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Well-being and Mindfulness

10 december 2015

Two questions that expats are often asked are, ‘Where have you come from?’ and ‘Where are you going?  These questions are very poignant at this time of year when many of us return to our home countries to be with family and friends or venture to exciting and exotic places to enjoy a holiday.

  • mind

Here is a game for you to play to get you thinking either in that space where you take a breath between the main course and the desert at a festive dinner or waiting for that flight connection at the airport.

   Mindfulness

Place the different sized circles to represent for you the past, present and future.  It is fascinating to see where we live our lives.  We think we live here in Shanghai and yet many of us have a tendency to live reflecting anxiously on the past, ‘Why did I do or say that?’ ‘If I had made a different decision then, it would be different now.’ ‘Life was easier, more enjoyable when I was younger.’ Or, we are compulsively planning for the future.  This is a pre-occupation of many of us, me included, particularly when we have children who are working towards that next development stage, that next exam grade and the offer of that university place, or we are uncertain of our job security or our next assignment.  We just want to say STOP to that incessant chatter in our heads.  

The skill of mindfulness, to respond with open-mindedness and curiosity to the here and now, be it good or bad, it is suggested could be a positive approach to dealing with our frantic lives.  It is not an easy concept to understand immediately and therefore has attracted some scepticism.  Let’s look at what it is not.

It isn’t soft, fluffy or hippy dippy.  It is grounded in well-founded empirical research. Brain-imaging studies are showing that mindfulness can alter the structure and function of the brain causing greater blood flow and thickening of the cerebral cortex which relates to levels of attention and emotion. Studies have shown that in participants of 8 week courses on mindfulness meditation the density of grey matter has increased in areas of the brain associated with learning, memory, self-awareness, compassion, introspection, and reduced in areas associated with stress and anxiety.

It is not Buddhism by the back door. Although developed from a Buddhist base, it is totally secular and can be engaged in by anyone of any faith, or none.

It is not a disciplinary technique to calm agitated and angry children or adults. Mindfulness has to be for the learner themselves to help experience what is going on for them right now, be it good or bad. It is not just a relaxation technique.  Yes, the techniques can have relaxing benefits, but its prime goal is to be with whatever is happening, including if necessary tension and anxiety.  It is not a visualisation technique, rather than taking yourself off to somewhere you would rather be, which is what a lot of us do when we reminisce about the past or plan for the future, it grounds us in the here and now, giving us the resilience to deal with whatever comes our way good or bad.

The way that we at BISS are currently exploring mindfulness is not as therapy or an initiative that we just bolt on, but as a backdrop that contributes to creating a climate and ethos of resilience across our community.  Therefore work is underway to deliver mindfulness within our PSHE curriculum for Year 7- 9.  Sarah Reynolds our Mindfulness Practitioner has been presenting assemblies in the past few weeks to Year 9 and 10 on Mindfulness.  Ask your children what they have heard about Mindfulness and in particular something called .b . You will be hearing more about this next term. This week Sarah will be talking to Year 12 students and encouraging them to participate in a Mindfulness programme as part of CAS. Students are being offered the opportunity to develop their Mindfulness skills in an ECA being run next term. Students can register by clicking here.

Staff will also be participating in an 8 week introduction to Mindfulness course led by Sarah Reynolds.  This will enable them to develop their own understanding and practice it for themselves.

For parents, we are planning to start in January a Mindfulness Group using the model we have been successfully using to develop coaching skills within our parent body. A group of parents meet regularly and follow a structured programme of learning, providing support and motivating each other to learn new skills and change behaviour and thinking.

The  programme we plan to use is Professor Mark Williams’, ‘Mindfulness, A Practical Guide to finding peace in a frantic world’ It is the same eight week programme be offered to staff .  It is generally regarded as an excellent resource for understanding and developing skills of Mindfulness.

Professor Williams is Director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre where much of the work on the use of Mindfulness in schools is currently being developed. You can read more about this here.

If you would like to learn how to direct your attention to experiences as they unfold, moment by moment, with open-minded curiosity and acceptance. Rather than worrying about what has happened or might happen, and develop skills that will enable you to respond skilfully to whatever is happening right now, be that good or bad, come and join our mindfulness group.

Over the holiday period why not purchase the book in your home country as a hard copy or e-book so that you are ready to join our group in January.  It can be bought on Amazon.  Please contact me at s-smith@bisspuxi.com to find out more and to register your interest in joining the group.

I wish you a very restful Christmas and a Mindful New Year.

Sue Smith, Well-being Co-ordinator