From Stress to Resilience – and why cavemen didn’t get ulcers!

Have you ever had a moment – perhaps on a particularly bad day – that you’ve thought ‘This can’t be right! A human being was never meant to live like this!’ There’s a lot of truth in your bewildered observation; it may or may not be some consolation to know that the world’s leaders in trauma therapy are coming to the same conclusion!

Because trauma is rampant in our world today an enormous amount of work has been done, and helped along with new insights in brain science, a lot more is understood about the brain-body mechanisms that lead to PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and it’s many debilitating symptoms.

Naturally someone who had been through a horrific event – like a serious road traffic accident, a violent assault, or a natural disaster – will experience after effects. The worrying thing is that many who have been through fairly minor events are being diagnosed with PTSD. An example might be someone who seemed to be functioning perfectly well is tail-ended on the way to work one morning, and their lives fall apart! Someone who would be no means be perceived as a ‘wimp’ may suffer years of sleep disturbance, chronic pain and inability to hold down a job – the result of a 5mile an hour collision!

So what has gone wrong when someone (as in the example above) appears to have so little resilience – how can a minor event have such devastating consequences? Leaders in the field of trauma therapy would say that the underlying problem is accumulated stress: stress responses that are meant to fire up, help us through crisis, then disappear, have actually stacked up in the system. These accumulated stress responses mean that a person who appears to be functioning perfectly well might actually be living very close to their tipping point; due to the backlog of stress in their system, they are working really hard to ‘function perfectly well’. Sadly, it’s not going to take much to push them beyond their tipping point.

The other possible reason for this apparent lack of resilience is developmental trauma – conditions in the person’s early life were not sufficient to lay down the basis of resilience and somehow they have not sufficient inner resources to roll with the punches.

If you want to learn more about the fascinating new developments in trauma therapy, why not investigate ‘From Stress to Resilience’ a new 6 week course starting in Monaghan Wellness Centre. While the bad news is that trauma and accumulated stress are so rampant in our society, the good news is that an amazing amount of work is being done to understand and to discover ways to heal this modern plague. Hence the course will not only present some fascinating information about how trauma messes us up, but also lots of ways in which we can reduce our own backlog of accumulated stress, thus restoring resilience and aliveness.

But coming back to your thought at the beginning ‘This ain’t right. Surely this isn’t how a human being is meant to live!’ One of the most fascinating lines of enquiry that the experts in trauma are following – is that indeed this isn’t right. While life has changed enormously since our human ancestors came down from the trees and started to live a two-legged live on the ground, our nervous systems have not actually changed very much. Our nervous systems are designed for a life of the hunter-gatherer – a life lived in tribes of about 50 to 150 people, where we knew everybody, everybody looked out for everybody else; we hardly ever met a stranger and crises – such as a visit from a man-eating tiger, or aggression from a neighbouring tribe – were intense but short lived. The important thing is that crises were spaced out – there was time for life (and our nervous systems) to get back to normal, to a state of relative ease, before the next crisis.

 So from this perspective, it seems that modern life itself is a ‘trauma’ for a species meant for a much quieter, slower existence. Unless you’re living as a hermit, you may well have the sense that there’s always something else – you’ve just sorted one crisis and there’s another half dozen waiting! This is a recipe for accumulated stress, a recipe for living dangerously close to your tipping point – the edge of your resilience. But, please don’t despair – there’s a lot that you can do –  just to understand how your nervous system and stress responses work is a great first step; and then practising yoga and mindfulness are great ways to restore order and resilience within your system, no matter how overworked and chaotic it has been.(Yoga in particular is recommended by leaders in the field of trauma and it is taught as an integral part of the recovery programmes in many of the world’s leading trauma treatment centres.)

If you’d like to hear more, do please come along to a free information session in Monaghan Wellness Centre on Wed 17 September at 7pm.

Details: Mairead Flynn 086 8120332

Thinking outside the ‘8-week’ box

After a mega-slump of energy around the New Year (anyone else feel that?) thankfully I bounced back and got the spurt I needed to put the show on the road once more!

Getting excited about new 8-week MBSR courses starting in Monaghan and Cavan over the next few weeks. But I’ve also been doing some thinking about other ways people can learn Mindfulness. The 8-week courses are of course tried and tested – there is no doubt that if participants make a reasonable commitment to the programme there is a lot to be gained. But not everyone can invest the time and energy  – and indeed the money – needed. So I thought it only fair to offer other options….

To begin with, between now and September I’m offering a number of one-day workshops – these will offer some general background and introduce the core practices of MBSR. For some it might be all they need – they may find the day is enough to launch them into a regular personal practice, they may enjoy the day as a welcome and nourishing respite from something they are currently struggling with, or indeed they might discover that it’s not quite what they’re looking for. For others, the one-day workshop will be a good opportunity to ‘dip in a toe’ and if they decide to commit to an 8-week course they will have a clear sense of what they are committing to.

I’m attaching a document with details of these workshops Ways to Wellness 2014
I do hope you have time to check it out.
You will also find details  of one-day workshops on Yoga and Mindfulness – these are intended for folks who have already done MBSR, but students of Yoga are welcome as well. Been thinking a lot lately about how Yoga has been somehow ‘upstaged’ in recent times by the tremendous popularity of Mindfulness. Of-course its not a competition, and I have nothing to gain from taking sides …. but I may be about to climb onto a soap box, so I think I’ll leave it for another post!
Watch this space…

Thank you YFNI!

I enjoyed my day in Belfast yesterday so much – I feel rather guilty – is one supposed to enjoy work so much? Did I work hard enough? It was a lovely day and thank you so much, both to those who did the work of organising and to those who were so graciously present. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did!
As promised, I am putting up rough outlines of the practices we shared – hoping these help to jog the memory of those who wish to remember. I hope also that if you do the practices again, you will have a living experience – once more, allowing each moment to be born afresh…..
Opening Practice ,   Midday,   Closing Practice
(Suggestion – after viewing any of these files, I suggest you press the back button to return to the page. If you press close, you leave the site –  I’ll have to find out how to sort this.)

That’s it – I hope I have up-loaded 3 files.
If you have any problem accessing these, please let me know  ( and I can send to you by email.
If you have questions – I’ll be delighted to elucidate…in fact, I eagerly await your questions!

Warm wishes to all,

PS: I hope you are remembering your ‘I am here’ mantra!

What’s the 8-week course about: Part 2 – Doing and Being

Last week in the course, we talked about ‘doing’ and ‘being’ – two different modes of mind.

You can probably guess – Yes, the ‘doing’ mode is when you’re just focused on getting the job done – it was on your to-do-list and whatever the cost, you’ll get it done today. Jon Kabat-Zinn tells the story of  man on one his courses who found himself at 10pm turning on the floodlights and going out to wash his car – it was on his list of things to do that day, and who cares that he had a heart attack couple of months ago – he was going to do it today!
On the other hand in ‘being’ mode, you also want to get the job done, but you stay tuned to how you are. If you realise that the to-do-list was a tad over ambitious you are willing to review your timescale- you are capable of stepping back and thinking ‘this might take a bit longer’ or ‘I might need some help with this’ or ‘I need a rest now and I’ll come back to it later with fresh energy’. There is also the possibility that you might enjoy the task rather than waiting for the satisfaction of completion!

Don’t get me wrong – there is nothing wrong with doing!  We all need deadlines at times to get the job done, and sometimes the deadline is not within our control. Problem is that we can become slaves to just getting things done. At the extreme end of ‘doing’ mode there is the tragedy that our lives might become reduced to just getting things done. A great book on this topic is ‘The Art of Effortless Living’ by Ingrid Bacci. In her opening paragraph she refers to our goal orientated society where we judge ourselves and others on our achievements:

Why is it that life often seems to be more like a treadmill than like a pathway to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? As we go about our daily lives, many of us are dogged by feelings of emotional and personal dissatisfaction. We have a nagging sense that there must be more to life than we are getting. We apply ourselves to reaching our goals, only to find that even the best achievements seem thin relative to the price we pay in the form of tension and stress….What keeps us travelling down a road whose rewards carry such a cost?

Her book describes a society in extreme ‘doing’ mode and she offers ways in which any of us can step off the treadmill and find a more human and satisfying way of ‘being’

You probably already know which mode you tend to inhabit, but here are a few pointers….

In doing mode, you  do things with effort and haste – the goal is to get things done
In being mode you are more likely to feel at ease and to take pleasure in whatever you are doing

In doing mode you are focused on the outer achievement- getting the job done is the priority
In being mode you are in touch with your inner experience, energy levels, tiredness, hunger – priority is to look after yourself

In doing mode you are driven by external pressures – what people / colleagues expect of you
In being mode you maintain your composure – your inner wisdom overriding external pressure

In doing mode, you are likely to multi-task – getting the job done is good; getting several jobs done is even better!
In being mode you do one thing at a time – whatever you choose to do deserves your full attention

In doing mode, you are living in the future – what’s next on the agenda once this is out of the way?
In being mode, you are in the present moment – in touch with what’s going on within and around you

This is all very well you say, but what if we all become mellow and relaxed, listen to our bodies, rest and all that stuff – when will we ever get things done? You may be surprised to hear that the link between effort and success is a very tenuous one!  I’m going to leave you with a further quote from Ingrid Bacci where she identifies to characteristics of effortless performance the kind that sets  apart the truly great musicians / sports people – what sets the truly high-achievers apart from the ‘no pain no gain’ brigade…

The 4 characteristics of effortless performance:

  • First, we focus more on how we feel inside than on the results we want to achieve
  • Second we keep our attention on maintaining inner calm and not giving way to anxiety
  • Third, we refuse to lose our composure in the face of external pressures
  • Fourth, we assume that performance is intimately connected with pleasure and keep our attention on finding enjoyment in what we are doing

Sounds a bit like doing mode….

More next week

Great day at Border Biz Camp!

Great day – met lots of lovely people, great energy, lots of good will. Even for a non-business person like me t’ was a very pleasant way to spend Saturday!

My own input went down well – the room was full – then why should I be surprised (I was very surprised!) Mindfulness just seems to draw a crowd! And a very nice crowd it was – folks were really receptive and engaged whole-heartedly in the short practice we did. We didn’t actually do the Breathing Space as I had planned – just a 10 minute sit with Mindfulness of Breath.

I did refer to a couple of websites and books and rather regretted that I didn’t have a couple of slides to flag up these references. So here they are: – Enormous amount of resources about Mindfulness in different areas: health, education, business etc –  use of Mindfulness for chronic pain

‘Buddha’s Brain’ by Rick Hanson – great introduction to the neuroscience of meditation

‘Search Inside Yourself’ by Chade-Meng Tan – light-hearted intooduction to Google’s programme for Mindfulness-Based Emotional Intelligence programme.

And of course if you just google ‘Mindfulness’ you’ll find tons more!

I’m off now to France to spend a week doing a Yoga workshop with my teacher Peter Hersnack and 12 good friends from Ireland and UK – it’s a hard life!

Warm wishes,

Breathing Space at Borderbizcamp…

I’m sort of looking forward to taking part in tomorrow’s borderbizcamp in Monaghan.
I say ‘sort of’ as I am a offering a 30 minute presentation on Mindfulness, and I’m feeling a tad nervous – very unusual  for me to share a platform with a whole host of business gurus!

However – I am also looking forward!
I’m intending to offer a short input on the background to the ‘Mindfulness’ movement – an amazing story of how an ancient contemplative practice has become mainstream and, starting with the medical world seems to have spread into every aspect of life, proving its worth in psychotherapy, education, sport, business – the list is endless! – I’ll then lead us in a 10 minute practice of seated meditation… not very long but enough, I hope, to give a flavour of just how relaxing, and reviving a little ‘inner’ time can be. 

I also hope to begin and end the session with a very simple practice called the ‘Three Stage Breathing Space
You can try that right now if you wish – obviously read one stage at a time, taking a minute or so to follow the instruction, then come back to the screen to read the next stage and follow that instruction – easy peasy! ENJOY!

STEP ONE: Stop whatever you are doing for a moment and take a quick check on how you are …like checking your internal weather….What thoughts have been around last couple of minutes? How is your mood? How is your body – any particular physical sensations? Bring a friendly curiosity to all of this and as far as possible just accept whatever you find….

STEP TWO: For the next minute or so, just watch the breath as it comes and goes – don’t try to do the breathing, don’t try to change or control it, simply let the breath happen, rather like waves washing a beach. If your mind wanders -and it probably will, simple come back to the breath. Have a sense that you have nothing else in the world to do but watch this breath, then this breath….

STEP THREE: Now gradually bring your attention to the whole body as you breath – having an awareness of the whole body, same time as you feel the breath coming and going. Then gradually be aware of where you are – immediate surroundings, sounds, time of day etc. Enjoy a moment of sensing your breathing body present in this place – a sense of being exactly where you are an how you are. And then, simply return to whatever you were doing before….

The ‘Breathing Space’ is a great way just to be where you are – you might ask the question Irish-style ‘sure where else would you be!’ Good question!

Looking forward to seeing you if you’re in Monaghan tomorrow…


For whatever reason you are visiting here today, I can assume like me that you are interested in ‘wellness’ and the many associations this lovely word can carry. As I was thinking about how to welcome you, just looking at the word ‘wellness’ I was reminded that it contains another lovely word ‘well’ – a source of fresh, nourishing water, given freely by nature and essential for life. Surely this is a key to ‘wellness’ for all of us – finding the appropriate ‘well’, finding whatever source of nourishment and support our life needs right now.

If you look around at the various buttons, you will see that I am interested in a few ‘wells’ myself – Yoga, Mindfulness Meditation, Reflexology to name but a few. From time to time, I’ll post details of what ever classes, courses I am currently offering. This will be bare-bones information, so if you want to know more, or have a chat about what might suit you, please do send me an email, or give me a call.

I intend to also post reflections, quotations, book reviews – just about anything that I think might be of interest or inspiration to others who are on their own ‘ways to wellness’. I hope you find something interesting/nourishing here. Most of all I hope you have time to leave a comment and perhaps flag up something that might be interesting/nourishing to me!

Wherever you are and whatever is going on in your life, I hope that you find whatever is the right ‘well’ for you today!