For June’s issue of Planet Mindful magazine – Time Inc’s new mindfulness publication, launched January 2018 – I wrote two features, both exploring different aspects of how mindfulness has been an important part of my recovery from last year’s car accident.
Mindfulness is well and truly having its moment in the sun right now – no longer the preserve of hippies and Buddhist monks, mindfulness has grown increasingly mainstream over the last few years, backed up by scientific research proving its effectiveness.
As someone who’s fairly well immersed in the field of mental health and wellbeing, I’ve always really liked the idea of mindfulness – of existing in the moment, of compassionate acceptance of your circumstances, of taking time out of your day to simply ‘be’. But I’ve always really struggled with it in practice. Over the last 18 months I’ve made some small steps towards harnessing its power to aid in my recovery, and it’s those tentative, wobbly baby steps that I explored for Planet Mindful.
The first of the two features was about my love-hate relationship with running, the difficulty I had with returning to training after multiple fractures, and how mindfulness helped me rediscover my stride.
I’ve always had a complicated relationship with running. After 20 years spent avoiding any form of exercise at all costs, I first laced up my trainers as a bet when I was a student. After several months spent forcing my petite, puny legs up and down the Leamington Spa stretch of the Grand Union Canal tow path, and a 5K race around Hyde Park, I’d pretty much decided that running wasn’t really for me. Frustrated by my weakness, lack of speed or stamina, and all-round slow progress, I concluded that I just wasn’t built for athleticism.
Several years later, after two weeks spent doing as little as possible on an all-inclusive honeymoon, my husband and I decided we needed to do something to shift those newly-wed extra pounds. My trainers were dusted off again and, taking full advantage of our proximity to the beautiful Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, we got into a fairly relaxed routine of jogging together two or three times a week.
Life at the time was complicated. Besides settling into married life, I’d just quit a job that was making me physically and mentally unwell. I’d been on antidepressants for just over 12 months, and I was on the cusp of making the simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating decision to go freelance. Running, I then discovered, was an amazing release – an outlet for my anxieties and frustrations; a potent mood booster; and, as I (very) slowly but surely began to see improvements, a great way of building up my confidence.
Together we started running first 5Ks, then 10Ks and, while I was still one of the slowest in the pack, just the achievement of making it all the way round felt amazing. But then the whole world gave way underneath my feet. In a split second, an accident left me totally devastated, with two fractured vertebrae, a broken wrist, and grappling with the intense depression, stress and anxiety of PTSD. Running was well and truly off the table: it was 24 hours before I could even sit up; four days before I could walk; and much longer before I could leave the house without a heady cocktail of diazepam, fluoxetine, and codeine.
It also referred to two books on running and mindfulness that inspired me throughout my R.E.D. January journey. The first written by a runner who’s into mindfulness; the second by a psychotherapist who’s into running. I’d really highly recommend reading both perspectives, to help shift your focus and learn to run in a way that benefits both your body and mind:
- Mindful Running: How Meditative Running can Improve Performance and Make you a Happier, More Fulfilled Person by Mackenzie L. Havey
- Run for Your Life: Mindful Running for a Happy Life by William Pullen
In my second feature I wrote about my experience of craniosacral therapy – described by therapist Rosie Owen as “psychotherapy for your body”.
Craniosacral therapy is an incredibly gentle body therapy, rooted in the work of osteopath William Garner Sutherland. In the early 1900s, Dr Sutherland “observed that the cerebrospinal fluid that bathes our brains and nervous systems has its own pulse, and is essential to maintaining our health,” explains Beatrice Doubble from the Craniosacral Therapy Association (CSTA).
Today it’s used to release stored tension, stresses and traumas from the body. I’ve always carried stress in my neck and shoulders – and working at a laptop all day doesn’t help – but those issues have taken on a new dimension since fracturing vertebrae in my neck and lower back last year. Having already focused a lot of my energies on dealing with the emotional trauma of my accident, I was intrigued by what craniosacral therapy could offer my tense and achy spine.
During my first session with accredited craniosacral therapist Rosie Owen, in her peaceful, intimate studio near London Bridge, she likened the treatment to “psychotherapy for the body”. After giving Rosie a history of my injuries, medications, aches and pains, I slipped my shoes off and lay myself face up on her massage table, fully clothed, and covered with a cosy blanket. Starting at my feet, then my lower back, and then my head, she placed her hands on my body with the lightest, gentlest of touches – barely there, like being softly caressed with a feather – chatting to me all the while about what sensations were going on in my body.
It’s difficult to describe how the effects of craniosacral therapy really feel. For me, the first session felt like a very deep relaxation combined with an intensely mindful awareness of all my body’s physical sensations. It’s not uncommon for clients to fall asleep, Rosie tells me, and to be honest I was surprised that I didn’t doze off. As Rosie slowly worked around my body, I experienced a pleasant, subtle tingling sensation up my legs and spine – as far as my ever-rigid neck, at least!
In the couple of weeks between my first and second session, I felt hyperaware of every little twinge and niggle in my body. Nothing felt noticeably improved as such, but I certainly noticed what was going on a lot more that I had before. I went into my second session with a mind and body that felt more open and receptive to the therapy, and I noticed the difference in depth that Rosie and I achieved together. We talked about the feelings – frustration, anger, resentment – that I felt I was holding in the tensest parts of my spine, and Rosie asked me to visualise this pain as a shape or symbol while she worked, shrinking it or moving it around the body as I saw fit.
Continue reading both articles in the June edition of Planet Mindful, published by Time Inc., available in W.H. Smith, Marks & Spencer, Waitrose and Sainsbury’s.
IF YOU NEED SUPPORT
Please note that I am NOT a psychologist or healthcare professional. If you are struggling with mental health problems, contact Mind on 0300 123 3393 or Rethink Mental Health on 0300 5000 927. In a crisis, call the free, 24/7 Samaritans helpline on 116 123.
However, if you would like to get in touch about your own experiences, or a story that you’re keen to tell, please feel free to drop me an email.