A personal Journey – Training to become a mindfulness teacher

My personal mindfulness teacher training journey and becoming a mindfulness teacher.

My Story

 Kirsty shares her own personal journey into holistic healing

“It took time for me to come to terms with my need to leave the NHS, but once the decision was made, I knew the shackles were off in terms of limiting my scope to only cover nourishment of the body. I could learn to teach others how to also nourish their minds.”

 By – Kirsty Dobson

As a dietitian for 23 years, I was NHS ward-trained in the traditional hierarchical medical model of managing ill health. I’ve helped people with a myriad of health challenges, teaching them to self-manage their chronic illnesses, through a range of evidence-based dietary and lifestyle approaches. I enjoy supporting patients with complex digestive complaints so the irrefutable link between brain and gut meant that I fought for longer duration appointments to gain the full picture of overall health and wellbeing, previous medical or drug history, their work and family life, and degree of social support. The stark revelation that so many sufferers of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) also had diagnoses of Anxiety or Depression and were frequently on anti-depressants, and yet were often still symptomatic, led me to research evidence of alternative ways to support wellbeing. On hearing that mindfulness could be valuable in IBS, I experimented myself by using Headspace and discovered after just 2-3 weeks of ten minutes daily my sleep quality improved, I felt more in control at work with greater clarity of thought and in spoken word. Likewise, my clients who embraced mindfulness achieved greater gut symptom control and weathered the storm of life without triggering relapse. Mindfulness improved confidence in managing their own chronic condition. The diagnosis was no longer impacting their quality of life.

Then covid hit. The demands placed upon me in my role leading an acute team of, frankly terrified, acute dietitians through a pandemic when the explosion in intensive care bed numbers required me to return to a frontline clinical role alongside leadership responsibilities, meant I totally abandoned self-care practices and just got on with the job at hand. Unsurprisingly 18 months in I had my own mental health breakdown. I had a period of sick leave and a 6-month spell on anti-depressants during which time I re-discovered the healing power of mindfulness. Daily meditation, positive intelligence practices and cultivating compassion enabled me to properly challenge self-harming automatic thoughts and negative behaviours. It has led to a deep emotional healing, somewhat akin to a ‘spring clean’ of the considerable detritus which had accumulated during the first four decades of my life.

It took time for me to come to terms with my need to leave the NHS, but once the decision was made, I knew the shackles were off in terms of limiting my scope to only cover nourishment of the body. I could learn to teach others how to also nourish their minds. The therapy-based, secular nature of the Mindfulness Now course and the thought of a week immersed mindfully in beautiful Devon without the role of boss, wife or mother was decision made. I felt so grateful to experience the magic of Tawstock Court as the summer turned into autumn this year with Nick and Maddy expertly guiding us through the program. Through daily practices we grew and bonded together in our teaching cohort. Integrating mindfulness as a tool alongside dietary / lifestyle measures and targeted supplementation seems to me to be a much more powerful and holistic approach to long-lasting healing than I was able to previously offer patients in my old role so I cannot wait to share it with the world!


About the author –

Kirsty Dobson is a holistic brain health & wellbeing educator/coach based in Brighton www.clarity-and.com / kirsty@clarity-and.com / https://www.instagram.com/clarity_and/

Article written for The Breathing Space Journal Winter 2024



Mini-retirement – What’s it all about

This little article contains my personal perspective on a, so called, mini-retirement – what’s it all about, the differences between it and a full retirement and between it and a holiday. Why should we do it? – are there rules for it? Is it a requirement to be old? Lastly some tips from someone who’s done it.

I originally trained in marketing and environmental science and took my first mini-retirement of 4 weeks after selling my share in a garment hanger reuse and recycling business which colleagues and I set up in my 30s to help M&S to meet its environmental obligations. The work was hugely stressful, and I was very glad of some down time.

Since then, I’ve come to really appreciate the value of the mini-retirement, of at least a few weeks, hopefully at least once a year. As I entered my 60s, with a successful practice in wellbeing and education, including my own clinic and training centre, I naturally considered retirement. However, I decided that, as long as I was well enough and loved my work, there was no point. In fact, I’ve known a number of others who have deeply regretted their retirement and not fared well with it.

In my case I’ve been fortunate enough to streamline my practice, partly due to the COVID lockdown, including selling my clinic and training centre and transitioning into the world of hybrid working, with a combination of online and in-person work.

Being part of a team makes the concept of mini-retirements more workable although, for those of us self-employed, we have to accept that other than any residual income, our mini-retirement will cost us financially. The financial loss will be fully compensated for by a period of freedom, rest and recharge, along with hopefully some new learning.

To me, holidays are normally very brief breaks and easy to arrange. They don’t get in the way of my client schedules. Mini-retirements, by contrast are much more of a challenge and require the cooperation and understanding of clients/participants and colleagues.

I strongly suggest that we don’t fall into the trap of believing that because we are fortunate to love what we do, that it is not real work and therefore we don’t need breaks. I have to admit that sometimes, over the years, I have been absolutely rubbish at taking breaks and I’m pretty sure that, on more than one occasion, it has had a serious negative impact upon my health.

Of course, these days there are numerous holidays which are advertised as ‘mindful’ holidays – whether that’s painting, river cruising or writing. Personally, I think that any holiday can be a mindful one as long as we stay with the experience of it.  One of my colleagues tells me that he is brave enough for he and his partner to go to the airport with only passports and credit cards and then select a departure destination from the announcement board and buy tickets! As he said to me ‘the worst that can happen is that we end up going back home, and at its best we find an exciting new adventure’.

This same friend was horrified when I told him that I normally take my laptop computer on holiday with me (well surely it deserves a holiday too?). Sometimes I enjoy spending some time writing and find that being in a fresh, enjoyable location can inspire some creativity (my grandchildren are not at all impressed with this)! So, I think that the rule should be… not to have rules. Let nobody tell us what we should or should not do, and just see what happens.

Good luck with taking your breaks, however they happen and, you never know, maybe see you on the beach sometime! I’ll probably be the only one with a laptop computer as well as an ice cream!!


5 ways to be more mindful every day!

Think of the time you ate your lunch today or yesterday. Did you stop to look at the colours and shades in your food? Did you notice it’s aroma? Were you aware of the texture and taste of the food in your mouth as you slowly chewed? Were you aware of how it felt to swallow the food? What aftertaste was there?

One of the attitudes of mindfulness, beginner’s mind offers us the chance to really slow down, ‘smell the coffee’ and start to appreciate everyday activities with new eyes, new senses, almost as if for the first time. And each and every time we do this, we’re applying what we have learned in our formal meditation practice (the time we take just to sit or lie and practice meditation) to our everyday activities. The formal practice is about learning to pay attention to whatever is going on in our mind, body and the world around us, moment by moment, in a non-judgemental, kindly and gentle way. We can then take this focused attention into our normal everyday lives, bringing a full awareness to our experience of the world and the ways in which we interact with it.

Often we spend much of our time lost in thought, rushing around from one activity to another, and often trying to do several different things at the same time. This constant busyness is at the root cause of much of our unhappiness, anxiety and exhaustion. However, we can switch over from this doing mode of mind into a gentler, more peaceful being mode. We can do this through practising everyday ‘informal’ mindfulness. Our lives offer numerous opportunities for this type of everyday mindfulness practice. Here are just five ways of doing it:

1. First thing

As you wake up, rather than immediately opening your eyes why not keep them closed for a short while and spend a little while just noticing your breathing. Not trying to change your breathing but just being aware as you let this awareness extend to the sensations in your body – and then outside your body – how does the duvet feel around you and the pillow beneath your head? What does the bed linen smell like? What sounds are you aware of from indoors and out? Just spend a little while really noticing as much as you can – spending a few moments before you get up. Gradually open your eyes and slowly take in everything you can see.

2. Wake up and smell the coffee

The say that a watched kettle does not boil but you may just discover that if you are mindful enough, it actually does! Why not make a mindful experience out of preparing and enjoying a cup of coffee. If you grind the beans, notice the feel of some coffee beans in your hand, smell them and drop them into the grinder. Listen to the sound of the grinder and then smell the ground beans. How do they differ from the un-ground ones?

Notice what it is like to fill the kettle and watch and listen as it boils. Pour the boiling water through the coffee and watch and smell as it percolates. Eventually watch and smell the filtered coffee as you pour it into your cup. It may just be the best cup of coffee you have ever tasted!

3. Travelling to work

If you are travelling by bus or train to work, rather than reading or looking at your phone why not just take the time to really notice everything around you. See it all as if through beginner’s eyes – as if it was all for the first time. Notice the movement, the smells and sounds around you. If you feel comfortable with this, and are not in danger of missing your stop, why not close your eyes for a while and just explore all the sounds that come into your awareness. It can be a very different experience.

4. Another kind of listening

The next time you are having a conversation at work why not make it a very different kind of experience. One where you really listen to what the other person has to say rather than concentrating on your own internal thought stream. Try avoiding that tendency to think about your response in advance, while the other person is still speaking! Try being more attentive than normal to the other person’s conversation, in a non-judgemental and empathic way. Watch the other person’s body language and learn from it.

5. During your working day

Whatever your day is like why not take just a few moments every now and again to take a few mindful breaths, even if it is just noticing one breath, it can have a really beneficial effect, slowing you momentarily and allowing you to enter being mode, even if it is for a few brief moments!

Maybe you could set a few reminders for yourself at regular intervals during the day, no matter how busy you are to briefly switch off from relentless doing and just be aware in the present moment. The rest of your day is likely to be so much more productive as a result.

Notice how helpful it can be by introducing a few informal mindfulness practices into your daily life you can learn to trigger your mind/body’s relaxation response and let go of unhelpful and potentially harmful stress. If you start with just one practice you are likely to be tempted to do much more.

By Nick Cooke