Meet Laura Smallwood
Veterinarian. Mindfulness practitioner. Dancer. Teacher. These are all words that describe Laura Smallwood, AMI’s newest MBSR instructor.
For 36 years, Laura was a practicing veterinarian. About five years ago, she hired a professional to provide stress reduction training for her staff, in part to address the high suicide rate among veterinarians.
“I thought my staff would benefit,” Laura remembers, “but the yoga and meditation really piqued my interest. I was doing it for others and then realized ‘Wow, this actually works!’” Laura went on to take a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course, taught by AMI’s Stephanie Swann, and proceeded to the MBSR teacher training from there. While in training, Laura has been teaching mindfulness and offering talks on mindfulness to veterinarians and veterinary workers for the past three years.
From Veterinarian to MBSR Instructor
While MBSR instructor might seem like a big leap from veterinarian, Laura says the two have some things in common. She explains, “Working as a veterinarian is a combination of a caring and service profession. Coming from a place of kindness and compassion gave me the balance I needed to navigate it for 36 years. Kindness and compassion are what brought me to MBSR and what I bring to my teaching.”
She adds, “What drew me to mindfulness was this: There is scientific evidence supporting the benefits of meditation and specifically the potential benefits of MBSR. I’m a scientist. I have a lot of respect for MBSR because there is robust scientific support for it.”
In addition to her other talents, Laura teaches yoga and maintains a lifelong hobby as a contemporary dancer. She currently dances with a small company of women ranging in age from 28 to 67. Both yoga and dance inform Laura’s embodied awareness, the practice of using the body as a tool to connect to the present moment. “As I began to study mindfulness, I became aware how much movement, and the practice of dance particularly, is a way to work with emotions in the body,” she says.
Laura also uses an example from the body to address work-life balance. “It comes down to the moment-to-moment choices we make,” she says. “Think about physical balance. It’s wobbly. You make tiny corrections to balance on one foot. If you’re paying attention in your life, which is the first step, then there is the possibility to make gentle corrections to keep things in balance.”
What to Expect in Laura’s MBSR Course
As an MBSR instructor, Laura draws on her varied professional and personal experiences. “MBSR is inclusive training for people from any walk of life. We bring our own lives and our own practices into the classroom. I’m taking what grew out of my teaching to veterinarians and expanding that to more inclusive training.”
“At the heart of it, MBSR is a course that is training in meditation,” says Laura. “It’s learning to meditate and exploring how we bring that to live in our moment-to-moment experience of life. The curriculum has been around for over 40 years pretty much unchanged. It’s very specific. Each week something gets layered on that adds to the week before. At the end of it you have a toolbox of practices, and you’ve brought these practices into your life. You’ve explored the way that paying attention and awareness shed light on the ways we live our lives.”
To learn more about the benefits of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction or to enroll in a mindfulness course, visit our Programs page.