Chris Bowles runs our Mindfulness for Wellbeing Courses here at NCIM. Mindfulness uses meditations, gentle movement and self-reflection to explore how the mind has a tendency to run on ‘automatic pilot’ and what happens as we let go of this, and how we can respond to the unavoidable difficulties that come along in life.
We will be running a range of different courses throughout the year, including: Stress Reduction (MBSR); Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression (MBCT); Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for People with Cancer (MBCT-Ca).
1) What do you think is the biggest misunderstanding about mindfulness?
There’s a lot of misinformation in the media about mindfulness: Many people think it’s just another relaxation technique or a way of escaping from reality and distracting oneself from worries – others see it as some kind of universal panacea! The phrase “being in the moment”comes up a lot, but what’s understood by this seems quite nebulous.
Far from being an escape from reality, mindfulness is about being more fully present with the entirety of our experience from moment to moment, in a calmer, more compassionate and less judgmental way. In doing this, we start to become aware of the unhelpful patterns of reaction that increase our physical and emotional pain and suffering, so that we can make wiser choices about how to cope with difficulty and develop greater resilience. This process can be challenging, so as mindfulness teachers we need to make sure that our students have the resources to cope with those challenges. But at the same time, being more mindful can help us to enjoy and savour the pleasant aspects of life, boosting our mood and wellbeing.
2) Why did you decide to train in mindfulness?
I’ve spent a number of years working privately and for the NHS, counselling and coaching people with stress, anxiety and depression, using an approach based largely on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Whereas CBT is well-evidenced and very effective for a lot of people, my experience is that it by no means suits everyone.
I was looking for an approach that balanced head and heart; that had a strong theoretical base but was also grounded in kindness, compassion and direct, felt experience; so when I came across an article about mindfulness in a counselling journal, I felt it was exactly what I was looking for, and I enrolled on a teaching retreat with the University of Bangor Centre for Mindfulness. I then went on to train with Breathworks, an organisation that specialises in mindfulness for people with health conditions and chronic pain. Whilst I don’t have a serious health condition myself, I am getting older, so I’m a little bit more susceptible to aches and pains! I’ve also been personally interested in various forms of meditation for many years, both as a spiritual path and as a way of managing my own stress. I particularly value the emphasis on compassion in mindfulness programmes: This is such a key element of wellbeing for so many people, and much needed in the world right now.
3) What’s an unusual benefit of mindfulness that you wished more people knew about?
I frequently hear people saying that they haven’t got time for mindfulness practice, even for the odd few minutes here and there. Certainly, most of us have busy lives. However, one of the things I’ve noticed about mindfulness is that it gives me the sense of having more time and space available to me, not less. Somehow it creates a greater sense of ease in which things can get done, often more efficiently: Life feels less effortful, less pressured. And it actually doesn’t take any more time to be mindful in daily life than to be un-mindful!
4) What do you find most rewarding about what you do?
I really enjoy seeing the change in participants as the course progresses: There’s often a visible softening, a greater sense of acceptance of themselves and their situation; a lot of people comment that they are much kinder to themselves and no longer “beat themselves up”. It’s also lovely to hear them expressing their enjoyment of simple things that they may have overlooked before, but that can be really uplifting and inspiring.
I have taught a lot of people over the years, and it always feels great when I bump into someone and they tell me they’re still practising mindfulness, and really valuing it. Several people have said that they’ve told their GP about the course, or that they’re encouraging their children to try mindfulness. It really is a path for life, not just a sticking plaster to fix a problem.
5) Tell us a funny/emotional/unusual story about your experience with mindfulness (please keep anonymous!).
A colleague and I were co-facilitating a course for people with long-term health conditions, just before Christmas. We had been encouraging people to apply what they were learning on the course to managing the pressures of getting ready for the festive season. One week a lady in the group came in and told us, with a smile, that for the first time in years she had actually enjoyed decorating her Christmas tree. She had discovered that she didn’t need to rush to complete it: She could allow herself time to sit down, rest and have a cup of tea, and it was OK to do a bit at a time.
6) If you weren’t helping people with mindfulness, what do you think you would do?
I enjoy creative writing, and I’ve been joking with friends for years about writing my best-selling novel, so maybe that would be a good alternative career! My first career was in national museums and galleries: I saw some wonderful work by artists and craftspeople, so that’s another avenue I’d like to explore.
7) What can I expect if I attend a mindfulness course?
We usually meet once a week for 8 weeks (around 2 hours per session). We practise a variety of mindfulness meditations together, and the teacher helps the group to reflect on their experience and what they noticed. Much of the learning and understanding comes from this process, but there may also be some discussion around particular aspects of mindfulness. We’ll do some gentle movement together, and you’ll be shown ways of bringing mindfulness into your day to day activities. You will need to set aside time to do the practices at home, and you’ll be given audio guided tracks to help you do this. In some cases, the course will include a full day retreat, conducted largely in silence, where you will be able to deepen your experience of mindfulness.
If you’d like to learn more about our Mindfulness for Wellbeing Courses and register your attendance for our upcoming course, please contact us here.