Cultivating Mindfulness

What promotes less stress, depression, and fatigue while simultaneously lowering anxiety, high blood pressure, and worry, and doesn’t come in pill form? Mindfulness.

It is a simple practice that promotes all sorts of feel-good results, like better sleep and an increased ability to deal with stressful situations. Just ask Sturgeon Bay resident Barbara Wulf, who has taught the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program at Ministry Door County Medical Center (MDCMC) for the past three years.

“Mindfulness really is a practice of cultivating non-judgmental awareness in everyday life,” Wulf said. “It develops the potential to experience each moment, no matter how difficult or intense, with greater serenity and clarity … you learn to be with your experience. When you’re stressed, you often push your experience away and look for distractions, like bad TV or drinking too much wine, just not really being with and accepting what’s going on.”

Wulf herself turned to meditation in 1997 when she faced a particularly trying time in her life and after a diligent five years of practice, attended training for the MBSR program at the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Medical School Center for Mindfulness. Since completing her training, she has taught at universities, community clinics, nonprofits and corporate settings.

Wulf said the cause of stress for most people is the inability to accept something that is happening or has happened. Mindfulness is a practice focused on being with one’s experience, accepting it, and moving on. It is all about staying in the present.

The program Wulf leads at MDCMC, which she credits Dr. M. Chona S. Antonio (Family Medicine, Integrative Medicine and Acupuncture services at MDCMC) for helping bring to the area, is based on the UMass program of the same name. The program provides guided instruction, gentle stretching and mindful yoga, group discussions, daily home assignments, and tools to help students better their practice.

This is typically done in an intensive eight-week program. But what if you don’t have time to attend the program? According to, an initiative “that celebrates being mindful in all aspects of daily living,” lays it out pretty simply: “take a good seat, pay attention to the breath, and when your attention wanders, return.”

The website recommends beginners choose a short amount of time to practice (five or 10 minutes) and eventually build up until your mindfulness practice lasts 45 minutes or an hour. It may take some time, but the benefits are well worth it, according to the America Psychological Association: reduced rumination, reduced stress, improvements to memory, better focus, less emotional reactivity, cognitive flexibility, more satisfaction with relationships, enhanced self-insight, and numerous health benefits, including increased immune functioning and reduction in psychological distress.

Ultimately, Wulf said its biggest benefit is bringing self-awareness and clarity to an individual.

“People walk away with much more awareness of why they have stress, why they have pain, why they have illness in their daily lives,” Wulf said. “It allows you to see more clearly your habits and gives you the opportunity to respond better to your stress. It’s life changing.”

Wulf will lead an eight-week MBSR program at MDCMC beginning April 7. For more information on future sessions, contact Wulf at 920.493.3370 or email [email protected].