by Lou Mancinelli

While a three-decades-long successful career in corporate America that includes working for Fortune 50 companies and later running one’s own consulting company has its rewards, economic benefits being perhaps the most notable among them, for a local holistic practitioner that lifestyle proved to be void of sufficient meaning.

Kathy Corbett’s meditation studio is on the third floor of the Chestnut Hill Community Center at 8419 Germantown Ave. For more information, call 215-248-7441. (Photo by Beth Peckman)

After she reached the place many college graduates think they want to reach, long-time Chestnut Hill resident Kathy Corbett, owner of the Mindfulness Practice Center (MPC) in Chestnut Hill, says she felt unfulfilled.

“In 1980 I had a corner office overlooking Rockefeller Plaza,” says Corbett, who opened MPC, located at 8419 Germantown Ave. in 2000. “I got caught up climbing the career ladder. When I got there I thought, OK, this is it?”

Today, in addition to teaching mindfulness meditation at MPC and the Won Institute of Graduate Studies in Glenside, she teaches Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) at the Mindfulness Institute at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Center City, Fox Chase Cancer Center and Lankenau and Bryn Mawr Hospitals. On March 1 Corbett, who requested that her age not be mentioned, participated in a presentation entitled “The Role of Complementary Medicine for People with Cancer and Their Loved Ones,” hosted by the Center on the Hill in partnership with the Cancer Resource Center of Chestnut Hill Hospital.

While scientific research has only begun to explore the effects of meditation on the brain during the past three decades, mindfulness itself is an ancient practice that can be traced back to the Upanishads, part of the ancient Hindu scriptures, according to Wikipedia. It is rooted in Buddhist meditation and “correct or right mindfulness,” the seventh element of the Buddha’s eight-step path to enlightenment.

By calming the body and focusing on one’s breath and noting, but not thinking about, the items in the room or the thoughts passing through the mind, as if the mind were a lake and the rest of the world reflecting off the water on the surface, it is said the mind begins to work on a clearer level. The goal is to train the mind by meditating for 10 to 20 minutes, twice a day.

“I think it’s a good way, especially if you are approaching a very difficult operation, to center yourself and calm your mind and prepare for the operation,” says Jack Roberts, M.D., 86, a retired Chestnut Hill Hospital and private surgeon who has studied mindfulness meditation with Corbett for the past three years at her program at The Hill at Whitemarsh, a community for seniors. Roberts opined that if a busy, often rushed general practitioner took one minute to practice mindfulness before seeing each patient it would help the doctor’s mind stay focused, where otherwise it might have the tendency to think about the entire day’s work and patient load.

While in the past three decades studies have indicated meditation might lower blood pressure and increase one’s attention span, last year a Harvard Medical School study found that MBSR leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density, an important factor in a healthy brain.

After graduating from Penn State University in the late ‘60s with a degree in education, Corbett, who was raised in Easton, taught for a short while before going into business. She could only find temporary teaching assignments.

That’s when she made the jump into the business world. She worked for 15 years in corporate America, first with the Farmers Bank of Delaware and then with General Electric and Drake America, an international marketing firm in New York City. In 1985 she moved to Philadelphia and founded Corbett Associates, an organizational development consulting company. There Corbett helped often-stressed executives develop effective leadership skills.

“It was too successful,” says Corbett, who eventually taught a consulting class at the University of Pennsylvania based on her experience. “I was working insane hours.”

But around the end of the century she felt there was something missing. Because she often worked with executives who were stressed and angry, in 1997 she attended a work shop hosted by world-famous Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh designed to help psychotherapists work with their clients’ anger.

“I had one of those moments that are indelible,” said Corbett. “He walked into the room, and he didn’t say a word. I was transfixed. He emanates such deep peace…” In 1967, Dr. Marin Luther King nominated Hanh, who has published more than 100 books, for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Corbett became an aspirant in Hanh’s order, marking her introduction into the studies of meditation. Not long after, she folded Corbett Associates, reconnected with her teaching education, and in 1999 volunteered with the now-defunct Quaker Ministry To People With AIDS.

A short time after that, Corbett applied what she learned at the Quaker Ministry to care for her terminally ill father and her dying 101-year-old-grandmother. Following that experience, from 2002 through 2005 she worked with Keystone Hospice, based in Wyndmoor, where she was director of its volunteer faith-in-action program. In 2005, she returned to school full-time to earn a master’s degree in applied meditation, a form of Buddhist psychology.

Most of the work Corbett does in her private practice focuses on “applied meditation.” This year is also her first year teaching “The Use of Buddhist Psychology and Working With Difficult Emotions and Clients” at The Won Institute. The class is geared to teach workers in the health care services how to bring mindfulness into their daily work.

At her private practice, Corbett works with entrepreneurs, artists, mothers, graduate students, seniors, working professionals and more. In additional to mindfulness meditation, she is also a certified bereavement counselor and offers those services through MPC.

For more information about The Mindfulness Practice Center, call 215-248-7441.