Mindfulness – is it any good?
I recently completed an 8 week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course and wanted to share the new life changing approaches I learnt in reacting to life’s hiccups and stressful events.
I’d come across the term Mindfulness quite often over the past couple of years through various self-help books and my holistic health studies.
I actually bought a book 2 years ago “Mindfulness in Eight Weeks” by Michael Chaskalsan with the full intention to complete it and know all about the subject but gave up half way through. I’ve since realised that I’m one of those people that needs someone to hold me accountable and give support…Anyway, I don’t think there are many of us out there who are able to do things alone?
There’s been such a buzz around the word ‘mindfulness’ for a few years now and has been taken up by corporations such as Google who created the ‘Search Inside Yourself’ programme originally created to help increase their staff morale and productivity and now available to other companies
Mindfulness is also being introduced into schools, through the .B programme (pronounced ‘stop be’ – standing for ‘stop, breath and be’.)
My Experience of Mindfulness Training
After failing with the book I’d been looking for a course and I was fortunate enough to find one that Michael Chaskalson himself was running locally in London. I have to say it was a most valuable experience..
The group of 18 was a mixture of middle aged Essex housewives, corporate managers, government employees, yoga teachers and even a young Buddhist monk.
Michael was a fantastic teacher peeling back the layers of Mindfulness each week, taking us clearly through what is the complex workings of the mind. And yes we did do the raisin eating practice 🙂 and yes it was interesting, even for someone like me who doesn’t like raisins! There was daily home practice which is a commitment but as with most things, you only get out what you put in.
What IS mindfulness?
Well simply put – it’s the noticing of your thoughts or feelings as they arise and then letting them go without judgement and with kindness. The aim is to pay attention in the present moment without judgement. Just give it some attention… Even 10% is enough!
Sounds easy right? Just noticing your thoughts? Well sometimes yes…when things are going along nicely in life it can be easy to think about things calmly but what about those moments of reaction? Say, when driving and someone cuts you up and stresses you out? When someone at work says something that’s makes you annoyed, even angry? Or when a family member does something that makes you unhappy? Those are the times when noticing your thoughts is hard as you go into the usual familiar pattern, our ‘default mode’ on automatic pilot, to let your inner dialogue run away with you…’Oh what a bastard!’; ‘ That’s not fair!’; ‘ Why me?’
Practicing Mindfulness in these moments can really help.
Mindfulness – is it any good?
By claiming back the choice in how you react in unpleasant situations, allows you to control the impulses that arise and change how you react and what you will do next. You can respond rather than react so helping yourself feel better as well as possibly those around you.
Stopping before reacting, taking a breath and being aware of what you’re thinking and feeling is the key….without judging why you feel what you do…just allowing the fact that you do feel that way.
This is where I had difficulty as it was usually physical pain that I felt and to be honest why the f*** should I accept it? I didn’t want it! I wanted it to go away and now!! This shouldn’t be happening to me. Being with what’s unwanted is a challenge but a key thing in MBSR, is approaching something rather than avoiding it.
With approaching comes allowing it to be. To be clear that’s allowing not accepting, another key thing in MBSR. You can allow without accepting. Allowing my body to be in pain due to the healing process; allowing the nerves to have a hissy fit and shoot their messages through my abdomen; allowing my body to tell me to sit still and breathe until the pain passed. I didn’t have to accept it – just allow. This approach together with being kind to myself, by not beating myself up for causing this situation, really helped.
By following this allowing with applying curiosity to the sensations, I even began to notice how the sensations, altered, moved and fluctuated in strength. With practice, I found I didn’t always tense up trying to escape the pain but was able to soften and breathe into it. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t pleasant but it was empowering; to have a connection with my pain and so with my body, rather than trying to get away from it, which is of course impossible.
Mindfulness – Is it any good?
It wasn’t only the understanding of my pain that I gained. I also realised how reactive I could be when facing everyday stressful situations or when people said something I didn’t like. Situations I’m sure you find yourself in regularly.
By stopping to notice my thoughts and the sensations in my body as the reaction arose, I was able to stop myself from reacting immediately…by taking time to breathe and then responding from a more open space and open mind.
Now I’m not saying I can do this all the time…oh no, I still have my moments of f*** you 🙂 but I have noticed that these are getting fewer.
Mindfulness- whats the catch??
Well like anything of value in life you have to work at it…and it does involve committing to daily, if possible, meditation….no don’t go yet 🙂 . It’s been proven that results have a dose effect so the more you practice mediation the better the results. That means even 5 minutes of sitting quietly each day will help over time.
How does the meditation help? As you sit quietly with the intention to follow your breath and allow the experience to just be as it is, you can notice your thoughts as they arise. This helps develop the habit of noticing your thoughts in everyday life. You basically begin to retrain your mind.
So to recap: when faced with challenges, the key things to remember to try and do are:
- Stop – before you automatically react
- Breathe – take some breaths, feeling your body breath
- Notice – your thoughts / feelings / sensations and allow them to be there
- Respond – from a more open and calmer space – not from a reactive default mode
Mindfulness – is it any good? I thought so!
I came away with some useful tools and new skills to use in times of difficulty to help manage my automatic reactions, to help me accept and be with difficult moments as well as supportive ways to work through problems. The subject of Mindfulness is huge. I’ve only just scratched the surface and intend to continue with my learning…Please do consider doing a course. It’s well worth it…
I’d be interested to hear if you have any mindful experiences….why not let me know below…
The course I did was run by Open Mind Life
If you suffer from chronic pain there’s an inspiring woman Vidyamala Burch who has a life long history of chronic pain and partial paraplegia following back injuries and she’s dedicated her life to helping people mange pain through her mindfulness teachings at ‘Breathworks’
I highly recommend looking at her website and books if you’re in that situation.