Mindfulness and Health Care


The modern day working environment can move at a relentless and demanding pace. Increased administrative responsibilities, real time connectivity and the complexity of issues that employees in certain jobs may face, name but a few of the issues that may cause employees to work beyond their capabilities for sustained periods of time. This may in turn increase the likelihood that the worker may experience adverse health conditions as a consequence of their job. Research shows that mindfulness confers significant benefits on health, well-being and quality of life in general. This in turn has significant benefits and implications for people’s performance in the workplace; either in terms of the workers levels of stress and productivity or in the qualities of interpersonal relationships.

Mindfulness is defined as knowing what is happening, while it is happening, without preference. In the beginning we notice how our attention is like a butterfly flitting from one thought to the next. So we start by slowing down and settling our mind through regulating our breathing and counting. We then introduce practices that ground us allowing our attention to drop out of our heads and into the sensory awareness of the body. We then learn to rest in the present moment getting used to disengaging from our habits of compulsive doing. And then, when we notice our attention drifting away into thinking, we learn to work with the mindfulness support of sound to bring our attention back to the present.

We are offering this introductory Mindfulness weekend, specifically for those who work in the health care professions (doctors, nurses, therapists, psychologists, social workers, probation officers etc). Participants will be taught some introductory skills in mindfulness through presentations, guided practice and tutorial sessions. This training will be experiential and is designed as a helpful first step in developing your own personal Mindfulness practice or as a way of refreshing inspiration for your existing practice. There will also be the opportunity to explore the potential for Mindfulness and Compassion in your workplace. In particular, we will explore Mindful strategies to increase your effectiveness as a professional, promote positive relationships with clients and colleagues, and create a supportive network of like-minded professionals.

If you complete this module you can then continue to our Mindfulness Practitioner Certificate Course. This course is equivalent to the Mindfulness Practitioner Foundation course.

This course is being led by Ian Rigg and Tina Gilbert at Samye Ling Tibetan Centre, Eskdalemuir (nr Lockerbie) on September 15-17, 2017. For more information, please click here

-Ian Rigg

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My mindfulness practice: I’ve done something really useless

“Time to recognise the sanctity of the world, of minerals, rocks, river and plants”

-Rachel Corby Rewilding

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better”

-Albert Einstein

Many of my mindfulness friends and colleagues are very keen gardeners. They grow a wide range of organic produce: carrots, onions, radishes, lettuce, turnips, and I’m slightly in awe of both their craft and devotion, particularly when I’m eating the results of their toil!

The garden that we (my wife and I) have is very different. It’s really useless.

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From the moment you begin to enter the garden in springtime, a cascading Clematis Montana showers you with its pink blossom; moving into the garden proper, a canopy of Fatsia shades the sun under a wooden bench, connecting to a triumphant Ceanothus Zanzibar arching over a patio bedecked with fern and Hosta plants. This is pretty much the character of the garden: thick variegated ivy, tortured Hazel and a graceful Mountain Ash that breaks into burnt orange in autumn.

Gardening for me is about connection with the Earth, with nature. I can practice getting down and dirty with care, digging deep into the soil. This resonates with a certain compassionate intention to encounter my own personal loam that feeds the lotus: “nature” as the Buddhist writer and somatic practitioner Reggie Ray says, is “relentlessly dharmic”.

Touching nature, touching the earth, the rough tree bark, inhaling geranium or mint, sensing the graceful curves of a New Zealand Flax, tasting cut Thyme, watching and listing to the rainfall nourishing the lawn deep inside: this feels like a profound grounding. I can work here and feel the sun reign down on my back and enjoy how my limbs move and sweat whilst digging or cutting.

Sometimes I find myself resting in the garden, senses open to birdcall or the sound of frogs in the late evening, the flow of being in the garden, responding to her needs and requirements. Impermanence is here and writ large in the seasons that come, go and return. Interdependence is here in the sockless feet that walk over the lawn, taking and sending care.

So, this is completely, wholly, useless.

A short while ago, one of the local parks in Newcastle (where I live) needed an injection of funding. The business case was quite explicit: carrying out this work would bring-for the duration-10 extra but temporary jobs into the park then another 5 permanent jobs into the café and an extra 25% footfall into the Park itself generating 15% more income. It would make it more attractive for business to hold corporate meetings, therefore bringing much needed cash and influence into the town, as a whole.

I wondered, though, what might have happened if the case had been argued for extra funding: because it will make the park a prettier place? I suspect that the application might have been challenged.

It seems to me that we need to strike a balance, a balance between our requirements to justify via strict utilitarian reasoning and benefits what we are working on or doing or involved in, and another reason altogether; that “there is no reason”.

Could it be that we’re so used-so caught up with- use in its strict “benefits realisation” (as the saying goes) left brain sense that we neglect the beauty inherent in the useless? A few years ago, when visiting Venice our tour guide said “I think all the beautiful things in the world are truly useless” and I think he really hit the spot there.

Perhaps we need to realign ourselves to activity without use as a strict utilitarian drive towards product or production; and of course, here is where mindfulness plays its part, doing nothing, being with, creating and sustaining beautiful things, sitting and arriving and becoming present with the rich beauty of what could be seen and experienced as truly, radiantly useless.

How useful is that?

-Graeme Armstrong

Graeme Armstrong is a tutor for the Mindfulness Association who is teaching on our Level 1 Mindfulness: Being Present course in Newcastle. For more information, please click here.

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A Cog in The Machine? Reflections From The Teaching Skills Weekend


“we are exploring together. We are cultivating a garden together with our backs to the sun. […] we are digging beneath the hard and crusty surface to the rich humus of our lives”

-Parker Palmer Let Your Life Speak


This year (2017) marks the fifth year that I have been co-delivering mindfulness courses for the Mindfulness Association. I’ve had the good fortune to tutor in York, Scarborough, London, Brussels, Samye Ling and even in my hometown Newcastle (canny like!).

Mindfulness has opened doors into Universities, Public Health Departments, the NHS, charities and a host of grassroots services that it’s been my privilege to talk to and lead practices with.

It’s been quite a journey, and I get the sense that in many ways it’s just a beginning.

But it was when I sat during the Teaching Skills Weekend at Samye Ling with my co-tutors Heather, Tina and Chloe, and I looked out at the 44 new teachers, that I began to see things in a very different way. During the break, I turned to Heather and asked, “did you ever think, 10 years ago, that it would be like this?”  and she smiled. How could one ever imagine?

I tried to do the maths around this: 44 folk times how many times; plus Level 1 folk; then add Level 2; add the years of MSc students and the MBLC teachers; add the various home groups and workplace drop-ins… woah! I suddenly gained a new and fresh appreciation for all of this, and my place, my little cog in the MA machine, the whole impact, meaning and purpose of all this.

In what often appears to be a somewhat cruel and heartless world, this feels like another possibility, a potential; a powerful sense of warmth, heart and hope.

Being a mindfulness practitioner is often akin, I think, to the salmon who travel in what appears to be the wrong direction. And as far as this target driven, striving, data collecting culture we are in is concerned, this direction of travel can seem like swimming against the tide. It’s at this time, when we start to lean into ourselves, warts and all, that we are required to do what Brene Brown calls “Daring Greatly”.

cogSo, it’s possible to see ourselves as part of the MA machine, a cog in the whole, so to speak. I could see myself as this; nothing special, just a cog that does its job, sometimes miss-spinning and making mistakes and sometimes working well.

But I really don’t see it like that. This weekend, something changed.

We’re all, I think, leaning into the same thing. We’re all trying to “dare greatly”. Christopher Lasch called the family a “haven in a heartless world” and I believe there is a resonance here with what we’re doing as a family of mindfulness practitioners and teachers. We’re daring greatly to lean into our difficulties (and this is quite beautifully what I saw on the teaching weekend) in a mindful and kind way. Perhaps this is what Jon Kabat-Zinn meant when he called mindfulness a “radical act of love”.

It reminded me of how I felt when I did this training: anxious and very uncertain; quite worried; feeling I would never be worthy of this. I continued to ask the question- why on earth am I doing this? What motivates me? Thoughts such as this kept coming up in my mind. Parker Palmer writes about this and talks about having the “courage to teach” -daring greatly? And remembering how I felt going through this keeps me connected with a deep respect and regard for those who train to be mindfulness teachers.

Recalling the empathy and kindness shown to me reminds me to cultivate the same in myself, all the while offering it to others. I do this in the hope that it will be passed on. For mindfulness “teaching” is perhaps freighted with a difference to some other forms of teaching, in that it is not something we “do” to participants but a practice with do “with”-there is no separation. There’s more than a whiff of reciprocal vulnerability here which is deeply connective and quite beautiful.

So, I’m no longer a cog in the machine. I see the way this operates now as much more organic. There is a Norse legend of the World Tree Yggdrasil, whose branches reach out into multiple realms of sentient beings, whose roots are centuries old, yet whose expression is right here, right now. Perhaps this is a more fitting metaphor, more real. Reaching out, our arms are branches that can hold each other through this.

Grappling with the full catastrophe of life’s sorrow and wonder, our own capacity to develop our kindness and to reach out and teach or offer this to others: this is our radical act of love.

-Graeme Armstrong

For more information on our teaching skills pathway: please click here

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Sort of Back to Business as Usual

After the conference the MAHQ seems quiet, as we get back into the usual routine of sending out course timetables and manuals, organising room hire, answering e-mails on everything you could imagine to do with mindfulness, and a host of other little jobs that generally keep us busy.  Writing this blog for example!

Overall, I think there’s a general feeling of achievement – and relief – within the admin team, as the feedback that we’ve had following the conference has been very positive.  I think that people really enjoyed and benefited from it, which for us makes the effort worthwhile.


For me, there were many highlights from the conference, most obviously meeting up with old friends that I’ve been on courses with, and people that I’ve taught and e-mailed over the years.  Apologies if I don’t always remember what I’ve said to you in e-mails, as we do send out quite a few.  My heart always sinks slightly when somebody starts a conversation with “About that e-mail you sent me last November….”.

The other highlight of the conference for me was the keynote talks from Sharon Salzberg, Rick Hanson, Vidyamala Burch, Paul Gilbert and Lama Yeshe Rinpoche.  I thought they were all excellent, and inspiring in different ways.  I must admit, I’m a bit of a fan of Sharon Salzberg in particular and have read a few of her books, and seen her teach before.  I did manage to have a one-to-one chat with her not long after she arrived, although this mainly focused on the practicalities of travelling from Samye Ling to London.  I feel that she’s a really experienced practitioner, and very embodied teacher.  I also love her rather dry sense of humour, which seems to come as a surprise to people who’ve never heard her teach before.  Basically, she’s the sort of teacher that I aspire to be like (Although I do appreciate a good power-point slide!), and I now have an autographed copy of her latest book, “Real Love”, sitting on my bedside cabinet.

One thing that really struck me about all the keynote talks, as well as the MSc presentations, was the importance of acceptance, kindness and compassion in relation to secular mindfulness.  Of course, within the MA we emphasise these from the beginning of our training (for more information on our training, click here), so it sometimes surprises me how novel this can be to some people.

For anyone that wasn’t there, all the talks and presentations were recorded, and we hope that they’ll all appear on the membership area of the website soon, so I would definitely recommend that you check these out as soon as they’re available.



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Don’t Stay in School?

In February last year I embarked on a journey of study for a PhD in Education, studyingHeather Mac mindfulness and self-compassion in schools. My quest has led me to ask questions about the very nature of education… when we send our kids to school, what is it that we are hoping for? The preoccupation with ‘effectiveness’ of our education system (and there are those who ask, “effective for what?“) has obscured the bigger questions such as what it is that we hope for our education system to achieve – what’s important to society, and what’s important to the pupils themselves? Our schools test pupils to the point of overload, such that teachers are leaving the profession in droves and pupils are suffering increasingly from anxiety and depression, among other disorders.

I live with 3 teenagers and I’m only too painfully aware that much of what they learn in school will most likely never be of any use to them in their lifetime. Learning the anatomy of a frog via dissection will – I suggest – be of no use to my 15-year-old son who wishes to become a quantum physicist.

A YouTube video by Dave Brown called ‘Don’t Stay in School’, brought to my attention by my 17-year-old son, captures the irrelevance to pupils of much of what is taught in schools.  The video has had over 15 million views – this suggests there’s a message here that resonates with many!

“Could we discuss domestic abuse and get the facts
or how to help my depressed friend with their mental state?”
Ummm… no but learn mental maths
because, “You won’t have a calculator with you every day!”

Schools teach simultaneous equations, how to play the recorder and tongue taste maps (does anyone actually care which part of the tongue is responsible for recording sweet tastes, and which is responsible for salty and sour?) but rarely are kids taught how to hold their thoughts in a balanced awareness or how they might direct kindness towards difficult inner-experience.  These are skills that can be used every day, in pretty much every moment… it doesn’t get much more useful than that!

If aliens from outer-space are watching humankind with awareness of our current priorities and of our deep divisions and suffering, they must quite justifiably think that we’re utterly insane!

Heather Mac2As part of my PhD, I’ve created an adolescent version of the Mindfulness Based Living Course – it’s called ‘Mindfulness Based Living Course – Young Adults (MBLC-YA)’.  I had been teaching mindfulness in some of Scotland’s more forward-thinking schools and the curriculum that I was delivering was well-received, but there was a notable absence of the compassion element and an emphasis on training the mind rather than getting in touch with the deeper wisdom of the body – most especially the heart.

I recognised, of course, that talking to teens (particularly early teens) about the deep wisdom of the body would likely result in sniggers and yawns, and so the MBLC-YA approaches kindness and compassion in a way that I think all of us can approach it – with humour, gentleness and a real recognition that our ability to grow kindness can help to make the world a better place.  Teens really get this, and if the sessions engage them and meet them where they’re at, then their natural passion and enthusiasm to create real change in the world can be harnessed.

The MBLC-YA is the only secondary-school mindfulness curriculum in the UK, at the present time, that specifically aims to increase pupils’ levels of self-compassion as well as mindfulness.  In research-terms, teaching self-compassion in schools is promising in the potential benefits it may confer, but it’s very, very new.  Teaching self-compassion in schools and other youth organisations is a radical act of creating the world we want to see… join us at the cutting-edge!

Our first teacher training retreat is 4th-9th August 2017 at Samye Ling.  Click here for more information about training to teach the Mindfulness Based Living Course for Young Adults (MBLC-YA).

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Day Places Available for the Samye Ling June Conference: Mindfulness in Society!

Woman Meditating Into The Crowd At Sunset

We now have a limited number of day places available for the 2017 Samye Ling conference: Mindfulness in Society, exclusive to MA Members only for £70.00 per day! Please book as soon as possible to avoid disappointment. Each day will begin with an hour of guided meditation from 8-9am and the first keynote speech will begin at 9.30am. Lunch will be 12.30pm till 2.30pm with MBLC poster presentations taking place for an hour from 1.30pm. The final session each day will begin at 7.00pm and end at 8.30pm.

On Friday 16th June you can enjoy keynote speeches from Professor Paul Gilbert and Vidyamala Burch in the morning and then a choice to attend a workshop with either Paul or Vidyamala in the afternoon. There is a selection of MA master classes to choose from late afternoon such as Level 1: Being Present, Level 2: Responding with Compassion, Level 3: Seeing Deeply or Compassionate Movement from 4.30-6.00pm. The day will end with a showing of the film Akong: A Remarkable Life on Friday evening.

On Saturday 17th June we have Dr. Rick Hanson and Sharon Salzberg presenting keynote speeches in the morning and then a choice to attend a workshop with either Rick or Sharon in the afternoon. There is a selection of MA taster sessions to chose from late afternoon such as a Teaching Skills, Compassion at work, Engaged Mindfulness or Buddhist Foundations from 4.30-6.00pm. The final session of the day from 7.00-8.30pm will include research presentations from the University of Aberdeen staff and MSc presentations from some of the students.

For more information and to book: please email info@mindfulnessassociation.net

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Importance of Sangha

I’ve really come to realise lately how important it is to have a community of like minded people around you. The word we use for this is sangha, which is a Pali word meaning  community of practitioners, people we share our lives with. It is our network where we find others on a spiritual journey similar to our own. Thich Nhat Hanh would say, it is more than a community, it is a deep spiritual practice.


Our path to sangha often begins by starting a mindfulness course. A new group of people begin their journey together in the first weekend where they all meet, often not knowing each other and at the end of the weekend  you find deep connections and friendships are  made.  I have just taught an afternoon of silent mindfulness practice with a group of men and women who just finished an 8 week program. The sense of community was strong after 8 weeks of teaching, transformation and deep sharing with each other. It is so important after any training to remain amongst this type of community. I felt this recently after teaching with Heather and Ian at Samye Ling on a foundation level one weekend.  So many connections were made with each other throughout the weekend,  I could just feel  the nervousness at the start of the weekend that transformed into excitement by the end. One of the great thing about being in a group is the ability to transform together, but in our own way at our own pace. Throughout our courses and especially when they finish, it is essential to keep in contact with people that have trained and continue to practice as it helps us maintain our own practice.

I am lucky to teach mindfulness regularly and have a growing community of people around me now. Why is this important you might ask?  Well, a few weeks ago, I met a group locally, we meet monthly and each time we get together we practice and then spend the rest of the two hours talking about mindfulness, listening to each other’s opinions and thoughts, and share what we are currently teaching. It is a way of supporting each other, sharing ideas and opening dialogue with people that really understand. It can help to generate new ideas, decide on new ways forward and expand knowledge. As I was leaving the last session, I really felt a sense of how valuable these sessions are to me and making time to meet regularly to chat in this way.

Without sangha, it is really easy to lose your way with regular practice especially if you are new to mindfulness and finding a group helps us to maintain this. If you don’t have a group locally why not start one and see who might be interested in your area. You might be surprised who is local and would be willing to meet at your house. You can share where you meet, our host had made a beautiful lemon sponge, not compulsory of course!  It just takes one person to begin the process, why not let that be you.

The great thing about the Mindfulness Association, as it is growing, is that is it offers weekly Thursday sits where you can bring sangha into your own home and feel the community around you without leaving the house.  Every week there is live practice and once a month teaching. Every week you have the opportunity to ask questions, hear others and share your thoughts. There is also the new Monday members sits too.  By doing this you feel supported which then helps to maintain your practice. Good luck, find a community to tap into, it’s so worth it.

-Tina Gibert

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