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Stress Reduction and Management

by Manuela Mischke Reeds
W. W. Norton, 2015
Review by Biswanath Swain, Ph.D. on Jul 19th 2016

8 Keys to Practicing Mindfulness

An effort has been made in the book titled "8 keys to practicing mindfulness" by Manuela Mischke Reeds to resolve the most common problem that we, in this modern world, have been facing for so long. The problem is identified as a mind which is completely disturbed by greed and mere desires and is filled with negative thoughts about everything. As a result, an individual starts experiencing stress, trauma, anxiety, depression, and addiction. These issues, further, derails an individual from his/her normal course of life. Reeds comes up with 8 sound techniques to bring the mind back into a 'pure form of normalcy' -- the state which has been named by Reeds as mindfulness. Having mindfulness and maintaining the same across space (space refers to family, various organizations, various fora and various societal upshots) and time is must for any individual whosoever. Because, if someone practices mindfulness, he/she will be able to recognize what is going well in his/her life and won't be disturbed by the petty day-to-day obstacles of the modern world.

Reflecting on the lifestyle of the people in the modern world, Reeds holds that an individual must try to persuade him/her to develop the skill of 'living in the present'. Most of the time, our thought-process is constrained and curtailed by "fear and anticipation" (p. xvi). We, unnecessarily, get worried about the virtual world that we create by anticipation. In addition, we feel low and restlessness by "lamenting what has been" in the past (p. 1). In short, not only does the current world around us and the ones happened in the past but also the virtual world created by anticipation frighten us every now and then. As an upshot, we very often loose that state of mind which was given at the time of birth. Hence, there is a need for an individual in question to concentrate on and live in the present that the individual very often forgets to do. Because, the advantage with living in the present, as Reeds points out, is "you can see, feel, and sense what is truly happening on a continuum that can range from feeling gratitude for your life to observing painful moments or pattern" (p. xvi). She adds that by being in the present, the concerned individual will be able to focus on what works and what he/she wants to change, in a better way. In addition, the advantageous individual will be able to see what is good about himself/herself and others, and makes decisions. However, it is an uphill task for an individual in the modern world to develop such a skill which would help him/her focus in the present. Reeds, through her book, tries to guide an individual to cultivate this much-needed skill of 'living in the present' by using 8 sound techniques. These 8 sound and key techniques are not only easy to practice, but also effective in nature for individuals from all walks of life.

The book contains eight chapters, each depicting about a key technique that Reeds has proposed. The set of chapters are preceded by a precise 'Introduction' and an "Explanation of Exercise Icons and Levels of Practice" required for mindfulness. The book ends with an 'Epilogue', besides the pointers to a tome of worthy readings. Written with lucidity and precision, the book has an attractive way of discussing the problems and their solution through various effective exercise techniques that each chapter is impregnated with. The flow of content is very good, quickly readable, and easily understandable. I am fortunate to have with me a book like this as it would help me practice the techniques and run a life of peace and tranquillity. Of all the appealing principles that the book is loaded with, the prolific one that Reeds proffers towards the end of this book is "[p]erform acts of kindness in your life, and branch out" (p. 212).  I found this principle as the most requisite one for the modern world. Because, if this principle is translated into action by each and every individual across his/her life, the modern world would turn into a world of love and success.

Before providing precise chapter-wise discussion and the findings, I would like to share with the reader the focus of each chapter. Chapters 1, 2, and 3 (i.e., on the keys 1, 2, and 3) discuss the guidelines of posture and breathing required for an individual to calm himself/herself down and to establish a basic practice to gain the state of mindfulness. Chapters 4, 5, and 6 (i.e., on the keys 4, 5, and 6) discuss the ways to identify the challenging terrains that an individual may encounter in his/her life and also discuss various techniques to deal with these terrains successfully. Chapters 7 and 8 (i.e., on the keys 7 and 8) discuss on the methods to sustain calmness and also on the methods that can help an individual choose abundance way of thinking and bracket a scarcity state of mind. The book is an epitome of a blend of unambiguous theoretical discussions on one side and exercise techniques with clear instructions on the other.

The prime focus of CHAPTER 1 on KEY 1 is to discuss the techniques to "meet the present moment". The chapter begins with a discussion on the various good qualities that an individual possesses during his/her childhood days in comparison to the days later. Unlike other stages, in the early stage of his/her life, an individual does not get perturbed by the future and the past, rather gets absorbed in the happenings of the present and particularly by the happenings of every now. As the life crosses that stage and reaches at the stage of never-ending desires and craves, he/she loses the state of mindfulness. To regain the state of mindfulness, as discussed in the paragraph titled "Mindfulness Versus Meditation", many people meditate. Meditation is one of the methods applied in the process of gaining mindfulness. Though meditation has been applied by various religions for many benefits, mindfulness is not delimited within a particular sect or religion. Gaining mindfulness is acultural (beyond any culture) and areligious (beyond any religion). Through the paragraph titled "Overall Benefits", the author discusses various benefits of practicing mindfulness, such as Calmness, Creativity, Effectiveness, and Connection. And through the paragraph titled "Health Benefits", the author extends her discussion on the benefits of practicing mindfulness. They are, such as Reduced Stress/Anxiety Symptoms, Improvement in PTSD Symptoms, Reduction in Chronic Pain, Assistance in Combating Addition, Better Heart Health, Improved Memory and Attention, Better Emotion Regulation, and More Compassion. She also extends her discussion on benefits towards "Lifetime Benefits" in the next paragraph. In the end, along with demonstrating an exercise, i.e. "Exercise: Taking Your Baseline", the author lays various guidelines like "Find a Safe Place" etc. and foundations, such as "Set the Right Frame" meant for practicing mindfulness.

The CHAPTER 2 on KEY 2 begins with a discussion on the technique called "Start where you are". This technique says that an individual, in the midst of doing many day-to-day chores, is required to concentrate on his/her breath and posture, how he/she is feeling, the tone in his/her voice etc. This awareness changes his/her experience. Then, the author discusses the concepts/techniques, the contributories of the state of mindfulness, such as "The Inner Witness", "Stay with Your Curiosity", "Start With the Basics: Posture" (Postures such as: Inner and Outer Posture, Getting Creative With Your Posture); along with a discussion on the right postures such as Sitting, Lying, Walking and Moving. The chapter ends with the exercise, i.e. "Exercise: Start With Simple Breath and Posture Awareness".

The CHAPTER 3 on KEY 3 has been set out with a discussion on the method to discover the natural state of slowing down. The state of slowing down is most essential step for an individual aiming for mindfulness. Of course, it has become a daunting task for anyone after getting habituated with dealing with everything in a fast and breakneck pace. Hence, Reeds discusses on various sub-issues related to the main issue, such as "Desert Driving", "Slow and Restore", "Slow and Remember" and on five ways to slow down like "Engage the Body", "Recognize the Fear", "Notice and Slow the Breath", Listen to Your Internal Motivation", "Mind or Body: Focus and Stay With it". In addition, the chapter demonstrates various exercises, such as "Exercise: Brain-Heart-Belly Sequence", "Exercise: Basic Slowing Down", and "Exercise: Listen Inside" that could enable an individual to develop the technique of slowing down.

The focus of CHAPTER 4 on KEY 4 is to fortify an individual to befriend his/her body, not to neglect his/her body. Because most of us are not fully attuned to the rhythms of healthy eating, sufficient sleep, and many other activities related to the healthy body. We do not realize that a healthy mind in a healthy body or a sound mind in a sound body And, to develop the state of mindfulness, an individual is required to have healthy body. Hence, Reeds presents discussions on various methods to garner healthy body, required for mindfulness. Discussion, in this chapter, has also been made on "Meditating With the Body in Mind" and on the exercise technique to develop the same, followed by various other issues and their aligned exercise techniques.

An effort has been made in the CHAPTER 5 on KEY 5 to discuss the methods to trust sensations and tame emotions. An individual cannot attain the stages discussed in the previous chapters, if he/she is unable to trust his/her sensations and unable to tame his/her emotions that come to the concerned individual in a random fashion. Hence, in order for an individual to trust sensations and tame emotions, he/she is required to practice the techniques, such as, "Exercise: Scan for Emotions", "Exercise: Accepting and Releasing Any Emotion", and "Exercise: Loud and Clear: The Courage to Face What is". Apart from demonstrating the exercises, the chapter discusses various issues, such as "Cool Head Remembers", "Emotions We Hold Hostage", "Emotions we Hind Behind" and so on.

CHAPTER 6 on KEY 6 has been developed by the author to bring the technique "ride through tough times" into practice, by citing a beautiful story of a lady who has gone through a tough time in her life and, in the end, the lady was a winner. The author tries to make an individual in the mundane world aware that "[d]uring tough times, it's easy to lose perspective and get lost in the worry, stress, and anxiety of it all" (p.130). As a result, an individual might land up with doing unethical activities. So, to deal with the tough times, an individual can use mindfulness to help himself/herself balance the stress and find little islands of calm, as mindfulness can give him/her opportunities to practice kindness and tenderness towards yourself and others. Further, the chapter lays various exercise techniques, such as "Exercise: Strength Inventory", "Exercise: Getting Unstuck", "Exercise: The Dark Moments: Touch and Go", and "Exercise: Sky Meditation", to develop strength during a tough time and brings discussions on the topics/issues like "Remember Your Resources", "Coping Strategies: Numbing and Escaping", "Getting Unstuck" etc.

The author, through CHAPTER 7 on KEY 7, tries to help an individual aiming for mindfulness by showing the methods to cultivate inner calmness. Author adds that if someone has practiced other six key techniques of mindfulness religiously, he/she must have got a state of calmness developed within him/her. The job of key 7 is to deepen the already developed state of calmness further so as to make the concerned individual remain unperturbed by the obstacles of the mundane world. The chapter demonstrates "Exercise: Calm the Chaotic Moment" and "Exercise: Observing the Space of Silence", apart from discussing on various conceptual underpinning related to the act of deepening the state of calmness.

Most of the time, we doubt in our given ability. We do not realize that every individual is endowed with a unique attribute and capacity. It is a fact that an individual, barring some problems, can win over many problems that he/she encounter in his/her life. An individual, instead of putting effort, think that he/she is not good enough, he/she does not have the required ability, he/she cannot do as the given problem is out of his/her capacity and so on and so forth. Reeds names this state of an individual as "the state of scarcity, which is opposite of an abundance state of mind" (p. 183). Through the CHAPTER 8 on KEY 8, Reeds makes it very clear that an individual who is having the state of scarcity, i.e. not having an abundance state of mind does not look at "what is good, whole and abundant" (p. 183); rather compares himself/herself to others. The author tries to motivate an individual having the state of scarcity by saying that instead of demeaning his/her capacity, he/she must face the obstacles. If he/she keeps on facing each and every obstacle that come in his/her way and, further, tries to resolve the same with the given capacity, a time would come where the concerned individual won't be perturbed by even bigger obstacle. And to help an individual develop an abundance state of mind, Reeds demonstrates "Exercise: Reframe the Inner Critic", and "Exercise: Heart Practice", except discussing various other issues surrounded around the state of scarcity.

The book 8 Keys to Practicing Mindfulness presents 21 sound and unique exercises spread across all the 8 chapters. An individual aiming to develop mindfulness within him/her is required to practice again and again and to maintain the order prescribed by the author. Of course, the benefit(s) that this book is going to fetch for the concerned individual is not possible in one day or in a couple of days, rather an output of continuous and consistent practice across time. Firstly, since the benefit is not quick and secondly, since he/she is the instructor for himself/herself, there might be a chance that an individual may not get enthused to read and practice the exercises and in a way, may not be able to appreciate the worth of the effort made in the book.


© 2016 Biswanath Swain


Dr. Biswanath Swain (PhD, IIT Kanpur), Faculty Member, Area of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Management Indore