Jun 8, 2022

Learn from longtime mindfulness practitioner and teacher, Yasemin Isler, about mindfulness, how it can help us with aging, and applications for everyday living and sustainability.

Today I sit quietly for a few moments and observe my thoughts as they float by in my mind. I don’t judge them; I just watch and notice. What does this observation reveal to me about my thoughts?

To help us understand what mindfulness is about, we interviewed longtime mindfulness practitioner and teacher, Yasemin Isler.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the intentional awareness that we can cultivate, paying attention to what is here in the present moment, with curiosity, openness and equanimity. It can be practiced formally such as with meditation and informally throughout the day. Over time, mindfulness becomes a way of living and being. We become more aware of our bodies’ responses, how our minds work, that nothing is permanent, that we can reduce our suffering by releasing our grasp or resistance on things. We do all of this with patience and kindness.

How can it help us with aging? 

We are all aging. In a society that reveres youth, we see aging as something bad and to avoid. Our bodies are changing, we are wrinkling, we may experience new aches and pains, we might not be able to do the things we used to, though it varies from person to person. Age does not define who we are. Our bodies are part of our wholeness and have a lot to teach, helping us recognize that as life progresses and things change, we can still make the most of the moment. Research also shows the benefits of applying mindfulness to aging. Overall, mindfulness offers a platform for a healthier mental and emotional wellbeing.

“Age does not define who we are. Our bodies are part of our wholeness and have a lot to teach, helping us recognize that as life progresses and things change, we can still make the most of the moment.”

How did you come to be a mindfulness practitioner?

My first introduction to meditation and yoga was as a teenager while visiting my sister, and I’ve been practicing ever since. As a practitioner, mindfulness has helped me through many of life’s stressors, and less usual challenges including a personal journey of illness and witnessing the deaths of many loved ones. Early on, I taught it informally at work and to a few close friends. Following my husband’s death, I decided to pursue the field of mindfulness in research and academic studies to better understand its benefits, with the purpose of helping others move through stress, distress, and grief in their lives and towards healing.

You offer a course on grief; can you tell us about that?

I am currently editing my book manuscript related to my personal journey with grief and my program Mindfulness, Compassion, and Community for Grief (MCCG), which I created in 2014. The course and related offerings, such as grief circles and community gatherings for grief and support groups, are based on a unique blend of mindfulness, compassion, and related modalities. This approach takes place in a community setting to support ourselves and experiences of grief and loss in a trauma-sensitive way. The course is not about getting rid of grief but being with it in a way that is compassionate and supportive. This can bring relief, respite and even transformation.

In some ways, these approaches to aging and grief go against the cultural norm. For example, it’s generally not socially acceptable to cry in public. We try to deny getting older by looking younger.

Social media is overwhelmed with anti-aging product ads and there is now an increase in product promotions using images of older adults doing sit ups and pushups. While we are worried that teenagers are suffering from different forms of pressure on social media, the same is true for older adults. It’s important to recognize that it does not mean that we are failing, or less than, if our bodies cannot do the activities social media depicts. With mindfulness, we create a healthy sense of self and wise acknowledgement of our current capacities and being with what is truly here.

“With mindfulness, we create a healthy sense of self and wise acknowledgement of our current capacities and being with what is truly here.”

What are some resources for people who are interested in starting a mindfulness practice?

Starting a mindfulness practice can be done in different ways, allowing for different energy and time commitments. This can be done formally through structured courses and practice groups. People can also look for local groups, sometimes offered at the library or through centers such as Cambridge Health Alliance Center for Mindfulness and Compassion (CHACMC.)

I also highly recommend you get to know your teacher, coach or advisor to bring mindfulness into your life, structured practices and reflections. The following article is a good place to start to learn more about qualifications to be looking for in an authentic mindfulness teacher.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I am a lifelong learner, starting a PhD program at 60! I both share and continue to learn.

Working with people who are at the end of life is a reminder to focus on joy, to be aware of the negativity bias (the tendency to bring attention to what is wrong) and bring presence to the moment. We are all passing through, not knowing what the future brings, so be kind to ourselves and to each other.

Guided meditations: https://www.tuned-minds.com/meditations and https://www.chacmc.org

Join us for a webinar on mindfulness, including its benefits. Yasemin will discuss common challenges with everyday stress, anxiety, and aging, and how a mindful approach may help. You'll learn mindfulness techniques and applications for everyday living and sustainability. To learn more about mindfulness techniques and applications for everyday living and sustainability, join Yasemin as she presents a Mindfulness and Aging Webinar on Monday, July 11 at 2 p.m. Register for this free webinar here.

Yasemin is also leading an Introduction to Mindfulness and Community Grief Gathering, both outdoors, in Cambridge on June 25th . If interested in attending, please visit the links to register.

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