Sane New World
A couple of years ago, I was struck down by a mystery illness, or at least, something my doctor couldn't diagnose because the NHS tests revealed nothing she could peg a label on. The newspaper stand at my local supermarket looked inviting. I don't know why. As a former journalist, I never read newspapers because I need to be cheered up. I chose one, wondering why I was doing this.
At home, I leafed through the disasters of the day until I came to an article about Ruby Wax. I carried on wondering why I was reading an article about Ruby Wax. It seemed she had taken time out to study for a Master's degree in Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy at the University of Oxford. Nice one Ruby. She had also written a book called 'Sane New World' about Mindfulness, something I had never heard of before. And the more I read about it, the more it was taking the place of my sugar cravings. I needed a copy, immediately.
And so it came to pass that I gave up a night's sleep to read the answer to my problems (I'm too old to have 'issues'). The next day I googled for the nearest place to study Mindfulness, which happened to be Breathworks at Manchester's Buddhist Centre. I dragged myself along, step by step, with laboured breathing and pains all over my body to join up. After three weeks of an eight week Mindfulness course for Health, I was able to breathe regularly again and learned to observe the joint and muscle pains dissolving as I meditated.
I also signed up for a wonderful course in restorative yoga, which involves lying down, breathing properly and moving my arms and legs about covered in a blanket or draped over a chair. Comfort yoga, like hot toast with butter oozing out of it. Two years on my life has moved in another direction. 'Keep on with what you're doing,' said my doctor. 'You're doing all the right things.' At least, I didn't have to take her drugs.
I've since re-read Ruby's book, as I appreciated it more having done the course. The value of her book, to me, was the sincerity of her story but most of all, the humour, so typical of Ruby's personality, which lightened an otherwise serious subject. (Never mind the brain bits: I loved the snippet about her mother looking for dust balls under the bed while her father waited outside in the car.) Mindfulness doesn't suit everyone and since then I hear the word bandied about in the media daily. But it makes a lot of sense and it works for me. I think those who sneer must be people who have never tried it.
And it beats walking about with your head down gazing into an overused I-phone all day like zombies, oblivious to the sky above. For anyone over 50, we live in a new world now and unless we were born into it, it can be hard to comprehend. We have to change and adapt to dealing with it, even if it doesn't suit us to live in virtual reality.
In her book, Ruby clearly outlines how our brains work; she explains what Mindfulness is; the research that has been done; how beneficial it is to us just being aware of what is going on around us, using the senses and being in the moment; kindness and compassion and lots of exercises. It's well-written, instructive, knowledgeable and, at the same time, entertaining. And it's a great starting point if you want to do a Mindfulness course yourself.
Other books and courses
'Mindfulness for Health', a practical guide to relieving pain, reducing stress and restoring wellbeing, is a handbook written by Vidyamala Burch and Danny Penman. It's the course book written to accompany Breathworks' Mindfulness course for Health.
'Mindfulness: a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world' by Mark Williams and Danny Penman is the handbook for their Mindfulness for stress course. But you can buy them without doing the courses and follow the CDs and exercises in them or do the course online if you can't physically attend.
Mindful piano playing
So, thanks Ruby for pointing me in the right direction. I'm now developing a strategy for incorporating Mindfulness into my piano teaching: there is so much that can be used for focussing on what is going on in the moment, instead of wondering what you're going to have for tea while you're playing broken chords. My students always laugh when I say that because it's precisely what they are doing. And teaching them to be kind to themselves, instead of uttering expletives every time they make a mistake; and kind to others, in particular their teacher!
Manchester Breathworks can be contacted at www.breathworks-mindfulness.org.uk
Ruby's website - www.rubywax.net/
Ruby's tour, 'Sane New World' is taking in lots of UK venues from September to November 2015 - details on the website.