Sally Roberts, Mindfulness Instructor, Northern Centre for Mindfulness & Compassion

What is mindfulness in the mainstream? There is significant evidence of the positive benefits of mindfulness and in the recent years, mindfulness is becoming very popular and has a broad reach world-wide. Most of us expertise improved health when we eat a balanced diet, exercise, and sleep well but how often do we consider the benefits of a healthy mind. Mindfulness is like a gym for the mind, keeping us mentally fit and healthy.

We’ve just done a 3-minute mindfulness exercise and I must say I am feeling incredibly relaxed!

Mindfulness research has grown exponentially over recent years, much of the research led by Richard Davidson. The positive impact of an 8-week mindfulness course can be seen on brain scans. Sally described neural pathways as being a bit like grooves in the snow that we might sledge down in the winter; whilst it is great to have some well-worn paths for regular runs, we can intentionally create new pathways and routes e.g. we might choose to create a new one of being more compassionate.

Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; On purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally. (Jon Kabat-Zinn).

We’ve just done a longer guided meditation which I thoroughly enjoyed and I feel very, very relaxed. I’m not great about switching off from thoughts (things are very busy inside my head!), and Sally guided us through imagining we were sitting on a river bank and watching our thoughts drift past, encouraging us to notice when we started drifting away with thoughts and to let them drift past. Feedback from the other participants in the workshop suggests that everybody else felt as relaxed as I did.

Process mind of mindfulness:

  • Intention/Aspiration – what do I truly value and how do I want to live?
  • Focus attention on a meditation object (e.g. breathing)
  • Distraction inevitably occurs (sometimes with self-judgement)
  • An attitude of curiosity, openness, and kindness then helps us to deal with those distractions without ending up worrying/planning/story-telling/mindless wandering)
  • Regained attention and focus

Sally was very skilled at guiding us to be compassionate towards ourselves, which stopped me getting frustrated with myself when my mind wandered.

Mindfulness courses include Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), both of which are 8 weeks long and involve formal mindfulness practice, enquiry, discussion, home practice, and informal practice on how to transfer learning into everyday life.

We can easily deny the early warning signs of burnout, saying that we’re fine (FINE = feelings inside not expressed).

We closed by looking at some real case studies of mindfulness training (US Marines, Transport for London, Google, East Riding of Yorkshire) with positive benefits seen in all of these settings.

Mindfulness is a different practice to be with our experiences, to be curious and turn towards difficult and help us to respond with insight. Sally warned us of the dangers of trying to take too easy an approach to mindfulness, looking for ‘3 simple steps to…’ and easy shortcut solutions. There are a lot of mis-perceptions and it isn’t a quick fix, and Sally advised that we take training seriously and don’t look for shortcuts.

 

Recommended reading:

  • Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world – Williams and Penman.
  • Mindfulness for Health: A practical guide to relieving pain, reducing stress and restoring wellbeing – Burch and Penman
  • Mindful Work: How Meditation is Changing Business from the Inside Out – David Gelles
  • See also: The Northern Centre for Mindfulness and Compassion

 

You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf.

A great session and I now feel incredibly relaxed.

 

(This was live-blogged during a session at the CIPD Northern Area Partnership Conference 2015 in York – #cipdnap15 – I’ve tried to capture a faithful summary of the highlights for me but my own bias, views – and the odd typo – might well creep in.)