As the nights turn darker earlier and the leaves turn brown and fall from the trees, perhaps it’s a nice time to get together with others to practise Mindfulness? And to bring ourselves into the moment. Well the good news is that there is a new mindfulness group starting in Woodhouse!
Steve Hart is an experienced Mindfulness and Meditation practitioner and will be facilitating drop-in sessions along with other facilitators from Leeds Mindfulness at Oblong, Woodhouse Community Centre The sessions start on the 19th October – on Wednesdays from 7.15pm -8.45pm.
Steve is a friendly fellow with a gentle approach and I am sure that it will be a lovely community down there. The sessions are intended for anyone who is interested and all are more than welcome. Steve describes the sessions as ‘ Simple meditation exercises using awareness of breath and body and self nurturing and loving kindness meditation.’
Practising Mindfulness can bring many benefits for everyone, especially if you are feeling stressed or fatigued and it’s also good for pain management. It can help us to achieve a state of calm and tranquillity, a positive mental state and to have a better connection with others.
Certainly it will be a nice community down there.. pop along.. I intend to!
Steve can be contacted on 07999 218450 if you need any more information,
It’s understandable, says Sue Margaret that if emotional and/or mental distress is part of our lived experience, to focus on that, but Next Monday, the 20th of June, will be an opportunity to focus on something which might aid our emotional wellbeing.
Focusing on photography is the theme of a five sessions community activity organised by Leeds City Libraries.
The first session which I attended, took place a couple of weeks ago during Mental Health Awareness week (MHAW16). The focus of MHAW16 week was the value of people’s relationships on their all round wellbeing. Few would doubt the value of relationships to wellbeing, whether that relationship is with self or others, and it would be hard to have one without the other.
Having an absorbing hobby is well known to be a useful aid in having a happy relationship with yourself, and having hobbies and interests help many transcend the cares of their everyday life.
The intention of the ‘Focus on Photography’ sessions is to bring local folks together to collaborate on a short photographic project, it will involve discussion and practise.
Participants will be encouraged to bring along any existing photographs they’ve taken, as well as engage in a local field trip.
Getting involved in group activities can be anxiety provoking for many, especially if it’s the first time. Meeting strangers may similarly be nerve wracking. The event took place at my local library, a place with which I feel ‘at home’ and this helped dispel any reservations I might have had.
It was obvious that the sessions being launched in MHAW16 would include some mention of mental health. A simple quiz about mental health acted as an ice-breaker.The main focus however was on photography and relationships. Nevertheless people did feel comfortable enough to share some of their experiences and observations about mental wellbeing in the community.
Bramley Library is flooded with natural light because not only does it have huge windows but it also has two art deco glass roof domes. These allow our wonderful, ever changing moody English skies, to influence the mood of this particularly, ideal photographic location. The location has on previous occasions inspired and enabled me to capture some atmospheric shots.
I’ve no particular ambition time or money …..yet! to be more than a phone camera snapper. I do have other digital cameras but they are less convenient. Like many people nowadays my phone is always conveniently to hand.
I’m particularly interested in the results reflected light and reflections in glass add to photographic images so I think I’ll make this my focus…..
‘Reflections on a Summer of Light’
If you are in the area at 5pm on the dates mentioned below look forward to sharing ideas and photographs.
I was recently diagnosed with diabetes. One of the things I have to do to keep it under control is walk for half an hour day. I’ve not been much of a walker for years and so this is a bit of a challenge for me! My friend and fellow Leeds Wellbeing Webber Su is a big fan of walking, so I interviewed her about this. We sat outside the Abbey Inn pub that borders Horsforth and Bramley and took some photos of the area.
Many people, if not most, get into a habit of not exercising and have little motivation to change this. What would you suggest to overcome this Su?
I do struggle with motivation. Sometimes arranging to go with someone else is enough to focus on doing it, or convincing myself that I’m really not fit and listening to my body. I need to just get on and do it and dedicate myself to it. A practical thing I do is to write a large memo as a prompt and place it somewhere prominent as a reminder that I want to get out of the house and walk.
People often say walking is the best exercise and can raise your mood. What is your experience of this?
I think that is absolutely true. And there are benefits to walking with other people, for companionship and safety. I did have a time where I dedicated myself to doing it everyday. I’d do it without headphones and music, take a notebook because solutions to problems that seemed insurmountable would kind of float to the surface as you’re walking. Kind of like meditation. If you’re doing it by yourself, you can enter into that state.
Where and when do you like to walk?
Because there isn’t always someone to go with, it has to be local. That’s Leeds 13, Bramley. When I’ve felt fitter, I have walked from Bramley to Horsforth, across the boundary, the river and canal. That’s a nice long walk. I like Bramley Fall Woods and Bramley park. There is a fabulous view from there. I like Half Mile Lane, which borders Bramley and Farsley. Going further afield, Roundhay Park and Woodhouse Moor are pleasant. I attend Leeds University and the campus is an enjoyable place to walk, it includes Saint George’s field.
Have you always enjoyed walking?
Yes it was very much part of my upbringing. We always walked to school, I walked at least four miles a day, to and from Primary School. I always walked to work. But I’m not a hiker or country rambler, I find that hard nowadays. I walk to the shops and town. I keep in mind it should be a daily activity.
To summarise then, motivation can be improved by having a walking companion, using prompts to focus, walking can help you to think more clearly and gain insight into any problems, Walking is an opportunity to enjoy nature and it’s scenery, it is the best exercise and helps raise your mood.
This is a workshop hosted by the What Works Centre for Wellbeing at the Faculty of Health and Social Sciences, Leeds Beckett University on Thursday, 10th September 2015 from 09:30 to 12:30 to examine how wellbeing evidence can be used to improve community wellbeing. The workshop is an opportunity for you to inform the early stages of a key evidence programme which will have national impact.
The What Works Centre for Wellbeing is a UK government-funded initiative recently launched by the What Works Network to enable a range of stakeholders to access independent, high quality, accessible evidence syntheses on wellbeing.
This workshop will explore how wellbeing evidence can be useful in the day-to-day work of those working in a range of sectors including local government, the voluntary and community sector, public health, housing and the private sector. It is aimed primarily at those in the Yorkshire region.
We will be focusing on policy areas related to place and community, including planning, housing, built environment, social capital, participation, public health, green space, transport, and community development. The issues the What Works Centre focusses on will be determined based on this stakeholder engagement, so these workshops represent an important early opportunity to influence the Centre’s work.
During the session we will be tackling questions such as:
•What ingredients are important for community wellbeing?
•How can your work enhance community wellbeing?
•What are the key challenges in our work for improving community wellbeing?
•How might wellbeing, a focus on wellbeing, wellbeing data, or effective wellbeing interventions, address these challenges?
•What gaps are there in wellbeing evidence?
There are just 12 tickets left so if you want one, sign up for What Works at:
Daniel has been contributing his poems and blog posts to the Wellbeing Web for two years, we recently spoke together about the many things he does that aid his wellbeing. Our informal chats revealed the intriguing blend of ancient and modern techniques, and pastimes which Daniel uses to keep positive.
The first of our chats took place during our trip to buy essential oils and joss sticks that might help our respective current mood. Among the blends we chose was myrrh, known from ancient times for its medicinal and spiritual healing properties. When we next met to conclude our discussion we burned the myrrh.
People have been orating and writing poetry from ancient times as their muse inspired. Daniel’s recent such musings, ‘Road of Joy’, was his latest blog post. Daniel combines poetry, the ancient means of expressing thought and feeling with the modern art of blogging. Previous discussions had us pondering how and in what way we considered thought and feeling.differed, hindered or helped us in our wellbeing. Lets see if of the things Daniel engages with give any hints if we reached a conclusion.
I like spending time with close friends, playing and listening to music, meditating, consulting the I Ching, reflecting on Zen,Tao and Buddhist philosophy. In addition I take part in a variety of skill based and healthy living courses at Inkwell and Swarthmore Education Centre, this last twelve months it has included; creative writing; short stories, poetry writing, web design, group Alexander Technique sessions, and art classes. Workshops at Leeds Mind have also helped me with my confidence and to work on relaxation techniques.
Knowing very little about consulting the I Ching, I asked Daniel to describe the practice and how he feels this helps him.
The I Ching is an ancient Chinese book which traditionally is consulted by use of either throwing coins or willow sticks to determine which of its 64 hexagrams to read. It is similar to the way some Christians use bibliomancy when seeking guidance. After opening the bible at random any text found there is taken as a guideline for resolving a particular issue that may be troubling the person.
I use coins when I consult the I Ching, I feel this works on the principle of synchronicity, enabling and revealing advice and information from the book in a way I find profound.
and he explained what about this is enjoyable, and how he deals with any ‘nerves’ when performing at gigs.
I find playing a musical instrument raises my spirits, which is cathartic. Socializing with other band members during the nine years we’ve been together is beneficial, and it’s helped me not to watch too much telly.
As a kid I liked listening to electronic music and had a keyboard bought as a present. Earlier this year it was highly enjoyable to see the band Icebreaker, who play electronic music, at Howard Assembly Rooms, and I reviewed it for the Wellbeing Web see here,
I can read music a bit but mostly play by ear. Jamming at our weekly rehearsals or on other occasions when me and my mates are just relaxing is fun.
Public performance isn’t something I ever envisaged the band doing, it only happened because we stood in at short notice for another band. Although I get nervous before a gig, my confidence is helped by both the social support of the other band members, and by keeping in mind that I’ve done it sucessfully on previous occasions.
Daniel acknowledged that like most of us keeping active and remaining positive are beneficial for our wellbeing, but that it’s not always easy to remain upbeat. I asked Daniel when the ‘going gets tough’ which of the things he lists is he best able to hang on to.
I’d say it’s the things I can easily access at home, or close to home that help me if I get down. Contact with my friends who live nearby, and the meditation on ancient philosophies and techniques which I can do at home are my mainstays. In recent years however access to modern technology via the internet and my smart phone have also helped.
Discussions with Daniel about wellbeing didn’t reveal a clear divide between thought and feeling, except perhaps that they are flip-sides of the same coin. We might sometimes find ourselves relying more on one side than the other but Daniels use of ancient and modern techniques shows he does much to keep them well balanced.
Chase away any late Autumnal blues by transporting yourself to Scarborough
for some thrills 2097 style, when it has now become SEKABO, a Provence of China!
The rather risque lifestyle of one of its family dynasties is uncovered, and the technological advancement of ‘e-spexs’ has become a novel aid to the wellbeing of it’s octogenarian residents, and others who were once preserved cryonically.
You may never view Scarborough in quite the same way again.
The novel is to be presented by its author, Richard Woolley at a FREE book launch on
Refreshments will be on sale in the centre’s cafe.
The author of Sekabo, Richard Woolley has lived both in exotic and local locations. Headingley and Hong Kong are exotic, as is Sekabo. Richard’s experiences at home and abroad, together with his varied and fascinating work in the arts, are sure to make this an animated book launch. An event not to be missed.
Something else for the future…….in the Spring of 2015 is the Headingley Literary Festival, theorganisers of which are busy planning more events for your enjoyment. Look out for the programme due to be published in January of the New Year.
Jude Woods is Assistant Community Curator at Leeds Art Gallery and I heard her speak at a recent meeting of the local arts group Scattered Leaves, where she talked about her work encouraging people who don’t usually go to art galleries to come in and see what there is on display. I didn’t need persuading since I’ve always thought free access to art is a brilliant thing to have in any city. Jude promised to write us a piece about her work for this blog in the near future, but in the meantime sent details of what looks to be a very interesting event coming up, combining art and social history, on December 1st.
One of the speakers, Carol Sorhaindo, worked for Leeds Mind’s community art project, and has run stalls selling her fabulous art work at Inkwell Summer events, so her perspective on ‘art from a post colonial perspective’ will be particularly interesting.
The saying “when the student is ready the teacher will appear”, is often incorrectly attributed to Buddha. Regardless of who first coined the phrase, I find it a wise saying, and applicable to myself as a student of body learning.
Recently over a period of days it’s wisdom floated up into my consciousness. A aha moment as I was practicing the Zen art of washing up!. I’m not making fun of such philosophies. I do believe there is much to be gained spiritually from doing seemingly mundane chores, especially if whilst doing them we remain mindful of body use. I don’t always feel so reverential towards my dirty crockery, this particular episode of enlightenment came soon after a ‘top up’ Alexander Technique Lesson.
I was first introduced to the Alexander Technique many years ago after recurrent attacks of debilitating and painful back spasm. At that time my focus was primarily on relieving pain, I did not complete the recommended course of 12 weekly sessions. The student was not ready. In more recent years I did take the full, one-to-one course. I now see my current teacher, Grant Ragsdale, just a few times a year. and often when I am ill at ease with self or external events. I saw Grant this week for a ‘top-up’, on this occasion ……the student was ready.
I don’t consider myself a particularly good pupil, or example of effective body use. I easily slip back into poor use, hunching shoulders or slumping my spine, thereby compressing my chest. and constricting my breathing. Maintaining poise is an ideal but I look forward to being ‘topped up’, applying the principles more fully, and with gratitude well in to later life. Having a lesson always frees me up, although immediately after I might feel disoriented, as if I’m in a different body and head space. A lifetime of poor use is hard to undo.
Habitual misuse can be the result of defending ourselves from perceived, or actual physical and emotional threats. In addition circumstance might mean we constantly act out of harmony with our feelings, by so doing we risk cutting our thought off from feeling, I do, and that’s why reminders are necessary. I find the Alexander Technique lessons serves as a reminder.
That the physical and emotional influences, we experience during childhood impact on our health and well-being can hardly be disputed. If our physiological inheritance is sound, and we are lucky to observe from “significant others”, effective use of emotions and body, our general resilience can be enhanced. We therefore have a better chance of withstanding the many ordinary, and extraordinary life events we humans face. If our role models in childhood did not allow us to mirror a useful sense of self, it makes inroads on our later resilience, it’s then that our emotional balance figures large in bodily tension. It is easy to see how when under stress this can be the tipping point for mental distress. Should this happen and our distress becomes pathologised, medicalised, the body’s signals along with our voice may get quietened.
The modern Western lifestyle itself can place an additional strain on useful functioning of the body. Within our relationships ‘mirroring ‘ occurs and it ‘s common to imitate dominant physical and emotional traits. Gang culture demonstrates this well, when a particular body stance or swagger signifies membership. Climate too has an influence on the way we use our body. In cultures and climates where less restrictive clothing, and all year round outdoor activitities, allow for freer posture, good use is evident. Inhabitants of developing countries where material disadvantage, and where the oppression of civil unrest is common, nonetheless manage to maintain erect posture well in to old age. We in the West seem less fortunate, our bodies telling the tale of our mind/body split when under stress.
Often times a mental or physical breakdown, though very traumatic, can also be a chance to see what’s up,** through it we may become more aware of our misuse and untenable lifestyle. Awareness is a step toward undoing poor use.The Alexander Technique is a means whereby we can have a go at undoing poor habits. Remaining mindful of the Alexander Tachnique principles is not a cure all. The Alexander Technique as Grant tells us in the following video is about psycho-physical unity. Like most things if you don’t take heed of your body’s signals there will be times faulty body/mind connections might trouble you.
As Grant has explained the ideal way to learn the lesson is in a one-to-one session, and this incurs a fee (concessions may be available).Group lessons are a viable alternative and a cheaper introduction. Grant Ragsdale and his colleague Maureen White offer both methods of learning at the Swarthmore Education Centre. New group sessions commence on Monday 29th September at 3.30p.m.to 5p.m. and on Tuesday 30th September at 6p.m.-7.30p.m., and continue for eight weeks. Swarthmore group sessions are subsidised for some income groups, therefore concessions are available.
Affording lessons can be an issue, at the time I first took a course of lessons, when as currently my income wasn’t huge I still made lessons a priority. I’ve paid for lessons by a combination of forgoing other priorities, or when a L.E.T.S, (Local Exchange and Trading scheme) was active in Leeds, paid in beads!…doing childcare, ironing, cleaning ovens, bookkeeping to accrue beads in the ‘bank’. There are stirrings of similar schemes starting again locally, (if you know of more please share the information).
Learning the Alexander principles has not cast a rosy glow over everything in my life, knowing them did not prevent me from having breakdown. My Alexander teacher at that time was accepting of my seemingly bizarre, unfolding story, having her alongside me accepting of my truth when at my worst, was in itself a stabilising, and calming influence. I am still often presented with troublesome and disquieting times, but I believe the Alexander Technique principles enable me to be more ‘present’, more able to identify thoughts and feelings, and thus to reflect …why do I have this headache, feel tense, have ‘butterflies’,feel elated, high? …..it’s rarely just physical.
* ‘Body Learning’ by Michael Gelb.
An inspiring book about learning and applying the Alexander Technique
** “Inward Bound” by Sam Keen.This book has helped me on many occasions of self doubt.
A few weeks ago I attended a spiritual drumming class in the glade round the back of Clarence House. The class was very enjoyable and the setting led me to think about spirituality and nature.
“If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole life would change.” – Buddha.
It is said the first Zen sermon was given by Buddha, silently. As he simply held a white flower in his hand, the onlooking monks bar one were confused at what Buddha was trying to communicate. The monk who understood smiled. Zen gardens are intended to imitate the inner essence of nature, an aid to meditation on the meaning of life. Japanese researchers claim the subconscious mind is sensitive to a subtle association of between the rocks in these gardens.
Many cultures have ‘sacred groves.’ In Genesis, 21.33, it says,’Abraham planted a grove in Beersheba, and called there the name of God.’ In druidry, sacred groves are seen as places to reconnect with divine essence in nature. This is an example of animism, the belief that non-human entities like animals, plants, stones etc. contain a spiritual essence. In India, sacred groves are also used to protect biological resources, to provide sanctuaries for flora and fauna, especially medicinal herbs. They are also used to provide oxygen and deep ground water reserves.
Sources and bodies of water are also considered sacred in many religions. In the Hindu festivals Durga Puja and Ganseh Chaturthi, thousands of devotees immerse themselves in water to influence a deity. Baptism is far from being just a Christian practice. It is also practiced in Buddhism, Sikhism, Judaism, Islam, Baha’i, Shinto, Taoism and Rastafarianism. Being in harmony with nature is central to Rastafarianism. This is an African influence. Traditionally, African religions embrace the ebb and tide, waxing and waning of the moon, rain and drought. These phenomenas are seen as natural rhythms. Perhaps these rhythms are expressed in African drumming, which can uplift the ‘spirit.’
Sufi poet Rumi often referred to nature – “raise your words, not voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.” Of God, Rumi wrote, “a mountain keeps an echo deep inside. That’s how I hold your voice.” To man, he said, “but listen to me. For one moment quit being sad. Hear blessings dropping their blossoms around you.”
Along with its gardens, poetry in Zen also reveres nature with its haikus, very short poems that capture a moment. Zen paintings literally makes human beings look very small compared to nature. This is sometimes seen as ‘nature mysticism,’ when man is held in awe by the divinity he sees in nature.
One famous Zen master by the name of Dogon Zenji said, “when we pick up a lettuce leaf or a carrot, or engage in relationships, each moment and interaction is the body of the Buddha.” Perhaps this can be compared to one of Christ’s sayings in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, “cleave the wood, I am there; lift up the stone, and you shall find me there.”
A nature and beer adventure led our trio on an unexpected, spiritual journey to sound health.
Our jaunt’s initial goal, on this hot summer morning, appeared straightforward enough…. to re-discover Houghley Gyll, LS13. A few false starts later, from our point of departure on Bramley’s main drag, we stumbled across the green snicket that is the Gyll. We sat there a while allowing the stillness and cool of its shady trees to replenish us. Feeling refreshed we mosied down via Amen Corner to Kirkstall. It is said that Amen Corner got it’s name from medieval times, it being the last point across the half-mile distance from Kirkstall Abbey, when the communal affirmations of the monks was still audible. Nowadays you’d do well to utter a silent prayer as you walk over it since there is only one very narrow footpath on the cramped u bend road bridge, the canal is a sheer drop from the bridge’s low rise stone wall.
We took heed of a Whyther Lane billboard’s admonition to ‘go fun yourself’, and went to a nearby riverside inn. On inquiring what snacks were available, we were informed there had been a rush on the smoked duck, and fancy cheeses. Plain sort of folk by nature we content ourselves with much simpler fayre as accomapaniment to our pints, a bag of roast peanuts. We had the pub garden completely to ourselves, the river’s slow hypnotic eddy lulled us.
An occasional train scuttled passed but did not drown out our discussions, which included whether or not psychiatric diagnosis was useful in the overall wellbeing of those so labelled.
Hollybush farm’s gable end was just visible above the shrubs. It triggered the story of it’s heyday as a rhubarb farm, when at early dawn it’s produce was bundled aboard a cargo train, which stopped nearby at the former station. The rhubarb, a highly valued ‘fruit’, was destined for the Ritz Hotel, in London. Toffs seemingly liked their crumble, possibly after pheasant or smoked duck!
About to depart our separate ways, one among us, bound for a spirituality group drumming circle, invited we two ‘lost souls’ of LS13 to join them. People with mental and emotional sensitivities often find making spontaneous decisions hard, and also doing several activities in one day, taxing. This was true for all present, but on this occasion, bonhomie, the sun’s warmth, and possibly the effect of the beer led to the invite being enthusiastically pounced upon.
Arriving at the venue, Leeds MIND’s, Clarence House, we were ushered into it’s temple like glade or copse.
Since the centre’s inception many wishes for peace of mind have been uttered here, and these seem to linger, permeating it’s atmosphere of contemplation.
We joined a friendly group of around half a dozen other people. The facilitator, Marion, told us how she had came to drumming as a hobby more by coincidence than design. Marion also explained the origins and materials of the impressively tall ‘ethnic’ drums. In addition other percussion instruments were available for us to choose. To heighten the already existing spiritual intent and atmosphere, candles were lit, and incense passed so that we could smell which blend might best suit our mood. We chose Nag Champya, this was also lit. One regular member of the group explained Nag in India means snake. It’s easy to see why it has this name, because as the stick smoulders, its thin shaft of smoke slithers, then hangs heavily, motionless before ascending slowly toward the leaf dappled sky above in moksha. Nag Champya is a mix of sandalwood and frangipani, and has a chypre/sweet perfume which emits an overwhelmingly heady scent. It is often used in ashrams.to promote an out of body experience which enables those present to be transported away from their material concerns.
Among the rhythms we played were Sufi and Ghanaian, we weren’t sure if the Sufi rhythms were what accompany the whirling dervish dances, but they were infectious. Since the rhythms were complex Marion broke the patterns into smaller sections, as we mastered one we gradually progressed enough to also improvise, playing by ear and feeling. We were also encouraged to “give it some welly”,…. very therapeutic for pent up emotions. On this occasion the drumming rhythms helped to breakdown inhibitions. Drumming to invoke spiritual states of mind has a long history.
Despite the enjoyment of the whole day, poignancy mingled with the spiritual awareness of some present, who found themselves remembering former MIND members who had previously shared this space, even helping to plan the garden and pond, and who have since prematurely left ‘this mortal coil’. Thoughts especially of the Michael, the drummer of the former music group Sound Health.
The Leeds Mind, Sprituality group is part of the Wellbeing Service at Clarence House and is open to members of MIND. The group is held every Monday between 2-3.p.m. If you are interested, contact details can be found here