You’ve probably heard the word ‘mindfulness’, perhaps read about its benefits and might be interested in exploring it further. It might even be on your list of New Years resolutions. As a Craniosacral therapist mindfulness is a key aspect of my work with clients. But what is it and how can it actually help? In short, mindfulness is the practice of being aware of your present moment experience, without judgement. This includes being directly aware of what’s happening right now via the senses, and also your thoughts and emotions. You can cultivate this quality of mind through training, which will include meditation and other exercises. I find that clients who develop a mindfulness practice can benefit more fully from their sessions, and in turn, the nature of Craniosacral therapy further develops mindfulness. Here are five key ways a mindfulness practice can benefit you:
Mindfulness helps with stress
We all have unique, personal ways of spiraling into stress. Our ‘buttons get pressed’ by a variety of life situations. By developing your ability to pay attention to what is happening right now, you can learn to become aware of your own particular early warning signs of rising stress – tension in the stomach, cold hands, racing thoughts for example. These important signals indicate that our nervous system is elevating towards a ‘fight or flight’ style response – keeping us edgy and on high alert. These bodily warning signs are important, but often go unnoticed because we’re used to operating in a very busy, speedy way – being ‘in our heads’ rather than more fully in our bodies. Noticing how things begin to spiral for you offers the opportunity to press the pause button, slow down and pay attention. On a mindfulness course you will learn some practical techniques, involving the body and the breath, which interrupt that upward spiral. Over time you begin to have more choice over how you respond to situations, which can be empowering. Through regular practice you may notice that your fuse isn’t so short and that you’re generally a bit calmer and less reactive. As with anything worthwhile, it just takes practice.
Mindfulness helps you notice the good things in life
It can seem strange but we often live life on a kind of ‘autopilot’. We are going through our day, doing what we need to do, but not really noticing or paying much attention to life’s simpler pleasures. Scientists have coined the term ‘negativity bias’ because humans have an inbuilt tendency to notice problems and difficulties more than pleasant things (quite useful in our early evolution when survival was key). However, by cultivating a mindful approach, you can allow yourself to slow down and take in what’s good, in a direct and full way. It’s not about ‘thinking positive’ – more like redressing the balance. If you’ve ever sat and drunk a cup of tea mindfully, you will know what I mean. Things like watching a beautiful sunset, feeling the sun on your skin or even washing up the dishes can bring a deep sense of satisfaction and even joy. Through paying full attention life becomes richer!
Mindfulness involves kindness, both towards yourself and others
Many folk I speak to, whether I know them personally or professionally, are actually very thoughtful. They do kind things for others. When it comes to extending this approach to themselves, however, it can be a different matter. Just consider the question for yourself. How easy is it to take care of yourself, attending in a sensitive, timely way to your own needs? Often it’s a challenge. Sometimes we notice an inner voice, criticizing our every move, giving us quite a tough time indeed. Whilst this might be interpreted as good motivation to ‘achieve more’ or ‘keep on top of things’ it’s actually not very helpful, either for ourselves or those around us. A core aspect of mindfulness is to learn to develop kindness towards ourselves & others, with whatever is going on for us in the moment. We can begin to notice when and how inner harshness creeps in, and then actually develop what might be called ‘kindfulness’ – a tender response to the fact that we’re probably doing the best we can. Instead of ‘letting us off the hook’ this can open up whole new ways of being effective & creative in life. You can also develop more emotional balance by increasing your inner kindness – and that tends to ripple out towards others in a natural way.
Mindfulness can help you cope with pain
I know from working with clients with a variety of health challenges that living with ongoing pain can be very tiring and difficult to cope with. It’s natural when experiencing painful sensations to try to shut them off, tighten against them and turn away. Unfortunately, this strategy often leads to further difficulty, even adding to the original pain with extra layers of tension. In addition, we may find we have persistent, unhelpful thoughts such as ‘this will never go away’ – and soon we can feel in a hopeless place. The saying ‘what we resist, persists’ rings true here. Mindfulness offers a new way of turning towards our experience, even when it’s difficult, with curiosity and kindness. We can learn to be with the actual, primary sensations as they arise in our body. Paradoxically, this can help. We discover that our experience is fluid and ever-changing, and not as fixed, static or hopeless as we might think. Even though the pain may still be there, through practice, you can come into a new relationship with it.
Mindfulness helps you stay grounded and embodied
As you can see, mindfulness doesn’t only involve the mind, but the body too. This can be novel for many of us, as we’re usually caught up in thoughts – often ruminating on the past, or worrying about the future. Through mindfulness practices such as the body scan, you learn to develop your ‘felt sense’ and your experience begins to change. You learn to feel into your body with curiosity and kindness, opening up to the fluid and ever-changing nature of your inner and outer experience. Having Craniosacral therapy has the same effect. Whilst making hands-on contact with your body, I attend to the inner movements and sensations in a ‘listening’ way – which provides a ‘mirror’ to help you do the same. Your inner, fluid process can really come alive – whilst easing up deep tension and held patterns. You start to notice more directly what is happening for you in each moment – which is very rich territory indeed. It’s a bit like ‘waking up and smelling the coffee!’ By gradually re-inhabiting your body you can become more grounded and resilient in the face of life’s inevitable ups and downs. Finding you have more agency in life, you can respond creatively to events rather than being caught in habitual reactions. In other words, life is enriched, and you can feel more fully alive, moment by moment.
If you’d like to explore local mindfulness trainings in Herefordshire my partner, Matthew Ward, Marches Mindfulness, is running his next 8 week course on 28th Jan 2017. You’ll find more information on his website and details of how to book.
For other Accredited Mindfulness courses across the UK take a look at Breathworks.