Bespoke Therapy & Training has successfully helped clients for a number of years using mindfulness, either within our integrative counselling practice or as a 1-2-1 stand alone 8-week course.
Most people these days lead a very hectic life, be it through choice or circumstance. They rarely take time out for themselves, to evaluate what they are doing or where they are going in life, to prioritise and find a balance or to simply stop, take stock of who they are and get to know themselves.
Mindfulness in our counselling.
People come to counselling for many different reasons, they often experience unexplained body pain, anxiety, depression, fear, emotional pain etc, (see the problems page for more information).
Often the clients I work with live their lives either in the past, where the focus is on compulsive cycles of negative thinking, such as, what I “should have done”, what I “should have done better”, “what I should have or not said”, I’m rubbish, worthless, waste of space and so on.
We live our lives in the future, where the focus is on worry, not just practical/general worry, but worrying about things that we can’t change, or about things that will probably never happen. In fact, about 70% of things we worry about never happen, and of course, no amount of worry will make any difference because things happen when they happen whether you worry or not. This can lead to compulsive worry cycles that are time-consuming and extremely tiring. The problem is that the future is generally made up of a fantasy based on our past perceived or real failures, which of course is negative.
8 Week 1-2-1 Course
This 8 week (1 hour weekly) course teaches the basic techniques of mindfulness.
Mindfulness can be used to:
• Break compulsive cycles and help you live in the here and now rather than the past or future.
• Rewrite damaged neural pathways in your brain, from old dysfunctional ways of thinking to new, healthy ways.
• Reduce “monkey chatter” in your head.
• Relax your body.
• Ease anxiety, fear, depression, damaged emotions etc.
• Ease body sensations and pain.
• Help you from constantly “doing” to a balanced place of “being”
• Ease physiological effects, such as changes to breathing rate, heart rate or blood pressure, these are the result of the amygdalas effect on the mind.
Jon Kabat-Zinn is a well-known teacher of mindfulness meditation and the founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Centre. His definition of mindfulness is
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”
First of all, mindfulness involves paying attention “on purpose”. Mindfulness involves a conscious direction of our awareness. We sometimes talk about “mindfulness” and “awareness” as if they were interchangeable terms, but that’s not a good habit to get into. I may be aware I’m irritable, but that wouldn’t mean I was being mindful of my irritability. In order to be mindful I have to be purposefully aware of myself, not just vaguely and habitually aware. Knowing that you are eating is not the same as eating mindfully.
An example of an eating problem. When we are purposefully aware of eating, we are consciously being aware of the process of eating. We’re deliberately noticing the sensations and our responses to those sensations. We’re noticing the mind wandering, and when it does wander we purposefully bring our attention back.
When we’re eating unmindfully we may, in theory, be aware of what we’re doing, but we’re probably thinking about a hundred and one other things at the same time, and we may also be watching TV, talking, or reading, or even all three!
So a very small part of our awareness is absorbed with eating, and we may be only barely aware of the physical sensations and even less aware of our thoughts and emotions.
Because we’re only dimly aware of our thoughts, they wander in an unrestricted way. There’s no conscious attempt to bring our attention back to our eating. There’s no purposefulness.
This purposefulness is a very important part of mindfulness. Having the purpose of staying with our experience, whether that’s the breath, or a particular emotion, or something as simple as eating, means that we are actively shaping the mind.
However, in meditation, we are concerned with what’s arising in the present moment. When thoughts about the past or future take us away from our present moment experience and we “space out” we try to notice this and just come back to now.
By purposefully directing our awareness away from such thoughts and towards our present moment experience, we decrease their effect on our lives and we create instead a space of freedom where calmness and contentment can grow.
Paying Attention “Non-Judgmentally”
Mindfulness is an emotionally non-reactive state. We don’t judge that this experience is good and that one is bad. Or if we do make those judgements we simply notice them and let go of them. We don’t get upset because we’re experiencing something we don’t want to be experiencing or because we’re not experiencing what we would rather be experiencing. We simply accept whatever arises. We observe it mindfully. We notice it arising, passing through us, and ceasing to exist.
Whether it’s a pleasant experience or a painful experience we treat it the same way.
Cognitively, mindfulness is aware that certain experiences are pleasant and some are unpleasant, but on an emotional level, we simply don’t react. We call this “equanimity” — stillness and balance of mind.
The Neuroscience of Mindfulness
Neuroscience is a huge subject and one we can’t go into on this site, there are many sites and books that will help you further.
A Brief Introduction to the Brain.
The human brain is made up of three main blocks: the forebrain, the midbrain and the hindbrain.
The oldest part of the human brain, the hindbrain, evolved more than 500 million years ago. It closely resembles the brain of a modern reptile, so is sometimes called "the mammalian brain". It is responsible for automatic physiological reflexes that control breathing, heart rate and digestion, and coordinate movement and sense perception.
Right Brain and Left Brain
Although you may often hear people referring to "left brain thinking" or "right brain thinking" there are extensive connections between the two brain hemispheres and the information is processed by using both hemispheres of the brain. Imaging studies have shown that most cognitive tasks such as problem-solving or strategic planning or strategic planning activates neurones in more than one brain region simultaneously, or at least in close succession.
Right Brain, Left Brain and Mindfulness.
According to the neuroscientist, Dr Shanida Nataraja, westerners use the left hemisphere of their brain too much.
For simplicity of explanation, the left hemisphere is associated with analytical, rational and logical processing, whereas the right hemisphere is associated with abstract thought, non-verbal awareness, visual & spatial perception and the expression and modulation of emotions. In the western world, most individuals navigate through their everyday life in a fashion dominated by left brain thinking. Missing out on right brain activity results in too much thinking going on: too much frantic doing, not enough time being.
The Neuroscience of Emotions
Emotions are triggered in the brain by thoughts, which are often unconscious.
When we are confronted by a potential threat, this can trigger fear, anger or the urge to flee (sometimes called "amygdala hijack"). The reaction is often disproportionate to the actual provocation.
When in the grip of these emotions, your capacity for higher "rational brain" thinking is diminished, and you are likely to revert to rote behaviours stored in the basal ganglia.
The practice of mindfulness helps us to recognise and observe our thought patterns. Practitioners develop the ability to recognise when thoughts arise, and observe them in a detached manner, without the need to become involved in them (thus not triggering an emotional or "automatic" reaction).
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