Welcome to my blog, scroll down for the latest posts.
If you have any questions about anything to do with the course or with Mindfulness in general please contact me
Wondering where your sense of balance and joie de vivre has disappeared to?
It's not surprising - especially during this pandemic and dire daily news reporting.
Uncertainty can sap our energy, we can become enmeshed in thoughts and worries about the future and anxieties can make us lose our capacity for feeling joy.
Research studies have shown that Mindfulness training can help us learn to take a pause, step back and notice our unhelpful thinking habits that can bring us down.
We learn ways of responding rather than reacting to life's challenges and get things more easily into perspective.
Mindfulness and Aging
There is gathering research evidence of the benefits of Mindfulness Training as we get older. Brain scans are demonstrating clearly how meditation can help slow decline and even strengthen our memory and attention.
Here is an interesting article on how mindfulness can help.
'Bite your tongue'
is a popular phrase originating, it is said, from the time of Shakespeare.
It sounds painful but if we simply hold our tongue between our teeth it becomes impossible for us to speak.
Sometimes – if not always – it makes good sense to at least take a pause before reacting to what someone has just said. Feeling into what was underneath what was said, what is the need that this person is expressing?
And sometimes it’s simply a case of both being right. It all depends on our viewpoint.
Smile or frown?
How do you greet yourself in the mirror each morning?
Do you smile at yourself? Or do you frown at your appearance?
Did you know that if you smile, even if it’s a forced smile, your brain doesn’t know the difference?
A simple smile can trigger the release of neural communication boosting neuropeptides as well as mood-boosting neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin – in other words, it helps you feel good!
Give it a go.
#mindfulness #meditation #motivation #selfcare #inspiration #mentalhealth #healing #happiness #wellness #mindset #positivevibes #health #positivity #peace #loveyourself #lifestyle #healthylifestyle #mind #wellbeing #anxiety #mindful #awareness #mindfulliving #relax #Mindfulnesstraining #MBSR #Finding Peace #managingillness #managestress #managemood #smiling #likeyourself #cheatyourbrain
'I'd love to live like the river flows, carried by the surprise of its own unfolding' John O'Donahue
What beautiful sentiments but how difficult it can be to be present and allow our lives to unfold in that way - without mithering about what tomorrow might bring or mulling over past difficulties.
Mindfulness training helps us on our way with skills enabling us to be more present in life. The only moment we are alive is in this one, not in the future or past. Just this one breath moment.
There are two new, widely researched, secular Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) courses starting in May on Tuesday mornings in Stourbridge and Wednesday evenings at Bodenham Arboretum in Wolverley.
When you get frazzled....
Mindfulness practice if done properly involves a good dollop of self compassion.
The next time you feel frazzled and out of control try this three minute practice.
1. Take a moment to find a comfortable seat.
2 Let yourself settle for a few moments.
3. Find your breath. Sometimes we can be so busy we forget that we're breathing. Where do we notice it? Where is the breath movement most clearly felt?
4. Follow one breath for its full duration.
5. Ask yourself how do I know that I am breathing? Be curious about it.
6. What do you notice about your experience in this one breath moment? Are you hungry, tired? What emotions are here? What are you feeling in your body? Tightness, discomfort, tension, pain?
7. Allow yourself to be gently rocked and held by the breath. Can you breath into any areas of discomfort and on the out-breath just let go?
8. If you wish, place a hand on your chest or on your belly. Feel the warmth of your touch and find the soothing rhythm of the breath there.
9. Take ten slow breaths. Yes, you have time to offer yourself that.
10. Ask what do I need right now? What would be a compassionate wish that I might offer to a friend who felt like this?
11. Finally, give yourself permission for some self care, have a shower, eat something nourishing, take a rest call a friend.
Why do you need a Mindfulness Teacher?
There's Mindfulness stuff everywhere these days, phone apps, books, courses, drop in sessions, so how do you know where to go for good quality teaching?
This article explores some of the pitfalls in finding a Mindfulness teacher.
Carole has trained to teach the gold standard, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course with the Centre for Mindfulness Research & Practice at Bangor University. She is also a listed teacher with the British Association for Mindfulness Based Approaches (BAMBA) and abides by their good practice guidelines.
Click Here to read the article from Mindful Magazine
New Year Resolutions
We'd all like to be happier, enjoy better relationships and more fulfilment in life. However, we can often be our own worst enemy by unwittingly indulging in old habitual ways of thinking.
At this time of year, many of us will compile lists of things we need to do in order for us to feel happier and more in control. But how about if we instead look at letting things go? These might include:
1. Trying to please everyone all the time.
2. Fearing change.
3. Going over and over the past.
4. Catastrophising about the future.
6. Being afraid to be different.
7. Thinking everyone is better than me.
8. Blaming yourself for everything.
9. Blaming others for everything.
10. thinking 'I can't change any of this!'
These ten habits are simply part of the Human Condition. If you don't indulge in all of them there's a pretty good chance that some will strike a chord.
What does the science say?
If you've ever wondered what following a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction programme might do for you the spend a couple of minutes watching this You Tube video. Dan Harris, explains clearly all about it.
After that, head over to the courses page for details of what's on offer in 2020 in the West Midlands.
#MBSR #Mindfulness #whatismindfulness #benefitsofmindfulness #scienceandmindfulness #researchandmindfulness
Self care and looking after ourselves
One of the things we explore towards the end of the MBSR course is how we can best get a good life balance and look after ourselves.
Here are some suggestions:
Self care -
Talk to yourself like you talk to your dog
- You are so beautiful.
- Would you like a nap?
- Would you like a treat?
- I love your cuddly belly.
- You don't feel like doing anything today and that's okay with me.
- Let's go for a lovely walk in the woods.
- Want to play?
- You're such a good girl.
Recent research suggests that doing our bit for recycling and ethical buying doesn’t make us as happy as REDUCING our consumption. People are becoming more and more aware of how the ‘things’ that we surround ourselves with are, to a large extent, surplus to requirements and don’t increase our sense of wellbeing.
These days, with online shopping, the ease of buying seems to be adding to our urge to consume. Before we click the ‘BUY NOW’ button, it might be helpful to take a mindful pause and ask the questions ‘Do I need it?’ ‘Do I even like it?’ ‘Will I still like it a year down the line?’
CLICK HERE for a short Mindful Pause recording
and if you'd like to find out more about the gold standard, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction courses running in 2020 go to the
We're all living life in the fast lane these days. Mindfulness helps us stop, pause and just take notice of what's here right now.
#mindfulmoments #lifeinthefastlane #slowdown #mindfulness #meditation #inthemoment
Silence is golden
It's the school holidays, wet weather, what do you do when it's your day with the kids or grandkids? Go to Chilly Kids of course, that's if you live nr Stourbridge. If not, substitute your own nearest soft play centre.
I was there last week. The kids enjoyed it, there was a lot of shouting, screaming, laughing, crying - all quite natural noises when a lot of kids are having fun. Why oh why do these places feel a need to add to the cacophony by also playing local radio stations at full volume?
We live in a noisy world and noise pollution has been identified as causing us high stress levels and health problems. I'm old enough to remember when transistor radios came in. Most young people played the same station (there was only one unless you could receive the pirate stations) and, as this was the time before ghetto blasters and personal stereos, you needed to hold it fairly close to your ear, even at full volume, to hear it. Although the oldies complained, compared with today it was nothing.
As human beings we need to experience silence. When was the last time you managed it?
The MBSR course includes a day of silence. It can really reset our system and get us back into living at the pace we were made for.
#sleep+wellness #mindfulness #brain #neuroscience #thrive #silence #noisepollution#silentmeditation #yourbrainonsilence #sensorydeprivation #silentretreats
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction on Skype
Finding an Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course on a day to suit your other commitments can be really tricky. This is especially difficult for carers, shift workers and people who are away from home a lot.
Did you know that you can still take the MBSR course, either one to one or with a friend, from the comfort of your own home, on Skype, at times to suit you?
The content of the course is exactly the same, there is still a requirement to do home practice between sessions and the sessions are shorter at around an hour and a half.
If you'd like to discuss this please contact Carole (link below) or call 0793 962 3566
Wisdom of the body
Oh this is a good one. When I started practising Mindfulness I was living so much in my head I had little body awareness at all - this has been shown to be a modern Western World phenomena.
Our bodies suffer and we take a pill, paracetamol, Ibuprofen, take your pick.
Developing body awareness can help us pick up the early messages that something isn't quite right. We can then deal with it usefully, before it becomes a real problem.
In the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction programme we go straight there by getting in tune with the body.
The body is where our emotional charges can be first detected, that 'gut feeling', 'heavy heartedness', feeling a 'pain in the neck'.
Recognising these events in the body in their early stages enables us to deal with our difficulties with a bit more choice before they get out of control.
Come along to a Free Taster Session to find out a bit more.
#mbsr #painintheneck #bodyawareness #wisdomofthebody #mindfulness #mindfulnesscourses #stourbridge #edgbaston #birmingham #painmanagement
‘The first thing that arises when we open up to each other is a great sigh of relief. We realise that we’re not the only one who feels bewildered.’
We are not our thoughts
Our thoughts can really take us hostage; tie us up in knots and keep us from living life to the full. Thoughts such as ....
My body is.....
I'll never be......
I shouldn't have.....
You can fill in the blanks. This kind of thinking really is part of the Human Condition and is not our fault!
Mindfulness training teaches us to wake up to these thoughts and realise WE ARE NOT OUR THOUGHTS
Many of spend our lives looking for answers. The trouble is we often don't know the questions.
We can blame our unhappiness on many external things and think if we change them that will be 'the answer.' For example, another job, another house, another treatment - another partner.
We may have even changed these things and yet little has changed.
So how do we discover what the question is in this first place?
At the heart of mindfulness training is Insight Meditation. We start to explore, in a very gentle, kindly way, how our minds are working and often contributing to our stress and dissatisfaction in life. Once we wake up to the way our thinking can take us into downward spirals of negativity, we can discover that we have more power and choice than we may have thought possible.
We can shine a light on this brain activity that we call thoughts and really start to connect with the power of personal insight and healing that we all possess.
#insight #meditation #negativethinking #lifetransformation #wakingup #changemylife #mbsr #mindfulnesscourses #birmingham #stourbridge
Waking up to our negativity bias......
Times can be tough and unpredictable, even without all the uncertainties of politics and Brexit.
Anxiety about the future can cause us sleepless nights, worries about what the future might hold for us and our loved ones and include colourful visions of ‘worse case scenarios.’ If we’re not careful we can get dragged down into pessimistic fears and negativity.
A favourite quote of mine is the one in the caption, ‘My life has been full of terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened’.
So, what can we do about our negative thinking?
There’s another saying I’m very fond of which is ‘Hope for the best and prepare for the worst’. Preparing means, within reason, taking whatever practical steps you can now to reduce the impact of whatever future events might hold, whilst at the same time not getting dragged into over thinking about what might never happen.
Easier said than done?
This ‘Negativity Bias’ is part of the human condition, it’s the way our brains work. Our brains are simply built with a greater sensitivity to unpleasant news and we’re less likely to notice the positive vibes. This bias is so automatic that we slip into it without even realising.
Mindfulness training teaches us how to recognise when our negative thoughts start to drag us down and contribute to our stress and fears for the future. We learn how to pause before rushing blindly into fearful thinking or reactivity. More importantly, we also learn how to wake up to the positives in life.
We are what we think....
You may have come across the idea that we can 'decide what we're going to think in any given situation'.
That's a fair notion but how many of us succeed?
There's a saying coined by Neuro-psychologist, Donald Hebb in 1949 which goes 'Neurons that fire together, wire together'.
In other words, those habitual thoughts that we may have been practising for decades - often self critical, negative and blameful thinking - have developed well worn neural pathways that can be difficult to shift.
I like the analogy of a mountain stream. It will always find the route of least resistance and this is what happens with our streams of negative thoughts.
The Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programme helps us notice when this happens. Only then we can move forward with choice as to whether we want to follow those habitual thought streams or start to create new 'streams' of neural pathways that can lead us to a better relationship with our thought processes and offer us the real freedom that can come with Mindfulness practice.
'Why do I need to train in Mindfulness?' you may ask.
The Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course was the first secular (ie non-religious) programme of its kind worldwide. It was developed by Prof. Jon Kabat Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in the late 70’s. Since then it has been the subject of thousands of research projects worldwide that have demonstrated the effectiveness of MBSR for many stress related conditions, as well as improved well being and ease of living.
So why train?
Following the MBSR programme requires some discipline and dedication. Like everything worth doing it takes time and commitment. It’s not a quick fix. We train to become more mindful and will hopefully keep this up for the rest of our lives. The training enables us to develop insight into what triggers our stress responses – and we all have these – and how we can change them. After all who among us wants to be stressed?
The course entails eight, two and a half hour sessions plus an all day retreat. Each session includes a combination of meditation practices and mindful movement, as well as teaching and exercises that help us gain understanding about what triggers us to become stressed. For us stress might include getting irritable, comfort eating or drinking, headaches and migraines, becoming depressed or anxious and lots of other physical and psychological maladies.
In addition it's also important to set an intention to put aside some time each day to do the home practice in between sessions. This is the only way to change unsatisfying habits.
So, are you up for it?
To find out more why not come along to a Free Taster Session.
Weave your parachute before you jump out of the plane - Jon Kabat-Zinn
Pardon my French as they say but in life shit happens. There we are moseying along, things going pretty well when out of the blue we get tripped up. It could be something really simple such as a friend or colleague snapping at us, or it could be a major life event such as a concerning diagnosis, loss of a loved one, redundancy and a whole continuum of events in between.
Having a Mindfulness practice can really help us at these times. With the smaller, pebble sized events, we can notice when we start to react, for example going down well travelled neural pathways of negative thinking, take a few breaths, notice where our thinking has taken us to then proceed with more calmness than we might have otherwise had.
But what about the bigger, boulder sized events that, like it or not, most of us will experience at some time in our life?
Well, one way that an established Mindfulness practice can help is to enable us to notice when we start adding to the size and weight of the ‘boulder’. When we start catastrophising, entertaining worse-case scenario thinking and adding to an already stressful situation. As the well known insurance ad says, we won’t to make a drama out of a crisis – or are less likely to anyway.
We can also use our practice to ground ourselves by connecting with our body in this present moment, one breath at a time. This helps to calm our mind, gain control and proceed with more clarity.
The Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course (MBSR) teaches us these skills. By making Mindfulness a lifetime habit we can in effect ‘weave our parachute before we have to jump out of the plane’.
How often do you make a deliberate intention to connect with nature?
People who have participated in an MBSR course, either with me or with another teacher, are invited to join in a monthly Staying Mindful session to refresh and reinvigorate their mindfulness practice. On Sunday, ten of us were at Bodenham Arboretum for an hour and a half of walking meditation in their beautiful grounds.
When we do walking meditation we stay in silence. I guide the practice by inviting people to tune into all their senses. What we see both close up and in the wider landscape; what we hear both in the distance and close by for example our breath; what we feel such as touch of clothes, the breeze on our cheek; inviting an exploration of tastes on the breeze as well as smells. Accepting experience in all its richness, noticing any thoughts that arise such as liking or disliking. Really immersing ourselves in the experience of being. We walk slowly.
I know for myself it really brought home to me how very important it is to really connect with nature on a regular basis. Going for a walk can be many things. If we walk and talk with a companion, pleasant as it may be, we can miss that connection with the environment we're inhabiting. Likewise, if our minds are consumed with worries and concerns, or just plain thinking, we can miss it too because of the endless mindchatter that can go on.
Stopping to check in with our senses is a really useful way to reconnect with whatever we are doing, whether it is walking or washing the dishes.
Difficult communications with work colleagues, family and friends can be a major cause of stress in our lives. Disagreements can end up with each side becoming polarised in their view of what’s being argued about, you say black and they say white – with no shades of grey in between.
Exploring how we communicate forms part of one of the sessions on the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course.
Many difficult communications are made worse when we don’t feel heard but we can’t force the other person to hear us. What we can do is start off by mindfully listening to the other’s thoughts and feelings, being focussed on what they are saying without thinking about what we are going to say back.
When we feel heard our defence mechanisms can soften, enabling us to start to see things from another’s perspective, even if we don’t fully agree with what they’re saying. We are more able to then listen to what the other has to say. Respect for differences and even compromise will have a better chance of developing.
Neuroplasticity - what is it and how does it help?
Neuroscience has made remarkable inroads in discovering just how our brains work. When we do something on a regular basis, this can include negative thinking, bad habits or behaviour patterns neural pathways develop that makes it easier and easier to go down those same well worn routes.
What has been discovered though is that Neuroplasticity means that we can change those neural pathways leading to happier healthier lives. This is where Mindfulness training comes in. We begin by noticing when these temptations come along and discover that we can pause before choosing how to respond.
'Neurons that wire together fire together' but we can rewire our brains.
The second arrow
Relaxing and de-stressing is often one of the things that people associate with Mindfulness Meditation, but that’s only part of the picture. On the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course we learn to explore what gets us into the stressed out state in the first place.
Ok you might say, but there’s nothing I can do about my challenging job/relationship/family problems. Very often there is little we can do about external events but what we can do is check out our internal reactions to situations we find ourselves in and learn to respond in less stress inducing ways.
There’s a well-known Buddhist parable of the second arrow. (please note that the MBSR course is a completely secular, ie non-religious, approach and is open to all faiths and none)
The Buddha it is said, once asked a student,
‘If a person is struck by an arrow, is it painful? If the person is struck by a second arrow, is it even more painful?’
He then went on to explain,
‘In life, we can’t always control the first arrow. However, the second arrow is our reaction to the first. This second arrow is optional.’
In the MBSR course we learn to recognise when we draw the second arrow. We begin to recognise the signs of tightening, discomfort, emotions that arise as a result of our habitual reactions to external situations. In that space of noticing we can realise that there may be more skilful choices we can make in what happens next....and that can help us truly start to relax!
Why do I need to do a course? I can use Apps can’t I?.
Apps such as Headspace are very popular and a great way of connecting with a Mindfulness Meditation practice. For some people it is okay. They can manage to establish a daily meditation practice that serves them well enough.
Although I’d had a meditation practice of sorts for almost forty years, I hadn’t succeeded in getting into a regular habit. I tended to use meditation as a go to destination when things became difficult and I was looking for ‘first aid’.
I’d heard of Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the MBSR course, from a friend. Her daughter had found his techniques invaluable when suffering from a deep, and very worrying for her parents, depression. Another friend gave me an audio copy of the Body Scan and Mindful Yoga practices by Jon Kabat-Zinn that form part of the MBSR course. I started using them on a daily basis. Then another friend – I have great friends – told me she’d bought a copy of Mindfulness for Dummies. It’s a good book, easy to follow with guided meditation downoads. I followed it for a couple of months before deciding to learn ‘to do it properly!’
The only Mindfulness Based course available then was the Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy course at Oxford Mindfulness Centre, part of the University of Oxford’s Department of Psychiatry. In the rush hour it was a two-hour journey from home. MBCT was based on the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction programme, specifically for people suffering from recurrent depression. At the time I wasn’t depressed, wasn’t especially stressed, although I’m no stranger to these experiences, yet I found the course life changing.
During the eight weeks I woke up to the realisation that my thoughts could take me hostage. They could drag me down unhelpful pathways that certainly didn’t help my sense of well-being nor, at times, make me very nice to be with. I also began to realise how unaware I’d become of my body. I knew I had tight shoulders and backache but was unaware of how my constant thoughts, often of a worrying or judgemental nature, could affect the intensity of these sensations.
By the end of the course I knew I wanted to learn how to teach it, but was told that before I could apply for training, I’d need to have had a personal daily meditation practice for twelve months.
The rest is history. The following year I trained to teach MBSR at the Centre for Mindfulness Research and Practice at Bangor University and am now in my second year of teaching. The positive change shown in participants as they progress through the course is what motivates me.
Why not come along to a Free Taster Session to find out how taking an 8 week MBSR course could help you.
Finding a work / life balance
Finding a work/ life balance can be extremely difficult in this fast-moving world. We are constantly bombarded with messages, tweets, phone calls, bad news stories, demands from work and loved ones. If we’re not very careful we can end up with a very unstable lifestyle that can lead us into problems, such as stress, unhappy relationships and physical difficulties, to name but a few.
Towards the end of the 8 week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course we start to bring Mindful Awareness to where the balance and imbalance lies in our life. It’s really important to check in on a regular basis because things can very quickly go off track. It may be that we just need to make a date to spend quality time with ourselves. This could be a long bath or reading a good novel – or both at the same time! Doing some mindful gardening or taking a walk in the woods.
Bringing awareness to our life patterns may mean that we recognise we need to spend more time on our close relationships. Really being present with our loved ones in both mind and body. Finding a balance between making money and making memories.
As author Robert Brault says, Enjoy the little things as one day you may look back and realise they were the big things.
The Menopause can make us miserable. It is often accompanied by poor sleep quality, night sweats, hot flushes and mood changes including irritability, anxiety and depression. All this can happen at the same time as the nest starts to empty and we may find ourselves wondering what life is all about.
Hormone Replacement Therapy was, for a time, lauded as the answer to all our menopausal prayers. Hair and skin improved, vaginal dryness was reversed, vigour returned and the clock seemed to be turned back. However, risks and side effects revealed over the last fifteen years or so have resulted in doctors being reluctant to prescribe it and women looking for less risky alternatives.
A number of recent research studies have indicated that the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction programme can help significantly reduce symptoms and/or perceived stress associated with them.
Among these studies, researchers at the Mayo Clinic ‘found women with higher mindfulness scores had fewer menopausal symptoms’.
A similar study at University of Massachusetts Medical Centre reported finding ‘… our data suggest that MBSR may be a clinically significant resource in reducing the degree of bother women experience from hot flashes and night sweats’.
MBSR can help us in many ways. Enabling us to find the resilience needed to deal with all of life’s stresses.
Come along to a free Taster Session to find out more
Mindfulness and Chronic Pain.
Many research studies have shown that developing a Mindfulness practice can help improve our emotional health issues such as low mood, negative thinking, and worry.
Did you know that academic studies have also shown that Mindfulness training can reduce the impact of chronic pain in our lives? A recent research project has also concluded that ‘Higher mindfulness is associated with less pain interference, lower impact of fibromyalgia, and better psychological health and quality of life in people with fibromyalgia.’ (Clinical Rheumatology Journal)
When we begin to engage in this practice, we start to notice our thoughts. This constant mind chatter influences how we feel about our present circumstances and more often than not adds to our discomfort - whether that is physical or emotional. Mindfulness training enables us to take back control.
Come along to a Free Taster Session and find out how taking part in the evidence based, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) 8 week programme can have a positive effect on your well-being.
Building our Mindfulness Muscle.
Our Physical Fitness is often measured by how quickly we can recover following exercise. How long it takes your heart and respiration rate to come back down. The fitter we are the quicker our recovery; and our fitness increases with training and regular practice.
The same thing is true for our emotional fitness. Mindfulness training helps us to recover more quickly following stressful situations. We can't avoid stress and anxiety, it is part of life's rich tapestry, but we can learn how to build resilience and develop the capacity to recover our equilibrium more quickly.
What is your weather today?
I recently shared with a friend what is a bit of a new idea for me, that we can tune into our 'internal weather conditions'.
How is your weather today? Inwardly it might be bright and sunny, balmy and breezy, heavy clouds, hail and rain, or even humid with a threat of a storm brewing.
Our internal weather, just as with Met weather forecasts, can't always be predicted, we get it wrong and things don't go as we planned or expected. Whatever the weather though we know that it won't stay the same.
As Billy Connolly says 'There's no such things as bad weather, just the wrong clothes'.
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Mindfulness training can help us approach life's challenges in much this way.
We learn to notice our internal weather and how we are reacting to it, sometimes even making it seem worse. We begin to realise that whatever it is right now it will change, sometimes for the better, sometimes not, but bringing the skills needed to take a pause in order to 'find the right clothes', settling with the breath, feeling our feet on the ground and being kind to ourselves.
Mindfulness Can Help Tame Everyday Stress
Mindfulness Can Help Tame Everyday Stress
Being in tune with the present moment -- called mindfulness -- can relieve stress and make you an actor rather than a reactor, a wellness expert says.
Focusing on what's happening right now allows people to notice things they might otherwise miss, said Dr. Timothy Riley. He is an assistant professor in the family and community medicine department at Penn State Health.
That might sound simple enough. But being engaged in the present moment, on purpose and non-judgmentally, can be a challenge, he said.
"Being aware of physical sensations, thoughts and emotions -- both pleasant and unpleasant -- can help us choose how to respond, rather than simply react," Riley said in a Penn State news release.
Each individual's upbringing and genes have programmed how they approach situations, he explained. A person's automatic reactions can be spot on -- or not.
"You walk by Starbucks, see a cookie and you have an emotional response," he said. "You want the cookie. Then may come guilt for wanting a cookie."
If you're mindful, you see the cookie, are aware of your emotional response, and you can let it be without judgment, Riley added.
"It puts you in this observer stance where we can witness what is happening without getting wrapped up in it," he said. "It gives you a bit of space."
That moment can help you decide if buying the cookie is wise and if you really need it now, he said.
Many studies have shown how mindfulness and related interventions can help reduce stress and chronic health problems, such as anxiety, depression, pain and high blood pressure.
"Being focused on the present moment has a number of positive effects on our everyday life. Usually, whatever is happening right now isn't really that bad, and realizing that can put us in a more positive frame of mind. Then, our next interaction is better," Riley explained.
Mindfulness also enhances activity in the part of the brain that helps quell your inner child who wants to scream, yell, cry, hit or throw a fit, he noted.
"The more we practice mindfulness, the more we are flexing this muscle of emotional regulation," Riley said. "When automatic emotions come up, we can choose whether or not to engage them."
The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more about mindfulness.
SOURCE: Penn State, news release, Dec. 12, 2018
Yoga vs Mindfulness. Which is best?
I practice and teach Mindfulness, I also attend a yoga class. Someone commented recently that there seems to be a lot of rivalry between Yoga and Mindfulness practitioners. This may be the case but really, when approached as they are intended, they are two sides of the same coin.
Yoga can be practised solely as an exercise to increase physical strength and stamina.
Likewise, Mindfulness meditation can be used as simply a way to relax, take a breather and find stillness.
Yoga is said to have been developed, thousands of years ago, as part of a spiritual discipline to prepare the body for meditation. Many yoga classes will incorporate an element of meditation into the teaching.
The Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programme that I teach, includes gentle Mindful Movement (based on Hatha Yoga or Qi Gong) to enable us to really tune into the body and bodily sensations and aid development of awareness.
In our busy 21st century lives, we can end up living in our head, on automatic pilot, and risk failing to make the mind/body connection. Often, stress and tension become apparent first in the body, such as a tight jaw or tense shoulders. As we learn to tune into the body, we find we are more able to pick up on the subtle messages that are the early warning signs of stress build up. With Mindfulness training we are more able to nip it in the bud, rather than risk slipping into a downward spiral of anxiety, depression or general ill-health
Yoga and Movement exercises tune us into the body and Mindfulness Practices, such as meditation, tune us into the mind. Together, they help us develop the Mind/Body connection we hear so much about these days.
There is and should be overlap between these two disciplines. Getting into conflict about which is best is like fighting our own shadow.
What does this mean?
Just imagine, you are standing in the sea and the waves are heading towards you. What happens next?
I'm sure many of us can recall what it was like to face the waves head on, resisting their force. This is fine with the smaller waves and can even feel invigorating. However, as the waves become more powerful, this strategy can quickly knock us off our feet and overwhelm us. We have to learn to go with the flow and swim into the wave, in effect go surfing.
The same is true of life's difficulties. What we try to resist can metaphorically 'knock us off our feet'. We lose our sense of stability and can even feel as though we are drowning in our problems.
Just as we can't stop the waves, we can't stop the fact that life will throw up challenges. Things don't go as we planned or hoped for and the unexpected happens.
Many University research studies have shown that participating in a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programme can help us reduce stress at these times. It helps us develop the skills to surf our difficulties and sustain our balance when life get tricky - as it will!
Surviving the festive season...
Christmas time can be, as we all know, very stressful. So how can we use Mindfulness to enable us to find the joy and peace that is traditionally associated with this festival.
Firstly, be realistic in our expectations. Much as we might like to have the fantasy Christmas that we dream of, reality so often falls short. Life can be just like the weather. The forecast may say sunshine but that doesn't stop it beginning to drizzle or even have a downpour.
Also, don't be afraid to ask for some help. Using 'I' statements can be useful such as 'I really could do with a sit down, could you all do the dishes please'. (Taking care not to make it sound like an order or ourselves sounding martyred!)
Tune into the moment. Give yourself the opportunity to 'take in the good'. Staying with the pleasant and joyful experiences for a few breaths helps us to save these positive moments in our long term memory rather than them disappearing from our consciousness.
And take a pause. When we notice that the noise and excitement of the day starts to press our buttons, we can practice a short meditation. We can do this whilst peeling the sprouts or even take ourselves off to the loo, lock the door and have a breather for five minutes.
9th December 2018
Are you sitting comfortably? - if not check this out.
I've just been meditating on Open Awareness for the past 30 minutes. I decided to sit cross legged on my cushion and after about ten minutes had to change position because of hip pain. This is such a common problem. Sitting cross legged is supposed to be the most stable position in that the balance is low down but we in the West need to work on it - our bodies just aren't quite the same shape as Eastern yogis!
Some time back I came across this video which gives some very good advice on the best positions in which to meditate. I'm going to reacquaint myself with it, you might like to take a look too.
Conflict in communications 13th November
Communications in close personal relationships or with work colleagues can be a major source of stress in our lives. Week Six of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programme focuses on communication styles and habits we may employ that can lead to conflict. Aikido moves offer a really useful source of metaphor to demonstrate different ways we might communicate and ways to resolve those difficulties.
Watch this YouTube video by Aikido expert Judy Ringer for some interesting insights
Dealing with Difficulties 5th November
In dealing with difficulty, Carl Jung said “What you resist not only persists, but will grow in size”.
Resistance has to do with not being able, or willing, to deal with the negative experiences in our lives, and to a greater or lesser extent that means all of us.
Mindfulness practice trains us to notice our thoughts and how mind chatter can affect our sense of equilibrium.
Negative thoughts may influence our moods and emotions until we are sometimes left feeling powerless and overwhelmed. We don’t have to buy into the negative thoughts that arise but until we notice them, and realise “I am not my thoughts”, we may allow them to influence us in ways that can lead to anxiety, stress, depression and poor quality of life.
There are many ways we try to escape the difficulties in our lives, for example, pretending they’re not there, escaping into distractions such as overwork and busyness, numbing ourselves with alcohol or over-eating or becoming angry with feelings of it not being fair or blaming others. All these can just end up making the situation far worse.
So how do we work with difficulty using mindfulness? A big part of mindfulness training is observing our mind chatter but not getting caught up in it. We learn to notice where the negative thoughts and difficult emotions show up in the body in tight shoulders, a heavy feeling in the heart region, headaches, facial tension. Once we do this it opens up the possibility of approaching and working with these emotions, where they show up in the body, using the breath as an anchor.
Training in Mindfulness isn’t a quick fix, you wouldn’t expect to become a virtuoso violinist after a few lessons -but you may well be able to get a bit of a tune out of it! With a bit of effort, regular practice and patience there’s a very good chance that Mindfulness will bring more calm, peace and equilibrium into your busy life and help you get more enjoyment along the way.
We only have one moment to live and it’s this one!
follow the link above to Courses and Tasters
Can Meditation change your brain? 30th October
Neuroscience has demonstrated quite clearly that meditation can change your brain! It can
Reduced symptoms associated with Depression, Anxiety, Pain and Insomnia
It can enhance our ability to pay attention
Increased quality of life
Slow down ageing process (nice one!) and assists learning, memory and emotion regulation.
Here is a TED talk by Neuroscientist Sara Lazar who started off as a sceptic then went on to do some interesting research.
'Not happening now!' 21st October
What a great idea for when our thoughts take us into fears and imaginings about future events that may or may not happen!
Zen author, Ezra Bayda, says these words have become one of his favourite practice phrases. He goes on to say …
"If I become aware that I’m imagining a difficult conversation with someone, all I have to do is say, Not happening now! And it’s like poking a pin in a balloon - it just disappears.”
Ezra Bayda in Thirty Thousand Days
Who is Mindfulness for? 10th October
I've recently been asked this question and the answer really is 'everyone'. The people signing up for my courses come from many different backgrounds and all ages from 18 to 80+. Many reasons bring them. Sometimes it is a long history of stress or depression, physical or emotional pain or loss. But often it’s something more difficult to put into words; a deep sense that there should be more to life, more contentment and happiness. Sometimes work or personal relationships have become difficult and people want to find new ways of relating to others and to themselves. Sometimes it’s just a vague feeling that things could be better.
I guess I was in the last category when I took my first eight weeks course at the Oxford Mindfulness Centre. I had little idea about how much it could change my life for the better; so much so that in order to share it with others I went on to train to teach Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction programmes with the Centre for Mindfulness Research and Practice at Bangor University.
The MBSR course is held over eight weeks of two and a half hour sessions. There is an expectation that participants will do around half an hours home practice each day between sessions. There is also an all day retreat at around week 6.
No-one says it is easy. Things that are worthwhile rarely are. You wouldn’t expect to learn a new musical instrument without putting in the time and the same goes for Mindfulness.
Neither is it a ‘quick fix’. It is a way of life; a way of relating to both the pleasant and unpleasant aspects of life in the present moment with more balance, kindness and equanimity.
Does it work? 3rd October 2018
I know it works, many thousands of people around the world know it works, but how do we know that?
In this short video BBC's David Sillito investigates
Can an 8 week course in Mindfulness practice help reduce stress, chronic pain and even self centredness?
Contentment 1st October 2018
'If you can sit quietly after difficult news; if in financial downturns you remain perfectly calm; if you can see your neighbours travel to fantastic places without a twinge of jealousy; if you can happily eat whatever is put on your plate; you can fall asleep after a day of running around without a drink or a pill; if you can always find contentment just where you are:
you are probably a dog' - Jack Kornfield
For the rest of us there's Mindfulness Training!
18th September 2018
Silencing the Inner Critic
We all know about the 'Inner critic'. It's that voice in our head that catches us, especially when we're a bit down, telling us we're 'not good enough'.
How do we manage to work with this?
Well the first step is to notice what's going on. The sheer extent of our mind chatter is the first thing we start to notice when we introduce mindfulness into our life. It never ceases to amaze participants how negative these thoughts can be.
Recognising them for what they are enables us to respond with choice - do I listen to this or do I just smile - 'there it goes again'- and let it pass?
12th September 2018
This article by the Greater Good magazine summarises the difference between four types of meditation and how research has shown each can benefit us in different ways.
They summarise them as follows:-
Observing thoughts meditation and
Loving Kindness meditation
The good news is that the world renowned Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course offered by Mindful Stream covers all four approaches - which is probably why so many research programmes have shown it's benefits in helping people lead more fulfilled lives.
10th September 2018
'I haven't got time to meditate' can be our first response to the suggestion that 30 minutes of Mindfulness practice each day can help us decrease our stress levels etc. It might help to ask ourselves - how long do I spend looking at my mobile phone? Flicking channels on the tv? Procrastinating about that to-do list?
Here are some sobering statistics
7th September 2018
I just love this cartoon. It reminds me that there is usually more than one way of looking at things, something that mindfulness helps us to become aware of more often.
2nd September 2018
I'm sure we can all agree with Neuroscientist Rick Hanson when he says we humans have a natural tendency towards a negative bias. Our memory, he says, is like Teflon for good experiences but Velcro for bad ones. In other words, we might have nine good experiences throughout the day and one bad one - but which do we dwell on?
But, he reassures us, this needn't be the case. Throughout our lives, our brains are capable of 'Positive Neural Plasticity'. In other words, (and this is where Mindfulness training comes in) we are able to train our brains and empower ourselves to take on a more positive attitude.
Watch Rick Hanson's short YouTube talk here -
15th August 2018
Last year, whilst on a Mindfulness Teacher Training retreat, I fell in love with my feet!
Now that may seem a strange thing to say but for most of my life I have been embarrassed to show them. They're big. I have bunions. And to make the matter even worse I sustained damage to my big toe nail whilst on a cycling marathon a few years ago.
Prior to the retreat I agonised about how I would keep them from public view. It was summer and tradition has it that people there meditate in bare feet. So I bought a pair of yoga socks to hide the worse.
Then one day we were invited to go outside and practice Qigong in bare feet on the dewy morning grass. I was in turmoil. Then something that Jon Kabat-Zinn the founder of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction programme says came to mind. 'If you're still breathing there is more right with you than wrong'.
This really clicked. There was far more right with my feet than wrong. I could walk on the grass. I could do the Qigong moves. I could feel the dewy grass through the soles of my feet - bliss!
Image from the cuckoo jar blog
11th August 2018
In his book 'Happiness - the science behind your smile', author Daniel Nettle writes "The evidence of a positive effect of meditation on subjective well-being is becoming quite impressive. Regular meditators have reduced levels of negative emotion, and a course of mindfulness meditation in volunteers has been shown to reduce stress, increase well-being and improve immune responses.'
He then goes on to talk about the beneficial effects of journaling. He suggests that writing about both pleasant and unpleasant experiences enables us to become more mindful of our thoughts. 'Over the last two decades a large body of research has shown that writing regularly about one’s experiences clearly has beneficial effects on well-being, health and our immune system.'
Dr Susan David, author of 'The Oxford Handbook of Happiness' would agree with this. In her TED talk 'The gift and power of emotional courage' she says she was advised as a troubled youngster to 'write like nobody is reading'. Julia Cameron author of 'The Artists Way' advocates writing 'Morning Pages' in much the same way.
So what are we waiting for? Nothing to lose but a few sheets of paper!
8th August 2018
Recently at a family camping weekend, my five year old grandson asked 'Why do we need things when we have family'.
In Mindfulness we talk about bringing the 'Beginners Mind' to our experience. Young children have no problem at all in seeing things with a wonderful freshness. As we age we often start to believe that we 'know how things are'. The result is we miss out on experiencing the little things, such as the breeze rustling in the trees, the clouds drifting across the blueness of the sky or as here, the light reflecting off a bubble.
As the saying on this image goes we should try to 'Enjoy the little things in life, because one day we may look back and realise they were the big things'.
5th August 2018 What we resist persists.
The Mindfulness ideal is simply to watch thoughts arise and pass away, without letting them trouble us. Easier said than done. This is where an 8 week course comes in handy. It challenges our thinking and teaches us to notice our thoughts without getting tied up in knots or metaphorically beating ourselves up.
But sometimes difficulties arise such as stressful events, life crisis, disappointments. How do we deal with these? We can find ourselves blocking them out by pretending they're not happening, distracting ourselves with work and busyness, overeating, drinking too much or simply giving up.
If, on the other hand, we learn to mindfully approach life's challenges rather than avoiding them, we can discover inner resources to help us through.
No-one driving the bus....
Some of you may recall watching John Cleese’s film Clockwise. In it he is faced by obstacle after obstacle on his way to an important presentation. It made me cringe in my seat, I could feel my heart pounding as I witnessed his distress. It reminded me of those situations when we’re under pressure and everything seems to stack up against us, can’t find the keys, car won’t start, traffic jams ahead when we must get to an important appointment etc. We all know what that feels like. Our reaction to the stressful situation increases our adrenaline and cortisol so that the thinking and reasoning part of our brain goes into a spin – no one driving the bus!
In this TED talk, Neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, introduces the idea of ‘Pre-mortem’. Firstly, he says, science backs up the idea that having a regular place to keep important things such as keys, passport, tickets, shopping lists enables the Hippocampus part of the brain to know exactly where to find them. This is the part of the brain that, for instance, enables squirrels find nuts - not smell as previously thought. London taxi drivers are found to have an enlarged Hippocampus enabling them to navigate the city. Because our brains are capable of neuroplasticity it means that, throughout our whole lives, we are capable of training it in this skill.
He then goes on to talk about how in the run up to what may be a stressful event, we can anticipate what the situation might demand. This might be questions that may need asking, or information we may need to hand. The example he gives is a medical appointment, but the same approach could be used for many situations.
Mindfulness training is another way of paying attention when things get stressful by learning how to respond by taking a pause, focussing on the breath and getting our hands back on that steering wheel.
Click here for Daniel Levitin's TED talk
An ongoing series of informational entries
Our Latest Blog Entry
25th July 2018
What's this about Mindful Movement?
Yes, in the MBSR there is a bit of moving involved such as simple yoga type stretches or forms of Taichi. It is open to all physical abilities and there are no black belts involved!
But why movement at all?
For most of us we have become so caught up in our thinking mode that we fail to notice our bodily sensations until they give us grief – headaches, back ache, tight shoulders or we begin to suffer ill health of some description.
Our bodies are wonderful early warning systems that give us the first clue that our stress levels are starting to rise. Getting in touch in this way wakes us up to what’s happening and enables us to respond sooner rather than later.
An ongoing series of informational entries
Our Latest Blog Entry
23rd July 2018
There are many advantages in joining a group course but not everyone finds this easy. Family or work responsibilities can easily get in the way.
One-to-one sessions are now available in a more flexible format, either face to face or via Skype.
The shorter sessions follow the 8 week MBSR format and include a Retreat Day. There is also an ongoing commitment to home practice.
For more information please get in touch.
Our First Blog Entry
July 16th 2018
Is it just 'meditation'?
Some people think that mindfulness is all about 'meditation' and this can worry them. Well, yes, MBSR does incorporate a form of 'meditation' and we do at times sit either in a chair, on a stool or even cross legged on a cushion if that is comfortable for you. We can have our eyes closed or open and we bring our attention quite simply to the breath.
Focusing on something as simple as the breath helps us begin to notice how our minds constantly chatter. Our minds will have us worrying about the future or mulling over the past. Sometimes they carry us off into catastrophic thinking.
As Mark Twain famously wrote 'My life has been full of tragedies, but only some of them happened'.
But, there is no navel gazing, just focusing on the breath and noticing passing thoughts with interest and curiosity and learning not to get dragged down by them by returning to the breath, our anchor point.
Sunday 8th July 2018
All Day Retreat
I have just enjoyed breakfast in the garden - eaten very mindfully! - surrounded by the morning chorus of mainly wood pigeons. The climbing rose above my head was showering me with fragrant petals and, in the words of the old song, 'I think to myself what a wonderful world'.
Yesterday, we enjoyed a 'retreat day' at the Wyre Forest Discovery Centre' and I'm still basking in the afterglow.
Why a Retreat Day? It is part of the MBSR 8 week course and is also open to previous participants. A wonderful chance to practice and embed the skills we have been learning throughout the course and to take time out from our busy lives. To experience what it is to stop 'Doing' and just 'Be'.
Going off recent conversations there seems to be a bit of confusion about what MBSR is. Over the next few posts I shall try to clarify some false assumptions.
My First Blog Entry
6th July 2018
1. First of all MBSR is neither hippy dippy or wishy washy.
There are no joss sticks, mantras, candles, or recorded dolphin calls. (Not that there is anything wrong with these if that's what floats your boat but they have no place on this mindfulness course!)
2. It is a structured, well researched, 8 week programme, recognised by NICE (National Institute of Clinical Excellence)
3. It has been recommended by the cross party Mindful Nation report for use in schools, the health service, prisons, the police and other public agencies.
4. Over two hundred members of the British parliament have taken part in one of these programmes, among them many MP's –
you might try guessing which ones haven’t!