Mindful Memo – MBSR Week 5

Posted on November 15, 2013 by Catalyst

It’s that time of the week when we check in with Jane and see how she has got on with this week of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course that she is taking part in:

Hello again everyone, well having got ‘cocky’ last week and said that I had found it pretty effortless to incorporate my mindfulness meditation into each day; I’m afraid I have to report a very different experience this week!! However I was assured that this is how it goes with mindfulness practice, you have days or weeks where it flows and similarly days or weeks where you resist or forget to add it to the day. The trick is not to be critical of your self for this but to notice and resolve to do more the next day or be more aware the next week.

Basically I had a hectic few days after the course session last week and before I knew it I had got to sunday without having done my mindfulness meditation practice. Interestingly though, what made me remember was the fact that I could tell I was starting to feel more anxious again and I was starting to think more about the future and spend less time in the present. I know that the objective of mindfulness is not to make difficult feelings go away but to change your perception of difficult emotions or thoughts. However a very useful ‘side-effect’ of my meditation practice has been that I notice I feel anxious less often. So having noticed that I was feeling different and less resilient, I made the commitment with myself to get back into my daily practice after my blip and it feels great to be back in the swing of it and the discipline of it. This week we were able to chose which meditation we wanted to do each day so that felt quite liberating as well and you start to take responsibility for your meditation practice and have the freedom to do the ones you like, rather than just doing what you are invited to do.

I also noticed that I put a lot of informal mindfulness into practice at a work conference I went to this week. I was quite nervous about going to the conference and meeting lots of new people so I made sure that I kept checking in with what I was feeling in my body when I was talking to people and taking a breath or two at regular intervals during the day. My mind was also wandering at times during the workshops and I was pleased with how many times I noticed it had wandered and was able to pull it back to what was happening there and then.

The session this week was as interesting as ever. We looked at the activities in our daily routine and went through the list of activities and classed them as either ‘Nourishing’ or ‘Depleting’ to our wellbeing. It was very surprising to see how on weekdays, the focus can so easily be on depleting activities. It can be very worthwhile to do a ‘stock take’ at the end of each day to check how nourishing or depleting the day has been so that you can maybe redress the balance the next day. To do this we need to make sure we know the things we find nourishing, such as going for a walk but as a result of the hectic pace of life I find a lot of people including myself, might have lost sight of the things we enjoy. Note to self!

Thanks again Jane for the detailed account of your experience with MBSR this week. Sounds a tough but developmental week!

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Mindful Memo – MBSR Week 4

Posted on November 1, 2013 by Catalyst

Time to hear how Jane got on with her home practice for 4th week of her Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course:

I am pleased to report that I found it a lot easier this last week to incorporate my formal mindfulness meditation into each day. I seemed to think of it as an essential part of my daily routine and actually looked forward to it, so felt no resistance to making time for it.

This last week we have had to alternate between doing a half hour sitting meditation and half an hour of mindful movement. I have enjoyed the variety and have also used different forms of mindful movement including yoga. I am really interested in noticing where my body says ‘ouch, stop there!’ during a stretch and then how much further I can go if I notice that, breathe into the tension in the muscles and then see if I can move any further. Through this physical process I can see how we can let our minds restrict us and impose limits on us that don’t need to be there. I found I had a much more positive experience of walking up a steep hill when I tuned into my thoughts about how ‘I don’t like walking uphill’ and breathed into the tension in my legs which I noticed I labelled as ‘painful’ and tried to get rid of.

I am finding the sitting meditation really calming and grounding. I still struggle to observe my thoughts but yesterday I felt I had a breakthrough and for some reason could make out a cascade of thoughts. Unbelievable how many thoughts go through our mind in a minute and the randomness of them. I feel that the sitting meditation is really helping me to ‘just sit’ with the uncertainty I feel about the future at the moment and learn how to still function whilst you have an anxious feeling in your stomach. I notice that whenever I feel that anxiety or stress feeling, I want to get rid of it and immediately start thinking what can I do to fix this. During the sitting meditation I simply notice that thought and then bring my attention back to either my breath; my body; sounds around me or thoughts and feelings, depending on which part of the sitting meditation we are in at that moment. In this way I am turning towards the emotion and giving it some air time rather than the more draining process of turning away from it and blocking it out.

Thanks for the update Jane. Looking forward to hearing about next week.

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Mindful Memo – MBSR Week 3

Posted on October 25, 2013 by Catalyst

Catalyst Counselling welcomes Jane back to tell us how week 3 of her Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course has been:

Two things stood out for me from this week’s two hour session. The first being a simple exercise we did where we stood outside for 5 minutes and looked at what we could see and hear in the way that a newborn baby would look at what they could see. Instead of just seeing a tree; labelling it a tree in our mind and then moving on, we spent time taking in the colours and shape of an object in our view. Amazing how much detail we miss because we have seen things so many times before.

The other exercise that was really useful to learn was the 3 Minute breathing space. A simple and quick breathing exercise that you can use wherever you are and as often as you like during the day. It is a great way to ground yourself in the present moment and notice when you are worrying about a future you can’t control and a past you can’t change. Interestingly I found it harder to remember to do this simple exercise 3 times a day than to make time to do the longer meditations. So this week I have set an alarm on my phone for 3 times a day to remind me to take a moment.  In the exercise you spend some time essentially checking in with what you are thinking and feeling and then taking your attention to the breath to ground you. I noticed that I struggle to identify thoughts when I know that is what I am meant to be doing. So I adapted the exercise slightly and made sure I took a couple of breaths to focus before I started to visualise what thoughts I had. This really helped and I could bring my thoughts to mind much more easily after that.

The formal meditation practice that we were invited to do this week was to alternate between 45 mins of Mindful Movement or a Body Scan. It was fascinating to note the different sensations in your body as you did the simple stretches involved in the Mindful Movement meditation. The meditation shows us that we can still be in ‘Being mode’ whilst ‘Doing’ i.e moving, and also helps us to change our perception of our limits. Typically when stretching we reach a point where we feel tension in a related body part and so our automatic reaction is to stop there. Using the Mindful Movement approach, you would notice that tension sensation and breathe into it to loosen it rather than stopping the stretch. One of the exercises was to balance on one foot for a while and it was amazing to notice how ‘off-balance’ I felt with one foot off the ground and how it consumed my thoughts so that I couldn’t think of anything else. Then when I put my foot down I noticed how stable I felt and how I could think of other things at the same time as standing. I could relate this to how overwhelming it can feel when we feel strong emotions and physical pain. Physical activities like Yoga and Tai Chi are also forms of mindful movement.

We also had to keep an ‘Unpleasant Events Diary’ and remember to break an unpleasant event down into thoughts, feelings and sensations at the time it happens. I found it really difficult to separate thoughts from feelings. It can really help to tune into what thoughts are there because they can often make a huge contribution to the resulting feelings. So I am going to keep working on this!

Over and out for this week!

Thanks Jane for yet another informative insight into the MBSR course.

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Mindful Memo – MBSR Week 2

Posted on October 17, 2013 by Catalyst

Jane has now completed week 2 of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course and feeds back on how she has found it in her ‘Mindful Memo’ for the week:

I found this week’s 2 hour session really interesting. We did an exercise that illustrated how our thoughts can impact how we feel and how we can easily miss the fact that a thought occurred before we felt something. Normally we just focus on how we feel in response to a situation and judge it on that feeling. We also did another 45 minute body scan and it was surprising how we tend to find it easier to do the body scan in the group session rather than on our own. Then we were introduced to a new meditation which is  ‘Mindful Breathing’.

The home practice for this week was to do a 45 minute body scan and 15 minutes of mindful breathing on 6 of the 7 days. We were also invited to chose a new routine activity to be mindful of. I was going away for a few days at the weekend so would have to do ‘Mindfulness on the Move’ as I called it. It was very challenging to make myself do the practice when I was away when there were so many other things that I wanted to be doing but on reflection I now think it enhanced my sensory awareness so that I noticed more on the trip and helped me enjoy it even more. I really tuned in to what I could see, hear and feel.

I have found the mindful breathing meditation difficult as I keep nearly falling asleep during it as I was finding with the body scan last week. So I have now adjusted my position so that I sit in a more upright position away from the back of the chair and I sit on a firm chair. This seems to be helping. I noticed that my mind has wandered many times during the mindful breathing but I have made a point of not judging that as ‘I have done it wrong’  but just accepting it and bringing my attention back to my breathing.

On one of the days, I didn’t make enough time to do the full 45 minute body scan and did a shorter 20 minute version. I was surprised to find that I missed the longer version of the body scan! I felt like I was rushing too quickly through my scan with the shorter version and wanted to spend more time in certain body areas. So I happily reverted to the longer body scan and feel I am doing the 45 minute version through choice rather than doing it and wishing it would hurry up and feeling a bit bored. I have also noticed that more often than not I wasn’t feeling any body sensations and would be focusing more on directing my breath into certain body areas. I have adapted my approach a bit since noticing that and I now let go of my focus on breathing when I move to a new body area and imagine shining a spotlight around that area, giving myself more time to feel sensations.

When I noticed sensations in my stomach I found that I was rushing to label that sensation and give it a shape and colour etc and then I was getting frustrated with myself if I couldn’t visualise a shape. I was thinking about the sensation rather than experiencing it. In this moment I decided to let go of the need to give the sensation a shape and took my attention back to the how the sensation felt. It was through the body scan that I really got a physical feel for what ‘excitement’ felt like before going on my trip rather than just thinking ‘I’m excited’. I could compare it to feeling like I was on a rollercoaster!
The routine activity I chose was having a shower and that has now turned into a mini-spa experience every morning! I can’t recommend enough tuning into your senses in the shower; noticing what you feel, see, hear and smell and gently pulling your mind back when it wanders to thoughts of what you have to do that day. Give it a go!

I am pleased to report that my general feeling of contentment and feeling aware and awake has continued during this week. Hard to describe but I feel to have greater clarity about situations at the moment and am spending less time going round in circles thinking about my worries. Again I think this is too much of a coincidence to not be linked to my mindfulness practice. Bring on week 3!

Thank you Jane for sharing your experience of week 2. Look forward to hearing about week 3. 
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Mindful Memo – MBSR Week 1

Posted on October 11, 2013 by Catalyst

After completing week 1 of the 8 week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course our willing volunteer, Jane, reflects on her experiences and challenges from the introductory session and the home practice:

‘I found the first session was an interesting experience, the group was large with approximately 20 attendees and with it being the first time we met as a group, some time was understandably spent on introductions and ground rules. What struck me was the mix of people attending the course and their reasons for attending; some were counsellors wanting to learn more about Mindfulness and others were people looking to learn new ways to manage stress and enhance their wellbeing. We then moved into some mindfulness practice including a mindful eating exercise and a body scan lying down. It felt like quite a surreal experience to spend 20 minutes lying on the floor with so many other people, all being guided through scanning our body but we could clearly see the benefits of the body scan afterwards, with everyone feeding back feeling very relaxed and positive after the exercise.

Then it was down to us and the home practice began. For 6 of the 7 days until the next session we were invited to complete a 45 minute body scan and be mindful of an activity that we do automatically each day such as brushing our teeth. No problem, I thought, these exercises seem really simple! Hmmm….I can honestly say it was not as easy as I thought. It is very true when they say that the concept of being mindful is straight forward, it is the discipline and putting it into practice that is the difficult part. I found myself making all sorts of excuses for not doing my 45 minute body scan each day but was so pleased I did talk myself into doing it for the 6 days. This week I have noticed I have felt much less anxious, restless and a general sense of contentment that I certainly didn’t have last week. I can only put that down to the body scan practice. I found some days easier than others to concentrate on each part of the body systematically. Some days it flowed and my mind only wandered to other things a couple of times and then on other days I noticed feelings of frustration at the length of the exercise; boredom and noticed my mind wandering several times and even at some points falling asleep. Part of the course includes learning that all these experiences are natural and OK. It is about noticing your experience whatever it might be and not judging or trying to change that experience.

I picked brushing my teeth as my routine activity to do mindfully and I now look at that activity very differently. It is amazing to actually tune into the sensations in the mouth when brushing our teeth. Something we do so often whilst thinking about what we have to do that day and so missing out on another opportunity to tune into our senses and be in the present moment.’

Thanks for sharing your experience of Week 1 Jane, we look forward to hearing about Week 2 next week.
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‘Mindful Memo’ Coming Soon to Catalyst

Posted on September 16, 2013 by Catalyst

At Catalyst Counselling Service we know how challenging it can be to be mindful each day, so we felt it might be helpful to hear the real-life experience of a person attending the 8 week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Course. This course is now widely available to the general public and within the NHS. It is clinically proven to reduce stress and introduces the core Mindfulness principles and practices in a group setting. A course participant attends a 2 hour workshop each week, for 8 weeks and is assigned daily mindfulness practice and reflective writing as homework between workshops.

Our willing MBSR volunteer is someone who wants to swap a stressful lifestyle for a mindful lifestyle and starts their MBSR course in October. They will post a ‘Mindful Memo’ each week of the course, providing an insight into the experiences and challenges of doing daily mindfulness practice and reflecting on how they feel as the course progresses.
If you would like to know more information about the MBSR course and where they are held near you, then a useful website is This website is a great resource provided by the Mental Health Foundation where you can not only read up on Mindfulness and the supporting evidence for it, but also take their ‘stress test’ and complete an MBSR course online.

Watch this space for the ‘Mindful Memo’ starting in October.
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The Mindfulness Revolution

Posted on June 18, 2013 by Catalyst

Great Article from Smart Foundations Mindfulness Coach Training Centre:

The Mindful Meditation Revolution – Reducing Stress Across the World!

In today’s society the notion of sitting still is becoming almost impossible to achieve. I think this is a main contributor to the mindfulness meditation revolution underway.  Let’s not pretend that however successfully we do it juggling family, relationships, career and the ordinary pressures of life is easy.  It isn’t.  From business leaders to soldiers on the front line, these days coaches and therapists will be advocating mindfulness meditation to manage stress.
There is always something to do or somewhere to go and that’s before we tweet, blog or receive emails on our smartphones.  You can see why the intensity of change can become overwhelming.  Our brain never gets chance to pause and with so many thoughts racing around our head, it is easy to see why the result is often stress.
So how can we manage that stress?  Here’s where mindfulness meditations can help you and your clients, and I hasten to add there’s no chanting, no sitting crossed legged and no need for a particular religious orientation. It is simply about becoming aware of what’s within and around us, here and now.  In fact mindfulness is now commonly used to treat stress, anxiety, pain, insomnia, fatigue and depression and is recommended by NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence).

How can mindfulness meditation help us?
It helps us kick the habit of negative thinking and stop ruminating over what has happened or what might happen.  This gives us the headspace to be clear about, and take responsibility for our own thoughts and emotional reactions.  With awareness we can embody the Americanism PMA! (positive mental attitude.)
We all get stressed.   You know the scenario, “I am stressed because he/she did/said this/that.”  “I am angry because I lost my job.” Or “I am in pain because a friend or lover betrayed me.” There is no denying that each of these situations will cause pain.   Life can be tough and some of the conditions we are called to face will result in stress.  Stress is a major form of suffering and we often make it worse, perpetuating our worries and woes by constantly thinking about them.   In the training world we describe stress, anger, resentment or jealousy as the poison we feed ourselves to get back at one another!
With mindfulness or self-examination we step off the auto-pilot and get to see that this type of thinking doesn’t make sense, as we only end up hurt or in pain ourselves.  Mindfulness develops self-compassion and actually works because you become an observer of your thoughts and emotions allowing yourself to become informed and able to choose how to express yourself.  By repeatedly ‘checking in’ on your thoughts and feelings, you begin to reprogram the brain and lay down new neuro-pathways to support happiness and well-being.
So mindfulness and meditation are effective ways of re-wiring your brain and this is done in the spirit of non-judgemental awareness or unconditional love.   That is to say, when we are being mindful we are aware of our life without judging it. For example awareness of a particular emotion does not lead to condemning it as either good or bad, it just is what it is and we have awareness that this too shall pass.

How can it help in the business world?

The benefits our enormous for the workplace and many business leaders are reaping the rewards of mindfulness training personally and professionally through:
  • Increased emotional intelligence leading to more empathy in your work environment.
  • Enhanced self-awareness and awareness of the needs of others
  • Greater resilience and ability to respond to life’s challenges
  • Decreased stress and anxiety, fostering great relationships
  • Clear and creative thinking, helping grow the business focus
  • Greater listening skills and the ability communicate more clearly.
Mindfulness will help you have a clear identity for your business and build an inspiring vision, where relationships are authentic and you and your people are creating great performance in all areas.  This can only be good news for you and your customers.

It’s all in the wiring!
We’ve all been conditioned through our life experiences, training our brain with mindfulness helps us become aware of that conditioning. This story illustrates the point beautifully:

As a young man was passing some elephants, he suddenly stopped, confused by the fact that these huge creatures were being held by only a small rope tied to their front leg. No chains, no cages. It was obvious that the elephants could, at any time, break away from their bonds but for some reason, they did not.

He saw a trainer nearby and asked why these animals just stood there and made no attempt to get away. “Well,” the trainer said, “when they are very young and much smaller we use the same size rope to tie them and, at that age, it’s enough to hold them. As they grow up, they are conditioned to believe they cannot break away. They believe the rope can still hold them, so they never try to break free.”

The young man was amazed. These 4.5 tonne elephants could at any time break free from their bonds but because they were conditioned to believe they couldn’t, they were stuck right where they were. Source unknown

Like the elephants, how many of us go through life conditioned to believe we cannot break the chains that bind us.  As the observer, we see that ‘thoughts are not facts’.  We are said to process around 70,000 thoughts a day, so no wonder the mind feels so busy.  In the words of Mathew Johnson the ‘the brain never shuts up!’.

All too often we are riding the primeval stress response, state of high alert, where the brain fixates on the immediate problem rather than thinking clearly.   Cortisol produced by stress also reduces the levels of serotonin and dopamine in the body (probably the most important two neurotransmitters for maintaining a good mood). In short, stressing lowers the mood and makes you feel more vulnerable.  So it’s easy to conclude what we think about really does matter.

You can only believe in benefits of mindful meditation through direct experience, so don’t just take my word for it – give it a try!  This 7/11 breathing, through focus and attention, helps us find the center of calm within.

Breathe in to the count of 7 and then out to the count of 11. Repeat about 6 times. It couldn’t be easier!  After a while just sitting and being with your breath you filter out any chattering going on inside your head and can become immersed in the simple act observation.  Breathing in I am aware, breathing out I am calm. 

So whatever the unrest, be it financial, an argument or even a traffic jam you can choose to breathe a little more consciously and find the calm centre within. We experience our world through the mind, so it makes sense to spend a little time training it: It is hard to believe that the mindfulness meditation revolution has taken so long to arrive!
In short, mindfulness meditation is an invitation to wake up and shape up our lives …

‘We are what we think; all that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make our world’. Buddha
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Breathe2Be Mindfulness Workshops

Posted on May 11, 2013 by Catalyst

In and exciting collaboration with Halsa Wellbeing, Catalyst Counselling will now be offering Breathe2Be Mindfulness Workshops at Halsa Wellbeing Clinic in Otley.

In this two hour workshop you will learn how to take a daily holiday from stress and to feel a sense of fulfilment and joy in your life.

Sally will provide an introduction to Mindfulness and teach some simple meditations and exercises that you can use in every-day life to reduce stress.

Mindfulness blends ancient ways of developing wellbeing with modern convenience and lifestyle. It is being widely used in the NHS because it has been clinically proven to improve our wellbeing.

Mindfulness teaches us to:
  • Be in the present moment rather than worry about the future or dwell in something in the past we can’t change.
  • See a thought for what it is – just a thought and not necessarily reality.
  • Be kind and accepting of ourselves.
The workshop will be held in June, date TBA shortly. The fee is £15 per person. Please contact myself or Halsa to note your interest and I will then confirm available workshops with dates and times.

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10 Commandments to Reduce Stress

Posted on April 10, 2013 by Catalyst

The 10 Commandments for Reducing Stress from Halsa Wellbeing:

As hard as others can be on us, we are too often harder on ourselves…

• Thou shalt NOT be perfect, nor even try to be.
• Thou shalt NOT try to be all things to all people.
• Thou shalt leave things undone that ought to be done.
• Thou shalt NOT spread thyself too thin.
• Thou shalt learn to say ‘No’.
• Thou shalt schedule time for thyself, and thy supportive network.
• Thou shalt switch off and do nothing regularly.
• Thou shalt be boring, untidy, inelegant and unattractive at times.
• Thou shalt NOT even feel guilty!
• Especially, thou shalt NOT be thine own worst enemy, but be thy best friend.

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Holistic Therapy Deductions Available To Catalyst Clients

Posted on October 17, 2012 by Catalyst

I am really pleased to announce that a £5 deduction on a wide range of holistic therapies including massage and Reiki,  is now available to Catalyst Counselling Service Clients. The Catalyst Counselling ethos is to build up your emotional wellbeing alongside working through underlying issues and clients have found that holistic therapies, such as massage and Reiki, have really helped them to re-build their resilience so that they are able to get the most out of their counselling sessions.

The deduction is available at Halsa Wellbeing who provide a ‘Wellbeing For You’ service at their weekly clinic in Adel, Leeds.

Catalyst and Halsa Wellbeing are big believers in combining both counselling and wellbeing options having seen clients benefit from a joint approach, so please watch this space for more exciting offers and developments.

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