Abid Azam

Abid AzamGreetings fellow Contemplative Education members,

I’m honoured to have this platform to introduce myself to you and share my current interests and projects. I am currently in the first year of the PhD Clinical Psychology program at YorkU, and completed my Master’s in Kinesiology & Health Science Master’s during 2013-2015. I came across the teachings, practices, and perspectives of mindfulness late during my undergraduate years, and consider myself quite fortunate that they presented themselves to me as they have provided great traction for me in both my personal and academic life.

After spending some time with Dr. Paul Ritvo (Professor of Kinesiology at YorkU) and partaking in his mindfulness and cognitive-behavior therapy sessions, I was given the opportunity to begin leading free mindfulness tutorials for students at the university. This program developed into the “Healthy Student Initiative” and continues to run presently after I founded it as a student organization in 2015. I’m quite proud of the way students have taken up the practice and believe having a community of mindfulness practitioners, at the university level and Toronto-wide, will go a long way into cultivating a healthful and compassionate environment.

In June of 2015 I spent 10 days at the Ontario Vipassana Centre in Egbert where I took a vow of silence and abstained from reading and writing in order to partake in 10-11 hours of meditation practice per day. I learned a great deal from S.N. Goenka, the Burmese guru who established these centers worldwide as a way to spread the thousand year-old teachings of the Siddharta Guatama, the Buddha. As it sounds, the experience was intense, difficult, and fulfilling. I learned to notice and observe my mind in isolation, see its patterns, see in what manner I relate to my “self” and relate to my experiences moment to moment. I learned how to sit and be with pain and suffering in the “Sitting of Strong Determination” practices where you are asked to hold a still pose for 1 hour. I learned to notice the fleeting sensations within and surrounding my body which showed me the meaning of “impermanence”. I learned with Vipassana, which I define as an intense, systematic body scan, how to cultivate equanimity—balance in the face of cravings and aversions. I grew up a fair bit in those 10 days, and have considered returning for a second course. I’d recommend to anyone who has not been already and is interested in exploring the depths of their minds in a way you simply cannot do in conventional society amidst our frantic, day to day lives.

Soon after I returned from the Vipassana retreat I defended my Master’s thesis. My research focused on the psychophysiology of maladaptive perfectionism and brief mindfulness meditation using measures of heart rate variability (Azam et al, 2015). I also employed eye-tracking technology to explore attentional biases in maladaptive perfectionists and their effects on heart rate variability (Azam et al, 2016, in review). Some other work I did during my Master’s included partaking in multiple health coaching trials designed to assist individuals manage and/or lower risks for chronic disease (i.e. diabetes) with electronic tools. I am passionate about Health Psychology and plan to have an eclectic practice as a Clinical Psychologist serving many different groups of people struggling with mental and physical illness. I am interested in the application of mindfulness practices as an experiential component of a therapeutic intervention to address pain and stress-related disorders. For my PhD research, I am designing a mindfulness and acceptance and commitment therapy program delivered through the internet to assist recovery in postsurgical pain patients at the Toronto General Hospital. I believe mindfulness is a promising mind-body practice that can empower individuals to relate to their pain and suffering, break counterproductive habits, and strive towards healthy and high quality living conditions.

Email: abidazam@yorku.ca

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