University Mental Health Day, which takes place on 1 March, is a national campaign to focus efforts on promoting the mental health of people who live, work and study in higher education. Leeds Trinity alumna Ashleigh Turner is a Mindfulness Practitioner, who runs classes for Leeds Trinity staff and students. We caught up with her to find out more about Mindfulness, what's involved and how it can help improve health and wellbeing.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is about paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally. It's about maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surroundings and living in the present moment rather than having your thoughts scattered all over and living on auto pilot.
Is it different from meditation?
Mindfulness and mediation are two separate practices, but mindfulness is a form of meditation due to the focused awareness. There are various mindfulness techniques people can adopt all varying in duration and meditation depth. You can use simple breathing exercises lasting a couple of minutes, to whole body scans lasting 40 mins plus.
How can it benefit staff and students?
When people get in the routine of practising mindfulness on a daily basis, they tend to be a lot calmer and collected. It allows them to realise that most of the problems we stress about never actually happen, they are just mind-created. Mindfulness helps us put some space between ourselves and our reactions, breaking down our conditioned responses.
How can it help us day to day?
In our daily lives it can help us:
Connect better. Ever find yourself staring blankly at a friend, lecturer or colleague and you've no idea what they're saying? Mindfulness helps you give them your full attention.
Lower stress. There's lots of evidence these days that excess stress causes lots of illnesses and makes other illnesses worse. Mindfulness decreases stress.
Focus your mind. It can be frustrating to have our mind stray off what we're doing and be pulled in different directions especially with pressure at work and academic deadlines building. Meditation hones our innate ability to focus.
Reduce brain chatter. Those constant thoughts and day dreaming filling your mind and creating constant nattering and chattering within…..time to give it a break and create some inner peace and balance.
What difference can it make to mental health and wellbeing?
As it can help to create a calmer, balanced mind, it gives us the ability to become more aware and conscious of our mental health and wellbeing, making it easier to reach out for help if needed. It helps us allow some 'self love' for our bodies and mind and helps us to accept all parts of our self without judgement. It also helps us to understand our own pain. Pain is a fact of life, but it doesn't have to rule you. Mindfulness can help you reshape your relationship with mental and physical pain.
How did you become a mindfulness practitioner?
I graduated from Leeds Trinity in 2007 with a Psychology and Management degree, and after some travelling in Thailand, I knew I wanted to become a therapist and help others to help themselves through difficult and challenging times. I then did my counselling, hypnotherapy, and reiki training and finally my mindfulness training in 2015. It has particularly helped me manage life with two toddlers and a business, helping me to appreciate every moment, even the testing ones.
You hold a regular class at Leeds Trinity, what can we expect if we come along?
Guided mindfulness meditation, which is open to everyone. For 30 mins each week allow yourself some 'you time' to reset, re-charge and appreciate your own body for what it is and help yourself to become more mindful day to day. The more you attend, the more the practice begins to drip feed into your day to day life, improving your overall wellbeing.
How can we become more mindful?
Set aside some time. You don't need a meditation cushion or bench, or any sort of special equipment to access your mindfulness skills—but you do need to set aside some time and space just for you. It could be a bath at home, or a five-minute walk away from your desk.
Observe the present moment as it is. The aim of mindfulness is not quieting the mind or attempting to achieve a state of eternal calm. The goal is simple: to pay attention to the present moment, without judgment. Easier said than done, I know.
Let your judgments roll by. When you notice judgments arise during practice or day to living, just make a mental note of them, and let them pass.
Return to observing the present moment as it is. Our minds often get carried away in thought. That's why mindfulness is the practice of returning, again and again, to the present moment. Be kind to your wandering mind. Don't judge yourself for whatever thoughts crop up, just practice recognizing when your mind has wandered off, and gently bring it back.
What are your top tips for mindfulness?
- Small steps first.
- Start with some simple breathing exercises and use the breath to help connect you to the present moment.
- Put a sticker on your computer screen or the back of your phone or a diary. Every time you see the sticker just take a breath, hold for a couple of seconds and release, and allow your body to relax. Just connect with the present moment. Notice how you feel, what's going on with your body and take in your surroundings without analysing, then return to what you are doing.
- The more you do it the more natural it becomes and then you can gradually introduce new techniques and exercises.