Rebecca-Anne Withey: New Year, New You. Deaf-Friendly Mindfulness Meditation

Posted on January 8, 2013

A few years ago I trained to become a teacher of Mindfulness Meditation. This vocation came to me by surprise, the training offered by the charity I was working for at the time. I had a naive idea of what to expect, lots sitting cross legged and chanting I assumed, but boy was I wrong!

The initial 8 week training course was pretty hard core. I found out that Mindfulness simply means the act of being fully present, without drifting into the past or the future or getting bogged down with negative thoughts about situations or feelings.

We looked at mental health issues and became familiar with meditations beneficial for those with depression, anxiety or chronic pain. I was amazed by real-life stories of people who had overcome years of ill mental health using Mindfulness and others who live peacefully with painful physical conditions simply by applying Mindfulness too.

The group I studied with explored the mind and its tendency to chatter. Fun activities had us all gasping with realisation or laughing as we noticed our mind’s predisposition to worry, planning or droning on with random information. We saw how the mind is a bit like a chattering monkey, always moving – swinging from branch to branch – and seeking new food for thought.

It was this discovery that led us to understand how negative thoughts and ways of thinking contribute to poor mental health. Restless thinking can contribute to feelings of low self-worth, anxiety and not being good enough which can encourage addictive behaviour as we try to fill an empty hole inside us.

There was quite a lot of self-reflection involved in this course and I became aware of my own negative thinking patterns. It wasn’t always easy to learn these things about myself. It takes courage to be honest but one reassuring thing about Mindfulness is how it encourages you to go easy on yourself, and be your own best friend.

Realising I could talk to myself in a more positive and less critical way was a big step. I no longer had to beat myself up for not being perfect!

I also found that Mindfulness meditation is portable and adaptable, you can choose to practice the methods that suit you and leave out the ones that don’t. You can use moments in ordinary life to meditate, ranging from having a meal, brushing your teeth, washing up and even the simple act of walking.

And you can use the formal sitting and lying meditations to gently discipline the mind and cultivate a sense of ‘relaxed awareness’ in which you can begin to reclaim a sense of control over your thoughts and emotions.

Now to be honest, I never thought I’d be able to meditate. How would I ever hear the teacher with my eyes shut?! I soon learnt that it was possible to follow a meditation using a sign language interpreter and soon I memorised the instructions enough to take myself through the meditation with my eyes closed.

I completed my teacher training on the Holy Isle off the coast of Scotland in the form of a ten day retreat. Here we lived the Mindfulness methods each day, beginning with Tai Chi and a silent meditation at 7.30am and ending at 10pm after a day of exercises, discussions and meditations.

I discovered so much about myself during this week of no television, newspapers or mobile phones. It was like all the meditations had cleared out all the junk in my head and made room for new experiences and a new start.

Shortly after ‘graduating’ I started teaching Mindfulness to groups across the West Midlands with much success. I worked with a group of people who lived with chronic pain and illness as well as running three drop in sessions for the general public. The Primary Care Trust and their physiotherapy term were particularly interested in the sessions as well as individuals who had battled depression and were looking for some kind of mental escape from their demons.

I was also lucky enough to attend a talk by Jon Kabat-Zinn, the man responsible for bringing Mindfulness to the Western world and the founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction / Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. He spoke to me privately about the work I deliver and I was inspired by his belief that when it comes to accessibility, ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way.’

When Jon returned to the USA I received an email from his office asking me to keep him informed of the teaching methods used to teach Mindfulness to deaf people. To date I had not received any official interest from deaf charities or organisations to run these classes so I decided to set some up myself to ‘test the water’.

I delivered a session at Sign Circle, a short course at Sandwell Deaf Association as well as leading a weekly drop in meditation class. But it became increasingly clear to me that there was not enough awareness amongst the deaf community of mental health issues or meditation, nor did they believe they were actually capable of improving their state of mind.

There are considerably high numbers of people with depression, anxiety and other mental health issues in the deaf community. But without clear access to alternative information, they are not being given a fair opportunity to reap the benefits of Mindfulness.

That said, you do not have to have a health condition to benefit from practising Mindfulness. You might simply want to explore feeling deeply relaxed and comfortable in your own skin, or even be curious as to the workings of your own mysterious mind.

It is my intention to share what I have learnt and benefitted from and so I will be posting a series of written blogs as well as sign language videos as an official:

“Deaf-friendly Introduction to Mindfulness.”

These resources are completely free of charge and I will also be inviting you to send me your feedback to be used for the delivery of future courses.

If you would like to be informed of when these are available, do send me your email address and I will let you know each time a new blog and video has been posted.

Exciting, transformational times lie ahead.
Happy New Year!

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