Why we need to be mindful – it’s our parental responsibilty.

I’ve always lived for the moment – as a teenager, then as a student at university and during my days as a travelling teacher.  My dad would say to me, “Caroline, Life’s not one big party!” but I always lived like it was, that was until I had responsibility.

I was well into my thirties, a marriage, a mortgage and a baby, which I left as late as I possibly could!  I found all this to be a challenging time – being tied down.  I wasn’t young free and single anymore; wasn’t quite sure that I had imagined my life to be like this and although I wasn’t unhappy I had this resentment.  I was generally agitated and snappy, I was not the thrill-seeking, gorgeous and fun-loving Cazza that everyone wanted to party with – I’d talk about the good old days; the grass was always greener and so I continued the daily trudge, not looking as good and most certainly not feeling as gorgeous as I used to feel.

When my daughter was born I was overjoyed, I loved being a mum and I’ll never forget my best friend Clare saying how wonderful I was – a real natural and she often recalls a moment when I lifted up my daughter and how I was bursting with joy – yes, I remember magical moments but I also remember the times when reading stories skipping through the pages, turning two at a time because she was too young to notice and always in a rush, dashing to the baby group, always late, stressed making dinner.  I was a whirlwind!  My husband used to say that it was like I was running the country.

It was only when I attended an eight-week mindfulness course that I realised I had missed some really precious moments, moments that have now passed because I was too caught up in my head.  I suppose that’s the reason I’ve been known by my friends as Little Miss Schemer – always doing something new, a band promoter, a personal trainer, a life coach.  On reflection, I can now see that I was always somewhere else but never present.

Today I am PRESENT and to whoever is reading this I want you also to bask in the present because it really is all that we have.  I urge you not to miss out on your time with your children, I know that it is cliched and older people always say it, but the children really will be old in the blink of an eye.

If you take the time to study and practice mindfulness you will not only enrich your own life but will enrich your children’s lives too.  Is that not what we set out to do?  What’s the point of taking your children to fancy places and encouraging them to participate in all the activities if you are not leading by example and not being present?  We want our children to value what they have, but this won’t happen if WE are not engaged in the moment.  We need to lead by example and, of course, life is not always plain sailing but can be difficult, however, by adopting a mindful approach to the tricky situations and the challenges that life presents, we are teaching our children to deal more effectively with the challenges that they will inevitably face.

That is something that I want my daughter to learn most of all, I want her to be able to manage life’s challenges and recognise her present moment, to notice the times when she is perhaps spending too much time ruminating, because no matter what you are having to deal with, there is beauty in the world, whether this be the birds singing, the old man that walks his dog past your house at the same time every day, or the garbage man that always hollers hello when you don’t even know his name and not forgetting the magical beauty of each breath.  Mindfulness is an anchor to the present, as best you can – ground yourself,  take a deep breath and don’t let precious moments pass you by.

Check out our online course Mindfulness for Parents, where you can learn to meditate and live your life more mindfully.

 

Mindfulness for Parents

Feeling worn out, emotional, overwhelmed, gritting your teeth, unable to enjoy time with your child, no time for yourself?

Parenthood is a most precious gift, yet all too often with the demands of modern day life, we are unable to enjoy being a parent and the wonders of our children.  We have so many things to do that we get caught up and are often unable to see the wood for the trees.

If you have never meditated, you may wonder what it is like.  We tend to visualise a person sitting cross-legged in a calm and tranquil environment. Well, yes this can be one approach, however, meditating can be just sitting for a few minutes in a busy environment; the secret is that you are focusing on the present moment rather than your mind being all over the place.  This is what mindfulness teaches you and a lot more.

After practising mindfulness you will find that you are able to focus on just one thing at a time and you will begin to notice when you are multi-tasking and you will have the ability to slow down and make life more manageable.

We have created an online course Mindfulness for Parents which will teach you techniques to deal with the many situations that life throws at you.  It will help you to notice your thought patterns and discover why you may react in certain ways.  You will learn how to meditate, step out of autopilot, give yourself some kindness and compassion and live your life more mindfully.

If you follow our course, you will receive everything that you would if you attended a face-to-face course except you can do it in the comfort of your own home.

We hope you enjoy your mindfulness journey… it may just change your life!

Mindfulness Research Evidence

There is growing research evidence, which clearly identifies the benefits of practising mindfulness in a wide range of people – both children and adults.

Mindfulness has shown to help with anxiety, depression and pain and to be as effective in reducing recurrence of depression as anti-depressants.

MRI scans show that after an eight-week mindfulness course there are changes in the brain, which alter the way we deal with stressful situations; the amygdala shrinks and the pre-frontal cortex becomes more developed.

The amygdala is the part of the brain responsible for our primal response to danger and stress.  When under threat or stressful situations it releases hormones and the fight or flight response kicks in.  This is the part of the brain which responds when we are in traffic jams or similar types of stressful situations.  We can not fight or run away and so primal responses are not helpful or being put to good use.   If you tend to respond to stressful situations by flaring up and getting into arguments then this is your primal response and is probably one you regret later.

The pre-frontal cortex, on the other hand, is the part of the brain which enables us to make more thoughtful responses such as analytical processing and more complex thinking, decision making, social decisions, and experiencing emotions.  We use this part of the brain when we are working things out.

Through mindfulness practice our primal responses to stress seem to be superseded by the more thoughtful responses, so we have more control over the way we react in certain situations.  Mindfulness ultimately gives us the ability to transform our behavioural patterns.

There are many other benefits too to be gained from meditating and living a more mindful life.

Health and Social Care – MindfulnessTraining Event – Manchester

Every year colleagues from the Manchester Catholic Education Partnership (MANCEP) meet in curriculum groups for training and networking.  This year the Health and Social Care Department at Loreto Sixth Form College invited Health and Social Care teachers from Xaverian Sixth Form College to attend a Mindfulness Training event at their college campus in Hulme, Manchester.

We had a full morning so could pack quite a lot in, including theory as well as practice.  There was a mixture of prior experience from the attendees; some having had no experience and others had practised mindfulness themselves and used it a little with their own pupils in the classroom. 

We began by briefly introducing what mindfulness is and where it originates from.  We then looked at some of the research evidence of how meditating can change the brain so that we are able to pause and react in an informed chosen way, rather than on impulse.

The feedback from the attendees was outstanding with some saying, “It was the best training they had received”.

SAGE Staff Wellbeing

The global company SAGE is at the forefront when looking after their staff wellbeing.  They recently held a company wellbeing week, of which we were pleased to be a part of at their Salford Quays office.

We provided a one-hour lunchtime mindfulness session to a team of Technical Advisors, Team Managers and Site Managers.  None of them had participated in mindfulness before and were curious to know more about it and to find out what the benefits might be.

We covered the basics: stepping out of autopilot, looking at things from the beginner’s mind, short and longer breathing meditations and a body scan.

The feedback was very positive; after each meditation, they said they felt a sense of calm, and their minds were less cluttered with thoughts.  Many members of staff said they would benefit from being able to introduce mindfulness into their daily lives and expressed how difficult this was for those who worked full time.  We discussed building mindfulness into their working day, for example, taking a few moments at their desk to do a three-minute breathing space.  We also talked about the possibility of finding a quiet space in the workplace where they could sit and meditate for ten minutes.

If you would like to introduce mindfulness into your workplace, then please contact us and we would be happy to discuss this with you.

Workplace Healthcare

We had the pleasure of delivering mindfulness as part of a Health and Wellbeing Day organised by Workplace Healthcare.  We were greeted and made to feel welcome by the very friendly staff who had been treated to a variety of well-being activities, including massage.  Some arrived at our session already feeling relaxed.

The previous experience of the staff was mixed; some had done a little mindfulness practice before, whilst some had heard of it but didn’t really know much about it, and those who had practised before didn’t have a regular mindfulness routine in place.

The session was divided into three sections. The first focussed on ‘stepping out of autopilot’.  We then moved on to noticing our thoughts and becoming aware of how often our minds are distracted.  We ended the session with a body scan, becoming aware of what is happening in our body, rather than always being ‘in our heads’.

By the end of the session, they all said they had felt the benefit.  From the written feedback they said they found it ‘very useful’ and was of ‘benefit to them’ and would like more mindfulness in the workplace in the future.

A few of the comments we received:

“I felt I could finally relax and usually I struggle.  I thoroughly enjoyed and feel enlightened.”

“Very relaxing and informative.  I actually switched off.”

“The enthusiasm of the teachers.  They are lovely.”

Two Wonderful Mindfulness Days

We spent two wonderful days at Gorse Hill Primary School delivering mindfulness to children, parents, and staff. We began each session by introducing ‘Stepping out of Autopilot’ and looking at something with a ‘Beginner’s Mind’. We wrapped Maltesers in foil and asked the children to examine this object very closely before allowing them to eat it. We asked them to pretend they were aliens who had never seen this strange shiny object before. Looking at something from the beginner’s mind is something that children do automatically as they discover new things, but as children grow they begin to lose the curiosity around things we see in every-day life.

The younger children were really interested in the crinkling sound of the silver paper as they examined the object. They came up with lots of lovely vocabulary to describe it such as crinkly, crackly, shiny, sphere shape, and smooth chocolate. They immediately began to make predictions of what may be inside the foil such as a pebble or a marble. The older children commented on things they didn’t expect such as the smoothness of the chocolate in the mouth and the way the Malteser dissolved on the tongue. One child said, “Normally when I eat chocolate I don’t notice the smooth texture because I eat it so quickly”.

We introduced listening to sounds to the younger children by playing a few musical instruments. We asked them to close their eyes as they were transported away from automatic pilot and were able to focus entirely on the sounds they could hear. They were eager to tell us what the sound of each instrument reminded them of, such as rain falling on a roof, a frog croaking and a snake rattling. They used really interesting vocabulary to describe what they heard. They enjoyed sitting in stillness and tried very hard to keep their eyes closed!

The older children were introduced to a ‘Noticing Distraction’ meditation. The feedback from this was really encouraging. One pupil, at the beginning of the session, had difficulty sitting still and had called out many times. After this meditation, she told us that she was now aware of how busy her mind had been and was able to calm this internal chatter by focusing on the breath. The transformation in that one session was quite remarkable.

We ended each session with a short, seated body scan. The children told us they didn’t usually notice how their clothing and shoes felt in contact with their skin. They had never thought about what it felt like to sit in a chair. They didn’t realise they could feel their feet on the floor and noticed lots of different sensations in the body. Most of all, they felt totally relaxed and said it had taken their worries away.

At the end of the day one, we delivered an introductory session to parents, who were interested in what mindfulness was all about and also wanted to work with their children on mindful activities. At the end of day two, we delivered an introductory session to the staff, who said they hoped to continue with the mindful practices as they thought it would help to reduce their stress levels.

We would like to thank Kirsty Chrysler, Deputy Head, for organising, and inviting us in to deliver, the two wonderful mindful days. We received really nice feedback from staff and children about the whole experience.

Teacher Wellbeing Day

We had the pleasure of introducing mindfulness to the amazing staff at Green Fold Special School, Farnworth, Bolton as part of their Health and Wellbeing Day. The staff had no idea that they would be scrutinising a raisin that morning but that’s exactly what they did as we talked about stepping out of autopilot.

We live so much of our lives in autopilot, doing one thing whilst our minds are already on the next. Our brains are very clever at allowing us to do routine activities without actually having to focus our attention on what we are doing. This is an invaluable skill but if we live in this mode all of the time we can miss what’s actually happening in the present moment.

There were lots of interesting responses to the raisin exercise. Some members of staff noticed the rich flavour of the raisin, which they hadn’t observed before, as one of them said, “I usually just grab a handful and eat them without really noticing what they taste like”. Another enjoyed the sensation of rolling the raisin between the fingers; whilst another told us how surprised they were that a raisin could make a sound.

We also introduced a noticing distraction meditation. The staff were surprised to notice how many times their minds wandered from one thought to the next and how a chain of thoughts could be totally unrelated to one another. We call this the ‘Monkey Mind’ because our thoughts jump to and fro, just like a monkey jumping back and forth through the trees.

We ended the session with a short, seated body scan. By focusing our attention on the body we are able to move away from the internal chatter going on in our minds. One participant said, “I have never noticed before the feel of my shoes and clothing in contact with my skin”. Another said, “I felt like I was floating.” By the end of the body scan the staff were feeling totally relaxed, in fact so relaxed they didn’t want it to end.

We thank Gary Anders, Headteacher, for inviting us to take part in their day. We received lovely feedback from the staff and the mindful experience was enjoyed by all.

Stepping out of auto pilot

We operate on automatic pilot most of the time and our brains are so powerful that we are able to do most everyday things without actively thinking about what we are doing.  How often do you brush your teeth, put the kettle on, make a cup of tea, wash the dishes, take a shower and hundreds of other daily activities and not even notice anything about what you are doing?

When we learn to drive a car we pay attention to the steering, we focus on how much pressure we apply to the accelerator, concentrate on the tricky manoeuvre of depressing the clutch and releasing the accelerator whilst changing gear, and then breaking without catapulting the instructor through the windscreen. In the beginning, we wonder how on earth we are going to master this skill as there are so many different things to focus on simultaneously, however, within a few weeks we have begun to do many of the skills involved automatically. We can even drive from home to work without even recalling how we got there.

When we teach young children to brush their teeth, we show them how to hold the brush, how much toothpaste to apply, how to brush each surface of the teeth, and how to rinse. They do this all with great curiosity and pleasure. When adults brush their teeth they do this on automatic pilot and probably look at it as a chore that has to be done and may even begin multitasking by walking away from the sink to do something else at the same time.

When babies eat their first solid food, they are experiencing the feel of the spoon in their mouth, the texture of the food on their tongue and the new flavour reaching their taste buds. They take their time to eat and are not worried if the food spills out all over their face, hands and clothes. We gradually teach the child to eat neatly so as to remain clean and as they grow up it all becomes automatic and they no longer have to think about the eating process. As adults, we often eat whilst watching the TV and may not even recall eating the meal. We miss so much of our lives because we are not aware of what is happening in the present moment.

So how can we step out of autopilot? There are certain things we need to be able to do automatically, for example, when typing on a keyboard you don’t want to stop to notice what it feels like to touch each key. However, there are certain things that we do every day that we can pay more attention to if we purposely turn our minds to it. The next time you take a shower, notice the water temperature on your skin, smell the soap, tilt your head back and allow the water to fall onto the top of your forehead, maybe turn the temperature down a little to see what that feels like. When you do an activity like this you are stepping out of autopilot and becoming aware of what is happening in the present moment.   This can be applied to all sorts of everyday activities, such as eating, getting dressed, walking, cooking and cleaning. Try paying attention to a different activity each day for a week and see what you notice.

Emotional Friendly Schools 3rd Annual Conference

Staff wellbeing was this year’s focus at the Emotional Friendly Schools Conference and was very well attended.  A big thank you to Hannah Cartmell and Anna Serjeant for organising this excellent event.

Graphic by Inky Thinking

The key-note speaker Professor Neil Humphrey began the day with some alarming statistics around the poor mental health and wellbeing of teachers. To demonstrate the opinions of the delegates around this topic he asked them to take part in a live poll using Mentimeter.

Ever felt like giving up?

The results of the poll showed that 58% said they had felt so stressed over the last two years that they had given serious consideration to leaving the profession. It’s quite possible this statistic would have been even higher had the room been filled with just teachers.  He also asked, “What has an impact on your wellbeing at school?” and the option ‘Demands (e.g. workload)’ received a huge 87% response.  Professor Humphrey also reminded us of why we continue to do the job, with 63% saying they experienced weekly “…one of those joyful ‘moments’, where you are reminded why you became a teacher in the first place” and 23% experienced this daily. The poll was, of course, done in a light-hearted and fun way, however, I think it’s a very good demonstration of the feelings within the profession today.

Ever flipped your lid?

Unfortunately, I was one of those statistics. I became so stressed that I began to suffer with anxiety and subsequently developed a heart condition and depression. I was fortunate to be offered mindfulness as part of my recovery and it literally turned my life around. It wasn’t a quick fix but a lifestyle change. I began, for the first time, to see what I was putting myself through on a daily basis. I decided to leave my full time teaching job and I am now a qualified mindfulness teacher delivering mindfulness to schools, colleges and the mental health charity Mind in Salford.

We were heartened to hear from Professor Humphrey that the Manchester Institute of Education are including mindfulness as part of the teacher-training programme, so the new cohorts will have the tools under their belt to deal with the stresses and strains of the profession.

The Government Guidelines recommend all mindfulness teachers should have completed an eight-week mindfulness programme, plus a one-year supervised pathway (or other similar qualification), and have their own personal mindfulness practice well established. This is because mindfulness isn’t a quick fix, like putting on a sticking plaster. It is a subtle practice and can only be taught well by people with considerable personal experience. It is not something that can be learnt quickly. It is deceptively simple, and people can easily think that they know what it is when they are actually only using a small aspect of mindfulness. Presented simplistically, or with misinterpretations, the radical perspective-shifting potential of the approach is lost.

The success of mindfulness programmes in school depends to a considerable extent on the quality and experience of the teacher’s own mindfulness practice, and this can take several years of sustained personal commitment well beyond the formal training. Quality is also affected by how it is implemented; an isolated instance of a teacher working with one class is less effective than a whole school approach in which everyone in the school community including parents and all the staff participate in the programme. (Mindful Nation UK, Report by the Mindfulness All-Parliamentary Parliament Group (MAPPG), October 2015).

We were delighted to be able to deliver a workshop at the conference on mindfulness, which was really well received. We were able to give delegates a taster, which included:

  • Stepping out of autopilot: to help you become aware of how much we operate on automatic pilot and don’t stop to notice what’s happening around us, or to enjoy what is happening in the present moment.
  • Noticing distraction: to notice where our thoughts are. We get caught up in planning what we need to do, or thinking about what somebody said, or maybe having an imaginary conversation, which may not ever happen. Our minds are constantly caught up in thoughts and this practice is great for noticing what our minds are doing.
  • Body scan: this helps us to become more attuned with
    what’s happening in our body.  We may be unaware that we are holding tensionin our body, and may not have noticed this until we stop and focus our attention. Through meditation we train our brain to notice when we are feeling anxious, what we are feeling and begin to recognise sensations such as shallow breathing.

The conference was rounded up by Inky Thinking who were amazing at getting everyone to come up with ways of improving their school’s wellbeing. They drew a huge graphic to reflect what the conference was all about (image at the beginning of this blog).  Each group came up with unique ways to improve staff wellbeing, centred around the question, “What will staff wellbeing at your school look like?” Groups came up with ideas from toolkits to singing and it was interesting to see many people had included the need for mindfulness in their school.  Below are ideas from a couple of the groups: