Coaching & Counselling blog: Stress management post Brexit

Blog Post No. 42

27th December 2016

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2016

Renata’s Coaching & Counselling blog: Stress management post Brexit:

How do we become more resilient in the face of bad news?

Introduction

In this blog, I will briefly describe some strategies which have been adopted by several universities to help their staff handle the disruption and uncertainty around Brexit – the impending withdrawal of the UK from the European Union – and the possible (probable?!) end of research funding for projects which are being undertaken by university staff all over the UK.

brexit

Then the effectiveness of these strategies will be considered, and alternative ones described.

Headline: “Dons in distress get Brexit therapy”

This “Dons in distress” statement is the title of an article that was written in the Sunday Times on the 4th December, 2016. The article describes the emotions (of “uncertainty, grief and anger“) that university staff are feeling because of the Brexit vote. Research funding has been disrupted and/or stopped, and in some cases people are totally uncertainty about their future employment prospects.

Nottingham University, the article explains, is now holding resilience workshops to help the staff understand where their huge amounts of stress originate from. This is so they will have an increased sense of control over what is happening to them.

Leeds University staff counselling department and the Psychological Services have created a written guide which clarifies that the feeling of grief, anger, depression and anxiety are stages which are part of the process of handling change.

stages-of-change

They explain to staff that if they don’t call a halt to their constant checking of the news, then they will continue to feel bad. “If you receive a lot of news shocks, your body is likely to experience fear”, they state.

In addition to feeling fear, another result of constant checking of the bad news is that the ability of the academic staff to get a decent night’s sleep would be reduced.

As an alternative to anxious worrying, the guide helpfully recommends exercise, resting and eating well.  (They could have added that “news fasting”, for long periods of time, would also help).

Resilience workshops

Offering workshops and printed guides to staff is a very constructive way to help them get a new sense of control over their lives. However, one of the major drawbacks are this approach the fragility of human memory: Because of the way human memory works, only about 20% of the information from the workshops will be remembered on the following day. And then as the days pass less and less detail will be recallable.  A special effort to record and retain the information would be needed: such as frequent reviews of the same helpful material, to get it into long-term memory.

The same applies to books and booklets: unless they are analysed, and notes taken and transformed into action steps, then their value is limited, and not fully realised.

The difference between declarative and procedural knowledge

Knowing all about how to handle change and the stresses that go with it, is a good start. And this type of knowledge is called ‘declarative knowledge’. Here’s an example:  many heavy smokers are very informed and knowledgeable about the risks of smoking. Does this knowledge help them to give up smoking? Not in the slightest!

To start new habits, or change old habits, we need ‘procedural knowledge’. We need to know how to do something, which is a very different matter. (If you look at my blog on habit creation this will show you a summary of the process).

How, then, do we cope in the face of life’s uncertainties; to manage our resilience levels; and to develop procedural knowledge of the process?

 Building our resilience.

ancestors

One thing that is easy to forget is that we are all human animals. We’ve evolved from our pre-human ancestors, which evolved into our African hominid and human ancestors. We humans originally lived in the trees and then descended from them onto the plains of Africa. Our ancestors lived and raised children in small groups, and were biologically shaped to adapt to an environment in which each day’s food had to be searched for.

Otherwise, as vulnerable humans, we would not have survived as a race. The innate ‘fight or flight’ response – an internal, non-conscious, physiological (appraise and respond) mechanism – kept our ancestors alive and able to flee from dangers, or to try to fight animals that threatened them.

We’ve got exactly the same mechanism within us as our ancestors had, and we have a need to handle threats and dangers through physical activity. Our ancestors dealt with their own problems as they arose. But now the resilience and energy of people is being sapped by a background of continuous bad news, as people try to work, and raise their families in a turbulent world.

T-V-screen.JPG

Handling bad news

Each day the most distressing news is carefully presented to us, and endlessly repeated, and our bodies register the negative information, and react to it physically. Unless we take action on a daily basis to burn off the stress hormones created by this endless newsfeed, we will get saturated with those hormones.

The Leeds University guide warns against news addiction, and recommends that staff manage their exposure to news. Apparently, according to the article, dons are having news programmes on continually and checking the news in the middle of the night.

stress-loop

Taking action to build resilience immediately

As a former lecturer at a FE college for approximately 35 years, I would like to share with you the three top techniques I used to survive in an educational environment which had a lot of waves of changes and uncertainty. Managing to emerge relatively unscathed, I’d like to recommend these three invaluable strategies for you to try out for yourself; and to experience the benefits of them yourself (assuming you don’t practise them already).

The first and foremost technique, in my opinion, to deal with massive change and uncertainty in the workplace, is daily exercise, which will burn off stress hormones from the previous day’s hassles. And not only does it quickly reduce feelings of anxiety or depression (or implosive anger) – our bodies make sure we find it a pleasurable activity, and release feel-good hormones.

Firstly I would recommend that you give up watching the evening news, and/or breakfast news on television each day, and instead do a bout of dancing, jogging, yoga, Chi-gong or any other kind of physical activity that you really enjoy. This is a great way to burn off the stress created by the previous day’s hassles, and it also releases endorphins, which are happiness chemicals, which lift your mood.

According to Robert Parry (2001) – in his book on Chi-gong – when we do exercise which involves deep breathing, like Chi-gong or yoga, then this type of breathing actually stimulates the parasympathetic part of our nervous systems, which is the part that helps the body rest, and restore; and renew itself through the digestive process. (This is called the ‘rest and digest’ part of our nervous system).

We activate this process by breathing from our bellies, not our chests. (That is to say, we breathe into the bottom of the lungs, which pushes the diaphragm downwards, and the belly outwards).

belly-breathing-frog

This means that if we deliberately breathe deeply (from our diaphragm, expanding our bellies) as we do our exercises, we are able to influence our physical state: our body then switches from a stressed state to the parasympathetic relaxed state.

Parry states that: “Tests measuring the electromagnetic resonance of the brain confirm that our brains shift into what is termed the ‘Alpha’ state of relaxation and deep rest during Chi-gong breathing exercises, a state in which not only the digestion but the body’s immune function too can operate at its optimal level. This is why Chi-gong helps us feel more in touch with our emotions and thoughts.” (Page 125).

For these reasons, I strongly recommend that workers need to exercise most days of the week in order to handle stress at work.

The second technique: using assertiveness strategies

In addition to physical exercise, I also recommend assertive communication strategies.

Robert Sapolsky wrote a fascinating book called ‘Why Zebras don’t get Ulcers’, which I strongly recommend. And the reason they don’t get ulcers, fundamentally, is that they can run away very swiftly from predators who want to eat them for lunch.

If we come across predators (or threats) at work, for example in the form of challenges to our sense of dignity and competence (like being insulted, harassed verbally, or shouted at by a member of staff [or told our funding has been removed!]), we can’t really run away. We have to stay in this stressful situation, and handle these sorts of problems, because we need the income to support our families and keep a roof over our heads.

Because we cannot abandon our jobs when the going gets tough, and because not everybody we work with will be charming and gracious, and good negotiators, life at work can become very difficult.  People can make our lives miserable if we don’t learn how to handle them skilfully.

So my second recommendation is this: Start learning assertiveness techniques to strengthen yourself in the workplace. Learning specific assertiveness techniques, and using them to communicate with colleagues, will mean that you will develop a strong sense of control over your life. This reduces your stress levels.

barbara-berkhan-book-cover

But how are you to learn to be more assertive?  Some good ideas can be found in books – as in Barbara Berckhan’s book on Judo with Words.  Or you can watch videos on assertive communication on YouTube.  Or you can go on an Assertiveness Training course, if you can find one.

A more available option is to go to a good coach-counsellor for help.  Role-plays with a supportive coach or counsellor (like yours truly) can really help to strengthen you. These techniques can be used immediately to create a better working environment for people, or help them come to terms with a situation in which their options are limited.

With role-play you can get descriptions of the techniques to use; coaching on how to do this; and immediate, constructive feedback on how you are communicating.  And it is a very powerful way to help you learn to protect your energy (and your dignity!) For example it gives you practice in expressing yourself confidently, handling requests and complaints, etc., and gives you very useful phrases to use to do your job effectively with reduced wear and tear on your nervous system. You quickly learn to ask for what you want; to say ‘No’ to what you do not want; and how to communicate your needs, wants and feelings to others.

The third recommendation: ‘Daily pages’ or a diary.

The-Artists-Way.jpg

The third recommendation is to write daily reflections on how your day went at work, or at home; and how you experienced events. The daily accounts are called “Daily pages”; or “Morning pages”, by Julia Cameron. She uses this technique to unblock creative people who have lost touch with their authentic selves and creative energies. She recommends writing three sides of A4 paper every morning. (This can be stream of consciousness, or deliberate, reflective logs of specific challenges at work, or at home) If this seems a lot, then aim to write at least one side of A4. This daily discipline works for the following crucial reason: our brains are designed to deal with incoming information – we are problem-solving creatures.  Ruminating in our minds, without committing our ideas to paper, simply causes us to go round and round the same old track, without learning or changing anything very much.

If we’re faced with challenges which we can’t handle, or need to ‘get (something) off our chests’ then we can write down what happens and our reaction to the events. This is externalising the information, and putting it out there on the page. Once the information is down on paper and out of our heads, we can see it. And because we can see it, our brain can then go into problem-solving mode and slowly a solution will appear from your brain-mind, magically.

philippa-perry-quoteLetting worries and fears about the future go round and round in our minds without expressing them in some way, is really bad for us and can affect our immune systems. Writing about what’s bugging us has an immediate therapeutic effect, and there is lots of evidence of its value.

It’s also private, with no financial cost, and it builds resilience in people because it puts them in touch with themselves and helps them learn about their own bodies-minds and responses to outside stressors.

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writing-therapy-bookIf you wanted more details about the value of writing, then a really good book written by Dr Jim Byrne, details the benefits and research findings which show what a very effective technique it is. You can find it here: The Writing Solution.***

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Conclusion

If you want to become more resilient in the face of constant change and challenges, then start to practice these three techniques on a daily basis:

# Physical exercise (preferably something like Chi-gong or yoga);

# Assertive communication skills;

# Daily writing in a journal or diary.

Immediately, and increasingly, these strategies will make you stronger physically and mentally, which is what you need to survive in the face of an incessantly changing society.

Daily exercise, assertive communication and daily written reflections are the foundation stones of self-care. With these three mind-body practices, you hold the key to protecting yourself and your energies in this crazy culture, so that you can survive and do your best for your family and loved ones, and get more enjoyment and relaxation out of the time that you have.

I hope you give them a try and enjoy the benefits!

That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Coach-Counsellor

The Coaching/Counselling Division

Renata4coaching@btinternet.com

01422 843 629

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References:

Sapolsky, R. (2004) Why Zebras don’t get Ulcers.  New York: St Martins Griffin.

Berckhan, B. (2001) Judo with Words: An intelligent way to counter verbal attacks. London: Free Association Press.

Cameron, J. (1992) The Artist’s Way: A spiritual path to higher creativity.  London: Souvenir Press.

Byrne, J. (2016) Narrative Therapy and the Writing Solution: An emotive-cognitive approach to feeling better and solving problems (Narrative Therapy Series Book 1) Kindle Edition. Available: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Narrative-Therapy-Writing-Solution-emotive-cognitive-ebook/dp/B01LNE73L0 

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Why meditation is really good for you…

Blog Post No.6

Published on 18th September 2016 (Previously posted on 7th October 2015)

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2015

Renata’s Coaching/Counselling blog: A *star* technique for enjoying your life more: Daily meditation

Introduction:

nata-5-jpg-w300h225In this blog I am going to explain why meditation is really good for you. It’s the mental equivalent of being on a very nutritious and healthy diet.

And it’s better for our bodies than going on holiday, or going shopping –because you feel good for longer and it doesn’t reduce your bank balance!

That’s a big claim, so I’d better explain why I think it’s so good for you. In order to do that I need to get a bit technical.

But firstly, let me clarify what I mean by ‘meditation’: Sitting quietly, clearing your mind of mental chatter, and focusing your attention in the here and now by counting your breaths in and out.  It’s that simple.  But you can always get more guidance on how to do it by consulting our How to Meditate page.***

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Mental demands on our energy

In our daily lives, here are some examples of the mental demands we face:

# Starting the day with too much to do and too little time to do it.

# If you are married: Getting the kids dressed, breakfasted and ready for school – and keeping the mobile phone on, so you can be easily contacted

# Other people’s conversations (and problems), and responding to them appropriately

# TV and radio news which always give the bad news first, relentlessly

stress-at-work3# If you use a mobile phone: Text messages throughout the day – with good or bad news; and the ever-present threat of a bad/stressing phone call

# Emails waiting for us when we get to work

# Adverts trying to get us to buy things

# If you are a car driver: Other drivers’ behaviour on the roads

# The demands of the job when you get to work

# Your inner dialogue (mind chatter), as you prepare, respond and carry out your daily responsibilities

~~~

Have I missed anything out? Probably!

Our poor brains are deluged with information overload, and the messages don’t stop until we crawl, tired out, into bed, hoping for a decent night’s sleep.

By that time your body has got plenty of stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) circulating in it, so the quality of your sleep will be affected by them. That’s the bad news.

~~~

The good news: how meditation works

stop-stress2What meditation does is it switches off your stress response, and switches on the relaxation response.

The stress response is a natural, human response to all the daily challenges you’ve been facing. You’ve probably heard it referred to as the ‘fight or flight response’.  Your heart rate and breathing increase; your big muscles tense up to fight or run; your digestive system closes down, to conserve energy; your body/brain fills with cortisol and adrenaline, so it becomes difficult to think straight.

We’ve got 2 nervous systems in our body: the ‘sympathetic’ nervous system, which activates our ‘fight or flight’ response; and the ‘parasympathetic’ nervous system, which switches on when threats to us have passed.  The parasympathetic nervous system is also called the ‘rest and digest’ or ‘relaxation’ response.

These two systems alternate with each other, to keep a balance in the body – a bit like mixer taps for hot and cold water.

Meditation gets your body’s relaxation response activated which means that the feelings of stress drain away and the ‘rest and digest’ mechanisms start to operate in your body.

So your body stops producing cortisol, and switches to the relaxation part of your autonomic nervous system. Your digestion starts working again, your big muscles relax, and mental relaxation and whole-body rest take place.

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Breath-counting – recommended by the Buddha:

school-meditation-008Begin by sitting quietly, with no external distractions. Switch off the TV or radio. Sit in a room which does not have any human activity going on. And focus your attention completely on your breathing, so that your thinking about yesterday and tomorrow close down.

Counting your breaths over and over for a period of time rests your brain and reconnects you to your body – to the regular rhythms of your breathing. And in this way your thoughts settle down, lose their power to disturb or run you ragged, and become mere thoughts which come and go, like clouds in the sky.

Meditation roots you more powerfully in the reality of your body and your current surroundings and less in the world of your thoughts.

You may quickly feel sleepy when you start meditating – this is a sign that your body needs rest and wants more sleep.

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How do you do it?

the-buddha-copyYou sit still, in a quiet place, and slowly start counting your breaths from 1 to 4, over and over again. It’s as simple as that.  Count 1 on the in-breath; 2 on the out-breath; 3 on the in-breath; and 4 on the out-breath.  And repeat.  Slowly, slowly; let your rate of breathing slow down, and relax your body.

For more guidance, see our How to Meditate page.***

I suggest you try 10 minutes a day at first. Ten minutes of peace!

But as you get to feel the effects on your body I would suggest that you build up to 30 minutes a day. That will be really good for your mind and body.

You will be able to feel and experience the benefits for yourself, and may well want to go into the subject of meditation in more depth.

The Buddha recommended counting your breaths, but there are loads of different types of mediation.

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Regular practice makes for successful meditation

meditation-effects-copyWhy meditate every day? You will only get the full benefits of meditation, and experience them for yourself, if you do it every day, because it takes time to reap the rewards, just like when you start an exercise programme.

Zig Ziglar once said: ‘People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily’.

The same applies to meditation.  Daily practice will strengthen your connection to your body, slow down your mind, build up your stamina and lower your blood pressure. The resultant increase in relaxation will mean that when you experience stressful events, you will be meeting them with a more relaxed body/mind. Therefore the stress response will be less powerful and you’ll recover more quickly.

And the only time the brain rests is when we’re meditating!

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The benefits of meditating:

Here is a link to a website which has listed 100 of the benefits of meditation: http://www.lotustemple.us/images/Benefits_of_Meditation.pdf

And here is a more detailed account of how to meditate which my partner, Jim Byrne and myself, wrote some time ago: our How to Meditate page.***

How come such a beneficial technique isn’t more popular?

Well, firstly, you will need to get up earlier in the morning or carve out the time in your daily life, if you want to experiment with it.  And some people don’t like having to do that!

It’s not a quick fix, and some people are not very patient.  Give it time to work. The benefits will be worth the effort.  For examples: people have been able to give up hard drugs, cigarettes, lose weight, change their lives, start exercise routines, etc., through using this very simple technique.

meditation-benefits-copy

It is also very useful if you have difficulty getting to sleep at night or wake up in the middle of the night, worrying about past or future events. The simple practice of breath-counting will help you get off to sleep more quickly.

That’s all for now. I hope you find this helpful.

Best wishes,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Coach-Counsellor

The Coaching/Counselling Division

Renata4coaching@btinternet.com

01422 843 629

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Stress management and love for counsellors and others…

Blog Post No.90 

Posted on 25th August 2016 (Originally published on Saturday 28th June 2014)

Copyright © Dr Jim Byrne

A counsellor’s blog: Stress counselling; Ellis on love; and to hell with Socrates…

Introduction

Chill Out, coverEarlier today, I was discussing with Renata what I could write about this week.  She thought it would be good to write about stress.  But I have written a lot on the subject of stress, including a published book on the subject. However, Renata wondered if perhaps some of my readers often missed the point about the crucial importance of learning stress management skills, in the sense of this being a life and death issue.  I asked her what she meant, and she said she could write out two statements which would alternately make readers’ hair stand on end – regarding the importance of stress management, and the dire consequences of ignoring their own stress warnings – and another piece that would fundamentally reassure them that they could resolve all their stress problems satisfactorily.  So I said, “Okay; please show me what you mean”.  She then sat down and wrote the two following statements:

Today’s bad news:

Jim-Renata7.jpgAccording to The Times – Body and Soul supplement, page 4 – today, 28th June 2014, there was an interesting study on stress conducted two years ago by University College, London. It looked at the relationship between men in demanding jobs and heart disease.

This study tracked the health of 200,000 people.  The findings were these: The men most at risk of developing stress-related heart disease had two characteristics:

Firstly, they were in demanding jobs.

Secondly, they felt that they had no power in their job role to control the stressors around them.

How can we handle massive pressures at work if the job gives us no power to manage them?  What if we’ve got to keep working to pay the mortgage (or rent), to feed the kids, etc.?

~~~

Today’s good news:

Human-heart.jpgYou can immediately drop your stress level by deciding to take your control back.  You can’t (very often) change your job – but you can change yourself!  If you get a professional ally – a counsellor, psychologist, psychotherapist – they will work with you to give you real, sustained backing as you learn to manage yourself, and learn to control what you can control.

This will have an immediate beneficial effect on your health.  Do you remember the Zeebrugger ferry disaster?  Research conducted in 1991 found that there was a 50% reduction in stress levels in survivors of that and other disasters, after they had talked to trained helpers, and had just eight weeks of help, one hour per week.

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Thanks, Renata.  You made your point very well.  Stress is a hugely important topic for everybody to address, for the sake of their physical and mental health; and it is indeed possible to address it, at relatively small financial cost.

My expertise

Jims-counselling-div2I (Jim) have been studying stress management as a discipline for at least twenty years, and in that time I have developed about eighteen main strategies for reducing physical and mental stress and strain.  I have taught those strategies to hundreds of clients who have improved their physical and emotional health as a result.

See:

My introductory page on stress management.***

My book on stress management.***

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Albert Ellis on Love

Wounded-psychotherapist-ellisTo summarise my conclusions (presented on 7th anniversary of Dr Ellis’s death, on 24th July 2014): Albert Ellis was damaged as a small boy by the neglect he experienced at the hands of his mother and father.  He was not actively loved, nor sensitively cared for.  Indeed, he had to become a little mother to his younger brother and sister, when he was about seven years old, and onward from that point.

As a result of his parents neglect of him, he did not understand what it meant to love and be loved.  This was clear from his description of his attempt to establish a relationship with his first potential girlfriend, Karyl, as told by himself, in his autobiography, All Out!

See my biographical sketch of Ellis’s life, and how it impacted the development of REBT: A Wounded Psychotherapist.***

Because he did not learn to love and be loved, he developed an avoidant attachment style, and related to significant others at a considerable, cool distance.  From this stance, it was important to him to invert Karen Horney’s principle, that we all need to be loved, and to thus arrive at his “Irrational Belief No.1”, which claims that “…virtually all humans demand that they absolutely must be loved by somebody, and often they demand that they must be loved by everybody”.  In my post on 24th July, I will demonstrate that, at most, about 20% of the population (of western cultures) may tend to have this sense of an absolute need to be loved.  For most other humans, the need for love is much less anxious and ambivalent; much less insecure.  Watch this space: Albert Ellis on Love.***

Love is hugely important.  Here’s my niece, Jenni, singing a song she composed for her sister (Ruth’s) wedding to Linval.  Love is a potent force in the world:

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To hell with Socrates

SocratesI have done quite a bit of work on the subject of Socratic Questioning, and certainly enough to satisfy myself that Socrates should never be used as a role model by counsellors, psychologists, psychotherapists, etc.

In my first study of Socratic Questioning, I concluded, in line with Dr Edward De Bono, that Plato’s-Socrates – (who is the only substantial Socrates known to the modern world) – held the beliefs that:

  1. Most people do not know how to think straight;
  2. That they tend to hold contradictory beliefs;
  3. That, in order to learn some better ideas – or perhaps to learn that they know nothing and are incapable of knowing anything – the first step is to demonstrate to them that they do not know what they are talking about.

How could these three beliefs form the foundation of the questioning strategies of counsellors or psychotherapists?  I do not believe they could.  I think it would be a dreadful abuse of clients to approach them with those three beliefs in mind. Not because those three ideas are necessarily wholly false, but because challenging people on that basis has the predictable effect of making them feel wrong, or stupid!

Socrates’ dialogues (in Plato’s dialogues) show a lack of sensitivity to the person to whom he is speaking – their vulnerability to feeling bad about themselves.  In Buddhism, there is the concept of ‘upaya’ – or ‘skillful means’ – which suggests that, when a Zen master is dealing with a student, they should aim to be skillful.  (Not that the approaches of Zen masters form a good model for counsellors: Remember it is not okay to throw your fan at a client; or to whack them over the head with your bamboo pole! :-))

And yet, when I challenged the idea of using Socratic Questioning in Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT), Albert Ellis told me that, while he could see some merit in some of my critique of Socrates, nevertheless, REBT is “…substantially Socratic”.

Nierenberg-negotiations-book.jpgMy own argument, following Nierenberg’s ‘Complete Negotiator’ approach, is to consider that questioning in counselling and therapy has certain instrumental functions, as follows:

1. To cause the client to focus upon a particular point (event, or object);

2. To cause their thinking to start up;

3. To ask them for some information;

4. To pass some information to them (rhetorically); and:

5. To cause their thinking to come to a conclusion.

Nierenberg also argues that you can arrange those five questions in a grid, like this:

1. 2. 3. 4. 5.
1.  Combined Qs 1 & 3
2.
3.
4
5.

Dr Jim's photoUsing this grid, we can see that a question can be in two parts; e.g., 1+3 – To cause the client’s attention to focus on a specific event/experience, and to ask them for some information about that event/experience.

The great beauty of this system is that it gets rid of the “Socratic smart-arse” aspect of questioning the client.

The problems with classic Socratic Questioning include:

  1. That the client may interpret the therapist as ‘picking a fight’ with them;
  2. That the client may become anxious when asked particular kinds of right/wrong questions (perhaps because of re-stimulation of the humiliating experience of being at school and being subjected to interrogations, the aim of which was to find a reason to punish the client as a child).
  3. That the client may (as suggested by Asch, Milgram, Zimbardo) simply go along with the therapist’s inferences, as a form of obedience or conformity to authority.
  4. That the therapist never gets to *know* the client, because s/he (the therapist) is always tilting at the windmills of ‘innate irrational beliefs’ – or ‘negative automatic thoughts’).

And on and on.

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That’s all for today.

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne

 

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

jim.byrne@abc-counselling.com

Telephone:

01422 843 629 (from inside the UK)

44 1422 843 629 (from outside the UK)

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Blog Post No.89 

Posted on 25th August 2016 (Previously published on Saturday 14th June 2014)

Copyright © Dr Jim Byrne

The Counselling Blog: A counsellor writes about “The importance of love…”

Kate-Atkinson-Life-After-Life.jpgI recently mentioned that I had acquired a copy of Kate Atkinson’s new novel. My intention was to read fiction for some part of each day – say 30 to 60 minutes – as a way to have a mental break from my tendency towards overworking.

I have now finished reading that book, at an average of three to six pages per day.  In a review, by ‘Bron’, at Amazon.co.uk, we get the following insight into the fundamental theme of Kate Atkinson’s new book:

“A seemingly small event can change the direction of a life completely: a chance encounter with a stranger who harms you or a conversation that detains you which means you miss bumping into the person, a meeting with the German you fall in love with and marry or being helped up from a fall by an Englishman. Life is full of moments which change the direction a person travels in and we have all wished we could go back and change something, or do it over again in a different way. And Life after Life explores this theme intricately, with sympathy, compassion and superb writing and plotting.”

Domestic-violence.jpgI was deeply moved by the emotional tone of Kate’s book, but I was never able to express what I was ‘getting’ from the experience.  It rattled some skeletons in the non-conscious basement of my mind, and sensitised me to some aspects of human suffering which were not previously in my range of experience – such as being a young woman, in her twenties, who is the victim of wife-beating and emotional abuse.  (Reading Kate’s vivid descriptions of wife-beatings, and eventual murder, happened on top of recently learning that one woman in three will be beaten by her partner.  What a world!)

I suppose a lot of my feelings were of being able to identify with a woman in a predominantly man’s world.  And, in addition, there were lots of descriptions of war and its horrors.

Soon after finishing reading this book, I sat down and wrote the following statement, which must have been, to some extent, inspired by reading Kate Atkinson’s narrative:

In CENT counselling, we are sometimes asked: ‘What is the purpose of life?  What’s it all about?’  This is our attempt at an answer: “We are born and we die.  We come into the world alone and with nothing in our hands, and very little in our hearts and minds.  And we leave this world alone and empty-handed.  The purpose of life, then, cannot be to get; to acquire; to want and desire.  The purpose of life must be to leave this world knowing we have made a difference (a positive difference!) to the lives of those people we met and knew and left behind.  The purpose of life must be to love; to give; to make a contribution to life on earth for our family, community and the people we love”.

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Love-matters-Gerhardt.jpgSue Gerhardt’s book – Why Love Matters – is a wonderful analysis of how affection shapes a baby’s brain, and the long-term implications of childhood experiences in relationships with early carers.  She “…explores how the earliest relationship shapes the baby’s nervous sytem.  She shows how the development of the brain determines future emotional well being, and goes on to look at specific early ‘pathways’ that can affect the way we respond to stress, and can contribute to conditions such as anorexia, addiction, and anti-social behaviour”.

And she presents an easy to understand analysis of the emergence of attachment styles – secure and insecure.

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This brings me to the problem of teaching my counselling clients – who often have insecure attachments to their parents – about love: its importance, what it is, and what it feels and looks like.  This is how I sometimes express it:

Teaching the client about the nature of love is one of the most difficult challenges a counsellor faces:  “There are no short-cuts to understanding what love is.  If someone has been deprived of the crudest infantile experience of love then he might be permanently crippled or, at least, have great difficulty in learning later what the word can mean.  In learning what it symbolises, I need to re-write my autobiography over and over again.  To grow is to re-organise the past now and to move into the future”.

Robert F. Hobson, Forms of Feeling: The heart of psychotherapy, Page 212. (25)

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road-less-travelledI like to teach my clients M. Scott Peck’s definition of love: That love is a process of ‘extending yourself in the service of another person’.  It is not primarily about ‘nice feelings’, although nice feelings normally flow from the process, especially for the love object.  But, of course, what goes around also comes around – so ‘cast thy bread upon the waters, for it shall return after many days’.  Or, as Albert Ellis would say, “The best way to get love is to sincerely offer it”.

But this statement by Ellis is an anachronism.  He is right; but he most likely did not implement that policy in his own life, based upon the research I have been able to do on the subject.

Dr Albert Ellis, the creator of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) was greatly emotionally deprived as a child – on one occasion spending almost ten months in hospital, around the age of five or six years, during which time he just one or two visits from his mother, and none from his father.

Wounded-psychotherapist-ellisHe failed to understand how wounded he was, and went on to make a virtue of his insecure attachment style – trying to teach emotional coldness to his clients as a ‘superior, rational form of functioning’ –relative to having feelings of need to give and get love.

To those who told him they needed love, he objected, and insisted that nobody needs to be loved, and that they were ‘love slobs’ for thinking they did need love.  I wrote some more on this subject in time for the seventh anniversary of his death, here: About Dr Albert Ellis.***

If you want to find out more about Ellis’s childhood, and how his emotional deprivations affected the eventual shape of REBT, then please take a look at A Wounded Psychotherapist.***

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That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

jim.byrne@abc-counselling.com

Telephone:

01422 843 629 (from inside the UK)

44 1422 843 629 (from outside the UK)

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The benefits of ‘Forest bathing’ or ‘Shinrin Yoku’

Blog Post No.9

Posted on 2nd July 2016: (Originally posted on 28th October 2015)

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2015

Renata’s Coaching/Counselling blog: Several fascinating research findings about the benefits of ‘Forest bathing’ or ‘Shinrin Yoku’

Introduction:

Bluebells-trees.JPGMy job as a coach/counsellor is to help my clients become strong, confident and healthy. And if I find information that will help people achieve that goal, then it’s my job to spread the good news.

So in this blog I am going to show you the research evidence that walking amongst trees, simple as it may seem, can do amazingly beneficial things for our bodies without us realising it.

What is ‘Forest bathing’ or ‘Shinrin Yoku’?

The name ‘Shinrin Yoku’ was created by the Japanese ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in 1982, and what it means is: ‘Making contact with, and taking in the atmosphere of the forest’ (not actually bathing). There are now a few dozen forest therapy centres in Japan, as the process has been scientifically investigated and the research findings demonstrate the benefits of walking in the forests.   These ‘forest bathing’ activities have been shown to be very beneficial for the body.

Yoshifumi Miyazaki, one of the main researchers in this field, has been researching the effects of nature on our bodies for over 30 years, and he mentions in his TED  talk on ‘Nature therapy,’ a  highly significant fact:

Miyazaki.JPGHe mentioned that we as human beings (homo sapiens) have lived on earth for 5 million years, and for 99.9999% of that time, we lived in the forests. Then urbanisation took place, with the industrial revolution, but this period of time has only been 0.0001% of that 5 million years!

So because we are living in an artificial, man-made (or human-made) environment we’re always in a state of stress, and to strengthen ourselves against that stress, if we return to nature and walk in the forests, then we will benefit a great deal from that. We will, he maintains, strengthen our immune system.

Here are some of the research results:

The forest environments reduce the level of the stress hormone, cortisol, in the bloodstream. Research conducted in 2005-2006 produced evidence that it reduced cortisol concentration by 13.4% after simply looking at the forest for 20 minutes, and it had decreased by 15.8% after walking in the forest.

People’s pulse rates dropped: In the 2008 research, the average pulse rate dropped by 6.0% after viewing the forest, and a further 3.9% decrease after walking there.

But the highest change was in the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system (the ‘rest and digest’ [or relaxation response] part of the nervous system, which switches on to help our bodies recover from the effects of stress).

Researchers know that this is connected to our heart rate variability, and this activity increases when we feel relaxed.

Hardcastle-Crags1.jpgSo when the research participants simply viewed the forest settings, there was an enhancement of the parasympathetic nervous system’s activity by 56.1%.

But after the research participants had walked in the forest, there was an enhancement of the parasympathetic nervous system activity – an increase of 103%!

Why did these bodily changes take place in the research participants?  Dr. Miyazaki discovered that one of the reasons for these changes is that the pine trees in the forests release a substance called ‘phytoncide’. This is the substance emitted by pine trees to kill insects and stop wood rot, and this substance has a beneficial effect on people as they walk through the forests. He has done a lot of interesting research with different wood scents, and shown how they have a positive effect on the body.

So when you’re out walking in the trees, you are really helping your body recover from the strains of working and driving in an urban environment, and regular walking in a natural, tree-rich setting will strengthen your immune system.

(I strongly recommend that you look at Dr. Miyazaki’s TED talk: at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MD4rlWqp7Po )

He also mentions in his talk the effects of looking at flowers on humans, and he hands out red roses during his presentation – a lovely gesture to put across his ideas.

I hope you experiment with this idea of walking in the woods or forest.  Happy walking – and finally I’d like to recommend Hardcastle Crags in Hebden Bridge  as a great place to walk!

That’s all for this week,

Best wishes,

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Coach-Counsellor

The Coaching/Counselling Division

Renata 4 coaching at btinternet dot com

01422 843 629

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Writing daily pages for stress reduction and creativity

Blog Post No.8

Posted on 4th June 2016 (Originally posted on 21st October 2015)

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2015

Renata’s Coaching/Counselling blog: A rave review of ‘The Artist’s Way’, by Julia Cameron.

Introduction

The-Artists-Way2.jpgThis book is one of the best books I have read about strengthening yourself and finding out what your unique path in life is; and it’s very practical and full of exercises.

Julia Cameron, the author, created the book which is called ‘The Artist’s way’. She’s a playwright, teacher, filmmaker, composer, novelist and journalist.

This blog will summarise the two main techniques of her book.

Many people have found her system extremely helpful when they are trying to unblock their creativity.

It is definitely not specifically for artists but for all of us who want to rediscover the creativity we had when we were young, and we feel stuck (in our lives/jobs/relationships etc.)

So it can help carers, social workers, lawyers, teachers, film producers,  and directors, actors, painters, writers, students, musicians – anyone who works at home or out in the world.

I have chosen two of the best techniques that she describes. I’ve been using these techniques for years, myself, and find them very helpful; and recommend them to anyone who wants to be more creative and less stressed. The techniques help people find out what they can do to create a happier life for themselves, and their families.

The first technique is called ‘Morning pages’

Julia-Cameron.jpegWriting ‘Morning Pages’ is a technique whereby you  write three pages of longhand writing (in your own handwriting– not on the computer) every day, early in the morning.

Just write down anything and everything that is on your mind: (she calls it stream-of-consciousness descriptions of whatever is on your mind or going through your mind).

Just write it all down; cover three pages; and there is no wrong way to do them. Do that every day.

If you can’t think of what to write, then write that down, over and over. (In other words, when I get stuck, instead of staring at the blank page, I simply write: ‘I am stuck! I am stuck! I am stuck! I am stuck! I am stuck!’  Until I get unstuck.) The main thing is to keep going and cover 3 pages.

Just write 3 pages, stick them in an envelope or folder, and then write 3 more the following day. No-one is allowed to read your morning pages except you.

She also says you shouldn’t read them yourself for the first 8 weeks or so.

Here’s an example she gives of what might go into your pages:

Oh God, another morning. I have NOTHING to say. I need to wash the curtains. Did I get my laundry yesterday…blah, blah, blah.’

Cameron-quote.JPGThis writing is not meant to be art. Or even writing. She says:

Daily pages are meant to be simply the act of moving the hand across the page, and writing down whatever comes to mind. Nothing is too petty, too silly, too stupid or too weird to be included.’ (Cameron 1992[1])

She thinks that all the whiny stuff that we put down in the morning pages, stands between us and our creativity (if we don’t get it out):

‘Worrying about the job, the laundry, the funny knock in the car, the weird look in your lover’s eyes – this stuff eddies through our unconscious and muddies our days. Get it on the page.’

Getting it out on the page helps us to process it!

She thinks that to recover our creativity, we need to write the morning pages – and she describes them as, ’The primary tool of creative recovery’.

Whatever creative work you do (and most jobs demand creativity of some kind) she states that:

‘We are victims of our own internalised perfectionist, a nasty internal and external critic, the Censor, who resides in our left brain and keeps up a constant stream of subversive remarks that are often disguised as the truth…remember that your Censor’s negative opinions are not the truth. This takes practice.’

She gives some examples of the sort of things our inner Censor (our Inner Critic) says to us:

‘You call that writing? What a joke. You can’t even punctuate. What makes you think you can be creative?’

Because there is no wrong way to write the morning pages, your Censor’s opinion doesn’t count. So she advises us to let the Censor rattle on – just keep your hand moving across the page.+

She also says: ‘ It is impossible to write morning pages for any extended period of time without coming into contact with an unexpected inner power… the pages are a pathway to a strong and clear sense of self.’

You may think, ‘I’d never have the time to do that in the morning. It would be impossible!’

Well, if you experimented with the technique, and you experienced the rewards of unburdening yourself every day, then you might find that you start to like it. You will also become clearer about the things your inner Censor or Critic says to you, and you would be less at the mercy of your perfectionism.

Sometimes I cannot find the time to write my pages in the morning, so I do them later in the day when I have more time. But it’s clear to see that the morning is ideal.

Here is a lovely quote from Julia Cameron about what the daily pages do:

‘What you have been doing is wiping the mirror. Each day’s morning pages takes a swipe at the blur you have kept between you and your true self…the snowflake pattern of your soul is emerging’

The benefits of doing the ‘Morning pages’

Pennebaker.jpgWhy do the ‘Morning pages’ work as a way to help people recover their creativity, energy and enthusiasm, and reconnect them with their cherished dreams and goals?

What the writing of the pages every day does, is it gets us to write out what’s been on our minds from the previous day. It clears out the accumulated memories, niggles, upsets, and ideas.

Writing the pages gets it out of our heads and onto the paper. This is so good for us, because our brain doesn’t benefit from rumination and it can be bad for our health.

The benefits of writing things out of our system was investigated by Dr James Pennebaker of the University of Texas. He thinks that regular writing (he calls it ‘journaling’) strengthens our immune cells, called T-lymphocytes.  Other research has shown that regular writing reduces the symptoms of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis.

Pennebaker also believes that writing about stressful events helps you come to terms with them, and this means a reduction in the impact of these stressors on your physical health.

Also, writing your daily pages and then reviewing them, allows you to notice any repeating patterns in your life events or how you handle problems, and any improvement and growth over time.

The second recommended technique is called the ‘Artist’s date’

This next technique  is called the  ‘Artist’s date’ and Julia Cameron recommends that, for a couple of hours, once a week, you go out on your own and spend  time with yourself – no one else should be there. She gives some examples of where you could go:

This could include: ‘A visit to a great junk store, a solo trip to the beach, to the pictures, to an aquarium or an art gallery etc.’

Some of the things I like to do include: going to a local garden centre; or to a city art gallery (often in Manchester or Leeds; or York or Scarborough; or the National in London); and I love to browse in interesting junk shops.

Julia Cameron says: ‘Spending time in solitude with your artist child (part of you) is essential to self-nurturing. A long country walk, or bowling, or a visit to an ethnic neighbourhood to taste foreign sights and sounds – your artist might like these.’

She explains that, for us to be creative, we need to draw on our inner ‘well’, which is like a reservoir, or a well-stocked fish pond. If we don’t attend to our creativity and keep stocking this ‘well’ with new impressions, then we’ll have nothing to draw on.

People from all walks of life can benefit from these two techniques, and she has helped many people recover their lost creativity and enthusiasm for life and self-expression.

There are other techniques I could mention, but I think these are the top ones, and the ones I have found most beneficial.

So – see what you think of her techniques. She has a very interesting website, and you may be inspired by her clearly written, emotionally honest descriptions of how she found her path in life, and also the enthusiastic feedback she gets from her readers, after they have tried out her techniques.

Happy writing!

Renatas-coaching-div2Best wishes,

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Coach-Counsellor

The Coaching and Counselling Division

Renata4coaching@btinternet.com

01422 843 629

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Stress management for students and school pupils

Blog Post No. 32

8th May 2016

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2016

Renata’s Coaching & Counselling blog: How deep breathing and revision techniques help students get higher grades

Review of a Sunday Times article on stress management for pupils and their parents

Introduction

At this time of year there are thousands of students of all ages going in for exams of one kind or another. How can they help themselves to handle the pressures they face?

Schoolchildren-sit-an-exam-roomIn this blog I am going to do a short summary of an experiment that was conducted over the last three years in an independent girls school, to help students who were preparing for their GCSE exams; and look at the results to see how they could help anyone who was entering an exam themselves.

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Revision, Planning and Deep breathing

School-meditation-008For the last year, students at Queen Anne’s independent boarding school, in Reading, have been learning all about how their brains react to stress, so that they are ready for their forthcoming exams.

They were shown how planning and revision strategies reduce the sense of panic when they are in the exam room. But they were also taught techniques such as deep breathing and reappraising the importance of the exams.

Pressure from the parents and universities

Why would strategies like this be necessary?

Apparently there was a survey conducted by the Headmaster’s and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), which represents schools such as Eton, Harrow, Westminster as well as other independent schools.

Some results

Quiet-time95% of the heads who were polled said: “Visible stress related to exams” had increased in their schools over the last 5 years. And more than half, 56%, said that the biggest cause of the children becoming stressed was the pressure from home. And nearly all head teachers (97%) said that they were now asking parents to come to advice sessions and offering parenting classes to deal with the pressure their children were under, and how to help reduce it.

Action

So, it was in reaction to the increasing stress on children that the head of the school, Julia Harrington, created a 3 year research project to examine how to help the children handle the pressure of forthcoming exams.

“I wanted to make sure the girls stopped being afraid of stress”, she said.

The research focused on teaching the pupils pre-planning for exams plus deep breathing techniques.

Do pre-planning and deep breathing techniques work?

herbert-benson-relaxation-responseThe students attended workshops on mental preparation for their exams and deep breathing techniques, to calm themselves down when necessary.

The school staff found an improvement of up to 2 grades in mock GCSE exams, from December 2014 to January 2016. Abigail Leach, 15, was a student at the school and as a result of the workshops, found that her C grades improved to A’s. She said: “It’s been really helpful…I use deep breathing and also try to put the exams into perspective…they are not the be-all and end-all of life.”

We do not know the proportion of pupils who improved their grades so dramatically, but the author of the article, and the teaching staff, seemed very impressed by the overall effect of the research and teaching strategy.

What can all students learn from the outcomes of this project?

Regardless of the type of school or college, and most pupils do not attend independent schools, I think this research should be taken seriously by teachers and pupils or students, and their parents.

There are two powerful reasons why the techniques taught to the girls at the school were beneficial and led to a reduction in stress in the exam room, with the outcome that they were able to perform better in the exam situation.

Deep-breathingFirstly, the techniques they were taught gave them a sense of control over their bodies and minds and this strengthened their ability to handle stress. The stress response is explained to the students, and demystified, and seen and understood to be a predictable, manageable process that can be reduced if they follow certain procedures.

Stress-responseAs they learned about their stress response, how it worked and how to handle it, their fear of the unknown would have reduced.

Secondly, if you do deep breathing exercises of any kind, these techniques automatically switch on the ‘relaxation response’ in the body.

This is because the parasympathetic nervous system is triggered by the deep breathing, into secreting hormones in order to decrease blood pressure and heart rate. This is immediately experienced as more pleasurable than the feeling of being stressed, and the learners realize they have the power to create this relaxed feeling as necessary.

Stress-free-environmentConclusion

It is very sad to read about the increase in cases of self-harm, depression, anxiety and eating disorders among pupils in schools, which has been recorded in recent years. This seems highly likely to be the result of the fact that pressure has been racked up by the Universities, who want to reintroduce a sense of competition for places, and by government policies.

But it’s encouraging to think that some schools are taking stress reduction strategies much more seriously, and seeing that not only do exam preparation techniques and stress management strategies help the pupils, but there is a natural increase in academic performance as children become happier and more in control of their bodies and minds.

Of course, now their parents have to learn to calm down. But that’s not the children’s problem!

Having been in the position of helping students to pass exams  for many years, it’s heart-warming to see teachers taking students stress levels seriously and making space for lessons in stress management, in the school system.

Knowing the value of stress management in my own life, I took the time to study for a diploma in stress management; and I have taught stress management strategies in a variety of contexts for more than two decades.

Today, I prefer to teach stress management strategies on an individual basis, in Hebden Bridge.

That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Coach-Counsellor-Tutor

The Coaching/Counselling Division

Renata4coaching@btinternet.com

01422 843629

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Reference:

“Top schools teach fretful parents in bid to ease pressure on pupils”, by Sian Griffiths, Page 8, ‘The Sunday Times’, 17th April 2016

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Meditation for stress reduction

Renata’s Blog Post No.6

Written on 7th October 2015.  Posted here on 6th May 2016

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2015-16

Renata’s Coaching/Counselling blog: The dramatic benefits of Daily meditation

Introduction:

Meditation-benefits.JPGIn this blog I am going to explain why meditation is really good for you. It’s the mental equivalent of being on a very nutritious and healthy diet.

And it’s better for our bodies than going on holiday, or going shopping –because you feel good for longer and it doesn’t reduce your bank balance!

That’s a big claim, so I’d better explain why I think it’s so good for you. In order to do that I need to get a bit technical.

But firstly, let me clarify what I mean by ‘meditation’: Sitting quietly, clearing your mind of mental chatter, and focusing your attention in the here and now by counting your breaths in and out.  It’s that simple.  But you can always get more guidance on how to do it by consulting our How to Meditate page.***

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Mental demands on our energy

Meditation-effects.JPGIn our daily lives, here are some examples of the mental demands we face:

# Starting the day with too much to do and too little time to do it.

# If you are married: Getting the kids dressed, breakfasted and ready for school – and keeping the mobile phone on, so you can be easily contacted

# Other people’s conversations (and problems), and responding to them appropriately

# TV and radio news which always give the bad news first, relentlessly

# If you use a mobile phone: Text messages throughout the day – with good or bad news; and the ever-present threat of a bad/stressing phone call

# Emails waiting for us when we get to work

# Adverts trying to get us to buy things

# If you are a car driver: Other drivers’ behaviour on the roads

# The demands of the job when you get to work

# Your inner dialogue (mind chatter), as you prepare, respond and carry out your daily responsibilities

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Have I missed anything out? Probably!

NataCrags005.jpgOur poor brains are deluged with information overload, and the messages don’t stop until we crawl, tired out, into bed, hoping for a decent night’s sleep.

By that time your body has got plenty of stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) circulating in it, so the quality of your sleep will be affected by them. That’s the bad news.

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The good news: how meditation works

What meditation does is it switches off your stress response, and switches on the relaxation response.

The stress response is a natural, human response to all the daily challenges you’ve been facing. You’ve probably heard it referred to as the ‘fight or flight response’.  Your heart rate and breathing increase; your big muscles tense up to fight or run; your digestive system closes down, to conserve energy; your body/brain fills with cortisol and adrenaline, so it becomes difficult to think straight.

We’ve got 2 nervous systems in our body: the ‘sympathetic’ nervous system, which activates our ‘fight or flight’ response; and the ‘parasympathetic’ nervous system, which switches on when threats to us have passed.  The parasympathetic nervous system is also called the ‘rest and digest’ or ‘relaxation’ response.

These two systems alternate with each other, to keep a balance in the body – a bit like mixer taps for hot and cold water.

Meditation gets your body’s relaxation response activated which means that the feelings of stress drain away and the ‘rest and digest’ mechanisms start to operate in your body.

So your body stops producing cortisol, and switches to the relaxation part of your autonomic nervous system. Your digestion starts working again, your big muscles relax, and mental relaxation and whole-body rest take place.

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Breath-counting – recommended by the Buddha:

Begin by sitting quietly, with no external distractions. Switch off the TV or radio. Sit in a room which does not have any human activity going on. And focus your attention completely on your breathing, so that your thinking about yesterday and tomorrow close down.

Counting your breaths over and over for a period of time rests your brain and reconnects you to your body – to the regular rhythms of your breathing. And in this way your thoughts settle down, lose their power to disturb or run you ragged, and become mere thoughts which come and go, like clouds in the sky.

Meditation roots you more powerfully in the reality of your body and your current surroundings and less in the world of your thoughts.

You may quickly feel sleepy when you start meditating – this is a sign that your body needs rest and wants more sleep.

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How do you do it?

You sit still, in a quiet place, and slowly start counting your breaths from 1 to 4, over and over again. It’s as simple as that.  Count 1 on the in-breath; 2 on the out-breath; 3 on the in-breath; and 4 on the out-breath.  And repeat.  Slowly, slowly; let your rate of breathing slow down, and relax your body.

For more guidance, see our How to Meditate page.***

I suggest you try 10 minutes a day at first. Ten minutes of peace!

But as you get to feel the effects on your body I would suggest that you build up to 30 minutes a day. That will be really good for your mind and body.

You will be able to feel and experience the benefits for yourself, and may well want to go into the subject of meditation in more depth.

The Buddha recommended counting your breaths, but there are loads of different types of mediation.

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Regular practice makes for successful meditation

Why meditate every day? You will only get the full benefits of meditation, and experience them for yourself, if you do it every day, because it takes time to reap the rewards, just like when you start an exercise programme.

Zig Ziglar once said: ‘People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily’.

The same applies to meditation.  Daily practice will strengthen your connection to your body, slow down your mind, build up your stamina and lower your blood pressure. The resultant increase in relaxation will mean that when you experience stressful events, you will be meeting them with a more relaxed body/mind. Therefore the stress response will be less powerful and you’ll recover more quickly.

And the only time the brain rests is when we’re meditating!

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The benefits of meditating:

Here is a link to a website which has listed 100 of the benefits of mediation:http://www.lotustemple.us/images/Benefits_of_Meditation.pdf

And here is a more detailed account of how to meditate which my partner, Jim Byrne and myself, wrote some time ago: our How to Meditate page.***

How come such a beneficial technique isn’t more popular?

Well, firstly, you will need to get up earlier in the morning or carve out the time in your daily life, if you want to experiment with it.  And some people don’t like having to do that!

It’s not a quick fix, and some people are not very patient.  Give it time to work. The benefits will be worth the effort.  For examples: people have been able to give up hard drugs, cigarettes, lose weight, change their lives, start exercise routines, etc., through using this very simple technique.

It is also very useful if you have difficulty getting to sleep at night or wake up in the middle of the night, worrying about past or future events. The simple practice of breath-counting will help you get off to sleep more quickly.

That’s all for now. I hope you find this helpful.

Best wishes,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Coach-Counsellor

The Coaching/Counselling Division

Renata4coaching@btinternet.com

01422 843 629

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