Mindfulness Take Two: The Pursuit of a Less Mindless Michelle
I’m going to change tack a little today. I inadvertently missed the #MarchMindfulness 2017 memo on instagram. April Fools’ has been and gone but I’ve finally decided to aim for a little more presence in my own life for this month and henceforward.
About this time two years ago, I embarked on a mindfulness course at the behest of mindfulness maestro Dr. Ming Rawat. Some woman for one woman, Ming was one of the directors on my GP training scheme. She is also a GP of #Goals proportions, a fully accredited and practising yogi, a yummy Mummy and all-round fabulous person: #DeliciousFromMauritius if anyone ever was.
Mindfulness training is now a compulsory module on this training scheme (North Dublin City GP Training Scheme #4eva!) and her intention was to engage those of us who had missed out on this module to ‘catch up’. Like many courses I start, I didn’t finish…
The sessions took place on Friday evenings after work. I enthusiastically attended the first few but then resumed chasing my tail as well as all manner of planes, trains and automobiles in my rush to get to the shindig du jour. I didn’t believe I had the spare time to undergo mindfulness training and, yes, the irony was indeed lost on me at the time.
My first taste (literally!) of mindfulness was the standard ‘Mindfulness Eating Exercise’. For the uninitiated, this exercise involves exploring a piece of food (often a raisin or strawberry) verrry slooooowly with all of your senses, using one sense at a time. So mindless was I, I picked up my strawberry and swallowed it whole (almost choking in my haste) before I’d even listened to what was being asked of us. I then had to feign using all of my senses with an empty mouth for what seemed like forever while fellow attendees engaged as instructed: #Cringe!
Since then, I have only ever occasionally employed the mindfulness ‘body scan’ if I can’t get back to sleep on a weekend morning after a heavy night. I urge you to youtube body scans if you’re not familiar; I often direct patients to them to relieve insomnia or as a way of de-stressing in general or de-escalating a panic attack.
I plan to now attempt to adopt some of the other elements of mindfulness meditation in my daily life.
So, what is mindfulness? (For those of you who have been living under a rock with no reception to download the headspace app!) “Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally,” says Kabat-Zinn, the founding father of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, Professor of Medicine Emeritus and creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Med School. “It’s about knowing what is on your mind.”
In 1979, the same Jon Kabat-Zinn recruited chronically ill patients who were responding poorly to orthodox medical treatment to partake in his stress-reduction program for a period of 8 weeks. From this study and others since, robust research has emerged evincing how mindfulness-based interventions enhance both physical and mental health. For example, pain perception has been shown to be amenable to modification by mindfulness training. Studies of MRI brain scans have demonstrated an appreciable change in brain structure in participants who have engaged in mindfulness programmes. Fewer presentations to emergency medical services have also been demonstrated as a result of these practices. The scope for an essentially free health tool that can be used in the comfort of your own living or bedroom is boundless.
Here are a few fast and simple ways to incorporate mindfulness into your daily routine:
- Unwind at the end of your day with a 15-minute guided meditation; an app such as headspace is invaluable here.
- Greet the day with a Sun Salutation sequence. Youtube videos will cater for all levels of yoga bunnies!
- Incorporate a 5-15 minute mindfulness breathing exercise into your lunch time routine. Mindfulness websites and youtube will demonstrate! (How did we survive pre-Youtube people?!)
- Body scan yourselves from top to toe for 15 or more minutes every day.
Looking for a practical and accessible (and short!) book with which to start (as opposed to googling and youtubing): Pádraig Ó Móráin’s ‘Mindfulness on the Go, Peace in Your Pocket’ is one to remember.
So I’ll leave you to body scan yourselves good-oh (#MondayMotivation) and I’ll invite you to traverse Mary Oliver’s ‘Wild Geese’. This poem is often employed in mindfulness practice, but never fails to arrest me.
And Ming, I’ll always owe you a whopping debt of gratitude; you’ll never appreciate the extent of your legacy “in the family of things”.
by Mary Oliver
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
In the family of things.
As always, queries very welcome and if you’d like to read more, please visit skipthescript.com9