Developing a meditation practice

Developing a meditation practice

by Kenwyn, the Cellar Trust

It’s unusual to open a lifestyle magazine these days without finding a feature on mindfulness or meditation. The practices range from simple breathing techniques, lasting a few minutes, to punishing silent retreats that extend for days or even weeks, and play havoc with your knees! Although I’m told the benefits are well worth the sacrifice.

For me, the key to effective meditation practice is consistency, plus quality is always preferable to quantity. Working in crisis support at Haven, I often suggest clients start and end their days with a simple meditation. We spend so much time and money ensuring we look good on the outside, but it’s the inside that truly matters, and most can find a few minutes of mindfulness in our morning and evening rituals.

What it meditation?

Meditation has long been practiced in the lay community and by all the world’s major religions, but most commonly associated with Buddhism, which originated in India over 2,000 years ago. There are countless methods, some extremely challenging, but the most involve concentration on our breathing. You can simply pay attention to the gentle flow of air through your nostrils or watch the slow rise and fall of your abdomen.

Many beginners choose to download meditation apps, such as Headspace or Insight Timer, which offer guided sessions of varying duration. They can also be filtered according to subject, such as insomnia, anxiety or depression. Personally, I like to cut out the middle man, but everyone is different and it’s great to experiment with different approaches.

Some simple tips

I’ve practised meditation for decades, yet the problem of mind-wandering never goes away! Even 80-year-old monks and nuns, who’ve practised since childhood, report finding themselves wondering what’s for tea or what that noise outside is. The typical reaction to this tends to be one of annoyance, whereby we end up chastising ourselves for losing concentration. This is clearly counter-productive, so I’d like to recommend a different approach.

Imagine your concentration embodied in a tiny, fluffy kitten perched on your lap. If the kitten wandered off, you wouldn’t get angry and roughly drag it back, but gently coax it to return and settle down. Apply the same approach to your breathing. As soon as you notice your attention wandering to your shopping-list or what you’re doing this evening, calmly bring it back to your breath. Thoughts will inevitably arise but you simply watch them pass like clouds through the sky of your awareness, without becoming attached to them.

Comfort is important and, unless you’re a bendy yoga adept, it’s not necessary to twist yourself into a complicated pretzel! Just find a comfortable chair and try to keep your back straight and your head in line with your spine. Rest your hands wherever they feel comfortable. You can choose to close your eyes or keep them relaxed but open.

The science behind meditation

Research conducted by neuroscientists has shown in MRI scans that regular mindfulness practice can dampen activity in regions of the brain (including the amygdala and prefrontal cortex) that govern our reaction to various stressors.  Other studies, using EEG machines, have revealed that theta brainwaves (linked to relaxation and deeper spiritual experiences) are more abundant during certain meditative states. Alpha waves, associated with wakeful relaxation, have also been seen to spike.

There is plenty of evidence, both scientific and anecdotal, that a regular mindfulness regime can lead to improved cognition, memory and mood. They may also have beneficial effects on blood-pressure, heart-rate and general physical health.

Science aside, I’ve personally found meditation to bring plenty of benefits. Try not to see it as a chore but something you can quickly come to enjoy and actually look forward to!

FURTHER READING

There are countless volumes written on meditation but I’ve personally found those below to be useful in developing my own practice.

The Mind Illuminated – by Culadasa (John Yates PhD)

Taking the Leap – by Pema Chodron

Meditation for Beginners – by Jack Kornfield

The Power of Now – Eckhart Tolle

Sponges and Ladders

Written by Kim Shutler (CEO)

 

The pandemic has lead to a lot of people pondering about their career so I decided to write this for anyone who is thinking about making a change or feeling scared to reach a bit higher…

I had a brilliant career in higher education working in communications and organisational development, which I loved but I always had a niggle that there was something more.

When I trained to be a coach, my wonderful trainer hit me with 2 ‘lightening bolt’ questions…

1) If you had no excuses what would you be doing?

2) What makes your heart sing?

I had been Vice Chair of Leeds Women’s Aid for a few years and I realised that that was where my heart was. I really wanted to work in a charity.

When I saw the CEO job at the Cellar Trust, I looked at the job description and thought… ‘I can do all of that’ but then nearly didn’t apply… in fact it was only because a colleague nudged me that I applied at the 11th hour. When I got the interview I thought ‘ok that will be good experience.’ When they offered me the job which I was 100% unqualified for, I nearly fell off my chair. I took a week to make my decision and I nearly chickened out as I was so scared to fail. I realised though that I would always regret it if I didn’t give it a go.

I had never done 90% of my job before. When I came to the Cellar, it was on its knees, in huge financial difficulty with every risk and challenge under the sun. I was new to being a CEO, new to Bradford, new to the charity sector, new to mental health. I was 32 and I had a toddler. I look back now and laugh because I wouldn’t have employed me. Luckily the Board saw something in me and took a chance. It took me a good year to stop mumbling my job title or adding on ‘but it’s only little…’ That year I didn’t sleep because I thought whatever we did we might still have to close, and that would be on me.

But I am a great sponge and I took every single opportunity for help and to learn from people. People I knew, and didn’t know, were (and still are) incredibly generous with their time. I have many, many mentors… mostly unofficial ones. I take every opportunity to absorb. Throughout my career, the toughest moments, the ones where my manager has pushed me beyond my comfort zone, when they have told me things I didn’t want to hear at the time, when I have felt out of my depth… they are the ones which lead me to grow, be better and take the next step. It isn’t always about stepping upwards on the career ladder but I do believe it is about taking the steps you want and need to allow you to thrive. The day I stop learning is the day I need to go home.

I also have some amazing people around me. I am nothing without my team. That’s my team here at the Cellar but also the team of colleagues around me in Bradford. I am so lucky to be surrounded by such brilliant, supportive, inspiring people.

Next week I will have been the CEO for 7 years and I can happily say that we are no longer in a mess… in fact quite the opposite. We have almost quadrupled in size, but more importantly, we deliver amazing, amazing award winning services which I’m so proud of and we influence at a local, regional and national level. When I started we supported around 200 people a year. Last year during Covid it was around 8000. We now have almost 80 staff. One of the things I am most proud of is that all our front line staff are recruited and trained as peer support workers because we believe passionately that people with their own lived experience deliver wonderful support.

I Chair the Voluntary and Community Sector Assembly because I believe in the power of local charities and the people they serve. I can see difference we can make, in partnership with other sectors, if our collective work is strong and sustainable. There are no words to describe the breadth, depth and impact of their work. I’m proud to champion them. I also believe in paying it forwards. Lots of other charity leaders helped me when we were struggling, now it is our turn.

The final thing I have learnt is about being an authentic leader. I spent many years in corporate suits, modelling the public sector life, always feeling at odds because I wasn’t being myself. I did an Msc in Leadership… it taught me very little. It has taken me a long time to feel comfortable in my own skin as a leader and to realise that to be my best, I have to be myself. I hope that at the Cellar Trust we have created a culture where everyone can do that because that is at the heart of being able to thrive and give your best.

So… when you are scared… take a deep breath and do it anyway. Life is too short not to go for what makes your heart sing. That is cheesy but it is true. Nothing brilliant ever comes without something hard and scary. And if it’s senior leadership you aspire to, when you get there… always put the ladder down… always lift as you climb.

Meet Jo

This month we caught up with Jo in our MAST team to find out a bit more about what she does. Jo has a challenging role in ensuring that, when people really need it, there is someone available from MAST to listen. But despite this challenge she is always calm and approachable.

What’s your role here at the Cellar Trust?
I am the MAST Team Lead, managing a team of 8 Peer support workers.

What do you do?
I manage our MAST peer support and support workers which is made up of Cellar Trust and Project 6 team members. The MAST team offer support in Airedale and BRI hospitals and then continued support within the community when people leave hospital. My role involves the day to day running of the team ensuring that we have cover within the hospitals and helping to supports clients in the community. I support my staff with signposting and any concerns that may arise. It’s a very busy role. 

What brought you to The Cellar Trust and what skills do you need to do your job?
I started working at the Cellar Trust just under 9 years ago managing the retail skills shop. I really liked that I would still be working in a retail environment which had been my background since leaving university but I would also be able to put my psychology degree to practice working within a mental health charity. I had a great 5 years in the shop helping to develop clients’ skills in retail with an end goal of finding employment, it was a great environment to work in with other members from the Cellar Trust team often helping in the shop when we were busy giving me time to develop and build relationships. The amazing charity shop bargains were also a plus!! 

I began realising that I would like to develop within the charity and started to look at future roles in the organisation and what I would like to do. I became the manager of the Telehealth team not long after and managed a team of 6 peer support workers deliver guided CBT to clients working in partnership with My Wellbeing College. I developed my knowledge and skills which enabled me to apply for the position of MAST team lead earlier on this year. 

What do you love most about The Cellar Trust?
Working with amazing people – I feel that everyone shares the same values and work ethic and it is great to be around such a great team of people who are doing amazing work. 

What do you love most about what you do? 
The variety! Everyday is different, meeting and working with partnership organisations, working alongside my great team. 

When you’re not working what do you like to do?
When not working I enjoy spending some of my free time helping to raise money for animal charities which are close to my heart- working towards change for all animals to be treated fairly.