5 Things Mindfulness Is Not

 

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1. It’s Not Easy

Mindfulness seems to be everywhere these days and yet what it is exactly can seem unclear. Let’s start with what it’s not…

At the heart of mindfulness is a very simple idea; it is about paying attention in the present moment, in a particular way.  It may be a simple idea, but it’s not easy. You might have already noticed this if you have tried even a short Mindfulness exercise and seen how your own mind has a very strong tendency to wander off in all directions and jump from thought to thought.

2. It’s Not About Clearing Your Mind!

This one might surprise you. Mindfulness is not about clearing the mind, or having a blank mind, because that would involve pushing thoughts away, which would get you into a situation where you are wrestling with your mind. Mindfulness is not about striving or struggling at all. It is about observing the full range of present moment experience, including thoughts, bodily sensations, and feelings, holding them all in spacious awareness.

3. It’s Not About Relaxation!

Again, this might surprise you. The goal of mindfulness is not relaxation or helping you get to sleep. Some people find that it does both, but again, these are happy by-products of practising mindfulness rather than the aim itself. Mindfulness is about falling awake, about showing up, with full attention, for the present moment.  This is why it is best to practice Mindfulness at times of the day when you can practice for the amount of time that you want, and not fall asleep after the first 2 minutes of practice.

4. It’s Not Just For When You’re Feeling Stressed!

It’s not just for when you are feeling stressed.  Sometimes people think that they only need to practice Mindfulness when they feel stressed or worried.  This is not the case.  Mindfulness is an on-going practice that has benefits for your entire quality of life.  You wouldn’t only go the the gym the day that you are doing a marathon, you would have put in hours of training before the big day. It’s the same with mindfulness, it is about training your attention, and, in some ways, a bit like taking your mind to the gym, you need to practice regularly to see benefits and also to be able to draw on the skills at difficult time.

5. It’s Not Just For A Particular Type Of Person!

Anyone can practice Mindfulness and see benefits.  You don’t have to have a particular personality type, you don’t have to have an interest in complimentary health, you don’t need to have a particular faith or an interest in the spiritual, you don’t have to be a yogi or a Buddhist,  (and of course if that’s you, that’s great) but the point is, the benefits of Mindfulness can be accessed by anyone who is willing to learn about it and to practice.

If you are interested in trying out a mindfulness practice, listen to the 5 minute breathing space exercise at mindsurgerylondon.co.uk or contact us for details on our mindfulness workshops and courses.

Copyright 2015 © MindSurgery London

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Rumination:’Chewing the Mental Cud’

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Have you ever watched a cow chew the cud? The mechanic, circular movement of the jaw; the dead-eyed stare; the seemingly never-ending sameness of the action. The word “ruminate” derives from the Latin word for chewing cud, a process in which some animals grind up, swallow, then regurgitate and rechew their food. Similarly,  as humans, we can all have a tendency to  ruminate or mull over a situation, turning it over and over in our heads.    It becomes rumination and not problem solving when we no longer have any new ideas about solving the problem, but replay the situation in our minds regardless.  When ruminating we tend to focus on causes and consequences rather than solutions; why has this happened to me or what will happen in the future rather than how can I solve this. We all ruminate to a greater or lesser degree; think about a conversation you’ve had with, say, your boss at work, a conversation that didn’t go the way you’d hoped. You turn it over and over in your mind, worrying at it, second-guessing and teasing out meanings that may or may not be real. The gift keeps on giving – we have all had the experience of thinking back on something that irritated or annoyed us, and feeling irritated and annoyed all over again even if the event happened quite a while back.

We ruminate because we are trying to come up with a solution, or trying to make sense of something.  Sometimes it can feel as if we are stuck in a rut of rumination that we cannot get out of.  In my experience as a Clinical Psychologist, I regularly see how rumination is linked to anxiety and depression.  This is supported by large scale research which shows that excessive rumination on negative events acts as a mediating factor between a negative life event and stress and is the biggest predictor of depression and anxiety.  In other words, a bad thing can happen in your life, but if you have a tendency to ruminate on this, you are much more likely to experience higher stress and increased risk of developing anxiety and depression. It is not only what happens, but how you process what happened that is important.

It is not just our mental well-being that suffers if we ruminate excessively, it also has a negative impact on the rest of our bodies.  Ruminating on  a stressful event can extend cortisol stress responses and keep the physical stress responses including pounding heart, breathlessness, sweatiness, feeling flushed or light headed going for longer too.   In this way, repeated rumination can have a negative impact on our physical health.

Breaking the habit of rumination

What can we do to break the habit of rumination? Seeing a Clinical Psychologist for a limited number of sessions can help change thinking habits.  Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or CBT is one of the approaches that you are likely to learn in sessions to give you practical strategies for managing your thoughts in a more helpful way.  Mindfulness based therapies can also be a very helpful approach to manage rumination as it teaches us not to attach to thoughts, and helps us to take a step back from the cycle of rumination.

Aside from individual sessions with a Clinical Psychologist, there are also practical first steps that you can take now to reduce rumination:

  1. Become aware of when you are ruminating.  ‘Thought catching’ or identifying that you are ruminating is the first step towards change. Take time to check in with your mind throughout the day and see what it is doing.
  2. Once you catch yourself ruminating, label it as such by saying to yourself ‘I’m engaging in rumination now’ thus creating a distance between you and your thoughts.
  3. Distraction and switching activities can also be a good way to start to break the cycle of rumination.  Beware of passive activities like watching TV or surfing the Internet as these are prime times when our minds can slip into ruminating without us being aware.   If you sit on the couch with the TV on, but really you are ruminating on an argument with a loved one, then you need to do something to focus your attention elsewhere. Get up and engage your attention with another task – plan your day, make a call, do a crossword, decide what to cook for dinner…it can be as mundane or marvellous an activity as you like as long as it involves focusing your attention somewhere else.
  4. Go for a walk – it may be what your granny told you but there is research to show that going for a walk in a nature filled area is correlated with lower levels of rumination. The nature bit is important, just going for a walk around the block won’t do it – research has shown that urban walks did not have the same effect on rumination as a walk in a natural environment. Go walk in your local park, a forest, or a farm – you might even meet those cows, ruminating, while you free yourself from it!

© Copyright MindSurgeryLondon Ltd. 2016

MindSurgery London provides individual therapy sessions and also runs events for well-being and mental health. For further information please contact us at mindsurgerylondon@gmail.com.

References

Kinderman P, Schwannauer M, Pontin E, Tai S (2013) Psychological Processes Mediate the Impact of Familial Risk, Social Circumstances and Life Events on Mental Health. PLoS ONE 8(10): e76564. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0076564

Zoccola, P. M., Figueroa, W. S., Rabideau, E. M., Woody, A. & Benencia, F. (2014). Differential effects of poststressor rumination and distraction on cortisol and C-reactive protein. Health Psychology, 33, 1606-1609. doi:10.1037/hea0000019

Gianferante, D., Thoma, M. V., Hanlin, L., Chen, X, Breines, J,. Zoccola, P. M., & Rohleder, N. (2014). Post-stress rumination predicts HPA axis responses to repeated stress. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 49, 244-252. doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2014.07.021

Zoccola, P. M., Rabideau, E. M., Figueroa, W. S., & Woody, A. (2014). Cardiovascular and affective consequences of ruminating on a performance stressor depend on mode of thought. Stress and Health, 30, 188-197. doi:10.1002/smi.2588

Bratman, G.N. , Hamilton , J.P., Hahn , K.S, Daily, G.C & Gross, J. (2015).  Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation. PNAS. 

http://www.pnas.org/content/112/28/8567.full.pdf

 

The Desire Myth: The things you never knew about sexual desire

The Desire Myth: The things you never knew about sexual desire

What if we were missing some vital information on desire and how it works in our bodies? What if this information could help us view our bodies and our sex lives differently?

In my clinical practice as a Psycho-Sexologist and Clinical Psychologist, I see many women who feel that something is very wrong with them if they don’t experience sexual desire in the way that they expect.  They complain of low libido, low sex drive, no interest in sex….

Behind these complaints is often the idea is that desire is something innate, something that we feel or that we don’t, something that is spontaneous and cannot be forced.  But where do these ideas come from? Popular culture, magazines, films, all portray desire as something we can think of as spontaneous desire.  Spontaneous desire is high adrenaline, it’s exciting, it’s ripping each others clothes off.. it’s Hollywood, it’s porn, it’s advertising, it’s pop songs.

But, is there more to desire than this? Our understandings of sex and desire have been changing slowly over the past 50 years, since Master’s and Johnson’s pioneering sex research.  More recent theory and research led by Rosemary Basson, Clinical Professor at University of British Columbia, and her colleagues, introduced the concept of responsive sexual desire.

Responsive desire is when the motivation to have sex begins AFTER something sexy has started happening. For example, you are sitting on the couch watching TV, not thinking about sex at all, not feeling remotely horny, and your partner leans over and starts kissing your shoulder, your neck, and you think, ‘Mm thats nice’, and things continue and after a while you feel desire, ‘in the mood’. That’s responsive desire. You are responding to the context and situation. Desire has come out of an openness to go with what feels good.

Desire can be spontaneous or responsive. Desire is not a pre-requisite for sex, it can follow with an openness to see what feels good. Of course there are reasons that some men and women don’t experience either spontaneous or responsive desire, and that can be very difficult, but more about that in another post..

Spontaneous desire is more common a style in men, and responsive desire more common in women, but both men and women can experience both at different times.  Women’s desire tends to be more varied and more sensitive to context. Relationship dynamics, mood, intimacy, and how we feel about our bodies, all play an important role in women’s sexual response.

Research on style of responsive versus spontaneous desire in men and women and found that about 30% of women and 5% of men experience their sexual desire as more or less exclusively responsive, while about 15% of women and 75% of men experience their desire as more or less exclusively spontaneous. About half of women experience some combination of both spontaneous and responsive desire, depending on the context.

Why do we need to know this?

Media and popular culture and even out-dated academic research may have us believe that if, as women, we don’t feel desire in the way that it is most commonly culturally portrayed then SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH US… Responsive desire doesn’t translate so well onto the screen or into cultural media. It’s a slower burn. But it is absolutely just as normal as spontaneous desire.

Understanding responsive and spontaneous sexual desire can change how, as women, we view ourselves and our sex lives. It saddens me when I see women who are so quick to label themselves and their bodies as faulty in some way, when it is perfectly normal to not feel spontaneous desire much or any of the time. And of course, this can lead to a vicious circle where some women feel that they are not meeting some imagined sexual standard in terms of desire and sex drive, so then feel less sexy, and are less likely to experience desire.  If they believe that spontaneous desire is the one true desire, then they can often abort any sexual activity without going with the flow to see if desire follows….

Men, what does this mean for you?

Often the male partners I see feel that their partner’s lack of spontaneous desire means that she has gone off them, or are no longer attracted to them.  At the beginning of a relationship, sex is commonly more frequent, and spontaneous desire is more common in both men and women. With time, as the relationship progresses, frequency of sexual activity reduces, and also the responsive style of desire can become more dominant for some women. Men, be reassured that simply because she does not experience desire in the same pattern as you, this does not (necessarily!) mean she is not attracted to you or that she has low libido.

Take charge of your sex life!

There is nothing more guaranteed to kill any kind of desire than the belief that you are somehow broken or faulty.  Language matters. The more you and your partner label you as being somehow ‘deficient’ in desire, the less opportunities you have to escape this label. So, embrace your desire style, whatever it is. If responsive desire is more common for you, think with your partner about how you can create situations so that you are open to responsive desire.

Let’s start breaking down the dominance of spontaneous desire. Let’s stop buying into the idea that desire is one dimensional.

So perhaps the question to ask your partner is not ‘are you in the mood tonight darling?’ But rather, are you up for seeing if you get into the mood…

Mindsurgery London provides individual sessions, face-to-face and over Skype, for a range of psychosexual issues. See http://www.mindsurgerylondon.co.uk for more details.