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Page published on 13th June 2023
Page last modified on 13th June 2023

 

To mark Mental Health Awareness Week 2023, IP Inclusive and Jonathan’s Voice held a free webinar on mindfulness (see here). Led by Dr Sally Rose, the webinar looked at the history and different practices of mindfulness, as well as offering the opportunity to sample a variety of techniques to fit mindful moments into our busy lives.

Dr Sally Rose is a psychotherapist and mindfulness teacher, who leads the Staff Counselling and Psychological Support Service at the University of Leeds. Her passion and interest is understanding practices that work across the whole mental health continuum, from optimising our minds for flourishing and supporting our minds in the workplace, to working with stress and overcoming challenges.

Dr Rose started by exploring what our minds are usually like. She asked us to stop for a moment, drop our eyes and observe what our mind gets up to. Our mind may have gone blank, or noticed thinking, or thought about what happened a few moments before, or even started a running commentary. When we are not focused on a particular task the mind goes into freeform wandering.

Whilst it is normal for our minds to wander, it can leave us vulnerable. This default mode of a freeform wandering mind can be a pleasant experience as our thoughts wander off to sunny beaches, or really unpleasant if we descend into overwhelming worry and anxiety. In 2010 some research psychologists found the mind is wandering about 47% of the time in a normal working day, which has implications for errors, getting lost, and getting anxious. They found we were less happy and content in wandering times than in the present. And in the modern world with devices and alerts working to hijack our attention all the time, it is ever more easy for the distractible mind to be, well, distracted!

The rationale for coming to some sense of agency over this runaway mind is strong both from an effectiveness and a wellbeing perspective. How do we go about having a more active role in engaging with this mind that has an energy and life of its own? This is where the applied meditation techniques of mindfulness come in.

Dr Rose guided us to close our eyes and focus on our feet, to get a sensory resource that we could draw our attention to. There are many sensory anchors you could use, such as hands, the body, breathing, standing, sound or smells. In default mode we are thinking about whatever grabs our attention. For mindfulness we need to get hold of our attention and bring it under control by bringing it to something that is real. It is perfectly normal to find it hard, and still be thinking about other things!

Many may have experienced feeling bored, impatient, physical discomfort, underlying emotions. Often people are put off by experiencing these things, but noticing these things is part of mindfulness. They can help with self-awareness. What is important is that we are detached from them. We are not fused with the experience; we are in a position of observation which is a position of power. We can choose where we go next and replace automatic reaction with a chosen response.

The two key components of mindfulness are attention regulation, and curiosity and interest. By paying attention on purpose we can see what is actually here (for example our feet on the floor), not what we think is going on (waves of emails crashing down on us). This brings us out of fear mode and into a more benign and helpful sensation of there is nothing dangerous going on in the feet. We can take a quick moment to focus on a sensory anchor any time throughout the day, feeling our feet as we sit at our desk, focusing on the sensation of standing as we queue for coffee, feeling the sensation of weight shifting from foot to foot as we walk, or listening to all the sounds around us.

Paying attention on purpose can be brought not only to formal practice, with someone guiding or using an app, but also into everyday moments in our lives. Our default networks are encouraged and stimulated by the way we work and live today, but mindfulness is proven to bring great physical and mental health benefits, as well as benefits to decision-making and cognitive processes.

“Wherever we are we can take a deep breath, feel our body, open our senses, and step outside the endless stories of the mind.”
(Jack Kornfield)

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