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What has mindfulness ever done for me?

By Githa Overton, Yoga practitioner and mediator

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Before becoming a parent, I had been a yoga practitioner, a facilitator of conflict resolution workshops and a mediator. I had this self-identity of being someone who was mostly calm and skilful at managing difficult situations. After becoming a parent, this identity collapsed although I am now glad that it happened. Severe tiredness and the sudden lack of personal time can make most of us crabbit and spiky. But for some, including me, this can be more severe.

By this time, I had completely neglected my yoga practice. I struggled to use the techniques that I had previous taught others for dealing with conflicts positively. Despite the despair, it was important to me that my child grew up with kindness. That reason was strong enough for me to want to make changes and to stick to it!

I kept on returning to the question of what has happened that made it difficult for me to use the vast amount of knowledge and techniques that I had previously used to ‘take care’ of my anger and handle conflicts? What became apparent was that previously I was able to observe the annoyance worming its way up but now I would start a conversation and before I realise it, I am caught up defending my position, and raging inside.

To address this I returned to the method that has worked well for me in the past and that is having a ‘strong observer’ inside. This observer is non-judgemental; just watching and not seeking to change any emotion that comes up. Observing gives me a spaciousness in my mind, to watch what my emotions are saying, and most importantly be able to choose what I want to do in that situation. This can happen in a matter of seconds, but this spaciousness inside is sometimes all I need to check the rage and allow me to choose an appropriate response.

Time to do a ‘proper’ yoga session without interruption is no longer an issue for me. I simply practice watching my breath when I am chopping vegetables for dinner, hanging the washing out, putting my son to bed or while on the bus to work and funnily, these ‘mundane’ or repetitive tasks feel different depending on my state of mindfulness! However, I still look forward to any chance I get of uninterrupted time to practise breath exercises!

Are you finding yourself caught up in argument or a messy power struggle before you are even aware of how it got to that point? Would you prefer to prevent conflicts getting to the point where we are hurting inside and can see the hurt in another? Then, mindfulness could be a useful tool. Start with finding the why for practising mindfulness. A strong reason is like the ‘lighthouse’ that keeps us on course. Then find a method for practising mindfulness that suits your situation. I still ‘lose it’ more often than I would like to but even then my practice of mindfulness has not been pointless; it is useful for repair work. When we express anger in a way that hurts another, we become disconnected. Mindfulness can help us reflect and think of what we can do to repair the relationship or harm.

Githa Overton, Yoga practitioner and mediator

Githa has studied yoga for nearly 23 years, and has experience teaching yoga. Her early career includes a spell as advocate & solicitor, a Master’s in International Law at University of Cambridge, and a PhD in conflict resolution at Lancaster University. She facilitates workshops in conflict resolution skills, including on a voluntary basis for Alternatives to Violence Project and is a SACRO mediator for the Bright Choices Project. She enjoys storytelling and clowning about with her son and hillwalking.

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