“We don’t have to operate out of unconscious patterns or automatic pilot,” says Lynn Koerbel ’04, ’06 MA of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Soceity at the UMass Medical Center. “We can pay attention, on purpose, in the present moment and without judgement. This is mindfulness. It’s about getting to know ourselves, our thoughts and our emotions through meditation… and from that place of knowing, we can make better choices.”
Koerbel is the associate director of the Oasis Institute for Mindfulness-based Professional Education and Training, which is the professional training and certification arm of the Shrewsbury-based Center for Mindfulness.
Once a successful massage therapist, Koerbel was forced to rethink her career path when arthritis made body work too painful. At age 44, she enrolled in the UMass Amherst University Without Walls to complete her bachelor’s degree. She continued to pursue her interests in holistic health and healing at the School of Public Health where she earned a master’s degree with the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program as the centerpiece of her final project.
“I had been a meditator for many years,” notes Koerbel, “but I was very interested in MBSR as it was offered in medical settings with no belief system attached to it.” She worked as a part-time MBSR teacher at the Center for Mindfulness for several years and then joined the staff full-time in 2012.
The MBSR program was founded by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn in 1979. According to the Center’s website, the focus of the program is intensive training in mindfulness meditation and its integration into the challenges/adventures of everyday life. Close to 1,000 participants take part in the MBSR 8-week training program each year.
Through the Oasis Institute, participants can move on to become certified MBSR teachers. “There are almost 200 certified teachers around the world through our program,” says Koerbel. “We’ve done trainings in France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Ireland and China.”
As a part of the UMass Medical School, clinical and analytical research is also central to the Center’s mission. Researchers are looking at the neurobiological workings of mindfulness by studying brain activity using real-time fMRI and EEG neurofeedback. Studies have shown the positive medical effects of MBSR around high blood pressure, heart disease, migraines, anxiety and depression, among other conditions.
“If there is one word that could adequately describe mindfulness,” explains Koerbel, “it would be awareness; as in the ability to be with things, even when they’re quite difficult. It’s really about turning off the auto-pilot and waking up.”
By Elena Lamontagne