Be mindful of mindfulness: Thought provoking (and perhaps controversial) musings on the pitfalls and advantages of mindfulness.

I sometimes treat myself to Holland & Barrett’s Healthy well-being magazine. It encourages me to sit down, relax (which I find difficult) and read about things that really interest me and it’s a way of bringing some calm into my life. An article called “Mindfulness is making our stress worse” by Ronald Purser, professor of management at San Francisco University, caught my attention. And, why wouldn’t it? In the UK, mindfulness is offered as part of NHS mental health programs and is promoted as a DIY therapy for combating stress, anxiety, pain and many other emotional, mental and physical issues.

In fact, I attended a twelve week mindfulness course a few years ago and I loved it. It was great to be part of a group and amongst other people on a similar journey of de-stressing and finding calm in their lives. The group was really supportive and, as an added bonus, I met people who have become great friends.
But . . . what about the mindfulness? My first impression? It was interesting! REALLY interesting! It was fascinating to become aware of the thoughts that floated into my mind. They were so incredibly random yet must, on a level, have been connected. I could really see the benefits of practising this. It’s like brain training and not dissimilar to working out at the gym. Building up a strength and resilience in order to allow troublesome thoughts to pass through, to let the thoughts come and go without inflicting their negative messages on one’s mind both consciously and subconsciously is a wonderful and, most importantly, beneficial practice.

However, the process of focusing inwardly actually made me more aware of the aches and pains that I had been experiencing. In fact, I became aware of pain that I hadn’t, until then, consciously realised I had. I came out of the first session with a sore knee and limped home! When I relate this experience to people, I add an element of humour to it. I do look back and have a good old chuckle at myself! Now, this could be viewed as a positive experience. Having realised that I had a sore knee, I was able to look for the root cause of the problem. Perhaps I had, in a sense, become dissociated from that part of my body. Is that a positive or a negative thing? I’m not sure there’s an answer as it really depends on how we each perceive this particular scenario. On a more serious note, however, I do agree, in part, with the author of the article, Ronald Purser. He states “many people come to meditation as a way to escape pain and emotional issues, a way of numbing the self . . . my view is that it enables people to avoid critical thinking which might otherwise benefit them by allowing them to look at and address the causes of their distress.”

Although Ronald Purser is suggesting an outcome that doesn’t necessarily fit into my own experience, he does have a valid point. What if one begins to let helpful thoughts come and go? Do we really want to be dissociating ourselves from our minds and the myriad of thoughts both positive and negative?
I’m simply asking questions here and even if people who practice mindfulness feel its benefits and do not experience any of the points I’ve raised here, that is equally valid and any comments regarding different perspectives are welcome.

So, how does the practice of mindfulness relate to musical performance anxiety? In terms of helping clients with musical performance anxiety, I would suggest that a practice such as mindfulness which focuses one’s attention inwardly is not appropriate or helpful in the moment of performance. Think about it. For those of you with experience of performance nerves, do you really want to draw your attention to how you are feeling, physically and mentally? Yes, I know that one of the aims of mindfulness is to be able to let thoughts drift away without judgement as soon as they enter your mind but, in that moment, in your performance, do you want to heighten your awareness of these things: panic, sweating, shaking, fast and shallow breathing, tension? Will that help? Surely we want the opposite. We want to be immersed in the music in that moment. We want our attention to be more externally focused. We want to be receptive and reactive to the music and the performers around us and we want our musical intuition to be free.

For a successful musical career, I believe that a strong belief and trust in our innate musical abilities and in ourselves is vitally important. In this respect, I’m not convinced that mindfulness is the most appropriate or helpful therapy. How we perceive ourselves is rooted deeply within our belief systems and any negative beliefs, in my opinion, need to be addressed through therapies that can explore and re-think such unhelpful assumptions and thoughts.

However, back to mindfulness . . .

Away from musical performances, I would suggest that when used with an understanding of how and why it works, then, for seeking calm from intrusive thoughts and for training and strengthening one’s mind, mindfulness is great and well worth exploring.
As Ronald Purser says, it is not a “one-size-fits-all self-help tool” and as I say, simply use mindfulness mindfully.

Is stress-related sick leave causing you stress? Find out how to boost attendance, increase profits and have a happy, healthy workforce.

Stress, anxiety and depression have made it into the top three most common reasons for workplace sickness absence. According to the Office for National Statistics, in 2016, mental health issues ranked third behind only flu and musculoskeletal conditions and contributed to the loss of 15.8 million working days. In a 2017 article describing a worrying upward trend, Management Expert, Sophie Swanscott, claimed that stress, as a cause of workplace sick leave, had climbed to second place that year. Now, in 2019, Britain’s biggest employer, the NHS, cite stress-related sickness as the number one reason for absence from work.
Why are stress levels on the rise and what can companies do to help their employees enjoy good mental health and well-being?
Firstly, it’s important to look at the reasons behind stress-related illnesses. Why are stress levels rising? Is stress confined to the workplace or is it more widespread?The Health and Safety Executive lists 6 stressors that originate in the workplace – demand, control, support, relationships, role and change. Of course, it’s for employers to look at how these issues might affect their workforce and to be able to effectively identify signs of stress exhibited by employees. However, it must not be forgotten that other forces can also be at play when it comes to mental health.
External pressures (financial, logistical and social) have a huge impact on people’s lives. Low salaries, long hours, higher living costs, austerity, job insecurity and contract working add to the burden of financial hardship. And although latest employment figures show that 71.4% of women are now in work, the highest figure since records began in 1971, for women (or men) with children, it’s fair to say that unless family duties are shared with a partner or wider family, life can become a logistical juggling act.

Social factors also do not escape scrutiny here. Indeed there are many issues within society that have the potential to contribute to an overall increase in stress levels. Brexit is, of course, a shining example of how differing views can create division between people, between friends, colleagues and even families. Perceived ideals can also be seen as a curse on our collective mental health. Definitions of happiness, beauty and success are dictated to us via film, TV, and the media and, with the rise of social media over the last decade, such ideals are invading our psyches more frequently and more persistently than ever.
And finally, another thing to consider (and it is perhaps the most important aspect of mental health that employers could seek to address) is a person’s individual way of coping with the stresses and strains of life. I say this with no judgement; how we approach and perceive life is determined by a myriad of factors including genetics, innate temperament and our life experiences. What stresses one person might be of little significance to another and vice-versa. There are as many different interpretations, perceptions and reactions as there are people. Unfortunately, as figures show, the workplace, in many ways, bears the brunt of these 21st century pressures and stresses and the numbers are continuing to rise.
So, what is the solution?

My advice – refrain from blaming anyone or anything. As Dr Robyn Vesey, Organisational Consultant for Tavistock Consulting, states, “blame is indicative of the problem in the first place.” Instead, try to create a collaborative working environment. Make it known that your company is investing in the health and well-being of its employees. Organise a weekly walk-in hypnotherapy clinic – a qualified hypnotherapist can offer relaxing time-out for employees, a time where they can perhaps choose to air any worrying issues, find solutions to nagging problems or to learn relaxation techniques that they can incorporate into daily life.
Hypnotherapy is a solution-focused therapy; therapists use their expertise to uncover deep rooted beliefs that influence how we experience life, beliefs that determine our expectations, our perceptions and affect how we behave and react to the people around us. The role of the therapist is to challenge these unhelpful beliefs (which we all have) and help and guide the client to a place where the belief is viewed from a more helpful and healthy perspective. And, of course, the work undertaken in the session is reinforced during the hypnotherapeutic process.

Hypnotherapy, I believe, belongs to the world of neuroscience. It works directly with the brain’s ability to change and re-wire itself (neuroplasticity) and to build strong neural networks through the process of repetition. It is able to bypass the part of the mind that is constantly in the present (the conscious mind) and which gives a platform to what I refer to as the Inner Critic, the voice of doom and gloom that hacks away at one’s confidence. During the therapeutic process, as the conscious mind is allowed to enjoy a virtual voyage to a favourite place (real or imaginary) the agreed therapy is able to be delivered with far less resistance which, for me, is one of the main reasons why hypnotherapy is so quick and effective.

Not only does hypnotherapy get great results, the speed at which it can make long-lasting and positive changes means that it is also a very cost-effective investment on the part of employers. As is widely recognised, happy and healthy workforce make happy, healthy and productive industries.


As I sat . . . pondering . . . during a lull in an orchestral rehearsal, I found myself asking two of many musician’s million dollar questions, “what makes great music great and what makes a great musician great?” Of course, “great”, in this context is a subjective term. However, for the sake of allowing the core message of this blog to stand out, I would ask if interpretations be put aside for the time being.

Most of you know of, and have heard either live or on video or audio recordings, the performances of Jacqueline du Pré. Described as “legendary . . . charismatic . . . brilliant . . . one of the greatest . . . ”, (I could go on such is the extensive literature about her), she was known, apart from her incredible playing, for her “romantic, emotive style.” You’ll find all these quotes if you google Jacqueline du Pré and none of them are taken from Wikipedia!!!
Perhaps I’m about to hit shaky ground here but I will dare to suggest that even if her musical style and interpretations are not to your taste, it cannot be denied that her performances exude a very convincing message. Why and how???

She was a musical genius!
But what did she do?

Yes, she was a fantastic technician, a musical genius BUT . . . her focus and desire to “become” the music in that moment and allow her life’s experiences and existence to interpret every note and every phrase and to live it, there, in front of an audience was quite extraordinary.
Moving on . . .

In my younger days, I never really understood why some conductors were referred to as “maestro.” My naivety was abruptly cast aside when, in a Philharmonia Orchestra rehearsal, Lorin Maazel stood up to conduct Brahms Symphony No.2.
Wow! It was electric! But what did he do differently?

He ABSOLUTELY knew what he was doing and he was charged with a fizzing, ENERGY of ABSOLUTE INTENTION.
And the intention, in this sense, was about the music; it was about EVERYTHING that was needed to bring the music to life. I believe it is the job of the musician to set the music free in all its greatness.For me, nobody sums up the essence of music like the great J.S.Bach . . . “The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of god and the refreshment of the soul.”

The very brief examples above are written as food for thought and to demonstrate my INTENTION for this blog.
Being “in the zone” is a rather clichéd phrase which you have all heard of but it represents a key ingredient of successful performances. It’s being in that place where one finds a fine balance of musical focus, receptive and reactive awareness, intuitively knowing when to dip in and out of a technical mind-set and simply when to sit back and enjoy the ride.

I’ve come across other blogs with really well-intentioned advice such as “focus on your sound” or “know the audience are there to enjoy the music” but I can’t help wondering if this simply misses the point.
I would argue that:

  • Studying the music
  • Technical preparation
  • Musical focus

. . . are three of the most important ingredients of a successful musical performance, the first two points enabling the third point (musical focus) to really come into its own.