Sunday, 13 November 2016
I believe that we are in the midst of a changing culture within the NHS. At work, I see burnt-out staff, stress levels as high as ever and clinicians struggling at times to deliver the care they really want to give to their patients. At the same time I see a high demand of patients who are urgently in need of care, but are also sometimes not prepared to take ownership of their health. Some see that it is up to the NHS to "fix" them. This belief contributes to the pressures the NHS faces and so it sometimes appears to resemble a tug-of-war between staff and patients set within the political arena, stoked up by the media and fanned by disillusionment, thereby increasing frustration and stress within the workforce and fear and unrealistic expectations from patients. This has to change in order for the NHS to survive into the future. Notice I am not going to get into the politics, here - that's for another post! :)
For me, as a nurse and as a mindfulness coach, I want to help facilitate positive change within the clinical environment. I passionately believe that teaching staff to connect with themselves through mindfulness meditation will benefit not only the individual, but their colleagues and the patients, too. Teaching mindfulness meditation to patients to help them with anxiety, pain, phobias or other emotions in a clinical environment could have far-reaching benefits for them and create a different atmosphere at ward level, which will have a positive effect on others.
I have written a one-day course as part of my Connected Kids™ training for healthcare workers who work with children in the clinical setting (ward, outpatients, theatres). This course will teach staff about mindfulness, meditation, how to apply to their practice as a tool for implementing care and will teach them how to write and deliver their own scripts to their patients.
If you are interested, please get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please do share with your NHS friends, family and colleagues!
Saturday, 29 October 2016
Intention-setting is a powerful way to bring what you want to create into your life and live it as authentically as you can. Intentions are individual ideas and dreams that are meaningful and important to each person. To have an intention, however, is different to setting an intention. So someone could say, for example, that they intend to find that new job they want because they're unhappy where they are at that time. But in order for that to happen, they need to set the intention and make it happen by taking steps to create it into reality.
So here is an exercise for you to try if you would like to combine some mindful intention-setting with exploring your creativity.
- Buy a box of 6 eggs - the best quality you can afford, because that enables you to be investing in yourself. You'd ideally want to be enjoying organic, free-range healthy hens eggs because they were free to live according to their means, rather than eggs from hens who were restricted in their lives in some form or another.
- For the next six days, you are going to use one of the eggs each day. You could choose to boil, fry, poach, scramble, make an omelette or a pancake or add to other recipes.
- For each day, set an intention. To start with, get a piece of paper and write down a few that you'd like to see become a reality - one that you feel inspired by, something that fires you up inside. Think big! This is meant to be a fun, creative exercise
- Before you start, make sure you are clear on what your intention is for the recipe you are going to make. Keep things as simple as you like, or as detailed as you feel - spend a few minutes sitting quietly, listening to thoughts and emotions that come up for you, breathe into your abdomen and relax into the moment.
- Begin to make your egg dish for the day. As you do so, focus on your intention, creating it into the recipe as you go. Then take your awareness to the cooking process itself: use your senses to connect with the egg's changing form as it cooks. Notice any thoughts and emotions that come up for you at the time. It's helpful to write these down as you go or after you finish eating, for you to look at again, later.
- Enjoy your egg as fully as you can - taste each mouthful mindfully and slowly. As you do so, reflect on how the egg has changed its form through your intention-setting (cooking it) and that you have created that change within the egg (your life) and you are consuming it (becoming the intention).
- After you have finished the box of eggs, spend some time reading the thoughts and emotions that have come up for you as you have written them down. Observe any patterns that have come up for you as you go, and consider the relevance of these in your everyday life.
- If the egg doesn't turn out as you expect it to each day, don't worry about it - allow any feelings to come up, then let go of them - sometimes things don't always work out the way you intend them to, but you can still put your energy into trying, as you have nothing to lose by doing so!
Nikki Harman is a Connected Kids™ mindfulness tutor, adult mindfulness coach and reiki therapist.
Go to innerspaceproject.com to find out more
Thursday, 20 October 2016
Anyone who plays a musical instrument will know that it can be a totally absorbing experience. This activity involves the musician's total focus, concentration, listening, motor co-ordination, muscle memory; and the ability to play at a certain rhythm, decode the information and turn it into the sounds of something quite beautiful for they and their audience to enjoy. This TED-ED talk explains the fascinating neuroscience of playing an instrument. It is a shame our government still isn't fully recognising the essential value that learning to play an instrument brings to the overall learning, because I believe that academic performance would improve if music had a greater influence in the curriculum taught across the key stages - as well as having happier, more creative children!
So as a Connected Kids™ mindfulness tutor, I am keen to teach my young clients ways in which to engage in activities mindfully and have a great time whilst they do so. After all, we don't have to sit quietly and still in order to meditate: children really benefit from using their energy creatively.
If your child plays an instrument, give them the opportunity to experiment with it as well as to practice their learned pieces. Connecting with their instrument in other ways, such as giving it a fun name, putting stickers over it (if it belongs to them!) or other ways of personalising it allow the child to make a greater bond with their instrument, which can make them look after it more carefully, be protective of it, or be proud of it. These feelings create a sense of belonging and care within the child. Learning to play an instrument is as much about having creative fun as it is about becoming proficient at playing it, developing concentration skills and learning.
If your child doesn't play an instrument, playing anything rhythmic like the cup song, banging sticks on a railing or gate, clapping, shaking lentils in a plastic bottle; or blowing into the tops of bottles filled with different levels of liquids can help to develop these musical skills, but is a fun, expressive and mindful activity.
Thursday, 8 September 2016
My daughter, (above), was happily bouncing on a trampoline a couple of weeks ago, when she landed awkwardly after landing a little half-bounce...not even a big jump; no fall onto the ground - just a little jump. She heard a loud "click" and then had lots of pain. I didn't know about the big click she heard until she mentioned it in the emergency department, but until then, I had assumed it was a soft tissue injury, as I couldn't see any obvious signs of a broken limb, and the swelling went down with some ice packs, rest and pain relief. She even managed to hobble a bit.
This has been haunting me ever since. I had assumed that it was a soft tissue injury and as I know my daughter very well, I also assumed that as she has a low pain threshold, that she was feeling panicky about being in pain. So although I was sympathetic to her pain and helped her, I also asked her to try to relax and enjoy the rest of the day, as we were at a party.
As the hours passed, she settled down but then awoke in more pain, so I did take her to the emergency department where her leg was x-rayed, and yup...there it was, plain as day: a nasty fracture. For my daughter, the moment where the surprised staff told us the findings - surprised, as they initially thought the same as I did - validated everything she had already feared and all that I had not been prepared to consider. It hurt her that I hadn't believed her.
So the last week or so has been spent getting to grips with what's happened, what is going on, and wondering about the future. We have all cried, laughed, hugged and supported each other to accept what is going on. We have no idea how the leg will heal, as it is a nasty break, so we are preparing to consider how things might look for my daughter in the future. It feels like grief in a way. We are facing a different view to the one we were looking at before the accident, but we are also living a different life now, too. A wheelchair is her best friend. She has started at secondary school, coming in on day one with a bright blue plaster, in a wheelchair, on crutches and having to learn about a new building, new classrooms, new teachers, students, friends, rules, and all the while in a vulnerable position, sat down in her chair with her leg stuck out in front of her! The school have been fantastic at supporting her, and her friends have been keen to help her get to classes and at break times.
I am so proud of her achievements, because of the extra pressure she has been faced with. She has dealt with it so well. She has been strong and determined. I have been doing lots of mindful work with her, as well as with myself. In the end, what it comes down to is this: learning to adapt to a new situation brings positives out of negatives. The pain, the frustration, the inconvenience, the fear over what might be. My guilt, my willing her to get better and to mend fast, my love for her which dissolves any fear for her. My sadness for her, which comes in waves, and which I allow to come up, feel it completely, then let it go, is healing in some ways. Her anger, her cries of "it's not fair" when she can't pick something up from the floor, or get through a door, or when her leg is hurting, or when she wants to just get up and run around with her friends, she sees as a motivation for getting better, rather than to pity herself. She has a strong, bright spirit that is teaching her resilience, patience, determination, and strength. My mindfulness work with her is helping her to tap into these positive qualities, those of which she did not know were there and are so strong, and which are helping her to cope with these big changes at the moment; and she is able to talk about her frustrations, fears, worries and the negatives, which we are paying attention to but are not allowing to consume her. We are looking forward to drawing inspiration from watching the paralympics, too. For me, I am learning resilience, determination, patience and that my love for her goes far deeper than I ever knew. I am learning from her that the more she is held back, the further she will fly when she is free to leap...just as long as it's not on a trampoline...
Nikki is a Connected Kids™ tutor and apprentice trainer. Contact Nikki at email@example.com
Tuesday, 10 May 2016
Last Autumn I made a pact with this ailing meadow: that by the following Spring, we would both be in bloom. In the cold, grey light of October, as I absorbed the detail of the dying grasses giving way to muddy, rain-sodden footfall, I asked the meadow to bloom stronger than before, the following year. The meadow replied with a forceful sea-breeze, cruelly blowing hard raindrops into my cold, red cheeks. Initially put out, I then took the rain to hold the emotion of my side of the pact - that which I needed to open up to in order to grow; and the wind to strengthen me each day, to blow away the cobwebs, the dead grasses, and to carry the seeds of change and renewal into beautiful growth.
Six months ago I was coming through a long period of uncertainty, at a time when every day seemed to bring me some great challenge to overcome. There were days I felt a nervous anticipation as I left the calm peaceful sanctuary of my bedroom, albeit with a reluctance to face the day, to face other people, to deal with the storm I was travelling through. The days when it would have been easier to sit in my meditations, to enjoy the peace within, to be surrounded by my own familiarity. I knew then, as I know now, that being a practitioner of mindfulness and meditation means bringing it into the everyday, not just to enjoy, contemplate or experience the moment I choose to be aware of, but to approach negative situations in the same way. To be empowered by the moment itself.
Therefore, the subdued, flowerless meadow reflected a deep part of me that I was only too aware of. In one sense, this meadow looked as though it was dying; however the beautiful reality was that it - as always - is teeming with life through the insects, birds, hedgerows and other wildlife which is reciprocally nurtured by her. Underneath the dull-looking landscape, growth and repair was busy at work, new life was coming into being. The Autumn may have robbed the meadow of her old life, but the Spring would bring renewal, change, growth and beauty.
I have heard some of my clients or friends ask me how difficult it is for me to be positive, all the time. There is an interesting assumption that, in order to be mindful, we have to see only the good things, to ignore the negative stuff.If we were all to do that, then not only would we be resisting the change, but we would be stifling the beauty which arises from going within to the baron meadow. To explore the mud, the dead grasses, to clear them and plant the new seeds to enjoy the growth, to allow change and beauty to shine through. To learn to accept the hard times, deal with them, then let go.
I'm not always positive. I have days when the world seems muted, when I feel as though I am in a void of negativity. Instead of succumbing to it, though, I plough my way through, examining, weeding, digging deeper to find the growth. All negative experience can teach us so much about our relationships with ourselves, as well as others, and of the experience itself. Sometimes it may seem not so much a meadow, but more of a swamp: a soupy, gloopy mess of stuff to sort through. But even swamps have life and growth.
Yesterday I visited the meadow for the first time in a while. She was proudly resplendent in cowslips and emerging clover. Showing off her beauty, the cowslips gently waved to me in the Spring breeze, like a crowd cheering on their team. Incessant chattering from the birds in the hedgerows, coupled with the quiet buzz of curious insect life existing happily amongst the floral landscape, non-judgementally shared the moment with me. For a while I lay on my tummy as I photographed this cowslip. The ground felt warm and comforting. I felt invited and welcomed. I felt life around me, within me. The meadow seemed to be smiling with me, affirming with me that I too had grown since Autumn, that I too was teeming with opportunity for further growth, change, and that I am starting to bloom.
As the saying goes, "change is the only constant in life".
Nikki Harman is a mindfulness tutor to adults and children. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.innerspaceproject.com
Tuesday, 19 April 2016
Me, speaking about mindfulness and getting students involved in mindful activities at the school
I have been auditing the sessions, which have shown improvements in the students. I am looking forward to going through the questionnaires the students and staff regularly fill in, but already there are significant improvements, particularly in anxiety levels - across both groups.
I am very happy to work in primary and secondary schools/colleges. Please get in touch to find out more!
Monday, 18 April 2016
The Mindful Handshake is intended as a greeting to ourselves: it is though we are are shaking our hand to make contact with how we are feeling in a given moment. It can be used at any time, but particularly if fears or anxiety are becoming out of control.
To carry this out, please trace one hand with the index finger of the other, starting with the thumb, moving slowly and mindfully to each digit on the hand, using the following as your guide (remembering that the guide is within):
If you're unable to work through each digit, just pick one to focus on
Thumb: Think, "Am I becoming under the thumb (negative thoughts are beginning to take control of this moment)? Am I starting to become controlled by doubts, worries or fears?"
Index Finger: Point out the facts of the moment. What is true right now? Look for the good points as well (Look for the positives as well as seeing the negatives)
Middle Finger: Sit on the fence: observe what is happening to you, within you and around you
Ring Finger: Listen out for alarm bells - fears, doubts worries creeping in - see them, feel them, thank them, then "ringfence" them. Let these go
Little Finger: One little step at a time. Moment by moment
Palm: Palms up - what we give out, we receive. In other words, if we perceive everything in a negative light, then we are more likely to respond negatively to what's happening in any given moment.
Avoid "crystal-ball gazing" to predict an outcome, which we can do in times when we are anxious or worried about something. It can be easy to let the negative thoughts take control of our perceptions of an event. Be aware of this, so that you can check in with yourself and ask yourself what is happening right in the moment.
Fingerprints: What is in our nature? What are the habits we have learned? What can or cannot be changed?
Important: This is intended as a guide only. If you are experiencing anxiety or fears which feel like they are happening more often than you would normally experience; or if you are feeling that you cannot control these emotions, or yourself, friends or family are becoming concerned about your emotional well-being, please make an appointment with your GP.
Wednesday, 13 April 2016
Look at the photo above. Isn't it a beautiful view? I took it last week, during a walk with my two children. We were planning to go to Old Harry, on the Jurassic coast, then head into Studland to catch the bus back home.
We packed a picnic, lots of water (but as it turned out, not enough), a camera, and our sense of adventure. Seemingly intact, we left home and made our way along the beach.
We hadn't even made it to the bottom of the road before my 11 year-old daughter began to complain. Actually, we had had a morning of everything being not quite right in my daughter's world. I had tried to enter into her space, to try to help lift her out of her sense of irritation and negativity. She didn't want to invite me in, though, so she remained where she was, and I hovered around the outside, hoping for a free pass, or at least the offer of connection.
I kept things upbeat: "what a beautiful day it is!" (it is the SATs season: both children are sitting them this term and so I can almost confidently assume I have learned to use the recently-controversial SpAG exclamation mark correctly) I repeated, smiling, nudging and hugging both children. "We are so lucky to live here. Let's enjoy the day". My remarks were met with "I'm hungry and thirsty. When can we stop to eat?" We had only just left home, being fully watered before we set foot out of the door.
We decided to stop after we had walked for half an hour. In that time, we made one toilet stop, a water bottle refill, a rucksack adjustment and two shoe-lace re-ties, scattered with cries of "I'm hungry!", "My feet hurt" (what, already?), "When can we stop?" and "My eyes hurt". I confess that I uttered at least two of these statements. My 7-year-old was buying into the sense of adventure, but my 11 year-old was still in her own space, to which we were neither invited to join nor a party to, but rather the sounding boards for her irritation.
We enjoyed our lunch whilst admiring the view overlooking Swanage bay, on a bench which seemed to have jumped forward a few feet since we had last visited it; actually it was due to cliff erosion which had reduced the distance between the bench and the cliff edge. We had a lovely lunch, the mood lifted and we joked about being "hangry".
After a while we continued on the path up towards the top of the hills. Things were going well until my daughter felt she couldn't continue up the steep steps. I patiently encouraged her to carry on, one step at a time, but after another 10 minutes of complaining, bickering with her brother and getting cross with the steps, I felt it was time to stop. I tried to explain that it was OK to find it difficult...that not everything is easy nor intended to be, that the pain and difficulty we can experience can often end up giving us a completely new view and experience. After another round of sibling conflict I decided that enough was enough, so we turned round and walked back down the hill.
The lessons for me?
I have learnt that sometimes, it's easier to quit whilst I'm ahead. I learnt that the view we had on the midway point of the big scary hill will still be there to re-visit another day. Some days are meant for just climbing half-way up the hill, which is the successful point - that getting to the top of the hill isn't always the indicator of success.
I have learnt that my daughter was able to articulate her feelings because she felt safe and listened to, and because she is strong-willed in her own ways, which I am honour-bound as a parent and as a woman to listen to and respect. She is strong, fit, healthy and persistent: so the fact that she was telling me she couldn't do this walk to the top of the hill and beyond was an indicator of her own strength in admitting to herself and to the world outside her own space that "enough is enough".
I have learnt that my own projection of failure to meet my goal for the day (to get to Old Harry, walk into Studland and catch the bus home) to my children is not helpful for them or for anyone; and I have also learnt that I too felt that "enough is enough" when I caught myself spiralling into negative self-talk and buying into the cortisol-adrenalin mix that was swirling around me in the past week or so prior to this walk.
The view: oh what a beautiful view! The ability to see with clarity, to understand and gain an alternative vista had lifted me out of my head and into a beautiful possibility to turn things around from a negative into a positive.
To know is to understand, but to feel is to reach within the depths of empathy, compassion and sample the richness of experience from a higher perspective.
If we can accept that there is not always a right answer, a right way to do something, that things can go wrong; if we give ourselves permission to make the mistakes, then we can learn something beautiful from them.
Sunday, 13 March 2016
As I was driving up the road in Swanage today, I came across a huge pile of what looked like sugar lumps, but was actually polystyrene. I was in a bit of a hurry, as this weekend is a bit busy. I hesitated: should I stop to pick it up, or should I carry on?
I decided to stop to pick it up. The cubes of polystyrene were strewn across the road, being blown about by the sea-breeze, less than 200 metres away. I knew that collecting the rubbish was the right thing to do. After all, around 44 percent of sea-birds eat plastic, and polystyrene absorbs water so that it sinks to the bottom of the sea, meaning these and other plastic-derived pollutants are prevalent in our oceans. Well done, clever humanity, for polluting our oceans and aquatic life...
What does this mean to humans? Well, the fish eat the plastics, as well as swim around in plastic-polluted water. People eat fish, who are consuming plastic derivatives. Hmmm. I don't really eat much fish, partly for this reason.
What did surprise me (but perhaps shouldn't have), was that nobody offered to stop to help me pick up the hundreds of polystyrene cubes that someone had left in a nearby car park, presumably for the council to collect (if the wind hadn't dropped it all in the sea, that is). Unfortunately someone had partly driven over the box. forcing it to break up into tiny pieces.
One person did stop to watch me begin picking up the pieces, saying, "Oh dear, that is going to take you a long while, isn't it?!" before he continued his walk into town. It wasn't my rubbish! I was just doing my bit to look after my lovely little spot in the world, which I would like to keep safe for wildlife and for the residents and visitors who enjoy the sights, the sea, the food...the fish...the plastic...?
So, if you want to consume non-plastic items, if you want your local and greater environment to stay beautiful (or even to begin to do so), please pick up your litter. What's to stop you picking up a piece of someone else's, too? We can also reduce the amount of plastic-wrapped items we buy; manufacturers need to reduce this too.
Practice being mindfully in the moment, as you consider how you are helping others, as well as yourself. Be the change you want to see in the world. Don't leave it up to someone else. We all have that responsibility. We all have the opportunity to help each other and the planet.
Saturday, 5 March 2016
An article in today's Mail Online today reports that NHS England are to offer financial incentives to NHS trusts in order to improve health and well-being of staff.
The focus on improving staff sickness includes targeting mental health, muscular-skeletal problems and obesity by offering a range of programmes, including mindfulness.
As an NHS nurse I am pleased to see that the well-being of staff is being taken seriously. The NHS is going through a tough period whereby healthcare professionals are feeling the pressure from many different areas. It is taking its toll on all staff who work within clinical and non-clinical roles.
As a tutor of mindfulness, I am positive that introducing this practice to NHS staff could have a great impact on the mental health of staff. I have drafted a mindfulness programme specifically for clinical staff, which combines my knowledge, qualifications and practice as a mindfulness and meditation practitioner, and from my experience and observations as a nurse with 23 years of clinical experience. I am keen to roll it out to NHS trusts to see how it could impact staff well-being, and how it can benefit patients, both indirectly and through teaching mindfulness techniques to patients, as well.
Nikki Harman is a mindfulness tutor to adults, a Connected Kids™ children's mindfulness tutor; and a registered nurse, working within an NHS trust. visit www.innerspaceproject.com, or contact Nikki at email@example.com
Thursday, 25 February 2016
A relaxing mindfulness session I led for NHS staff
This week a report presented at The Mindful Nation launch revealed that if Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) was practised by those suffering with chronic pain and depression, there could be a saving in the NHS of £15 for every £1 spent. The Mindfulness All Party Parliamentary Group (MAPPG) recommend mindfulness as a treatment for patients. This surely must be welcomed into a National Health Service at a time when so much change and disagreement is taking place?
The thing is, that each time I read about the benefits of teaching mindfulness to patients I get a little frustrated (so I mindfully work through this, of course). To be honest, the crux of my frustration can be pin-pointed to these things:
1. I want to make people feel better. That's my job. That's my nature. I have seen the benefits of what I teach first hand, to adults and children. It seems that I am having trouble convincing the powers that be that I can have a positive influence on patient care and the well-being of staff. This is something I need to continue to work through in my own space. The whole process is teaching me more about who I am and how I react in my inner and outer worlds.
2. I want to be given the opportunity to develop a programme for staff to learn for themselves and then to teach with patients. I have it. I can do it. At the moment, nobody can hear me! I'm reaching out but the offers aren't forthcoming. What's going on?
I feel that the NHS needs to change its culture in order to work forwards and make progress. In 2014-15, 39% of NHS staff had time off because of work-related stress. That's nearly 1 in 4 members of staff. I believe that before we can begin to teach patients mindfulness, we need to focus on staff well-being. I'm here. I have drafted a whole programme for NHS clinical staff to teach them mindfulness techniques. Hello!
As a nurse who qualified in 1997, I have seen many changes, and yet so much has stayed the same. It's time to look after ourselves, to give ourselves compassion, to listen to our inner fears and stressors, to learn how to adapt these into positives and reflect this in our professional relationships and in our delivery of care. I know what stress feels like, I work in demanding clinical areas, I've been in more senior roles in the past, so I get it. I now see things from an all-round perspective, so I do really understand the problems staff face. But I can also see ways to change the way the problems are perceived.
I believe it begins with connection, what I call the seventh C of compassion in practice.The connection of human spirit within the nurse and patient relationship is what weaves the sometimes achingly beautiful compassion, care, courage and commitment into the art of nursing. Connection is the thread that holds everything else together. Without connection, the most basic, yet most complex circumstance is flawed. Mindfulness involves making that connection with ourselves, as well as with others.
How many reports and recommendations will there be, in order to influence change?
Nikki Harman, RGN, is a nurse working in an NHS trust. She is also a Connected Kids™ tutor and a mindfulness tutor to adults. Nikki is writing a book about mindfulness and teaching her new course, The Gem In The Dust. Contact Nikki at firstname.lastname@example.org
Tuesday, 2 February 2016
January has been a hard month. Cancer has affected many of us in different ways. It is almost impossible to not hear this word being spoken, sworn at, whispered, cried over, mourned over, or feared. January, it seems, has been the month that has proclaimed the word over and again; the bitter wind bringing the disease sailing into the conciousness of millions, not just in the public domain, but for those who have lost friends or relatives, too, for those who have been diagnosed, for those who care for others.
If you have cancer, as a nurse, I can help you with your pain. I can help you feel comfortable. I can listen to you, advise you, find further sources of help for you. I can hold your hand, I can make you laugh. I can let you cry and shed your tears. I don't judge you. I hear you, I'm here for you.
From my experience as a nurse, friend, or relative of someone with cancer, I feel that it is a deeply intense, personal experience to those who are going through it. To me, it seems that life for them has taken on a new meaning. Time seems to change, either slowing down or speeding up. It seems that suddenly, life doesn't "fit" in the way it did, before.
So as a mindfulness tutor with adults and children, I find that life takes on a new meaning for those who begin to practise mindfulness in their day. Each person takes on a new, deeper, or perhaps even lighter view of the everyday. For anyone going through the stages of dealing with cancer, I perceive it to be this way, too, although with a more tangible, emotionally-attached experience. Everybody has their own way of handling their diagnosis and treatments, as it's whatever feels right for them that is important. Sometimes people don't always know what to feel or do; they see how people change towards them when they tell others about their diagnosis;some they lose as friends, others rally round and gather close. Some just want to be living as normally and fully as possible.
If you have cancer, the following is for you. Please note that this is a general mindfulness and meditation, and certainly not designed to "fix" you, but for you to give yourself the love and attention you deserve. Be gentle with yourself, and feel the strength in your life.
If you would like a session with me either 1:1 or over Skype, it will be much more specific and tailored to you. Please also consider writing a journal after you do these activities, as it can help you work things through.
For the next week, when you wake up, lie quietly in your bed for a few minutes, and try the following:
· Focus on your physical sensation – how do you feel?
· What are your first thoughts?
· What do you see around you?
· What emotions are you feeling?
When you have considered these, then take a few moments to practice being in the present:
· Acknowledge any physical sensations
· Accept your first thoughts, thank your mind for showing them, and then focus your mind on the very moment you are in (i.e. I am lying in bed, I am warm, I am getting ready to sit up and get out of bed)
· What can you hear? Try focussing on one sound, preferably one that doesn’t invoke feelings of anxiety or stress!
Next, sit on the edge of the bed:
· Place your feet firmly on the floor, giving you a sense of feeling grounded, or connected to the moment
· Sit with the spine straight, but not rigidly
· Take a slow, deep breath in. Breathe into your abdomen. Breathe out slowly through your mouth. Take several slow, deep breaths (but don’t make yourself dizzy!)
· Rub your hands together, place them over your eyes, feel the warmth from your hands, the tingling on your palms
· Rub and pat your arms, feeling the tingling sensations. Repeat with your legs
· Feel the sensations of being “in the moment”
Finally, when you have completed the exercise, say to yourself “I am grateful for being in this present moment, I am calm, I am grounded, and I have connected with myself”. Then, as you stand up, stretch, smile, and start your day!
Here is an exercise to try either during or after treatment:
Begin by sitting or lying comfortably. You may wish to close your eyes, or you can keep them open, focusing on an object or image in front of you, or gaze out of the window.
As you take your next breath in, have a curiosity about how the breath travels into your lungs, and leaves again. Be aware of your breath, taking it slowly and slightly deeper into your lungs, all the way down into your abdomen. Be aware of your shoulders, allow them to relax, lengthening the distance between them and your ears.
After a few breaths, take your awareness to your feet, and as you breathe in, scrunch your toes tight, and relax them as you breathe out. As you take your next breath in, tense your calf muscles, relaxing them as you breathe out. As you move up your body with your breath, be aware of how each part of your body is feeling. If there is pain or tension, breathe into it, hold the breath for a few moments, and then blow or "huff" the breath out, either slowly or quickly, depending on what you would prefer. Move up the body as you feel able, until you reach your forehead. Frown on your breath in, and relax as you breathe out.
Now spend a few moments breathing normally, feeling the chair, floor or bed supporting the weight of your body as you relax into it. Is there anywhere that feels uncomfortable or painful? If there is, try to focus on the area. Be aware of the sensation and feel of the area. Try not to tense up, but remain as relaxed as you can, whilst accepting the sensations. Imagine a colour - it could be any colour you like - see it as a fine, gentle mist, slowly coming into the area you are focusing on, and absorbing into your body. Perhaps it feels warm, or cool, bubbly or fizzy - let it happen without thinking about it. As it moves into your body, see the mist as engulfing the pain or sensation, and gently dissolving it, melting it, or consuming it, somehow. The mist becomes denser. like a fog, then lifts itself out of your body, and drifts away. Notice if you feel any different, now.
Next, imagine the warm sun is shining on you. You can feel the rays on your body. See these rays as coming into your body, lighting up every cell in your body with golden sunshine. Imagine each cell has a smiley face, so that you are filled up with happy faces and a warm glow! Enjoy the peace of this moment, for a while.
When you are ready, take a few deeper breaths into your abdomen. Feel the chair, floor or bed beneath you, and wriggle your toes and fingers. When you feel ready, rub your hands briskly together to generate heat and warmth, and place over your eyes. Blink into the warmth, and then, when you feel ready, open your eyes and feel yourself back in your room. Bring your feet to the floor and feel the connection between your feet and the earth.
Saturday, 30 January 2016
As a bank nurse, I am employed by the NHS trust I work for, but don't have a permanent contract. I choose to work on the bank because it suits my life as a single parent. There is only so much help I can comfortably ask for, and I feel that I should be present in my children's lives as much as I can be. It also slots into my commitments to running my business as a mindfulness tutor. But I do miss being a part of a team, and I miss being given the responsibilities I used to have.
Tonight, I am assigned to work in the Emergency Department (ED), where I work regularly, and somewhere I enjoy. It is the busiest, most intense place to be at times; very fast-paced, with anything and everything coming through the doors at all times of the day.
I scamper to the canteen to grab a sandwich, eating it quickly on my way back to the ED, as I have only 5 minutes before I start work. At 6 pm I walk into the department and see the queue of patients on trolleys, waiting to be handed from paramedic to the hospital. There are no beds to assign them to at the moment, as the wards are waiting to discharge patients or wait for clinical decisions to be made. The nursing and medical staff are busy; very few have had time for a break. I am asked to go to help out in "minors", where people who self-refer come to be seen, and where the GP referrals come in to be assessed or assigned speciality beds.
This area has been short-staffed all day, so there is only one nurse triaging and handling the GP referrals. I am given a list of patients to get to ward beds as soon as possible, in order to free up cubicles for the other patients coming in through the doors.
I spend an hour or so transferring patients to wards, handing over to a wide stress-spectrum of staff. All of them are tired, busy, hungry, some are finding it more difficult to hide than others. I then return to the ED to help with triage.
A couple of hours later I am asked to perform a procedure I have been trained to do but haven't done for a year or so. I feel slightly under-confident but fairly sure I can remember how to do it. I begin well, and then I feel the doubts creeping in. My stomach tightens and my confidence wavers. Having already talked it through with a senior colleague, I then ask her to come to supervise me. She takes over, doing the procedure exactly as I would have done it. I feel stupid. Why didn't I believe in myself? I try to explain this, but it's too busy, and the colleague is also due to finish her shift. My feelings of stupidity continue to niggle away at me for the rest of the shift.
4 and a half hours later, I head to the staff room for a 20 minute break. I sit alone, half-aware of some rubbish on the TV that someone had forgotten to switch off before leaving. I hear the rain and the howling wind outside, I check the time and I feel tinges of emotions coming up. I reflect and ponder on the events of the shift so far, then head back out to carry on. More patients coming in, more to take to wards, more to triage. I try to work as effectively as I can. Stock hasn't been replaced during the shifts due to business, so it means going off to re-stock whilst seeing patients. This slows everything down - especially when I don't know where something is kept, and can't find a member of staff to ask.
My shift is supposed to finish at midnight. At 11.55pm I realise this is unlikely. There is still a fair amount of things that need doing on the patients I have been preparing for the wards and have been clerked by the doctors. They are important things like giving intravenous antibiotics, administering analgesia, performing procedures. My colleague has taken over triaging, and she is busy. It would make things more difficult for her and the patients if I left. I decide to offer to stay for another hour, to try to tie up as many loose ends as I can. My offer is taken up. I spend the next hour getting things as organised as I can, before leaving at 1am. This was a good shift.
My drive home is even more perilous than the journey in, not least because I am feeling tired. I am feeling frustrated, too. I mull over the events of the shift, conversations, reflect on what I could have/should have done, I try to see events from the perspective of the other parties, and conclude that we, as an NHS body, are stressed. We, as an NHS workforce, are at capacity and beyond. We, as people, are not valuing ourselves enough, we are not giving our own self-care, we lack self-compassion, not just individually but as a whole. I know this to be true of me, because my inner monologue on the way home was twenty-five miles of negative self-talk, and one mile of self-appreciation. An unusual ratio for me, as I was holding on to feeling stupid about the failed attempt at the procedure I was asked to do.
We spend so much of our working lives engaged in processes, care, standards and unrealistic, target-driven restraint enforced by madmen in suits, who sit in the upper echelons of political power, exercising what seems to me to be some form of delusional magnanimity whilst bankrupt of integrity. These are the people who are slowly but surely dismantling health care workers like a six year-old plays with Lego characters. Metaphorically speaking, bits fall off, bits get re-attached, torsos and heads are changed about, some are thrown back into the bucket, others are trodden on. Some are super heroes and carry on, intact, others are strong and many are simply doing their job as best they can, coping with whatever comes their way. These nurses I worked with tonight are heroes in their own way, as they are doing their job as best as they can. They are feeling the pressure. I felt sympathy for them; there is so much more good stuff to them. If only they could see that within themselves, too. I try to have sympathy with government and ministers, but I find it difficult.
So as I mindfully work my way through shifts, I remind myself of the importance of making sure I feel a connection with everybody I work with; but I feel such a need to reach out to the staff I work with, teach them mindfulness as a form of self-resilience and in care delivery. I understand. I get it, because I know the anger, the stress, the fatigue, the food and drink-deprived headaches and full bladders and achy legs and backs.
I love being a nurse, not for the pitfalls - for the privilege - and there are so many. It's just not always easy to see.
Friday, 29 January 2016
That said, I find it immensely difficult on some days to go for a run, especially when it is pouring with rain, blowing a gale, or when I'm tired or feeling a bit below par - not ill, particularly - but that kind of "meh" I get when I can't quite generate enough enthusiasm to get into my gear and venture into a field full of cowpats and mud.
Or, when I do get out, This Happens:
At times, when I'm training for an event, I'd rather be tucked up at home in the warm, dry cosiness - instead of jogging through howling wind, the rain lashing like piercing rods. So I run mindfully. I let the frustration, the begrudging feelings surface, and I "run it out". I use the energy to power me further, I buy into the pain of the moment and then leave it a few steps behind me as the feelings pass.
So if you're training for any kind of running event, whether it is your first 5k or a marathon, here are some of my mindful tips to add to your training regime, whilst staying safe and listening to your body.
1. Enjoy the view. Whether your vista is a ragged coastline, emerald pastures or cracked pavements through housing estates or busy cities, take everything in. Soak up your environment.
If you're looking down at the ground, you may not see the birds collecting twigs for nesting, the dolphins in the bay, the changing colours of the leaves; the neighbour's cat that has been missing for days five miles from home, the broken swing in the park, the elderly man on his daily walk to the newsagent for his paper, the latest Banksy masterpiece, or the lamp-post you're just about to run into. LOOK UP! It's worth saying at this point, that whilst you're running, always pay attention to your body. If it is hurting, listen to it. Learn to distinguish between pain that is your body adjusting to new strength; and pain that is damaging you.
3. Acknowledge your freedom of choice. You could have stayed in bed, gone to the pub, or watched TV. But you made the decision, whether you really wanted to or not, to get out and run. Congratulate yourself on this, and accept that your choice has given you the freedom to experience your self. This might sound a bit hippy, but think of it another way: you get to do something healthy and good for your body and your mind, and you get to spend some time alone, out and about. As you're running, even if you are disliking the experience so much that you wish you were lying in bed under warm covers, relish the fact that you chose to be your own best mate, for a while. You will thank yourself later as your endorphins kick in, or you lose a few pounds as a result.
4. Work through a problem in your mind. One of my favourite running techniques when tackling a big hill, is to pick out something that's been bugging me for a while, to pick it apart and problem-solve as I run up the hill. I start at the bottom, whilst considering the whole problem. Then, as I move upwards, and as the gentle burn in my legs begins to heat up, I confront the problem. I allow the frustration, anger or other emotions to power me up the hill; before I know it, I'm at the top, over the worst of it, and ready to take on the challenge in my mind. It works for me every time. Try it!
5. Give yourself a little treat at the end of the run. For me, knowing that I can get into a hot shower and have a cuppa is enough to get me through anything. One weekday morning I found myself on a 10-mile run with a friend. It was a cold winter's day on a route into high ground, which took us into thick fog and icy cold rain. It was a rural village where everything was closed; even the sheep looked cold. A farmer, passing in his tractor, looked at us as though we were mad as we ran along the road, heading further into the fog, waving at him to thank him for slowing down for us. We realised at this point that we were probably far more eccentric than we'd previously thought, but carried on regardless. There was no alternative!
What got me through that run was the thought of getting home into a warm shower, a cup of tea and feeling all pleased with myself for getting through a tough 10 miles. Nothing beats that feeling!
So, whatever your running style, make some space for mindfulness during your run, keep it in the moment (don't wish the miles away), focus on one step at a time.
I run my own mindfulness courses throughout the year. Contact me at email@example.com to book a place. innerspaceproject.com
Saturday, 23 January 2016
*Now we are in the midst of the winter months, the nights are drawing in earlier; warm, light summer evenings are a faded memory. Those evenings spent outside enjoying the warm sunshine have been replaced with dark nights in, huddled under blankets and thick jumpers, the lights being switched on at 3pm, and the heating being our source of warmth. Most of us would agree that the summer months make us feel happier, but for some, the Autumn months herald the onset of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD, sometimes known as Winter Depression, has symptoms which include lethargy, low mood and changes in patterns of sleep, behaviour and energy. These symptoms of depression start off mildly in the autumn months and worsen as the winter progresses.
SAD is thought to be caused by the lack of sunlight during the shorter days in the year which affect the production of certain hormones in the brain which help to regulate mood, sleep and energy levels. To help treat this, light therapy can be used, where the user sits in front of a special lamp which emits a bright light. This light is thought to work on the part of the brain which regulates our mood, appetite and sleep patterns. SAD can also be treated with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) or anti-depressants.
Mindfulness has also been shown to help with depression and anxiety, by helping to reduce the activity of the part of the brain which causes symptoms of stress, fear and anxiety. It is so effective, that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommend it as a form of treatment, available in the NHS. By learning to focus on each moment without placing any judgement on thoughts or feelings as they arise, the individual can reduce the chances of those feelings "snowballing" into bigger feelings or emotions.
So as the darker winter months progress, getting help by going to see your GP is vital if you have symptoms of SAD.
Personally, as a non-SAD sufferer, I work on the basis of living mindfully. By adjusting my perception of my experiences I change the way I feel about them. So I enjoy being cosy in my warm blanket in the evenings; I enjoy the feeling of the crisp, cold morning on my face as I walk to school with my children; I love to curl up with a hot chocolate and a good book on a dull, rainy Saturday, or watch a film with my children on "duvet days" when it is cold outside. Equally, I love getting muddy and cold during a run, to then enjoy a hot shower and a cup of tea. I spend time thinking about how the highs and the lows of the previous months have made me feel; and make plans and lists of what I want to do in the months ahead.
I run my own mindfulness courses throughout the year. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to book a place. innerspaceproject.com
*This blog was originally submitted as an article for Purbeck! Journal , which has been published in the Autumn 2015 edition
Friday, 22 January 2016
Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.
I bought a spice tin, recently. I filled it with my favourite spices, enjoying the sights and aromas of each, as my kitchen began to smell like an Indian restaurant, with rich, heavenly scents wafting (albeit piercing through my heavy cold) as I spooned each spice into the container. I felt uplifted by the golds and reds as the stainless steel tin reflected the colours.
It honestly doesn't take much to make me happy, and although I may be considered a little bit eccentric, I am happy to have a spice tin, because every time I use it the colours will make me smile, the aromas will fill me with anticipation for the meal I'm about to successfully make (I hope); and because it reminds me of the well-known phrase,
"Variety is the spice of life".
To me, the spice tin represents the alchemy, magic, the excitement of what I am choosing to make in my life. It's been a rough couple of years for me. I've had to get right out of my comfort zone and make difficult choices and decisions. The simplest thing would have been to carry on as I was, to continue to think the same way I had been:
"It's too hard",
"I'm no good at this",
"I will fail"
Instead, I chose (well, really I was left with no choice but to do something about the situation I was in) to change. Instead of thinking the same thoughts every day, I became motivated by change, by discomfort, by fear. Yes, fear changed my thoughts, because for a long time the fear was in control of these thoughts and about my reluctance to change. But when I mindfully worked through these fears, I realised that I was able to put that fear to good use. I once read somewhere (apologies to whoever it was, but I have forgotten who said it) that "fear is our own potential pushing back at us" - in other words, what holds us back is our own self-limiting beliefs (thoughts) that stop us from moving forwards.
I used to live each day with this negative monologue in my mind. I never want to go back there! This is so much better:
"I believe in myself"
"I have the power to change"
"I trust in myself and my abilities"
"I have the ability to make things right and good in my life"
"I love life and life loves me"
Each time I come across an obstacle, I allow the negative self-talk to come up, because it is still a part of me that exists - but instead of buying into it, I acknowledge it, then answer it positively. This is the part of me which exists to reach my potential, and reach my goals, which include believing that we are all intrinsically good, kind people, but there are those who act out of fear, and those who choose to act out of love. We each have a choice every day about which aspects we are going to pay more attention to.
Variety is the spice of life. Why not get out of your comfort zone and find out where you can go?
I am writing a book about finding our own potential through mindfulness and meditation activities; and have started teaching a course alongside it, too. If you're interested, get in touch: email@example.com
Friday, 8 January 2016
The winter months increases the number of admissions to hospitals, leading to staff being put under huge pressures to see, treat and care for patients. During a busy shift, staff will often miss rest-breaks, opportunities to have something to eat and drink; and not even get time to go to the toilet. They may encounter a range of emergencies, challenges, emotionally-charged situations, verbal abuse, conflict and have to use many skills to deal with whatever they are faced with.
These shifts can last 12 hours or beyond, and be at unsociable hours when fatigue and tiredness can impact on the endurance of those in the middle of everything. Sometimes things can get overwhelming, resulting in not being able to do tasks effectively. I, like nearly every member of staff I've worked with over the years, get to a point where they're hungry, thirsty, tired, aching, have a full bladder, and yet are in the thick of stressful or busy situations with no sign of a let-up in proceedings to grab some time to refresh themselves.
Whilst the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Well-being Economics recommend Mindfulness as a treatment for patients, there is less focus on helping NHS staff using mindfulness. I am keen to utilise mindfulness techniques for staff to help overcome some of the problems faced each day. I believe it could have a significant positive impact on staff and on patients, too.
At a time when you feel relaxed, ask yourself what your stress symptoms are, even run a scenario at work where you felt overwhelmed and take note of what you feel in your body as you do. Then, during the course of your work, be aware of these symptoms being triggered, and give yourself one minute or so to just step away from the phone/bedside/bay or the area you are working (as long as it is safe), to run through the Red, Amber Green stress-relief points I have written. Remember that by slowing down and deepening the breath, you are helping to reduce your heart rate, which will impact on your blood pressure. When we are stressed, our heart rate, blood pressure and respiratory rate increase, reinforcing the stress response. Breaking the cycle can help to regulate your levels again, and allow you to feel calmer and more relaxed.
So, if you are an NHS worker, I invite you to print my Nurse's Minute (without altering it in any way; please retain my website details) to use whilst you're on shift.
I'd love to hear how you get on with this!
Nikki Harman, RGN, is a nurse working in an acute NHS hospital trust. Nikki is also a mindfulness tutor to adults and is a Connected Kids™ children's mindfulness tutor. Nikki is keen to work with NHS staff teaching mindfulness. Please contact The Inner Space Project: firstname.lastname@example.org