Mindfulness in St Albans - Herts Ad reporter’s experience with Mindful Pathway course
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Gazing at the lone raisin rolling about in the palm of my hand I began to question what I had let myself in for when I embarked on an eight-week mindfulness course.
“Bring the raisin up to your ear, what does the raisin sound like?” was enough for a smirk to make its way across my face and, as I looked to the woman next to me, she was the same.
In April I was asked to attend St Albans-based Ruth Farenga and Karen Asprey’s ‘Mindful Pathway’ course, and after hearing about the wonders of Mindfulness I was eager to give it a go.
I was stressed. My mind raced at 100 miles per hour, my attention span was dwindling and I had self-confidence issues.
Mindfulness does not ‘promise’ to achieve anything. That is the point; there is no expectation and it is individual to every person but there is extensive scientific research about how it can help people with their mental health.
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Despite this, mindfulness is not limited to people who have mental health issues or one kind of person, and when I spoke to Ruth she was keen to point that out.
Ruth said that all types of people attended the course. She added: “It’s for men and women. I think it’s important [for people to know that] as there is a lot of support out there for women but not so much for men who have much higher suicide rates.”
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I vowed to go into the sessions with an open mind and on that drizzly April evening, nestled into the comfortable room on Victoria Street with my herbal tea, it is a good thing I did.
Ruth and Karen began the session with the ‘raisin meditation’ (yes, that is a thing), and we had to imagine we were an alien seeing the raisin for the first time.
The pretence is that a raisin is something so small which one would normally eat without much thought at all, but suddenly this small wrinkly fruit is the focus of your attention.
It was used as an ice-breaker, and it certainly was. I soon felt at ease in a room full of strangers; we were all doing this together and there was not anything to feel self-conscious about.
Over the coming weeks members of the group would come and go, but many became familiar faces. After each meditation there was the opportunity to discuss your experience, but no pressure to participate.
I enjoyed this part, and I found myself and other members of the group at ease with sharing personal feelings and thoughts. It was interesting to see how meditation affected people differently.
Lorraine Lysons, an outreach worker who also took the course, spoke to me about her experience. She said: “I loved the space we had in the group, you really could be yourself - it felt safe.”
Lorraine continued: “Listening to others share their experiences with the group was great, it was encouraging and motivating.”
One thing I had been made aware of, but not accounted for, was the level of dedication the course required. To make the most of it, participants are encouraged to do their ‘homework’, which included almost-daily meditations.
Lorraine added: “I didn’t expect the course to be as tough as it was - there was a huge amount of self development - or to have as much homework.”
Despite mindfulness being about living in the present and with purpose, I could not help but have my own expectations about what it might be like.
I thought mindfulness was just about meditation, and each one would be relaxing. Of course some of the meditations were, but some were uncomfortable, and not one was the same.
There was a big emphasis on there being ‘no right way’ to do a meditation. ‘If your mind strays, as minds do, just gently bring it back’ was a phrase often used by Karen or Ruth, which put me at ease when I realised I was thinking about that work email I needed to respond to instead of the meditation.
I noticed a difference in my thought process from week one and as the weeks went on I observed an increase in self-awareness.
It was often hard work, but enjoyable, and I learnt a lot about myself which had previously been masked by my busy lifestyle.
Trying to train the mind to be objective and focus on one thing at a time was a big learning experience for me, but ultimately I feel much better for it.
Ruth told me: “People think mindfulness is just about training the mind and learning to meditate. This is true, however, the course is much deeper than that.
“People start to reflect on the way they behave and how they treat themselves. We’re often our own critic and working with mindfulness allows us to learn to treat ourselves differently over time.”
I found this to be true, and throughout the course I learnt to be ‘kinder to myself’, and the better I began to understand my own mind, the more understanding I was towards others’ actions too.
Lorraine experienced something similar. She said: “At the end of the course I managed to say out loud that “I love myself”. This was a big thing for me and I shocked myself when it came out of my mouth; now everyday I tell myself I love myself and I believe it. This course was one of the best things that happened to me and came at the right time in my life for me to embrace it.”
If you are interested in finding out more about Mindful Pathway there is a taster event on September 14. To register click here.
The eight-week Autumn course will run from Monday October 3. For more information click here.