Tag Archives: mindful movement

awe and wonder

I have been looking at the sky as part of my daily mindfulness practice for a couple of years, inspired by an activity described by Vidyamala Burch in her excellent book Mindfulness for Health. I loved the invitation to notice the sky for 5-10 minutes everyday and do it whenever I remember to. So I might be standing on a platform at Tottenham Hale station and notice either blue skies or grey clouds and I notice how the difference between the two can make me feel.

I might do it, on a slower day, from my garden with a cup of tea or on busy work days I look at the sky from the kitchen window in my workplace as I make a herbal tea. The practice is simple – look at the sky, check in with the body, notice the breath, notice any thoughts, go back to noticing the sky, repeat.

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The view from my plot!

This morning I made time to visit my allotment which doesn’t happen that often these days. I was late in London at college last night and had awoken as always too late and to much general child induced morning chaos – arguments, some dog poo that had mysteriously made it’s way into the house and needed to be cleared up, confusion about whether the kids had a trip to pizza hut and needed a packed lunch or not, an interview later today and mindfulness-based supervision were all things I had to navigate before 11am.

But squeeze in a trip to my plot I did and after that list of things it felt practically obligatory! I weeded for 20 minutes and then gave myself permission to just sit and watch the sky for 10 minutes before heading home, something again that I rarely do. When I started the practice several years ago I had no idea it would impact so deeply on my life and had no idea about the recent research into awe and the positive affects it can have on our lives. Researchers have found that having a daily dose of awe in our lives can improve our moods, our health, make us more cooperative and less materialistic and even help with critical thinking.

greatergood.berkeley.edu/…/eight_reasons_why_awe_makes_your_life_better

And for me watching the sky gives me that daily dose of awe that we all need in our lives, so too does watching a nature programme on TV – so this is something literally all of us can access in our own way. And it works well with clients who have experienced trauma and who might not yet feel OK to sit with their eyes closed on a cushion, simply going to their local park or even looking out the window at some clouds can be enough to kick start the process of better regulating emotions.

greatergood.berkeley.edu/…/four_awe_inspiring_activities

Today’s total practice time: 30 minutes (including 10 minutes of sky watching)

Back at Birkbeck

Birkbeck holds a special place in my heart.

I have often written/joked about my addiction to life long learning and Birkbeck saw one of my most expensive forays into lifelong learning when I did a Masters more there 10 years ago. Like many who have done a Masters, I’m not 100% sure what it added to my career opportunities and I have certainly moved away from what I studied since having children.

I did an MRes in Government, Policy and Politics and though my work is now in Therapeutic Services and Interventions the research skills I gained during the course have since served me well in both my day-job (focus groups and post-service interviews with clients and report writing are both examples) and my mindfulness teaching (evaluating and measuring the impact of the work I do has always been a passion along with reading the latest research on Mindfulness and EMDR).

Birkbeck is also the place where I did my first eight week mindfulness course as a participant. Under the tutelage of Michael Chaskalson and in a hot and crowded room along with 25 other busy, burnt out Londoners I learnt to pause, breathe and began cultivating more calm than I had had in many years.

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So it was with much fondness that I prepared to teach a course for The Bloomsbury Institute Staff and Students, and was delighted to find out that I would be teaching this course at Birkbeck. bil.ac.uk I now have an excuse to go to my old stomping ground of Bloomsbury once a week and soak in the vibes of SOAS, IoE (where I also studied to train as a teacher) and Birkbeck. It was a sunny spring morning on my first day of teaching there and as I left I noticed with affection a predictable queue for the Hari Krishna food that is served there everyday, good to see some things don’t change.  A new edition was a pop up bike maintenance service, run for and by students.

Such a special part of London, so many memories and I realised in the sunshine, I may not easily be able to sum up all that doing a Masters gave my career but it certainly gave me a few happy years before and just after my children were born, it gave me a sense of belonging to a vibrant student world and I am happy to be a part of that again, for a brief time at least.

 

Today’s Total Practice Time: 45 minutes seated and movement

 

clearing out for winter

It’s that time of year when we need to face winter square on. As time has passed I am getting better at preparing for my least favourite season. I realised a few years ago being in denial about winter is not helpful and creates more suffering. So instead these days I embrace winter – I dig out my winter coat and start wearing warm clothes as I know it will help me accept that it’s here – those dark long (frequently grey and wet) British winter months are part of my life, just like summer is and so I need to celebrate the arrival of winter as best I can.

At my allotment after a bumper crop of apples, middling crop of pumpkins and disappointing crop of spuds I have now cleared the decks ready for winter. My moto during a busy term this autumn has been to visit the plot little and often. I have been rocking up to the plot at 4pm on a Sunday sometimes – clearly in denial that, since the clocks went back, I will only get half an hour at best but actually quite enjoying this.

By making it so time limited I get to keep on top of things but not miss out on family life (no one else can be tempted to accompany me now the weather has turned). And today I finished weeding one last raised bed and then got the satisfaction of covering three raised beds in readiness for spring. All cleared of weeds, I covered it in thick black membrane, so each bed is now tucked up away from the cold, like an animal hibernating until the weather gets better.

There are two active beds still – for garlic and broad beans (yet to be planted) and a few odd jobs that mainly involve lopping (the apple tree and the fruit bushes) but aside from that I feel like I have cleared out for winter.  This morning as I thought of that line I was reminded of a Rumi poem we use when teaching mindfulness that I had read the day before at a silent practice session and the lines about ‘clearing you out for some new delight’ resonated as I cleared the decks for winter, knowing this act means I am also, in a way, preparing for new life and spring.

The Guest House
Translated by Coleman Barks

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness, 
some momentary awareness comes 
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
Jalaluddin Rumi

 

membership

Was it Groucho Marx who said that thing about not wanting to be a member of any club that would have him? Does that demonstrate some deep seated sense of self loathing on his part or just a dislike or mistrust of clubs?

I share some of his reservations about clubs and membership. As a child I was an adamant non-joiner – Brownies? No thanks, brown really wasn’t my colour and the activities they did left me cold (although I did have  an old Brownie uniform in my dressing up box as a child and it was fun to put it on, displaying someone else’s badges but without having to bother with the effort of earning them).

My children, particularly my eldest are stark opposites. They must take after their dad, who was a real joiner in childhood. They love Beavers, Cubs, drama, if there’s a club they will happily join it, so much so I have now had to say no! No more clubs, not wanting to make their childhoods as busy as their adult lives will no doubt be.

Although reading some employment forecasts who knows, maybe many jobs will be automated in the next decade or so and a life of leisure and hobbies beckons our young folk. Maybe after schools clubs are mere training grounds for all the leisure time they will have to come.

But back to the present, I have switched roles with my husband as I find in adulthood it’s fun to join things and feel a sense of solidarity with your fellow man. Long gone are the days when my favourite line from a film was ‘I hate my fellow man and my fellow man hates me.’ I’m a joiner these days.

I did a spell as a parent governor (won’t be repeating that!) I belong to a political party (the compassionate one of course), I have a membership card for the co-op. I support my union at work not just by being a member but I have stepped up and become a work place rep as I believe there has never been more need to protect those hard won workers rights.

And then of course there is all the mindfulness organisations I am a member of. This year saw me join the coveted list of good practice following mindfulness teachers.

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I still support Grow Mindfulness (even though it has stopped being a membership body) that lovely grassroots organisation that tried to put teachers at the front line of policy developments around mindfulness.

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And my favourite mindfulness organisation that I often wax lyrical to other mindfulness teachers who have not heard of them is the Mindfulness Association. Yes they are very Buddhist (but isn’t Bangor? and Oxford?) but they put compassion and accessibility at the heart of every course they deliver, every bit of training they provide is more affordable for normal people who want to access mindfulness. This in turn can only mean one thing – more mindfulness for everyone. They actively work towards a Mindful Nation, rather than paying lip service to it and yet ensuring training costs put training out of reach for most people.

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As a secular practitioner, I’m proud to be a member of an organisation that talks the talk and actually walks the walk.

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Today’s total practice time: 40 minutes

CPD-a-thon

It wasn’t planned like this, this week, to be a CPD-a-thon, it’s just how things unfolded.

Of course one way to do CPD is to sign up for something every now and then and spread it out throughout the year. This year however by sheer coincidence of the two CPD events that I decided I would commit to being in the same week, I have got my CPD done and dusted for the year in under a week.

A plus of this (unintentional) intensive approach is that I have been sleeping and breathing mindfulness this last week. Cut me and I bleed mindfulness, even if perhaps for one week only.

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So first up, this time last week, I was up in Scotland at the Mindfulness Association’s annual three day conference. I heard key note speakers par excellence – Paul Gilbert, Sharon Salzberg, Vidyamala Burch and Rick Hanson. I attended a breathing workshop with Vidyamala Burch and a loving kindness workshop with Sharon Salzberg. All are leaders in their field and the workshops have already changed my practice and I know the learning will also have a meaningful impact on my teaching.

At the conference I also got to meet my supervisor for the first time in real life. We have built up a genuine relationship over the two years we have worked together on Skype but it was wonderful to have a hug and be guided by her in two practices. I felt her style resonated deeply with my own teaching and guiding style so I felt even more keenly that we are a good match to work together on this journey of supervision.

 

Lovely Samye Ling

As if all this learning, practice and connection weren’t enough to carry me over for the next few months on Wednesday of this week I headed to Imperial College London and experienced a day of practice with Jon Kabat-Zinn.

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Yes him!

I am not and have never been someone to have a guru or to hero worship others so when we were invited to tell the person sitting next to us why we were there it was hard articulating the words. Yes of course I was there because it was Jon Kabat-Zinn but I also realised I had no concrete expectations for the day. No learning outcomes or craving a bit of paper at the end. At the risk of this sounding like something we might say about a guru: being there was really enough. Seeing his style, his delivery, his practice invitations, seeing how he dealt with inquiry – any one of which might be a masterclass in mindfulness teacher training. I already have ideas of how to work this learning into sessions and courses.

I felt immense gratitude both yesterday and during my weekend at Samye Ling. Without being able to afford such luxuries as CPD events, accommodation and train travel, without being able to leave family, work and young kids, without the support of an understanding (and very patient) partner this glorious week of CPD could not have happened.

And to hear over and over throughout the week my own beliefs repeated that yes, this mindfulness teaching CPD is all well and good but it’s the practice that really counts. And now that my particular batch of CPD is over for this year, it’s the practice I come back to and will focus on.

Today’s total practice time: 10 minutes of movement, 15 minutes of seated practice.

Non-doing

Often described as a dead-week, the week between Christmas and New Year is actually perhaps the closest many of us get to an extended period of real genuine non-doing. A time to disconnect from work and just be with your nearest and dearest. This of course can come with its own challenges but as the week is nearly over it’s also worth reflecting how precious a week of non-doing is these days.

If my kids read this they would perhaps laugh at the idea of me ever having a non-doing week as there have been chilly picnics at nearby Audley End and several frosty walks through a nearby forest. Yesterday they were promised a lazy day and both declared they would not leave the house, even to venture into the garden.

They kept their word but by today my youngest, a spirited seven year old boy, was asking when that promised trip to the allotment would be. For want of better plan I said how about now and left the hubby in charge of lunch. We walked down to the plot in the fog and enjoyed getting some fresh air whilst aware we were the only people out and about bar a couple of dog walkers. I often make the comparison that having young kids is akin to having a dog, they really do need to get out at least once a day which makes non-doing a challenge to navigate.

Once at the allotment we planted out garlic, dug up some frozen onions and weeded a frosty patch of earth where we then planted out broad beans. No idea if this is the right time to do it, we found the broad bean seeds and went for it. My son enjoyed moving worms out of harms way and breaking a frozen pond in an abandoned plot next door. His hands got soaked and frozen and he shivered all they way home but we both enjoyed a brief bit of purpose amidst the non-doing along with a well-earned flask.

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Now I have been out of the house I feel settled enough to enjoy non-doing for the rest of the day! I predict by tomorrow my feet will start itching for action and adventure once more though.

Today’s total practice time: In the spirit of non-doing I have done no formal practice all week however I was mindful when I made my cup of tea this morning.

a mindful read

As any busy member of a book club can testify once you start reading for a book club it can sometimes prove a challenge to fit in any other reading. Recently, thanks to not being able to get hold of one particular title, I found myself at liberty to choose any random book off my book shelf.

I chose ‘Eyeless in Gaza’ by Aldous Huxley. Bought well over  a decade ago, inspired by reading Brave New World in the first book club I was ever part of, a group that discussed and dissected dystopian classics in Central London on Tuesday nights, filled with anarchists and radical feminists. Fast forward ten years and now I am part of a suburban book club, a group of mums who wanted an excuse to escape the drudgery of motherhood to discuss books and drink wine, authors have included Caitlin Moran and Julian Barnes, nothing too taxing on the whole. It’s great fun reading other people’s choices but I also miss choosing for myself.

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‘Eyeless in Gaza’ is the most Buddhist novel I have ever read, not that I read many Buddhists novels, in fact I would probably actively avoid them being a secular mindfulness practitioner but it’s message was basically – get to know your mind, choose a different path and liberate yourself from suffering.

I was blown away by the quality of the writing, the skillful way the story weaved between various time frames and characters. Written in 1936 it felt very relevant and prescient in many ways. Themes covered were love, lose, betrayal, abortion, homosexuality, addiction, disconnection, war, bullying, public school life, bereavement, redemption, forgiveness, patriotism, pacifism and having the curiosity to try to live a different life. And at the heart of it all was compassion. It is essentially about how one man shifts from a position of recoiling from life to embracing it.

It’s a month since I read it and I quite possibly can no longer do it justice. For a book club book I sometimes make notes, as I was reading for personal pleasure I made no notes and so all the quotes I enjoyed are lost somewhere in the 500 page text but if you are looking for a compelling Christmas read that covers life, death and how to live and train the mind and walk a different path I can’t think of a better, more relevant read.

Today’s total practice time: 5 minutes breathing space (kids are off for Christmas hols!)

 

 

when did you stop dancing?

Dancing used to be a huge a part of my life, at one point dancing was a weekly event, sometimes several evenings each week when I was young would be spent dancing. Slowly over time of course no one can sustain a three times a week clubbing habit and so with the onset of kids, middle age and moving out to the burbs I have watched my dancing life dwindle to such a point that if I can count three times I have danced in a year I feel I am doing quite well.

Mark Williams et al in their ever insightful Frantic World book report that in some countries doctors don’t ask when did you start feeling depressed but instead ask when did you stop dancing. For me it’s a pertinent question and one of course that we can all adapt to mean when did you stop doing the things you loved doing and become a mass of duties and responsibilities, a fun-free zone?

For most of us it’s a similar response. First there was the mortgage, then the kids, then the extra hours and responsibilities at work and suddenly I was whittling down all the things I enjoyed to make time and space for the serious business of paying a mortgage, renovating a house and raising a family.

And then of course there’s the big part alcohol plays in all of this socialising. I am not at the stage of total abstinence and still have the occasional tipple but again these days it is very occasional. For a reserved Brit drinking and dancing often go hand in hand so how can you sustain a dance habit when your whole life is now cleaner and more sober in general?

Can I even dance when I am sober?

This is a question I answered in a cold school hall at 10.30am yesterday morning when me and my daughter became initiated in a family friendly five rhythm’s dance. I have always shied away from five rhythms, using the nickname rainbow rhythms in a disparaging way when others have talked about it, thinking the whole thing is a bit too Chakrha laden and new age-y for someone scientifically minded like myself.

The answer though was happily a resounding yes! Five rhythms is quite leftfield and not everyone’s cup of tea but if five rhythms (and a chilly school hall at 10.30am)  is the only way I get to have some communal dance in my life, beyond my kitchen, then so be it. I’m ready to have more fun and I’m up for journeying outside my comfort zone to facilitate this so that I never have to say I have stopped dancing for good.

Today’s total practice time: 1 hour silent practice at Mindful Sunday  thismindfullife.net/mindful-sundays + 30 minutes personal practice

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sites.google.com/site/cambsdance

Resurfacing

I came out of retreat more than two weeks ago, blinking like a mole in daylight for the first time. Travelling through London on the tube at rush is almost too surreal an experience after five days of silence and stillness. Suffice to say it felt slightly psychedelic, like the colours and noise were cranked up just a little too much.

The retreat itself was a delight. It was very different to any retreat I had done before. I found myself comparing it to previous experiences and finding it didn’t quite measure up. It was too short, too easy and too still and yet I knew it was exactly the right retreat for me at that moment. I found myself judging the Qigong (often with the words ‘this is so lame’ ringing in my mind), unspoken they felt all the louder.

I arrived late and was put on lunchtime pot washing detail for my work hour which meant I was out of sinc with most other retreatants and I lamented not getting that lazy lunch hour that was such a celebrated part of my previous retreat.

For some of the time I was holding on to that previous retreat, remembering one sunny afternoon when after a lovely veggie lunch a load of us lazed around on the grass in the sunshine. People I would never see again, many of whom’s names I didn’t know, and yet in that moment I felt so utterly and wordlessly connected to them. It was pure joy.

By day 3 I shed the old retreat and made friends with this present one. It was a much easier retreat in many ways, for a start I had only one room mate (not three) and she didn’t snore or use the toilet twice each night. I was sleeping well, I came out of the retreat feeling more revived not less.

And the Qigong was pretty still and I struggled with that – with boredom, with stiffness and restlessness. But it gave me so much to work with. I had to be with the body and all its aches and pains, whether I wanted to be or not. I had to do the dull movements for eight hours each day because I was there and I might as well take part. And I grew to love them and the breath works we were taught.

Two weeks later, even though life has been one busy blur since coming home, I still do those movements and the breath work everyday and my practice has never felt more stable.

Today’s Total Practice Time: 1 hour (Qigong, movement and breath work)

Lightening the load

In the eight week Mindfulness-Based Parenting Programme I teach we encourage parents to draw a picture of a balloon with sandbags. Now we all need a bit of ballast to keep us from floating away into the stratosphere but too much weight will see us permanently grounded. So like many things in life, it’s all about balance. When I did this exercise a few months ago I realised I had too much weight dragging me down.

The last year has been a busy exciting haze of taking voluntary redundancy and heading off into new career territory. It’s been a bumpy ride, the kids don’t like me working more days and longer hours, we’ve had to negotiate a lot of childcare arrangements so that everyone’s needs are met but a year since applying for (and getting) voluntary redundancy I can honestly say it was a smart move and one that I have not regretted.

But my balloon was still too heavily weighed down and something had to give. Part of the point of these exercises is that it gives you the chance to stand back, reflect and take stock. There are some sand bags (being a parent full stop is a massive sandbag for example) that are not likely to go away. Cooking, cleaning and work are all sandbags on my picture but these need to be done. However two of the biggest sandbags over this last year have been being a governor (I urge anyone to give this a go, it gives you a taste of local democracy in action but only if you have the time – I realised I really didn’t )  and learning to drive. Both activities really drained my resources and time and yet gave me very little pleasure.

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So I handed my resignation in after three years of being a governor, I had procrastinated the whole summer and then with one simple email it was done. A very heavy sandbag had been severed from my balloon making me feel instantly lighter.

The second sandbag I have been trying to sever was not quite so simple. It isn’t particularly easy or pleasant learning to drive at any time in your life but when you are 45, dyslexic, extremely busy with few slots in which to book either lessons or tests, have zero interest in cars and have never even wanted to drive in the first place – then you can imagine it was a very challenging learning curve. I started out consistently having weekly lessons but around spring the lessons got patchy especially for every school holiday. I had several months when I didn’t have any lessons. I found both driving instructors I had hard work and quite unprofessional. And the knowledge that if I still lived in North London I would have happily yielded nothing more than my Oyster card well into my dotage didn’t help. And don’t get me started on how uneasily it sits with my green credentials.

But I got to the point where I had ploughed too much time, money and energy into this venture that I had to plod on with the whole joyless exercise. So plod on I did and 14 months after first stepping into a car and with numerous gaps in lessons I passed my driving test on Thursday. Delight wasn’t even close to what I felt, instead I was flooded with utter relief that it was over and I could now do things that interest and nurture me on my precious one day a week without the kids rather than sitting in a car being shrieked at about the give way rules of a roundabout by a highly strung instructor.

So I am feeling light and buoyant right now. Severing these things that drained my resources has left me with the space and energy to do other more pleasant things. I am meeting a friend for lunch today, plan to go out in London after work next Wednesday (which I haven’t done for ages because Thursdays were frequently driving lesson days) and I am getting excited about my retreat later this month.

Be aware if you do clear away some of your own sandbags there will be an overwhelming urge to instantly fill the gap with more crap. Two days after freeing myself from my governor role I started talking to my husband about my desire to become a union rep at work, he didn’t even need to say anything, he just kinda looked at me with a bemused face that seemed to say there she goes again, the queen of busy-ness! ‘Maybe I’ll give it 6 months before doing that,’ I found myself saying.

From next week I’ll be working four days a week in London. That’s the most I will have ever had to do the commute and instead of feeling worried and overwhelmed by this prospect I feel that clearing the sandbags has allowed me to have the energy to accommodate this change in working patterns. It’s only for eight weeks and then I go back to 3 day weeks. My house may get dusty in that time, I’m cool with that, but at least I won’t be squeezing committee meetings and driving lessons into the few spare moments I do have to relax.

Today’s practice time: 10 minutes movement, 15 minutes seated practice