This session was hosted by Rachael Roberts/ELT Freelance Professionals Lightbulb Moments/Earn, Learn, Thrive. (Link is to the Facebook Group that Rachael manages, where this session was advertised.)
Trish started with a little breathing exercise, breathing in and out 3 times. 3 breaths stop. Take 3 deep breaths, releasing each one fully. A little break from where we were to the present moment. Any time you need a quick reset, you can do your 3 breaths, without anyone even noticing. A quick, simple technique to learn and use – before a class, before a meeting.
She asked us “Where is your mind?”. We are often on autopilot. She told us a story of how she drove from home to ballet on autopilot and had no recollection how she got there. It’s very easy not to pay attention to what is happening. And before you know it, you’ve had 5 chocolate biscuits from the packet. Regular tasks can be done without fully engaging brains but it doesn’t help us with fully living our lives. Our bodies are here but where are our minds? We live in the story of me. We might be in the past thinking about regrets or anger or frustration. Going over and over things. Or we might be in the future worrying about something that will happen, or fearing it. The story of “what if…”
The mind is its own place and in itself can make a hell of heaven or a heaven of hell (John Milton). We can be in a tricky situation but if we can give ourselves space to be with what is, it can be a situation that we can gracefully take ourselves through. Our minds create our reality. How many thoughts do you think you might have in a day? is the next question. Research says we have up to 70,000 thoughts in a day, which is incredible when you think about it. Most of our thoughts are not real. Mindfulness helps us become more aware of our thoughts and emotions for what they are, thoughts and emotions not facts.
John Kabat-Zinn – “Mindfulness means to pay attention on purpose in the present moment non-judgementally.” We did a short bodyscan and I nodded off, oops. It is also a simple practice moving your attention from one body part to another to another and focusing your attention on it non-judgementally. Next she asks us to remember a stressful moment. That creates stress in our bodies. Our brains can’t tell the difference between imagining difficult things and having to deal with difficult things. So we get the same stress response by thinking about things as by experiencing things. The stress reponse activates the nervous system.
We take a few minutes to deal with that stress before we move on, by doing a short breathing practice called the 3-6 practice. Breathe in to the count of 3, breathe out to the count of 6. The parasympathetic nervous system is activated by this and activating it tells your body that it is in a safe state. Making the outbreath longer than the inbreath calms the stress system.
Next she wants to talk about stress. She asks us what comes to mind when we think about stress. All the comments are about the negative aspects of stress e.g. time pressure, anxiety, overwhelm. But the stress system actually evolved to keep us alive. It gets us active in order to deal with a threat. Short term stress is fine, long-term stress can be a problem. Short term it energises us, focuses us; it is a short cycle after which we can return to balance. Long term stress is when it becomes chronic and then it can lead to illness, exhaustion, low performance and you can’t see the big picture. In the modern world, the stress system is triggered many times a day by external stressors e.g. deadlines, meetings, tricky people, pandemics and internal stressors e.g. our thoughts and emotions. Usually a combination of both. We are hard-wired to seek out the negative/danger. If there are a dozen good things and one bad thing, we will tend to focus on the one bad thing.
Mindfulness helps us break the stress cycle and avoid getting into a chronic stress state. We pay attention, notice, things like tension in shoulders and jaw, and take a few minutes to do a body scan or some 3-6 breathing and break the cycle by returning to a calm state. The strategies are mindfulness techniques. If you regularly practice mindfulness, you are more able to respond more positively to stressful situations and you create a muscle memory which is able to become your parachute. You don’t want to start trying to do mindfulness practice when you are super stressed, you want to develop it when you are calm so you have more tools to choose from when you are stressed, in order to respond.
Research shows many benefits: being happier, better focus, being able to return to calm more quickly, improved relationships, deal better with strong emotions, be better able to learn, plan, think and remember. Mindfulness is any time, any place for anyone. It’s not a religion, you don’t need to be in a particular place or do particular yoga positions, you don’t need to empty your mind. It is simple, practical techniques you can use. It is not a cure for serious depression. It can help anxiety and stress and generally improve our quality of being.
Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery but today is a gift and that’s why they call it the present. Mindfulness is all about being present with what it is, without judging it. The question we want to ask ourselves is do we want to be mind-full or mindful?
John Kabat-Zinn has videos you can look at. Tricia wants to run a course for ELT professionals, which she will post more information about it in the ELT Lightbulb moments group in due course. Mindfulness increases the connections between the amygdala and the pre-frontal cortext so practising is literally ‘weaving the parachute’ – do it on a daily basis don’t wait til you need it! NB it doesn’t need to be an hour a day, 10 minutes on a regular basis will have a positive effect.
And that was the end of the session. My attendance was serendipitous as I hadn’t realised it was on until a minute before it started when I happened to notice an announcement about it! None of it was new to me but it’s always good to be reminded and I’ll be interested to hear more about the course too. I liked the image of not waiting until you are jumping out of a plane to weave a parachute. I.e. develop mindfulness techniques when things are calm so you can use them when things are not calm.