Former academic opens Summit County institute seeking a slower approach to a fast-paced world | SummitDaily.com
Brandon Evans
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Former academic opens Summit County institute seeking a slower approach to a fast-paced world

After spending most of her professional career in social work and academia, Kim Bundy-Fazioli has a solid understanding of suffering and stress.

"I was on an academic track and on my way to being a full professor," she said.

She took a yearlong sabbatical, and during that time started going through mindfulness training. After returning to the university, she realized a life in the ivory tower might not be in her best interest.

"I realized through my own mindful practice there had to be other options to help me not feel so stressed and tied up in a knot," Bundy-Fazioli said. "I always felt like, 'I have to get a grant. I have to publish.' Then I realized I loved the mountains, mindfulness and teaching. My husband was very supportive so I though I'd try to make a go of this. I took a leap of faith.

"It was for health and well-being. I did it to focus on mindfulness and to teach mindfulness. Now I'm the first in Summit County, I think, to offer this type of training."

She founded the Mindfulness Matters Institute in Breckenridge. And next month she'll being offering an eight-week class on mindfulness at the Elevate CoSpace in Frisco.

Jon Kabat-Zinn developed the mindfulness-based stress-reduction program. He defined mindfulness as "paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgmentally."

Mindfulness entails cultivating kindness. It also trains the mind to focus on the present moment and not just go through the motions. This increased awareness provides an opportunity to make the most out of each moment, and widens our options when faced with different situations.

"As simple as that sounds, in practice, mindfulness is a skill that takes time and practice to develop," Bundy-Fazioli said. "Learning to be mindful has numerous benefits and has been found to re-wire our brain and change our relationship to suffering."

Mindfulness education and training blend mindfulness meditations, yoga and movement, and body awareness. The aims are reducing stress and tension and improving one's overall health and well-being.

In the past few decades mindfulness has gone from obscurity to the mainstream. In 1990, only five research-based academic articles identifying the benefits of mindfulness had been published. Today, more than 600 have been published on the subject.

It's been seen to boost focus, attention and memory, lower stress levels and improve sleep quality. Some studies have found it even improves test scores, hence an increasing number of schools, both private and public, are incorporating mindfulness into their curricula.

Practitioners are finding benefits for mindfulness, not just among overworked and overstressed business professionals, athletes and moms, but along all class divides. In an inner-city high school in Baltimore known for low graduation rates and a large segment of low-income students, mindfulness training has become part of a 15-minute program done by all students to start the school day.

"It's become so popular because the research that is coming out is incredible," Bundy-Fazioli said. "What they're finding, especially with people who do meditative practices related to mindfulness, (is) that it can rewire our neural pathways. If we're always anxious and depressed from the rat race, we are building those types of pathways. What mindfulness does, and there are a lot of different layers to it, is it teaches us how to build different pathways that decrease that anxiety and depression and improves our quality of life."

"Mindfulness is fascinating because it's not therapy, it's not like, 'You need to do this, you need to do that'; it's just becoming aware of how you react and respond. And then you have a choice. You can keep doing something or not."

For a couple of years now mindfulness training has also been used to treat the high numbers of U.S. soldiers returning from barren battlefields suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Likewise, the practices of mindfulness and meditation are taking deeper root in the mental and medical health professions.

MINDFUL ROOTS

Bundy-Fazioli completed her advanced training for mindfulness teachers at the University of California at San Diego School of Medicine's Center for Mindfulness.

"The roots of mindfulness were made popular first through medicine," she added

Back in 1976, Jon Kabat-Zinn, a professor at University of Massachusetts School of Medicine, gathered a group of local hospital patients not able to control and manage pain through traditional means. But through mindfulness practices such as meditation, breathing and gentle yoga movements, he created a full curriculum that helped these patients deal with chronic pain better.

"I follow that curriculum," Bundy-Fazioli said. "It's amazing. It unfolds in a lot of different ways. It's really a progressive way of learning how to mindfully meditate, learning how to be aware in a mindful way, how to live your life awake."

She received a doctorate in social work from the University at Albany. For the past decade she has been an associate professor in the School of Social Work at Colorado State University at Fort Collins.

Bundy-Fazioli recently moved to Breckenridge full time to provide education and training in mindfulness practices.

Her business, Mindfulness Matters Institute, offers an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) classes, education and wellness trainings to businesses and organizations, and weeklong mindfulness retreats in the summer geared toward athletes, compassionate living, workplace wellness and grief and stress reduction.

"Often we are on auto pilot," she said. "We're just going through our day not really aware of things or noticing what is going on around us because we are so preoccupied with things in our head. Mindfulness is about learning to perhaps slow down, be gentle. When we are on autopilot all the time, we tend to be more critical of ourselves. So mindfulness says become aware of that judgment and self-criticism, and let it go."

Mindfulness is unlike therapy, in which patients seek to gain insight through mining personal history.

"As a social worker, in a group, I might dive into the individual's thoughts and reasons behind something," Bundy-Fazioli said. "You help them have insight into what is happening. In the mindfulness class setting, that information isn't necessary. In a therapy session people talk from their heads. In a mindfulness setting the intention is not insight. It's educating and helping someone learn how to deal with whatever patterns they are stuck on … You take from it what you want."

She described an example of what the classroom setting is like in mindfulness training

"It's set up like a class group," she said. "You're not in a desk. You sit in a circle in chairs or on the floor, whatever is comfortable. We might introduce a concept and talk about it, and then do a practice.

"The most popular practice in mindfulness is awareness of breath: teaching people how to become aware of their breath. It sounds very simple, but one of the things that has made mindfulness so popular is it takes a lot of practice.

"It means taking a moment to be aware of how you breathe. Focus on sensations in nose, breath and belly. Follow it in and out. It does something fascinating. The whole purpose is to help people calm down, become aware of the moment and what is going on for them."

It's helped her immensely in her daily life.

"I tend to be someone who is very high energy, wound up," she said. "It's helped to calm me down, to think before I speak, to be more aware of the moment."

FORMAL, INFORMAL TECHNIQUES

This is her second year of leading classes in which she's combined experience of teaching in a classroom with mindfulness.

Mindfulness is an approach you can improve but never really master. It includes formal and informal techniques

"Formal practices are done through breathing exercises and meditation and some yoga," Bundy-Fazioli said. "The informal can be done at any time, from something as simple as focusing on how you brush your teeth in the morning to just breathing and relaxing and calming down.

"People think if they do mindfulness they will be relaxed. But the outcome of mindfulness isn't just to come into a class and automatically calm down. It's a by-product. The intention is for you to begin to realize what is happening when you become nervous. It's all about awareness and noticing how you might approach various situations and what your mind and body does in those situations."

Even in a place as stunning and refreshing as the Rockies, the high altitudes don't always translate to a restful mind.

"There is a misconception that everyone living in the mountains is wonderfully happy," Bundy-Fazioli said. "But the reality is that suffering is universal. We all create our own internal suffering. I have a sense of that universal suffering. I'm not there to help people deal with that stuff. I'm here to provide them tools.

"The thing about mindfulness is it's not a destination. It's not something you learn and you got it. It's a lifelong journey."

Bundy-Fazioli's eight-week class begins Oct. 22 at Elevate CoSpace, located at 711 Granite St. in Frisco. It will run every Wednesday from 6 to 8 p.m.

She's is also offering a free introductory program to mindfulness from noon to 1 p.m. on Oct. 8 at the same location.