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

Becoming a Mindfulness Teacher

Thinking of becoming a mindfulness teacher?

Why would we want to?

The rapid growth in mindfulness based interventions (MBIs) in recent years has created a healthy demand for teachers of mindfulness. John Kabat Zinn’s 1991 book ‘Full Catastrophe Living’ documented the birth of the Stress Reduction Clinic at The University of Massachusetts Medical Centre and the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programme which is one of many MBIs taught world-wide. The book made the principles and methods of clinical mindfulness accessible to a very wide public audience.

Kabat Zinn’s work was given a substantial boost when he, and his MBSR programme were featured on the Bill Moyers ‘Healing and the Mind’ USA television series in 1993, which was subsequently syndicated word-wide. From that point on, interest in the therapeutic use of mindfulness grew dramatically amongst healthcare professionals, creating a demand for teachers.

The interest has showed no sign of waning and the huge amounts of positive publicity which mindfulness has received in recent years, along with the wealth of scientific studies supporting its use, combined with an endorsement by NICE, has meant an increased demand for mindfulness teaching, and therefore, for qualified teachers.

How can we learn?

Mindfulness has been taken up by higher academic institutions in the UK and in consequence, a number of universities, including Oxford and The University of Wales, in Bangor offer higher academic, post-graduate, Master’s Degree / post graduate programmes. This traditional, long-term qualification route, comprehensive and excellent though it is, is not only outside the reach of many who wish to teach others mindfulness, but may also not provide the practical skills for everyday teaching. Other (vocational) training providers, including the UK College of Mindfulness Meditation, offer brief, externally accredited courses which combine intensive practical training with the provision of underpinning knowledge, assessed via case study work and written assignments.

What Makes an Excellent Mindfulness Teacher?

In our mindfulness teacher training courses I’m often asked this question and here I endeavour to give my brief views on some of the qualities that make the difference between just being a mindfulness teacher, and being an outstanding one, as well as providing some pointers for ongoing success.

The reasons why we wish to become a mindfulness teacher may give us a useful pointer – the most valid perhaps being a passion for our own sustained mindfulness practice and a strong’ heartfelt desire to share it with others, when our natural enthusiasm may well shine through and transmit itself to our learners.

Perhaps we might start to examine our teaching practice, if we are already doing that, and elicit from our clients / learners how they feel about learning from us. That way we at least stand a chance of getting better by our old age! Mindfulness teaching should, of course be assessed and a standard, client-administered assessment such as Bristol University’s MYMOP gives us a chance to gain data which can help construct our own evidence base.

Be yourself – don’t try and be someone else

At times I’ve sat with a teacher who has appeared to be trying to get into a role; in other words, trying to be their role model. To me this never comes over in an authentic way. If you try and be someone else, people will see through you and may well not respect you. I’ve learned from some of the world’s most respected mindfulness teachers, but I’m not them. I’d like to think that I bring by own unique experience and perspective, and you will do this also.

Be warm and engaging

Developing rapport between you and your clients / learners is something which it pays giving close attention to. Those who are drawn to mindfulness and mindfulness teaching are likely to be the kind of people who have a natural warmth and empathy with others. There is evidence that people respond to those teachers and therapists who they like and who they believe are open to them, as opposed to coming across as cold and indifferent. The interesting thing is that even if the skills of the less engaging teacher are superior to the more engaging one, the more engaging teacher will be perceived as being superior and effective. So be nice!

Be humble – you don’t have all the answers

One of my personal heroes in field of personal development is the Canadian, Brian Tracy who has been right at the top of his field for many years. He has positively influenced many thousands of people, world-wide’ through his training courses, on-line videos and books. Despite all his wisdom he is one of the modest people who I have met. He is always happy to admit that he does not have all the answers and he suggests that rather than telling people that you are right, it may be more helpful to say to them ‘I may be wrong – I often am’!

I’ve borrowed this phrase along the way and it seems to work well for me, in fact so much so that my wife Carmel who has heard me say it so often, now sometimes uses it against me by saying ‘you may be wrong – you often are’! I can’t win can I!

Keep it simple – stupid (KISS)

I’m sure that I won’t be alone in sometimes sitting in a class where the teacher (and yes I am deliberately using simple language here) uses language which appears to be more designed to complicate and confuse, rather than make clear. Perhaps using words which may be unfamiliar to the audience, without any explanation – presumably to boost the speaker’s own ego. If you find you are doing this, then in the words of Bob Newhart, in his Comedy Club therapy sketch video, just ‘STOP IT’!. Remember the NLP presupposition, ‘the meaning of the communication is the response it gets’. If you are not getting the response that you want then only you can take responsibility and you may need to look at clarifying, or simplifying your language. – ‘simples!’

Encourage discussion and inclusivity

Well, we can’t make our learners talk and neither should we. If attendees wish to quietly participate then of course they may do that. In our groups we hand out an information form inviting participants to talk separately to any of the teachers if they wish, and also as a way of requesting feedback in a very unpressured way. However, it may be that some attendees would really like to talk within the group but feel a little too shy. Sometimes we will have one or two who tend to ‘dominate’ the conversation, if we let them!

It is a real shame for anyone in the group to feel excluded and I think that something which sets aside a really good mindfulness teacher, is the ability to include each attendee through openness and warmth, as well as gentle and subtle eye contact with everyone.

So there you have it – to become a mindfulness teacher and perhaps even a really effective one, needs motivation, positive attitude, warmth, and learnable skills. At The UK College, our student feedback and completed assignments tells us that that on almost all occasions we manage to achieve that. If you are interested and would like to see the feedback from all our former students – just let us know.

To learn more, or to arrange an informal chat, please contact me (Nick) or any of the Mindfulness Now team at the UK College on 0121 444 1110 or email info@mindfulnessnow.org.uk