Mindful Meetup 12 January 2015: Feedback from Participants

There is a regular Mindfulness Meet Up in Walthamstow.  Click for more information.

There is a regular Mindfulness Meet Up in Walthamstow. Click for more information.

Last Monday, I hosted another Mindfulness Meetup in Walthamstow.  These sessions are opportunities to meet up and practice mindfulness in a group.  They are for any level of experience – from complete beginners to those who have done some training and wish to practice in a group.

This evening, eleven people came along and the session started with introductions, a short mindfulness practice and a brief discussion about what we wanted from the evening.  It turned out that nearly everyone was fairly or completely new to mindfulness.  I introduced a bit about the background to mindfulness, including how and why Jon Kabat-Zinn developed the Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Course and something about the research evidence on the benefits of practicing mindfulness regularly.

Jon Kabat-Zinn (left) and myself, at the Mindfulness Conference in Chester in 2013.

Jon Kabat-Zinn (left) and myself, at the Mindfulness Conference, Chester, 2013.

I also mentioned a study that found that even after a couple of weeks of practice, the brain already shows measurable signs of structural change in parts that enhance positive emotion and cognitive skills.  So it can take weeks, rather than years, before we start feeling calmer, experiencing a deeper sense of well-being and better concentration.

The group also shared their reasons for wanting to learn more about mindfulness.  Some explained that they had difficulties with general anxiety and others mentioned problems with sleeping.  Some wanted to become more effective at their jobs and also to be able to ‘switch off’ from work when away from it.  All wanted to explore what mindfulness might offer to them personally.

While participation in mindfulness practices affects each of us individually, research show that regularly practicing mindfulness practice can significantly reduce symptoms of anxiety and improve overall health and well-being.   For example, it can improve emotional regulation, giving us skills to readjust our moods and how this in turn affects our outlook on life.  We can get better at noticing what is happening in the moment and make choices quickly, so instead of going into automatic thought patterns that perpetuate stressful, we can cultivate ones that bring more positive mind-states.  We can bring a sense of appreciation, calm, equanimity and overall well-being into more of the moments in our lives.

One of the mindfulness group sessions from the MBSR course.

One of the mindfulness group sessions from the MBSR course.

The rest of the evening was about practicing.  We were able to start glimpsing into how the mind behaves – that it wanders, quite automatically – and how to notice this and gently and kindly guide the attention back to the chosen focus (the feet on this occasion).  This is a fundamental practice in the process of cultivating mindfulness.

Finally, we journeyed into a longer, sitting practice for 20 minutes, as agreed by the group. Because we had gone over the essence of the practice, there was an opportunity try this is relative silence, with only a few prompts.   The focus was on cultivating mindfulness of ‘body’ and ‘breath’, with a gentle friendliness towards experiences, as best as we can.  The room went beautifully quiet, still and focused, with a gentle sense of peacefulness.

At the end, a short evaluation form was completed. The feedback was really positive and I have included a few quotes here for you:

Good intro + overview.  I am not alone.”

“People were very open about reasons for attending.  This relaxed me.”

“There is a wide-spead need for this sort of training.”

“It felt comfortable.  Good to be able to be completely quiet/ still.”

“I enjoyed meeting like-minded people and meditating in a group for the first time.  Instruction was useful and definitely considering attending the course.”

“Allowed myself space to reflect on why I might be here.”

“Able to learn strategies for relaxation and how to connect with yourself by focusing on your feet/ breath.

“Completely new to mindfulness.  Enjoyed the practice session.”

“I was able to relax more fully than I feel I’ve been able to for some time.”

MailinglistI hope this inspires you to come along to the mindfulness training offered by Holistic Education and the Mindfulness Meetups in Walthamstow,  For regular updates, please join our mailing list.

Best wishes, Bernadette

Mindfulness in London – Opportunities to enhance well-being and develop skills to become more resilient to stress

Dr CarelseHappy New Year! Welcome to 2015 and the invitation to have a fresh start and focus on making life more meaningful to us as individuals, cherishing the time left in our lives.  Mindfulness is a way to take stock of and simple ‘be’ with where we are right here and now, moment by moment.   Research shows that it can enhance health, well-being and resilience to stress. In addition, it can help us become more aligned with longer term goals and aspirations. Here are some opportunities to learn more about Mindfulness and Yoga in London.

On Monday 12 January, there is a Mindful Evening in Walthamstow – aka the Walthamstow Mindfulness Meet Up.  It is an opportunity for people to meet up and practice mindfulness together.  This is for anyone interested, from complete beginners to those who would like a bit of a refresher or boost to their own practice.

The British Wheel of Yoga has the largest yoga membership in the UK.  It is committed to promoting a greater understanding of yoga and its safe practice through experience, study and training.

Dr Carelse is a qualified British Wheel of Yoga teacher.

On 14 January, the “Yoga with Mindfulness” classes begin at the Corporation of London Community Education Centre.  This week, and next the centre will be taking bookings.  The classes will be run from 6pm to 7:30pm.

The following week, on 19th January, the next Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction Course will be starting.  There has been a really positive response and there are only a few places left.

Overall the interest in mindfulness has been increasing, including in schools.  On 20th January, I will be running a 3-hour mindfulness session in a primary school to about 60 members of staff.  This is a shorter, more accessible version of the Introduction to Mindfulness Day Workshop that is part of the series of mindfulness training opprotunities that are available for those in educational settings.

.b Foundations was developed by the Mindfulness in Schools Project (MiSP).

.b Foundations was developed by the Mindfulness in Schools Project (MiSP).

On 26th January I will be presenting on mindfulness at a staff meeting in a secondary school, introducing further training that will be available at the school the following month.

Overall, 2015 is another year of opportunities to share this valuable practice with you and others.  By regularly practicing, we can support ourselves to sustain a level of equanimity through the inevitable changes that life brings.

For more information, including about training in mindfulness for schools, contact me.

Warm wishes, Bernadette

Paws .b: New mindfulness course for primary schools

Today, I met up with a group of teachers who had trained to run Paws .b course, a new mindfulness course for pupils in primary schools.  In August this year, we had met in Bangor, Wales for 3 days of training to deliver this programme.  Following a pilot programme in April, this was the first time the updated training programme had been delivered.

Paws .b is a well structured and evidence based mindfulness programme for pupils in primary schools.

Paws .b is a well structured and evidence based mindfulness programme for pupils in primary schools.

Paws .b course was developed by mindfulness teachers who also had experience teaching in schools, as part of the Mindfulness in Schools Project, a “non-profit organisation whose aim is to encourage, support and research the teaching of secular mindfulness in schools”.  The training involved going through the Paws .b programme session by session, giving us a clear picture of the structure and the thinking behind the course.  One thing that I really appreciate is its in-built flexibility: it may be delivered as either 6 one-hour sessions or as 12 half-hour ones.

Of all the mindfulness exercises we learnt my favourite was the “petal practice”.  Here, you move the fingers of one hand or both hands in time with the breath.  This involves bringing the fingertips of each hand together while breathing in and opening up the palm of the hand, like an opening flower, while breathing out.  I found it quickly and easily anchored the attention on the breath and sustained it there.  From here, the wandering mind of automatic thinking and reactivity could be gently settled and stilled and a calm peacefulness enabled to emerge.

Over the three days, there were ample opportunities to get to know each other and share our backgrounds into mindfulness.  All of us had done an 8-week mindfulness training programme, such as Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR), and had an established mindfulness practice; this was the main prerequisite for the training.  I also learnt that despite coming from a variety of backgrounds, including schools, clinical, therapeutic and business settings, we also shared a confidence in mindfulness as a way to promoted mental health and well-being and desire to share this with children.

Since the training, many have started running the Paws .b course in schools across the country and beyond.  Today was wonderful in terms of being able to catch up  in a small group, and share about our experiences of doing so.

For more information on Paws .b by Holistic Education, click here.

CARE for Teachers: 7th Annual Retreat, Garrison Institute, NY, August 2014

The Garrison Institute is situated on the banks of the Hudson River, an hour norht of New York City.  It is located in a beautifully renovated former Cupucian Monestery, surrounded by forests and fields.  Its focus is on using contemplative practices to support social and ecological change.

The Garrison Institute is located in a beautifully renovated former Capuchin Monestery, of over 7000 square metres, surrounded by forests and fields.

This summer, from 8 to 13 August, I had the privilege of being at the Garrison Institute, NY, for their 7th Annual retreat on Cultivating Awareness and Resilience in Education (CARE) for Teachers.

The Garrison Institute is a not-for-profit, non-sectarian organization siutated on the banks of the Hudson river, an hour north of New York City.  Its focus is on using contemplative practices to support social and ecological change.

CARE for Teachers is an innovative and well-researched programme that directly enhances teacher well-being and indirectly that of their students.

CARE for Teachers is an innovative and well-researched programme that directly enhances teacher well-being and indirectly that of their students.

CARE for Teachers was developed by a team of researchers and professionals working in education and contemplative practices, including mindfulness-based approaches.  The 5-day retreat included daily meditation and other mindfulness practices and explicit teaching of key prinicipals.  The goals were to develop skills to manage the demands of teaching, enhance the joy of teaching and student-teacher relationships and prevent burn-out.

On some days, the retreat began with an early morning  meditation at a nearby waterfall.  There was the option to swim in the waters too: a refreshing way to begin the day.

On some days, the retreat began with an early morning meditation at a nearby waterfall. There was the option to swim in the waters as a refreshing way to begin the day.

The course included consideration of the resources required to develop emotional awareness.  This included respecting emotions and being able to recognise and label them.  It also involved improving how we regulate emotions and respond to complex and challenging situations.   Overall, greater awareness, presence and compassion were developed for use in complex and demanding work contexts, which for most of us, included classrooms. For more information see the CARE for Teachers website.

Presenting the Mindfulness-based Awareness Training intervention at the Implementation Science Conference

The Handbook of Implementation Science contains essential information for those wishing to implement interventions in educational settings.

The Handbook of Implementation Science contains essential information for those wishing to implement interventions in educational settings.

On 28th July 2014, I gave a presentation on the Mindfulness-based Awareness Training (MBAT) intervention at the Implementation Science Conference, organised by the East London Consortium of Educational Psychologists (ELCEP).  Implementation Science is a relatively new area of scientific, academic and practitioner interest that focuses on exploring and explaining what makes interventions work in real-world contexts.

The conference included inspiring talks and workshops.  One keynote speaker, Barbara Kelly, University of Cambridge, was the co-editor of the “Handbook of Implementation Science”.  She spoke about making use of implementation Science in order to successfully transfer and replicate evidence-based approaches, outlining what an intervention needed in order to be implemented successfully.  The factors for this included focusing on the beliefs and values of those trained to deliver the specific intervention and providing consultation and coaching during the implementation process itself.

Another keynote speaker was Elaine Wilson, also from the University of Cambridge.  She presented two case studies in educational contexts; firstly Initial Teacher Education (ITE) in school-university partnerships and secondly, teacher education reform in Kazakhstan.  She explained that certain factors were important to implementing sustainable change, including adopting a “can do” positive approach and focusing on a few, important ambitious goals.

Download the handout of the presentation on the MBAT intervention given at the Implementation Science Conference 28/7/14

Download the handout of the presentation on the MBAT intervention given at the Implementation Science Conference 28/7/14

One of the workshops was my presentation on the process by which the MBAT intervention had been developed through doctorate research and further refined when implemented in another setting.  The MBAT intervention is a mindfulness training course for children and young people with Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND).  It aims to empower the participants with skills for self-regulation of emotions, helping them be calmer and better focused. The intervention includes gathering information about the context in which the child or young persons needs to develop their skills and understanding.  This enables the MBAT intervention to be adaptable to the needs of the individual concerned.

The process of developing the MBAT intervention was outlined in the presentation and the handout for this is available here.  Overall, the conference was an inspirational experience, motivating me to learn more about Implementation Science.  Currently the materials for the MBAT intervention are being developed into a practitioner workbook.  If you are interested in this work, please contact Holistic Education.

 

New MBSR course in Walthamstow, E17 in September

Holistic Education will be running a Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course this September.  For more information click here  or contact Holistic Education.  There’ll be a taster session on Monday 22nd September at 6:30pm and the 8-week course will begin the week after, on 29th.  The venue is near Walthamstow Village, about 5 minutes walk from Walthamstow tube station.  If you are interested, click on the link below.  And if you do pass this one to others who may be interested, many thanks in advance.  Warm wishes, Bernadette

Eventbrite - Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course in Walthamstow

Taraloka and the “Wisdom of the Awakening Heart” retreat (July 2014)

During July this year, I was priviledged to be at the “Wisdom of the Awakening Heart” Retreat at Taraloka.  It was led by Vijayamala and Maitrivajri, two ordained Buddhists from the Triratna Buddhist Community.  I realise that it is beneficial to attend retreats regularly to develop my own practice of mindfulness and meditation.  In the past, I had attended classes by a range of teachers.  I noticed that I found Maitrivajri’s style of teaching meditation to resonate with me and for that reason I chose this particular retreat.

Taraloka is a beautiful retreat centre in Shropshire, run by members of the Triratna Buddhist Community.

Taraloka is a beautiful retreat centre in Shropshire, run by members of the Triratna Buddhist Community.

The retreat ran for seven days and each day involved several hours of meditation, starting at 7am with a 90 minute session before breakfast.  After breakfast there was a talk and another 90 minute session before lunch.  In the afternoon, there was a third practice before supper and a final one before bed time.  So each day, apart for helping out in varioius community related activites (such as helping to make a meal or with tidying up), there was ample opportunity to develop meditation experience.  The retreat was also held in silence, from the second day to the second last day, allowing five days of no speaking (or speaking limited to essential moments) except during the two 10 minute meditation reviews, which for me, were on the third and 5th days of the retreat.  I also enjoyed running each day and doing some yoga, and altogether this helped deepen the experience of being.

The meditation practices and talks were on an aspect of Buddhism called the “Mandala of the Five Prajnas”.  The Prajnas (or ‘wisdoms’) are qualities that are beyond words and which need to be experienced to be understood, as they exist in the awareness we bring to our experiences.  One ‘wisdom’ was in perceiving things as they are, thereby coming into relationship with our experiences in an authentic way.  Another was in awareness of our shared humanity.  The third wisdom was in noticing, accepting and rejoicing in our uniqueness and individuality.  The fourth was in cultivating freedom and spontaneity in awareness.  The fifth was in deepening awareness into something beyond words, the infinite and boundless present.

Overall the retreat was a much appreciated as a opportunity to cultivate insightful and deeper aspects of awareness.  I hope that in reading this, you may feel inspired to explore the Mandala of the Five Prajnas.  For more information, please get in contact.

Here I am (Bottom left of picture) at the Wisdom of the Awakening Heart retreat at Taraloka.  It was an inspiring event that helped to further develop and deepen my meditation practice.

Here I am (see bottom left of the picture) with almost all the other participants at the Wisdom of the Awakening Heart retreat at Taraloka. It was an inspiring event that helped to deepen my meditation practice.

 

Chi Nei Tsang: an increasingly popular therapy provided by Holistic Education

Mantak Chia has been the main teacher in bringing Taoist practices into western awareness and has written dozens of books, including a few on CHi Nei Tsang.

Mantak Chia has been the main teacher in bringing Taoist practices into western awareness and has written dozens of books, including a few on CHi Nei Tsang.

Chi Nei Tsang is an ancient therapy that integrates aspects of Shiatsu, Chi Kung meditations and Tai Chi technique.  It aims to harmonise the flow of energy though working predominantly on the abdomen or hara.  It has become increasingly popular in recent years and the result has been an increase in the number of people requesting this therapy from Holistic Education.

In response to this, I have developed a new webpage, specifically on Chi Nei Tsang and I hope you enjoy finding out more about it and maybe, one day having a treatment for yourself.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy watching this introductory video, created by Kris Deva North from the London Healing Tao Centre.  I’m in it, doing some treatments and a bit of teaching.  It was filmed in April 2013.  Your feedback is welcome.

Wishing you well-being, health and happiness, Bernadette

Teaching Yoga in Prisons: 4 days of training for yoga teachers by the Prison Phoenix Trust and British Wheel of Yoga

The Prison Phoenix Trust is a charity that encourages prisoners in their spiritual lives through meditation and yoga, working with silence and the breath.

The Prison Phoenix Trust is a charity that encourages prisoners in their spiritual lives through meditation and yoga, working with silence and the breath.

From Monday 23 June to Friday 27 June, I trained to teach yoga in prisons, though a programme taught by the Prison Phoenix trust (PPT) and accredited by the British Wheel of yoga (BWY).  I’ve been teaching yoga since 1998, and qualified as a yoga teacher in 2001.  This intensive training enabled us to learn how to teach yoga, breathing practices and meditation in a way that was accessible to a range of participants and adapted to meet their needs, safely and effectively.

Brent Scott (left) and Sally Buxton (centre) are both Yoga Co-ordinators for the PPT. Sam Settle (right) is the PPT Director. They co-led the training programme.

Since 2001, I have taught yoga and meditation in a range of settings, including private yoga centres, individual homes, adult education settings and schools.  The participants have been from a range of ages, from 7 to 81 years, backgrounds and levels of ability from complete beginner to advanced.  Yet this training prepared me for something different and altogether unique: to teach yoga and meditation in settings where the individuals there had acted in ways that meant not being allowed to participate in general society for a period of time.

The 4 day training programme was wonderfully practical, informative and fun.  There were speakers from prisons, including Prison Officers, ex-inmates and yoga and other teachers working in prisons, youth offending institutions, prison hospitals and other high security settings.  There were talks, meditation and yoga sessions and discussion groups.  We even had a bit of time to fit in a few walks in the beautiful Oxfordshire countryside and have an evening of games, singing and music provided by ourselves.

We not only deepened our personal practice, though morning and evening practice sessions, but also our understanding of the complexities of the lives of those living and working in prisons.  Overall, I gained confidence not only in how to adapt the teaching of yoga and meditation, but also in how to adapt myself to a setting in which security is of paramount importance.  It was a brilliantly run and intense training course and I highly recommend it to any yoga teachers interested in such work.

Sunday meditation with a local group: developing personal practice with others

It takes time and patience to build up a regular mindfulness practice and it helps to bring some light-heartedness to it.

It takes time and patience to build up a regular mindfulness practice and it helps to bring some light-heartedness to it.

Let’s say you have done some mindfulness or mediation training or even a retreat.  Once that has passed, and we’re back in our busy lives, it takes an extra effort of will to ensure that some time is carved out of the day or week to continue practising.  Yet even with the best intentions to practice, this can sometime be so difficult that practice becomes irregular and it can seem that any benefits are no more.

You’re not alone.  Even the most regular and dedicated mindfulness mediator find that from time to time their regular practice gets swept aside by the demands of life.  I’ve found it particularly helpful to practise with others and am fortunate to be part of a small local group of others who meditate.  Today, we gathered at someone’s home for a 45 minute sitting practice, which we agreed helped us reconnect to deeper qualities in our practice.

Perhaps you also meditate regularly with others or would like to do so.  Why not set up a group, perhaps running the Peace in a Frantic World Course?  Or you could contact local teachers in your area or go on a retreat.  This could be key to developing and sustaining the practice of mindfulness, helping us enrich and get the best out of our lives.