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Johns Hopkins Faculty Members Give Mindfulness Training a Try

The eight-week program teaches participants to live in the moment.

By Karen Nitkin

Date: 01/20/2017

Johns Hopkins Faculty Members Give Mindfulness Training a Try

Neda Gould (gray sweater) leads a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction class for faculty members at the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.  Left to right: Paul O'Rourke, Danelle Cayea, Michelle Horner, Gould, Salwa Khan, Azadeh Farzin. Photo: Omid Noroozian.

Fifteen chairs are arranged in a circle in the West Reading Room of Welch Medical Library at The Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Fifteen faculty members are sitting, eyes closed, hands in laps. Neda Gould’s gentle voice is urging them to feel their breathing, see the play of light behind their eyelids, hear the ambient sounds around them.

Gould, associate director of the Anxiety Disorders Clinic at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, is leading an introductory class of her Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course. After years of teaching the techniques to patients, she is for the first time offering the sessions to faculty members.   

The eight-week program teaches people to be in the moment, without thinking about the past, planning the future or judging the present. Shutting off a racing mind can be difficult, particularly for hard-charging Johns Hopkins faculty members.

“Don’t expect to always feel good when you leave this class,” says Gould. “It’s hard work. People may think you’re sitting here doing nothing, but it can be exhausting.” However, studies indicate the effort may pay off with reduced stress, depression and anxiety.

Gould learned how to teach mindfulness in 2008, when she was helping burn unit patients as a postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins. That’s when she took the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program developed in 1979 by Jon Kabat-Zinn of the University of Massachusetts Medical School. “It was really just transformative for me,” she says.    

Gould is currently testing whether mindfulness helps migraine patients in a study led by Jennifer Haythornthwaite, director of the Center for Mind-Body Research. Responding to interest from faculty members, she offered a pilot program for 10 of them in April.   

The participants reported a reduction in stress, prompting Gould to launch two faculty mindfulness programs at the start of 2017, one at the East Baltimore campus and one at Johns Hopkins Bayview. The free training is sponsored by the Office of Faculty Development.

Faculty members meet once a week for two or more hours of guided meditation, attend a full-day silent retreat, and schedule daily meditations at home.   

Raf Llinas, director of neurology at Johns Hopkins Bayview, was in the pilot program. “There were times when we would sit and count breaths and be present with our breath, and that really spoke to me,” he says. He still uses that technique, he says, when he meditates at home several times a week.

“It helps me focus on what I’m doing,” he says. “My time off is more vivid.”

Gould’s classes are currently full, but she’s interested in starting more. If you are a faculty member and want to get on her waitlist, email her at ngould1@jhmi.edu.