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Mindfulness for Beginners-Short Course

Mindfulness-A short Course

Mindfulness is  learning to be more present in the here and now. Or conversely it is about recognising when we are caught up in our head, thoughts, perceptions or in our emotions and feelings.

When we recognise where our attention is we begin to notice the impact this has on our decision making.

 

Mindfulness for Beginners

The first course ran in June 2019 and the participants each had different reasons for attending; those who came knowing mindfulness was meant to be good for anxiety, and those who had been told it would be good for them and those who were just curious.

The flexible nature of the course allowed each session to evolve depending on the questions that arose, and the reactions to peoples’ experiences of meditating.

In Session One it was acknowledged that very few people had meditated before, thought of doing so was in itself a little anxiety creating. But the first step into mindfulness almost happened before we knew it. On arriving and settling onto our chairs we were encouraged to just pause and notice the thoughts and business in our heads. We were then encouraged to let these go, knowing we had chosen be in this room with these people.  Session one offered insights into Mindfulness as it has developed in the Western world and also how it is part of Buddhism.  There was an activity which encouraged us to notice how we respond to senses, thoughts and perceptions.

The second session was a little bit more personal. The participants had been encouraged to try meditating at home and so we could ask about the ‘apps’ available and be honest about how hard it was to find time to meditate. We were then taught a little about the biology of anxiety and that it is a normal response to danger. It was useful to notice how thoughts can cause the same anxiety response as real danger. https://www.insightfulness.co.uk/thoughts-and-anxiety/

Also in this second meeting we were encouraged to reflect on familiar habits we might have when we feel anxious or emotional. For example some people will get angry, or want to blame others whilst others can have the opposite response and feel they can never do anything right and become silent and withdrawn. There was a longer meditation. 

We could make suggestions as to what to cover in the last week and people wanted to understand more about why we as humans get stressed and anxious. We learnt how thoughts, beliefs, behaviours and emotions are all inter-linked. It was also helpful to understand that our brain motivates us in different ways and sometimes we over-ride this because we think other things are more important. We work hard to get recognition and money to buy pleasurable things but this might be at the expense of being with friends and family who provide us with safety, comfort and security.

I thoroughly enjoyed leading this course and sharing my knowledge of Mindfulness.

We were provided with handouts and reference material, and told how this course is a good start before embarking on the 8-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course.

Useful resources

Books

  • Wherever you go there you are by Jon Kabat-Zin (2004)
  • Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world By Mark Williams and Danny Penman (2011)

For anyone interested in the science behind mindfulness-

  • The practical neuroscience of Buddha’s Brain, happiness, love and wisdom. By Rick Hanson with Richard Mendius (2009)

Websites

Links

https://www.insightfulness.co.uk/courses/

https://www.insightfulness.co.uk/a-mindfulness-guide-for-the-frazzled-by-ruby-wax/

 

 

 

Meditations

 

 

MBSR Body Scan

 

MBSR Body Scan Short Version.

 

MBSR Awareness of Breath

 

MBSR Mindful Movement, (Mindful yoga)

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR): An 8 week course in Brighouse

Emma Dunn-MBSR Course Tutor

I live and work in Rastrick and am excited to bring this well established, evidenced based mindfulness programme to Brighouse.

I was a participant in an MBSR 8 week course in early 2016, not quite sure what to expect, but hoping this course would satisfy my appetite for meditation. I convinced myself it was about learning enough mindfulness to help my clients; I work as a psychotherapist. However it has proven to be just the beginning of a journey into mindfulness and meditation.

In May 2016 I was then excited to be able to proceed to complete a Mindfulness Instructor Course and late in 2016 started studying with the Centre for Mindfulness Research and Practice (CMRP) at Bangor University to complete my training to become a teacher of MBSR.

The training of Mindfulness teachers is now under the administration of the Mindfulness network

There is a voluntary code of practice, to which teachers are expected to adhere.

What is MBSR

MBSR is part of a group of evidenced based treatments that use aspects of the Buddhist philosophy, in particular  meditation to help us understand how we react to things, and to be more present in our lives, not lost in thought.

In the early 1970’s Buddhist monks were invited to have their brains scanned and the results showed differences in their brain structure compared to people who did not meditate. The differences where a stark contrast to the brains of those who are anxious and over reactive to thoughts and experience. The science of meditation began to grow.  An American doctor, who also meditated, Jon Kabat-Zinn began treatment groups for patients who did not seem to be improving with conventional medicine. He began with heart patients, those with skin conditions and chronic pain. His work is well documented in his book Full Catastrophe Living.

Researchers at Oxford University heard of this work and having completed the 8 week MBSR under Jon Kabat-Zinn themselves they then created their MBCT treatment programme which is adopted by NICE as a treatment for the prevention of relapse in depression. Many new programmes are being developed and researched to help with specific emotional issues for example for those with cancer, or addiction.

MBSR Treatment Programme

The programme content and learning is the same wherever you do the course. I will provide my personal experience and group members can share their own stories so each programme will be slightly different. There are lessons and meditations that are always in every MBSR course. There is also mindful movement, similar to yoga.

The programme is 8 weeks long and includes a day of silent meditation. There are meditation practices in each session that may be up to 40 minutes long. Participants are given homework, this is always to do a meditation but may also include work related to a particular lesson. This is often a piece of reflection.

The course progresses through each session so it is important that all classes are attended. The day of silence helps to consolidate a meditation practice and may follow a theme that the participants can chose. There is no extra cost and you will need to provide your own food and drinks.

Participants are encouraged to share and this is often done in pairs. Sharing can have a profound effect, just knowing you are not suffering alone, or even that everyone struggles with ‘meditation’… such as how to do it…and what is meant to happen during meditation. Confidentiality is important this is agreed at the beginning of the course.

Who is MBSR for?

Anyone.

Mindfulness is for anyone. The course content is directed at understanding and relieving stress, stress is in everyone’s life to some extent. Some stresses are helpful and often described as motivating. However  if you are under stress or have anxiety and it is impacting on your life and relationships MBSR is especially for you.

If you are starting to meditate, you are curious about mindfulness or someone suggested it to you this 8 week programme help you establish a routine, gain insights into your own habits and interpretations of the world and increase your sense of well being.

What next

If you wish to apply for the next course information will be available through Mindfulness at Insightfulness on Facebook

Or contact me at emmadunn@insightfulness.co.uk

Or use the form at the bottom of my Mindfulness page

I can also run the course for organisations, schools or other work places.

 

 

 

Christmas Stress-How to change your mindset using Mindfulness

Christmas Stress – How to change your mindset at Christmas

Christmas and Mindfulness
Anyone hosting Christmas will be aware of all the jobs that need to be done, the presents and party clothes to buy, food to be ordered, the list can go on. For those having Christmas alone, or if this year is the first without a loved one, the festivities provide a complex set of emotions which can be difficult to bare.

It may be that you have a silent dread of Christmas. However, Christmas is going to happen.

What follows are a few ideas about how changing your mindset may help.

Many of the reasons why stress accumulates over Christmas is to do with thoughts and behaviours, habits and expectations.

These reasons include;

  1. The emphasis placed on family traditions
  2. Concern about how much work needs to be done to make the day successful
  3. Present buying; how much to spend, what to buy
  4. The day being a reminder of those we have lost

These may feel like a real representation of how you feel. Mindfulness encourages a different approach to how we attach a meaning to these situations.

Mindfulness allows us to treat the current moment as all there is. How much meaning do we attach to the past at the expense of the present which is where we are now?

  1. The emphasis placed on family traditions

It can be difficult to change habits, certainly if we frame them as ‘family traditions’. I wonder if when your ‘family tradition’ happened for the first time the intention was for it to go on past its sell by date?

Interestingly we are aware in other circumstances, such as holidays, that when we try to repeat the experience it causes greater disappointment. Can this be applied to Christmas?

Traditions may include when to put the decorations up, real tree or artificial, Christmas day menu, the family members invited, the timing of present opening, television and what film to watch.

Before the ball gets rolling why not ask yourself and those involved, why are these traditions important, and do they create a good experience. You can also ask the question is it what they represent rather than the tradition itself?

You may find you can drop one or two and everyone has a sense of relief.

  1. The concern about how much work needs to be done for the day to be successful

There is as much work as you want. Is it true that the more work you put in, the happier everyone is? Or is this about you, and how others might perceive you?

Thoughts can creep into our head and be believed. At Christmas there might be a little bit more organising and planning but it happens every year and we do it every year. It is often worth noticing the thoughts we have, and reminding ourselves they are thoughts. There might be the thought, ‘I won’t get it done in time’ or ‘what if the turkey is under cooked ?’ Notice what happens to your stress levels when you have these thoughts. Are they appropriate, what is the worst that can happen? Thoughts are not facts, mindfulness enables us to notice a thought and not react to it.

Take a mindful moment. Take a deep in-breath and a slower out breath, counting to five. Repeat once or twice more.

  1. Present buying; how much to spend, what to buy

Why are you buying presents, who for and at what cost?

Present buying is a reflection of who you are and your relationship with the recipient, as well as your personal beliefs about Christmas.

There are many ways in which we get distracted from this, especially adverts and consumerism and ‘family traditions’. The shops become full of ‘gift ideas’. Spend a little time reflecting on why you want to give as a gift. There is some truth in the statement ‘it is the thought that counts’. A mindful approach focuses your mind on the reality of Christmas, encourages you to stick to intentions meaning it is less likely you buy things spontaneously.

You may also reflect on what does receiving a gift mean to you, and is this truth based on reality. A common belief is that a person close to you will instinctively know what you want. Unfortunately, life isn’t this simple, either tell them or be prepared for anything. People are not mind readers.

  1. The day is a reminder of those we have lost

Anniversaries are reminders. Allowing a time in the day to acknowledge absent friends and family can be useful. You and other friends and family also represent a little of that missing person, a shared joke, or shared gene, this too can be honoured. They have not gone completely.

Mindfulness encourages us to stay in the here and now, it is this moment that is important, comparisons often bring dissatisfaction. Each Christmas will be different, enjoying it for what it is can be more rewarding than not liking it for what it isn’t.

Mindfulness at Christmas

Mindfulness involves a regular commitment to paying attention to the present moment. Christmas often draws us into the past, the past has gone, enjoy the ‘now’ as this too will soon be gone.

You might be interested in

Thoughts and Anxiety-Using psychotherapy to alleviate stress

Mindfulness meditation for novices-Part 3

Book Review: A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled by Ruby Wax

A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled

Book Review

Ruby Wax- A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled

Ruby Wax is known to me firstly as a comedian and more recently a Master of Mindfulness based cognitive therapy. It is because of the latter and her potential to reach the masses that I wanted to review her book, to help others decide whether it is a worthwhile read and me whether to stock it in my client library.

She writes with an easy style and you are soon drawn into the ideas of mindfulness. She is keen to teach the physiology of the brain (neuroscience) to help us understand that our behaviours and emotions are natural animal responses to the need to stay alive. The evolution of the brain is described very simply. She switches from humour to personal experience to science and back again. This might be engaging for some and keeps those not interested in the science bits motivated to continue reading. I found the science stilted and her style more forced, she acknowledges help with these passages from the experts which I can see is reflected in the prose. The humour is nice, although I am not sure whether it is a distraction some times.

The second section of the book is about applying mindfulness and how to use mindfulness with your children. There are some simple ideas to encourage an open and non-critical relationship with our family members. She clearly speaks from experience as a mother and a daughter and highlights how things are often easier said than done. This may be interpreted as don’t bother if you think it will fail which possible undermines some of the messages she wants to put across. However the message is simpler, you cannot fail just try, but try regularly-daily.

Frazzled fron coverIn the middle of the book is a stand-alone 6-week Mindfulness programme. It introduces the reader to familiar practices of meditations, for example the Body scan and the 3-minute breath. I was introduced to a lovely one focusing on listening. The practices show how to access our body, thoughts, senses and emotions in the present, through simple exercises set out week by week. There are questions after each practice to help you notice what might have changed or been different from your usual experience.

Part way through the book Ruby puts  ‘mindfulness’ on hold and shares a  moving journey about her own sufferings that happened during the writing of ‘Frazzled’. This makes the book all the more personal, and perhaps shows in that the latter section of the book seems to me a bit less dynamic or humorous than the first.

Finally she describes a retreat she went on. Retreats I guess are a bit like having children, you really cannot know what it’s like until you have done it. Her experience is heart-warming, real, and genuine.

I would recommend this book to the curious,  to those who love Ruby, and to those with anxiety looking for help through mindfulness. It is for a secular audience not the expert, although she does list her references and resources for those interested.

It does not touch on the spiritual or loving aspects of mindfulness these are more associated with Buddhism, and neither to does it claim to. To conclude  this is an easy read for those looking for an introduction to Mindfulness.

A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled by Ruby Wax

Mindfulness meditation for novices-Part 3 ‘The mindfulness muscle’-it needs to be exercised!

faqs

I have been committed to mindfulness for a while. I love mindfulness, its simplicity, its obvious common sense and the fact it challenges the divergence of science and spirituality.  I have an insight into its works at a physiological level and a belief in its value to all. My bookcase is beginning to fill. My enthusiasm for spreading the word continues to grow. And yet over a 3 week period my formal practice stopped, I no longer found 15 minutes to meditate each day.

Mindfulness is simple yet hard to do.

The Consequences of Not Exercising the Mindfulness Muscle

I have excuses I can share, but the truth is I had prioritised other things over meditating. I still carried out activities that were mindful but not necessarily with mindfulness being the intention.

In hindsight I can see that over those few weeks my emotions gained power at the expense of being in the world. I was not settled to work. I had forgotten things and not focused on the things that make me happy. I had become less able to be content. I returned to a state of frustration: frustrated with politics, poverty, the media and people. But I hadn’t seen it happening. I had slipped into old habits. I had kidded myself that by knowing the usefulness of being present in the moment, and by noticing thoughts, this was enough.

It was a simple statement from a friend which triggered a ‘non-mindful’ response, which made me feel the past was repeating on me, that I was forever in a cycle of failure, that I had no control, I was quickly pulled into the past which nearly became reality. The emotions this evoked brought back their own memories which were painful, and it hit home; I had allowed one simple statement power over the present moment.  My ‘mindfulness muscle’ had grown weak through lack of exercise and was no longer able to keep me in the now, the past had hooked me in. My mindfulness muscle had lost its strength, my judgements had led to emotional overload and I was on the way to disaster. I was tearful, irrational and had catastrophized the situation.

The Importance of Regular Exercise

It was in the late 1990’s that I went for my first run. I managed a couple of minutes. I completed my first triathlon in 2002. I was enjoying exercising 5-6 times a week. It was sustainable, and I was fit and healthy. In 2009 I had a very rare leukaemia (acute promyelocytic leukaemia, APML). I tried exercising in hospital but had no will power or energy, and my routine slowly vanished. I ended up not exercising for 6 months. I have not run more than 3 km since despite being totally fit and healthy, I swim and do spinning classes every week. My running muscles have not been exercised and I no longer call myself a runner.  I have run about 6 times since 2009, my muscles know what to do but have no stamina for running. Yet I am fit.

The Mindfulness Muscle

My experience with mindfulness has been the same. It improves with exercising, some days go well, some days don’t but the muscles have been worked. They have been used and not allowed to degenerate. Sometimes exercising can feel hard work but 99% of the time the value is experienced immediately. It is important to exercise the appropriate muscles to develop the specific skill. I had half believed reading about mindfulness would make me mindful, it improves knowledge, motivation, understanding but reading does not specifically stimulate the neurological changes that meditation does. Mindfulness is not only about meditating;  exercising the brain, other ‘flow activities’ provide peace for the brain; where thoughts are not judged, and attention is given to current experience. The comparison continues with exercise, all exercise will impact on fitness, but you cannot improve an individual muscle without using it.

I have noticed several articles that describe practicing mindfulness as like exercising a muscle. I had no appreciation of how true that was until now. Knowing the theory, understanding the principles and acknowledging its efficacy seem to be no substitute for putting in the practice on a daily basis. Building up the new neurological pathways and dismantling the old ones is a continual process. Many of you interested in building muscle will have heard the saying ‘if you don’t use it you’ll lose it’ thus is true for Mindfulness too.

What Exercises Can Be Done?

Flow activities

Formal meditation seems to be the key, and a near daily habit is important but this can vary from a few minutes to a lot longer. I am getting a sense that trying to have a regular meditation of 20 minutes is optimum. I continue to enjoy the Headspace app., but there are others

The ways to be mindful are endless. The key is doing something with full awareness in the present. These might be referred to as ‘flow activities’. Adult colouring has become a trend, but anything that absorbs your attention works. This can be as mundane as washing up or as productive as writing a blog! My understanding is that flow activities focus your attention in the present, whilst letting go of expectations or rules for how things should be.

The Mindfulness Project have written ‘I am here now’- A creative guide and Journal’ offering exercises and ways to think positively to notice and enjoy the present moment.

The subtleties of the mindfulness muscle continue to amaze me. Since restarting meditation, it took only 4 days to notice a change in my attitude to work and relationships. I hope your mindfulness journey is going well, and you can overcome the blips.

You may also be interested in:

Mindfulness meditation for Novices: Sharing personal Experience- Part 1

Mindfulness meditation for Novices: Sharing personal experience- Part 2

Thoughts and Anxiety-Using Psychotherapy and Mindfulness to alleviate fretful thinking

Emma Dunn Counselling and psychotherapy

Thoughts and Anxiety -Using Psychotherapy and Mindfulness to alleviate fretful thinking

Thoughts and Anxiety

Anxiety often manifests itself as poor eating, irritability due to poor sleep, and an inability to concentrate. First line treatment addresses these manifestations. Anxious people are encouraged to exercise to become physically tired; eat regular meals and to make lists  to feel less over- whelmed. These are useful for symptom alleviation but without identifying the cause there is potential for anxiety to continue. The link between thoughts and anxiety is not being addressed in these treatment. It is understanding the cause that will ultimately decrease the symptoms of anxiety.

Anxiety might be interpreted as a reaction to a real situation. Do you believe anxiety is a reaction to a real situation?

Have you ever considered your thoughts and anxiety as one problem?

The Neuroscience of Anxiety

Emma Dunn Counselling and Psychotherapy

Summary of the brains response to a threat

The stress response is the same whether there is a real threat to our physical safety or a perceived one. An area in our brain called the amygdala is the warning bell that makes us physically alert through a cascade of hormone and nervous reactions. One of the hormones released is cortisol, which further alarms the amygdala so it becomes even more alert to negative stimuli. Meanwhile, another area of the brain, the hippocampus, becomes less responsive. The hippocampus normally provides a control over the amygdala such that positive experiences are noticed as well as the negative ones and we can weigh up rationally what is the best action to take. The more often we are stimulated by anxious reactive thoughts the more readily we get to a state of alertness and vigilance, and less able to keep calm and rational. We attune into (implicit) memories that are not quite clear ‘the sense of something bad going to happen’; thoughts and reality become inseparable, we become less able to access reality, which might appropriately be remembered as as ‘when such and such happened, I was concerned but it all worked out in the end’.

Thoughts

Thoughts and Mindfulness

In the context of Mindfulness there are 3 types of thinking

  • Active-Useful, essential for planning, doing, reaching our goals
  • Flow-thoughts occur but are not judged, they pass by.
  • Fixed-unhelpful patterns of thinking, not usually based on reality.

Mindfulness aims to help us move away from fixed thinking to flow thinking and active thinking.

It is useful to remember that

  1. Thoughts are not facts
  2. We are not our thoughts

We are then in a better position not to let thoughts and anxiety dominate our thinking and behaviour.

A useful way to notice whether a thought is an unhelpful one is whether it creates an emotion, or whether it is helping or not, that is enabling you to do a task or stopping you from doing a task by relating to the past or the future, rather than the present.

Psychotherapy and Thought

Psychotherapy is about understand the workings of the mind, and bringing it into awareness. It is about recognising behaviours that are based on past experiences, and understanding that we do not need to repeat behaviours and thoughts, especially those that cause unhappiness.

The implicit memories that were mentioned earlier, it is these that psychotherapy can help unravel and challenge.
An example
As we grow up we often maintain the beliefs, behaviours and thinking patterns that were familiar to us as children, when they are out of awareness, as adults they can prove to be unhelpful. An innocuous example might be that as a child ‘greediness’ was discouraged. So little Billy, to please his mum would take the smallest bun when offered a plate of cakes. As an adult Billy’s wife offers him a plate of buns, obligingly he takes the smallest, not wanting to be disliked for being greedy, Billy’s wife is upset thinking Billy does not like her cooking. There is something in Billy’s wife’s belief, behaviours and thinking that feels rejected if someone doesn’t accept what she offers.

These actions can be so ingrained that we believe them. Billy believes he is greedy if he takes a big bun and his wife believes she is rejected because he didn’t take the biggest one. These are fixed thoughts. The reality of the situation has not been made explicit, spoken about. In a state of anxiety further implicit memories may be stored (remember these are not based on reality). Billy’s implicit memory might be is that he upsets his wife by eating buns, his wife’s that Billy doesn’t like her cooking. A tiny event reaffirming a whole set of thinking and anxiety based on past experiences not relevant in the present.

Through psychotherapy Billy will gain an understanding that perceptions of greediness are individual. He will identify with his own physiological experience about what it is for him to be greedy, or even whether greediness is an unhelpful experience that represents for him an interpretation of poor self-worth (i.e. he doesn’t deserve a big cake because his mother will not love him, and as an adult, his wife will not love him if he has it) He will become aware through dialogue that explaining why he makes certain choices can avoid future misunderstandings, and stop the perpetuation of irrational decision making. He will learn that other people, including his wife, experience his behaviours in their own way, not necessarily how they were intended.

Psychotherapy and Mindfulness

Thoughts and anxiety can be inseparable. Through Mindfulness practice there can be an awareness of our thinking, noticing spiralling sequential thinking sometimes pulls us away from reality into a repetitive story of stress, and worry; Mindful practice enables us to begin to slow down fixed thinking, replacing it with flowing thoughts.

Psychotherapy acts as an adjunct helping us to notice actions and behaviours that are based on habit, or implicit memories, and previously out of our awareness. It therefore helps us to modify our behaviour and take greater control, strengthening explicit memory formation and the role of the hippocampus, enabling rationality informed by experience.

Thoughts and anxiety lose their grip on each other. Thoughts become focused based on reality, and our physical arousal is appropriate based on actual threat or excitement.

We learn to make our thoughts explicit to help identify reality from ‘make believe’. Relationships improve and anxiety decreases.

Further information about mindfulness can be found below.

If you think counselling can help you please look at my website Insightfulness or visit Counselling Directory or British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy where you might find some helpful resources.

Resources

Books

The practical neuroscience of Buddha’s Brain. By Rick Hanson, with Richard Mendius

Mindfulness; a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world. By Mark Williams and Danny Penman

Web Sites

The Mindfulness Project

Oxford Mindfulness Centre

Counselling Directory

British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy