Lessons In Mindfulness

On a damp, dark Friday 13th, in the midst of the Paris terrorist attacks, a cross section of Bath’s society sit in perfect silence. Deep in the bowels of Bath Central United Reform Church, in a basement room, strip-lights overhead, rain pitter-pattering beyond, stillness reigns over a seemingly random collection of people…

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In the floor in the centre of the group is a vase of flowers and each person is staring straight at it, in absolute quietude, nothing but the low-buzzing of the lights overhead and the rain outside can be heard.

Many minutes later the group suddenly break out of their flower staring reverie; look up at each other and, smile, with a sense of peace and breakthrough. A tea break is declared.

This random assembly which, includes a teenager, grandmother and others of varying creed and class in-between, have fallen together to learn the art of mindfulness.

You many have heard of mindfulness? It’s the buzzword across the NHS, in psychotherapy clinics across the country and is even penetrating the education system and I am not just talking private schools here, there is no escaping it.

But, what exactly is it?

In it’s simplest form: mindfulness is a form of mediation which focuses on being in the moment, concentrating your mind on one thing at a time. So the vase of flowers, for example, the group were simply looking at, being aware of, the flowers.

“Utter Bloody Pigsquiffle”, I hear you cry.

But wait…

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Breathe In…Breathe Out…Breathe In…Breathe Out…

Indeed, for many it is utter bloody piqsquiffle, and I apologise to all pigs right here and now, but the research surrounding mindfulness is compelling. Studies have found that benefits can include; decreasing stress levels, reducing symptoms of anxiety, depression, pain and insomnia, an enhanced ability to pay attention and people can simply become happier.

Huw Griffiths, of Mindfulness Bath, runs mindfulness courses, is a practising Buddhist, has been meditating for more than thirty years and is on a mission to share how enlightening daily practice of mindfulness can be.

“It is far more profound than a trend, we can physically show the difference between the beginning and the end – you will become less anxious.”

“People believe that it is about emptying your brain and being relaxed but it is nothing like that – it is about focusing your mind on the present moment.”

The people who attended Huw’s course, the one with the flowers, agree. This arbitrary group of people came together every Friday night to sit quietly and learn, from Huw, how to be in each moment. They were positively in awe of the tranquility they had begun to find within themselves, using breathing patterns to find peace during stressful times, they felt a clarity in their understanding of themselves. It was quite extraordinary to witness.

Breathe In…Breathe Out…Breathe In…Breathe Out…

So, when did we begin to take our breathing for granted? This unassuming tool we use every moment – it is central to our survival, it is our very life force.

Breathe In…Breathe Out…Breathe In…Breathe Out…

Have you ever sat and just breathed in and out and by counting each breath focused on that tiny moment of your life?

Try it.

I dare you.

Then sit in the silence that follows and see how you feel. Do you notice the sensation that arises and the sense of peace it brings just for to give yourself permission to sit quietly in a busy day. But. that was just for a moment – imagine what could happen if you were brave enough to open the door to mindfulness and walk through?

In the US, Marines and veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have been introduced to the benefits of mindfulness, after research found that Marines who had undergone a course recovered far more quickly from trauma and stress, compared with peers who had not.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation, maintains that by 2030 mental ill-health will be the biggest burden of disease in developed nations.

What with the impact of technology, the future for the current generation keeping up with high tech, social media, pressures of education, jobs, housing, not to mention climate change and terrorism, it is no wonder our minds are riddled with anxiety.

Katie Norton, head of PSHE at The Corsham School, explains why the school began to offer students mindfulness courses in 2012.

“Schools across the country are reporting more instances of poor emotional and mental health and a rise in self-harm and depression. Mindfulness, helps us to view all experience – physical sensations, emotions, thoughts and behaviours – from a slightly elevated, observer’s point of view.”

Katie goes on: “In one mindfulness lesson a group of students were worried about the upcoming sports day. As they explored this, they observed their thoughts: ‘people are going to laugh at me’, or ‘I’m going to fall over’. Through such an awareness activity, participants can learn to self-regulate better. They start to understand that they don’t have to follow the habitual reactions that these thoughts and feelings can lead to, and have freedom to make other behaviour choices, thus lessening reactivity.”

At Corsham, the staff are also offered the opportunity to take the course with one member of staff commenting: “ I am much more positive and much better able to cope with daily stresses and anxieties.”

King Edwards School offered mindfulness to its Sixth Form after the school’s Chaplain, Reverend Caroline O’Neill, suggested it. Later, after consulting with local child and adolescent psychologist, Linda Blair, and teen gaming and gambling expert, Stephen Noel-Hill, who both recommended the practice, PSHE Co-ordinator, Lisa Bowman, decided to introduce mindfulness throughout the entire school. The course is offered to staff – who also enjoy a fifteen minute peace session each week.

Psychotherapists, Philippa Vick and Nigel Wellings, have been teaching mindfulness in Bath and Bristol for the past ten years. “Nature has given us two ways to be with our emotions: One: to push them away because they are too painful. Two: to be overwhelmed by them and simply not cope.”

Nigel goes on: “The third position, is what mindfulness provides, it allows us to step back a little from our emotions, but still remain in touch with them, which gives us the possibility to chose – and that is the key.”

It is the key: through regular practice, you learn not to be swept up in each reactive emotion as it arises. But, rather, notice it: anger, stress, worry, panic etc and then decide how to react, if at all, as Nigel says: “exchange reaction for response.”

Philippa explains: “It is important to realise this is not therapy – no one shares emotional traumas or experience. But what is essential to the course is that people share their experience – it is fundamental to discover we all have the same neurotic minds. We all share these basic human sufferings.”

Recently, Huw launched a free App (search: Calm Mind in the App store) around his teaching, to support his clients and to provide everyone with the opportunity to build mindfulness into their lives. Huw believes that if he can get one million people to download the free app then he will be able to change the world in just a few generations. (Watch Huw’s video, filmed in Bath, to find out more: http://www.mindfulnessbraintraining.com.)

“I want to make a series of apps focused on children, then we can transform the world in three generations. Imagine a calmer. More kind. Happier and compassionate human race…now that would be a gift to give our grandchildren.”

That, Huw, would indeed be the ultimate gift.

 

Find out more about Mindfulness Courses in Bath:

Huw Griffths, Mindfulness Bath: www.mindfulnessbath.co.uk

Philippa Vicks & Nigel Wellings: www.bath-bristol-mindfulness-courses.co.uk

Nigel Wellings Books on Meditation: http://www.whycantimeditate.com

The Well Being College Bath: www.wellbeingcollegebath.co.uk

http://www.themindfulschool.co.uk

Extract, from Nigel Wellings Book, Why Can’t I Meditate:

Calming our Restless Minds – Just five breaths

Rest your attention on your breath and simply follow it as you breath in and out for five breaths. Let the breath be as relaxed as possible, so you can feel that it breathes itself in and out without you having to do anything to help. It may naturally slow and deepen, but this is its job, not yours. And stick to just five breaths for the moment – resist doing more.

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