Losing it in lockdown? Train to be mindful to ease the strain
Mindfulness teacher Ed Halliwell explains how the practice can strengthen our coping skills. If your mind feels like its having a tantrum in lockdown, this is time out.
Like yoga, being more mindful is a practice. So the more you do, the better you’ll feel. Learning from the best or taking a course can only benefit any practice. In Lockdown v3, you may have the time. You may have the pandemic anxiety also, so mindfulness can soothe that too
Ed Halliwell has taught mindfulness to MPs, industry chiefs and at London’s School of Life, and has written three books on the subject. Here are his reasons for becoming more mindful…
Train your mind for skilful living
“Mindfulness is essentially a form of training for skilful living, and now science is showing it is good for wellbeing. Meditation is an integral part.
“The associations with meditation that you have to shave your head and go and live on a Himalayan mountain, or that you have to drop out from mainstream society, come from the 1960s and 1970s. This was a great time of exploration when teachers from the East transmitted the practices to westerners.
“There’s a wonderful fertility there but the vibe was a bit hippie, a bit new age. Meditation was something to do with a guru or somebody from an Eastern contemplative tradition like Hinduism or Buddhism. Now, for many people that’s not the frame of reference they’re bringing to their lives. Yes, Buddhism is a core tenet of the practice but the idea then that this could be taught in mainstream settings seemed crazy. Today, mindfulness has been taught in settings ranging from the Google headquarters in California to the English Houses of Parliament.”
Science shows being mindful matters
“The science is so important because it shows that it’s effective for people’s wellbeing in so many ways. The fact that there is a 50 per cent reduction in relapse in depression for people who take an MBCT (mindfulness-based cognitive therapy) course, for example, shows it’s very practical.
“There are also benefits for working with physical health conditions such as pain and also for regulating emotion. Benefits for managing your mind and body in all sorts of life situations show mindfulness is in the realm of practicality not in the realm of way-out spirituality which it was seen in and, I’d say, misinterpreted.”
It’s like a mirror for the mind
My mind was so frantic, I wanted to learn how to manage it
“I came to meditation practice because I was experiencing long and repeated episodes of depression and anxiety. A psychotherapist suggested it and I think I had an intuitive understanding that if I could learn to manage my mind, that would be best long term. My mind was so frantic and would go down pathways that I didn’t know how to work with.
“I tried to fix myself – going for acupuncture, therapy, attending support groups and taking anti-depressants. It wasn’t that any of those things were the wrong approach necessarily, it was the way I was approaching them that wasn’t helpful. I’d approach them all with the objective, ‘this will fix me, this has got to work.’
“And I tried to do the same thing with meditation. But it showed me, when I saw the striving mind always trying to get ‘the fix’, that this approach was actually perpetuating the problem. Meditation showed me that. It’s like a mirror for the mind.”
I was able to move out of depression and anxiety
“Part of my problem was my mind and body weren’t very well synchronised and I thought my mind should be in control. Of course, it wasn’t. I wasn’t in touch with my body. I was trying to flee from and force out the symptoms of depression. But you can’t force yourself not to feel an emotion. You can’t force yourself not to feel a body sensation.
“Ironically, mindfulness showed me I was able to move out of depression and anxiety by trying not to! By, instead, going into it and experiencing it. Primarily, my patterns of trying to get out of it were perpetuating it. Over time, my mindfulness training changed my relationship to my experience which, in turn, changed my experience.”
Meditation is a practice not an instant chill
With mindfulness you get in touch with what’s actually happening with you, which might not be very calm
“The idea that it’s supposed to be ‘a chilled-out’ bliss is not very helpful. Because it presents an ideal and people think, ‘Oh, I’ll go and learn mindfulness and get really calm.’ But maybe not. With mindfulness you get in touch with what’s actually happening with you, which might not be very calm.
“What tends to stress us out most of all is when we try to fight difficult experience or try to run away from it. That can make the experience worse.”
Zoom in to tune-in
“It is a practice - you can’t just choose to be mindful. We have habits about how we relate with our experience in the world. What the research shows is that practising mindfulness, such as by taking a course, changes the brain and it changes our experience.
It’s a way of being that you can practice… In the same way that you can become more accomplished as a tennis player, by getting on the court and getting shots
“It’s a bit like learning any other skill so it isn’t just a lifestyle choice. You could say it’s a way of being that you can practice and become more accomplished at. It works in the same way that you can become more accomplished as a tennis player, by getting on the court and getting shots. It’s not just something you can decide to do.
“Mindfulness can teach you to work with life’s stresses rather than trying to avoid them. For me, it’s an ongoing work-in-progress, a training that I now trust and delight in.”
Ed is currently offering Zoom sessions and courses. Visit his full range of retreats and workshops at mindfulnesssussex.co.uk or click the button below.
Gideon Remfry, Wellness Director at KX London, agrees that it’s all in the mindfulness…
“Mindfulness research shows that it is a hugely powerful tool for our mental wellbeing. Mindfulness, to me, represents any practice or activity that engages the person undertaking it, to such an extent that they are totally concentrated in that moment.
“In mindfulness terminology this is referred to as ‘being present’. The mindful practices and or activities can vary from deep breathing to skill-based movement and the best one to use depends on which engages or distracts the person the most to find mental space.
In lockdown life, why does being mindful work?
The absolute crux of mindfulness is to find mental calm and clarity in among the chaos. Far from sitting on a rock in the Himalayas with butterflies floating around your head, mindfulness is about creating space during whatever challenging situation you are in.
“Lockdown presents numerous challenges including fear, anxiety, social isolation and inactivity, right through to a lack of personal space with families working and living together full-time.
The development of mindfulness through structured training enables the practitioner to calm down their stress response
and improve concentration and cognitive function. It can reduce low mood, anxiety and pain perception. All of which represent finding calm in the chaos of lockdown life.
What is in your mindful toolkit?
“A simple tip to start learning the tools for mindfulness is to practice how to diaphragmatically breathe for a few minutes each day. Online, there’s plenty of guidance.
“At KX we use group and one-to-one yoga plus meditation sessions in combination with holistic spa treatments – a sort of urban mindfulness bootcamp! Finding which mindful practice works for you is about trying a few activities to see which you can engage with and eventually enjoy. It doesn’t always click straight away.
“For me, that meant learning a new skill-based movement like yoga. Yoga required me to concentrate on learning the sequences while building the physical conditioning to perform them without falling over! But most important was learning how to do all of this while maintaining a steady breath flow - finding my calm among the chaos.”
The views expressed on these pages are the views of the cited experts only and do not necessarily represent the views of Wellness Edit. Please always get a second opinion where specific medical advice is required.
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