About two and a half years ago I went to a talk on recognising signs of mental health problems, by Hugh Clarke, the Former Head of Counselling services at London Met University and counselling Psychologist.
It was a brilliant talk (you can read about it here), informative, thought-provoking, we chatted about it for a while afterwards. I still remember how it started, a 5 minute mindfulness activity guided by Mr Clarke. I absolutely loved it and everyone in the room seemed to have enjoyed it too. No surprise there of course. Mindfulness (focusing in the present moment, whilst accepting one’s feelings, thoughts and body sensations, in a nutshell) has been scientifically proven to alleviate anxiety, reduce rumination, improve attention, manage chronic pain amongst many many other benefits .
A lot of people are sceptical, I was initially too. I had tried to practise mindfulness myself before that day but I found it incredibly hard to focus (my overthinking brain struggles to concentrate on just one thing at a time) and ‘aids’ I discovered (e.g. apps), made me giggle, perhaps too cheesy for me. But Hugh’s 5 minute guided exercise completely changed my mind. It wasn’t cheesy, funny, or superficial. It worked fine and by the time we were done I forgot about everything else and my whole attention was turned to the session. It was just perfect.
Fast forward to about a month ago, Nour and I were thinking of ideas on how to start our presentation for our ‘Survival Guide for New EFL teachers’ session and then I had an epiphany. Hugh’s mindfulness opening activity was so effective I still remembered it after all this time, and we all, especially newly qualified teachers desperately need to be able to focus in the moment, do one thing at a time instead of trying to multitask and failing miserably, so why not start our session by giving our audience 5 minutes to relax and forget about anything else?
So, I found a 5 minute mindfulness activity online, similar to Hugh’s but the language used was too ‘formal’ and frankly tacky, so I created my own using my personal experience and a mixture of Hugh’s activity and the ones I found online (I may have borrowed some beloved expressions from Yoga with Adriene). I thought I’d share it in case others would like to use it. A colleague suggested I made a video (for those that may want to try it on themselves) and I would love to but that takes time so for now here’s the instructions (remember to take your time with each step, check your participants’ reactions and act accordingly):
- First, sit comfortably on your chair. Close your eyes and relax your shoulders. Place your feet on the floor, if comfortable, your entire soles touching the ground. If you want to giggle, then feel free to do so!
- Take a long deep breath (take a deep breath yourself). Now let’s focus on your toes. Wiggle them, feel them, then curl them really tight. Keep curling…. and release. Take another deep breath.
- Now move up to your ankles. Again, notice how they feel (pause) and now move on to your knees. Do they feel tense? If so, relax.
- Any thoughts that may come up in your mind e.g. what you are doing after this, what you are having for dinner, imagine they are in a bubble and let them float away. Take a deep breath.
- Now relax your bottom (pause), your pelvis (pause) and then begin to notice any tension you may have on your back. Take another deep breath.
- Now focus on your shoulders. How do they feel? Now lift them up, lift, lift, lift and…. release. Wonderful. Take another breath.
- Now relax your neck, gently twist your head left to right and let any tension go.
- Now focus on your jaw. Is it tense? Are you clenching? If so, relax your jaw muscles and take a deep breath.
- Finally focus on the top your head. Notice if you are frowning, we often do without realising, and relax your eye brows.
- Now lift your shoulders once more, lift, lift, lift…. and release. Let any remaining tension go.
- Now focus your attention on what’s happening in the room. Notice any sounds you can hear, any smells…
- Take one last deep breath… and open your eyes. How are you feeling now?