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Familiar Faces: Michele Miller

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Michele Miller recently transitioned from her career of 13 years as a real estate developer and property manager to pursue the work of teaching Mindfulness. Now she is offering courses in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, Mindful Eating, and soon, Mindful Self-Compassion, at Yoga Center Amherst. She is also participating in this year’s 200-hour Embodyoga® Teacher Training at YCA. We sat down to discuss her journey and what she’s bringing to this new Mindfulness programming.

Yoga Center Amherst: Who are you?

Michele Miller: Where to start? I’m a Pisces, and I think that has a lot to do with who I am, really. I’m watery, creative, sensual, and love is my religion, for sure. Yet I’ve had, like we all have had, lots of hardship in my life that kind of formed protection around my heart. So my mission is to continue opening and softening, to be more loving and more connected, and above all do no harm, to myself or others – “Primum non nocere.”

Because I’m more watery, I tend to be less grounded, unless I’m doing a lot of work to ground myself. Yoga has been such an anchor for me – to come back to the ground. Now I’m beginning to see that I can be really grounded, but still open and expansive and loving and soft. I can tell when I’ve been out of practice when the hardening starts – and even just being in class this morning, I can already feel that sense of softening.

I’ve been apprenticing in this Mindful Eating program, and the program is based on these habit loops that we’re caught in – particularly around eating and our relationship to food, but what I’ve begun to see is that the habit loops are there for all the various vices that I have. So I’ve been working with staying with the discomfort, as opposed to “fixing” it – whether it be through a glass of wine, or the caffeine, or more food to fill my belly – and instead, seeing what it feels like to hang over the abyss. It’s been amazing to be able to stay there for longer periods of time, and really feel what that feels like in my body, and that I am safe, because I am tethered back to the ground through all this work that I do.

YCA: What brought you to mindfulness?

MM: I had a really, really upsetting and unskillful argument with my brother a few years back, and the argument led to me going into a complete state of fight or flight, in such an extreme way. It was so incredibly upsetting, and it led me to find something different, some other way to deal with triggers. Initially I went to a book that a gentleman wrote, about interpersonal nonviolent communication. I started working with that, and then somehow through that found mindfulness. I took an eight-week course with my first teacher, Shalini Bahl, and it was transformative and life-changing for me. I was in the right place to have taken the class, and I had the right, wonderful teacher and a wonderful group of people, and that started my journey. I saw, just like with yoga, the fruits of the practice so clearly and how they were affecting my life.

YCA: What does your mindfulness practice involve?

MM: I have a formal practice, 30-40 minutes daily, in one of the three categories of mindfulness practice. Either a body scan, which would be considered an embodiment practice; a seated awareness of breath practice, which would be considered a concentration and focus practice; or a loving-kindness meditation, which would be a heartfulness practice. I alternate between the three, depending on what’s happening in my life. There are times when doing a body scan is most supportive for me, and there are other times when my brain’s really scattered, and doing an awareness of breath practice is what’s most supportive. Loving-kindness – that’s my favorite practice, and one that I’m really working to cultivate.

I also spend 15-20 days a year on retreat in silence. During these periods I spend the day alternating between seated mindfulness practice, walking meditation, and loving-kindness practice. Spending periods of time in silence has been one of the best gifts I have offered myself.

YCA: What are you going to be offering at the Yoga Center?

MM: My practice, Amherst Mindfulness, has joined the Yoga Center and will be offering an in-depth mindfulness program that is going to evolve over time. Beginning the week of September 12th, I’ll be offering two eight-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) courses. MBSR was developed by Jon Kabat Zinn, when he came back from the East, having studied meditation and mindfulness, and wanted to introduce this ancient practice here in the West, but understood the need for an accessible embarkation point. The program is a deep dive into mindfulness practice, both from the intrapersonal and interpersonal levels. You’ll begin the first four weeks by learning the formal mindfulness meditation practices, and the second four weeks is spent integrating those practices so you can have more skillful interpersonal relationships.

Then I’ll be offering Mindful Eating, beginning in October, which is a fantastic program developed by Dr. Judson Brewer, who is the director of research at UMass Medical Center for Mindfulness. It’s a 28-day program, with lectures delivered to you daily through an app. You listen to a lecture for about 10 minutes a day; then participants will come and meet once a week in the group at YCA, and we’ll unpack what happened for people during the week using the program. The goal or intention of the program is about changing your relationship to food, to eating, and to seeing clearly your habits, and becoming disenchanted with them so that you can break them and create new habits that are healthy and skillful. Since starting the program myself, I’ve lost 21 pounds, so that’s been a fringe benefit. I feel physically and mentally better than I ever have in my entire life.

In the spring I will be offering a Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) course, similar in structure to the MBSR course. MSC is an empirically-supported 8-week program designed to cultivate the skill of self-compassion. You hear a lot about cultivating empathy these days, which is one’s capacity to understand how another person is feeling. Compassion takes empathy a step further and is one’s capacity to be motivated to alleviate suffering, in oneself or others. Going back to the beginning of this discussion, my greatest wish is for all beings to be free from suffering. I believe the only way to offer genuine compassion is through seeing my own suffering and being motivated to relieve it, first. That’s the basis for my interest in training in MSC and offering it to others.

My mission as a mindfulness teacher is to make mindfulness accessible to as many people as possible. Whether that means offering scholarships, whatever that means, I want to make this accessible to people, because it’s been really transformative in my life.

YCA: Could you describe what that transformation feels like – how you feel now compared to how you felt before you started on this journey?

MM: I think if I were to choose one word, it would be “Connected.” Connected with myself. Connected with the Earth. Connected with the people around me. I always, by nature, have been a very soulful, loving human being, but just like anyone, I had all my crosses to bear, and all of my baggage and experience and triggers. So the transformation is really in the orientation that I’ve taken. It’s not like I’ve changed my core. Like Patty or Corinne will talk about, the core of my being is the same; what’s different is my orientation to life and to people. Whereas before there was more fear, self-protection, unconsciousness of habit patterns, unconsciousness around decision making, I can now see more clearly those patterns and habits, and I’m inclined toward more love, more connection. My spirit has always wanted to be connected and loving and kind, but my human-ness has been exposed and affected by all of the various circumstances in life. So I use mindfulness and yoga as a way to support my human-ness.

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction courses begin Monday, September 12th (8 Mondays, 7:00-9:30pm) and Thursday, September 15th (8 Thursdays, 1:00-3:30pm) at YCA. For more information and to register, click here.

If you’d like to introduce yourself to the YCA community with an interview, or know someone you think we should feature, email sashalapping@gmail.com.

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