By Elizabeth Gracen:
I met the very talented Lauren Maher many years ago at the YMCA where she taught Kundalini Yoga classes. Several years later, I was surprised to discover her familiar face as a fellow cast member in Coherence— a mind-bending experimental film that would later become a cult classic for sci-fi fans around the world. During those years, Lauren worked steadily toward her goal of becoming a licensed psychotherapist while continuing to study and develop techniques as a certified yoga therapist (C-IAYT) and teacher to educate and support mental health through mindfulness awareness, self-inquiry, and wellness.
Lauren has written about Mind/Body topics for Flapper Press, and her video series on YouTube continues to be a reliable source for quick reference techniques for calming and strengthening both body and mind. When the pandemic hit, Lauren was there with Zoom classes and much-needed support for so many people—including yours truly. I am incredibly proud to announce the publication of her first book, Mindfulness Workbook for Panic Attacks. Not only is the workbook chock full of easy-to-follow ideas and instructions for calming the mind, it calls on her wealth of knowledge across a variety of modalities and mindfulness-awareness techniques, leaving no stone unturned. With an open-hearted approach and a plethora of easy-to-implement exercises and techniques, the Mindfulness Workbook for Panic Attacks is an important tome for our troubled times.
I reached out to Lauren to talk about her new book, the panicked state of the world and how we can learn to manage our stress.
Meet Lauren Maher!
EG: Lauren, first of all, I just want to say how excited I am for you—and for
everyone who gets to read your new book! I remember having a discussion with you a couple years ago when it felt like anxiety was at a peak at the beginning of the pandemic. We talked about what we could do to help people take a deep breath and not panic quite so much. You even conducted a terrific Zoom class that dealt with how to manage stress and panic that I attended. This book truly answers all those questions and offers practical solutions to managing stress and
panic. It is just terrific. Please tell our readers a little bit about the workbook and how it came to be.
LM: Clearly there has been a huge need for people to have some practical guidance about how to manage panic and anxiety during such stressful times. When I was approached by a publisher about writing a mindfulness workbook to help address these issues, I jumped at the chance! I felt that I had an opportunity to blend together knowledge from the various fields I’ve been involved with over the years: yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and more traditional psychotherapy.
EG: What I’m really impressed with in your book is the complete acceptance of
varied techniques for how a person can manage panic and stress. You give many
options on what might work for an individual. Your approach is, “If this doesn’t
work . . . try this.” How did you decide on the format of this book, and what made
the most sense in terms of offering people great advice on managing their panic?
LM: What I’ve seen in working with people one-on-one is that it’s trial and error. Some people respond really well to body-based approaches, while other people need more cognitive or spiritual approaches. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to anxiety or panic. There’s no right or wrong . . . it’s just finding out what works, without any judgment. I wanted to pull from a wide variety of traditions so that there would be something for everyone.
EG: The workbook is organized into two parts. Part 1 is designed to educate the
reader on what panic attacks are and how they progress. It also introduces the
concept of mindfulness and how to apply mindfulness-based techniques to
manage panic attacks. The second half of the book offers affirmations, exercises,
and prompts that put these mindfulness-based concepts into practice to deal
with panic attacks head-on. It’s a step-by-step approach that allows for
contemplation and practical solutions. What do you think your book offers that
might be different than most books on this topic? What do you hope people come
away from reading the book?
LM: Honestly, there are already a ton of great books out there, and I found many of them to be helpful while I was doing research for this project. I did find that many books addressing anxiety and panic tended to be quite academic, and some of the books about mindfulness were more poetic or esoteric, so my goal was to create something that addressed both topics and also felt very accessible and practical. When you are experiencing panic or anxiety, it can feel so unbearable, and you just desperately want to know what you can do to alleviate your pain. My hope was for individuals to gain some basic understanding about the practice of mindfulness and to be able to create a personalized anxiety-management practice that is easy to apply and fits into their daily life.
EG: Let’s talk about the concept of “mindfulness” and why it is so important when
dealing with stress and anxiety.
LM: Mindfulness roots us squarely in the moment. Anxiety largely lives in the future. Many of us tend to engage in a lot of catastrophic and “what if”–style thinking, but mindfulness helps us come back to what is actually happening in the here and the now. And even when the present moment is intense or painful, the basic pillars of mindfulness—beginner’s mind, non-judging, acceptance, patience, trust, non-striving, and letting go—give us a framework that help us address these challenges.
EG: Even though you encourage the reader to “not skip to the end” of the book, I
want to close with something that you write in the final chapter:
“Letting go is about accepting what you are dealing with in this moment. It helps you separate from the clinging thorns of your likes, dislikes, judgments, expectations, memories and mood.”
In a world that encourages (and at times seems to demand) all those “clinging thorns,” is it possible to let go? We are a civilization of “I want it now.” How do you think we can change our mind about how to move the world? Are you optimistic about the future in such a highly charged, adversarial world?
LM: I think it is possible, but it’s certainly not easy. Letting go is a daily practice that takes patience and a lot of self reflection; so in that sense, you are going against the grain of popular culture. The busier things get, the more we need to pause, self-reflect, and use our own critical-thinking abilities. Am I optimistic? It sort of depends on what day that you ask me! I always think it’s possible to take a bird’s-eye view of things and to remember that, historically, we have always had moments of great challenge and hardship as well as great progress. And in addition to that, I am very inspired by Gen Z and how they are challenging so much of the status quo.
EG: Interspersed throughout the text are “Real Life Stories” of individuals,
specific circumstances, and how they were able to wrangle their panic to find a
more peaceful approach to their lives. You became a licensed therapist and opened your private psychotherapy practice just as the pandemic hit. I can’t imagine the wave of panic you had to deal with in your patients. As a professional, do you think these past couple of years have ramped up ordinary day-to-day stress into something that most people simply do not feel they can handle? If there is one thing you could tell people right now about how to move through the world, what would it be?
"The last few years have been a very intense time, and so many people feel completely overwhelmed. My advice is—whenever possible—to slow down and simplify, reach out to friends and loved ones that make you feel safe and valued, express your feelings, move your body, and above all, to try to treat yourself with compassion and gentleness. And, of course, there is no shame in reaching out to a mental health professional. Sometimes we all need a bit of extra support." —Lauren Maher
Click here to order Lauren Maher's new book, Mindfulness Workbook for Panic Attacks.