Keep it simple — when life feels especially uncertain it can be helpful to connect with the basics. Sit and feel yourself sitting. Breathe and experience each breath cycle. Make eye contact with others. Be present.
As a part of my series about the the things we can do to develop serenity and support each other during anxious times, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kendra Kirane.
Kendra Kirane is the Director of Creative Arts Therapy and Wellness at Wellbridge Addiction Treatment and Research. She emphasizes the universal language of art as an essential process in therapy — empowering individuals to be seen, heard, and understood on the path toward recovery. Recognizing wellness is a key feature of sustainability, Kendra prioritizes delivery of mindfulness, fitness, and psychotherapy and to promote restoration and healthy lifestyle choices.
Kendra entered the field in 2006 and gained a deep appreciation for the complex clinical needs of patients with substance use disorders (SUD) with a specific focus on the intersection between SUD and trauma. She provided trauma-informed dance/movement therapy for adult survivors of 9/11 at the World Trade Center Environmental Health Center and Bellevue Hospital inpatient units. In 2018 she transitioned to Union Settlement, launching their Early Childhood Mental Health Program while providing supervision for social workers and creative arts therapists. Kendra has taught throughout the New York metropolitan area — striving to highlight dance/movement therapy as a unique response to the opioid crisis.
Kendra is a New York State Licensed Creative Arts Therapist and Board-Certified Dance/Movement Therapist. She received a BA in Theatre Arts from UC Santa Cruz and MS in Dance/Movement Therapy from Pratt Institute. She completed a fellowship in psychoanalysis from The Psychoanalytic Association of New York affiliated with NYU School of Medicine, and certifications in Authentic Movement, as well as Arts and Trauma Treatment.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
While living and working abroad in Spain many years ago, I found myself mostly alone for long durations. With this solitude came opportunity for introspection. It was during this time that I began to frequent museums, ask contemplative questions, and journal my values in an attempt to clarify priorities and find my path. Gradually it became clear that language and how we connect fascinates me, not only the nature in which we communicate through words but through the lens of our cultural perspectives, the arts, and approaches to mindfulness. When I discovered the field of creative arts therapy I found the balance I’d long been seeking — a blend of psychology and the arts. I’m beyond grateful that this has led to a meaningful career path and today I serve as the Director of Creative Arts Therapy and Wellness at Wellbridge Addiction Treatment and Research.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
A neat aspect of my work is that meaningful discoveries are made little by little, every day with patients. I’m genuinely moved by their stories and the ongoing opportunity to witness their transformation. Earlier in my career I worked at a non-profit organization in Manhattan that served an under-privileged population. A client, who I had the honor of supporting closely for two years, was invited to speak publicly about overcoming domestic violence, substance misuse, and depression. To witness her stand before a gala of 300 people and listen to her metaphor of “starting out like a toxic tree” and blossoming into a healthy, confident woman, wife, and mother, was a truly remarkable moment.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you?
Sophie’s World by Norwegian novelist Jostein Gaarder left an indelible mark on me.
Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
The story is a clever introduction to philosophy. Sophie and her mentor Alberto journey through history to understand how we solve problems, communicate, and see the world. These themes resonate with me deeply.
Now to the main focus of our interview, from your experience or research, how would you define and describe the state of being mindful?
Mindfulness is a practice that cultivates a conscious awareness of the present moment. Just as in the spirit of getting to know a new friend, mindfulness is a curvilinear journey of getting to know our own selves. With curiosity and openness, we have the potential to experience self-understanding; with understanding and self-compassion, we gain insight…and perhaps wisdom.
This might be intuitive to you, but it will be instructive to spell this out. Can you share with our readers a few of the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of becoming mindful?
Mindfulness can lead to a physical calm and relaxation, mental clarity, and emotional insight. For individuals struggling with addictive behaviors, mindfulness meditation can be profoundly beneficial. At Wellbridge we invite patients to consider the simple act of observing an urge to drink or use a substance, as if it were an ocean wave ebbing and flowing. Urges tend to be time-limited, and mindfulness reinforces that one can learn to ‘surf the urge’ without being taken over by it. By building mindfulness muscles, one gains a capacity to experience situations with self-compassion and control, while an innate resilience and strength is bolstered.
The past 5 years have been filled with upheaval and political uncertainty. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the pandemic have only heightened a sense of uncertainty, anxiety, fear, and loneliness. From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to develop mindfulness during such uncertain times? Can you please share a story or example for each.
While many of us want and need to stay informed, our health and wellbeing can take a toll if we aren’t mindful of a healthy balance. Here are a few steps to consider:
- Awareness — this may seem like low hanging fruit, but notice how frequently you’re checking the phone, watching the news, or scrolling social media. Take note of the duration with which you’re engaging in these activities and how connected (or disconnected) to the body you feel; the answer might surprise you.
- Reprieve — many of us are perpetually checking smartphones in search of information or ways to connect. This, in itself, becomes habitual and over time can derive less meaning. Try detoxing from your smartphone for an hour each evening (or if that’s too much, try once per week). Notice if you feel more present simply by separating briefly from technology.
- Establish alternatives — practicing mindfulness does not have to mean sitting in stillness for 30 minutes to get rid of uncomfortable thoughts. Rather, it’s about connecting with oneself and noticing what’s coming up in the mind, body, and spirit. Identify a few activities that support your effort to be present, e.g. authentic movement, mandala drawing, or writing in a gratitude journal.
- Reach out — let others know when you’re stressed, and also that you’re interested in mindfulness. This can become a way to receive support and to connect with like-minded individuals.
- Keep it simple — when life feels especially uncertain it can be helpful to connect with the basics. Sit and feel yourself sitting. Breathe and experience each breath cycle. Make eye contact with others. Be present.
From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Anxiety is the most common psychiatric complaint among American adults. Often rooted in worries about the future, generalized anxiety can show up as restlessness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, poor sleep, irritability, and difficulty controlling worrisome feelings. Recognizing these symptoms and reaching out to offer a helping hand can make all the difference.
Studies show that perceived social support is a protective factor for anxiety. Attune to how your friends and family are feeling, cultivating an ongoing dialogue of empathy and compassion. If casual talk seems like it’s not enough, consider connecting them to a virtual support group, psychotherapy, or medication management, all of which can be tremendously beneficial and can be calibrated to the needs of the individual.
What are the best resources you would suggest for someone to learn how to be more mindful and serene in their everyday life?
In recent years there has been a dramatic expansion of mindfulness content available online. One classic resource that I recommend is the 8-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn PhD at University of Massachusetts Medical Center.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
Trust the process: embrace what you can control and be in the moment. The rest will follow.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Right now I think what the world needs is more kindness and compassion for each other. Small conscious acts of tenderness at any moment can make all the difference.