Developing Mindfulness in Schools

Increasingly mindfulness is being introduced into schools for the benefit of teachers and students.   I previously discussed the work of Goldie Hawn and the MindUP program introduced extensively in schools across America.  Goldie explained the motivation for her work with schools and the reasons why children need mindfulness in an interview with Tami Simon.  The Australia and New Zealand Mental Health Association highlights the need to raise mental health awareness in schools because of the increasing level of mental illness amongst school age children and the adverse effects of social media together with study pressures and performance expectations (of others and themselves).  Research strongly supports the benefit of mindfulness for mental health.

Benefits of mindfulness in schools

Research into mindfulness practice in schools demonstrates that both students and teachers benefit.  Students develop greater capacity for attention and focus, increased self-awareness and better emotional self-regulation.  These outcomes in turn build their self-esteem and reduce stress and the incidence of anxiety and depression.  Teachers too experience similar outcomes and develop resilience to deal with setbacks and disappointments.  Patricia Jennings, author of Mindfulness for Teachers: Simple Skills for Peace and Productivity in the Classroom, identifies seven ways mindfulness can help teachers along with practices to support these outcomes.  These benefits include the capacity to slow down, build better relationships with students and handle difficult students more effectively.

Guidelines for the implementation of mindfulness in schools

The Smiling Mind organisation has developed guidelines based on research into successful implementation of their mindfulness programs in schools.  These evidence-based guidelines provide recommendations for the training of teachers and students in mindfulness as well as suggestions re the ideal duration and timing of daily mindfulness practices.  They strongly encourage the involvement of teachers in mindfulness practices so that they can act as models and a resource for students.  The guidelines recommend a whole-of-school approach to the development of mindfulness in schools, including the active involvement of school leaders and parents (where possible).  This wider level of involvement serves as positive reinforcement for the practice of mindfulness by students. 

Resources for mindfulness in schools

There is a growing mindfulness resource base for teachers, students and parents.  Here is a small sample of what is available:

  • Free mindfulness app: Smiling Mind offers a free mindfulness app that incorporates meditations and other mindfulness practices for use by teachers, students and parents.
  • Mindfulness videos and books: Grow Mindfully provides videos and a reading list for teachers and parents. 
  • Mindfulness training programs for teachers and students: Grow Mindfully and Smiling Mind offer these program.
  • Weekly meditation podcast: The weekly meditation podcast provided by the Mindfulness Awareness Research Center (MARC) covers a wide range of possible meditation topics that can be incorporated in school-based meditations.

Reflection

Developing mindfulness in schools can help both students and teachers deal with the stresses of modern life and help them to enrich their relationships at school, work and home.  Modelling by teachers (and ideally by parents) will help to reinforce positive changes in self-awareness and self-regulation achieved by students through mindfulness practices.  As students and teachers grow in mindfulness through regular practice, they can experience life more fully and with a greater level of contentment.

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By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Using Singing Bowls in Meditation

Diana Winston in a recent meditation podcast was joined by Michael Perricone, musician and  Master of Tibetan Singing Bowls.  Diana provided guidelines for meditating with singing bowls as Michael generated music from the bowls.  At the outset, she indicated that meditating with the singing bowls was a pathway to natural awareness, a process of open awareness, not bounded by a specific focus other than the sounds of the bowls themselves.  The bowls provide sounds that give you a sense of the boundarylessness of natural awareness – like the spaciousness of the sky above.

Diana points out that we are always aware – we cannot switch off awareness, but we can focus it or be open to its universality by becoming conscious of awareness itself.  This openness to awareness is a declining capacity as we become lost in thought, time-poor and focused on material values.  I have previously discussed ways to develop natural awareness, and the Tibetan singing bowls offer another approach.   The singing bowls, like meditation bells, are made of a special combination of metals that heighten the vibrations of the bowls and the resultant resonance. 

The bowls have been used in mindfulness practice for centuries not only because they facilitate natural awareness but also because they enable relaxation and stress release.  They are now used in music therapy, massage and yoga sessions.  Michael offers a five-minute, Tibetan Singing Bowl Meditation on video using the bowls to illustrate their use in meditation.   Diana’s singing bowl meditation is a thirty-minute meditation accompanied by Michael playing the bowls.  The latter meditation is offered as part of the weekly meditation podcasts provided by MARC, UCLA.  Michael provides additional mindfulness resources, including links to mindfulness apps (such as the Headspace app) and online courses (e.g. The Mindful Living Course conducted by Elisha Goldstein).

Using the singing bowls in meditation

Diana begins her meditation podcast with an initial focus on becoming grounded through posture and a brief body scan designed to release tension in parts of the body such as tightness in your stomach or stiffness in your shoulders or legs.  She encourages you to take deep breaths to help you relax bodily.

Throughout the playing of the singing bowls, Diana provides support to enable you to be-with-the-sound as it reverberates around the room.  She suggests that if you find the sound of the bowls confusing, overwhelming or distressing that you can drop back to focusing on your breathing or the sensation of your feet on the floor or your fingers touching.   She also encourages you to refocus your listening to the sound of the bowls if you become diverted by your thoughts (e.g. trying to work out where to buy one of the bowls).  This process of constantly restoring your focus on the sound of the singing bowls can progressively build your awareness muscle and develop deep listening skills.

Reflection

I found the singing bowls a bit intense in a longer meditation (e.g. 30-minutes) when I first listened to them and thought that beginning with a shorter singing bowl meditation can help initially to develop this mindfulness practice.  Each person will experience the singing bowls differently, so the important thing that Diana stresses is personal choice – deciding how long you will practice meditation with the bowls and whether or not you will switch to another anchor, however temporarily.  As we grow in mindfulness, we can use practices such as the singing bowl meditation to deepen our self-awareness, awareness of others and the world around us, and awareness of our connectedness to everyone and everything else.

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By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Guided Meditation for Releasing Stress and Reducing Overthinking

In times of stress, we tend to overthink – to engage in self-stories about who we are, what we are capable of and what negative impacts will eventuate from our situation.  These negative self-stories can lead to a debilitating downward spiral and undermine our capacity to cope with our daily challenges.  It is important to break the cycle of negative thoughts before they become entrenched in our psyche.

Great Meditation on its YouTube© Channel offers a specific guided meditation to help release stress and reduce overthinking.  The meditation focuses on three key areas impacted by stress – our breathing, our thoughts and our body.

Guided meditation to release stress and reduce overthinking

The 10-minute guided meditation offers a simple but effective way to unwind and take control of your thinking and bodily sensations.  The meditation process has three key steps:

  1. Focus on your breathing – the starting point is to become grounded through your breath.  Just observing your breath can be relaxing.  The key here is not to try to control your breathing but notice it occurring in a part of your body – through your nose, in the rise and fall of your abdomen or in your chest.  Adopting a comfortable posture helps you to maintain focus on your breathing.
  2. Observing your thoughts – this entails noticing what thoughts are occurring in your mind without judgment and without entertaining them.  It is important if your mind is blank not to go searching for thoughts because this can lead to overthinking.  The key is to maintain your relaxed breathing while you notice what is going on in your head.  Just let your thoughts pass by and remind yourself that “you are not your thoughts” – they are merely mental constructions.
  3. Notice your bodily sensations – we experience stress in our bodies in the form of tight shoulders, a stiff neck, localised pain or sore arms, legs or ankles.  Your body mirrors the fact that you are uptight in response to stress.  As you scan your body, you can progressively release points of bodily tension by focusing on these areas and letting go.  Deep breathing can assist this process and enable you to end the meditation process smoothly.

There are numerous sources of meditations that will enable you to release stress and free yourself from overthinking.  For example, Great Meditation provides a wide range of meditations for specific purposes on their YouTube© Channel.  Additionally, psycom.net lists links to meditation resources including music meditations, guided meditations, podcasts and meditation apps.

Reflection

The resources available for meditation practice are numerous and are very often free.  The challenge is to maintain regular meditation practice to enable us to destress and stop living in our thoughts. As we grow in mindfulness through meditation, reflection and mindfulness practices, we will be more able to calm our minds, notice and release tension in our bodies and progressively build the resilience necessary to handle the challenges of work and family life. 

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By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Ways to Develop Gratitude

In a previous post I offered a specific gratitude meditation presented by Diana Winston through the MARC weekly meditation podcasts.  I also mentioned the practice of developing personal reminders to appreciate some aspect of your life – I mentioned in my case using mistakes in tennis (of which there are many) to savour the capacity to run, hit the ball and engage in social activity with friends.  Here I would like to discuss different forms of meditation and mindfulness practices that can also assist in developing a deeper sense of gratitude that can increase our enjoyment of life and improve our relationships.

Gratitude meditations and mindfulness practices

Some of these meditations or practices can become part of your daily life or employed on a one-off basis.  The important thing is to incorporate some form of gratitude practice on a regular basis because as Jon Kabat-Zin reminds us, “we become what we pay attention to”. So, focusing on gratitude makes us grateful.  Here are some relevant meditations/practices:

  • Loving-kindness meditation – this form of meditation can enable us to appreciate ourselves as we are (rather than wishing we were different) and the people who positively impact our lives.  Jon Kabat-Zin provides an all-embracing loving-kindness meditation that extends also to people who may have hurt us and to whoever in the world is in need.   Expressing kindness to others engenders appreciation for what we have.
  • Journalling – there are many forms of gratitude journal that can be used as part of your mindfulness practice.  Jason Marsh provides some sound, research-based tips for keeping a gratitude journal – including the benefit of regular, rather daily gratitude journalling.  Ryder Carroll in his Bullet Journal Method (pp. 185-187) identifies ways to incorporate gratitude in his approach to journalling.  Rick Hanson suggests that a gratitude journal can focus on three simple aspects of your life – things that I am grateful for, people that I appreciate and events that I value.  Our journalling can also cover the people in our lives who have imparted their knowledge and experience as mentors, guides, parents, carers or coaches – in Aboriginal terms, it involves expressing appreciation for a Goondeen, a wise person who is a source of wisdom and understanding.
  • Sharing your gratitude – Tara Brach suggests engaging a gratitude buddy to support your practice of expressing gratitude.  She recommends developing the practice of regularly sharing your expressions of gratitude with one other person, e.g. by email or text.  Your buddy can support your positive intentions through regular contact.
  • Appreciating the momentNicole Bayes-Fleming offers meditations for “resting in the flow” (19 minutes) and savouring the moment through your senses (5 minutes).  These gratitude practices help to displace harmful thoughts and to build appreciation for the simple things in life.  Chris Walsh encourages the practice of mindful check-in, particularly during transitions in life, as a way to tap into the benefits of being grateful (including cultivating resilience).
  • Developing sympathetic joy – this process replaces envy with valuing and rejoicing in the success of others.  Johann Hari describes a form of loving-kindness meditation that can develop sympathetic joy by savouring the achievements of others as well your own.
  • Somatic meditation – developing awareness of your body and bodily sensations.  There are various forms of somatic meditation, e.g. lower-belly breathing and body scan.  Somatic meditation has proven to be particularly powerful in developing gratitude in times of difficulty.

Reflection

As we grow in mindfulness, we can become aware of the many people and things in our life that we can be grateful for.  Focusing regularly on these positive aspects of our daily life can displace negative thoughts and engender the many proven benefits of gratitude. 

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By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Tuning Into Sound

Diana Winston provided a meditation podcast on the topic, Listening to Sound, as part of the weekly offering by MARC (Mindful Awareness Research Center, UCLA).  Diana’s main theme was that there are times when sound “intrudes” into our meditation practice and we have a choice in how we respond.  We can become agitated and irritated or we can use the sound as the focus of our meditation.  She suggested that in taking the latter path, we are building our capacity to deal with the sounds and other unpleasant experiences that ‘intrude” in our daily life.

I can relate to this situation as I was recently meditating when workmen began hammering and sawing in the house next to mine.  I found I was really annoyed and resented this intrusion into my quiet time and solitude.  It had taken some discipline that morning to undertake my meditation in the first place.  My reaction at the time was to abandon my meditation – my level of annoyance impeded my capacity to focus.  Often our negative response in these situations is exacerbated by the expectations that we bring to our meditation, such as the expectation of absolute quiet.

Diana makes the point, though, that mindfulness “is not about seclusion” – it is about being with what is in the moment, whatever we are faced with.  The sound intrusion could be traffic noise, house renovations or heavy earth moving equipment.   As Diana observes, there is an alternative response other than our habituated flight or fight response.  We can focus on the sound and make that the object of our meditation.  She offered a hearing meditation in her podcast to build this capacity to deal with intrusive sounds and other “intrusions” in our life – experiences that clash with our expectations.

A hearing meditation – tuning into sound

The hearing meditation begins with the normal practice of becoming grounded and focused.   Diana then takes you through several steps that progressively build your awareness muscle:

  1. Focus your attention on the sounds in the room, the room tone, and include external sounds that may be penetrating your room space.  Here it is important to avoid pursuing what Diana calls “your story” about the sound – your interpretation of the nature of the sound, your emotional labelling of the sound as good or bad or your recollection of similar sounds in your prior experience.  The challenge is to just focus on the sound itself – tuning into it and the sensation of hearing it.
  2. Turn your focus now to some significant sensation in your body – it could be the groundedness of your feet on the floor or the energy and warmth flowing through your fingers or your feet.
  3. Your focus now switches to your breathing – to a part of the body where you can experience the act of breathing such as your abdomen, chest or nostrils.  Notice the “in” and “out” breath and the effect on your body with the rising or falling of your abdomen/chest or the flow of air through your nostrils.
  4. Finally, choose an anchor – the sound, the bodily sensation or the breath – to sustain the meditation over the remainder of your meditation session.  If you find the sound disturbing, take a few deep breaths and let out the sense of irritation – just let it be and return to your focus on your anchor.  Intruding thoughts and feelings are “part and parcel” of meditative practice, even for experienced meditators.

As we grow in mindfulness through mindfulness practices and hearing meditation, we can progressively build our capacity to deal with the intrusions in our daily life that challenge our expectations.  The hearing meditation itself strengthens our awareness muscle and builds our resilience in the face of setbacks. 

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By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness: Providing A Choice of Anchors

David Treleaven recently published a book on Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness. The book enables mindfulness trainers to recognise a trauma-affected individual, provide appropriate modifications to their mindfulness processes and avoid aggravating the individual’s trauma experience.

David argues that two factors are foundational to trauma-sensitive mindfulness, (1) choice and (2) anchors.  He observes that people who are trauma-affected have experienced an unwanted negative event that endangered them, a total loss of control over the situation and a lack of agency (capacity to influence the outcomes).  Providing choice, especially in relation to anchors, is critical for the welfare of the trauma-affected individual – it avoids reactivating the sense of helplessness associated with the traumatic event and reduces the likelihood of triggering a painful “body memory”.

Providing a choice of anchors – internal sensations

An anchor enables an individual to become grounded in the present moment despite being buffeted by distractions, negative self-stories or endless thoughts.  The choice of an anchor is a very personal aspect of mindfulness – it relates to an individual’s preferences, physical capacity and emotional state.  An anchor enables a person to experience ease and emotional stability.

Jessica Morey, an experienced teacher of trauma-sensitive meditation, begins a meditation training session by offering participants a choice of three internally-focused anchors – a bodily sensation, attention to sound within their immediate environment (e.g. the “room tone”) or a breath sensation (air moving through the nostrils, abdomen rising and falling or movement of the chest).

Participants are given the opportunity to try out these different anchors over a five-minute period and to make a choice of an anchor for practice over a further period.  Providing this choice of anchors avoids locking individuals into a mindfulness process that can act as a trigger for reexperiencing trauma, e.g. sustained focus on breathing.

Alternative anchors – external sensing

David notes that the five senses offer further choices of anchors – in addition to the internally focused anchors suggested by Jessica.  The senses enable a participant in meditation training to focus on some aspect of their external environment:

  • Hearing – tuning in to the external sounds such as birds singing, the wind blowing or traffic flowing past.  The downside of this approach is that it may trigger our innate tendency to interpret sounds and this may lead to focusing on a particular sound – trying to identify it and its potential source. So, this may serve as a distraction pulling us away from experiencing (the “being” mode) to explaining (the “thinking” mode).  The aim here is to pay attention to the experience of hearing, not to focus on a single sound. Sam Himelstein has found that listening to music can be a very effective anchor for a person who is in a highly traumatised state – choosing music that aligns with the individual’s musical preferences can serve as a powerful anchor.
  • Touch – a trauma-affected person could have an object, e.g. a crystal or a stone, that provides comfort and reassurance and enables them to become grounded in the present moment through the sensation of touch.
  • Seeing – taking in the natural surroundings, e.g. by observing closely the foliage of a tree – its colours, shape and texture or observing the patterns in the clouds.

Other options include sensations of smell or taste.  However, in my view, these tend to be less neutral in character and can re-traumatise a trauma-affected person.

David Treleaven offers a wide range of resources to help meditation trainers build their awareness, skills and options in the area of trauma-sensitive mindfulness (TSM).  These include an online training course, interview podcasts, a TSM Starter Kit (incorporating an introductory video and a comprehensive “TSM Solutions Checklist”) and a live meetup of the TSM Community (registered members of a community of TSM-aware practitioners).

Reflection

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation, research and reflection, we can become more flexible about how we offer mindfulness training.  A trauma-sensitive approach to mindfulness requires an awareness of the manifestations of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), identification of different sources of anchors and the willingness and capacity to offer participants the choice of an anchor and an approach to mindfulness.  This means that we need to move beyond our own fixation with “meditation logistics” and be flexible enough to offer trauma-informed mindfulness practices.

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By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Trauma-Informed Mindfulness: Guidelines for Effective Helping

Sam Himelstein, in a podcast interview with David Treleaven, discussed the principles for teaching mindfulness that he has developed over more than 12 years working with teens impacted by trauma.  His principles and related guidelines have relevance for anyone using mindfulness to help people who have experienced trauma. 

Besides his discussion in the interview mentioned above, Sam provided a blog post that addresses the guidelines explicitly.  The principles and guidelines (together with examples from real cases, teaching material and  practical exercises) are explained in depth in his forthcoming book,  Trauma-Informed Mindfulness for Teens: A Guide for Mental Health Professionals.

Guidelines for effective helping of people impacted by trauma

The guidelines developed by Sam Himelstein provide clear and consistent actions that can be taken by anyone helping people impacted by trauma:

  • Do no harm – this is a fundamental guideline informing the others.  Through research, study and practice of trauma-informed mindfulness practice, we can be more aware of potential harm and have the tools to do the best we can to avoid further harming the person suffering from trauma.  Sam mentions two resources that he draws on, The Meditation Safety Toolbox and Chris Willard’s Guidelines for Ethical Teaching of Mindfulness.
  • Avoid prescription about “meditation logistics” – people who are impacted by trauma are often unable or unwilling to start with formal meditation.  Sam urges us to avoid being inflexible through insisting on a set posture or closed eyes when initiating our helping interaction.  This requires letting go of the structural prescriptions of our own meditation training.  It is important to recognise that the people we are helping will be in a “different space” but can still develop mindfulness (inner and outer awareness) with processes other than formal meditation.  We need to acknowledge that mindfulness is more than just meditating.
  • Establish safety – it is critical that the person we are helping feels safe.  If they do not feel safe, they may experience re-traumatisation.  In addition to physical safety, this involves relationship and emotional safety through developing trust, being authentic and being prepared to modify our approach to suit where the person is at.  A more involved aspect of safety is what Sam calls cultural safety developed through “intersectional awareness”.  This requires an awareness of our implicit biases when dealing with people who have characteristics different to our own, e.g. gender, ethnicity, religion, age, sexual preference, disability or “class”.
  • Employ somatic practices first – this involves recognising the role of body memory in trauma and being cognisant that cognitive approaches commenced too early in the intervention can exacerbate the situation for the trauma-affected person.  Sam indicated that he often uses deep breathing exercises and basic somatic meditations.
  • Understand the “window of tolerance” – relates to a personal zone within which a person is able to effectively employ their cognition to “receive, process and integrate information”.  If a person is outside their window of tolerance than are unable to engage effectively in talking, telling stories or undertaking meditation practices.  Sam suggests that a sign of this “intolerance” is the person’s inability to use language, e.g. unable to formulate complete sentences or follow a line of discussion.  He recommends the book Trauma and the Body, as a resource for understanding the “window of tolerance” and learning about somatic approaches to trauma healing.

Reflection

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation practices, research and reflection, we can develop our awareness and understanding of the sensitivity of trauma-impacted people to formal meditation.  This requires that we become more aware of the “window of tolerance” and develop our capacity to pay attention to the signs that someone we are working with is not coping with our processes.  Associated with this, is the need to build the relationship through establishing safety and trust.  Employing somatic approaches will be more effective if we have experienced their utility ourselves as part of our own mindfulness practice and experience.   The more mindful we become, the better we will be able to help people impacted by trauma – for one thing, we will be able to let go of our assumptions and become more aware of our biases.

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By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Trauma-Informed Mindfulness: Principles for Effective Helping

Sam Himelstein has specialised for more than 12 years in using mindfulness to help teenagers impacted by trauma.   In a podcast interview with David Treleaven, Sam explained in depth his approach to teaching mindfulness to teens affected by trauma, as well as the evolving principles that shape his practice. While his focus is primarily on teens and educating others to work with teens, his approach and principles have relevance to anyone who is using mindfulness to assist people impacted by trauma (or anyone who is teaching mindfulness where a participant is a trauma sufferer).  He has developed his principles through ongoing reflection on practice.

Sam is a psychologist and youth worker and the author of A Mindfulness-Based Approach to Working with High-Risk Adolescents and the forthcoming book, Trauma-Informed Mindfulness for Teens: A Guide for Mental Health Professionals.  He is also the founder of the Center for Adolescent Studies.

Principles for trauma-informed mindfulness practice

In discussing his approach to working with teens impacted by trauma, including incarcerated youth, Sam identified several principles that guide his practice:

  • Avoid “adultism” – the assumption that as an adult you are superior to teens and have a lot to teach youth and they have very little in the way of wisdom to offer.  Associated with this false belief, is the assumption that you know best what is good for them – implying that they should learn from your teachings (that you try to impose on them).  This also involves recognising the wisdom they gained in their transition to a teenager. [You can also test your assumptions when working with adults – do you assume that they have no insights into the nature and practice of mindfulness?]
  • Work from where they are at – do not begin with formal meditation as they are unlikely to be ready for this.
  • Focus on relationship-building – consciously build trust in every aspect of your interaction, as their level of trusting others will have been severely damaged by their trauma experience(s). 
  • Assist teens to become comfortable with “sitting with themselves” and exploring “inner awareness”.
  • Be genuinely curious about what is happening for them and what they are doing to cope – bring an open mind to the interaction.  It can be helpful to identify and test your own assumptions before interacting.
  • Develop your own mindfulness continuously – your inner and outer awareness – and learn to let go of “ego” and the need to control the process.

Reflection

When teaching mindfulness to adults and youth, we need to be aware of the possibility that they may have been impacted by trauma(s) in their life.  Being conscious of the principles employed by Sam will help us to demonstrate sensitivity, build trust and relationships, and work at their pace – rather than to a pre-ordained progress schedule.  It will be imperative for us to grow in mindfulness – becoming fully aware of the assumptions we bring to the teaching/interaction, letting go of ego and the need for control, and genuinely engaging with curiosity, humility and openness.

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By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Understanding Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness

David Treleaven, through his doctoral dissertation and subsequent book, has raised awareness globally about the need for trauma-sensitive mindfulness.  His book, Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness: Practices for Safe and Transformative Healing, identifies three myths about mindfulness and trauma, discusses research-based case studies and offers clear options for the way forward.  His work is so critical to the teaching of mindfulness that Brown University has sought to integrate his work and findings into their Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Course and the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute is exploring integration of David’s approach into their Mindful Leadership program.

Trauma and mindfulness

Trauma is described as “the experience of severe psychological distress following any terrible or life-threatening event”.  Many organisations and trainers/consultants/psychologists offer services, strategies and programs for trauma sufferers. Beyond Blue, for example, offers coping strategies and ways that friends and relatives can help someone close to them who is suffering from a traumatic event.

Mindfulness has become acknowledged as an effective way to deal with trauma.  For example, Boyd, Lanius and McKinnon (2018) concluded from a review of the relevant literature that mindfulness-based therapeutic approaches are effective in reducing the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).   They suggested that reduction in shame and self-blame could be key explanations of the efficacy of mindfulness-based approaches to PTSD.

David, however, warns that there are potential difficulties in using a mindfulness approach if practitioners are not sensitive to the interplay between mindfulness practices, beliefs about the universal efficacy of mindfulness and related messaging.  He points out that most people will experience at least one traumatic event in their life. So, in any one room of meditation participants, there is likely to be one or more people who are experiencing trauma in their lives.

David dedicates his life to making people aware of the need for trauma-sensitive mindfulness through his book, videos, podcasts and workshops. He articulates his concerns about a lack of sensitivity to this issue amongst meditation teachers by identifying three “myths” about mindfulness and trauma that can potentially create harm for trauma sufferers.

Three myths about mindfulness and trauma

David’s research with trauma sufferers and practitioners in the field working with people who have experienced trauma, has led him to identify three “myths” (widely held false beliefs) that impede effective and safe use of mindfulness approaches. The myths are powerful determinants of the behaviour of mindfulness teachers:

  • Universality – David describes this myth as “one size fits all”.  However, David’s experience is that for some people who have experienced trauma, meditation can activate trauma stimuli so that the person re-experiences trauma.  As Peter Devine comments, “The nervous system can’t tell the difference between that [reliving the trauma] and the original trauma”.
  • Certainty – this myth relates to the assumption by meditation teachers that they will know when a person has experienced (or is currently experiencing) trauma.  David cites a case of a very experienced meditation teacher who failed to pick up the cues that some of his trainees were trauma sufferers.  He maintains that there are some very subtle non-verbal cues that can signal the existence of trauma, but it requires sensitised awareness to detect them.  He suggests that two major impediments that get in the road of someone openly disclosing their experience of trauma are (1) feelings of shame and (2) compliance (felt need to conform to an authority figure).
  • Neutrality – the myth that breath is always neutral, with no emotive content.  David recounts the experience of one person who was traumatised by a violent parent when a child.  Focusing on his breath “reconnected with the need to hide”, caused him to re-live his trauma and led to increased anxiety.  So, instead of being a calming anchor, mindful breathing acted as a trauma stimulus.

Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness: some strategies

David provides considerable detail, explanation and case illustrations of these myths in his book on Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness and in a video presentation on The Truth About Mindfulness and Trauma, which was a promotional webinar for his course for practitioners on recognising trauma, responding to trauma and preventing the re-living of trauma during mindfulness practice.

In the video mentioned above, David suggests a range of strategies that address the limitations and potential damaging effects of the three myths:

  • Develop awareness about possible difficulties for people during mindfulness practices
  • Increase knowledge of, and sensitivity to, the signs of trauma
  • Provide space for people to experience different aspects of mindfulness practice and be ready to make modifications after asking, “What would work for you?”
  • Acknowledge at the outset that some people may have a very different experience to the calming effects of mindfulness meditation
  • Offer the opportunity for participants to approach you privately to have a conversation about their experience
  • Don’t reinforce the “shoulds” of mindfulness experience, e.g. avoid saying, “you should experience calm and peace”
  • Avoid “close and sustained attention to breath” as this may be a stimulus for re-experiencing trauma
  • Offer a range of options for people to practice mindfulness so that they can choose their own anchor for paying attention, e.g. breath, sounds, the sensation of the feet on the floor, feeling of the body on the chair or fingers touching each other.  According to David, Paula Ramirez, a Director of Breathe International, maintains that this choice of options gives participants a sense of agency (the opposite of a loss of control).

As we grow in mindfulness through our own meditation, research and reflection, we can become more sensitive to the needs of people who have suffered (or are suffering) trauma; be better able to respond to their needs; and also learn to adopt strategies that avoid re-traumatising participants in mindfulness training groups.

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Image by Anemone123 from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Sustaining the Momentum of Writing Your Blog

When I set out to write my blog on mindfulness, I intended to publish daily. I was able to maintain this for 3 months.  However, the cost in terms of the impact on my other work and family life was increasingly high.  When I explained to my friend and mentor, Bob Dick, that daily publishing was becoming onerous, he suggested that I aim to publish only three or four times a week.  He indicated that this would not affect my Google search results – and this has proven correct.

Publishing three or four times a week has freed me up to do other things, including my workshops, and enabled me to develop a pattern of research and writing that seems to work for me.  So, on the alternate days when I am not publishing, I identify a topic to write about and do the requisite research.  I am often able to create a first draft from this research so that when the publishing day arrives, I have a topic and some ideas recorded as an early draft.  I have also established the practice of doing my research and writing at a set time, usually early in the morning before I become embroiled in other commitments.

This process has enabled me to sustain my blog writing, freed up time for other things, and facilitated my own meditation practice.  For example, I am often able to undertake a meditation practice before I write it up or explain its nature and effectiveness.  The downside of my current schedule is that the regularity of the blog writing has impacted my practice of Tai Chi which I used to do daily.  The solution may be to undertake the Tai Chi on alternate days also.

What I find that really helps me to sustain my motivation and effort in writing the blog, is to spell out what the benefits of my writing are for my readers and myself.

Being clear about the benefits of writing your blog

My intention in writing the blog is to provide the following benefits to readers of my blog and acknowledged mindfulness practitioners:

  • Raise awareness of the resources on mindfulness (free and paid) that are available
  • Provide inspiration and hope through the stories of those who have successfully overcome life challenges and difficulties
  • Offer mindfulness practices that can help to ease the pain and suffering of depression, anxiety, chronic pain and other challenging life situations
  • Provide resources to help people deal with difficult emotions such as resentment and anger
  • Help more people to become aware of the benefits of mindfulness
  • Assist in the promotion and development of mindful leadership
  • Promote the writing, work and practice of genuine mindfulness practitioners
  • Share the relevant findings from the latest neuroscience research.

The benefits for me in writing this blog on mindfulness are:

  • Enables me to access and practice different meditations and mindfulness techniques
  • Keeps mindfulness at the forefront of my mind and thus facilitates my ability to integrate mindfulness into my daily life and work
  • Provides me with the desire and energy to do the research to identify resources, key people and the latest neuroscience developments
  • Keeps my mind active now that I no longer undertake my academic work and associated activities such as examining doctoral theses
  • Provides some structure to my life in a period of semi-retirement when I have lost the structure of daily work
  • Realises the advice of Jeri Sedlar and Rick Miners, “Don’t Retire, Rewire” – which is designed to maintain mental health and facilitate longevity
  • Provides content and mindfulness practices for my manager development workshops which now include a session on mindfulness
  • Provides the knowledge and motivation to develop other activities associated with helping people to develop mindfulness, such as podcasts and online conferences
  • Provides me with the opportunity to engage in meaningful work (rather than consuming all my time in front of the television)
  • Develops “deep focus” – the capacity to stay on task for lengthy periods without being diverted by enticements such as social media, email or desktop clutter
  • Enables me to tap into the benefits of mindfulness practice itself – e.g. clarity, calm, managing difficult emotions, self-awareness, self-regulation and creativity.

When you are clear about the benefits of your blog writing for yourself and others, the writing task becomes more enjoyable, achievable and rewarding.  In many ways, the more you write, the easier it becomes (although writer’s block can still occur on your off days).

We can grow in mindfulness if we bring clarity of intention and purpose to our writing through articulating the benefits of our writing for others and ourselves.  Establishing a sustainable schedule builds self-awareness (re procrastination and  avoidance behaviours) and develops the self-regulation that comes from a disciplined approach.  If we can employ mindfulness practices to support our writing, we can gain focus, clarity, insight and creativity.

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Image by meminsito from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.