Mindfulness, work and life

On the 4th March this year, I received the following email from our TD team (thanks guys!):

On the same day, I also saw the following post from Rachael Roberts (ELT course book writer, MaW SIG coordinator a while back, Life coach/writer):

Coincidentally enough, on Saturday the2nd March I had picked up a book called Mindfulness for Worriers by Padraig O’Morain from my local library. I have since returned it and bought my own copy to reread:

I am convinced the universe was trying to tell me something!

That something being that Mindfulness was something I needed to bring into my life. So I took the hint and did the course!

It was four weeks long and had 3-4hrs of content per week. For me, it was the final two weeks of term and then my two weeks of Easter holiday. The nice thing was, that meant I could use the guided meditations extensively while I was in Sicily sitting on my hillside. Having that time and space to really get into the formal meditating really helped. It was a brilliant course, and I am so glad I did it.

Anyway, this post is not going to be a summary of the course (you should just do it!), nor a summary of Rachael’s book (you should just read it!) but more just a bit about what has stood out for me since accepting the universe’s little nudge and learning more about Mindfulness.

What do I mean by Mindfulness? Well, according to Padraig O’Morain it’s

“returning your attention, with acceptance, from your thoughts to your experience in the moment.”

This moment. This breath. Now. For an over-thinker like me, this was revolutionary in itself – the fact that I don’t have to be a hostage to what is going on in my head. I can say “yes, thoughts, I know you are there bubbling around but actually at this moment I am more interested in my breathing/how my feet feel/the weight of my hands as they rest on my legs/those daffodils that I am cycling past, those bluebells that I am running past.” I have the choice not to be dragged down endless rabbit holes of rumination (obsessing about things that have already happened) or worrying (about things that may or may not happen in the future). This doesn’t mean repressing thoughts or worries, but rather, while accepting them and acknowledging them, choosing to place the attention on something else, something in the present moment.

However, like they described it in the Futurelearn course, the mind is like a puppy – always wants to run off here, there and everywhere. It’s very easy to get caught up in thoughts. And, like the puppy, it takes gentle training for the sit and stay command to be learnt and heeded. Accepting that thinking (and overthinking!) is what the mind does, and not getting frustrated about it, is key. Instead, it’s a case of gently and repeatedly bringing the mind back to the present moment. And from there, you can identify which of the thoughts, if any, are useful to listen to and pursue, rather than just being stuck amidst a load of endless mind babble.

4th March – 22nd April… less than 2 months! So obviously, as far as I am concerned it is very much still a work in progress (and will be forever I imagine!) and I am very much a beginner, but even so, I am already noticing so many benefits:

  • Instead of waking up in the night and then being unable to get back to sleep because I am thinking too much, if I wake in the night now, I do a body-scan (focus on each part of the body in turn, from the feet upwards) and drop back off much more easily.
  • Similarly, when I go to bed each night, I use the body-scan as a falling asleep technique. I also do a 10-20 minute guided meditation just before ‘lights out’ so my mind is calmer to start with.
  • I am better able to recognise when I am getting caught up in anxious, unhelpful thoughts and take a step back.
  • Because of being better able to recognise getting caught up in anxious, unhelpful thoughts, I am less likely to go down the rabbit holes of catastrophising/awfulising (basically blowing things out of proportion and thinking about worst case scenarios for everything), taking that step back instead. Thus, one stressor (whatever triggered the anxious thoughts) doesn’t need to become one thousand stressors (all the dark imaginings that follow it and trigger a stress response in my body).
  • Instead of getting road rage as I cycle to and from work, I am better able to accept that drivers are prone to being inconsiderate, accept that I will take approximately x amount of time to get from a to b and not fret, instead focusing my attention on what’s going on around me (better for my safety) and seeing how much beauty and diversity I can notice in the process. Flowers, trees, front gardens, a smiling baby, a shop front…some of those only while at red lights, obviously! Some, if I am moving, is just a fleeting glimpse but I see them rather than being on autopilot.
  • Mindfulness has also helped me get a handle on some disordered eating/anxiety issues which were triggered by bereavement last autumn. By helping me be more aware of what my stressors are and then through that being able to recognise that they don’t actually need to be stressors and using mindfulness techniques when they arise.

As far as work is concerned, I have got into the routine of starting my classes with a very short meditation (I do the speaking, the students do the meditation). The idea is that when they come into my class, their heads are full of what’s gone before (previous lessons, catching up with friends as they walk between classes, checking their phones etc) and what lies ahead (as in beyond my class – deadlines, homework, social arrangements, what’s for dinner etc), so by doing a one minute meditation, it helps them “arrive” and become ready to concentrate on the lesson at hand. I think it has helped improve their focus, but obviously I have no science of my own to back that up. It certainly makes for a very peaceful and pleasant start to the lesson, without using up much time.

The meditation I do with them is based on one from the Futurelearn course called “The Comma” – so-called because it allows you to introduce a short pause between activities into your day. I adapted it slightly to simplify the language and grammar used, to make it more suitable for my students. I introduced it in the first lesson of this term by handing out a print-out to each student and getting them to discuss a few questions around what it is, how using it could help someone and how using it at the start of a class could be valuable for us. Then we did it (and of course being the first time there was a bit of giggling and looking at each other before they closed their eyes properly! Subsequently that hasn’t been an issue) Finally, I said we’d do it at the start of each future class. They were agreeable to that and we have done so ever since.

I also try and do a “comma” or a “full stop” [5 minute meditation, so a slightly longer pause] or a body scan myself before I’m due to go and teach. It doesn’t always happen but when I do manage it, it is a good head space from which to go and start a lesson. It helps me transition from whatever I have been doing, to focusing more fully on what I am about to do i.e. the present moment and teaching. I have all the meditations from the Futurelearn course downloaded on my laptop and loaded onto my mp3 player (yes I still have an mp3 player, isn’t that quaint :-p ) so that I can use them “on the go”.

Outside of work, I always do a guided meditation at bed time – 5-10 mins at the start of my unwinding and then 5-10 mins just before I am about to try and go to sleep. Midweek, that is all I manage as far formal mindfulness is concerned. However, in terms of “informal” practice, I am constantly trying to do all the little day-to-day life things more mindfully, bringing my awareness into the present moment rather than operating in default mode while my mind is off diving down rabbit holes. At the weekends, though, I try and do more and longer (10-20 minute) guided meditations. As that is when I have more of a chance to. Currently, my bedtime reading is the Padraig O’Morain book pictured above. I have also (re)read his book called “Kindfulness” which combines Mindfulness and self-compassion, and have got his “Mindfulness on the go” book lined up. So it’s a steady drip-feed reminder of it for me.

In one week’s time, I will be starting another Futurelearn mindfulness course, also delivered by Monash university (with the same tutors who did the Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Peak Performance one referred to earlier in this post) which is called Maintaining a mindful life. The former is aimed at beginners while the latter is aimed at people who have already done the former or are familiar with/already practice Mindfulness. I am very much looking forward to it!

Do you practice Mindfulness? If so, what resources do you recommend?

  • I’m aware there are various apps e.g. Headspace (I’ve used it a bit but not yet bothered paying for it as I have had enough to be going with through the Futurelearn course materials including the guided meditations and my Padraig O’Marain books. Who knows, maybe one day!) and others. Do you use any such apps?
  • Rachael Roberts’s site has some good stuff on it too (including a link to that book, downloadable as a pdf, which I mentioned at the start of this post!)
  • This site belongs to one of the course tutors from the Futurelearn course I did. “Body scan”, “Training the puppy” and “Body, breath and sound” all feature on the course. Body, breath and sound is the 10-minute one I most often do when I do 10 minutes. There are loads of others there, a wealth of experimentation possible. I have barely scratched the surface. (It is very easy to just use the ones you are familiar with repeatedly!)
  • Padraig O’Morain also has some guided practices and from this page links to another where he has even more audios! Info about his books is here. The website will prompt you to sign up for his “Daily Bell” which is an email newsletter thingy that includes a nice mindfulness-related quote as well as the usual guff about courses he is doing, resources and suchlike.
  • Here is a link to the Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Peak Performance course on Futurelearn (running again in July in case you are interested) and here is the follow-up course, Maintaining a Mindful Life. Highly recommended.
  • For the science behind it all, Daniel Goleman and Richard J.Davidson have written “Altered Traits: science reveals how meditation changes your mind, brain and body

Please share any resources which you use by commenting on this post! I would really love to hear from you! 

And on that note I do believe it’s time for a guided meditation. 🙂

2 thoughts on “Mindfulness, work and life

  1. Pingback: Useful links on Mental Health in ELT | Sandy Millin

  2. This:
    “Accepting that thinking (and overthinking!) is what the mind does, and not getting frustrated about it, is key. Instead, it’s a case of gently and repeatedly bringing the mind back to the present moment. And from there, you can identify which of the thoughts, if any, are useful to listen to and pursue, rather than just being stuck amidst a load of endless mind babble.”
    And this:
    https://sandymillin.wordpress.com/2019/04/20/lowersilesia/ 🙂
    Shared this to our teachers’ group and added it to the Useful Links for Mental Health in ELT. I’m not meditating yet (my mum loves the Calm app) but a lot of the other things have been added to my life over the last few years, and they’ve made a huge difference to how I feel and how I approach challenging situations.
    Good luck with keeping this up!
    Sandy

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