British School of Meditation Blog
How Meditation Can Help to Restore a Sense of Balance
In this post, Gillian Higgins, international war crimes barrister and meditation teacher explains why she began to meditate, how it helped her to become a better parent and changed her practice as a barrister.
A few years ago, I found myself feeling stressed and overwrought on a regular basis with no apparent remedy in sight. As both a parent to my young daughter and a practicing war crimes barrister, I felt there must be a way of running my professional motor more smoothly while enjoying the challenges of parenthood without feeling completely exhausted. The truth was I needed to learn new skills to help me restore a sense of balance and an ability to be present.
The only criterion in my search was that it must be scientifically provable. And so I discovered mindfulness meditation. I did my research, started to attend a class with an inspiring local teacher, read as many books as I could and most importantly, I began to practice, even when I didn’t want to. In the first few weeks, I wasn’t sure it was making a difference and I often experienced a sense of frustration or boredom. Persuaded to continue by my teacher, after a few months, I started to feel a subtle change. In my work, I found myself better able to cope with stressful situations and in time, the behaviour of others in the workplace became something I observed, rather than took personally. As a parent, I became more willing to be present no matter how difficult that could sometimes be, and felt better able to respond rather than knee-jerk react to the challenges that parenting often brings.
After several years of practice, I decided I wanted to learn to teach and enlisted with The British School of Meditation. It was a journey that not only deepened my own practice, but also gave me the confidence to take mindfulness meditation to the Bar and to share mindfulness meditation with my colleagues, many of whom feel a growing need to develop stress management skills in order to cope with modern practice.
Last year, my teaching led me to create The Mindful Kitchen Company with my friend Miranda Gore Browne who became a regular at my local meditation classes in Easebourne, West Sussex.
As a Great British Bake-Off finalist and passionate cook, Miranda talked to me about the similarities between baking, food and meditation – all of which encourage the mind to be present in the moment. Soon after, we hatched a plan to launch an initiative focused on the idea of“cook, bake, breathe and eat”which aims to bring together the benefits of mindfulness into everyday life and the natural joys of the simplest things in life – food, baking and being in the moment.
Gillian’s first book 7 Days of Mindfulness is due to be published later this year. For more information about her work, see Practical Meditation at www.practicalmeditation.co.uk
For more information about The Mindful Kitchen Company, see www.themindfulkitchencompany.co.uk
Guest Blog from Geraldine McCullagh
When I first decided to train with the British School of Meditation as an accredited meditation teacher, it was to help with my one to one work with business leaders. I’m a coach and trainer, specialising in self presentation and communication. I draw on my background as a broadcaster, but also as someone who has meditated for many years, to deliver this. As I experimented with techniques to facilitate better communication, like working with the breath, the posture and being fully in the present moment, it became clear I was incorporating mindfulness and clients were responding well to this. This being the case, I wanted to understand better the wider context for the role of mindfulness in developing leaders, the evidence for its benefits for mental resilience and well-being, to learn further meditation tools beyond my own practice, and to have an external validation that an accredited course and membership of a professional meditation body, that required ongoing CPD, would give me.
Without question it has benefited my one to one work. But it’s also led me to do corporate work with teams which I’m finding very rewarding. The business world is becoming more aware of the cost of days lost by employees taking time off because of stress, or by employees underperforming because of feeling under too much pressure. Mindfulness can’t change external factors, but it can change how we react to them, making us feel calmer and more in control.
Most recently I’ve started working with the Gloucestershire firm, BPE Solicitors. At the start of the year they ran a series of well-being events for their staff, delivered by different practitioners. One of their team had worked with me before and asked if I’d be interested in running a mindfulness event. I delivered 2 sessions, each of an hour, to 2 groups of 20, looking at some definitions of mindfulness as well as introducing some breathing and visualisation techniques to experience it. The staff reaction to this was very positive, so they invited me to provide one day a month of 2/3 sessions (depending on numbers as we are trying to keep the groups down to 10 or less) up until the end of the year.
Amanda Coleman, HR Manager at BPE Solicitors, says “We value the productivity and commitment of our teams but know they need to look after themselves to sustain this. These sessions have proved popular and effective, so we’re pleased to support them”.
The attendees are responsive and clearly appreciate that BPE are happy to invest in their emotional and mental health. If nothing else, the sessions give them time to step away from their desks and discover how 40 minutes of meditation can make them feel both calmer and recharged. But I’m also exploring with them what techniques work particularly well for them, so that if they wish, they can start using them within much shorter sessions on their own. I’m emphasising too that mindfulness isn’t just about sitting and focusing on their breath, mantras or visualisations. It’s also about a certain level of awareness we can bring to all sorts of everyday activities to step off the treadmill for a few moments of being present.
Over the next few months, we’ll be continuing to work with tools to help us be physically centred and more relaxed. We’ll be looking at how to calm our minds, then start to watch our minds and stop our thoughts from overwhelming us. And we’ll work with our senses to be more fully present in the moment, using sight, sound, smell and taste (the very popular mindful chocolate eating exercise!).
Why you can’t train as a Meditation Teacher in a day
These days when we want to find out information about almost anything we tend to use Google or another search engine. You may have been researching meditation teacher courses to see what courses are out there. There are a lot of courses and it can be rather confusing trying to find one that suits you.
Some centres claim that you can become a Meditation Teacher after one day’s training. Some centres even go so far as to claim that a longer course isn’t necessary. We at the British School of Meditation beg to differ. We have a course that offers you a complete package of Meditation Teacher training.
The course consists of five days of face to face training covering five units of work. There is also about 50 hours of written work to complete, including preparation to deliver a presentation on the scientific evidence supporting the benefits of meditation, and the writing of, and delivery of a meditation script.
One very important part of the course is Unit Five in which we look at how you can begin to develop your meditation business. We see this as being a crucial aspect of the course. Many of our graduates tell us this was so beneficial when it came to setting up their business as a Meditation Teacher.
See what BSoM graduates say:
'When looking for a meditation teacher training course I was immediately impressed by the wide ranging topics covered by this course, and Mary's welcoming manner from our first phone call. She made the choice very easy, and I was not disappointed! The course was informative and insightful but always accessible. I had a great time as well as learning. The number of students was just right to allow us all to contribute but not feel overwhelmed. Great course content, great learning experience, great teacher! ' Louise, ( MTT May 2017)
"Should anyone find themselves being drawn to learning more about meditation or teaching it, I would strongly advise them to take this course. It is so structured to help you bring out the true values of the talents you possess. Sarah Presley is a wonderful teacher and coach." Paul Bonner, student on Winter 2015 course.
An excellent and comprehensive meditation teaching course that provided all the theoretical, experiential and practical learning I needed to start teaching meditation. Lesson and business planning elements are included, and I felt safe and confident with the tutors. A hugely enjoyable and useful course that I would recommend to any experienced meditator wanting to learn how to teach.
Claire Cunden, 2012
So, training with BSoM helps you learn all aspects of becoming a Meditation Teacher.
‘We support dedicated professionals to develop a successful Meditation Teacher business, so they can create a life on their terms, without compromising their existing lifestyle.’
Meditation in Action: Overcoming Procrastination with Mindfulness
By Simon Fry from MindfulChimp.com
We all procrastinate, we all put things off and if we are honest with ourselves we all know the solutions to our procrastination.
I put off writing this blog by doing a bunch of smaller tasks first. They were less important and guess what - I knew it! But they were quick tasks and so much easier to complete than writing my monthly newsletter.
I know the solutions to my procrastination as we all probably do: clarify what task is most important, clear away everything but this more important task, clarify my motivations for this task, break it down into smaller and easier chunks if I feel difficulty. Sounds easy when you say it like that. These are not hard solutions! But they don’t work unless you are aware of what you are doing.
I would argue that you are unable to step back to clarify what your most important tasks are unless you realise you are procrastinating in the first place. You cannot break a task into small steps unless you realise you are making no progress. You cannot clear away distractions unless you realise you have been following the urge to go to these distractions.
Awareness is everything with procrastination. The problem is not finding solutions to procrastination it is more about being aware of what is going on in the first place.
Now we know the route of the problem, we can fix it.
The problem is not just being aware of what is going on, it is remembering to be aware. This remembering is what mindfulness is about. Too often we forget to be aware.
Being aware of what is going on…
So, what’s going on when we procrastinate? We often:
· Follow urges to distraction
We can get the urge to check email or social media. Or we get the urge to go to something easier, more comfortable. These urges can be overcome if we are simply aware they are happening. By asking ourselves - Is this the best use of my time NOW? – we can avoid distraction.
· Dread hard tasks
Our minds tend to focus on the hard parts of any tasks. Without thinking too much about them, we label these tasks as hard, scary, overwhelming, or time consuming. If we are aware of this, we can solve each of these problems. Hard tasks can be broken down or chunked down into easier ones.
Procrastination is often about fear. The fear of failure, fear of success, self-doubt. Once we are aware of our fears, they can be beaten. The worst case scenario of failure is often not that bad when we really think about it.
· Loose motivation
At times we forget our motivation for doing a hard task. It can be easier to put it off and do other “important” things instead. But when we remind ourselves of our motivation, we can focus. So be aware that our motivation is not always clear, or that we have forgotten what that motivation is.
· Don’t Prioritise
What tasks are the most important to you? It can be hard to know when you are caught up in the flow of everyday life. Being on auto pilot and multitasking rather than mono tasking can make everything seem important. But when we step back and think about what matters most, what will make the most difference in your world. We can see more clearly, what we need to focus on, to make time for. We cannot step back unless we are aware that we are getting caught up in less important tasks.
But how do we become aware I hear you ask? How do we remember to be aware?
How to Remember to be aware…
The problem with remembering to be aware is that we get caught up in moment to moment actions. For example, once we open a computer, we can slip easily into a series of habits and suddenly we are lost. It could be hours before we come up for air and realise we have been procrastinating.
So, what we really need to help us tackle procrastination, is a set of tools for remembering.
Give these a try….
The first thing you need to admit is that the procrastinating is actually doing bad things to you. If we think it’s not a big problem, we will not take any action. So what harm is the procrastination causing? Well, it might be stopping you from achieving your dreams or big goals, from pushing your boundaries and learning new things. It might be causing you anxiety, and making your work suffer.
Making a commitment to being aware is a great tool for remembering. What kind of commitment? Why not write it down on a piece of paper and look at it every morning. Or tell someone else about it. Post it on your blog or Twitter. Have someone check on you weekly. Whatever you do, commit as seriously as you can.
3. Sett intentions
As you start an activity, like opening your email, starting to write something, opening your computer or even starting your day, why not pause to think about what your intention is. Make an intention to be mindful and notice your procrastination. Setting intentions doesn’t necessarily mean you will actually achieve what you set out to do, but it can help.
Every hour or two, have a reminder that helps you to check in to see if your actions match your intention, to remember to be aware of what is been going on with your procrastination. Your timer on your smart phone is great for this.
5. Recognise signals
There are signs that you’re procrastinating. Look out for them - anxiety about your tasks, compulsively checking things, a rising urge to go do something other than the present task. These signs might be physical like tightness in your chest, for example or they might be certain actions of avoidance like checking email. With practice you can learn to recognise them with time. They are flags, waving and telling you that something is going on. Notice the flags and check in to see what’s going on.
These are not things you can master in one day. They take time, practice, and commitment. But if you can solve the mindfulness problem, procrastination becomes a much more manageable beast. By having a formal mindfulness meditation practice we can increase our awareness.
Learn mindfulness meditation or refresh your practice with Simon from MindfulChimp.com. A variety of courses, two-hour mini retreats and drop in classes are available throughout the year. Get in touch at Simon@mindfulChimp.com for more information.
Meditation In Action: A 10 Step Guide For Better Sleep
Having problems sleeping? Well you are not alone, it is increasingly becoming a problem. The NHS believe that one in three people in the UK are regularly affected by poor sleep patterns. Mind, the mental health charity states that “Poor sleep leads to worrying. Worrying leads to poor sleep. Worrying about sleep is like your mind trying to fight itself”.
So how can meditating help me I hear you ask?
Well I believe mindfulness meditation is a skill that can help us have focused relaxation. Meditation might not make you go to sleep but rather it increases your awareness and understanding of the mind at night. This then often results in sleep. So why not try these 10 simple steps to a better night’s sleep.
Lying comfortably in bed, take three deep breaths, breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth. As you breathe in, try to get a sense of the lungs filling with air and the chest expanding. As you breathe out, imagine the thoughts and feelings of the day just disappearing into the distance, and any feelings of tension in the body just melting away. This will help both the body and the mind to relax and let go of the day’s events.
Check in with your-self. How you’re feeling right now? Remember you can’t rush relaxation, so you cannot rush sleep. Take your time here. Let your mind work, no need to try and stop your thoughts, just let the brain do its thing. No need to push thoughts away, just become aware of what you’re thinking and feeling in the body.
Next, we start to become more aware of our body. Bring your attention back to the sensation of the body touching the bed, the weight of the body sinking down into the mattress. Notice where the points of contact are strongest. Notice any sounds or other sensations. Sounds can be especially disturbing when you’re trying to go to sleep. At first, it’s helpful to recognise whether it’s a sound you can change, or if it’s something outside of your control, something you can do nothing about. Rather than resisting the sound, gently rest your attention on it, remaining with the sound for 30 seconds or so, before bringing your attention back to the body.
Now get a sense of how the body feels. Does the body feel heavy or light, restless or still? Try to get a more accurate picture by mentally scanning down through the body, from the head to the toes, gently observing any tension or tightness. You can do this scan several times, taking about 30 seconds each time. Remember to notice the areas that feel relaxed and comfortable, as well as any areas of discomfort.
By now you will have probably noticed the rising and falling sensation of the breath, but if you haven’t, just bring your attention to that place in the body where you feel the movement the most. There is no need to change the rhythm of the breath. Just allow the body to do its own thing. There is no right or wrong way to breathe here, so don’t worry if you feel it more in the chest than the stomach. Notice whether the breath is deep or shallow, long or short, smooth or irregular.
As you watch the breath for a minute or two, it’s quite normal for the mind to wander off. When it does, you’ve been distracted, so in that moment you are back in the present, and all you need do is gently return the focus to the rising and falling sensation. You can just naturally move on to the next section when it feels as if a couple of minutes has passed.
This next part of the exercise is about thinking back through your day in a focused way. Begin by thinking back to the very first moment you can remember in the day, right after waking up in the morning. Do you remember how you felt upon waking? Now, as if your brain has been set to a very gentle “fast-forward,” simply watch as your mind replays the events, meetings and conversations of the day. This doesn’t need to be in detail, it’s more of an overview, a series of snapshots passing through the mind. Take about three minutes to go through the entire day, right up to the present moment. It might seem like a lot to fit into just a few minutes, but this is only an overview of the day, so there is no need to take any longer than three minutes. As the mind replays the day, there is the inevitable temptation to jump in and get caught up in the thinking. It’s normal for the mind to wander like this, but obviously it’s not helpful to get involved in new thinking at this time of night. So, as before, when you realise you’ve been distracted, gently return to the film playing back in your mind and pick up where you left off.
Having brought yourself up to the present moment, you can now return your focus to the body. Place your attention on the small toe of the left foot and imagine that you’re just switching it off for the night. You can even repeat the words “switch off” or “rest” in your mind as you focus on the toe. It’s as if you’re giving the muscles, joints, bones and everything else permission to switch off for the night
Repeat this for the next toe, and the next, and so on. Continue in this way through the foot, up into the ankle, the lower half of the leg and so on all the way up to the hip and pelvic area. Before you repeat this exercise with the right leg, take a moment to notice the difference in the feeling between the leg that has been “switched off” and the one that hasn’t. Repeat the same exercise on the right leg, once again starting with the toes and working your way all the way up to the waist.
Continue this exercise up through the torso, down through the arms, hands and fingers, and up through the throat, neck, face and head. Take a moment to enjoy the sensation of being free of tension, of not needing to do anything with the body, of having given up control. You can now allow the mind to wander as much as it wants, freely associating from one thought to the next, no matter where it wants to go, until you drift off to sleep.
It’s quite possible that by the time you’ve reached this point in the exercise you will be fast asleep. If you are, enjoy the rest and sleep well. Don’t worry if you’re not asleep though — it’s not that you’ve done the exercise wrong. Remember that it’s not an exercise to make you go to sleep, but rather an exercise to increase your awareness and understanding of your mind at night.
You can learn more about mindfulness meditation by visiting MindfulChimp.com or by attending one of Simon’s workshops.
Upcoming Event in March @ Beehive Healthcare
17th March - Mindfully Boost your Confidence
How often have you talked yourself out of something before you have even tried? Come along and learn 7 steps to mindfully boost your confidence through a range of meditations, mindfulness and coaching techniques.
Investment £20 and includes worksheets to aid your practice
Contact Simon@MindfulChimp.com to book or for more information
I note that the advertising for Christmas has started. Every year we have this pressure put on us to have a marvelous Christmas, by spending loads of money that we may not have. Produce a restaurant quality dinner and so it goes. Gosh, I do sound a bit of a grump.
Let me share this story with you. Some years ago, before my meditation journey started, my Father-in-law came to live with us. Sadly, he passed away a few years ago and I still miss him. However, he had his routine and nothing you could do or say would change his routine. One particular year, Christmas fell on a Monday, and yes, Monday was wash day. So, he came into the kitchen with a load of washing. In my anxiety to produce a perfect Christmas I told him that he could not do his washing. What planet was I on? Did it matter if he did his washing? Of course, it didn’t.
The reason I am sharing this with you is that maybe we all need to take a chill pill at Christmas, meditate, remember to allow time for you, and try not to get swept up with all the pressure to be perfect. Just take the time to enjoy the Christmas that you want, as that’s the perfect one for you.
Have a Happy Christmas.
Reiki and Meditation.
The day I took my Shoden training was the first time I had ever meditated, my teacher told the group to close our eyes, so that was what I did. I had no idea what I was doing, thoughts buzzed around my head, I did not yet have the techniques to quieten them. Afterwards I realised what an important part mediation played in developing my Reiki practice, so I learnt how to meditate.
Meditation and my Reiki practice became and still is my personal practice, it's how I start my day. As l look back I can see how Reiki with meditation has had a huge impact on my life.
Time moved on and I began to teach Reiki, and realised I needed to show my students how to meditate, at this point I decided to train as a Meditation teacher.
Life takes us on paths that we do not expect, I won a raffle prize which was a one to one meditation session with Mary Pearson who had just published a book called ‘Meditation the stress solution’. For some reason as I sat down with Mary, I said that I didn't want to meditate with her but it would lovely to have a chat. It was out of this conversation that The British School of Meditation, was born. We agreed that we should set up a school to train Meditation teachers, but this would not be an online course, and we would only do it if we could get external accreditation. So, we set about writing the course, getting accreditation and writing a web site. This took a year.
We now have accreditation through Ascentis and the course is recognised by Ofqual. It is a Level 3 qualification.
We look at all aspects to becoming a meditation teacher, from your own practice to the science that is now validating the benefits of the practice. We also look at a code of ethics and how to support your students with their meditation practice. I should point out that we do not teach any particular meditation discipline, (although one unit does look at types and techniques of meditation) the purpose of the School is to train meditation teachers. In order to take the training, students have to show that they have a regular practice and are happy to keep a meditation journal for the length of the course. This is very important as you cannot teach a skill unless you practice it yourself.
We do have a lot of Reiki practitioners who have taken the training, and this I feel can only add to the depth of the Reiki courses that they offer.
Had someone told me that I would be running a Meditation Teacher Training school when I started my journey with Reiki I would not have believed them.
‘Meditation, the Stress Solution’ By Mary Pearson.
I love sewing, I make quilts and other bits and pieces. My husband enjoys gardening when he is stressed which, to be honest, seems to all of the time. He takes himself out into the garden and plays, if he is really stressed I hear the chain saw coming out to play! Other people enjoy cookery, art, knitting, all of these activities require total focussing on what you are doing. I know that If my mind wanders when I am sewing, I will be unpicking that last seam. I find that when I take myself off to my sewing room I feel better, anxiety slips away.
The question is ‘Is this a meditation practice?’ I have been thinking about this, and I am not sure. When we are focussing on our hobbies we are not focussing on our thoughts, or at least mostly focussing on those thoughts that are needed to create our hobby. In other words we still our monkey mind. On reflection I think that we are working in the present moment mindfully, it is a mindful task.
You might say ‘Well isn’t that a definition of meditation’, and in some form it is. However, we still need (at least I do) to sit and practice meditation as this is an internal practice. Our meditation practice allows us time to get to know ourselves.
A wise teacher of mine once said, that ultimately we should live all our lives in meditation. Living in each moment, allowing life to unfold without judgement. This is the journey. Therefore I believe that we need to sit and meditate and to have mindful activities, until one day our whole day is lived in a state of being in the present moment. A work in progress.
We had a CPD day on Saturday, 17th June. It was on the importance of Social Media in helping meditation teachers get their message out in the world.
When I first got into business in 2001 Social Media didn’t really exist. I did develop a website and used email as well but that was it.
How times have changed. Today if you run a business, no matter how small, you need to be on different social media platforms.
Most of us are on Facebook which seems to be the most user-friendly and accessible of the platforms. You can set up a business page easily and then promote your courses, classes and workshops to a wide audience. If you are on Facebook please do like our page and follow us.
I personally am not as familiar with other platforms. The British School of Meditation uses Twitter and Instagram and if you too use them do please follow us.
Here are the links to our pages:
For Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BSoMeditation/
For Twitter: We can be found at BSOM TeachMeditation (@BSOMeditation) https://twitter.com/bsomeditation
For Instagram@ We can be found at britishschoolofmeditation https://www.instagram.com/britishschoolofmeditation/?hl=en
Looking forward to hearing from you on FB, Twitter or Instagram!
Not every type of meditation suits everyone!
I have just returned from a mindfulness retreat based on the Zen Buddhist tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh.
As you may know I have been meditating for a great many years and have found it to be both an inspiration and a consolation. My practice is TM: Transcendental Meditation and I meditate on a mantra I was given when I learnt. I meditate twice a day using this mantra. Meditation changed my life and I wouldn’t be without my daily practice.
However, as one of the founders of the British School of Meditation I believe it is very important that I try and experience different types and techniques of meditation so I can speak with authority about them. To this end I go on at least two meditation retreats every year.
This retreat was a mindfulness retreat were the focus was on the breath. Unfortunately, I had a bad cold and found it almost impossible to focus on my breath because a lot of the time I was trying very hard not to cough and disturb a room full of silent meditators.
The second thing I found difficult was that we didn’t maintain silence all the time. We were silent at meal times and from 9pm until after breakfast the following morning. After breakfast people could speak during the day, except for meal times. I found this rather disconcerting to go from silence to speaking and prefer to be on a completely silent retreat.
The next problem was meals. The food was vegetarian or vegan and, although I am neither, that was fine (although I was desperate for a bacon butty when I got home!). the problem was that the tables sat 8 people and we waited until the table was full and the precepts of mindfulness had been read out before we started eating. By the time I began to eat my food had gone cold and I find it very difficult and unappetising to eat cold food.
On the plus side, we heard some very good talks on Buddhism and the people on the retreat were lovely. They were extremely kind when I had several coughing fits, getting me glasses of water and offering cough sweets. The venue was a good one with beautiful grounds and we had great weather too.
So, this retreat didn’t work for me, partly because I wasn’t well, but also because this style of meditation doesn’t suit me. Zen Buddhism isn’t for me but I am glad I have experienced it.
Not every type of meditation suits everyone. So, if you go to a class, or a workshop, or even a retreat and find the type of meditation doesn’t resonate with you don’t give up on meditation. There is a technique that will suit you. Persevere, and when you discover what works for you, be happy you did stick it out because meditation has so many benefits you will be glad you did.
The British School of Meditation has been established to train teachers in meditation techniques to meet the growing demand for highly trained and accredited meditation teachers throughout the UK including: the Midlands, South West, Wales, North West, North East, London and the South East.