Original Drawing by Tina Ashton

Original drawing created by Tina Ashton www.tinaashton.co.uk

Mindfulness Leighton Buzzard

Mindful May

Did you try Mindful May?  I had a Mini Moment of Mindfulness or a mindful task every day through May on the Facebook Page.  Many had links to recordings or articles as well as suggestions for different mindful experiences.  If you enjoyed it why not repeat the process - if you missed it then start now!  The feedback was really positive and making new habits as easy, effortless and pleasant as possible is far more likely to lead to long term change.  Here is the list of tasks for you to try whenever you want to reconnect to the present moment instead of being lost in thought or on autopilot.

mindful may suggestions

Mindfulness Leighton Buzzard

Butterfly Mindfulness

Don’t worry butterfly mindfulness is not the latest upcoming trend to be introduced at practice group! It is more an unexpected mindful experience I had on my last trip to the zoo when we visited the butterfly house. On entering the butterfly area instead of being amazed at the butterflies I unexpectedly found myself feeling quite anxious as several large butterflies flew rather too close to my face for comfort. I was suddenly aware of my body feeling tense and ready for action, looking quickly in all directions for where the next one might be coming from and my heartbeat speeding up – classic symptoms of a stress response with my body preparing for fight, flight or freeze in the butterfly house of all places!

I was not alone in my response either – I heard and saw other people having similar experiences. I realised that I did not want the butterflies near my face and I was also concerned I would tread on one or knock one and hurt it. I found myself walking rather slowly and tentatively around and as my stress response gradually settled so did I, becoming more comfortable and confident in my surroundings and beginning to admire the gorgeous colours and antics of the butterflies. I started to take photos and was particularly keen to get a shot of one of the larger bright blue butterflies which danced around in front of me but would not stay put long enough for a photo resulting in me feeling annoyed that I could not get my perfect photo.

So in the space of probably five or so minutes I had experienced a range of emotions from happy to high alert stress to concentration and trepidation to confident to frustrated and finally to amusement at myself and how quickly thoughts and emotions can come and go despite how strongly we might feel them.

Once home and reflecting on the experience I wished that I had videoed a clip to use for this blog and social media – on the one hand an opportunity to share my mindful moment missed, but on the other hand I’m pleased I was not thinking about work on a family day out. So instead here is a fuzzy photo of my nemesis, my personal reminder that emotions come and go, some last longer than others, some leave the memory of them after they have gone but they are all transient.

blue butterfly

Mindfulness Leighton Buzzard

The Key to Happiness?

I recently posted the quote below to my Facebook page about the key to happiness is letting each situation be what it is instead of what you think it should be.  It obviously struck a chord for lots of people as it received more reactions and shares than average so I thought you might like a post that expanded on the subject.

My last blog was about the differences between CBT and mindfulness but this is one of the areas where they both agree!  CBT as an approach believes that feelings of sadness and depression are often linked to thoughts about the past or loss while feelings of anxiety and fear are often linked to thoughts about the future, threat and danger - trying to change things and make them different to how they are by spending more time in the past or the future than in the present. 

Mainstream mindfulness is generally practised without any religious elements but it is originally a Buddhist practice.  In Buddhism, it is believed that we have a human tendency to crave things that we want in order to keep ourselves safe and happy and that we grasp and hold onto what we do have.  It is this constant craving and grasping, trying to make things different from how they are which Buddhism believes leads to suffering. 

Please don't misunderstand; neither CBT therapists, Buddhists nor mindfulness teachers are going to suggest that we shouldn't improve dangerous situations for ourselves or others.  This is relating to the parts of our daily lives that we constantly wish were different - such as wanting the latest thing we can't afford, wishing things could just be a bit more perfect, thinking everything will be different or better when this or that happens.  

Practising mindfulness involves being aware of what is happening in the present moment - avoiding or interrupting getting carried away or caught up in only thoughts about the past or future or thoughts about craving and grasping.  

The present moment might include negative or difficult thoughts and feelings, but it can also include broadening our attention to include what else is also present using the senses - touch, sound, smell, sight and also the breath.  This broader attention gives a sense of space so that difficult thoughts and feelings are no longer the only things that you are aware of.  Noticing how it is, without trying to change anything, acknowledging that's just how it is right now.

Do I still get lost in thoughts and feelings about the past and the future?  Yes, of course, I do - it's part of being human!  However when I notice that's what I'm doing and how that may be negatively affecting my mood I generally choosing to be mindful as a way of interrupting those thoughts, come back to noticing how it is, right now, in the present moment. 

So next time you catch yourself caught up in a spiral of thoughts wanting the small stuff to be different and feeling unhappy why not give it a try?


Mindfulness Leighton Buzzard

What is the difference between mindfulness and CBT?

You may have heard me mention that I’m studying psychology with the Open University and I was lucky enough that my mindfulness experience gave me an advantage during my last assignment!  The assignment was to compare and contrast cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and mindfulness as approaches for working with and understanding fear and sadness.  Catchy title!  While I knew next to nothing about CBT before the study topic I do have a good understanding about mindfulness so was able to approach the assignment with a little more confidence than normal and I thought you may be interested in a summary of how mindfulness is both similar and different to CBT.  Don’t worry I won’t bore you with my actual essay!!

Firstly I will briefly (and certainly not expertly), describe CBT as a therapeutic approach that looks at the way that we think and how that might affect the way that we act.  We may have attached positive or negative emotions to particular situations based on our past experience which then influence how we behave in similar situations in the future.  This in turn can lead to repeated patterns of behaviour which are reinforced each time we experience them and can become problematic if they result in phobias and anxiety.   Hopefully if you’ve an interest in mindfulness you will already be aware that mindfulness is the practice of focussing on and being aware of the present moment rather than being lost in thought, thinking about the past or the future. 

CBT generally involves one-to-one sessions with a CBT therapist identifying which thoughts or situations may be a problem and working together to improve or change a particular way of thinking.  This may involve making sense of thinking patterns and using behavioural experiments to help consider alternative ways of thinking and behaving.  Mindfulness is more of a skill or technique that can be practised individually with the help of books, apps, websites etc. or as part of a workshop, course or practice group.  It normally involves either an exercise or a meditation where you practise choosing where you are going to place your attention – every time your attention wanders you practise bringing it back – and you try to do this without judging, liking or disliking.

Both CBT and Mindfulness encourage you to be aware of your thoughts and feelings rather than push them away or ignore them.  This can sometimes be an uncomfortable experience so not always the Zen, calm experience that mindfulness is sometimes portrayed as!  Those of you who come to the monthly practice group will be familiar with the range of emotions that we can be aware of and that come and go just within a few minutes of some of the exercises.  During a mindfulness practice we might acknowledge a difficult emotion such as fear or sadness, but also broaden the attention to include noticing what else is also present for example, sounds smells, sights and our breath.  This practice of noticing more than an emotion creates a sense of space so that the difficult emotion is no longer the only thing we are aware of.

Similarities of the two approaches in facing difficult feelings has led to the combination of mindfulness and cognitive-behavioural therapy known as mindfulness based cognitive therapy (MBCT) and mindfulness has become known as the third wave of cognitive-behavioural therapy.   So how do they both approach fear and sadness?  CBT has been developed with psychological research as a way of problem solving difficulties with negative emotions.  Mindfulness approaches negative emotions as a normal part of a human experience so rather than problem solving or curing them, mindfulness notices them and allows them to part of the present moment. 

Which one you feel works best for you may depend on what you are struggling with, along with personal choice.  They are both used extensively by therapists, counsellors and psychotherapists helping people to cope with difficult emotions.  Whichever you experience one of the main advantages is that both approaches can be practised independently once the techniques have been learnt.  This makes them useful skills to manage difficult emotions for life, not just during a therapy session or workshop.

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