7 July 2014

And, relax...

To tie in with the World Cup, the organisation I work for launched Healthy Workplace Month in June, with both mindfulness and relaxation sessions amongst the activities on offer. As I've been looking into mindfulness courses, it was a great opportunity to try out this meditation practice, which originated in Buddhism, but is now also used in a secular context. 

Core to the practice is 'being in the present moment' and it has proved successful in reducing anxiety and stress, and in helping to address aspects of OCD, such as intrusive thoughts, as part of a wider treatment programme.

Unfortunately, 'being late' is the cultural norm in my workplace, which the facilitator clearly wasn't prepared for. By the time everybody had ambled in - the last one 10 minutes after the scheduled start - she looked more stressed than any of us. I suspect, however, that she wasn't the only one taken aback by the woman who unpacked a sandwich and a bag of crisps (quickly abandoned when she realised what the session entailed).

After this somewhat disrupted start, the experience proved to be involving and interesting. We engaged in various exercises, including: clapping our hands and focussing on the resulting sensations; tracking our breathing; and 'eating the raisin'. For this last one, the facilitator showed us, through directed tasks, how to use all of our senses to really study an object.

I found it hard to focus on anything for long, without other thoughts intruding. We were encouraged to be non-judgmental about this 'failing' - easier said than done - and to gently guide our focus back.

The following week, I also joined in the relaxation session, which centred on breathing exercises. 

Image courtesy of stockimages/
Again, people arrived late, one asking 'Is this the relaxation session?'; I'm not sure what else we'd have been doing, sitting in a circle with our eyes shut. Again, someone wanted to eat - this time for medical reasons, but I still found it an odd expectation, given the nature of the event. She was encouraged to come back when she'd finished. 

This time the facilitator was a fellow employee, so knew what to expect of the participants and the environment. From the outset, she warned us that there would be noise and distractions and told us just to try to bring our attention back to ourselves. 

I found this immensely difficult, as a herd of tyrannosaurus rex appeared to be stampeding through the corridor outside - high heels have a lot to answer for - the person next to me was breathing as if they'd run a marathon and someone kept coughing. As before, it seemed that I could focus for no more than a few seconds at a time.

She told us to extend 'loving kindness' to ourselves and then to the others in the room. I tried to picture what that might look like, but all I could visualise was a giant octopus with tentacles reaching out to strangle everyone; I'm pretty sure that's not what she meant.

In spite of everything, both sessions were useful, and I'll definitely investigate mindfulness further. Hopefully, with practice, I'll achieve better focus, but even just taking this kind of quiet time out will be beneficial. 

Oh, and you don't have to sit a yoga position, so lack of flexibility is no excuse...

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Find out more about mindfulness on the Mental Health Foundation website.


Lindsay said...

Like you, I've done an intro to Mindfulness, and I think it has a lot to offer. I have used techniques to help me sleep - not always successfully, but I am at least more rested. As for the latecomers, who want to eat in the session - rude - they should have attended sessions run by a barrister who talks to NHS staff. When a woman came in about 5 minutes late, he said in a tone to make one shrink all over, 'Madam, I'm afraid you've come to the wrong session. This one began at nine o'clock.'

Anonymous said...

Love this post, and I chuckled over the octopus reference :). I find mindfulness helpful and also wrote a post about it a while back. I think the more you do it, the easier it becomes.

Tina Fariss Barbour said...

I had to laugh at your thoughts of the octopus. :-)

I have read about mindfulness, and I have a book and CD by Jon Kabat-Zinn that I'm working on now. I love the idea of mindfulness, and what I'm able to do has been very valuable. It's not easy, but I love the concept of nonjudgment when trying it.

Helen Barbour said...

Lindsay, the barrister anecdote is hilarious! I shall endeavour to employ that comment myself some time. Thank you sharing.

Helen Barbour said...

ocdtalk, I agree that I need to practise - my first mission is to get that octopus out of my head...

Helen Barbour said...

Tina, the facilitator mentioned Jon Kabat-Zinn, so those are resources I shall definitely look into. Thank you.