Mindfulness is a hot topic right now. It’s all over the medical press and promoted by health professionals of all flavours. I believe mindfulness is something everyone can access to improve their general well being. Most people are intuitively mindful from time to time, but to maximise its benefits regular practice is required: it is a skill that can be built upon. Mindfulness also has a therapeutic role for some specific medical problems, both physical and psychological. Even NICE, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, which can be hard to convince, is recommending mindfulness-base cognitive therapy for people with recurrent depression. So what exactly is mindfulness and how is it done?
Well this is a very broad church with different approaches to suit different folk. The concept of “being in the moment” is a key message. Focusing on the body and its senses takes a person out of past experiences and future planning, bringing you to what is happening right now. You can eat a mindful meal or take a mindful walk. On a more meditative level you can sit and breathe and just be, allowing the distractions of the human mind to pass you by for a short while.
This may feel a little conceptual so to illustrate I would like to share with you a personal experience to see where it takes you.
I am doing the school run. Really it’s a school steeplechase with one child teetering on the kerb doing scooter stunts, about to fall in front of a passing lorry and the other trailing behind dropping books on the pavement. My mind is skittering between past and future at a rapidly cycling rate. Why couldn’t I sleep well last night? Did I hang out the washing or is it left mouldering in the machine? How am I going to cope with the funding shortfall for the entire NHS and be at work from 8am to 6:30 pm 7 days a week without losing my marbles? Do we have a locum booked for the GP who is on annual leave this week? How did I make my trainee cry? Who is coming for a play-date tonight with my kids and what food intolerances am I catering for? Etc. etc. Just writing this down is making my jaw tighten and I feel the build up of the throbbing sensation behind my left orbit indicating a migraine is about to blossom. Anxiety rises and adrenaline throbs. This is not a good start to the day, but it is a common one…I am on automatic pilot, unaware of where I am and what I am doing, consumed by my unproductive and intrusive thoughts.
Then I feel the warmth of my daughter’s small hand slip itself into mine.
My consciousness arrests itself from autopilot and sits up to take notice. Without trying, I feel that my whole awareness is withdrawn from the chaos of my thoughts and is residing in the palm of my hand. Her small hand fits perfectly in my hand. It is hotter than mine pulsing with the energy of childhood. The skin is slightly rough from her eczema. That makes me sad, but I acknowledge that thought and let it go. She squeezes my hand slightly and draws me onwards. I feel better, calmer. The turmoil of my thoughts has settled to millpond still. The thoughts are still there I think, but I choose not to respond. Instead I choose feel the sun on my face and the fit of a small hand in mine: nothing else matters for a moment or two.
That brief moment is window into how mindfulness can look and feel. To build upon it may require a framework, and some practice. There are plenty of formal workshops and courses as well as a wealth of literature and online resources. Mindfulness is part of our toolkit to mental health and wellbeing. It is not a panacea but it has its part to play. More and more people are waking up to its impact. Be curious.
Yoga Manchester 1 day meditation course details here
Matt Joslin GP
The majority of my time is dedicated to being a GP in Manchester city centre. In my opinion it’s the best job in one of the finest cities. The world with all its problems can walk through my office door and I am invited to collaborate in helping out. It was a convoluted path that brought me here. I started as science undergraduate at Trinity Hall, Cambridge but found that I needed more people contact than research could offer. So I enjoyed a second student hood at the Royal London Hospital Medical College. In between coxing, clubbing and eating a lot of curry in the East End of London, I got a great education in inner city medicine. Being a doctor is a great passport and I have had the opportunity to live and work in Germany and Belgium.
In recent years yoga has become an increasingly significant feature of my life. Initially my wife took me to try a class, as she was fed up with me complaining about my sore back (GPs sit a lot). When we moved to Brussels, yoga was a means of making a social connection and a great way to learn French anatomical vocabulary. Since coming back to the UK I have deepened my practice and explored several styles and I attend several Yoga Manchester classes on a weekly basis. Yoga has brought me through work stresses and depression and put me in the best physical shape. More and more I share my experience of yoga with colleagues and patients. It has become a lifelong friend.