Tag Archives: mindfulness

Benefits of the “Inner Smile” and other techniques we learned at our CPD event on meditation with Dr William Bloom

w-bloom-2016-seminar-edited

Seminar: “Meditation as a Therapeutic Strategy” with Dr William Bloom, organised by Wendy Bramham Therapy

The research into the beneficial effects of meditation on personal wellbeing and especially for depression and anxiety is compelling. Meditation as a concept is moving from the fringes into the boardroom, the classroom and the counselling room.

On the 11th November we had a workshop run by William Bloom, a leader in the field and author of books such as The Endorphin Effect, Meditation in a Changing World, and The Power of Modern Spirituality. Its aim was to support people from the helping professions in using meditation as a therapeutic strategy.

What struck me first was William’s passion for demystification. He wants people to understand how accessible it is: we can meditate anywhere. We don’t have to sit cross-legged. We can do it in the garden with a glass of wine (“but probably not three”), we can do it while we are dancing, or running or after yoga. We can make it fit us. We don’t have to bend ourselves out of shape.

The day was a mix of guided meditations, group exercises and theoretical underpinning. William introduced one beautiful exercise he called the ‘inner smile’ which harnessed our ability to feel compassion for a hurt child or a wounded bird and then turthe-inner-smilen the same ‘kind mind’ on our own failings and vulnerabilities. At another point he used participants to create a constellation of the competing aspects of one person’s personality, all calling out for attention, repeating core beliefs and yelling.  As an embodiment it was a powerful way of understanding the noise in our own heads that can make meditation, and sustaining that place of ‘quiet mind’, so challenging.  For me this was a key moment. As a psychotherapist I have many clients who find it almost impossible to be still and to be in contact with themselves. For them it can be an uncomfortable, even terrifying, experience. And yet we know that for people with a fragile self-process, meditation can help develop an ability to self-regulate and put the world into context. I found myself craving more at this point in terms of understanding how to create that safe bridge and safe container for my clients.

William Bloom brings a breadth and depth of understanding and a passionate commitment to his subject. This was not a workshop necessarily geared towards those who are already integrating a meditative practice. As an introduction to the field it was sustaining and enlivening.

By: Helen Franklin, MSc(psych) UKCP reg, Gestalt Psychotherapist
16th November 2016

Thank you to everyone for their feedback.  From 23 forms the average scores were excellent, as follows:

  • Speaker (William Bloom): 4.74 out of 5
  • Overall assessment of event: 4.61 out of 5
  • Value for money: 4.52 out of 5

Delegates written comments:

  • “The seminar achieved my expectations of the meditative state; ‘soaking in the hot tub of the goddess'”
  • “Thank you, very insightful”
  • “Engaging speaker.  I now understand that I need to be relaxed in body but aware in mind during meditation.  Great sandwiches!”
  • “Great presence.  Informative, experiential, transformative, focussed.  So much more to know.  Great sandwiches and brownies!”
  • “As usual, a WONDERFUL and hugely enlightening day”
  • “All excellent”
  • “Great space, excellent food and speaker”
  • “Great organisation”

Wendy Bramham MBACP (Snr Accred), Psychotherapist
16th November 2016

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Smiling at ourselves

Compassion, Mindfulness & Self Care” with William Bloom, October 2014

William Bloom led a fantastic seminar for us this Wednesday, introducing us to the concept of the ‘inner smile’ as a method of self-care.

We respond to life’s challenges with surges of the fight-or-flight hormone, adrenalin, and the tension hormone, cortisol, William explained. If unexpressed, these leave us feeling angry, pent-up, anxious and depressed. To move into a more positive state we need to promote the body’s production of endorphins – the ‘natural opium’ of the body, which produce a ‘post Sunday lunch feeling’ of release and well-being. One way to do this is to turn a compassionate, nurturing and loving gaze upon ourselves, and particularly on areas of tension or distress in our bodies, just as we would attend to a small child in pain or distress. Smiling down on ourselves, perhaps holding or hugging our own bodies, and intentionally saying ‘hello’, ‘bless’ and ‘how are you?’ to ourselves can trigger a positive state of calm well-being. Teamed with actively thinking about things we like, allowing ourselves to rest, connecting with nature and making sure we physically move about, the ‘inner smile’ could enable us to hold and manage ourselves better, as well as to hold our clients more effectively and with less drain on our own resources.

Eighteen therapists from varying backgrounds attended the seminar, all with our own expertise and perspective on self-care. Our average rating of the event was 4.5 out of 5, and of the speaker, 4.7 out of 5. My own over-riding sense of the day was a great feeling of empowerment coming with the realisation that I have the power to love and affirm myself, independent of external validation.

To find out more about William Bloom’s work, and see details of his published books visit williambloom.com

For details of further seminars at Wendy Bramham Therapy at newburytherapy.com   Themes coming up: Attachment Theory, Dreams, Archetypes and Healing

Briony Martin, Counsellor and Psychotherapist

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is  paying attention, on purpose and with acceptance, to direct experience as it is.  It is not a concept but a practice, and its benefits can only be gained through regular, formal practice.  Mindfulness has always been a part of the ancient Buddhist meditation traditions, but has been developed recently into a more secular approach and used in various psychological therapies, for example to help with stress reduction.

Mindfulness is an important resource and life-skill for everyone because it helps regulate stress, promotes positive mood, supports the immune system and increases our ability to concentrate.  Above all, it helps us to accept “what is”, enabling us to become curious rather than anxious, and so enabling us to respond more creatively, rather than reacting or behaving in “auto pilot”, driven by old beliefs or habits.

We learned in our recent seminar with Margaret Landale that, as therapists, one of the best ways to “teach” clients is to model it through our own mindfulness practice – to “embody” mindfulness ourselves – which will then be communicated non-verbally to our clients.  Margaret says: “Communication is determined by sensory and felt experience.  The client will subconsciously respond to the therapist’s facial expression, eye contact, tone of voice and body posture/language. Language arises from a deep level of relational attunement”.

Margaret’s style, delivery and content were all excellent and we received extremely positive feedback from our attendees.  We all enjoyed her enthusiastic, informative and gentle approach to learning new techniques.  Best of all, I now have a much more accessible key to my own meditation practice which, prior to the workshop, had been tentative at best and quite often non-existent.  We look forward to part 2 when we will be applying mindfulness to helping our clients with complex trauma.

by: Wendy Bramham

Mind-Body Connection

We often talk about the mind and body as though they are completely separate – but they aren’t. The mind can’t function unless your body is working properly – but it also works the other way. The state of your mind affects your body. If you feel low, you tend to do less and be less active, which makes you feel worse – you can become more tired, feel more depressed and tense, plus you miss out on things you enjoy. So it can easily become a vicious cycle.

The Study of Psycho-Neuro-Immunology

This is the established scientific study of how the mind and body communicate, and how stress can affect our immune system and susceptibility to disease.

It is only since the advent of modern medicine in the 19th and 20th centuries that we seemed to lose the ancient wisdom of how illness and wellbeing are connected to the mind, society, morality and spirituality. However, in recent years the study of PNI reminds us that psychological states like chronic stress, depression, anxiety, fear produce profound effects on the body. Most of us will have our own experiences of how headaches or digestive problems can result from stress. But PNI has extended that to include the way in which genes express themselves in genetic illnesses like rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. Over time, mental and emotional states take a heavy toll on the body and are a significant risk for illness.

The field of PNI has documented different physiological responses to stress. Various forms of stress management have been found to be helpful in modifying the body’s stress response. These include:

  • mindfulness meditation

  • yoga

  • counselling & psychotherapy

  • exercise

  • volunteering in the community

  • stream-of-consciousness writing

  • humour

  • music

  • nutrition, acupuncture and other complementary therapies

  • touch/massage

  • sunlight and nature

  • social connectedness.

Exercise  Until the last 100 years or so, you had to be quite active to just live your everyday life. Now, in modern Western societies, so much of what we used to do is done by machines.

Exercise doesn’t have to be about running around a track or working out in a gym. It can just be about being more active each day, and may include things like washing the car, gardening, strolling around the block etc. It is however, important to do something quickly enough so that you raise your heart rate (aerobic exercise), as it is then that the “happy” chemicals called endorphins are released into our body and make us feel good.

 If you keep active, you are:

  • less likely to be depressed, anxious or tense

  • more likely to feel good about yourself

  • more likely to concentrate and focus better

  • more likely to sleep better

  • more likely to cope with cravings and withdrawal symptoms if you try to give up a habit such as smoking or alcohol

  • more likely to be able to keep mobile and independent as you get older

  • possibly less likely to have problems with memory and dementia.

Tips on getting started:

  • It is vital to pick an activity that you ENJOY

  • any exercise is better than none.

  • BUT a moderate level of exercise seems to work best.

  • This is roughly equivalent to walking fast, but being able to talk to someone at the same time.

  • Don’t start suddenly – build more physical activity into your life gradually, in small steps.

How well does exercise work for depression?

For mild depression, physical activity can act as a natural anti-depressant, and be as (or more) effective for some people than medication. In some areas in the UK, GPs (family doctors) can prescribe exercise.

Doing 30 minutes or more of exercise a day for three to five days a week can significantly improve depression symptoms. But smaller amounts of activity — as little as 10 to 15 minutes at a time — can make a difference. It may take less time exercising to improve your mood when you do more-vigorous activities, such as running or bicycling. (Ref: Royal College of Psychiatrists).

The mental health benefits of exercise may last only if you stick with it over the long term — another good reason to focus on finding activities you enjoy.

Why does exercise work?

  • It helps to release feel-good brain chemicals (neurotransmitters and endorphins) into the brain, which can ease depression. Brain cells use these chemicals to communicate with each other, so they affect your mood and thinking.

  • Exercise can stimulate other chemicals in the brain called “brain derived neurotrophic factors” (BDNF). These help new brain cells to grow and develop. Moderate exercise seems to work better than vigorous exercise. BDNF seems to reduce harmful changes in the brain caused by extreme stress.

  • Harder exercise (perhaps needed to fight or flight from danger) can help to dispel the physical effects of a trauma, loss, shock or crises as it helps reduce adrenalin and produces endorphins. Animals in the wild naturally do this by fleeing from or fighting danger.

  • Exercise can also reduce risks of high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis and cancer.

Exercise can also help you:

  • Gain confidence. Meeting exercise goals or challenges, even small ones, can boost your self-confidence and help you to feel more in control.

  • Take your mind off worries. Exercise is a distraction that can get you away from the cycle of negative thoughts that feed anxiety and depression.

  • Get more social interaction. Exercise may give you the chance to meet or socialize with others.

  • Cope in a healthy way. Doing something positive to manage anxiety or depression is a healthy coping strategy. Trying to feel better by drinking alcohol, dwelling on how badly you feel, or hoping anxiety or depression will go away on its own can lead to worsening symptoms.

How do I get started — and stay motivated?

Starting and sticking with an exercise routine can be a challenge. Here are some steps that can help. Check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program to make sure it’s safe for you.

  • Identify what you enjoy doing. Figure out what type of physical activities you’re most likely to do, and think about when and how you’d be most likely to follow through. Do what you enjoy to help you stick with it.

  • Get your mental health provider’s support. Talk to your doctor or other mental health provider for guidance and support.

  • Set reasonable goals. Your mission doesn’t have to be walking for an hour five days a week. Think realistically about what you may be able to do. Tailor your plan to your own needs and abilities rather than trying to meet unrealistic guidelines that you’re unlikely to meet.

  • Don’t think of exercise as a chore. If exercise is just another “should” in your life that you don’t think you’re living up to, you’ll associate it with failure. Rather, look at your exercise schedule the same way you look at your therapy sessions or medication — as one of the tools to help you get better.

  • Address your barriers. Figure out what’s stopping you from exercising. If you feel self-conscious, for instance, you may want to exercise at home. If you stick to goals better with a partner, find a friend to work out with. If you don’t have money to spend on exercise gear, do something that’s virtually cost-free, such as walking. If you think about what’s stopping you from exercising, you can probably find an alternative solution.

  • Prepare for setbacks and obstacles. Give yourself credit for every step in the right direction, no matter how small. If you skip exercise one day, that doesn’t mean you can’t maintain an exercise routine and may as well quit. Just try again the next day.

Depression (blog 3) – Getting help, by Lindie White

lindie white

Lindie White

In the last of our blog series on depression, psychotherapist, Lindie White, writes:

Most people need help when they are depressed or have prevailing sadness and low mood. If we can’t acknowledge this when we’re suffering, then that’s part of the problem! The essential first step is to name your depression to yourself and someone else. When it is acknowledged, then what?

If you go to a GP you will be offered medication and/or some kind of talking therapy.
Medication can help some people, sometimes, although some find that anti-depressants don’t help at all or are not enough on their own.

Therapy really does help tackle depression and there are many different kinds of talking therapies on offer. Most commonly available through the GP is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), often delivered by an in-house counsellor. This aims to address negative, self-destructive and ‘untrue’/unrealistic thinking patterns. Other therapies include psychodynamic or psychoanalytic – stemming from Freud and Jung’s thinking about the unconscious – and humanistic or person-centred – focusing on helping the client find their own answers. All therapies have different emphases and have been developed as people discovered that no one method serves all people or meets all needs.

Research has consistently found that what makes the real difference is the therapist rather than the therapy. So, do some research, see what appeals to you, and trust your instinct as to how you ‘fit’ with a particular therapist and how the first one or two sessions feel. A good therapist will facilitate this sort of discussion.

The following are important factors in successful counselling and psychotherapy:
• a good working alliance between therapist and client
• a therapist who listens well and is responsive and flexible within reason
• a therapist who displays qualities of empathy, warmth and care
• an agreement between the client and the therapist on the goals of the work
• a client who is highly motivated for change and relief of suffering
• a therapist who can enable the client to experience calm if the client is highly aroused with anxiety or other emotion

A key point in dealing with depression and its recurrence is that it is our emotional reaction to our emotions that keeps them going and complicates them. We can exercise choice about our reactions when we have greater awareness and can fully engage our will to heal ourselves.

As practitioners and clients, we need to keep exploring better ways to find this healing and bring a natural, organic quality of enjoyment and engagement to our lives. A recent development has been to integrate insights and practices of Buddhist-based mindfulness, yoga and meditation with more traditional talking therapies. (See The Mindful Way through Depression, Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness by Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segao and Jon Kabat-Zinn, Guilford Press, 2007.)

Many people are also helped by complementary therapies, an approach we promote at Wendy Bramham Associates. Acupuncture, homeopathy, massage, nutrition and chiropractic are all useful for different issues, so explore what appeals to you.

Whatever path of therapy you pursue, do your research and follow your own instincts, hints and leads. Each of us makes our own path by walking it, connecting and disconnecting with others as we do so. And if you feel so low that you don’t know where to go, ask yourself what might appeal if you weren’t feeling so depressed and follow that, maybe with the support of someone you trust. Therapy is a powerful tool for combating depression, so have courage to take the first step and seek help.

See previous posts on this blog for more information about types of therapy, the effect of life choices, how therapy helps and book recommendations.

We particularly recommend the following books on depression and how to live with and through it:
Depression – the way out of your prison, by Dorothy Rowe, Routledge 2003
Living with a Black Dog, by Matthew and Ainsley Johnstone, Pan Macmillan Australia, 2008
First Steps out of Depression, by Sue Atkinson, Lion Hudson, 2010
The Endorphin Effect, by William Bloom, Piatkus, 2011

Plus, on spirituality:
The Power of Now, by Eckhartt Tolle, New World Library, 2004
The Power of The New Spirituality, by William Bloom, Piatkus, 2012

And an audio CD for guided meditation:
A Meditation to help you relieve Depression, by Belleruth Naperstek, Health Journeys, 1993