Calm-Inducing Mindfulness Classes Offered Abundantly in Montgomery County

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Yoga: Adobe Stock

Our bodies aren’t shy about telling us when stress is kicking in, with that uncomfortable feeling spurred by worries over jobs, family issues, dating and more. Physical symptoms of system overload include breathing problems and sleep challenges.

Fortunately, there are many organizations aimed at helping tackle stress. Suburban Maryland stress-relief services range from public and private mindfulness centers to loose-knit meet-up groups. Cumulatively, they offer an array of stress-relieving resources, including meditation, counseling and other approaches.

A key first step in stress-reduction is figuring out what may be causing it. With this goal in mind, a common thread in Montgomery County’s stress-reduction community is mindfulness, a type of meditation aimed at allowing practitioners to become intensively aware of what they’re sensing and feeling in the moment.

“The level of emotional stability has declined in general. I think a lot more people are seeking, and in need of support,” says Deborah Norris, who founded The Mindfulness Center in 2009.

Norris makes a distinction between methods of achieving mindfulness and the broader goal.

“Meditation is a practice. Mindfulness is the outcome. Just like lifting weights is the practice. Strength is the outcome,” says Norris, a certified yoga instructor who earned a Ph.D./M.A. in Psychology/Psychopharmacology from American University, where she still teaches.

Norris founded The Mindfulness Center in Bethesda, but like so much else during the COVID-19 pandemic, it migrated mostly online. Remote classes and services promote “meditative awareness, stress reduction, and optimal wellbeing.”

Classes include Gentle Stretching Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga and Meditation. Plus, Tai Chi, better known as a Chinese martial art, which is also health training that concentrates on relieving stress on the body and mind. And Qigong, an ancient system of coordinated body-posture and movement, breathing and meditation.

For the organization Vikara Village, stress-reduction activities are out and about in the community, and no longer in a brick-and-mortar headquarters. Vikara Village’s programs aim to build an understanding of stress management techniques, self-care practices and community with others looking to achieve around those goals, says Founder and Executive Director Hannah Davis.

“We’re bringing the studio to you. We’re going on-site. I’ve taught yoga in hospital hallways,” says Davis, a social worker by background, in an interview.

“People think that mindfulness is sitting quietly and being by yourself and having to do that for 30 minutes at a time. While there is room for that, it’s really hard to be alone with your thoughts, especially if you’re with them all the time,” Davis says. “A lot of these practices, it’s more beneficial to be done in community, with a lot of people around.”

Vikara Village program emphasize the importance of “influencing character, coping and connections.”

It offers programs to deal with familiar, real-life – and specific – anguishes, helping 11-year-olds through retirees. Among them, “I am figuring out school and miss my friends”; “I am working directly with others in crisis”; and “I am juggling work, kids and my own sanity.”

Vikara Village has several yoga programs, along with Purpose + Peace EBB (Excel Beyond the Bell), “an out-of-school-time program for middle school youth (grades 6-8) to build a healthy sense of self, community, and belonging through mind-body practices, like movement and art.”

Age and experience can and does vary widely in Montgomery County’s mindfulness centers. Newcomers – and the more experienced – gather weekly for “Weekly Mindfulness Meditation” classes at the Sandy Spring Museum (17901 Bentley Road, Sandy Spring, MD 20860). The courses are led by master practitioners from the Buddha Meditation Center of
Greater Washington.

Mindfulness has many different forms, both physical and mental. The latter is an emphasis in the Mindful Resources of Montgomery County Meet-Up group. A rolling set of courses and discussion groups cover topics like, “How to take control of your unconscious mind,” and “When Things Go Wrong – Life.” Contact information is available to those with Meet-Up membership, which is free and available online.

The mental challenges of stress are the focus of a publicly sponsored program offering a friendly ear, through Montgomery County’s 24/7 Crisis Center (240-777-4000). Those seeking group-oriented stress reduction activities have plenty of options at Brookside Gardens (1800 Glenallan Avenue, Wheaton, MD 20902), with its long trails of flower beds and natural surroundings.

The 50-acre public display garden offers the public a sprawling oasis of natural beauty, peace and yes … calm. Mindfulness offerings include weekly yoga and Tai Chi classes designed to strengthen muscles, improve balance and increase flexibility; half-day mindfulness retreats; and guided mindfulness walks to connect with the natural world.

Mindfulness programs sometimes drew skepticism, partly due to public ignorance about the mental and physical health benefits, professionals say. But that’s now changing in a major way.

“I’m really excited that mindfulness and mind-body practices are starting to become mainstream,” says Davis, of Vikara Village. “It has been a bit of an uphill battle with people not understanding the type of work we’re trying to do. We’re just really excited we can bring to folks who may not otherwise have access.”

Davis adds of the nonprofit mindfulness organization, “Donations are always welcome.”
Norris, The Mindfulness Center founder, says the pandemic increased a public desire for mindfulness programs that was already growing.

“When we started in 2009, meditation and mindfulness was not a thing. A lot of what we were doing in our marketing was educating people,” Norris says.

Those are themes Norris’s discussed in detail in her 2017 book, “In the Flow: Bridging the Science and Practice of Mindfulness.”

The Mindfulness Center operates on the same premise.

“We lead with the research,” Norris says. “We lead with the science.”

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