Staying Present in Stressful Times: A Structured Approach to Begin Every Meditation ~ Arriving Practice

When we practice in times of stress, ungroundedness or dis-connection from ourselves, a structured practice such as the “Arriving” practice, can help us re-connect with ourselves in a kind and friendly way. We can also develop resources and support that can help us ground ourselves and stay present during stressful moments during our days, without leaving our present moment experiences. You are invited to practice many of these resources and supports as part of the “Arriving” meditation, and they are also referenced, below.

Traumatic stress is characterized by an overactive fight, flight or freeze stress reactivity following a traumatic, and often life-threatening event. The reactivity in the brain makes it difficult to sit in silence as during those times we often encounter our inner “Fight”–especially towards ourselves in the form of a self-judging or self-critical mind habit. During such times it can be useful to begin our meditation practice with a structured and guided practice such as the Arriving meditation, where we are invited to 1) approach each aspect of our present moment in a structure and guided way; 2) apply resources and supports to help us move in and out of the present moment at a rate we are controlling and that helps us stay grounded and present; and 3) preferencing those aspects of our present moment experience that are in relative ease.  

Practicing like this can help us to stay present, as well as aid us in developing a kind and friendly inner relationship to ourselves.  It can be wise to end our practice period with a structured and guided practice such as the Lovingkindness meditation, which can aid us  to bring ease to a stressed mind.

We can begin our meditation by a three part practice that is grounding, down-regulating to our nervous system and orients us to the here and now:

1) Noticing where we are and when it is and stating this to ourselves. This helps the brain know that we are here, now, instead of some other time or place the mind may be gravitating towards. It helps us to “note” our location and the date as well as looking around before we close our eyes or lower our gaze in meditation.  This orients us to this moment.

2) Taking time to notice the touch points and physical support of the body.  Noticing the support of the chair, cushion or floor can be helpful to us. Hold your attention steady as you stay with sensations of temperature and texture.  Notice the physical support that is being offered by the structures under your body.

3) Taking some deep belly breaths and letting them out with an extended sigh can help to down-regulate our nervous system.  If you have more time, walking, yoga, dance or “shaking out” can also be very helpful.

Practicing in times of traumatic stress or overwhelm requires us to use the “steering wheel” and “brakes” of our awareness as well as the “gas pedal”.  In general, our practice is to be with whatever is happening while it is happening, in a non-judgemental way–moving towards experience, ie. the gas pedal.  However, sometimes judgements come and we aren’t able to skillfully work with them, or our mind is racing towards distressing material.  Whatever meditation we are doing, if we are becoming so distressed that we are losing our ability to be mindful–to be present–it can be helpful to steer our attention to another part of the present moment.  There’s no need to push anything away or deny anything, we are simply drawing our attention to something else that is also happening–using the steering wheel.

It can also be helpful to use the brakes and stop and pause–by opening eyes, stretching, taking deep breaths, or sitting or standing if we are laying down.

As we do the arriving practice and move through the different domains of the present moment, after we have noted, named and experienced our experience including the unpleasant, we can bring our attention to rest on  what is most pleasant, comforting, alive or easeful in each domain.  

Often when we are stressed we attempt to fix ourselves by challenging ourselves with what is the most difficult–believing this might be the most helpful.  What is actually most helpful is to allow ourselves to notice where the ease is–in our breath, in our body, in the emotions, in the mind, in this moment in its entirety–and let our attention rest there. In this way we can find shelter in the present moment itself.

With Compassion,


Trish Magyari, MS, CGC, MS, LCPC is a Certified MBSR teacher, MBSR Mentor, Certified MSC teacher, retreat leader and licensed mental health counselor in private practice.  She has taught the MBSR course over 100 times since 1999, and completed the highest level of MBSR training in 2000. In addition to courses for the general public, Trish has also taught MBSR courses for health and mental health practitioners, for school teachers, for those with chronic pain conditions, for those with cancer, those who are grieving, and for those with a variety of mental health conditions, especially anxiety, depression and PTSD. She is a pioneer of the field of trauma-informed mindfulness. It is her calling to help others reclaim their wholeness and their joy through the practices of mindfulness and self-compassion.

Taming the Wanting Mind

The wanting mind. The craving mind. The desiring mind. Call it what you will- we all have one and it can get the best of us while we are trying tirelessly to satisfy it. All wisdom texts tell us that we cannot quench or satisfy the craving for sense pleasures. Despite it being part of our human nature to orient toward pleasure and avoid pain, if left untamed, it can be highly destructive to you, your loved ones, the community, and the world. This endless pursuit has even destroyed nature and our precious Mother Earth.

My intention is neither to preach nor endorse a restricting, ascetic lifestyle. Consider this more of a confessional – a moment of catching myself in the act and then triumphantly choosing a different path (at least this time, anyways). As a psychologist working in the field of addiction and compulsive behaviors, it is necessary that I understand the nature of cravings and how to tame it. They say a teacher is unable to give what they do not already possess. Like my clients and students, I also continue on the path of taming and training the wanting mind.

My “wanting mind” appeared today while I was savoring a hearty bowl of lentil soup with brown rice and greens. As I finished the final bites, I noticed the wanting mind saying “…there is plenty more, everyone else has already eaten, I can have more if I want it.” During this moment of awareness, I made a decision to stop. I stopped as I named what was happening and turned toward the full experience of wanting more, sensing it well up in my body. I could feel the energy starting to rise in my limbs and torso. With mindfulness of the full experience, I was aware of the freedom to choose my next action.

I choose to sit and continue to notice… all the feelings…all the sensations of wanting… noting discomfort.  This feeling was most likely present many times before, but I had not noticed because I was already at the soup pot filling up my bowl. But this time was different. I just sat and sensed the whole symphony of sensations until they started to quiet down. In this quiet came an unexpected and incredible feeling, something that I have been searching for my whole life- CONTENTMENT. Yes! Although it was just a moment of contentment, it was a cosmic baby!

This is the kind of story that you need to experience for yourself – to feel it, sense it, and truly understand it. It is with pleasure that I send wishes for you to slow down, drop into mindfulness and discover this unexpected, glorious visitor, contentment.

May you be safe, healthy, and contented.

***Important caveat to those suffering from active addiction, trauma, and compulsive behaviors: please do not take this to mean that this practice is easy or even accessible right now. There is often pain and grief when we sit with craving mind and not act on it, since it often becomes a way to avoid pain.  Yet with mindfulness and other tools it is possible to discover what lies at the bottom of craving mind.

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 46/ (e)+motion = changing emotions

There was no real reason why I had to create a vegetable garden last weekend.  There were no plants withering and waiting to be planted, or a plot of garden looking bedraggled, or a special event that required sprucing up the house and garden.  No, the “reason” was that my energy was low and when I tuned in to see what, if anything, felt energizing,

I felt a little spark to create a vegetable garden. 

At first it had seemed daunting because I believed it needed to be a raised bed (this is usually created by wood siding all the way around and needs to be anchored onto something). Then there was a moment of inspiration– I realized edging could be used along the walkway.   This realization freed up even more energy. So, despite feeling tired and still a little listless, I headed to my local garden shop and got herbs, veggies, soil, edging, and fertilizer.  My energy never really lifted all the way up, but somehow I found the energy to persevere with the job at hand.  As I did, a softness and enjoyment flowed in.  I have always loved gardening. Fond memories of long days spent working outside in the yard with relaxed evenings enjoying our hard work played in my mind while some favorite music was played on the speakers.

Recently I heard someone say that to work with challenging emotions, see the word “emotion” as:

“e+motion:” OR “energy” (e) + motion= changing emotions.

When I reflect on this day, I see how it fits. My energy was low, fuzzy, tired, and not motivated for much.  Perhaps not depressed or blue, but not really great either.  I knew if I spent the day in a listless state it could create an even lower mood, which I didn’t want. So when I inquired and got a little curious about what, if anything, there was motivation for— surprisingly the garden idea came in.  What I did was follow the first inkling of interest and got moving.  I didn’t do it as a way to change the low mood but to engage something else that was NOT the low mood. In fact, by pursuing my little garden idea I was able to allow the lower energy to still exist, but at that point it was no longer defining my weekend—it was just part of the weekend. The day ended in a much better place (except for my lower back which wasn’t super happy with me).  I now have 18 new baby plants and 14 new herbs that I’m excited to water and tend to.  I love how it has created something I’m super happy with and increased the motivation for more projects.  Use the “e+motion” as a tool for timely engagement and perhaps you’ll find yourself creating something surprising too.

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 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 30/Could Nature Be the Antidote?

A wise friend said to me recently that when a person begins to crave being in the outdoors, something in them has shifted spiritually…that they have begun to genuinely embody a felt-sense that they are a part of something bigger.  Life and its pursuits take on a new meaning around this same time, and perspective shifts from one of obligation and going-through-the-motions to one of willingness and gratitude.

I like this way of thinking about spiritual evolution, and I think it also has special value for those of us who may need a little perspective-shift kickstart.  Are you someone who feels disconnected to your purpose in life or from others?  Do you feel annoyed and frustrated about work or day-to-day tasks?  Are you using alcohol or other substances to distract you from feelings of anxiety, overwhelm or to help you sleep? Have you become cynical or jaded when you were once optimistic and excited about making a difference in the world?  For people like me, who work in a helping profession, and for all of us who bear witness to others’ suffering, the above symptoms of empathy fatigue (also known as compassion fatigue, burnout and vicarious/secondary trauma) can wreak havoc on our ability to function and on our sense of self-worth.

Taking time out to enjoy nature.

Stepping into nature and allowing yourself to notice the intricacies and complexity of the world around you can be an antidote to burnout and empathy fatigue.  Surrounding ourselves with Mother Nature’s landscape is an instant reminder of our interconnectedness, and can lead to feeling re-inspired and rejuvenated. In fact, research suggests that experiencing nature with a beginner’s mind, allowing oneself to appreciate and savor through fresh eyes, is connected to increases in feelings of helpfulness, generosity, and ethical behavior.  Being in nature is also associated with lower levels of stress, anxiety and rumination, and can foster clearer thinking and more positive feelings about self and others.

So step outside into nature…if not a possibility IRL (in real life) in this present moment, then maybe journey outside in your mind.  Notice what you see, what you hear, what you smell.  Surrender to that sense of awe that comes.

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.

Meet Kathy Ornish, C-IAYT

Yoga Therapist & Teacher Kathy Ornish, c-IAYT
Pairs With Sacred Treehouse to Offer Meditation Workshop

Sacred Treehouse is pleased to announce that guest moderator Kathy Ornish, c-IAYT, will host “Introduction to Meditation”, beginning in late November.  This workshop is ideal for those curious about meditation or for anyone looking to strengthen their practice.  Through this dynamic and interactive workshop, participants will learn how to create a comfortable seated pose; practice systemic relaxation to focus and relax the mind; discover the five basic steps of meditation; learn how to use a mantra; and develop an understanding of our relationship to silence.

Classes will be held on Mondays, 10:00-11:30 a.m., starting November 27th and Wednesdays, 5:30 – 7:00 p.m., beginning November 29th.  More information is available at

About Kathy Ornish, c-IAYT:


Kathy Ornish is a certified yoga therapist and teacher through the American Viniyoga Institute (AVI), where she is a faculty member for the Viniyoga Foundations Program for Teaching and Yoga Therapy.  She is also a certified ParaYoga teacher, as well as a consultant at the Preventative Medicine Research Institute in California.  K.O. is Owner and Director at Good Space Yoga in East Lansing, Michigan, where she has a yoga therapy practice and teaches group classes.  Her primary emphasis is on teaching the breadth of the yoga tradition using the appropriate application of its many tools to help people realize their highest potential.  She is excited to share her passion for mindfulness with the Sacred Treehouse community.

Is Your Yoga Practice SAFE?

Is Your Yoga Practice SAFE?

Alyana Ramirez, E-RYT 200

Alyana Ramirez, E-RYT 200

North America’s yoga industry has grown exponentially in the past 10 years. Over 36 million people practice yoga in the United States – a number that has doubled since 2012.   Doctors are recommending yoga for everything from Parkinson’s Disease to PTSD. Even at social gatherings, groups of yoga enthusiasts can be found discussing how amazing they feel after their first month of yoga classes. With this increase in popularity also comes a plethora of new yoga teachers and classes. With so many new teachers and studios popping up on every corner, practitioners have more choice than ever. Yoga is a broad term for a very complex and varied practice. It’s difficult to know what you’re walking into when you walk into your new neighborhood studio, or even a class taught by a different instructor. When presented with so many different choices, it becomes clear how essential it is to offer a yoga program which creates an inclusive and safe environment for every practitioner. SAFE Yoga (Sensitive Approach For Everyone) is a yoga program which honors the heart of yoga practice.

At its heart, the practice of yoga is a practice in meditation – an effort to create more connection between mind, body, and the present moment. In application, the importance our culture places on physical appearance, fitness, and youth has pressured many yoga teachers to modify classes so that the physical benefits of the practice are emphasized. With classes named CorePower Yoga and teachers encouraging students to “push to your edge”, “burn off your Thanksgiving dinner”, or “do more, reach further”, the practice becomes unrecognizable. While there’s nothing wrong with taking care of our bodies, making this the primary focus means that practitioners find themselves walking into yet another self-improvement course. The yoga classroom becomes one more place where we aren’t good enough, strong enough, flexible enough, or young enough, as opposed to the mindful, self-compassionate practice that it was originally intended to be.

When a healthy individual goes into a class described above, it can be frustrating but probably won’t have lasting negative effects. They might still receive some level of benefit from the practice, enjoy the movement and breathing, and receive some inspiration. But what about an individual who comes in with an injury, body dysmorphia, or depression? In these cases, asking them to push harder, do better, or burn more calories can actually be dangerous.

Every person that walks into a yoga class is an individual in the truest sense of the word. We all are coming in with a different body type, background, fitness level, and mental and/or physical health concerns. While it is common for a yoga teacher to make adjustments for visible injuries or limitations, many people will walk into an open class with a concern that is not easily visible. Over 3 million people are diagnosed with a herniated spinal disc every year. 1 in 5 Americans struggles with mental illness annually. At any given time, almost 10% of the U.S. population is dealing with anxiety, major depression, or bipolar disorder, and over 31 million people have struggled with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Additionally, between 10-15% of the U.S. population suffers from an eating disorder.

Even for individuals who aren’t coming into class with an identifiable physical or mental health issue, the Western approach to yoga can have the opposite of its intended effect. Orthopedic surgeons report an increase in the need for hip replacements on younger patients who are also yoga teachers, and also note that it is not uncommon to see devoted yoga practitioners coming in with chronic pain in their shoulders, elbows, and necks. It’s easy to see how hot yoga, an extremely popular style, can be dangerous when practiced in a 104 degree room, possibly leading to dehydration or overstretched ligaments.

This doesn’t mean that the benefits of yoga aren’t real. Many individuals do experience real healing through yoga. But when practitioners are pushed by their teachers to do things that aren’t appropriate for their circumstances, real damage can occur. Making sure a teacher is well informed on the different mental and physical conditions that may require modifications in the practice is one step to reducing this risk. Of course, it isn’t possible for teachers to be aware of the unique needs of every single practitioner in their group class, nor would it be possible for them to modify the class in a way that works for everyone in it. Therefore, it is essential that teachers learn how to encourage their students in a different way, empowering them to do what is most compassionate for themselves in the moment.

If we can make mindful meditation the guiding focus of classes again and recognize the uniqueness of every individual, yoga becomes more accessible for populations that can deeply benefit but may have avoided the practice due to misinformed or insensitive instruction. And isn’t accessibility really the point? Non-harming and compassion for self and others is a core tenet of yoga philosophy. If we want to promote this practice as a source of healing, peace, and strength, we need to do everything possible to make yoga accessible to everyone who wants them.

Alyana Ramirez has been studying the integration of yoga, health, and human behavior for over 10 years.  She has trained in trauma sensitive yoga, is certified in yoga for mental health, and has had students of all ages and abilities.  She has seen firsthand how thoughtful, intentional movement, when built on a foundation of mindfulness, can be the first step to more positive relationships – with both ourselves and the world around us.