Thursday, 19 May 2016

Mindfulness workshops in higher education



I’ve been involved in some mindfulness workshops at work recently and, as several people have expressed an interest and because it's Mental Health Awareness Week, I thought I would blog about them.

Some context

I’d been very stressed: I’d recently returned from a short maternity leave, too many deadlines and too little sleep had led to a small car accident, and I knew that I had to find some time for self-care or I was going to combust. My workplace has a well-being programme which includes meditation, mindfulness and relaxation. I’ve been interested in this area for quite a few years, having received mindfulness-based CBT for PTSD in the past, taught customer service/mindfulness sessions as part of staff-development at a previous workplace, as well as being a keen (amateur) yogi. I decided to pay them a visit.

How I got involved

The classes were, and still are, great and really help me cope with the tantrums and negativity, and not just those from the little one. One of the team was leaving and, knowing some of my background, I was asked by the organiser if I wanted to step in. I jumped at the opportunity – it would be a chance to pass on some of what I’d learned and hopefully help them benefit in the same way I had.

What I do

By the end of the academic term, I will have delivered three workshops. They are on mindfulness and how it can be used in everyday situations. At several of the workshops I have attended I’d noted that people say this was their ‘me time’ and their time away from the stress of the office or studies. As it’s not always possible to attend workshops I wanted to see if there was a way I could help people carry their practice with them.

The workshops last thirty minutes and are attended by students and staff. The numbers can vary between five and twenty. I’ve themed my three workshops into Eating, Noticing the Environment, and Communication. Each one includes two guided activities, a discussion after each one, followed by some optional homework.

Eating

As this was my first one, I explained my background and that I am very much a learner as is everyone else. The first exercise was quite a well-known one and can be found easily online. It features a raisin and participants are guided to view it as if for the first time, taking time to really see and feel the shapes and textures , to smell it and, finally, to taste it. The second was very similar and featured dark chocolate.

Flowers for the 'noticing' meditation exercise

Noticing

This theme was about noticing what’s happening both internally and externally to ourselves. The first exercise, focused on awareness and the labelling of thoughts. Awareness is not the same as thought – it’s more like a vessel which can hold and contain our thinking, helping us to see our thoughts. Jon Kabat- Zinn, founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course, describes it as a soup pot holding all the chopped vegetables. The second exercise was designed to connect us that little bit more with the natural environment and involved the flowers in the picture above – each person chose one and focused on the texture, the colours and the smell.

Communication

The next workshop will focus on observing rather than being controlled by our emotions, especially when communicating with others. They are not about self-censorship but instead focus on using emotional intelligence and choosing the most appropriate response for the situation. The exercises will concentrate on how to listen and speak with compassion, kindness and awareness in a bid to transform and strengthen our relationships.

What next?

So far the feedback has been great and participants have told me they have benefited. I don't know yet whether I'll be asked back next academic term; however, it's been an enlightening and interesting experience and I feel like I've learned a lot too. I'm currently reading The Mindful Librarian by Richard Moniz and am looking forward to finding out how I can combine this with teaching in higher education.