Mindfulness for Health immersion retreat June 2018

Hello,

Welcome to my latest blog post, really good to see you here.

Today I would like to tell you about my week.

The week started off at a meditation retreat at Adhistana Buddhist centre in Ledbury and then finished off with me volunteering at the third session of the Mindfulness for Health course in Manchester that I have been supporting (blog post about this to follow separately).

So where to start?

I arrived at the retreat feeling exhausted, but excited to have the opportunity to take some time out of my busy schedule to rest and rejuvenate. The surroundings at Adhistana Buddhist Centre were absolutely gorgeous! This made the habit releaser part of the Breathworks course of spending time in nature a lot easier 🙂

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This was a Mindfulness for Health immersion retreat led by two of the founders of Breathworks. Vidyamala Burch and Sona, as well as Andrea who is the Breathworks trainer who I support in Manchester.

Those of you that know me, or follow my Facebook page BreathworksMK will know that Vidyamala is a massive role model to me. I am inspired by her life story and how she has learnt with mindfulness and training her brain to live a good life alongside her pain and has entered a phase of her life that she describes as flourishing.

I managed to overcome my nerves and pluck up the courage to talk to her a couple of times on the retreat and for this opportunity I am extremely grateful. For someone who has done so much good for others and achieved so much, Vidyamala is very humble, down to earth and very approachable!

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If you don’t know about Vidyamala and her life story I highly recommend some of Vidyamala’s videos available on You Tube. Here is a good one:

 

There was quite a mix of participants on the retreat, all there for various reasons. Trainee Breathworks teachers like myself, some fully accredited teachers looking to undertake their required yearly retreat and some participants who have never done a face-to-face Breathworks course before and were looking to immerse themselves in the course and retreat experience!

There were quite a mix of conditions that people had on the course as well, some with chronic pain like myself and some with mental health issues, stress, anxiety etc…

I had been on retreat before as part of the teacher training program and had an idea of how the retreats are. Here is an outline of the daily program that we followed. As you can see it was a packed schedule:

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As part of the schedule participants are encouraged to take part in a work rota. As a way of giving back to the community that live at the retreat centre and do so much work behind the scenes. I did some washing up after dinner one evening and enjoyed the opportunity to contribute. However, I ended up hurting my back as the cooking pots that I was washing by hand were very large!

This very much reaffirmed the need for me to pace my activities, another thing very much advocated for in the Mindfulness for Health course and to learn to work within my physical limitations. I do this a lot of the time, however there are occasions where I forget and therefore the washing up and the pain afterwards was a much needed reminder!

 

There were several activities that we did during the retreat which helped me to manage my pain.

One was a part of the course that covers mindful movements. These are very gentle movements that are undertaken, whilst being aware of the breath and the sensations in the body. Balanced effort is required, which means working in the middle-ground, between the hard and soft edges of any particular movement. The hard edge being where you are working too hard, e.g. stretching too far and risking injuring yourself, or causing further pain and discomfort. The soft edge being where you are not working hard enough. This may be due to fear of moving, fear that by moving you will aggravate further pain and discomfort.

We did some mindful movements first thing in the morning before the morning meditation session and a further mindful movement session before the body scan meditation just before lunch. Here are some examples of some of the mindful movements, movements can be done sitting, standing, or laying down:

Introduction to setting up your position for mindful movements:

 

Another part of the course that really helped me in reducing my pain was seeking out the pleasant through the Treasure of pleasure meditation and an exercise where we had a grid showing the senses, sight, smell, touch, taste, hearing and activity and we had to go inside and outside into nature and seek out pleasant experiences and stay with them for at least 5 second

The idea behind this exercise was to overcome the brains inbuilt negativity bias and to help in the process of rewiring the brain to take in and to appreciate more positive experiences. If you are in pain, the brain is often under threat and on high alert for the negative. You attention will become narrowed to focus acutely on the pain and is likely to shut out, ignore positive experiences. It is said that positive experiences slide off of us like teflon and negative experiences stick to us like velcro! This is the basic idea behind neuroscience. It is said that neurons that fire together, wire together, so in simple terms, by focusing on the positive (as we do during this exercise) we are seeking to promote the formation of new neural pathways in the brain that are more positive and less reactive to negative and painful experiences.

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This concept is explained really well by this ted talk given by Dr Rick Hanson:

 

Here are some of the positive things that I found on my hunt for pleasant experiences. I found that staying with each pleasant thing for 5 seconds or longer really immersed me in the experience. I felt more positive by doing this and was less aware of my pain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you can see there were lots of pleasant experiences to be had. I found that a lot of my pleasant experiences involved sight and touch. Some pleasant touch experiences involved being barefoot on a really soft rug and on the grass outside. Also touching a soft cushion, flower petals and the bark on the tree. I highly recommend this exercise if you have the time.

The meditation covering this part of the course is the Treasure of Pleasure. A guided version of this meditation is here if you would like to give it a go:

 

I had lots of ups and downs during this week on retreat. It ended on an absolute high, I felt relaxed and at ease and my inner child was very much out and enjoying herself in the moment!!

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I’m sure that there is much more that I could say about my experience on retreat.

If you have any questions about Breathworks, or about the retreat please get in touch. I would love to hear from you.

Warm wishes,

Mary 🙂

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Volunteering on a Mindfulness for Health course – session two

Happy weekend everyone, I hope that you are all well.

Today was my second session volunteering on the Mindfulness for Health course in Manchester. It feels like a good time to share with you all my experiences of volunteering in aid of National Volunteer week here in the UK:

 

If you’d like to learn more about some of the benefits of volunteering please check out my last blog post: ‘Volunteering on a Mindfulness for Health course – session one.’

We started off the session with a breathing anchor meditation practice, which was very much needed as some of us had very stressful journeys into Manchester.

Here’s a link to a breathing anchor meditation practice led by Vidyamala Burch if you would like to give it a try:

My job was to give out extra blankets and cushions if people needed them in order to increase their comfort.

Here is a quote that was shared with us which I found to be quite helpful:

‘Use the breath as an anchor to tether your attention to the present moment. Your thinking mind will drift here and there, depending on the currents and winds moving until, at some point the anchor line grows taught and brings you back’

(Jon Kabat-Zinn)

We then had time to share our experiences of our home practice in pairs. One person would talk mindfully and the other person would listen mindfully. Helping the person to explore their experience more deeply.

Home practice is where we are encouraged in between the taught face-to-face sessions to practice the meditations on our own at home for 10 minutes twice a day.

My experience of home practice is that it has been challenging! I shared with my partner that I have the meditations on my phone and will tend to do the meditations on the go. For example, I might get to work early, park my car and then meditate in the car. I might go for a walk in nature and find a quiet spot by the lake to meditate:

 

Alternatively I meditate last thing at night whilst in bed to help me relax and get to sleep:

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If you are looking for online meditations I recommend You Tube, Soundcloud, or downloading the Mindfulness for Health book via Audible, which you can find at the following: https://www.audible.co.uk/pd/Health-Personal-Development/Mindfulness-for-Health-Audiobook/B00EOT9NPG?ref=a_search_c3_lProduct_1_1&pf_rd_p=c6e316b8-14da-418d-8f91-b3cad83c5183&pf_rd_r=GA2E2ZHT5ZB01KC5NZ6H&

If you are not already a member of Audible it is free to download your first book.

The next part of the session was mindful movement, which was described as a moving body scan. Mindful movement is all about learning where your soft and hard edges are. Soft edges where we are maybe not moving enough and hard edges where we are pushing the body too hard, beyond it’s current limits and risking increased pain and discomfort and possible injury.

Here are a couple of examples of mindful movements:

 

 

Mindful movements can be done laying down, seated and standing.

You are encouraged not to work beyond your current level of comfort and physical capacity and adaptations to each move can be offered if needed. Such as a smaller range of motion, resting between movements, or leaving a particular movement out.

I find mindful movements really helpful at improving confidence in moving the body when in pain and helpful when it is difficult to stay relaxed in a seated meditation due to pain, agitation.

The last parts of the afternoon included practising the three minute breathing practice, an example of a three minute breathing space is here:

This meditation can be used throughout the day as a means of checking in with the body and the breath. I quite often use this meditation as an emergency meditation if I am stressed, or have a stress event ahead, such as a presentation, or job interview.

The compassion practice was next, if you’d like to try this practice here is a link to a led meditation (the compassion practice is track 5):

 

So all in all the session was a busy one! It was lovely to be back at the Buddhist centre again and I enjoyed helping on the course and hearing about the participants experiences of meditation.

Here are some pictures that I took there today:

 

As ever if you have any questions, or you’d like to learn more about Breathworks mindfulness, or volunteering please get in touch.

Warm wishes,

 

Mary

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Volunteering on a Mindfulness for Health course – session one

Happy Bank holiday weekend to my lovely blog and Facebook page followers. Lovely to see you here.

So this blog post is to let you know how it was for me to volunteer on a Mindfulness for Health program run at one of the Breathworks offices in Manchester.

I was really excited for this opportunity to volunteer on a course run by one of the Senior trainers of Breathworks as this is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.

Assisting in the running of a mindfulness course is one of the requirements of the accreditation process to become a fully qualified Mindfulness teacher with Breathworks.

Now I’m not a massive fan of large busy cities, however whenever I visit Manchester it feels like a bit of a homecoming. The people that I’ve met have always been very friendly and welcoming and there is a very vibrant and diverse atmosphere in the City centre.

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Manchester was where I came for my first introduction to Breathworks, via the two three day introduction courses into Mindfulness and compassion for Health Care professionals. For more details check out the following link: http://www.breathworks-mindfulness.org.uk/intro-courses-for-h-p.

This was also the first time that I met Vidyamala Burch in person, who as you may know from my previous posts is a big role model for me in terms of being able to live a good life with a chronic pain, long-term health condition.

Life has been very busy here at BreathworksMK – Mindfulness Meditation and Counselling. So even the long train journey was a welcome opportunity for me to slow down and be mindful of the beautiful scenery viewed from the window and even the opportunity to meditate on the train. This is the beauty of mindfulness for me, you can literally meditate anywhere!

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Here is what the Buddhist Centre looks like, I always find it an oasis of calm in a busy City Centre.

I knew Andrea from a couple of the training retreats that I have been on. I was offered a very warm welcome and shown the Breathworks Office which is the hub of all the administration and running of courses at the Manchester Buddhist Centre. Whilst the setting of the course that I am helping to support is in a Buddhist Centre – the 8-week Breathworks mindfulness course is a secular course. Meaning that whatever your religious belief you are very welcome and can benefit from the practices and the ideas that are taught in the course.

My first job of the day was to take the register downstairs and the consent forms for the mindful movement aspect of the course and to welcome the participants of the course as they arrived. Making tea and coffee and talking to people are some of my specialities, so this was a lovely first job 🙂

Then it was time to go up into the course room and to do course introductions and a chance for the group to introduce themselves to the other course participants.

I was really struck by these introductions. Mine was that I was there to learn how the course is run as part of my teacher training. But also for personal reasons. Breathworks and the 8-week program has been absolutely life changing for me and I want to continue to use the meditations to support my own health and have the opportunity to help others with long-term pain and other long-term health conditions to learn these skills and hopefully to improve their quality of life.

The power of sharing in the group became apparent as people shared their struggles with various health issues and how for some this was a last resort, as they had absolutely tried everything else that medicine and the medical model has to offer them. I have absolutely been in this position in the past and could relate at a deep heartfelt level.

This course is run over four weeks, so each session is a double session, so weeks 1 and 2 of the course were taught today. I won’t share too many details of the enactments and concepts that are taught, as I highly recommend attending either a face-to-face, or an online course if you can get the opportunity. I don’t want to spoil it for you! 😉

Details of the online course taught by Breathworks are here: http://www.breathworks-mindfulness.org.uk/online-courses.

You can do a taster course, plus online versions of the Stress and Health course.

If you would like to find a Breathworks course local to where you live you could try this link: http://www.breathworks-mindfulness.org.uk/mindfulness-for-health/course-near-you

I have seen the enactments done before, but there was something special and impactful about seeing these enactments done in a group setting. Here is a video clip of one of the enactments to give you a taster:

 

Then we did a body scan meditation, which some people did sitting in a chair due to their health conditions and some people did laying on the floor. I was tasked with giving out extra cushions and blankets, which are always nice to have to get comfortable whilst meditating 🙂

Here is a guided body scan meditation that you can do if you’d like to. The idea is to bring your awareness to rest in a particular area of the body, say your head, see what you notice here and then progressively move your awareness down to each successive part of the body. So from the head we could move down to the neck, the shoulders, the arms etc…If you notice any pain in the body, you are encouraged to try and breathe into the area and soften it as best you can so that you can relax the body into gravity and allow it to sink into the support offered by the floor. You also have the choice to move the body and adjust your body position should you need to.

I highly recommend doing this meditation for 10 minutes twice a day for the next 6-7 days and see what you notice in your body and in your mind. Participants on the course are given a booklet with weekly grids to note down anything that comes up. You could quite easily buy a nice notebook to note down your observations, or even use the notes section of your phone.

 

The other meditation that we experienced together was the Breathing Anchor. Here is an example of a guided Breathing Anchor meditation:

The Breathing Anchor is one of my favourite meditations to do. The breath is always with us in every moment from birth, up until when we die. So it is a readily available sensation on which to focus.

We are encouraged to focus on the breath, the sensations of the breath, maybe at the nose, shoulders, rib cage, belly, and back. Then when thoughts arise, as they often will, you can acknowledge these thoughts and gently guide the awareness back to where it is that you are focusing on. The sensations in the body are in a sense an ‘anchor’ for the awareness, helping us to be more ‘present’ and thereby helping with concentration and mental focus.

You may have heard of the constantly thinking and distracted mind described as the monkey mind. I wonder if you can relate to some of these images?

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As with the Body Scan meditation, the advice is to practice the Breathing Anchor for 10 minutes, twice a day, for 6-7 days over the week.

If you think of meditation as a training for the brain – as we would train our physical body in the gym, I find it’s helpful in the establishing of a regular meditation routine. The more we train, the stronger the new connections in the brain become. Hopefully you will over time observe a reduction in the amount of pain experienced and your emotional reaction to it. Or you may notice improvements in your mental health, for example, a reduction in anxiety, stress, or depression.

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There is a lot of research to support the benefits of mindfulness for various health conditions. The research finding are too numerous for me to write here, but here is the link to some of the research that has been conducted by Breathworks into the effectiveness of their programs: http://www.breathworks-mindfulness.org.uk/research

 

Finally, I was asked to help tidy away the chairs, mats and cushions and to help tidy the kitchen area.

I had a great experience of assisting in this session and am very much looking forward to the next session.

 

As ever I would love to hear from you if you have any questions at all, or anything that you would like to share.

You can comment on this blog, or I do have a Facebook page ‘Breathworksmk – Mindfulness meditation and counselling’ where you could comment, message.

Until next time,

Warm wishes,

 

Mary 🙂 

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