501.  You can also read more about our program on the Integrative Health Partners website.  You can also send an email through our Contact page.

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