Welcome to The Free Mindfulness Project blog. Watch this space for updates, original poetry, articles and guest blog entries. Peter has just finished a project with BBC Radio Manchester, providing an introduction to mindfulness for a regular guest, Val Aris. You can follow Val's progress here by scrolling down and listening back to each week below!
This guest blog entry is written by Dave Potter, a mindfulness-based stress reduction teacher based in Idaho, US, whose desire to make mindfulness as widely available as possible resonates with the ethos of The Free Mindfulness Project. He runs the website: http://palousemindfulness.com/
Making Mindfulness Accessible to All by Dave Potter
One way to learn mindfulness is to enrol in one of the hundreds of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) courses that are offered world-wide. Learning mindfulness through a live, in-person class, where you have the benefit of interaction with the instructor and other class members, and the group support this provides, is the absolute best way to learn mindfulness, but sometimes this is just not possible. Not everyone has access to an in-person course, and even if one exists nearby, it may be logistically or financially difficult to participate in one of these 8-week courses.
The free online course provided on the Palouse Mindfulness website began as a resource for students of the live course taught in Moscow, Idaho (U.S.), and has grown to contain all of the materials used in the in-person course, and then some. Included are audio and video for all the Guided Practices used in the course (body scan, sitting meditation, yoga, etc.), all of the weekly practice suggestions, and the materials to create an MBSR manual identical to the one we use in the course.
Arising out of the desire to make mindfulness as widely available as possible, this online version of MBSR is provided at no cost and does not require any sort of registration or enrolment. Much of this material is drawn from the works of other teachers and writers in the spirit of making mindfulness accessible to all. There is a wealth of material here, including videos and writings by Jon Kabat-Zinn (Wherever You Go, There You Are), Pema Chodron (When Things Fall Apart), Tara Brach (Radical Acceptance), Sylvia Boorstein (Don't Just Do Something, Sit There), Sharon Salzberg (A Heart As Wide as the World), Robert Sapolsky (Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers), Marshall Rosenberg (Non-Violent Communication), and Susan Bauer-Wu (Leaves Falling Gently).
Often we practice mindfulness to become more alert, or to 'fall awake'. However, if you do find you have difficulties getting to sleep, then practising mindfulness as the last thing at night (as well as using it at other times) might be for you. In this first clip, hear Val speak a bit about how mindfulness has helped her with sleep:
In our final session, we reconnected with the idea of mindfulness as simply paying attention to what is happening right now, and doing so with curiosity, openness, acceptance and warmth. We then engaged in a slightly longer sitting practice, combining mindfulness of breath, body, sounds and thoughts. In this second clip, Val reflects on her experience of the final session and the course as a whole. We also hear a surprise message from Val's husband to see how he feels she got on!
Thank you for taking the time to follow along with this series - it's been lovely to hear from people who have listened in and enjoyed hearing Val's experiences with mindfulness. If you would like to share something of your experiences with mindfulness then feel free to get in touch. And if you feel inspired to practice, then head over to the resources page for a formal practice or simply make a conscious choice to step into the next moment with mindful awareness, whatever the moment may bring.
We took a few weeks break between sessions 4 and 5, listen to part 1 to hear how Val's been getting on:
In session 5 we consider the value of thinking and how far conscious thought has allowed us to develop, whilst recognising that it also brings some pitfalls. Being able to reflect on the past, to plan ahead and to imagine scenarios that are far from any reality can really support learning and creativity. However, unfortunately, we can sometimes get stuck in a 'thinking mode' where we try (and fail) to think our way out of situations which are out of our control, or we are held hostage by our thoughts about things we wish we did differently in the past or are dreading in the future. Listen to part 2 below:
Trying to push thoughts away or fight them with more thoughts, they often come back. We might argue with them, but often they hold a really rich emotional intensity which is hard to argue with. And herein lies some useful knowledge: We don't need to fix or make difficult thoughts go away. We can acknowledge that they are thoughts, likely fuelled and coloured by our emotions in the moment, and we can let them just be. In this way, we take a step back, creating space for other thoughts to arise and begin to see that all thoughts come and go. This can free us up and break us out of the 'thinking mode', giving us more control and reducing stress into the next moments.
Imagine a man who has built a pond in his garden. All that he wants is for the water to be still and peaceful. He sits and watches, a smooth reflection on the surface of the water. A moment later, a single leaf drops into the pond causing ripples. In a moment of panic, he jumps into the water trying to push the ripples down with his hands. This may sound like an over reaction, but this is often our response to difficult thoughts or emotions. If the man sits a little longer and watches, the ripples settle down on their own. In the same way, thoughts and emotions can and do pass without us needing to 'jump in' and cause more ripples.
Putting mindfulness of thoughts into practice:
Begin by paying attention to the breath, then when you feel ready, just open to thoughts. Noticing them as they arise (even thoughts that pretend not to be thoughts like "I'm not thinking anything" or "I don't have time for this"), see if you can watch them from a distance without getting wrapped up in them. Then seeing what comes up next. If you get lost in a particular train of thought, come back to the breath, then turn back to thoughts when you feel more grounded.
Some people like to use imagery in mindfulness of thoughts - picturing themselves sat alone in a cinema, and their thoughts appearing and fading away on the big screen in front of them - or sitting by a stream, with each thought represented by a leaf gently flowing downstream - or perhaps watching the blue sky, and thoughts moving across the sky as clouds of varying sizes and shapes. You might have your own image that comes to mind and works for you, that's absolutely fine too.
To try a guided meditation that involves thoughts have a go at any of the 'Sitting Meditation' tab on the Free Resources page. They tend to explore awareness of breath and body before moving to sounds and thoughts. For a shorter sounds and thoughts meditation, here is a short practice guided by Mark Williams.
"Well I'm two thirds of the way through my sessions with Peter Morgan and I'm really enjoying them. I can honestly say I am feeling the benefit already. People who know me have been telling me how much 'calmer' and more 'chilled' I am so that's got to be a good thing.
In the past I have struggled with anxiety, taking on too much and worrying that I won't be able to get everything done in time. Since starting the Mindfulness training I have been able to focus on the here and now and not worry about the future (something none of us can control) or the past for that matter. Ruminating over what has gone is something that would have bothered me before.
I have found it easier to relax and have actually been able to stop myself before taking on too much - something I have never been able to do previously. I'm really looking forward to our session today and telling Dr Morgan how I've been able to put the sessions into practice since we last met."
In week 4 we began by discussing how mindfulness can benefit people who have experienced recurrent depression, as well as hearing how Val got on since the last session. You can listen below:
The focus of session 4 with Val was how mindfulness might be applied to communication. First off we explored stressful interactions and the when/how of bringing mindfulness to these occasions:
We also considered how mindfulness can be brought into our day to day interactions, potentially enriching our conversations and relationships with friends, family and colleagues and creating greater feelings of connection. Think about recent times you have been talking to people - We often feel different when we know someone is fully engaged with us (rather than thinking about a million other things at the same time).
After the session, we returned to the studio to discuss how Val got on:
Putting mindful communication into practice
See if you can bring awareness to your interactions this week, whether with colleagues, friends, family or anyone else (e.g. someone who serves you in a shop). See if you can bring curiosity, openness, acceptance and warmth to the moment, and not needing to be anywhere else. If your mind wanders off, gently bring it back to what is happening at that moment. What is it like to do this? What do you notice? Can you spot how you might habitually act, and choose to do something different?
A short practice that you can do to help you to notice how you are feeling and to bring more awareness to the moment is the three minute breathing space. The aim of this practice isn't to get rid of or fix how you are feeling, it's just to notice what you are experiencing, and to give you the opportunity to respond rather than be caught up in reactivity.
This week we found out how Val got on with mindfulness of sounds. She responded well to this practice, noticing how we can get caught up in reactions to particular sounds, but that mindfulness allows us to let go and come back to listening to sounds themselves.
We then explored bringing mindfulness to the body, both in stillness and in movement.
Firstly, we had a go at a body scan practice. This involves slowly moving your attention around different areas of the body. Often we spend most of our time in our heads, so allowing ourselves to spend some time with the body can feel very different. If you would like to try this yourself pick one of the body scan practices from the 'Free Resources' page. There is a range, from 4 minute body scans to 45 minutes, so see which you would like to do.
The next practice we did was mindful walking, followed by some simple stretching. In movement some people find it easier to stay with sensations in the body, perhaps as there is more to 'listen' to and we are actively involved in making movements. However, there may also be a full range of pleasant, neutral or unpleasant sensations arising and this creates choices to make about what is right for this particular body in this particular moment (e.g. is this enough of a stretch right now, am I noticing a tendency to compete with myself or others?). The 'Stretch and breath' practice below involves some basic standing stretches followed by a sitting practice. Remember to look after your body and only do what is right for you, and consult your doctor if you're unsure about what you are able to do.
Listen below to hear how Val got on with these practices:
Over time, we can get to know the patterns of sensations within the body and begin to develop a different relationship to it. This allows us to see how emotions or thoughts affect the body, or how particular sensations in the body might give rise to thoughts and emotions. When we spot a particular negative pattern occurring, we can then observe what is happening and choose to break the cycle.
Other ways to bring mindfulness to the body
Throughout the day, check-in with your posture, perhaps even taking a quick scan through different areas of the body. Based on what you find choose whether to make a conscious movement or stay withsensations as they are. This might be by adjusting your posture or perhaps recognising that you have been sat in the same position for a long time, so getting up and stretching or talking a short walk. Check-in with your eyes - sometimes when sitting at a screen, we blink less often. If you wish, take a few conscious blinks, or even allow the eyes to close for a few moments and let the eyes rest and regain some moisture from the eyelids. When you are walking at any point during the day see if you can bring attention to what it feels like to move or open your awareness outwards and really engage with what you can see.
In session two we introduce Val to a mindfulness exercise exploring the breath and sounds. Listen to part 1 of the interview below:
Following a discussion of the mindfulness exercise and experiences of the home practice (bringing awareness to daily activities and mindfulness of breath) we consider the range of what we can notice in each moment. Greater awareness allows us to engage at a deeper level with positive experiences. However, we may also become more aware of unpleasant experiences. We may start to notice how we react to these experiences (both positive and negative), which opens up the possibility of responding differently rather than reacting in a habitual way. Listen to part 2 of the interview below:
The very idea of getting to know or turning towards unpleasant moments may be alien to us. However, the more we get to know experiences that we consider to be unpleasant, the more we can start to understand and tease out what our raw experience is and how we might be entering into cycles of reactivity that generate or maintain suffering.
Continue with mindfulness of everyday activities, either continuing with the same activity as last week or picking something new to experience.
Mindfulness of sounds. Notice any reactions you may have to particular sounds, then see if you can return to the raw sensations of the sounds themselves. See if you can have a go at this each day, whether using the guidance or having a go by yourself.
This is the first of a series of blog entries where you can follow along with the progress of a regular BBC Radio Manchester guest Val who is taking part in a brief introduction to mindfulness course over the coming weeks. Below is a summary of the first session, which was discussed on Friday 25th July during Becky Want's show. Listen to part 1 of the interview below:
In session one we explored the concept of 'automatic pilot'. It's amazing how much of the time we can be drifting through the day, daydreaming or thinking about the past or the future, without much awareness of what we are doing in the moment. Through intentionally bringing more awareness to the present moment we can begin to engage at a deeper level with our experience. This can result in increased enjoyment of positive experiences, such as really tasting a delicious meal (rather than eating it whilst texting, watching TV and having a conversation simultaneously) as well as helping us to see how we might habitually react in many situations. This in turn allows us to take more control over our lives, choosing how to respond rather than react. To hear how Val got on, listen to part 2 of the interview below:
If you would like to have a go yourself, see if you can bring a greater level of awareness and curiosity to a daily activity that you might usually do on automatic pilot. For example, brushing your teeth, having a shower, walking in to work. Really tune in to all of your senses and if your mind wanders onto other things, when you notice, gently bring your awareness back to the activity.
You are also invited to experience a short formal mindfulness practice, mindfulness of the breath. See if you can engage with the practice (either 10 or 20 minutes) every day between now and next week.
If you would like to let them know what you think of mindfulness, you can visit BBC Radio Manchester's Facebook page and leave a comment (scroll down to find the post from around 2pm on Friday 25th July 2014).
It's great to be able to announce that starting tomorrow, Friday 25th July, I'll be doing some work with BBC Radio Manchester to talk about mindfulness and to do some mindfulness with a regular guest over a number of weeks. I'll be appearing on Becky Want's show on BBC Radio Manchester, which runs from 12.00-3.00pm, the sections on mindfulness expected to be on air around 1.10pm and 2.45pm. If you are in the UK you can listen in live on the radio (95.1FM) or online, or listen back using the BBC iPlayerRadio for up to a week. If you are in other countries, unfortunately you will not be able to listen to the broadcast but we are looking into getting copies of the recordings so we can post them up here.
The plan is to post up regular blog entries to describe the introductory course mentioned on the show, so that if you want to follow along at home you can do the same practices that we talk about each week.
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