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Balanced meditation practice: an overview

Taking our attention inwards can be done helpfully in so many ways.  We can relax; we can be mindfully aware; we can use visualisations; we can deeply savour present time experience; we can process difficulties from our pasts or prepare ourselves for challenges in the future.  There are so many useful ways of using our minds to help ourselves.  In the diagram below, one can think of "mindfulness' as representing "content irrelevant" - it's how we're relating to mind-body content rather than what the mind-body content is that's important.  "Exploring & processing" however is very much "content relevant" - whether one is gaining perspective by seeing what the content is and "naming" it, or seeing what the content is and learning from it (as in focusing).

Self-compassion: soothing touch helps us settle and relax

Touch can be profoundly soothing and settling.  In an intriguing study - "Nonverbal channel use in communication of emotion: how may depend on why" - researchers found that when participants generated displays of eleven different emotions, touch was the most preferred nonverbal way of showing love and sympathy.  Welcomed touch can be very good for us physically, so we know touch settles stress hormones - "Social touch modulates endogenous mu-opioid system activity in humans"  ( ), and can even reduce vulnerability to infections - see "Does hugging provide stress-buffering social support? A study of susceptibility to upper respiratory infection and illness".

Mindful self-compassion: affectionate breathing meditation

I'm just back from a five day Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) retreat in Iceland with Chris Germer & Christine Brahler.  MSC teaches a whole host of meditation practices, with three underlined as core meditations.  These three are Affectionate Breathing, Loving-Kindness for Ourselves, and Giving & Receiving Compassion.  In this post I talk a bit more about the initial core meditation practice - Affectionate Breathing.

Upgrading the 'breathing space' meditation, some research-based suggestions (3rd post): embodied values & goodwill

I have already written a couple of blog posts "Upgrading the 'breathing space' meditation, some research-based suggestions (1st post): mindfulness & naming" and "Upgrading the 'breathing space' meditation, some research-based suggestions (2nd post): touch & affectionate releasing" where we have taken our attention inwards, noting & naming our internal state/our internal weather, and responding to this inner state with settling touch, self-compassion & relaxation.  These posts have introduced nine suggestions that potentially upgrade a more standard breathing space practice.

Upgrading the 'breathing space' meditation, some research-based suggestions (2nd post): touch & affectionate releasing

I recently wrote a blog post "Upgrading the 'breathing space' meditation, some research-based suggestions (1st post): mindfulness & naming" where I commented that if the thousands of recent research papers on mindfulness, emotion regulation & related subjects couldn't help us improve on the helpfulness of brief meditation practices, then science hasn't been doing its job adequately.  I went on to describe five possible upgrades saying that, if you're interested in trying out these ideas, maybe just explore a few at a time.  In this post I mention a further four upgrade options.  As with the first five suggestions, build up step by step, experimenting with what works well for you personally.

Upgrading the 'breathing space' meditation, some research-based suggestions (1st post): mindfulness & naming

Many forms of stress management & meditation teach brief "breathing space" exercises that can be used to bring oneself into the present in a variety of helpful ways.  These seem to have been particularly popularised by the 3 minute breathing space exercise (3MBS) taught in Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT).  Zindel Segal (one of MBCT's developers) describes the development of this Widen-Narrow-Widen attentional sequence in this short online article.

Mindful self-compassion residential: last morning, reviewing & appreciating

The first evening of this residential was back on Tuesday and it's now Saturday morning.  I've already written an initial post "Mindful self-compassion residential: first morning, doubts & overview".  So how am I feeling about the workshop now after three full days ... with just one to go?  Happy, touched, engaged, questioning, quietly inspired.  My initial doubts & impatience with the fact that such a widely taught training hasn't been backed up with better research still holds.  It wouldn't have taken a huge initiative to have set up a straight comparison trial between Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC).  How would they compare?  Would they have similar effects?

Mindful self-compassion residential: first morning, doubts & overview

Well this is interesting.  Here we are - Catero, my wife, and I - at the start of a five day workshop on "Mindful self-compassion" run by Chris Germer & Christine Brahler at Drangshlid, Eyjafjoll on the south coast of Iceland.  We flew into Reykjavik yesterday from Scotland, met up with a fellow course member who wanted to share transport, picked up our hire car and headed East on a two & a half hour or so's drive here.  Such a landscape ... bleak, beautiful ... in places a bit like driving across Rannoch Moor in Scotland.  And then arriving in time for supper.  Forty participants.  About twenty five are from Iceland and then there are about fifteen of us "foreigners".  And what a mix we foreigners are - from Estonia, Finland, Spain, Sweden, Germany, Canada and just three British.  The course is being run in English as Chris is from the States.

Paired meditation deepens interpersonal connection: how to go about it

Yesterday I wrote the blog post "Paired meditation deepens interpersonal connection: Tania Singer's wonderful ReSource project" which introduced & overviewed the recent, very impressive ReSource Project.  I also discussed the associated JAMA Psychiatry research paper "Effects of contemplative dyads on engagement and perceived social connectedness over nine months of mental training: a randomized controlled trial" with its abstract including the comments "Secularized classical meditation training programs address social cognition, but practice typically occurs alone.

Paired meditation deepens interpersonal connection: Tania Singer's wonderful ReSource project

Yesterday I was skimming through the JAMA Psychiatry journal and I got hijacked by Kok & Singer's recent article "Effects of contemplative dyads on engagement and perceived social connectedness over nine months of mental training: a randomized controlled trial".  The abstract reads - "Importance  Loneliness is a risk factor for depression and other illnesses and may be caused and reinforced by maladaptive social cognition. Secularized classical meditation training programs address social cognition, but practice typically occurs alone.