What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is our ability to be fully present – to ourselves, to our experience at any given moment, to others and to the world around us.
Although the quality of mindful awareness is something that is always available, it is also something that has to be nurtured and practiced, as we humans can spend a lot of our time far away from the present moment and, sometimes, far away from ourselves, lost in past or future, fantasies, daydreams or worries.
Mindfulness training, regardless of setting, helps to develop attention and present moment awareness. The cultivation of mindfulness – of paying attention “on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally” allows basic patterns of thinking, feeling and physiological changes to be observed. The ‘non-judgemental’ aspect of mindfulness is extremely important, as judging our experience (as good/bad; pleasant/unpleasant; appropriate/inappropriate etc.) is how we normally relate to ourselves, other people and situations. Developing an awareness of how we relate to our experience can be crucial in supporting well-being and helping us break old habits of mind that may be unhelpful.
The purpose of training where our attention goes is to help us become more aware more often. So if you were a fly on the wall at a mindfulness class, you might see people sitting or lying very still and really looking like they’re not doing very much at all! However if you have ever tried to practice paying attention to something as simple as your breathing even for a couple of minutes, you might quickly discover that the mind is having none of it! It has its own agenda! The wonderful teacher Thich Nhat Hanh describes the practice of mindfulness as being ‘simple, but not easy’ and we can discover just how true this simple statement is for ourselves whenever we try to focus our attention on one thing for more than a few moments! Very soon we may become aware that we’re making plans for tea or what’s on TV later. We get lost in all kinds of thoughts. And so the essence of mindfulness is to regain awareness when the mind strays from whatever the focus of awareness is meant to be in that moment. This ‘coming to awareness’ is crucial to stopping negative cycles of rumination that can be turning points for our mood to deteriorate. All thoughts are treated the same in terms of mindfulness practice. So whether we train on the neutral thought of ‘what will I make for dinner?’ or the powerful one that says ‘I am never going to be able to do this!’ the goal remains the same – to come back to the present moment, gently back to working with the breath.
Mindfulness meditation is neither new nor particular to any one culture or religion. It has been a central part of many spiritual traditions, including Christianity, for thousands of years. It is central to Buddhist teachings and to Buddhist psychology. It is only relatively recently that Western medical and psychological sciences have begun to pay attention to the potential health benefits of mindfulness practice. Jon Kabat-Zinn has pioneered the application of mindfulness meditation in healthcare since the late 1970’s. As a micro-biologist and following his own extensive study and practice of mindfulness, he developed an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programme to complement medical care for chronic pain and other medical conditions (e.g. arthritis, cardio-obstructive pulmonary disease, multiple sclerosis etc.) that did not respond to purely medical treatments alone. The programme was established to help complement the work of standard medical care and took place at the Complementary Medicine Department of the University of Massachusetts Medical Centre. It has remained relatively unchanged since that time. This programme has now been adopted by health and medical care centres throughout the world as part of a new more ‘participatory’ approach to healthcare, where patients are supported to assume greater responsibility in their own healing.
Research evidence in support of mindfulness-based interventions (MBI’s) has grown exponentially over the past decade. Grossman et al. (2004) conducted a review study of the health benefits of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and found reductions in pain, skin and heart conditions; depression and anxiety; quality of life and immune strength in those with cancer.
Since then, numerous other studies all over the world are producing outcomes that confirm the immense value of mindfulness being used in the mainstream of medicine, the health sciences and education. This growing body of scientific research now recognises that learning and practising mindfulness can positively affect our sense of health and well-being physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. As a result mindfulness is now taught across the world in a wide variety of settings – healthcare, education, business – to help people respond effectively to stress and illness in their lives.
It is interesting that the root word of the verb ‘to heal’ is also the root of the word ‘to make whole.’ So, in an important way, language suggests that real healing might also mean ‘whole-ing.’ Mindfulness offers us a way of beginning this journey, by paying attention to what is unfolding within our own body, feelings and mind, breath by breath, moment by moment.
‘The present is the only time that any of us have to be alive – to know anything – to perceive – to learn -to act – to change – to heal.’
8-week Mindfulness Courses
What is MBSR?
Living mindfully means being fully present in the here and now.
It is the practice of stepping out of automatic pilot mode and paying attention so that we don’t miss the precious moments in our lives and can equally learn to deal more effectively with those times that may be stressful.
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is an eight-week mindfulness programme created and pioneered by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn in the USA over the past 35 years. This powerful programme has a strong evidence base for assisting participants in managing stress, low mood, depression, anxiety, illness and chronic pain.
Participants are introduced to different forms of mindfulness practice, including the body scan, gentle mindful movement and sitting meditation. As the emphasis of the programme is on bringing mindfulness into everyday life participants are asked to commit to a minimum of 45 minutes of home practice (CDs provided) 6 days a week for the 8 week duration of the course.
Who is it for?
Open to everyone. It is especially beneficial to anyone wishing to manage stress, chronic pain or illness or to anyone wishing to find a way to live with more balance, calm and greater ease.
What is involved in the 8 Week Programme?
- 8 two and a half hour classes and one day of mindfulness.
- Guided instruction in mindfulness meditation practices
- Daily home practice of mindfulness
- Audio CDs to support home practice
- A course workbook
The fee for the course is €350.
This includes initial orientation, 8 classes, one full day of mindfulness, 3 CDs and the course manual. Booking deposit of €100 is required on application and once completed application is received an orientation session will be arranged.
If it is decided during the orientation that the time is not right to attend the course, the €100 booking fee will be returned in full. If you wish to attend this course, but cannot make the full fee at this time, please contact Fionnuala to discuss concessionary rates.
Contact Fionnuala to request a confidential application form, which can be returned by email or post, along with the booking deposit of €100.
Mindfulness for the Artist/Performer
‘Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.’
Being a musician is a tremendous gift!
The feeling of mastery when a piece of music starts to flow, after hours and hours of practice; the fulfillment of working with other musicians, each of you contributing to the greater whole; the amazing experience of walking onto a stage – big or small – and connecting with an audience; the feeling of grace when another’s heart is touched by what you do... the gifts of being a musician are many!
And being a musician can also provide some particular challenges and stressors perhaps unique to those working in the creative arts – a field in which one has to be able to communicate with ‘the muse’ of your particular art form yet keep your feet firmly planted in dealing with the nuts and bolts of learning your craft and earning your living from your gift.
Dealing with performance anxiety, competition, touring schedules, contracts, financial uncertainty are all things that come with the territory and can erode confidence and ultimately effect the simple gift of making music which is central to it all. Keeping the feet firmly planted on the earth while ensuring that the spirit can soar free to create fabulous music – this is the life skill all musicians should learn!
Combining over 25 years of experience as a professional musician (singer and harper) with her extensive mindfulness experience, Fionnuala offers both individual and group mindfulness sessions to performers of all ages and levels of experience.
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama (GSMD) in London has recently introduced mindfulness courses for staff and students at the college with excellent results. Research carried out by the GSMD and Cambridge University in 2012 has shown significantly increased levels of perceived wellbeing, positive emotion and life satisfaction among music students who took part in an eight week mindfulness course as part of their training at GSMD. The results of the study also indicated decreased levels of performance anxiety, decreased levels of depression and decreased levels of perceived stress among those students who took part in the mindfulness course. Student reports during in-depth interviews at the end of the course showed the following results:
- Practice has become more effective
- Better management of performance anxiety
- Greater enjoyment of performance
- Increased focus and attention
- Increased self-regulation of behaviour & emotions
- Increased self-acceptance and self-compassion
An artist’s wellbeing is central to their ability to create and perform and Fionnuala feels privileged to work with artists of all disciplines in exploring ways that mindfulness practice might enhance their lives, both personally and professionally.
One to One Mindfulness Sessions
If, for whatever reason, you are unable to attend an eight week mindfulness course Fionnuala offers one to one sessions which can be arranged to suit your personal needs and schedule. You will receive a full introduction to mindfulness practice and how to apply it. Each weekly session lasts one and a half hours and there is a suggested minimum time frame of at least 4 weeks.
Please email Fionnuala for further details.
Fionnuala has been teaching mindfulness-based approaches regularly since 2010 and has completed mindfulness-specific supervision training (3-days) with the Centre for Mindfulness Research and Practice at Bangor University (North Wales). Fionnuala offers on-going supervision to:
- mindfulness teachers;
- those already using or interested in integrating mindfulness in their work;
- mentoring for those who are seeking support in developing their personal mindfulness practice.
Regular supervision is an integral part of the Good Practice Guidelines for Teaching Mindfulness-Based Interventions (read the guidelines here) and an important part of on-going training and development for those working in the field of mindfulness.
Please get in touch with Fionnuala for further details.
Below you will find a small selection of books, videos links and websites that may be useful in starting an exploration into the world of mindfulness.
- Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn
- Wherever You Go There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn
- How to Train a Wild Elephant & Other Adventures in Mindfulness by Jan Chozen Bays
- The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh
- Heal Thyself by Saki Santorelli
- Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Mark Williams and Danny Penman (with CD)
- Mindfulness for Health by Vidyamala Burch and Danny Penman (with CD and an excellent resource for anyone dealing with illness or pain)
- Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana
- The Mindful Way Through Depression by Segal, Teasdale and Williams (with CD)
- Awakening Joy: 10 Steps That Will Put You On the Road to Real Happiness by James Baraz and Shoshana Alexander
- Buddha’s Brain by Rick Hanson
- Hardwiring Happiness by Rick Hanson
- www.sanctuary.ie – beautiful meditation and mindfulness centre in Smithfield, Dublin.
- www.mindfulness.ie – renowned Irish mindfulness organisation offering courses, retreats and trainings.
- www.cfmi.ie – renowned Irish mindfulness organisation offering courses, retreats and trainings.
- https://www.bangor.ac.uk/mindfulness/ – The Centre For Mindfulness Research + Practice, Bangor, North Wales.
- http://www.umassmed.edu/cfm/ – The Centre For Mindfulness at UMass, USA, where Jon Kabat-Zinn began the eight-week MBSR programme.
- http://www.oxfordmindfulness.org – The Oxford Mindfulness Centre.
- http://www.mindfulnessinschools.org/ – Mindfulness in Schools Project (MiSP) is a non-profit organisation teaching secular mindfulness to pupils, teachers and parents.
- http://www.mindful.org – wonderful new magazine publication called Mindful.
- http://www.headspace.com/ – Headspace is a gym membership for the mind. A course of guided meditation, delivered via an app or online.
- http://www.goamra.org – a US-based website with all of the latest mindfulness research by category.
Audio Talks and Practices Available To Download
- www.self-compassion.org (loving-kindness and compassion practices by Dr. Kristin Neff)
- www.dharmaseed.org (talks on Buddhist psychology and mindfulness)
- www.tarabrach.com (talks on mindfulness and meditation and guided practices by Tara Brach)
- www.soundstrue.com (website with a lot of mindfulness/meditation resources by many renowned teachers available for sale)
- www.youtube.com (lots of interesting interviews with various mindfulness teachers, including Jon Kabat-Zinn)
The Irish Good Practice Guidelines for Teaching Mindfulness-Based Courses
These guiding principles have been developed to promote good practice in teaching mindfulness-based courses. Mindfulness courses are intended to teach people practical skills that can help with physical and psychological health problems and ongoing life challenges, helping to enhance general wellbeing. Amongst the approaches used are Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) and the Breathworks Mindfulness Based approaches to Pain and Illness (MBPI), all of which are normally taught over eight 2-3 hour sessions.
MBSR is a group-based programme developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn and colleagues at the University of Massachusetts Medical Centre, Centre for Mindfulness (CFM) for populations with a wide range of physical and mental health problems. MBCT is an integration of MBSR with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. It was initially developed by Zindel Segal, Mark Williams and John Teasdale to help recovered recurrently depressed participants and has been recommended by NICE for this group. MBCT is evolving to be taught to a broader range of people based on psychological understandings of what causes human distress and in a range of settings (e.g., health service, schools, forensic settings).
The Breathworks MBPI course is a development of MBSR, specifically for people with chronic pain and/or other long-term (physical) health conditions. Developed by Vidyamala Burch, it combines key elements of MBSR and MBCT with particular approaches to mindfulness in daily life and mindful movement that are suitable to this population. It also includes compassion meditation as a core component.
A teacher of mindfulness-based approaches should have the following:
A. Mindfulness Based Teacher Training
Familiarity through personal participation with the mindfulness-based course curriculum that they will be learning to teach, with particular in-depth personal experience of all the core meditation practices of this mindfulness-based programme.
Completion of an in-depth, rigorous mindfulness-based teacher training programme or supervised pathway over a minimum duration of 12 months.
B. Training or background required in addition to mindfulness-based teacher training
A professional qualification in mental or physical health care, education or social care, or equivalent life experience, recognized by the organization or context within which the teaching will take place.
Knowledge and experience of the populations that the mindfulness-based course will be delivered to, including experience of teaching, therapeutic or other care provision with groups and/or individuals, unless such knowledge and experience is provided to an adequate level by the mindfulness-based teacher training itself. An exception to this can be when teaching with the help of a colleague who knows well the population to whom the course will be delivered and has a relevant qualification. They would also need to have an experiential understanding of mindfulness-based approaches.
If delivering MBCT, knowledge of relevant underlying psychological processes, associated research and evidence-based practice, unless these are provided to an adequate level by the mindfulness teacher training programme.
If delivering MBCT or other mindfulness-based course with a clinical population, an appropriate professional clinical training.
C. Ongoing Good Practice Requirements
- Commitment to a personal mindfulness practice through:
— Daily formal and informal practice.
— Participation in annual residential teacher-led mindfulness meditation retreats.
- Engagement in processes which continue to develop mindfulness-based teaching practice
— Ongoing contacts with other mindfulness practitioners and teachers, built and maintained as a means to share experiences and learn collaboratively.
— Regular supervision with an experienced mindfulness-based teacher including:
- Opportunity to reflect on/inquire into personal process in relation to personal mindfulness practice and mindfulness-based teaching practice.
- Receiving periodic feedback on teaching through video recordings, supervisor sitting in on teaching sessions or co-teaching with reciprocal feedback.
- A commitment to ongoing development as a teacher through further training, personal development, keeping up to date with the evidence base, recording and reflecting on teaching sessions, participation in webs forums etc.
- Mindfulness teachers have a duty of care to their course participants. Adherence to the ethical framework appropriate to the teacher’s professional background and working context is essential.