The Journey of a Mindfulness Practice
It started with my bully!
If I am honest, my interest in mindfulness journey started because of my inner bully! For a dozen years, I had that bullying voice telling me I had to do and be my best. I hadn’t really recognised it as a bully, I saw it as inspiring, it created my drive.
Anyway, that voice had me constantly reaching for each new self-development book – striving for the thing that would make me the best version of myself. Many of the people I read about and admired had some sort of mindfulness practice and I started my exploration because of that.
An 8-week mindfulness course and a body scan
I started with Mark Williams’ 8-week mindfulness course which had me practicing being in the moment and doing an occasional body scan or breathing meditation for a while.
It was interesting while it lasted but I soon fell off the wagon. It did remind me that my Dad had told me about doing a body scan when I was about 11! I had a variety of recorded meditations that I dipped into, particularly when we were having some stressful family times.
Something that worked for me
A few years later I listened to David Michie’s “Hurry Up and Meditate”. I liked this because it explained lots of different ways I could meditate and I was inspired by the difference it had made to his life. It didn’t result in me doing anything particularly consistently, but I it gave me permission to play around with what worked for me and invited a lack of judgment.
I eventually came across Sandy Newbigging’s work “Mind Calm” and at last, found something I could get my teeth into and stay with for a little while. So, for a couple of years, I used his version of meditation pretty regularly, as well as occasionally attending our local Buddhist Centre where I really enjoyed being led in group meditation.
Fresh Air Fridays made a difference
As I started to deliver more programmes with Fresh Air Fridays I was regularly leading meditations on our sessions. This is when I really started to notice that a regular formal practice of some kind served me.
The more I practiced, the more I knew that having a meditation routine worked for me, however short it may be. I began to be aware of a calmer undercurrent running through my life. Though I can be as triggered as the next person, it lasts for a much shorter time than it used to. Most of the time, I quickly notice when I am caught up in a story. The days when I take time to have some sort of sitting practice first thing in the morning seem to go much more smoothly than those when I don’t take that 10 to 30 minutes. I definitely sleep better and, on the rare occasions that I do wake up, I now have my breath as a simple safe practice to focus on – even if sleep eludes me.
I can’t do it!
This is a not uncommon refrain when I first introduce people to the idea of some kind of structured meditation. What they appear to mean is that when they attempt to sit and still their mind for a moment, their brain is busy and noisy. My belief is that this is the experience for most people when they start and, in my own experience, often still is.
However, these days I frequently notice that I am thinking and gently bring myself back to wherever I had intended my focus to be, whether that is on my breath, a candle flame, what I am hearing or on a particular part of my body. When I first started meditating it took me much longer to notice when my mind had wandered off.
Here is how some of our facilitators practice mindfulness:
In terms of Being Present, I particularly enjoy the technique of tuning into my senses – consciously and in turn. I’ve found that focusing on what I can hear and that alone, really stills my mind and focusing on smell has me breathing better. I say better as in breathing more deeply, from lower down. Overall, paying attention to my senses one at a time brings me closer to my body and raises awareness of what’s happening there. It’s quite astonishing how we are attached to our bodies and yet so often not!
I find being outside is the best way for me to be present and I use my senses to see, hear and feel what is around me. Whenever I’m feeling anxious or stressed getting outside combined with some deep breathing is wonderful. I sometimes go to a mindfulness drop-in session which the lady who trained me in mindfulness runs. I also listen to headspace meditations quite frequently and find this particularly helpful when on a crowded train. When at home, I love to listen to my favourite music to become present and I enjoy being present whilst baking. My most favourite way of being present is to sit and watch the sea, I could do it for hours. Read more about Corrine’s story.
Two very different ways for me…
Absolutely love running water, either the sea or a quick running river or stream. Think it’s the white noise together with the never-ending-ness that does it.
The other is singing. I love singing both by myself in the car and with others in a choir. I can feel the music in my body and can think of nothing else while singing except the notes and harmony…
I’m with Saranne re singing – absolutely feel the music and harmonies make me tingle! The singing also causes deep breathing and a real attention to breath, posture and head.
The awesomeness of nature and the way it is formed.
I try and meditate between 10-20 mins daily and I notice after a running streak of a few days my energy is more balanced, I’m more focused and productive. I tune into my breath at many opportunities, at my desk, traffic lights, checkout in Lidl! And definitely when I’m out walking tuning into my senses.
Informally, I often pause when I see birds in the garden and notice myself smiling. Skiing last week was a wonderful exercise in mindful awareness – very present to the nuances of my feet, knees and hips in particular as I moved across or down the mountain, the variations in temperature and feelings of exhilaration and sometimes fear! Like Leah, I have a regular formal practice and notice that I’m less grounded if I don’t meditate for some reason.
It’s walking in the woods or by water for me. I particularly love tuning into the sounds and find this the easiest sense to focus on. I also try and do routine things mindfully – washing up, driving etc. I find that it slows me down, which is welcome as my natural habit is to rush around. I will do a more formal mindfulness when I need to bring more balance and calmness in.
I love that everyone has a slightly different experience. When I was speaking at an event the other day I was listed as a mindfulness expert, which made me smile. I do know a lot about mindfulness, but the place I have an interest in being expert is in my own mindfulness practice. It is a continuous and joyful journey of exploration.
These days when the alarm goes off, the idea of sitting snuggled in a blanket to meditate feels like a lovely treat to start my day. When I walk in a field and hear the birds sing or notice the green of moss on a tree, that presence has me savour the richness of life. Maybe you are already on your own mindfulness journey, if not, I encourage you to start an exploration of your own!
I was introduced to Mindfulness about 9 years ago as part of my work as a psychotherapist. I got Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book Full Catastrophe Living and the CD with the exercises, the sitting meditation, the body scan and mindful yoga, which I did on my own regularly. And soon after I was introducing my clients to these practices.
It was much later that I did the 8-week programme with a teacher in a group. This was indeed life changing in many ways. I became more self aware, more centred, happier. It also increased my ability to help my clients.
More recently I did the 8-week programme again as an online course and this expanded and consolidated my practice.
Mindfulness is very much a part of my life in the way I stop and look often at my feelings, thoughts and physical sensations, just to notice, not to analyse or change anything. I’m also very tuned into my senses and use them consciously to notice the world around.
These days I integrate my practice of Mindfulness mostly in a non structured way throughout my day noticing all I can, being present both inward and outwardly, having brief moments of non-doing, tuning in to my breath. I also practice mindful yoga regularly, in a slow way, being aware of what happens in my body in every little movement and stretch. I find this essential, as our body, not our mind, is our most important source of truth.
Sometimes, when I stop my bike at a traffic light, I do a few arm stretches and I feel better. They must think I’m crazy, but I don’t mind. I think it’s amusing.