How can being 'mindful' help your speech and life? A participant reports on City Lit's 'Mindfulness Meditation' evening course.
I enrolled in the course with an open mind to investigate the benefits and applications of meditation to my life and stammering. The course, starting April 2008, was split up into 8 weekly sessions lead by two tutors. We were given CDs for home practice.
Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way, on purpose in the present moment and non-judgementally. This was first demonstrated to the group by mindfully eating a raisin. The purpose of this was to make a deliberate effort to bring moment-to-moment awareness to something that we may usually do on 'automatic pilot'.
We followed this with the 'Body Scan' technique. This exercise was to focus our awareness on different parts of the body. The Body Scan can be very relaxing and it is not uncommon to fall asleep for a few minutes. The main purpose was not to sleep but to have moment-to-moment awareness and to just let the experience be the experience.
Each week we were introduced to new practices. Another example was 'Mindfulness of breathing'. We used the breath as an anchor to focus our attention on each moment. I found this technique very beneficial, as the breath changes with our moods so it helped me tune into these.
On the third week we began with some mindful movement and stretching. The point of the stretches is to provide a direct way to connect with awareness of the body. The body is a place where emotions often get expressed, and I found this exercise very beneficial to tune into my body and to be aware of any sensations arising.
The concept of 'automatic pilot' is very relevant to people who stammer
I found my life full of stress, time-pressures and deadlines. We were taught the 3 minute breathing space - something I could incorporate into my day-to-day working lifestyle, We were taught to take time-out for a breathing space in the morning, afternoon and evening, to have time to ourselves and to be with moment-to-moment awareness. This technique focused and grounded me so that I was able to step out of 'automatic pilot' mode and make choices about what to do next. The concept of automatic pilot is very relevant to people who stammer, as stammering and speaking in general is something that we tend to do whilst in automatic pilot mode. Becoming more non-judgementally aware of our automatic patterns leads the way to us being able to make more conscious choices about changing them, e.g. applying techniques or not avoiding.
We also learnt a guided sitting meditation, and were invited to practice the different techniques at home each week. I liked this as it gave me the opportunity to try all the different CDs provided and to choose the one that suited me best.
Awareness of thoughts
At the beginning of the course, I was curious about how mindfulness meditation would link to stammering. One way the link became apparent to me was from the 'awareness of thoughts' practice. Our thoughts can have very powerful effects on how we feel and what we do. Often those thoughts are triggered automatically. By becoming aware, over and over again, of the thoughts and images passing through the mind and letting go of them as we return our attention to the breath, it is possible to get some distance and perspective. They are just thoughts, 'events in the mind', not the truth. Negative thoughts can play a big part in feeding stammering. Being able to get some distance, as opposed to being completely identified with them, can be freeing. E.g. you may notice that you have got caught up worrying about what someone might have thought of you. Recognising that you are in this destructive place can give you a choice to step out of it and come back into the present moment.
We were taught to bring awareness to times of difficulty and stress. This enabled me to become aware of the stress indicators and what actions and strategies I have that are helpful or unhelpful to me. The core point is to use your awareness of where you are in each moment to make the best choices for yourself in each moment.
I left the 8 week course with a feeling of immense gratitude for having been taught all these techniques that I can apply to my everyday life. I feel a sense of liberation and inner strength. For me now, mindfulness meditation has become a part of my life that I practise regularly.
For City Lit courses, see our City Lit page.
From the Spring 2009 issue of Speaking Out, page 11.