UNISON member Darren Buckland is an assistant practitioner with the Community Neurology Service in Nottingham, an integrated NHS and local authority team helping people with neurological conditions.
He works primarily with people suffering from Parkinson’s Disease. As part of his job he’s been taking part in a project that has started to use mindfulness, a meditative technique, in working with patients – not just with Parkinson’s, but multiple sclerosis, Huntingdon’s disease and epilepsy.
Darren and his colleagues spend time with patients, helping them to look at their negative thought processes, as well as teaching strategies for managing anxiety, stress and depression.
But as a practising Buddhist, he’s a firm believer in mindfulness as a technique that can be helpful for any one of us tackling today’s increasing pressures.
“Mindfulness is about the connection between the body and the senses, your feelings, thoughts, emotions – to understand what’s going on,” he explains.
“It’s all about awareness of how you work, about not being inward and only focussed on yourself, but feeling positive emotion, thinking of others, being inclusive.
“Sometimes things are difficult in your life and they’re not going to change. Mindfulness can help to bring some acceptance to that. Instead of feeling lost, it helps you get a bit of distance, to make more informed, creative choices rather than acting habitually.”
To that end, Darren has started a mindfulness group for fellow staff at his workplace, which he runs every Tuesday morning.
As he explains, the 45-minute sessions include a number of practices:
- the body scan. “Sit comfortably, shut your eyes, try to sense different parts of your body – not visualise them, but try to sense them, paying close attention to what you feel and the details of the experience.”
- Mindful breathing. “Sit upright, focus on your breathing, on your experience.”
- Loving kindness meditation. “Focus on kindness for yourself, close friends, someone neutral you have no knowledge of, someone you find difficult. With your eyes closed, tune in and try to feel positive emotion”.
- Mindful movement. “Take off your shoes, slowly walk around the room, tune into the sensation of your feet touching the floor, paying attention to the moment.”
The sessions also involve conversation. “We discuss working with stress and difficult thought processes,” he says. “Human beings have a bias towards negativity – we’re primed to look for danger. In our class we try to look at how the mind works in that way, and become more positive.”
His managers have signed off on the sessions, because they can see that the staff benefit. Fourteen people have signed up so far, with classes averaging around five, depending on people’s commitments. Since all of his colleagues work in the community, they meet in the mornings.
“The session offers a bit of time out. It’s a time for reflection, to sit and talk with others about daily stresses and strains, and to support each other, so that you don’t feel isolated,” says Darren.
“It does seem to be very helpful to the regulars. Over time it gives you ways of managing a stressful, difficult day.”
For the mindfulness project in his work, Darren did an eight-week course, then sat in on two mindfulness teacher-training sessions. But he says that mindfulness “uses a lot of stuff I had been doing for years.” And he cites Yoga and Tai chi as associated practices.
He says there are more and more mindfulness groups available, and urges anyone to give it a try.
“We are all caught on a runaway train. Sometimes you just need to put the breaks on, so that you can then jump back on with a different view.”
Photograph by Timm Sonnenschein