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Over the past year I have regularly been running Being on Your Own Side sessions for the Colne Open Door charity, thanks to funding from East Lancashire’s Clinical Commissioning Group’s Social Prescribing Fund and, more recently, the Lancashire Community Foundation Red Rose fund. Why did I decide to put together this course, based on stuff I have gleaned over the years that has worked for me, then hiked into town to run it when I could have been sitting in front of the telly with my feet up? Good question!

 Well, as another human being who has lived with the Covid cloud hovering over her head, I know that we really do need to be on our own side if we want to move forward and be the best we can be as we go through the day. I am passionate about sharing the bits of ‘wisdom’ that are not only rooted in my own life experiences but are also informed by discoveries from my time as a coach and trainer.

In a friendly and relaxed small group setting, participants have learned about the bits of neuroscience – light touch but profound – that I have gone on about in previous articles (such as the brain’s negativity bias, the amygdala hijack and how our brain can’t properly distinguish between what’s real and what’s imagined). It’s all interesting ‘stuff ’ that sheds a light on how and why we can struggle with some of the demands of daily life. People turn up to the sessions because they are motivated to look at what might enhance their wellbeing. I describe the course as being like a box of chocolates (or a tray of hors d’oeuvre if you’re being posh). You might pick one up – the caramel one, in my case – think it’s yummy and gobble it up. Alternatively, you may think it’s not the one you fancy (yuck… it’s one of those orange creams) so you can leave it. One size doesn’t fit all but there’s always something tasty on the menu, hopefully.

“OUR BRAIN CAN’T PROPERLY DISTINGUISH BETWEEN WHAT’S REAL AND WHAT’S IMAGINED”

I have three companions with me on these little adventures… Brian the Brain, Penny the Panda and Smiley Bob who has previously made an appearance in the Northern Life pages. Brian helps with the explanations about the technical bits of neuroscience. He is plain speaking – no clever Latin names such as cerebellum or corpus callosum for him. He knows that, thanks to the negativity bias, the brain focuses on the bad stuff and so we need to go out of our way to notice the good and let it sink in. To pinch a quote from Rick Hanson, ‘it works like Velcro for the bad and Teflon for the good’. If we set an intention to develop the habit of taking in the good then we are indeed being on our own side.

 Like most of us, Penny all too frequently has a busy head full of stuff – often about the past or the future – that makes her anxious. She demonstrates how we can get out of our heads and ground ourselves in the present moment by remembering to pause and take a breath. Smiley Bob just wants to remind us to show ourselves some kindness and self-compassion at difficult times. So, with these three by my side, my job is easy. I have really enjoyed the time I have spent with the lovely people at Open Door. Feedback from the courses has been positive with group members appreciating the laughter and connection with others.

Penny the Panda all too frequently has
a busy head full of stuff

 Recognising that we are not alone in our struggles and sharing moments of warmth is empowering. The challenge is finding ways of weaving the mindfulness and kindness practices into daily life, so that our resilience muscle is strengthened. After all, to quote a Japanese proverb, “the bamboo that bends is stronger than the oak that resists”. And, as Albus Dumbledore said, “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”

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Here are some bits on offer from my box of chocs. The choice is yours. Take your pick and reconnect with the present moment, shifting from ‘doing mode’ into ‘being mode’. After all, we are human beings and not human doings.

• Press the pause button and check in with whatever thoughts, feelings or emotions are around, accepting things just as they are right now. Then gently direct attention for a few minutes to the breath in the belly to help anchor you in the present moment. Maybe to a count of 4 or 5, soothing the nervous system and bringing about a sense of stillness.

• Go for a little mindful walk. Start by focusing attention on the physical sensations of each step you take. Then, become aware of the sights, sounds and feelings as you move forward. If your mind wanders off and gets caught up in thinking – as it probably will – you can bring it back, gently returning your focus by repeating “left, right” as you walk.

• Do a mini body scan. Take a few deep breaths, noticing the sensations of your feet on the floor and, if you are sitting down, the sensations present wherever your body is touching the chair. Then check in to see where you are holding tension. Is it in the belly, the arms, hands, feet? Or somewhere else? Often, we can be tense in our shoulders, jaw and face without realising. Wherever you notice the tension, on an out breath allow it to be released. When you’re done take another deep breath, maybe have a bit of a shake or wriggle and notice the difference.

• Notice something that is here right now with each of your five senses. This a particularly helpful when we have busy heads and get stuck in overthinking. Look around and spot 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste. Doing all of this will pull the mind into the present and give it a rest from swirling thoughts for a moment or two. Every little bit of rest helps it.

 • Have a mindful brew, again using all of your five senses. Or maybe really savouring the flavour of a favourite sweet, biscuit or piece of fruit. See what you notice when you come off autopilot and become fully here, now. Becoming aware of what’s happening while it’s happening rather than getting stuck in to thinking about the past or anticipating the future. Whatever you decide to pick from the box, take in the good and be on your own side. We can set an intention to enjoy life’s enriching little moments, motivated by a wish to improve our wellbeing.

Melva is running a series of Being on Your Own Side resilience courses, at the Colne Open Door Centre. The courses consist of four one and a half hour sessions in small groups of six. They are free and are open to everyone. Contact Dawn Lange at the Colne Open Door Centre (01282 860342 or manager@opendoorcentre.org.uk) if you want more information.

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