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Why a mindfulness workshop made me smile

Self-development concepts and courses are a bit like parenting theories and books – there will always be a willing audience of vulnerable people ready to be exploited by the latest fad.

I recently had a taste of the latest craze for mindfulness techniques during a training course on an estate in Gloucestershire with a group of GP trainers I’m part of. Despite my reservations, I kept an open mind and was excited about the prospect of a morning of mindfulness.

We started with our facilitator asking us about our anxieties for the session and I began to wish that I had some more meaningful concerns, other than the fear of falling asleep following a late night drinking session.

This was followed by spending 12 minutes observing, touching, smelling, listening to and eating a raisin. Afterwards I had to report to the group how the exercise had made me feel. Honestly, it had put me off eating raisins for life – looking at them for so long had turned them into shrunken testicles in my mind. 

I was hoping for some deeper relaxation when it was time to do a ‘body scan’, an exercise focussing on different parts of ourselves whilst lying down with eyes closed.

It started out well and I was beginning to feel I was getting it, until I heard the snores of the guy lying next to me. I spent the next 15 minutes with my hands on my mouth trying to stifle the sniggering whilst my entire body was shaking with laughter – nothing relaxing about this.

Feeling like a bit of a failure, I was relieved that the course leader wanted to do the next mindfulness exercise outside. I was hoping my love of trees and woodland would inspire me to take things more seriously.

Our instructions before we left were to walk mindfully, take in the view and sounds, and not to talk to each other. But the normality of the sunshine, birdsong and everyday chatter was interrupted by this gang of people who resembled something out of the Village of the Damned. Again, I tried desperately to hide my laughter as I was so keen to do this properly.

Lastly, we were asked to do some ‘aimless walking’, taking in the sights and sounds and again not talking to anyone. I was starting to realise how much incessant chatter I indulge in.

I usually find it really difficult to be surrounded by people for over an hour and not talk to them. I also had the urge to lie down on the grass and make daisy chains but I felt I had to pretend to be interested in the exercise.

When our group finally came to reflect on our experiences, other people had made some deep and meaningful connections. My only contribution – comparing it to a science fiction film – felt shallow in comparison.

My experience of mindfulness was uplifting experience but probably for the wrong reasons.

But I feel I am now good at laughing mindfully and would be more than happy to try it again.

Dr Shaba Nabi is a GP trainer in Bristol.