The new book Mindfulness for Women, published by Hachette, is poised to bring the myriad benefits of mindfulness to today’s overextended woman, whilst emphasising the simplicity and accessibility of this ancient discipline.
Full of practitioner testimonials, mindfulness metaphors and accompanied by a meditation CD, Mindfulness for Women is the result of a collaboration between mindfulness guru and co-founder of international organisation Breathworks Vidyamala Burch and Claire Irvin, magazine editor, mother and wife (one could say, the epitome of the modern multitasking woman).
We spoke to Vidyamala about its release
- What has mindfulness – at its simplest, the sensation of being aware and living in the moment – helped you achieve personally?
Following a spinal injury when I was in my teens, my life was characterised by pain, injury and disability.
Hospitalised in 1985, I was taught a basic medication. With it came the revelation that what I did with my mind could alter my subjective experience. This awoke in me a tremendous curiosity.
A subsequent period of denial about my injury, a frenzied and unsustainable stint working in the film industry and further hospitalisation saw me begin to apply mindfulness in a meaningful way to my life.
After practising mindfulness in the intervening decades, I now have an amazing life, a great quality of life, a harmonious life, a life which I believe others would look on with envy.
I still suffer from chronic pain, but I am no longer fighting with it. Mindfulness, over time, was responsible for a complete perspective shift, with the result that the impact of pain on my life has decreased by a factor of 10.
- Why this book, why now?
Undeniably, mindfulness is having its moment.
But whilst there are a number of generalist titles out there on mindfulness, something unashamedly for women by women did not exist.
I was approached to co-author a book with a female journalist fit exactly for that purpose. I wanted to be involved in a book that I felt was needed – after all, women comprise 51% of our population, are innately selfless, putting others above themselves, and typically stretched, juggling careers, partners, children, parents. They are also more prone to depression than men.
The project was also attractive to me because of [co-author] Claire’s involvement. With a demanding career, a husband, two small children and a daily commute, she in many ways typifies the modern woman (and its inevitable corollary – being incredibly time poor).
Accordingly, the challenge was to present the material in a manner in which women like Claire would easily digest it. One of the ways in which we try to achieve this in the book is charting Claire’s lived experience of my teachings and the meditations – including her disappointment when she didn’t manage to make the time to meditate or fell asleep instead, as well as her elation when she was able to find the time to practice and its benefits were tangible to her.
- What can mindfulness help the modern woman achieve?
Modern society is so loud and characterised by an excess of information. People are wired because they are constantly having to absorb this riot of information and communication. This has a tendency to make us stressed, scattered and fragmented.
Scientific study endorses this view – that the modern world is resulting in the overstimulation of our sympathetic nervous systems – that part of our autonomic nervous system responsible for our Fight, Flight or Freeze response. Yes, this response is part of our evolutionary biology, it is important, but the hyper-activation of this response actually has negative implications for our long term health.
I think that women – born multi-taskers, determined to do it all – are particularly susceptible to this overstimulation of the sympathetic nervous system.
Practising mindfulness, with its focus on the parasympathetic nervous system – or the ‘calm and connect’ system – can help down-regulate the sympathetic nervous system, and up-regulate the parasympathetic nervous system. In short, a mindfulness practice is precisely what can help the modern woman turn down the volume on everything that comes at her. Ancillary benefits include a hugely improved ability to focus and prioritise (key attributes you lose when you are stressed), as well as an increased capacity to relate to others (read: your personal relationships will improve). Finally, for those suffering from pain, a ramping up of the parasympathetic nervous system corresponds with increased endorphin production, the natural painkiller.
- Your ‘go-to’ meditations?
Keeping in mind that meditation is the gym, if you like, for mindfulness (where you put the work in to get the results), there are three that I would recommend:
- A micro meditation – one that may be performed anywhere, at any time – is when in doubt, breathe out. That is, stop and breathe out. Repeat. It is that simple.
- The Three Minute Breathing Spaces Meditation. Available at http://www.breathworks-mindfulness.org.uk/3-min-breathing-space.
- A body scan. This will take 10 minutes and is available on the CD accompanying the book. It’s about coming into your body.
3 Things About Mindfulness You May Not Be ‘Aware’ Of
- Sure, mindfulness can help you relax, but it can help you achieve much more than that. The real power of mindfulness is its ability to completely change our perception of the world – to help us realise that everything is changing all the time, and that life is fluid. Our modern lives can make us feel as though we are trapped in a pinball machine. When practising mindfulness, you are resting in a river.
- You cannot achieve mindfulness without being kind and compassionate. They are two sides of the same coin. Remember, you cannot be truly kind and caring toward others unless you treat yourself in the same way. It starts at home.
- Mindfulness practice advocates self-compassion over self-esteem. The former requires you to love yourself as you are, not in relation to others, whilst the latter can be associated with narcissism, competitiveness and reactive anger. Mindfulness does not demand that you be special.
Vidyamala Burch is the co-author of Mindfulness for Women with Claire Irvin, published by Hachette Australia RRP$35.00