Week 45/There’s Always Change

How do can we cope, with equanimity, to a stressful and unexpectedly large change in our life? I’ve had a very slowly progressing health issue for the last 30 years that has been kept under control (I believe) by a pristine lifestyle of plant based whole foods, 4-6x per week exercise, and, for the last 20 years, a daily breath and meditation practice. So when my condition started to progress to the point of affecting my life unacceptably, I sought out a functional medicine doctor who suggested I take a soil-based probiotic. Unfortunately, taking this supplement set off a severe immune response causing debilitating symptoms.

For the last year and a half I have been slowly climbing out of this health crisis – for the first 10 months I was barely able to eat, unable to lift my arms, and at times barely able to work. Taking a shower and washing my hair was a big daily event! Anyone who knew me before I got ill would describe me as a health nut who was very energetic and fit. So seeing me, for months on end, wasting away and unable to get off the couch was far away from how I, and others, identified me.

It’s been a difficult and slow road to getting well. But during this last year and a half, my stable yoga practice of daily breathing and meditation have been my life-line to equanimity and wellness. One of the teachings I received about these practices is that we want to dig deepest into our practice when things are good so that our practice accelerates through the stability of wellness. Then, if something happens, you are ready!

The philosophy of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali tells us that future suffering should be avoided. Well, of course, you might say! But that move away from suffering comes from doing the practices that help us understand the causes of our suffering and to learn to be free from them.

It also tells us that our identification with, and attachment to, the always changing physical world of ours, will lead to nothing but suffering. We fully identify with: I am this body, I am my experiences, I am my thoughts. The word in Sanskrit for this always changing phenomenon is parinama and it means that everything that is manifest, from the most subtle (like thoughts) to the most gross (like our bodies), is always under going change.

During this time of illness, I’ve never had a harder practice then to just let go and accept how things are. Being attached to my old view of self led to nothing by suffering. People often asked me how I was able to keep such a positive outlook. My response was, “Well, if I don’t use this illness toward positive transformation than all there is from it is suffering.”

Through yoga practice, I feel fortunate to have cultivated a deep connection with something other than the material – to an unchanging consciousness, to deep wellbeing, to embodied light. So my work has been to consistently shift my identification more fully to this unchanging aspect, to fully identify with it as my truest, deepest self, and to simply acknowledge – but not identify with – the other thoughts and longings that arise and grow from attachment or aversion.

May you be peaceful and happy
May you be strong and healthy
May you lead a life filled with joy and ease

Please see my previous article about the pain versus suffering:

Kathy Ornish is a practicing and certified yoga therapist (c-IAYT) and a certified yoga teacher at the E-RYT-500 level. She offers one-on-one Yoga Therapy at Sacred Treehouse, as well as occasional yoga therapy workshops.  Kathy’s yoga therapy practice involves addressing individual’s structural, physiological, and emotional conditions. Her primary emphasis in all her teaching is the breadth of the yoga tradition using the appropriate application of the many tools of yoga in hopes that she can help people realize their highest potential. 

Week 44/The Power of Acceptance

I recently returned from a road trip to Tennessee where I had the opportunity to participate in the magnificence that is fall leaf peeping.  As you can probably imagine, a road trip through Tennessee meant plenty of time in the car.  While my husband and I had fun listening to podcasts and catching up with each other, there were also many miles spent in quiet reflection.  Outside of the hustle of daily life, I had time to reflect.

Themes that flipped through my mind like an old-school Rolodex included resistance (to myself, my abilities, interpersonal relationships, change) and falling out of my practice.

It’s that 1-2-3 dance.  I move forwards and then I take it all back.  Looking at this through the lens of self-compassion, I realize that we all participate in this behavior.  Especially if you are living with mental illness or another type of disease.  We start to feel better and we quickly forget the steps we took that brought us to this point.

With this realization, I could have easily spiraled into self-criticism.

Why can’t I be more disciplined? 

How many times do I have to start over?

Shouldn’t it just be easy?

The good news is that I didn’t go down this path.  Instead, I turned to my standbys.  This includes carving out time for meditation, daily readings, and journaling. One of my favorite daily readers is The Language of Letting Go by Melody Beattie.  October 29 talks about acceptance.  Here is an excerpt:

“Resistance will not move us forward, nor will it eliminate the undesirable.  But even our resistance many need to be accepted.  Even resistance yields to and is changed by acceptance.

Acceptance is the magic that makes change possible.  It is not forever; it is for the present moment.”

It then closes with:

“ Today, I will accept.  I will relinquish my need to be in resistance to myself and my environment.  I will surrender.  I will cultivate contentment and gratitude.  I will move forward in joy by accepting where I am today.”

I used this closing prompt as a journal exercise, which I would like to share with you:

Resistance: Where are the blocks in my life?  What am I resisting?  Are there themes to the resistance?

Surrender: What am I willing to let go of right now?  In the past, what has helped me to surrender and accept?

Cultivate:  Is my life currently in alignment with my values?  What do I wish to cultivate and what brings me contentment, gratitude, and acceptance?

Next time you find yourself off the path, practice acceptance.  That’s where the magic is and that is where change begins.

Sara Goldstein works for Therapeutic Oasis of the Palm Beaches. She edits and designs “52 Weeks of Mindfulness” for Sacred Treehouse. Sara is a writer, reader, and lover of poodles. A true introvert, she enjoys reading, tea, cozy socks, meditation and mindfulness practice.

Week 43/Sacred Sangha

The sharing of life’s ups and downs, as we navigate them skillfully (and sometimes not so skillfully!) is life changing. This excerpt from a poem written by Lynn, an MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) and MSC (Mindful Self-Compassion) graduate, captures the essence of what a Sangha can provide a person on this journey. 

The Sangha is one part of the threefold refuge in Buddhism, and refers to a community of friends who study, meditate, and participate in retreats to bring about and maintain awareness.  We have created a Sangha that continues to grow with both longtime students and newcomers taking to the practice. All spiritual traditions have a form of community that serve the same or similar purpose of gathering to learn and practice the teachings, supporting one another when they need a helping hand.  Communities have the ability to create safe spaces for those suffering, offering love and acceptance. 

As our eight week MBSR class comes to an end, our group had discovered that shared humanity has an incredible power to hold our own struggles in an even stronger container. Nikki and I are feeling proud and a bit sad as we say goodbye to the classes that together created an experience that we also hope will live on and continue to be nurtured at Sacred Treehouse and in other mindfulness communities.

Community is an essential part of wellbeing because pain and difficulty is all part of being human. The most effective and precious salve for pain is compassion. Compassion requires that we sense the pain of another (Empathy), with awareness that pain is universal (Shared Humanity), plus the desire to help or support (Kindness). I have witnessed compassion grow in the Sangha and seed the growth of self-compassion … and when self-compassion grows it seeds more compassion for others, and on and on. Communities will harvest what is alive within them and what is alive will seed more of the same. This is the magic of mindfulness — it truly has the power to transform the individual, the community, and the world. 

What communities do you belong to? What is being fostered or grown in your community? If you say you are not a “follower” or believe you don’t “belong” anywhere, I challenge you to hold that belief lightly and expand the category way beyond that of a spiritual community. Please visit our Facebook and share where you feel part of a community that fosters growth and connection for you.

On behalf of Nikki, Anni, and myself, I would like to extend a warm welcome to our Sacred Sangha as we continue to offer beginners and longtime students a place and time to practice, learn, and connect.With open heartedness,


Patty Thomas Shutt, founder of Sacred Treehouse, is a licensed psychologist and co-owner of Therapeutic Oasis of the Palm Beaches Dr. Shutt is passionate about helping others discover the benefits of mindfulness and meditation.  She offers Beginner Meditation & Advanced Meditation classes at Sacred Treehouse, in addition to Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, Mindful Self-Compassion and various book studies throughout the year.

Week 42/Walk Among the Trees

While doing a walking meditation in the woods of Gainesville this past winter, I connected to the trees around me. Pausing to take in the beauty, strength, and resilience of these living creatures inspired me to do my part in helping to preserve them. I have been called a “tree hugger” on many occasions, yet I do not believe I deserve that level of admiration. What I can own is the desire to preserve and protect our environment. I think “tree lover” is a far better way to describe my interest and fascination with trees. When fully present in the presence of a tree, I feel like I am being summoned, or better yet, serenaded by the beauty of trees.
The lightbulb went off during that walk …What if every time you bought a new piece of furniture, you paid for a new tree to be planted? Cool, right?
I love HomeGoods.  My relationship status with HomeGoods could be listed as “complicated”. I am certain it is not considered “true love”, but more of an obsessive, addictive relationship. As I walked among the trees, I became acutely aware of the needless consumption of trees- by ME! I was shocked and grief stricken that the trips to HomeGoods would never be the same for me. The good old days are no longer so “good” to me as I reflect on unnecessary consumption. This realization has given birth to a new interest and commitment to reduce waste and preserve through recycling /refurbishing. I know there are many people in my life that have been doing this for years and I applaude them. I did not appreciate the value of engaging in refurbishing and recycling furnishings. It just seemed like a lot of work and far easier to buy new. Mindful awareness of our interconnection with all of nature can bring a shift that changes the way we see things.
Mindfulness practice, like all contemplative practices, facilitates a slowing down of the mind and body, a moving into stillness that makes way for important insights wisdom. Through teaching MBSR and DBT, I have shared the value of connecting with nature with many people as a form of stress reduction. There is enormous research being done to look at the benefits of the proverbial “walk in nature”. Since I am a “tree lover”, I wanted to share the practice of forest bathing or “shinrin-yoku” which is far more intense than a moment of mindfulness and connection with trees. This is an ancient Japanese practice of taking walks in the forest to breathe in the atmosphere. I found a place right here in Florida at Goethe State Forest in Dunnellon where you can practice forest bathing on horseback! No worries and no need to travel to get some benefit. Simply start where you are with this practice:

  • Go to a nearby park, garden, or body of water. Leave all your electronics behind. Allow your self 20-30 minutes to sit or walk in nature. This is more than just a walk in the park; it is a mindfulness practice and requires being open and receptive to the presence of nature. You can do this sitting or walking.
  • Notice how you feel in your body as set out for this practice.
  • Set an intention to be fully present.
  • When the mind wanders, simply notice where it is, and gently return to what is present.
  • Notice the sights, the sounds, the sensations.
  • If walking, stop from time to time to pause and deepen focus on certain plants, trees, birds and animals.
  • Then reopen to the full experience of nature before you, allowing all the senses to bathe in it, and pause to savor any positive feelings. (No suit required)
  • Notice at the end of the practice how you feel in your body.

With love,
P.S. – If you are interested in more information on the healing energy of forest bathing read: The Secret Therapy of Trees by Marco Mencagli and Marco Nieri

Patty Thomas Shutt, founder of Sacred Treehouse, is a licensed psychologist and co-owner of Therapeutic Oasis of the Palm Beaches Dr. Shutt is passionate about helping others discover the benefits of mindfulness and meditation.  She offers Beginner Meditation & Advanced Meditation classes at Sacred Treehouse, in addition to Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, Mindful Self-Compassion and various book studies throughout the year.

Week 41/What is Stealing Your Joy?

You would never invite a thief into your house, so why would you invite joy thief into your mind?
Unfortunately, we find that uninvited guests may arrive on a daily basis, requiring us to use discernment as we learn to respond wisely. Discernment starts with mindful awareness that thoughts are simply activities of the mind that come and go regularly.
But what if they don’t seem to go?
Some move in, set up shop, and work away in the depths of our minds night and day, burrowing so deep that we begin to believe that they are true, that they belong, or even that these thoughts are us. As a child, the thought of being a Princess might seem harmless, but what if a child suddenly has negative thoughts of “I am evil” or “I am bad”?
As a psychotherapist and mindfulness teacher, I often hear about these beliefs forming in childhood around sexual behavior or emotional expressions.  What if you received messages from your religious training on the taboo of sexual desire or behaviors, and yet your human body developed naturally to include sexual energy, desire, and automatic sexual response. Child and adolescent sex education often brings discomfort and feelings of embarrassment in kids. Even well intentioned attempts to protect children from harm can engender a belief that sex is bad or evil. The interpretation or belief that “I am evil or bad”, combined with discomfort, can have long lasting effects – just like other negative core beliefs or self-talk that happens in the subconscious mind.
Mindfulness practice can create the space that is necessary to illuminate these beliefs. Only when you gain LOVING awareness, can you begin to question the validity of these beliefs. Then you can come to understand the origin of these negative thoughts, running constantly in the subconscious mind, and the impact they have on your life. It is important for me to emphasize that I do not think we consciously invite these negative beliefs into our minds; however, we can learn to rescind their invitation, ushering them out with careful discernment.
There are many negative core beliefs that haunt people’s minds, requiring attention to clear them out and allow a person to live in the truth. Tara Brach talks about catching thoughts on the fly in her book True Refuge, as she challenges readers to examine core beliefs as a gateway to finding refuge in TRUTH.
Tips on bringing awareness to negative core beliefs:

  • Identify some that may be operating even at 50% – those can be just as powerful.
  • Review a list and after identify any that may be operating, begin to identify situations that may trigger or prompt the belief.
  • Make a commitment to notice when they arise. Perhaps you will notice strong emotions and make time and space to do some mental inquiry, asking questions such as:

What do I believe?
Is this really true?
What is it like to live with this belief?
What gets in the way of letting this belief go?
What would life be like without it?
Who or what would I be without this belief?

Patty Thomas Shutt, founder of Sacred Treehouse, is a licensed psychologist and co-owner of Therapeutic Oasis of the Palm Beaches Dr. Shutt is passionate about helping others discover the benefits of mindfulness and meditation.  She offers Beginner Meditation & Advanced Meditation classes at Sacred Treehouse, in addition to Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, Mindful Self-Compassion and various book studies throughout the year.

Week 40/Discovering Inner Fitness

Is there anyone who doesn’t have a bucket-load of information about what being “fit” means?  It’s everywhere! We are given “fitness guru” suggestions on billboards, TV, radio, magazines, the web and anywhere information is being streamed.  Fitness has become such an American obsession that it has begun to do real damage. It is painfully evident that many in this country are struggling to achieve and maintain what I’ll call “inner fitness.”  When stripped of the toxic body-perfection messaging, and considered in a balanced way, what really are the core areas for outer/physical fitness?  Mostly they are: strength, capability, flexibility and stamina. 
What if the culture were to value these same core areas when it comes to Inner Fitness?  Imagine the positive impact if every student actively learned inner skills for creating and maintaining inner strength, increased capability, flexibility and, stamina.  The good news is that this can be achieved no matter one’s age, circumstances, or state of affairs. 
Taken into a different framework and redefined into the language of mental/emotional or spiritual dimension, these areas can also be described as:

  • Strength as the ability to manage, to not buckle under stress, to believe in one’s ability to do, of seeing one’s growth where before there was weakness, faith in self or God/Higher Power, trust in self/others, and an “I can” inner voice.
  • Capability as the having the skills to accomplish something, increasing knowledge, growth and confidence, having all you need inside yourself, trust in self/skills, and an “I am able” inner voice.
  • Flexibility as being able to think and react creatively, able to work with others and see their point of view, finding solutions that weren’t obvious, letting go of disappointment or control when needed, and an “I’ll find a way” inner voice.
  • Stamina as endurance, not giving up even when you want to, forbearance, deferring rewards and rest until later, finding inner grit to finish and do something really well, and an “I’m not going to give up” inner voice.

Take time each day to practice one of these areas or model them for children and others.  Promote learning and developing these traits through books, classes, trainings, and/or counseling as something you are doing to be a well rounded, highly able person. In this high-paced, demanding, and stressful world Inner Fitness will bring you to a higher level– inside and out.

Photography by Ciro Coehlo

Anni Johnston, LMHC-S, BC-D/MT, CEDS, CYT works at Therapeutic Oasis of the Palm Beaches as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Movement Therapist.  In addition to her therapy work, Anni offers weekly Beginner and Advanced Meditation classes at Sacred Treehouse.  She also offers book studies and special workshops throughout the year.

Week 39/Self-Compassion to Combat Work Stress

Most of us are no strangers to work-related stress.  No matter your industry, position within your organization, or your job requirements, stress in the workplace leaves almost no one immune to it’s effects.  So whether your work stressors are large or small, stem from office politics or dynamics, or are as a result of high-risk or even traumatic events that occur within your work duties, we can easily conclude that job stress is an occupational hazard for us all.

Frequently reported work stressors include fear of losing one’s job; unsafe working conditions or tasks; not enough time to complete responsibilities effectively; and interpersonal conflict with colleagues or a superior.  In all of these cases, a person’s self-talk and their feelings of control and value, both at work and beyond, are impacted.  A harsh inner monologue and associated feelings of hopelessness, frustration, or anxiety can affect our physical functioning (including headaches and gastrointestinal issues), our decision-making (often leading to poor coping strategies like substance use or impulsive behaviors), and our relationships with others.  This is where cultivating a simple self-compassion practice can mitigate difficult experiences, offering some relief from difficult thoughts and feelings about oneself, and ultimately allow for a little bit of peace and ease in an otherwise stressful environment, like the calm in the center of the storm. 

Based upon Kristen Neff’s Self-Compassion practices, try this simple exercise when you notice yourself becoming self-critical at work:


Nicole Davis is a licensed clinical psychologist at Therapeutic Oasis of the Palm Beaches  Dr. Davis has received extensive training in mindfulness, meditation, and yoga, and maintains her own personal practice in these as well.  At Sacred Treehouse, she facilitates group mindfulness courses, including Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, Mindfulness Based Relapse Prevention, and other mindfulness-based seminars and workshops. She also offers meditation & yoga classes at Sacred Treehouse.

Week 38/Walking Towards the Light

Seeing is not limited to the eyes. When I truly ”see” another person, it requires the act of seeing with the entire body, mind, and spirit. There is nothing more moving than to catch a glimpse of a person’s inner being of light; it is probably the closest thing to seeing God. For the past 20 years, mindfulness training and practice has been a path to strengthening this gift of “seeing”.
At first, it was my heart that awakened, allowing me to detect the light and true self of each being. This awakening isn’t permanent and we often fall back into the trance of our conditioning, awaiting the next opening to the light or truth of another being. Once we have witnessed enough times the true self of another, we begin to trust that it is always there – even when it exists in the dark. This is where the magic happens. As the underlying truth and being of another is held in loving-connected presence, it appears right before our very own eyes, ears, heart, and mind.
You may be wondering how a daily mindfulness practice moves you toward seeing the light in others.  Consider the following:

  1. It cultivates the habit of coming home to present moment awareness.
  2. It breaks us free from conditioned automatic thinking.
  3. It creates a momentary space between thoughts and allows us to experience now.
  4. We gain greater insight into the way our mind and body perceive the world.
  5. We find there is a way out of conditioned thoughts, feelings, and reactions and begin to walk the path….

May you walk towards the light!

Patty Thomas Shutt, founder of Sacred Treehouse, is a licensed psychologist and co-owner of Therapeutic Oasis of the Palm Beaches Dr. Shutt is passionate about helping others discover the benefits of mindfulness and meditation.  She offers Beginner Meditation & Advanced Meditation classes at Sacred Treehouse, in addition to Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, Mindful Self-Compassion and various book studies throughout the year.

Week 37/Kiss the Earth With Your Feet

Walking can be both a formal and informal mindfulness practice.  During walking meditation, we bring present moment awareness to the movement and sensation of the body as the feet rhythmically alternate between lifting and making contact with the earth. As a fast walker, I found it difficult to practice walking meditation.  I am conditioned to rushing throughout the day.   My colleagues often admonish me for being too loud in the hall or tease me by saying, “We heard you coming.”  I feel bad about disturbing others and even a little bit of shame for being so loud.
It was difficult to train myself to slow down and I often found myself resisting with thoughts of “I hate walking”, or “When will the bells ring to end practice?”   As I started to settle and my practice took root, I found it less irritating when then the bells rang to initiate walking meditation.  Inevitably I would fall back into my hurried hustle down the hall, caught in the cycle of noticing and slowing down.  The cycle continued day after day, year after year.
Then last year I encountered a problem with my feet that was causing constant discomfort.  It gradually increased over time until it was painful to walk. Pain was a great reminder to my pace and pressure, encouraging me to slow down with each step. I was deeply immersed in the study and practice of self-compassion, which allowed me to tend to the pain in my feet with great kindness and care. I was able to embrace the discomfort with loving-attention, using this circumstance to slow down and become intimate with my feet.
This experience opened the door to a greater appreciation for my body and its unique needs.  Through mindfulness, I was able to attend to the problem that caused pain, bringing attention to my feet and my stride.  Today I feel gratitude for the absence of pain.  The discomfort I experienced is replaced by a feeling of joy as I have now discovered a deepening awareness of walking meditation and self-compassion.
Some simple steps (no pun intended) for walking meditation practice:

  • Choose a clear, open space to walk  (approximately 5-8 feet in distance).
  • Stand still in mountain pose and bring all your attention to the sensations in your feet.
  • Slowly begin to lift your right foot and silently whisper, “lifting”.
  • Then moving the right foot slowly through space, whisper, “moving”.
  • Then gently place the heel of the right foot down and whisper, “placing”.
  • Continuing with full intention and awareness, begin to lift the left foot, following the same steps as before.
  • Continue with this pattern until you reach the end of the path. Pause to re-center your body into mountain pose and slowly turn in a new direction to repeat the path.

Patty Thomas Shutt, founder of Sacred Treehouse, is a licensed psychologist and co-owner of Therapeutic Oasis of the Palm Beaches Dr. Shutt is passionate about helping others discover the benefits of mindfulness and meditation.  She offers Beginner Meditation & Advanced Meditation classes at Sacred Treehouse, in addition to Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, Mindful Self-Compassion and various book studies throughout the year.

Week 36/Mindful Media Consumption: Tools to Hone Our Inner Wisdom

Melting Arctic ice, hurricanes, bailouts, unemployment, presidential elections, inflation, deflation, recession, depression! We are surrounded by an endless stream of anxiety inducing information – through TV, the Internet, newspapers, radio, and conversation. It is important to be aware and informed citizens, but what is “news” really, and when does another story become something other than news? We turn to various sources for insight to help us deal with uncertainty, and to calm our fears, but rather than clarifying or keeping us well informed, is this media information instead cultivating fear and anxiety? Is our habitual looking or reading simply making us more anxious rather than keeping us informed or educated?

As yoga practitioners and citizens of our society, what can we do about fears that arise in our lives and how can we use the many ideas and tools of yoga to help us cope in these stressful times? Below are some suggestions, both through action and with thought. Choose one or two to begin, but eventually you might find them all slowly working their way into your life. If you benefit, we ALL benefit.

  • Be clear about why you are listening to/reading the news. What are you trying to gain from it? What is your intention and are you achieving this intention? The yogis say that what you put in your field of awareness is food for the senses.
  • Consider limiting your access to the deluge of information. Perhaps even consider taking a “fast” from the news. This will give your nervous system time to settle down.
  • If your life has been affected by difficulty, try to use it, as much as possible, for positive growth and as an opportunity for change.
  • To transform your fear, be present with your feelings, shine the light of awareness on them and have self-compassion for your challenging feelings. Know you are experiencing fear, but you are not your fear.
  • Be mindful of your choices of actions and thoughts, and how each choice affects your state of mind.
  • What nourishes you? Do more of it.
  • Restore yourself through rest or relaxation.
  • Think thoughts and do actions that help you feel connectedness, both inside and outside yourself.
  • Meditate and/or breathe every day. Allow this to be a time to simultaneously connect and to let go.
  • Volunteer your time to those who have less – called Seva (a form of karma yoga, self-less service).
  • How much is enough? Perhaps you really have everything you need?
  • Every day, list three things for which you a grateful.

Yours, in service,


Kathy Ornish, c-IAYT

Kathy Ornish is a practicing and certified yoga therapist (c-IAYT) and a certified yoga teacher (E-RYT-500). She serves as Senior Faculty at Gary Kraftsow’s American Viniyoga Institute where she is Faculty Specialist in the Viniyoga Foundations Program for Teaching and Yoga Therapy. Kathy’s yoga therapy practice involves addressing individual’s structural, physiological, and emotional conditions. Her primary emphasis in all her teaching is the breadth of the yoga tradition using the appropriate application of the many tools of yoga in hopes that she can help people realize their highest potential.  For more information, please visit her website at www.goodspaceyoga.com