North Van centre offers free Psychology Month sessions

All this snowy weather has got Kasim Al-Mashat thinking.

“People are hoping for a snow day – just to get out of something,” muses Al-Mashat, a registered psychologist who runs Centre for Mindfulness Canada in the Delbrook neighbourhood. “We’re always chasing a vacation. We’re always chasing something to find ease. It’s an endless loop.”

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Al-Mashat ponders these notions often, curious about people’s propensity for thinking of elsewhere and never here and now, instead gravitating towards the idea that life is always somewhere else – the next exotic locale, the next job, the next moment.

“It’s really one of the things that led me to this mindfulness path, because there’s always something that I just wanted to get rid of,” he says.

When Al-Mashat was in his 20s things weren’t going so well, at least for a time. He was struggling physically and emotionally. He developed pains in his stomach and doctors were at a loss for what was going on.

“I had tasted mindfulness as a teen through martial arts and I thought, that’s kind of neat,” says Al-Mashat, who graduated from Handsworth Secondary and briefly attended Capilano University before completing his master’s degree and PhD in counselling at UBC. “But I never really understood it, and then these problems started happening … and I thought there’s got to be a different way. I’m exhausted from life. It’s like I was on a constant treadmill – and life was just beginning.”

Through his research, which focused heavily on the University of Massachusetts-developed mindfulness-based stress reduction program, Al-Mashat came to appreciate how stress wreaks havoc upon the mind and how mindfulness practice – which includes meditation and focusing one’s mind – can help nourish the brain.

“The brain is an organ that affects how we proceed and live in the world,” he says.

“We try to eat well as a society … but here’s another area that’s a gap. Here’s a part – an organ – that we don’t nurture as much.”

Al-Mashat describes mindfulness practice as: “paying attention in the present moment on purpose and non-judgmentally.”

It’s a way of checking in with one’s self, of being truly aware and fully present in the moment, he says, adding that exploring mindfulness can be a great way for many people to deal with physical or emotional pain.

February is Psychology Month in B.C. and the B.C. Psychological Association is raising awareness about the role that psychology can play in people’s lives with a number of free public presentations throughout the Lower Mainland.

Al-Mashat is offering three free public sessions on the North Shore for Psychology Month, including two sessions on mindfulness-based stress reduction for adults, and another one on mindfulness for resilient teens which is open to both teenagers and adults.

Intent to demonstrate the “ancient wisdom of mindfulness” for the modern era and dispel the misconception that “you have to be a yogi, or something, with your foot behind your ear” in order to do it, Al-Mashat will guide attendees through a definition of mindfulness followed by a glimpse of what it looks like in practice.

“We’re going to actually do a mindfulness practice,” he says, adding that he hopes his session will show people the benefits of psychology and counselling in general, while imparting his specific passion for mindfulness.

“I experienced a traumatic event in my teens and it was the first time I went to see a counsellor. It kind of opened my eyes that it’s OK to reach out for help. For me, as a teen one my struggles was, and I know a lot of teens struggle with that, is the lone-wolf mentality. I had too much pride to say I actually needed help,” he says.

Al-Mashat is offering his sessions on mindfulness-based stress reduction on Feb. 16 at 11 a.m. and Feb. 28 at 7 p.m.

The session on mindfulness for resilient teenagers is scheduled for Feb. 24 starting at 3 p.m.

All three presentations are taking place at the Centre for Mindfulness Canada at 107-3711 Delbrook Ave., in North Vancouver.

All sessions are free but registration is required. Visit drkasimalmashat.com to book a spot.

Al-Mashat says he hopes his presentations will encourage people, through mindfulness, to become more present in their day-to-day lives.

“When people get to experience it, they go, ‘I wish I did this sooner.’”

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