MINDFULNESS is, as Christine Millar freely admits, a bit of a buzzword at the moment, writes Andrew Keddie.
The form of secular meditation, pioneered in the United States during the 1970s, has now become a major growth area within British psychology, not least because it is practised – and extolled – by some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, including Meg Ryan and Goldie Hawn, who swear by its effectiveness in dealing with anxiety and depression.
But as Christine knows, these ailments of the modern age are not the sole preserve of the rich and famous, and, she believes, Borderers too, especially those coping with the pressures of straitened financial times, can reap the benefits of the therapy. It can, she feels, be a lifestyle change for anyone.
Although Mindfulness is now offered by several health boards in the UK, it is not yet available through NHS Borders.
It is, however, the latest string to the bow of Lanton-based counsellor Christine who has organised a special “taster session” for Borderers who want to find out more about Mindfulness. It will take place in Bowden village hall this Saturday from 10.30am.
Christine and Dr Avinash Bansode taught the first eight-week foundation course on the therapy held in the region, and she is in the process of organising more classes. She is also keen to clarify what Mindfulness can and cannot achieve.
“Some people think of it as a therapy or self-improvement technique that will sort out all their emotional difficulties, so they do not have any problems at all and can live in a dreamland,” she told us.
“It is, in fact, the exact opposite: it’s about learning to have an awareness of the reality of things in the present moment with acceptance and trust, while recognising that the past and the future are just concepts.
“Through Mindfulness, you learn to slow down and stop automatic and habitual reactions. You become aware of small changes in your thoughts, feelings and body sensations, and are able to disengage from trying to fix things and repeat self-critical thoughts.
“All this results in you being able to handle your thoughts, moods and emotions more effectively, and respond in a better way to difficult situations, leading to achieving balance and resilience at work and at home.
“Put another way, suffering and distress are largely due to the habits of clinging to what we view as pleasant and trying to reject what we see as aversive. This habitual tendency of ‘fixing things’ and avoiding distressing emotional experiences is common to us all. Thus, when stressful things happen, we tend to cling to habitual patterns which merely increase feelings of stress, fear, anxiety and depression. Mindfulness seeks to change that thought process.”
Christine became a qualified counsellor in brief intervention psychological therapies after retiring from her job as a school administrator.
It was witnessing the impact of groundbreaking work of progressive academic experts which drew her to Mindfulness. These luminaries included Dr Mark Williams who, with colleagues at Oxford University, has developed a cognitive therapy based on Mindfulness, and John Kabat-Zinn, an American professor who has evolved a programme not only to reduce stress but also to ameliorate chronic pain.
At a retreat day held recently in Bowden to round off the first foundation course, Christine, who is now studying new Mindfulness approaches at Bangor University in Wales, was delighted to hear of the positive outcomes for those who attended.
“Apart from significant decreases in stress and anxiety, we also heard that people felt more self aware and had an enhanced appreciation of life,” said Christine.
To find out more about Saturday’s taster session or for more information on Mindfulness, contact Christine on 07976 307836 or go to www.mindfullybeing.co.uk.