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Adverse experiences and ethics

Elisabeth Stanly discusses adverse experiences and ethics.
The most important thing about the ethics of the mindfulness classroom is recognizing the diverse range of experiences, that the students who show up in your classroom bring to practice. And to be ready and capable of meeting them with whatever arises in their minds and bodies as a result of their diverse histories and experiences. No, I think it can sort of be summarized in first, do no harm. And these practices, mindfulness practices trigger some very deep psychological and physiological processes. In the way that the brain uses interoceptive awareness, as part of the process of healing and recovery. So for people who come from histories of chronic stress and trauma earlier in their lives.
Their interoceptive awareness, their ability to pay attention to sensations in their body to pay attention to emotions in their body is likely compromised. So wide range of empirical research showing how those of us who have experienced mood disorders, anxiety disorders, depression, substance use addictions. All have compromised interoceptive awareness, intercepted functioning. And so when you bring awareness into some kind of a system like this without balancing it in a way that works gradually and safely. People have the potential where they can become more aware of the symptoms they are experiencing and their symptoms can be intensifying.
But then not have the skills to be able to work with it effectively, to help down regulate all of that arousal and those intense emotions that they’re experiencing. It can flood the mind body system with this heightened attention on stress, arousal and on emotions. And then make it harder for them to continue to practice also harder to regulate and I said, exacerbate symptoms. So it’s really important that people who are teaching mindfulness practices, understand how this works. And be very mindful in the target objects of attention that they are teaching starting meditators, starting practitioners. Many people begin with awareness of breathing because in some of the old traditional texts breath the breath sensations are considered to be relatively neutral stimuli.
But you know what? For those of us who come from histories of trauma, histories of freeze responses, histories of asthma or heavy pneumonia or near near death experiences, near drowning. When you bring full attention to breath sensations, it is likely not going to be neutral, especially if they’re stressed. It can actually create panic, can accelerate a sense of anxiety and stress. So really being mindful of which target objects to use. In EmFit, we start with the target object of the contact points. The sensations of contact between the body and our surroundings like our back with the chair, our feet with the floor.
These are intentional cues that help the system to really perceive stability and support, which is a down regulating, a supportive target object. So finally, for teachers to be able to teach in line and within this context of how the mind and body works. They really can’t teach something they haven’t actually done for themselves. You can’t help someone else reregulate their mind and body. If you, as the teacher have not yet done the work to reregulate your own. We need to embody this process and live this process so that we can help guide others along that journey too.

I interviewed Elisabeth Stanley in 2020 and this is what we discussed about adverse experiences and ethics.

Leiden University

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Demystifying Mindfulness

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