I was excited to find this gorgeous image of a bird flying free from a cage for the poster for my next course. It is a symbol that resonates with changes that I have been through. For 12 years I worked in desk-based jobs, including in a job I was really passionate about, in the NHS – supporting the monitoring and improvement of quality of care and patient safety. However I just couldn’t quite fit myself into the role, I kept trying but it just didn’t suit me, and I got very stressed. Also sitting at a desk and in meetings all day I felt trapped – so my physical and mental health suffered. I felt like I was in a cage, being physically seated for so many hours of the day, as well as trying to fit myself into a role that did not feel like the real me. I was lucky enough to be able to leave the job (well actually my body and mind wouldn’t let me stay!) and went travelling, to try to figure out myself, and my life – and realised I could not return to a full-time desk job… so I went on to do yoga teacher training, and pursue an alternative career.
Back in the UK and building up my business, I was still struggling with some difficulties – feeling trapped in certain patterns of thought and behaviour – again this was like another cage that I found myself inhabiting. I heard about mindfulness and read the wonderful book “Full Catastrophe Living” by Jon Kabat-Zinn. I tried to do the programme on my own but it was too hard to be disciplined to do it all, and realised I needed to do a course. Lucky for me, I found an 8 week course with my teacher Marianne in Stroud – and it was a revelation! Having practised yoga and meditation for years, I found the course gave me practical tools to change how I relate to stress and difficulty.
So how does it work? The meditation practices and course content of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) give us two important skills:
1. We learn to gather ourselves into the present moment – finding a stable anchor in the physical sensations of the body and breath. For example: feet on the floor. Breath movement in the belly. We learn to steady and calm the body/mind, stepping out of the stream of thoughts (even for just a tiny moment) to inhabit the present moment more fully.
2. We inquire into the nature of our experience as it is right now. This gives us the chance to see ourselves and situations more clearly, and the possibility of making positive changes.
With these skills we can see where we need to better take care of ourselves and take action to make some changes; where we need to practice acceptance of things we can’t change; and we can learn to savour and discover great joy in the small pleasures in life – sunrise, birdsong, etc. The present moment becomes more vivid and can be a source of great comfort.
As part of these practices, we can also learn to observe our thoughts and disentangle ourselves from them… recognising the nature of our patterns of thought – often worrying about the future, or re-playing the past, analysing, judging, etc. In our culture it is also very common to experience critical thoughts about ourselves and others.
During my first mindfulness course in 2014, as I learned these skills, I realised I had to quit a part-time admin job as it was just not right for me. I started to see how I could use stress as a signal to prompt me to take care of myself better and make necessary changes in my life. I learned to cope much better with my asthma symptoms when they arise – allowing them to be there, learning to be with them with a greater sense of ease, rather than resisting them – which made me feel worse. I have noticed critical and judgemental thoughts about myself as a teacher, and have learned to allow them to be there but not get caught up in them – yes the thoughts are there, they are real, but not necessarily true!
What stresses do you notice in your life that you could deal with better? To find out more about this course, come along to my FREE taster session on 26th September, 7-8pm at GL11 Community Hub, Cam, near Dursley in Gloucestershire, read more about the course here, and contact me to book on.