Cory Muscara readily admits that he first got into meditation through a misguided attempt to impress a girl. “I had a hippie girlfriend who was into meditation and I started because I thought she would think I was cooler than I was. Then she broke up with me,” he said. However selfish his foray was, it didn’t take long before this Sayville native’s passing interest turned into a passion. After Muscara started meditating for 15 minutes three times a week, he went from waking up 20 times a night to maybe once. “My stress levels reduced radically, I didn’t fall into slumps of depression like I had been. And I felt much more content with life. I was really intrigued by the positive shift.”
He started looking into institutions that taught mindfulness, not in a religious or spiritual sense, but in a scientific, evidence-based way. Muscara took Integrative Health Coach training at Duke University during his senior year while simultaneously learning Mindfulness Stress Reduction at the Center of Mindfulness University of Massachusetts Medical Center, a program founded by Jon Kabat-Zinn, largely considered the father of the practice in Western medicine. Muscara was able to take a seven-day retreat with him that shattered his previous perspectives—and his plans for the future. “[I realized] I didn’t know what I would be without my family, my friends and my fairly privileged lifestyle, so I wanted to sever myself from these things for six months to build up my inner contentment and wisdom before I directed my life forward.”
Within a few weeks, Muscara found himself Burma and Southeast Asia spending 14 to 20 hours per day in meditation directed by monks. “There was no reading, no writing, no music—we called it prison led by nice people,” he said. But those six months spent in utter silence had a profound effect. “Now I had a desire to spread these teachings. I didn’t want to get a different job. I wanted to teach this work.”
Thus the idea for the Long Island Center for Mindfulness. Much of the work Muscara does is off-site as a consultant for a variety of businesses and hospitals. Within the Center’s walls he offers 8-week courses to a maximum of 20 people at a time. During each two and a half hour session, the exercises vary, but the first practice Muscara assigns is a mental body scan where participants direct their attention throughout their body with “nonjudgmental awareness,” from the toes to the top of the head. “It sounds trivial, but people are so disembodied these days. If we can’t feel the body, we’re missing out on innate intelligence that allows us to feel empathy, joy and compassion.”
Muscara also stressed that mindfulness is not about clearing all thoughts—it’s about noticing when and what you’re thinking. “To stop the mind from thinking is to stop the ocean from waving. Meditation is just looking at what’s going on in your own mind and being okay with what’s there. We’re giving people permission to be human.”
An interest in mindfulness doesn’t have to begin with religious or spiritual practice, there’s science to the system. Dr. Joseph R. Scardapane, assistant provost and executive director of the Saltzman Community Services Center and adjunct assistant professor of psychology at Hofstra University, began studying and using Dialectal Behavior Therapy in the late 1980s. It was one of the first psychotherapies to fully incorporate mindfulness practices in its course of treatment. He said the practice has roots in Buddhist teach- ings recorded over 2,500 years ago and many still use it as a strictly devotional exercise but “today, it doesn’t have to be associated with any religion or spiritual practice…[it’s] a formal meditative practice that involves sitting, usually focusing on the breath and being still for 20 minutes.” But mindfulness and meditation are not in-
But mindfulness and meditation are not interchangeable. Unlike many types of meditation that are about letting go, mindfulness “is actually a way to train the mind to increase awareness of
Within a few weeks, Muscara found himself what exists in our internal and external environments,” Scardapane said. In fact, the connection between mindful- ness and an increase in focus has been proven in laboratory studies. Besides strengthening a person’s concentration and attention, studies have also shown that mindfulness can increase compassion for self and others, as well as having positive effects on the immune system. “Mindfulness meditation and its a liated practices can increase a sense of well being and make life a fully textured experience if it is practiced daily.”
MIND YOUR SELF
To learn more about the practice, enroll in one of The Long Island Center for Mindfulness courses or 3-day retreats in Wading River. Each includes meditation practices, body scans, light yoga and discussions about the theory of mindfulness and meditation. “The core theme is that it’s not a three-day vacation—you’re learning practical tools you can take back into your everyday life,” Muscara said.
MUSCARA’S 5 TIPS FOR MINDFULNESS
1. Before getting out of bed in the morning, take a few moments to notice your breath. Savor the simple fact that this is another day you’re alive to experience.
2. When in the shower, actually be in the shower. Feel the sensations of the water on your body. As your mind wanders gently invite your attention back to the present.
3. Notice where you tend to zone out (e.g. eating, driving, texting, conversing, doing dishes, etc.). Explore bringing greater awareness and care to these moments.
4. When caught in an intense emotion— anger, worry, jealousy—ask yourself, “How is this emotion serving me in this moment? Is it helping or hurting? What would happen if I let it go?”
5. Before going to bed, sense the warmth of your body under the covers. Express gratitude for the e ort exerted during the day and give your mind and body permission to disengage.