Cape Town - Regular mindfulness practice is said to promote cognitive flexibility and help you sleep better.
Mandy Johnson and Patrick Madden, two experienced opinion leaders, will be giving a workshop on the topic at this year's SACAP Psychology Festival of Learning in Cape Town and Johannesburg.
Johnson and Madden offer an Interpersonal Mindfulness Programme designed for coaches, counsellors, mentors and others in the helping professions.
Here, they chat about mindfulness…
QUESTION: You refer to yourselves as 'mindfulness coaches'. What exactly is the role of a mindfulness coach? How do the duties of such a coach differ from those of, say, a 'life coach'? And why would one engage the services of a mindfulness coach?
ANSWER: Mindfulness-based coaching is simply coaching that uses mindfulness as a core method in the coaching process. Mindfulness practice suspends the attitude of seeking future goals, instead emphasising awareness and acceptance of whatever is present.
Mindfulness-based coaching takes a very different view of coaching as a goal-oriented process. The role of a mindfulness coach is to instruct the client in mindfulness practice and then support him or her to stabilise attention. That brings many benefits, one of which is to allow mental habits to be witnessed non-judgmentally instead of inhabiting them without awareness. That witnessing is itself insight, and brings forth new, liberating and empowering perspectives on him- or herself and the goals he or she brings to coaching.
This doesn't preclude goal-seeking, but casts it in a new and deeper light.
Q: Please provide a definition of 'mindfulness'. What are the advantages to one's life of being able to practice the art of mindfulness?
A: Our understanding of neuroplasticity shows us that the brain can reshape itself in response to experience. This allows for many exciting possibilities based on the concept of training our mind.
Mindfulness, then, is relaxed, present-centred, non-judgmental, non-conceptual attention. It is also about knowing what is happening while it is happening, without judgement or preference. There are numerous benefits to regular mindfulness practice, including greater cognitive flexibility, increased emotional regulation, greater compassion and empathy, improved attention and memory, less reactivity and more 'spaciousness', improved immune-system response, balanced blood pressure and better sleep.
Q: The physical benefits are certainly enticing but would you say that fostering the ability to 'live in the moment' can lead to personal growth?
A: Mindfulness allows our own mental processes to be witnessed instead of inhabited without awareness. That new witnessing is in itself growth, since it allows to be seen what once was not seen. In other words, the range of awareness has grown to include more than we previously were aware of. This also allows us to accept - and even love - a greater range of situations and circumstances.
Q: So what are some of the practical ways in which to cultivate and practice mindfulness in one's daily life?
A: Mindfulness practice can be divided into formal and informal practices. Formal practice - such as sitting mindfulness meditation - deliberately exclude all activities other than cultivating mindfulness.
Informal practice brings the practice of mindfulness into the activity of everyday life. For example, we might focus on the sensations of drinking a cup of tea, or use the opportunity of stopping at a red traffic light to connect with bodily sensations.
Q: The phrase 'heart-centred practice' is frequently associated with the learning of mindfulness. What is this?
A: A vital part of any mindfulness practice is to attend to the present moment with a sense of kindness and compassion for ourselves. Very early on in training, we recognise how critical we tend to be with ourselves. Our ability to accept the unwanted or uncomfortable parts of ourselves and our experience lies in our emotional 'heart' rather than our conceptual 'mind', so heart-centred practices are crucial to the process of developing mindfulness.
It is also interesting to note that the Sanskrit word for mind is 'citta' and the Sanskrit word for heart is also 'citta'. So mindfulness could easily be called heartfulness, and 'being present' could equally mean 'being here with your whole heart'.
Q: What are you hoping that those attending your workshop at the Psychology Festival of Learning will gain from it?
A: It'll be an experiential workshop with lots of engagement with mindfulness practices, supported by a basic but sufficient grounding in theory. We hope that people will come away informed and inspired by the potential of their own hearts and minds.
* SACAP's Psychology Festival of Learning, from 8 to 12 September at both the college's Cape Town and Johannesburg campuses, aims to enable every participant to take one step further in their journey of understanding the nature and practice of psychology, counselling and coaching at an individual and community level.
Find out more about the programme of events here: http://www.psychologyfestival.co.za/programme
IOL, adapted from a press release