Using Williams & Penman's book "Mindfulness: a practical guide" as a self-help resource (5th post) - third week's practice
Last updated on 20th January 2012
I wrote recently on "Using Williams & Penman's book ... as a self-help resource (4th post) - second week's practice". Today's post looks at the third week's practice described in chapter seven "The mouse in the maze". The authors state "Week three builds on the previous sessions with some non-strenuous Mindful Movement practices based on yoga. The movements ... help the mind to continue the process of re-integrating with the body." This is well worthwhile. Early research by Jon Kabat-Zinn & colleagues - "The relationship of cognitive and somatic components of anxiety to patient preference for alternative relaxation techniques" - reported that for people who were troubled by anxiety "The high cognitive/low somatic anxiety subgroup showed a significant preference for the most somatic technique (Hatha Yoga) and liked least the most cognitive technique (sitting meditation). The high somatic/low cognitive anxiety subgroup showed the inverse response ... Irrespective of an individual's mode of anxiety expression or technique preference, participation in the mindfulness-based stress reduction program appeared to be effective in reducing overall anxiety levels." I've written much more about this in an associated post "Learning MBSR ... the surprising importance of practising mindfulness during movement" which discusses the more recent paper by Carmody & Baer - "Relationships between mindfulness practice and levels of mindfulness" - which happily found that the amount of time practising mindfulness "homework" exercises was directly related to improvements in mindfulness (measured using the "Five facet mindfulness questionnaire - FFMQ)", which in turn lead to reduction in psychological symptoms. Fascinatingly, time spent doing mindful yoga exercises seemed more potent than either the body scan or sitting meditation in producing this practice to increased mindfulness to decreased symptoms sequence (I think we need research replication before we consider making many mindfulness practice alterations due to this finding). So the Mindful Movement aims to "help the mind to continue the process of re-integrating with the body". As we used to say in the 60's "Lose your head and come to your senses", although I guess this is balanced by the equally crucial "It's important to keep an open mind, but not so open that your brains fall out"!
The practice for this week involves 8 minutes of a Mindful Movement meditation (track 3 on the CD) followed by 8 minutes of a Breath & Body meditation (track 4) once per day. There is also a request to practise a 3 minute Breathing Space meditation (track 8) twice per day. Finally the Habit Releaser involves an experiment in "valuing the television". If you want to, you can always add a further Body Scan meditation as well - but this is more of an optional extra. The Mindful Movement is well described on pages 118 to 125 of the book. If you prefer, it should be fine to use a different exercise sequence (e.g. yoga, Tai Chi, stretches, etc) - but do remember that the practice is intended to be "a meditation that anchors awareness in the moving body". There is then a description of the Breath and Body meditation (pp. 125 to 127) and of the important 3 minute Breathing Space exercise (pp. 129 to 132). As usual the request is to practise on six days out of seven. It's usually helpful to keep notes on your practice and here is a record sheet you can use if you'd like to do this.
This "Mouse in the maze" chapter starts with a quote from Douglas Adams's "Hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy" about happiness. This is a huge area that - a bit like mindfulness - is currently something of a hive of research activity. There is so much that is interesting & valuable to know about current happiness research. Clicking on relevant tags like "happiness" or "wellbeing" in this website's "Tag cloud" will bring up a wealth of links & blog posts. Mark & Danny discuss how attitude and mood can narrow or broaden our mental focus. This is very much the territory of the fine positive emotions researcher Barbara Fredrickson. She developed the "Broaden-and-Build" theory of positive emotion that has been a major contribution to the developing field of positive psychology. Barbara's website - "The positive emotions & psychophysiology laboratory (PEPLab)" - is well worth visiting. There is much of interest here including her succinct explanation of how mood effects mental flexibility and other crucial aspects of our functioning. She has run some fascinating and thought-provoking research studies on meditation. See, for example, this website's blog post "Barbara Fredrickson's recent research study on loving-kindness meditation" and her paper "Positive reappraisal mediates the stress-reductive effects of mindfulness: An upward spiral process". There are some downloadable slides & handouts about her work on the "Emotions, feelings & personality" page of this website. Rich, nourishing, important material! If you'd like to deepen & personalise your appreciation of this work a bit further, try filling in this week's reflection sheet as well.
When you have been practising these chapter seven meditations for a week, or more if you want, then move on to the next post "Using Williams & Penman's book ... as a self-help resource (6th post) - fourth week's practice".