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Patterns of the Mind: Neurology of Mindfulness

Posted on: August 14th, 2015 by admin No Comments

If you’ve ever read a book or attended an 8-week course of mindfulness, you’ll have heard the word “patterns” to describe our habits of thoughts, feeling and behaviours. It’s the rumination of our tendencies, strategies, choices and defenses that make up what we call life. As humans, we are as they say  are ‘creatures of habit’ meaning we find comfort in routine as we operate from our conditioning in a awkwardly joined “better the devil you know” recklessness or apathy toward any meaningful change.

Anxiety, depression, over-thinking, ruminations of painful pasts… replaying patterns of thought over and over again. We cannot see past the pattern or we see it and we don’t want to know so we distract ourselves or set up impossible ideals of how it should be we fail to take any purposeful action due to the enormity of our existence.

What can we do about that? Mindfulness changes how we respond to difficulty and pleasure. We are more fully here to experience it with less reactions based on patterns. When we practice mindfulness, we are rewiring our brains and engaging our innate soothing systems that lower our stress reactions and respond to it with intentional, warm-hearted care.

I’ve been a fan of Bruce Lipton’s work for many years now having learned a great deal about how we shape our reality through our belief systems in his book Biology of Belief.

In this video he debunks the myth that as humans we only use 10% of our brain. With a greater understand of neurobiology we are learning how to support ‘superlearning’ through engagement of both the left and right hemispheres through certain activities such as mindfulness and yoga.

This short video is well worth a watch.

Carrying the Weight of Your Life – Self Compassion Break

Posted on: July 22nd, 2015 by admin No Comments

In life there are no guarantees. We win some we lose some. Inevitably, we find ourselves in small but significant ways, suffering in our lives. It’s what connects all humans together in this thing we call life. Pain x Resistance = Suffering. Chris Germer, author of Mindful Path to Self Compassion describes suffering as the “mental anguish caused by fighting against the fact that life is sometimes painful.”

Every day we have the little dissatisfactions that we carry with us as they accumulate like a cloud pressuring with rain before the storm.  If we are living normal-ish lives, we may not always consider our suffering ‘suffering’. When we are unable to acknowledge our suffering, no matter how small, we can affect our happiness and those around us unintentionally.

As we carry the weight of our concerns we can become comfortable with the level of unease within ourselves and reacquainted with this denseness of it all. Whether we are at work and a colleague quips a sarcastic comment you way, it seems to penetrate right to the heart of you as you feel yet another sting of your tenderized and heavy heart.

There’s a Buddhist tale of two monks who are on a pilgrimage to a great teacher. On their journey they encountered a river and met a young woman who was afraid to cross due to strong currents. She asked the monks to carry her to the other side and one monk responded with disgust the other without hesitation carried her safely across.

As the two monks continued on their journey, the disgusted monk snapped: “Brother, we are taught to avoid contact with women as part of our vow and you not only made contact, you carried that woman!”

The other monk smiled warmly and kindly replied: “Brother, I set her down on the other side of the river; you are the one still carrying her.”

Our strategy for coping with life’s inevitable troubles are outdated, no longer serving the purpose it intends as the fallout from failed attempts to change things sits on top of your motivation like a stink pile of disappointment as your load gets overwhelming. Your breakdowns may result in ruminations of overindulging or under-indulging or even punishing behaviours. When you are depressed or stressed you find ways of distracting, avoiding, eating, projecting, displacing and all out denial of how deeply you are actually affected as you stiffen up your lip and bash yourself for being weak and unwilling to really be happy.

There are others of us who may feel undeserving of feeling happy, loved; Others feel that they are there to provide this for others, unconditionally and the challenge is not to worry so much… So you worry that you’re worried and now the drain of caring for the people you love leaves you feeling ashamed and more undeserving.

Suffering. We all suffer. We all wish not to suffer.

Learning a different way to approach life’s suffering is about being gentle, kind and understanding with yourself for having suffering. Self compassion is the quality of awareness you bring to the intention to sooth yourself because you are suffering.

An easy way to understand compassion and the action of kindness it is sometimes helpful to consider a beloved pet or a person whom you have warm regard for, like a best friend. Imagine if they were suffering and how you may feel and what you may like to share with them that would bring them some comfort of being understood.

Here’s a self compassion practice – called “Self Compassion Break”

Put your hand(s) on your heart or hug yourself

Breathe deeply in and out

Speak kindly to yourself, with sincere intention of the words:

  • This is a moment of difficulty

  • Difficulties are a part of everybody’s life

  • May I respond with kindness

When you first begin you may find it uncomfortable to respond to your suffering with kindness… That’s okay. Compassion is a training. Compassion practice is cultivating resources that you can use in your time of difficulty. This ability to respond to your pain and suffering with kindness means you can move with more ease, lighter, like a feather on the breeze.

Author: Brenda Bentley, Mindfulness & Compassion Teacher

 


We Carry Our Stories, By Alexa Torontow

We carry our stories like the clouds hold the rain.

Slowly collecting, moment by moment.

Woven into every layer and every cell.

As time passes

the pain, the trauma, the hurt and the joy

collects.

So subtlety. So quietly.

It fills and fills, until the perfectly imperfect moment of ripeness.

Pregnant with potential to over flow.

Expanding, filling, collecting

until it peaks.

The rain pours and the tears fall.

Freely, uncontrollably and necessarily.

Cyclically washing away what was.

Clearing for what is.

As we sweetly become more aware of this invisible process,

occurring within us and around us,

we may adjust what we decide to hold onto and for how long.

We may allow it to fall away

as sweetly as the clouds release the rain.

For we can’t stop the cycle,

yet we can refine how we maneuver among it.

Tuning into what has been woven

and what we are weaving

in each and every moment.

 

‪#‎mindfulness

‪#‎selfcompassion

 

Speak Kindness [self compassion self talk]

Posted on: June 23rd, 2015 by admin No Comments

I recently saw an article on Psychology Today blog that inspired this article. Self-compassion is the cure for self-attacking and understanding this and how it applies to living mindfully is learning to speak with kindness and gentleness to ourselves.

In the 8-week MBCT course, week 7 we look at ways we can best take care of ourselves and self-compassion is essential part of this. Learning that we have needs and want to get them met, but sometimes, that inevitably that will not occur, so self-compassion is our essential action that supports our living mindfully.

Here are some examples of self-compassionate self talk that offer understanding and kindness with honesty and love. Speak these in times of difficulty or upset – ensuring that your tone is sincere and nurturing:

  • What am I needing right now?
  • This is a moment of difficulty. I am aware of my worry, pain, overwhelm.
  • What would I suggest to my best friend (or child or loved one) right now?
  • I am safe to feel what I am feeling right now. I am willing to feel. What is this feeling teaching me right now?
  • I know what I don’t want, but what would I prefer instead?
  • I validate how I am feeling. Whatever I am feeling is what this moment contains and I am safe.
  • This difficulty is difficult and my awareness of this difficulty opens me to equanimity.
  • I am a human being. I hold myself to a human standard, for to not do so I am treating myself inhumanely.
  • Other people are not responsible for my feelings and I am willing to take responsibility for how I feel.
  • Asking for help takes courage. I am courageous when I show I am vulnerable.

Find words that work for you. Write them down and carry them with you. Refer to them when tempted to react – choose a skilful response and mindful, self-compassion action.

 

 

Mindfulness in the Middle of the Mall

Posted on: May 21st, 2015 by admin No Comments

Selfridge’s is a department store in the UK, one of the best I’m told. I’ve browsed through the shop and adore the make-up counters, but not much of a mall-person so to speak. When I was asked to teach mindfulness during a promotion at Selfridge’s Work It Hub such as laughter yoga, self defense and salsa dancing — right in the middle of the mall. I guess in hindsight my expectation was a side-room, or something that was enclosed – so the openness and busyness of the open space was a surprise – especially considering I am teaching the public basic mindfulness meditation philosophy and practice in 30 minutes. With a microphone fitted to my lapel, a handful of participants and bright stage lights toasting my back, I began. The experience was great – and the feedback positive. A few more workshops are forthcoming – and you can find more details here:

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selfridges mindfulness

Take a Mindfulness Break Infographic

Posted on: March 31st, 2015 by admin No Comments

mindfulness break exercise

Hooked on Anti-Depressants

Posted on: November 18th, 2014 by admin No Comments

According to an article in the Express, there are over 50 million prescriptions written for anti-depressant drugs each year – enough for each adult and child in the UK. Our consumption of happy pills has increased five times since 1991. Is it working? Studies suggest we are not any happier.

The figures taken from Mind’s website show the Government’s Health and Social Care Information Centre increase of prescriptions from 22 million in 2000 to more than 53 million in 2013 and Mind’s Chief Executive Paul Farmer stated that, “We must remember that while antidepressants can be very effective for some, they are not the solution for everyone and they should never be used as a first-line treatment for mild depression.

“The World Health Organisation predicts that by 2020, depression will be the second leading cause of disability throughout the world. As we near this next landmark it’s important that GPs are prepared and have a full range of treatment options available for patients experiencing depression.”

Joanna Moncrieff, a leading psychiatrist and senior lecturer at University College London called the figures “shocking”. She added: “These figures suggest we are medicalising people’s distress and suffering. However, we do not have good evidence that these drugs make people better. Over the long term prescribing drugs so readily encourages people to feel they cannot sort problems out. We have numerous reports that some people have great difficulty coming off drugs and suffer serious and long-term damaging effects of withdrawal.”

“These figures suggest we are medicalising people’s distress and suffering.” Joanna Moncrieff, a leading psychiatrist and senior lecturer at University College London

Are we any happier? The BBC News’ website published an article discussing happiness on May 2, 2006.

According to the article, British people today aren’t as happy as those who lived in the 1950’s even though people are earning more. I guess it’s true that money can’t buy us happiness.

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In the Happy Documentary it charts economic growth against our happiness is static. You can watch this clip here:

The Hedonic Treadmill means we all have the default level of happiness that we go back to after the elation of newness wears off – we want more than we had before and always will. Further the documentary charts what contributes to our happiness – breaking it down it’s 50% genetic disposition, 10% circumstantial and 40% is intention. That means you have a huge influence on how you respond to difficulties which determines how happy or unhappy you are.

happiness

When I saw the documentary I was surprised that so little is put to circumstance, but it makes sense. In mindfulness we learn about how to regulate our attention intentionally and respond skilfully to difficulty – mindfully. This means that when we are faced with a difficult situation we know we have choice in how we respond – we are empowered by choice. This choice point is important and could it be that with medication we are disempowered to learn to cope with difficulties as we expect the medication to take the edge off of emotions so we are not as affected – essentially numbing us so we can not feel it?

What do you think or feel about that? Drop your opinions below!

 

Practice Evenings

Posted on: November 5th, 2014 by admin No Comments

Practice evenings will begin again in September 2015. The practice evening is open to those with any  or no experience in mindfulness based meditation or compassion training who are looking to enrich and sustain their practice. Please note this is not a teaching course, but the aim is to help guide participants by directive practice and reflection on all aspects of mindfulness, meditation, compassion, awareness, attitudes and intention.

The practice sessions take place the 1st Thursday evening of each month from 19:00 to 20:30. Advanced booking is required as places are limited.

Join our Meetup Group for details on events and to RSVP.

 

Q & A Depression and Practising Mindfulness

Posted on: October 16th, 2014 by admin No Comments

Last night a participant asked about how to practice MBCT with depressive / lonely thoughts.

Q: Depression… Everyone experiences depressed mood at some point in their lives. A depressive episode can last for days, weeks or months. How can we be mindful when we can even seemingly get up out of bed?

A: Low mood states can cause a reverse motivation – it’s the “I’ll do it when I feel up to it,” which we may not feel like for some time and we may not think we will ever. Practicing mindfulness we need to have motivation that is the “I do this even if I don’t feel up for it.” The key is to understand that intention and motivation for practising is what calls us to take action, even when we don’t feel like it. We understand that practising mindfulness, we create an anchor in the present moment where we can create a space around problematic thinking patterns, more readily. The practice is the teacher.

Depression can be pervasive because we cannot see past the fog of it. It’s heavy and we feel weighed down by the enormity of our being. Winston Churchill described his depression as a “black dog” that followed him everywhere. The World Health Organization has this wonderful video that shows us about the black dog of depression is like:

Depression can be caused by life circumstances such as loss – losing a job, death of a loved one, end of a relationship. It can be a product of overwhelm – having been fighting too long to try to be happy, we make ourselves miserable. It can be a chemical imbalance within the brain – lack of serotonin and an influx of other stress related chemicals such as cortisol. It can be related to lifestyle – poor nutrition, lack of exercise, exasperated health problems. Perhaps it all of the former that are contributing to a cycle of depression. Whatever the catalyst for depression, it’s our relationship to it that matter most.

When dealing with low mood states in a depressive episode, it’s important to understand that rumination is often at the foundation of it. Rumination means to chew again and again on what has already been chewed.

rumination and mindfulness

 

 

 

 

The second definition above is “to engage in contemplation.” In low mood states, this contemplation and ruminates in a pessimistic pattern of thinking that discounts all positives in our life. We see and think about the problems we have experienced in the past and anticipate that this is the way it will always be. There is a sense of hopelessness to this. Our mind is full of the black dog… and we cannot see our way out of it. Every avenue of thought ends with things not changing and the fuels the hopelessness. We become more disconnected from life and this can fuel feelings of loneliness.

black dog mindfulness for depression

Image from WHO

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When our mind if full of depression and this gives rise to feelings of hopelessness and loneliness, learning a new skill such as mindfulness can prove quite difficult. It is recommended that although you can cultivate an understanding of mindfulness practice, the actual practice is best saved until you are out of your depressive episode. Episodes have a lifespan – at some point you will begin to feel a bit better – and in that moment, when you decide that you are willing to do something different is the time to begin the practice. The reason is that with your current mindset, you may be experiencing reverse motivation or the actual practice difficult. The experience of difficulty creates a barrier to the practice as you evaluate the difficulty of practising as meaning something about your abilities or capabilities or it’s yet more evidence of perceived inadequacy or that it doesn’t work. This feeds into a negative loop that deepens the feelings of hopelessness.

This negative loop is a pattern matching process in the mind that occurs and reinforces the depressive cycle which can make a person more susceptible to depressive moods and refreshing those losses again. For example, you begin to feel sad, you may not even know what you are sad about, you may look for a reason why you are sad, perhaps you do have a reason to be sad – your mind will reawaken like and similar thoughts of sad times in your mind creating a more profound and persistent state of sad. You begin to ruminate on this state with thoughts such as, “Here we go again. When will it end this time? I really cannot stand any more of this. It’s all so hopeless.” The negative thought loop on a downward spiral and you’re feeling more and more depressed and lonely. The black dog is here again. How long will he stay?

People experiencing depression can benefit from practice if they are beginning to get to a point of hopefulness – even the smallest spark to be willing to do something to change their thoughts to something more resourceful. This change is, “I want to feel better.” This intention to feel better can bring you to the very action to find support for yourself – through an empathetic friend, therapist or counsellor – or learning a skill which gives you a sense of mastery such as mindfulness.

Mindfulness can help you at this point to change your relationship to your black dog. Just like in the video – you learn to manage it differently. You learn to settle the unsettled mind. Tame the intrusive thoughts through practice and take mindful action to be kind to yourself – eat well, exercise and engage more with life – all a part of a healthy and contented lifestyle. I tell participants that, “Compassion is the opposite of rumination.” It is the practice of clearly seeing your suffering and meeting it with kind action.

Is mindfulness the cure for depression? No. Not in and of itself. It is a powerful tool to help you to break out of rumination and negative thought patterns by changing your relationship to it. You will learn the early warning signs of depressive relapse and take mindful action in a kind and compassionate way towards yourself that can bring lasting change. Your black dog may still come for a visit occasionally the length between visits and the duration of each visit will be shortened with your mindful mindset. “You are what you practice.” If you practice being sad, you’ll get really good at it and it will seem natural state of mind for you. Practising being mindfulness means you are practising a whole different way of relating to life from a present moment perspective, with motivation based on value, intention, and acceptance.

mindfulness for depression

Image from WHO

Free Intro to Mindfulness 23/10/14 nr Redditch

Posted on: October 3rd, 2014 by admin No Comments

mindfulness redditchFree Introduction to Mindfulness Meditation near Redditch in October
Date: 23/10/14 from 19:00 to 20:30
Mappleborough Green Village Hall nr Redditch (see locations map for address & map to centre)

Come along and discover what mindfulness is and how you can use it to live more fully in the present moment which can help with managing stress, depression, anxiety and enhance your wellbeing. Enter your name and registration form will be sent to you and your booking confirmed.

An 8-week MBCT near Redditch course begins on 30/10/14 – you can book online here.

For those who intended but didn’t, or attended and want to take advantage of special offer you can do that here:

8-week MBCT - nr Redditch
8-week MBCT – nr Redditch

Special Offer Price
8-Week MBCT Course – Redditch (Mappleborough Green)
Each Thursday evening from 19:00 to 21:00
Oct 30; Nov 6, 13, 20, 27; Dec 4, 11, 18
Available Qty: 10

5 Common Errors Made in Mindfulness

Posted on: July 29th, 2014 by admin No Comments

In the course of my teaching Mindfulness over the last ten years, I have found a number of common errors when establishing errors mindfulnessmindfulness in our daily lives. The following describes the errors and how to correct them.

Error 1. Not Understanding the Necessity of Repetition 

Mastery of any skill requires repetition. If you are wanting to learn to live mindfully, you must first commit yourself to practicing mindfulness daily. Mindfulness is something you practice until it’s something you are. There are no short-cuts or quick fixes. It’s more than an intellectual understanding it’s experiential. The saying goes, “The practice is the teacher.”

In the same way you would master a physical skill, such as riding a bike or playing an instrument, you wouldn’t expect to become proficient in the skill by attending a seminar or reading a book about it. In fact, it has been said that the magic number for mastery of a new skill is set at 10,000 hours.

Consider this: How many hours have you spent in your lifetime repeating detrimental and irrational thoughts about yourself? This has been practiced by repetition to the point you probably believe those thoughts at an emotional level where belief turns into a knowing. Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy teaches you to step back from patterns of thought so you can look AT them from a point of non-identification rather than FROM them in a fused way.

Breaking old habits or patterns of thought will take you committing yourself to the practice both formally through meditation practice where you learn to watch your thinking and use the breath and the body as an anchor and in more informal settings when the mind is apt to wander such as brushing your teeth, taking a shower or whenever we find ourself in situations or circumstances where we are tempted to react based on habit or compulsion.

The more you practice and commit yourself to learning the skills by reading books, watching videos and dedicating yourself to mindfulness, all the better to master this practice and let it teach you to live in the present moment with the empowerment of choice.

Error 2. Expecting to Fix Yourself

Participants come to the course looking to “fix” something about themselves. Perhaps they have suffered from anxiety, depression or feel the strain of stress in their lives. They see themselves as a problem to solve and mindfulness becomes the antidote to cure their problem.

In mindfulness we learn that the present moment is the only moment that is real and  when you really begin to experience this truth you recognize that all the stories you’ve told yourself and the concept of who you think you are stems from having your mind in the former present moments of your personal history. This doesn’t mean that what happened to you is trivial or unimportant or that you are ‘nothing’ and that your concerns are not real. What it does mean is that you learn to see the concept of yourself as just that; an accumulation of experiences to which you have applied meaning, implication and consequence. You are the author and editor of your life. This takes skill and deep understanding that thoughts are not facts, just your verbal relationship with reality.

Consider this: By considering yourself a problem that needs to be fixed, you create a pattern of thought that keeps the problem in place. It’s the thoughts themselves that are the source of your concern, so by learning to change your relationship to your thinking – the concept of yourself changes. You recognize that you are not a problem to solve and there is nothing to fix. You can just BE who you are really which has little to do with your verbal relationship with the external world.

I recognize that this may cause you some confusion – let it be okay that it does. Whenever we challenge old, limiting patterns of thought, a feeling of confusion may happen – this is a good thing! This means that the old patterns can fall away and what comes forth is a clearer understanding of what it means to be who you really are.

Error 3: Overthinking 

I have worked with clients who are very insightful about their concern, but still cannot seemingly learn to defuse from patterns of thought, problem solve everything and analyze every feeling they have. Thinking is the cornerstone to how we relate to life, however, relying too much on our thinking actually becomes part of why we feel stuck. Our thoughts are compelling and they help us to make sense of things and through your mindfulness practice, you learn to change your relationship to thinking and let go of the need to make sense of everything and analyze it.

I often say to clients that, “Some things are not meant to be understood, they are just meant to be felt.” This may seem easy to understand but by the very need to understand it we begin to trap ourselves into the mental gymnastics of making sense of everything, especially our feelings.

Consider this: Thoughts are thoughts. They are images, pictures, dialogue all woven together that tells you a story of what happened to you before now, what is happening now and what may happen in the future. Our minds think thoughts, that’s it’s job and it does it very well, but it largely happens automatically without inquiry as to whether these thoughts are true or false, real or imagined… and the need to make sense of everything becomes necessity and contaminates your present moment awareness to the point you are living in your thoughts instead of the realness of the moment.

Through practice you create a different relationship to your thoughts and the need to think your way out of everything is diminished and replaced with the contentment which comes from getting out of your head and into the present moment with mindfulness.

Error 4: Lacking Self Compassion

We are hard on ourselves. We’ve learned to strive for certain ideal of who we want to be and we compare this to the who we were before in the past and the who we are now and the who we want to be in the future and this form of striving means we always make the present moment not good enough. By cultivating mindfulness and self awareness we can open ourselves up to a more gentle, kind and compassionate way of being – letting go of comparison, striving mentality.

Consider this: Compassion is the clear seeing of suffering and meeting the suffering with kindness. Instead of ruminating, intellectualizing, striving or rejecting the present moment as not being up to par, we embrace it, even if it’s hard and we learn to open ourselves to be gentle. Suffering is an indication that more kindness is needed instead of layering the problem, avoiding or distracting ourselves, we turn towards and acknowledge it fully with kindness towards ourselves and others. Science is learning how compassion is good for us. This is the a new pathway to our ever evolving minds.

Error 5: Withholding Acceptance

Acceptance in a foundational attitude in mindfulness and it underpins everything mindfulness is. Acceptance is in essences the non-judgemental part of the definition of mindfulness (mindfulness is non-judgemental present moment awareness). In order to be non-judgemental we cultivate the attitude of acceptance. It’s simple really, but not easy. Acceptance is less an intellectual understanding and more an heart education – it’s a feeling more than a thought. I always teach that mindfulness is about uniting the mind and the heart – our intellectual and emotional states of being into balance. When we do so we are able to bring acceptance to things which we want to change.

In actuality, nothing can change until it is accepted. This is because it cannot truly be seen as it is without it. We must be clear in what how things affect us in order to be fully present with it. This takes a radical honesty that acceptance bring us. Clients / participants do not fully understand acceptance and believe it means you resign or submit to tolerate things you don’t like. This is not true. If there was something you didn’t like, you’d acknowledge it fully – you’d see it for what it is, how it is, right now and accept the impact it has on you, even if it’s uncomfortable. The key is to do so, without using acceptance as a way to change it. Acceptance is non-conditional and means you fully accept it, even if it’s uncomfortable, painful and you acknowledge  that. This is not approval, it’s not say you are enjoying the painful experience, it means you accept the truth of it and see / feel it clearly.

Consider this: Acceptance is practiced and cultivated. It’s an education and unification of the emotional and intellectual. Acceptance is transformative because it’s about letting go of the struggle you are having with things. When you do so, you release  the energy that was captured by holding on to the struggle which frees it up to be used for creative and meaningful changes.