When I heard that there were free mindfulness workshops taking place in the region this autumn, I was pretty excited. Why? Rewind to eighteen months ago. Here are some pictures of my trip to India in 2013:
I can safely say that this was probably one of the, if not the happiest time in my life. How so? Along with 65 other beginners, including the two lovely ladies from England and Canada pictured above, I’d just completed a 10-day meditation retreat in India, which left my mind feeling clear, calm and at peace. I’d tried meditation in the past and often used it as a way to fall asleep, although I now realize that there are so many bigger benefits than just using it to doze off! But I wasn’t sure meditation, let alone ten consecutive days of it, was for me. As humans, we sometimes allow our ego to get the better of us by avoiding the things which are actually beneficial or helpful in some way. Crazy, huh! So, after cancelling my place on the course, changing my mind and then rebooking my place, contemplating some more, cancelling (again), changing my flight, discussing the issue with several friends… twenty-four hours before the course started, with the Himalayas as my backdrop, I decided to climb the uneven and lush mountains to find the centre, which was located just a couple of miles from the place I was staying in Dharamsala. The retreat was the highlight of my four-month solo trip around Asia, by a long stretch.
It might seem obvious that if your mind is full of thoughts and day-to-day stresses and you spend your time weakly wandering around on autopilot, then there’s little room for calm and peaceful in your life. Even though we understand what’s happening, often we don’t feel equipped on how to improve our situation. Now there is new scientific evidence that meditation can improve our mental and physical health. This has given rise to a new group of psychological therapies called mindfulness-based therapies. I think it’s a very exciting development – showing how ancient wisdom combined with modern science can improve mental health. In particular this new treatment can tackle recurrent depression but the principles have a much wider application to our lives. There is evidence for example that the use of mindfulness in the workplace can improve clarity and decrease sickness.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a way of paying attention to the present moment by using meditation, yoga and breathing techniques. It involves consciously bringing awareness to our thoughts and feelings, without making judgments about them. It is a method for observing what is happening right now, in our bodies, minds, and the world around us.
Mindfulness vs. Meditation
It’s true there is such a thing as mindfulness meditation, which is a non-religious approach to meditating. If you’re focusing on your breath to try to harness and train the mind and observe any thoughts that arise non-judgmentally, then that is Mindfulness Meditation. Whereas, simply Mindfulness – yes, it’s something you can do whilst meditating – but most importantly, mindfulness is a way of life, a way to approach thinking and something you can incorporate into your day to day waking life. You don’t need to sit down and meditate to be mindful. On a much grander scale, Mindfulness is a way of being, a way of living day-to-day consciously and mindfully, of which the ultimate goal is to help us consciously make healthy long-term, loving, peaceful, compassionate choices and have all of our actions and reactions reflect those choices.
Key Benefits of Mindfulness:
Greater insight. By taking a mindful perspective, we observe our experience but don’t get caught up in it. Mindfulness helps us get greater clarity on what is happening in our minds, and in our lives;
Improved problem-solving. By slowing down and investigating our thoughts, feelings and experiences more carefully, we create space for coming up with wise responses to the difficulties in our lives. We create space between the urge to react and our actions themselves, and we can make considered and creative decisions about how to behave;
Better attention. We can concentrate better on tasks, maintain our focus and reach goals. We are less distracted. Experience can become fresher, lighter, clearer, richer and more vivid;
More acceptance. Through Mindfulness, we see that events, thoughts and feelings always change, and we can learn to bear experiences more lightly, and let them go. We are more able to enjoy well- being that does not depend on things going “right”;
Greater enjoyment of life. We can become more aware of pleasant experiences that were previously unnoticed because of our mental focus on the past and the future;
Less “beating ourselves up”. Mindfulness reduces our identification with negative thinking patterns – we stop thinking we are our thoughts, and we can be kind to ourselves when we have negative thoughts about ourselves; and Better mind–body integration. Many of us have a tendency to live “in our heads” and ignore what is happening in our bodies. Mindfulness makes us more aware of what is happening both in our bodies and in our minds, so we can experience and take into account the full range of our thoughts as well as our feelings.
Mindfulness and Mindfulness Meditation Courses and Workshops:
1) Free Mindfulness Courses (Norfolk & Suffolk): the Wellbeing Service, part of the Norfolk Suffolk Foundation Trust, is holding these great taster sessions “Introduction to Mindfulness” throughout October. These are free events where you can find out more and learn some simple techniques! You don’t need to book, just turn up. For more go to http://www.readytochange.org.uk and follow on Twitter @NHSWellbeing
If you don’t happen to live in Norfolk or Suffolk, ask your local NHS Foundation Trust what is available to you in your region.
2) Mindfulness Association (UK-wide). The other day I met two trainee nurses who had attended a course from the Mindfulness Association, they both commented on how much mindfulness had helped with the work they do and just in everyday life. I’ve known other people from all walks of life to attend these courses too and it always comes highly recommended. Courses range from £110 upwards. For more go to: http://www.mindfulnessassociation.org/Courses.aspx
3) Tushita Institute (India and Nepal): If you’re interested in taking part in a meditation retreat for a weekend or maybe longer, there are many great places in the UK. Do leave a message on this post if you’d like to find out about my recommendations. Or, if you’d like to check out the place where I did the 10-day course in India, please do to http://www.tushita.info You can also read more about my experiences on my old blog Moon Doodles. This takes you directly to the meditation retreat post: 10-Day Meditation Retreat
USEFUL LINKS: Norfolk and Suffolk Support – NSFT’s Wellbeing Service: http://www.readytochange.org.uk
More information on what mindfulness is about: http://www.actionforhappiness.org/take-action/bring-mindfulness-into-your-day http://www.actionforhappiness.org/10-keys-to-happier-living/notice-the-world-around/details
The NHS on Mindfulness: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/Pages/mindfulness.aspx
Podcast and Simple Exercise: http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/help-information/podcasts/mindfulness-10-minute/?view=Standard Inspiration for more exercises and meditation techniques: http://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/mindfulness.htm