Research Paper By Louise Parry Gathercole
(Success Coach, UNITED KINGDOM)
This paper is a personal case study of training I undertook int Mindfulness Meditation and the impacts it has had on my coaching and my personal life. In particular, it focuses on the experience of using mindfulness to cope with a cancer diagnosis and treatment.
An Introduction to Mindfulness
Mindfulness meditation is a part of Buddhist religious practice and has been used in Asia for thousands of years – primarily by monks. It is related to other types of meditation such as visualisation and, it could be argued, has some similarities to prayer in other religions. However, the distinctive feature of mindfulness is that it is about being in the moment. Noticing what is happening internally and externally –
paying attention to the present moment with compassion and without judgement. (Kabat-Zinn)
In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, mindfulness meditation began to be practiced by some Europeans and Americans, but was still seen as part of an alternative culture. In the latter half of the twentieth century it has been popularised in the west by writers such as Thich Nhat Hanh who has written and provided training and retreats in the traditional forms of mindfulness.
In the 1970s, a biologist called John Kabat-Zinn recognised that mindfulness may provide benefits for hospital patients and began to experiment with what would later become the MBSR (mindfulness based stress reduction) course and found that it helped patients cope with chronic pain.
Later, work by Mark Williams, Zindel Segal and John Teasdale, based on MBSR led to the MBCT (mindfulness based cognitive therapy) course which has been shown to help people with recurrent depression.
Subsequent research has shown that mindfulness can change both the mind and the body and it is an increasing area of research in neuroscience.
My meditation experience
My first experience of meditation was attending a couple of sessions when I was at university. I hated it. No matter what I did, my mind wondered off all over the place and although I tried to follow the instruction to just keep pulling it back to my breathing, I couldn’t do it. My body wasn’t helping either. I couldn’t get comfortable, I needed to fidget, I couldn’t sit still. Itches seemed to pop up all over my skin, I got pins and needles, my glasses were sliding down my nose. I gave up after about 5 minutes each time. I just felt as if I was ‘doing it wrong’.
Later, I began taking yoga classes. I found that the relaxation sessions after a good physical class were great. In some of them I even stayed awake. I experienced visualisation meditation in a few classes and found that I left the class feeling clear headed and relaxed and began to wonder if there was something in this meditation thing. However, if I went to a class that was physically too easy, the fidgeting was still a problem and the busy brain was always busy.
Over the last couple of years I have begun coaching and that has coincided with an upsurge of public interest in mindfulness meditation. The more I read about it – the benefits that practitioners feel, the neuroscience research that has shown multiple neural changes, the more I wondered if it could work for me. What’s more, could it work for my clients. I bought a couple of books about mindfulness and experimented with stopping a few times a day to really take in where I was – to notice the sounds, the smells, the sensations around me and how I felt. What I hadn’t been able to do is practice mindfulness meditation by myself. My brain and my body were just too busy. So I decided to try a course.
There are many ways to study mindfulness meditation. The course I followed was an inperson Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course in London, led by Michael Chaskalson. The structure of the course was fortnightly sessions of four hours. Each covering two weeks of the curriculum, followed by two different weeks of home practice. The final session included a full morning of silent meditation followed by the usual four hour afternoon session. All sessions included some discussion, some instruction and a significant amount of time experiencing guided meditations and sharing our experiences with each other.
The course was developed by Michael Chaskalson and John Teasdale from the original MBSR course developed by Kabat-Zinn, but incorporates some of the ideas and practice developed by Teasdale and Williams for MBCT.
The group at the course was a mixed group in terms of age, profession and what they wanted from the course. There were several people who were dealing with anxiety issues or going through a difficult time in their lives and were seeking a way of managing their emotions. Others were there for a combination of personal and professional reasons – including teachers, therapists, psychologists, doctors and HR professionals.
If you are interested in the course or any of the exercises, you can follow it by self-study through Michael’s book ‘Mindfulness in Eight Weeks’, which takes you through the course exactly as I followed it and provides guided meditations on the website. I would highly recommend this as a course for self-study as the book is clearly written and the meditations are easy to follow.