Tuesday, 15 June 2010

hello again!

hello! im back again at last! i have been busy on my quest for wellbeing and for the last sixteen weeks i have been on the WEL course run by glasgow homeopathic hospital and intended for people with cfs/me symptoms. i have mentioned it here already but only gone into a bit of detail about some of it. it was really in 3 chunks, the first with a doctor, the second with a physiotherapist and the third with two more doctors. the last part was by far the most beneficial to me. this eight week (optional) MBCT course has been truly amazing for me in many ways, so i would like to tell you a wee bit about it here.

MBCT stands for mindfulness based cognitive therapy. this is a type of meditation called mindfulness meditation. meditation is by no means new to me. many years ago i developed an interest in yoga, meditation and buddhism. i learned how through yoga and meditation i could find a retreat from this crazy, fast paced and busy world if only for a few minutes a week. later through buddhist philosophy i learned how to face many of life's challenges and difficulties in a gentle way with kindness to myself and others. along with healthy eating and a bit of exercise i thought i had the perfect healthy lifestyle for my mind and body. when i became poorly with cfs/fibro some of this fell by the wayside. i had no energy (or cash) to attend my normal yoga/meditation classes, and what was the point anyway? i had gotten ill even with 'doing all the right things'!

by going on this mbct course i feel that have once again found a little bit of that breathing space. why meditate? well for one thing research shows that people who meditate may handle emotions such as anxiety and frustration more effectively and may also aid healing and lower blood pressure to boot. the course reminded me that mindfulness meditation is not about 'stopping thoughts' and thinking of 'nothing'. it is listening to your voice, your heart and your breathing and being present with your emotions and body sensations without trying to change anything or judge yourself.

mindfulness teacher and author jon kabat-zinn describes this nicely; ''one way to envision how mindfulness works is to think of your mind as the surface of a lake or of the ocean. there are always waves on the water. sometimes they are big, sometimes they are small, and sometimes almost imperceptible. the waters waves are churning up by the winds which come and go and vary in direction and intensity, just as the winds of stress and change in our life's, which stir up waves in our minds. people who don't understand meditation think that it is some kind of special inner manipulation which will magically shut of these waves so that the mind's surface will be flat, peaceful and tranquil. but just as you cant put a glass plate on the water to calm the waves, so you can't artificially suppress the waves of your mind, and it's not too smart to try. it will only create more tension and inner struggle, not calmness. that does not mean that calmness is unattainable. it's just that it cannot be attained by misguided attempts to suppress the minds natural activity. it is possible through meditation to find shelter from much of the wind that agitates the mind. over time a good deal of turbulence may die down from lack of continuous feeding. but ultimately the winds of life and the winds of the mind will blow, do what we may. meditation is about knowing something about this and how to work with it. you can't stop the waves but you can learn to surf''

not judging your thoughts does not mean being resistant to change. by tuning into how a certain thought makes us feel we can then decide how to deal better with our emotions. it makes us more aware of reoccuring negitive thoughts and we realise that they are just thoughts, not facts. we may be able to deal with problems, illness, relationships better with a clearer awarness of the situation. as the dalai lama points out 'meditation is merely the process whereby we gain control over the mind and guide it in a more virtuous direction'.
on the course we spent time learning different practices including bodyscan, sitting meditation, mindfulness of movement, walking meditation and my favourite - mountain meditation. we got to spend time talking over any difficulties we were having commiting to formal practice and share our progress. we got lots of homework that had to be handed in so this helped keep us motivated.

i think everyone can benefit from meditation no matter how old or healthy. you don't need you be a buddhist or meditate for hours on end. even just a few minutes a day can be really helpful in daily life. in fact we learned 'three minute breathing space' that is good to make you stop, tune into your mind and body feelings and just be. for more formal practice a guided cd is ideal to get you started. focusing on your breathing is the best way to go and when the usual millions of thoughts that come and go arise, just be aware, don't push it away. but ask yourself how does this thought make me feel? what emotions? how does my body feel? now when i feel strong emotions like anger i greet it like an old friend 'hello anger come and sit beside me' (along with frustration, self pity, fear etc). so far it has helped me cope with the onset of depression due to my symptoms and daily stresses due to my lifestyle change over the last few years or so. oh and no need either to sit cross legged on the floor if this is not comfortable, i just use a chair for the time being or lie down. the only thing about meditation that can be difficult is the commitment you need to give mindfulness practice. i am still struggling with this but it is getting easier as i feel the benefits!

during the course i struggled to concentrate due to building works outside my home, the noise has been driving me crazy and by no means perfect for meditation. i asked one of the teachers for advice and was told to make the noise my focus for meditation. as crazy as it sounded it worked!

want to give it a go? you can start by searching for local classes, purchase or borrow a cd and a couple of books and take it from there! let me know how you get on!

SOME RESOURSES: i have borrowed the following from the library and they are recommended reading: full catastrophe living by jon kabat-zinn, wherever you go, there you are by jon kabat-zinn, healing without freud or prozac by dr david esrvan-schreiber (notes the benefits of heartmath meditation) and living well with pain and illness by vidyamala burch. a friend has lent me cd's also narrated by jon kabat-zinn and by vidyamala birch that accompany some of the books. here are some websites to find out more about mindfulness meditation and related research: mind and life, meditation for the masses, mindful purpose and wild mind.

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