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Staff photo by Wyatt Massey / The sign outside the Center for Mindful Living on East Main Street on Feb 9, 2020.

The Center for Mindful Living is expanding its offering of mindfulness classes this year, creating a curriculum for newcomers to move from introductory to more advanced courses.

The center, located at 400 East Main St. in Chattanooga, opened in 2013. Until January it hosted a variety of classes, but there was not a consistent throughline for people, said Loren Clifford, director of center operations.

"We have started a more intentional cadence for people to start and grow their mindfulness journey," she said.

In the first set of classes, participants are introduced to foundational ideas of mindfulness, such as breathing techniques and types of meditation. The second focuses on more in-depth classes, such as mindfulness-based stress reduction. Beyond the two curriculums, people can attend the workshops and other weekly groups, such as restorative yoga, Clifford said.

Janka Livoncova, who has taught at the center for seven years, said having a teacher to guide the practice offers real-time answers to questions and feedback. Students at the center can connect with Livoncova through an online portal during the days between sessions.

"Most people have tried other things, and they've realized that the problem is their mind," Livoncova said. " — People think they can read a book and learn mindfulness. You have to do it. It's kind of like learning a language or playing instruments. You have to do it."

The long-term effects of stress can be debilitating, said Dr. Mukta Panda, University of Tennessee Health Science Center College of Medicine professor. Stress can cause physical problems — such as anxiety, headaches and back pain — and mental or emotional ones — such as becoming isolated or callous to others — she said. In some cases, stress can lead to addictive behaviors.

"Our lives don't happen in a vacuum," she said. "What happened to us many years ago may be something that has been dormant for a period of time. It may actually precipitate chronic stress, so it's dependent on many factors."

In a hyper-busy culture, it is important to remember self-care is not a selfish act, Panda said.

"It is really when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and to be able to take care of ourselves by various modalities, then we can understand and take care of others," she said.

People are encouraged to visit the center and meet with leadership to create a personalized plan of courses depending on specific needs, Clifford said. The goal is to train people how to be more aware before the crisis of stress hits, she said.

The center is a place of community for people looking to live more mindfully, whether they are using phone apps or taking classes. Being around others, even in silence, can be comforting as people better understand themselves, Clifford said.

Contact Wyatt Massey at wmassey@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.

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