Mind and body

Re-reading (once again) Robert W Smith’s account of his time in Taiwan, Chinese Boxing, I note this passage in the chapter about the policeman Paul Kuo:

Kuo told me also of Wang Hsiang-Chai, famed but not liked in Hopei. Wang loved to fight and lost only to Shang Yun-hsiang. His method consisted entirely of circles; every block was an attack.

Heh. Wang Xianghai keeps on cropping up in books that I’ve had for ages, but I’d never noticed before…

I’ve just got back from a couple of days in Brighton, where I was taking a foundation course in leading mindfulness and meditation training. As I’ve mentioned before, once I’ve completed this qualification, I will be able to register for professional insurance, and to run training sessions for the public, as well as for patients referred by GPs (though at this point this latter isn’t something I plan to do).

It was a small group: myself, another bloke, and four women. We were a pretty mixed bag, from very different backgrounds, and with varied reasons for doing the course. We all got on very well, though, and I think that some of us got very involved with the experience.

It was certainly interesting, and definitely challenging. Although I’ve had a fair bit of experience in meditation since 2004, it has always been a personal thing; apart from here on the blog – which has a certain feeling of detachment and distance, since I’ve met so few of you in person – I rarely talk about it in real life. In Singapore and China, meditation was well understood, and even close to the mainstream; and abiding memory is New Year’s Eve, 2007, when I attended the 108 Bells ceremony at the Bright Hill monastery – where there were hundreds of people. Here in Wales… it’s not the same; I tend to not talk about it, since meditation falls into that extremely broad category of ‘weird’, as far as most folk are concerned…

Still, I was very surprised at how difficult it was to stand up and act as a leader in the practice, even when the ‘students’ were also course participants. Talking about the benefits of meditation in front of a group of strangers was surprisingly tough. However, I got into it fairly quickly, though all weekend I found it tough to control my voice in the way I’m used to doing as a lecturer. There you are, the mind-body connection in action…

We went through a fair bit of training as a group, learning how to explain the benefits of meditation for both mental and physical health, and ran through a number of “3-minute convincers” – exercises designed to demonstrate rapidly the mind-body link to people who might be sceptical. We also went through a number of group meditation sessions. There were also, of course, sessions where we had to lead people through a meditation exercise and into deep relaxation. The first two were 1-1 with another student; the second was to lead the whole group. For the first, I used a qigong visualisation that I learned in Singapore; while I was talking the other student through it, I felt that it just wasn’t working, but when we’d finished, she said that it had been really effective. For the second 1-1, I used a basic yiquan visualisation exercise tied to zhan zhuang. It wasn’t a great success, since I hadn’t checked for contra-indications. Fortunately, that session was only for a couple of minutes, and she was straight up about telling me she couldn’t do it. For the final session, with the whole group, I had ten minutes, and took care to point out the options for hand and arm positions; I then went through the ‘standing in the water’ visualisation for the holding the ball exercise. Again, I felt as I was doing it, that it really wasn’t working – but, when I finished, it got really good feedback. Even the course instructor mentioned that it anchored her in the body in a way that no other exercise she knew was able to do. Just goes to show: yiquan rocks 😉

Another exercise was where the instructor, using her experience of working with patients referred by doctors, gave us an example of what it’s like to work with non-cooperative participants. In my case, she play-acted an agoraphobic woman, who hid her face under her jumper, and wouldn’t look at me or even talk. Blimey. That was hard. It showed me how complex it is it work with the genuinely ill, rather than simply those who have disposable income and are looking for help with relaxation…

It was a pretty stressful weekend overall. I was staying in London on Thursday and Friday nights; on Friday I got back to the hostel at 20:15ish, to discover that they had made a mistake on the computer, deleted my booking, and given my room to someone else… And no, they didn’t have another… I can now tell you with absolute certainty, that trying to find a room with no booking, late on a Friday night in London, really is not what you need if you were looking forward to a night out, or even for a quiet, relaxing evening….

There were other issues too… but nothing to do with the course itself. Very glad I did it; I learned a great deal and met some wonderful people. It isn’t over yet; I need to keep a daily meditation diary for a few weeks, write some book reviews, and record myself running a meditation session with ‘real’ people before I get the qualification. I may post the book reviews here.

It was a great confidence-booster, though; I start to believe that yes, I can teach this stuff – not just blog about it….

And so my plans make progress… Big job losses are happening in communities in my area… It looks like a wave of redundancies are coming in the organization where I work… Catching up today on the last few days’ news, it’s clear that changes are happening more and more rapidly, and none of them are good. Got to be ready…

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