Mindfulness meditation offers hope, healing for First Coast residents

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On Dec. 20, 2008, St. Augustine resident Judy Angyalfy lost her 22-year-old son in a tragic scuba diving accident, resulting in a crushing grief that altered the trajectory of her life forever. 

“It just absolutely pulled the rug out from underneath me, took the wind out of my sails and for three or four years at least, it was really hard to get out of bed,” Angyalfy said. 

More than 10 years later, however, Angyalfy said she now has a healthier relationship with that grief because of one major change in her life, the practice of mindfulness meditation, which she attributes to saving her life. 

“I began to practice, and I began to feel relief,” Angyalfy said. “I began to be ok when that grief came. It certainly still came, and it certainly still comes. But I have a totally different relationship with it now.”

Angyalfy is now helping people achieve a similar transformation in their lives by teaching a course in St. Augustine on Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, or MBSR. MBSR is an evidence-based program developed by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn at the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts (UMASS) Medical School. 

According to UMASS, more than 24,000 people have completed the eight-week program around the country since its founding in 1979. The program is offered as a complement to traditional medical and psychological treatments — not as a replacement — and is proven to be effective in helping treat anxiety and panic attacks; depression; work, family and financial stress; asthma; cancer; chronic illness; eating disturbances; grief; heart disease; sleep problems; and more. 

“There is research to back up everything that we teach,” Angyalfy said. “It’s not woo-woo.”

Angyalfy, who is MBSR-qualified via UMASS, is teaching her course at Anastasia Fitness in St. Augustine. The orientation, which is part of the curriculum, was held on Saturday, Jan. 5, and the first class is taking place Saturday, Jan. 12. 

The program consists of eight additional weeks of classes on Saturdays from 3 to 5:30 p.m., and an all-day silent retreat on Feb. 22. The course will include a maximum of 15 people, plus Angyalfy. The cost to attend is $275. 

Angyalfy said the course will focus on stress, stress reduction, stress reactivity, perception, formal and informal meditation, MBSR yoga, and of course, mindfulness, which she described as “awareness that arises from paying attention in the present moment in a non-judgmental way.”

“There is a peaceful place inside of us that we can access even inside the storm,” Angyalfy said. “It’s (the program) an opportunity for a great deal of healing.”

According to Angyalfy, those who are very recently bereaved or those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or chronic depression with three or four relapses should be cautious in completing the program and should discuss such situations with her first. 

Those interested in learning more about MBSR should contact Angyalfy at (904) 814-4397 or visit http://www.anastasiafit.com/mbsr-with-judy/mbsr-with-judy. Visit https://www.umassmed.edu/cfm/ for more information on MBSR.

Other opportunities with MBSR

In addition to Angyalfy, there are other MBSR-qualified and -certified teachers in the Beaches areas, such as St. Augustine resident Elizabeth Vanden Houten and Neptune Beach resident Susan Wilkinson.

The duo is currently teaching an MBSR course at In Balance in Jacksonville Beach. The course began this week, so openings are not currently available. Moving forward, though, Wilkinson told the Recorder she typically teaches eight-week courses in September and January, and that Vanden Houten may be interested in leading a course in late spring or summer. As a result, future opportunities may become available and will be posted to Wilkinson’s website, http://www.susanmindfulmeditation.com/, as soon as possible. In addition, Wilkinson, who has been teaching MSBR courses in the Beaches area for three years, offers private sessions.

“There’s increasing interest in this work, and more and more people are looking for a better way of life,” Wilkinson said. “A lot of people do sit and mediate, and that’s just fine. There’s nothing wrong with it. We teach people to sit and meditate. But we also teach them a mindful way of living. Mindful walking. Mindful eating. It’s a journey, and it’s more of a way of changing your lifestyle, than it is just sitting and doing a 30-minute meditation every day.”

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