Blog

Integrating Mindfulness – A practical guide to networking from a mindful place.

Networking isn’t always the easiest activity. However, if you bring your true self to the meeting and you stay grounded and present (Mindfulness at play!), you can usually survive unscathed, or even have an enjoyable and useful experience!

Until yesterday, I hadn’t been to a networking event for a few months and this local Networking Lunch was my first opportunity to get back into the routine of putting myself out there. The #LinkedInLunch1 was organised by Angus Grady, who specialises in improving people’s LinkedIn profiles and teaching ways of utilising all the features of LinkedIn to market your services, products and business. Angus created a relaxed and open environment for us to do as much or as little networking as we wanted to. We were greeted by Jennifer who made us feel very welcome and who handed us our badges, explaining where the tea and coffee was and the format of the meeting.

This highlighted how important the greeting and welcome is to these kinds of events. It can be useful to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and consider the element of nerves when people are attending events, particularly for the first time (Levels of empathy can increase through mindfulness training, considering different perspectives and experiences). Jennifer’s professional and warm greeting definitely helped me to feel more relaxed and I was made to feel very welcome by Angus who approached me almost immediately afterwards to say Hi and thank me for coming.

Fortunately, I recognised a few friendly faces and so I made a bee line for the people I knew as I was interested to find out how they were. It’s interesting how a bit of familiarity can work wonders to make yourself feel comfortable and catching up with people who you care about and who care about you is good for your self-esteem! Had there not been anyone I knew, I probably would have found myself a seat, grabbed a cup of tea and begun to mingle (after taking a few internal mindful breaths to centre myself!) I found myself a seat and grabbed myself a cup of tea while James Pybus, a Digital Marketing Programme designer put up my advertising banner for me (I think he sensed my nerves as I was the only one who’d brought a banner – again empathy was offered)

During the meeting, we were invited to network, which was followed by an informative LinkedIn session with Angus, then lunch followed by more networking. I chatted with some really interesting people who I may be able to work with or refer other people to in the future but more than anything, I had some great conversations with really interesting people! Listening with curiosity to what other people offer, not only within their business but listening to the value they offer as a fellow human being can be incredibly rewarding!

Networking does not always have to be about the sell, it’s about forming and building relationships. The kind of work I do as a Mindfulness Consultant and Teacher, cannot involve pressurised selling. It’s a case of people becoming aware of the Mindfulness course I teach and how it is taught, either 1-2-1 via Zoom or 1-2-1 / group within organisations. The decision to take part in a Mindfulness course must be led by the person, not by me. You are the only one who knows what it is they need at any particular time and when you’re ready, you’re welcome to contact me for an initial chat or consultation. Mindfulness is a practical tool that can be used to self-regulate the body’s response to stress and to self-manage. It’s a different, healthy way of looking after yourself, in addition to exercising, sleeping well and eating nutritiously. Mindfulness practice leads us to a greater level of self-awareness, which can be empowering and liberating!

So, back to the networking meeting – If you are the kind of person who feels nervous before attending networking events or, you avoid networking events completely due to negative experiences, then this kind of networking might suit you. What’s really important to me, is that the meeting is informal. Angus made it clear within his LinkedIn post that this Networking lunch would not entail any pitches of any kind or formalities, but he encouraged people to mingle (if they wished to) and that he would be sharing some insights and tips on how best to use LinkedIn. The event was exactly what it said on the tin! 

So, if you find yourself avoiding networking events, it might be useful to ask yourself why? What’s preventing you from attending networking meetings? Is it the 60 second pitch? Is it the fear of not knowing anyone or not knowing the venue?

Here are some practical tips;

1.     Check where the venue is, before the day of the event. If you can take a drive to locate the venue or even go inside beforehand, it might help to make you feel more comfortable and confident on the day.

2.     If you don’t like the prospect of walking into a room full of people, then arrive a bit before the start time so you are one of the first and can have time to speak to the organiser or facilitator.

3.     When you arrive, orient yourself by either talking to the facilitator or, look for the toilets (very important if you suffer with nerves!), tea and coffee station and the layout of the room.

4.     If the meeting is going to be seated at any stage, find a seat in the room where you feel most comfortable and place your coat etc. on the chair. That way, you can relax that you no longer have to search for a seat when it’s time to sit down. You can simply make a beeline to your chair.

5.     Grab yourself a drink. Often, you’ll meet other people at the refreshments table who you can begin a conversation with.

6.     Continue, in whatever way you feel comfortable. If you feel like taking a break from conversation, go and sit down. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or nervous, Mindfulness can be useful; ground yourself by focusing on each of these in turn; your feet on the floor, body on the chair, hands rested on the legs or each other, your breath. You don’t need to do any deep breathing, just pay attention to the breath in the body and notice any particular sensations in the body as you breathe. You can do this sitting down or standing up. You can even do this whilst you’re talking with someone else (they need never know!)

In situations like these, when we might feel nervous, overwhelmed or panicky. This is where Mindfulness can be incredibly practical. You can use Mindfulness to self-manage any or all of the following;

·       Intrusive thoughts (e.g doubts, “I’m not good enough”, imposter syndrome)

·       Uncomfortable feelings in the body (e.g swirling stomach, headache, feeling sick)

·       Emotions that arise (e.g a sense of overwhelm, fear)

It doesn’t mean that the thoughts, feelings and emotions will go away, but mindfulness increases self-awareness, which can help to self-manage. Choosing a healthy coping mechanism like mindfulness practice can be a healthy alternative to those depleting activities that we cling to for comfort, like staying at home and not going out, drinking alcohol and comfort eating or, simply ruminating and riffing on unhelpful thought patterns.

Within Mindfulness practices, you learn each of the practices and then choose to focus on the breath, the body, sounds, emotions or thoughts. Whatever feels right for you, in any given moment. This can be discreet and no one else need know you’re practicing!

If there’s something that you want to be able to do and to enjoy but you’re experiencing blocks or find yourself repeating the same unhelpful habits, the MBSR course can be really useful. I say this because I have experienced it myself and, I continue to experience the positive benefits of mindfulness every day I practice and choose to live my life mindfully. 

What am I doing wrong?

Sometimes, you might find that you sit for a Mindfulness meditation practice and all you find yourself doing is thinking, fidgeting, crying, feeling angry, agitated or bored. Then you might find that the judgements arise; I’m rubbish at this, I can’t do this, this is pointless, this isn’t how it’s supposed to be, I’m not doing this properly, this isn’t working! What am I doing wrong? 

If you find yourself touselling with this kind of practice, commend yourself for the most important part of the practice; noticing.

We can easily miss this! And yet, if there was any objective of mindfulness, THIS would be it!

Bringing awareness to your whole experience is the practice. So, if you find yourself thinking, fidgeting, crying, feeling angry within your practice, offer yourself some friendliness and see if you can sit gently with this discomfort and frustration. Remember, within a Mindfulness practice, there is nowhere to get to and nothing in particular that we ‘should’ be doing. So, whatever you are experiencing, notice the tone of thoughts, perhaps reminding yourself that thoughts are not facts. Be curious about the texture of body sensations and, observe the emotions that arise and what happens to those emotions if we pay attention to them in a gentle, friendly way. 

Mindfulness meditation is not about reaching a particular state or point of feeling relaxed and calm but it is about giving you the space to acknowledge what’s going on for you and to make wise choices about how best to look after yourself. 

Perhaps invite the question into your practice “what do I need to do to look after myself?”

If you have completed an MBSR course, take a look at the handbook for week 7 to remind yourself about nourishing and depleting activities and choose something nourishing.

Take care of yourself in and out of the practice. 

Use the three C’s to turn anxiety into excitement

I have been exploring the similarity of the sensations I feel in my body when I am excited and when I’m anxious.

By offering myself the three Cs; Curiosity, Courage and Compassion within my Mindfulness practice, I am able to self-manage my levels of anxiety and prevent any unnecessary escalation of panic. Many people experience anxiety on a day-to-day basis.

This article explains how the 3Cs can be used to self-manage anxiety and the attitude that is most useful when questioning what’s going on for you, particularly when you sense your alarm bells are ringing.

https://www.healthcentral.com/article/are-anxiety-and-excitement-the-same

The Mindful Irritations of the Daily Commute

A train journey can be one of the most useful places to practice Mindfulness meditation.

Throughout the mindfulness practice, you will notice that you are distracted; by thoughts, sounds, physical sensations and emotions. It’s almost impossible not to be distracted on a train journey, isn’t it!?

Remembering that this is the purpose of mindfulness meditation and this is where the richness of experience can be found; to bring awareness to your whole experience as it is right now and to notice your automatic reactions to external and internal stimuli.

Each time you become aware of an agitation, a joy or perhaps a tendency to fall asleep or attempt to block out the uncomfortable sounds and feelings, see if you can sit, awake, from the position of observer, noticing, watching, with curiosity and friendliness. Not needing to cling to or push away any element of your experience.

Try practicing this for the next few days, on a train, or elsewhere and see what you notice. For guided practices, see my website

#mindfulness #stressreduction #mbsr

3 phrases to manage Perfectionism

Sometimes, philosophy and psychology blow my mind and when that happens, it can often lead to a useful time of reflection and processing.

I attended a workshop in London yesterday at The Mindfulness Project, with Psychologist, Pavel Somov. The subject of the day was “Overcoming Perfectionism and Procrastination with Mindfulness”. As I tend to fall into both of these buckets at certain times, I was intrigued, as a Mindfulness teacher and practitioner, to understand how mindfulness might be used as a specific model for managing these two personality traits. Through mindfulness practice, I already experience a sense of letting go and surrendering to what is and this has been useful in the sense of not always needing to strive and compete and to be and do better, but to accept and to be OK with what is, right now. This is not to be confused with passivity. I’m certainly not passive by any means but acceptance offers me a sense of being at peace and accepting reality as it is and things that I can’t change or are out of my control.

My learning from the day was quite different from what I expected and, as always with these kinds of workshops, my mind has been expanded. For much of the day, it felt like I already knew and had experienced what Pavel was explaining, particularly with reference to mindfulness and flow and acceptance. However, he articulated his philosophy and mindful approach in such a way that my existing knowledge and core beliefs are reaffirmed and continue to deepen.

I came away with three phrases that Pavel shared with us (see below). These phrases counter our attempts to secure uncertainty due to fear of the unknown, which is a classic reason why perfectionists strive for perfection; for certainty, through fear of never being enough, doing enough or achieving enough. Do you find yourself never happy with the outcome and continuously striving to be better, do better and to succeed better? What if, instead, you acknowledge that you are doing your:

1.   Best in the moment

2.   Moment-specific best

3.   Shitty best?

It comes as a shock, right? Particularly no.3 but hey, what if you’re having a tough time and all you feel that you can do, given the set of circumstances, is your shitty best? Well, isn’t that good enough? You’ve done it, you’ve done the best that you can do, and you know what, that’s OK! Let’s learn to accept that we’ve done our best under the given set of circumstances, rather than continuously beating ourselves up by telling ourselves that we could have done better!

So, if you are the type who tends to think only of the outcomes, results and future goals and are never happy with what is occurring in the now, saying to yourself that it’s not good enough and probably never good enough, then this might be tough to get your head around. If you judge yourself harshly, you probably judge other people’s efforts harshly too and view other’s efforts as never being good enough. If you are a manager, this is worth reflecting on.   

A reminder at this point of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s definition of Mindfulness, which teaches us to be in the moment, to live in the now and to notice our constant sense of striving, aversion, clinging and attraction;

“Mindfulness is paying attention, on purpose, in a particular way, in the present moment and non-judgementally.”  

So, here’s the question I left the workshop with, which on reflection was my learning from the day:

What if, you remove specific outcomes, results and goals as the measure of your personal success? And, understand that “you are always doing the best you know. And, doing the best you know is the only outcome you will ever know, for certain.”

See where this lands with you and remember that often, if we feel resistance or confusion, it is useful and worth reflecting on and sitting with, even more so. 

If you’d like to learn more about how to sit with and reflect on your current situation, circumstances or challenges, please visit my website: www.innerspaceworks.com

How to take control of the Amygdala Hijack!

Your brain is getting hijacked by ancient history, despite millennia of evolution!

You’re a smart person, totally in command of how you come across to other people, fully in control of your behaviour, right?

When you snap at a colleague or loved-one because you’re having a bad day, you’ll quickly say “I didn’t mean it”, but the truth is you got hijacked.

Thing is, the mind and body are closely linked and our reactions to modern day problems still use what Professor Paul Gilbert refers to as our ‘Old Brain’ – the brain that had a simple life as a forager, hunting, keeping the fire lit and protecting the family from danger.

Without highly developed self-awareness, your old brain will merrily keep on hijacking your responses because it can’t tell the difference between your computer not being able to see the printer and you not being able to see where that growling sabre-tooth tiger is.

The prehistoric part of your brain responsible for hijacking your control and preparing the body to act without conscious thought is called the amygdala.

Emotional reactions begin with the amygdala, a part of the limbic system and the part of the brain that acts as an emergency alarm.

Within seconds of being triggered, the amygdala very quickly fires off messages to the body so that it can get physiologically prepared to respond to danger! But what if there is no danger?

In my last article, “What are you hiding?”, I touched on the science around the human brain constantly evaluating our environment to react with ‘fight, flight or freeze’ and how mindfulness can be used to connect us with what’s going on in the body and the physical reactions to stress.

When you sense that your body has responded with fight, flight or freeze, it’s worth developing the ability to understand where the trigger has come from and why it’s affected you.

If you have ever read Professor Steve Peters book, “The Chimp Paradox”, you will have heard about the ‘chimp’. The ‘chimp’ is the brain’s reaction to the amygdala hijack.

“When anger or anxiety is triggered, the amygdala drives prefrontal circuitry; as such disturbing emotions reach their peak, an amygdala hijack paralyzes executive function. But when we take active control of our attention – as when we meditate – we deploy this prefrontal circuitry, and the amygdala quietens.” (The Science of meditation)

Think about that for a minute. “Paralyses executive function” means your ability to actively think and consciously choose a response is switched off.

So, how can you tell you’ve been hijacked?

Here are some likely physical responses:

  • Butterflies
  • Temperature flushes
  • Racing heart
  • Headache
  • Sensitivity to sounds and movement
  • Sleeplessness

And some typical behavioural responses:

  • Lashing out at friends or colleagues
  • Saying something without thinking
  • Doing something that is comforting but bad for you

Most of these responses would be useful if you needed to get ready to defend the cave or fight off a beastie, but not so much when the kids are kicking off or you’ve run out of loo roll.

In fact, the last thing you need is an amygdala hijack preventing you from being able to choose how to respond.

In modern day to day life, an amygdala hijack because of ancient history doesn’t really help.

In the Chimp Paradox, Peters talks about recuperation from the chimp’s reactions and this is where mindfulness really comes into play.

I often refer to mindfulness as a superpower, but it’s a superpower you can learn.

The skill and practice of mindfulness meditation can lead us to becoming aware of our body’s reaction to stressful situations and in turn help us recover faster.

  1. Notice that you are being hijacked!
  2. Take a pause / a step back from the situation / feelings / emotions causing the hijack (sometimes these cannot be seen)
  3. Bring your attention to your body and the sensations you’re experiencing

Within Mindfulness meditation practice, we learn to see and experience fully all our thoughts and the emotions that go with them. By doing this within a meditation practice, our reactive brain begins to calm and to be less inflamed. 

We allow the mind to wander freely, not getting caught up on whether a thought is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, noticing our desire to hold on to certain thoughts (usually the pleasant ones) or wanting to push away and get rid of the thoughts that are unpleasant.

The more you practice, the quicker you can learn to recognise and recover from hijack situations.

Remember, mindfulness can be learned – it’s a skill for life and really helps to avoid your prehistoric brain hijacking responses.

If you’d like to learn more, I run a variety of mindfulness courses, workshops and classes for individuals and organisations. Please get in touch!

Jo Clarke – Inner Space Works
07889 295959
info@innerspaceworks.com

What are you hiding?

Stressed out

People often tell me they don’t need Mindfulness.

They’re not stressed or depressed. They might admit to a touch of nerves now and then. Or maybe a little anxiety but that it’s nothing to worry about.

Stress is something that happens to other people, right?

I have news for you – your body is probably hiding all sorts of reactions and responses to what you experience at work or at home.

Sounds a little scary, but the science is pretty clear: the human brain has evolved to constantly evaluate our environment for ‘fight, flight or freeze’.
Our threat radar is operating tirelessly, on the lookout for danger and when it goes off, it primes the body’s systems to act quickly – because when the sabre tooth tiger starts running, there’s no time to think consciously, you just need to get out of there as fast you can!

Today, your prehistoric unconscious brain is quietly pumping out hormones and signals to your body thousands of years after we left our caves and campfires all without you realising:

  • Tension in the neck, shoulders and back
  • Butterflies in the stomach
  • Sleeplessness
  • Headaches
  • Snapping at your loved ones


Modern lives are full of ‘sabre-tooth tigers’; screaming kids, cramped commuter trains, awful bosses, idiots on the roads, someone giving you the eye in the supermarket. Whether we realise it or not, these daily life triggers are generating stress responses.

So, when someone says they don’t need Mindfulness, I think, “how do you actually know?”

Amongst other wonderful benefits, Mindfulness is a brilliant skill to learn because it connects you with what’s going on in your body:

  • You can choose a response rather than allow an unthinking reaction to make things worse.
  • You can become better able to ride emotional swings, recover faster (without suppressing or ignoring important experiences).
  • You can develop better responses to challenging situations.
  • You can find deeper joy and richer quality of experiences in the everyday as much as the extraordinary.

Learning Mindfulness is something you should want, not just something you might need.

Everyone can benefit from arresting the debilitating, often subconscious effects of challenging work and lives that we lead and learning a lifelong skill that has genuine impacts.

Where should you start?

Learn mindfulness with people, not apps! It’s a really important piece of the puzzle and Jo teaches with compassion, following the gold-standard MBSR syllabus developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, 40 years ago.

Our next 5 session course begins on the 12th May and only costs £250 for 22 hours of quality training, including audio guides, home practice and course handbooks.

Please, help yourself out and book your place today.

Embracing an adventure into the unknown!

This is where I was yesterday! (No, I am not a football fan!)

It was such an incredible venue but possibly the least likely place to find a mindfulness consultant and practitioner!
However, I was invited to a launch day for a new corporate training programme with AndPartnership to give a presentation on Mindfulness in the Workplace.

Interesting Feedback There were 40 people in the audience and only 2 of them had ever practiced mindfulness meditation, dipping in and out of Apps and not really being able to commit to a regular practice. Their feedback was that although the Apps can be useful when you’re busy, they do not support you to keep a regular practice. What the Apps also do not offer, is the support of a practitioner or, the potential depth of learning that person-led courses can offer you. This is why the group mindfulness courses and 1-2-1 mindfulness training are the best way to learn the foundations of mindfulness.

What is so good about the MBSR Course? The 8 week Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course is specifically structured so that you not only learn a variety of mindfulness practices and how to integrate them into your daily life, but you learn about yourself, your behavioural patterns and your habits that can be unhelpful or harmful, which in turn, can lead to positive changes.


Why is Mindfulness needed within the workplace? Mindfulness is much needed in many workplace environments, particularly in the current climate of so much uncertainty, but often, people wait until something drastic happens, like physical exhaustion or burnout due to stress. Then it becomes about having to find ways to help yourself, rather than prevention.

Resistance & Denial Why are so many of us resistant to making changes within ourselves, unless we are given an absolute reason to, like an illness or burnout? And, why are so many of us in denial of there being anything ‘wrong’, ignoring and suppressing how we really feel about our life, job or circumstances?

Why is that? Well, pausing to ask ourselves how we really are, can be scary. But then, if you become curious about what it is you’re feel scared about, it often turns out that there’s nothing there, except a mixture of thoughts, feelings, emotions with all the layers that we have built up to protect ourselves over the years. Being curious can lead us towards more self-acceptance, acceptance of others, a letting go of unnecessary burdens and learning to deal with the negative self-talk, which is purely a habit that we can change.


Testimonial – What mindfulness training is really about! “Mindfulness training is so much more than just learning mindfulness meditation, it’s about self-discovery. I learnt things about myself that I never knew existed. As a result of attending the course, I am enjoying my life more!” ~ Anonymous participant of an 8 week course.

Finding a way to happiness, contentment and joy

Have you ever noticed how exhausting it is to think? Now, when I use the term thinking, I mean when you find yourself talking and questioning with others or to yourself about ‘over-thinking’. Not only do you label it as over-thinking, but you find yourself going on (and on), ruminating on the same issue, then judging yourself, telling yourself you’re stupid to over-think and questioning why you’re over-thinking this subject, situation, issue as it isn’t really that important…is it? You then find yourself waking up in the middle of the night or the early hours of the morning, thinking about the same thing, over and over again! You might then get angry with yourself for thinking those things and for disturbing your sleep and yet, you continue to think about the subject, situation or issue even more so, looking and searching for an answer or a solution!

And then, you wake up the following morning with the hope of having a less stressful day, feeling like you can conquer everything that occurs throughout the day, only to find that you are exhausted, unable to keep your eyes open during the morning huddle meeting and when you return to your desk, you find yourself staring at the computer screen with the overwhelming number of emails that need an urgent response, unable to focus on the words on the screen and wondering what the hell you’re going to do!
When you feel this stuck, it can be difficult to see the “light at the end of the tunnel” (an indication that a long period of difficulty is nearing an end) and that this is only a temporary phase. And yet, it is possible to find happiness, contentment, joy, fulfillment again.

As Professor Mark Williams and Danny Penman have understood from 30 years of Mindfulness research at Oxford University;

“This work has discovered the secret to happiness and how you can successfully tackle anxiety, stress, exhaustion and even full-blown depression. It’s the kind of happiness and peace that gets into your bones and promotes a deep-seated authentic love of life, seeping into everything you do and helping you to cope more skillfully with the worst that life throws at you.”

WILLIAMS, M., & PENMAN, D. (2011). Mindfulness: an eight-week plan for finding peace in a frantic world. Emmaus, Pa, Rodale Books.

Mindfulness can be a useful, practical resource to self-regulate the body’s response to stress and to manage emotional overload. It can help to prevent and manage anxiety, compassion fatigue (think of those who work in the Healthcare profession), depression, stress and burnout (when your mind and body have been overloaded by unsustainable pressure). Cultivating compassion and empathy begins with our attitude towards ourselves. Mindfulness training can help us to develop an attitude of kindness towards ourselves by increasing levels of self-awareness and teaching us how to be fully with our experience. Mindfulness helps us to face up to challenges by teaching us how to approach with a different attitude; one of openness, curiosity, interest and intrigue. We learn to look at problem-solving differently, discovering how our body reacts with an automatic response of Fight, Flight or Freeze which, if prolonged can cause physical and psychological symptoms such as high blood pressure, aching, tense muscles, anxiety or depression.

Through Mindfulness training, we learn to listen to our mind and body giving us the ‘heads up’, a warning that something is not quite right, enabling us to prevent burnout and to self-manage our anxiety and stress levels. When you are able to recognise the ‘alert’, you then have the opportunity to choose how you respond to this warning and new found, deeper sense of self-awareness.
There many books and apps that can help feed your curiosity and support your learning of Mindfulness. During the experiential, supported training programme that Inner Space Works offers, you are provided with audio tracks (specifically recorded by Jo Clarke for the purposes of the course) and weekly handbooks (written by Bangor University) to support each session. Alongside these resources, you will have the support of Jo to answer any questions for the duration of the course.

References
https://www.healthline.com/health/emotional-exhaustion#treatment – Medically reviewed by Timothy J. Legg, PhD, CRNP on July 23, 2018 — Written by Jacquelyn Cafasso
https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/self-awareness-matters-how-you-can-be-more-self-aware/ – Jan 2, 2017. Last Updated on February 8, 2019 – Written by Jessie Zhu
KABAT-ZINN, J. (1994). Wherever you go, there you are: mindfulness meditation in everyday life. New York, Hyperion.
KABAT-ZINN, J. (1991). Full catastrophe living: using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness. New York, N.Y., Pub. by Dell Pub., a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Pub. Group.
WILLIAMS, M., & PENMAN, D. (2011). Mindfulness: an eight-week plan for finding peace in a frantic world. Emmaus, Pa, Rodale Books.