Walking into Millwood resident Jodi Baretz’ office is like walking into a sanctuary. The atmosphere is hushed, shoes are left at the door, voices are kept to a whisper. The effect is immediately relaxing.
Baretz, 49, is a psychotherapist specializing in mindfulness and health coaching at The Center for Health and Healing, located on Smith Avenue in Mt. Kisco. She is also the author of the new book, Mindful is the New Skinny: 10 Transformational Steps to a Lighter You Inside and Out, due out this spring. Inside Chappaqua sat down to talk to her about the book as well as her own journey to mindfulness.
An Emory and Columbia University-educated therapist, Baretz has more than 20 years of clinical experience. She has spent the last five years focusing her practice on using mindfulness to overcome stress, weight loss issues and family conflicts. Mindful is the New Skinny started out as a six-week boot camp designed to introduce her patients to the practice of mindfulness.
“I wanted to create a program that would teach people how to reduce stress,” she said. “We need to change our mindset from our weight to our well-being, which is more sustainable and will help us live happier, healthier, more peaceful lives.”
Her message is geared toward helping women who are not only struggling with weight issues, but also with any family and work-related anxiety.
“As a health coach and psychotherapist, it made sense to me to write a book that encompassed the mind and body,” she said. While the book does address eating issues, it is not a weight-loss book. Rather, it looks at all aspects of life that cause stress with the goal of reducing that stress, and getting people to realize that perfection should not be a goal.
But what exactly is mindfulness? And how is mindfulness different from meditation?
As Baretz explains it, mindfulness is the awareness of your thoughts, feelings and environment. Once you acknowledge the source of what you are feeling–whether it’s hunger, anxiety, or stress–you use meditation to calm and center yourself. In effect, you are striving to create a space between a stimulus and the response.
Baretz’ own path to mindfulness began after she was diagnosed with celiac disease in her mid-thirties. Initially devastated by the diagnosis, she enrolled in a holistic nutrition program at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York City to help her understand and control the disease. While there, she was introduced to the concepts of mindfulness and spirituality.
“It was a life-changing experience for me,” she said. “I started to see positive changes flow into my life, and I let go of a lot of worry and anxiety.” Since then, she has continued to study mindfulness and meditation as a way to help her patients deal with the stresses of everyday life.
Though weight issues are addressed in the book, her message is more about self-compassion and self-care, and Baretz teaches mindfulness as a way of life. As anyone who has been on a diet and failed can attest, maintaining a strict diet regimen is often impossible and almost always self-defeating.
“The book is all about nourishing yourself from the inside, so you can flourish on the outside,” she said. While many women focus on trying to be the perfect size (in our society, that means skinny), Baretz stresses that mindfulness can help switch our priority from what we look like to the acceptance of ourselves as we are, which is very empowering.
Mindfulness can also help with all aspects and relationships in your life, Baretz notes. “Mindfulness increases your capacity to deal with stress and overwhelming situations because you are learning how to calm your body and your mind,” she said. “It’s not shutting off your thoughts; rather, it’s pressing a ‘stop’ button on them so you can change your relationship toward them.” After all, we all face adversity in one way or another, and there are many things in life that are beyond our control. While we can’t control the challenges we face, mindfulness and meditation help us “struggle well,” she said. “By taming our minds and focusing on the present, we can decrease our anxiety.”
The book brings mindfulness and meditation to people who wouldn’t normally seek out a practice that does have some negative stereotypes–something only for the yoga and Zen set. But Baretz hopes that the book will open people’s minds to the power of the practice. And that, she says, is her goal.
“I love watching people transform,” she said. “When they change the way they think, their whole world changes.”
Each chapter of Mindful is the New Skinny, which is Baretz’ first book, features a meditation session that can be downloaded. The book will be available this spring/summer on Amazon in print and kindle versions, and Baretz will conduct a free book talk at the Chappaqua library upon the book’s release. Visit www.jodibaretz.com for more information on her practice, upcoming talks, as well as a sneak peek free chapter of her book.