No mindfulness teacher should teach without reading this book first
I came away from reading this book with not just an understanding of why my body suddenly went haywire when I started a regular daily mindfulness practice, but also an understanding of what as a mindfulness teacher, I can look out for and be aware of when teaching mindfulness to groups and individuals.
When I started my mindfulness teacher training, and with it a consistent daily mindfulness practice, I had no idea I had hidden trauma in my body. Like many who start to explore mindfulness I knew I had a stressful period in my life coming up and I hoped mindfulness would help. It wasn’t until I started my mindfulness teacher training and a regular consistent daily practice that my body started to unravel. It wasn’t until 2 years later and nearing the end of my training that a visiting tutor said to me “I’ve been hearing what you’ve been saying in the breaks and it sounds like you have PTSD, I wonder if it’s something you’d benefit from seeing someone about”. Where as other mindfulness tutors had told me to “take it to the cushion” or “continue with the practice”, this tutor noticed my physiological responses while teaching and paid attention to what I was saying.
I believe that if this book had been available to those other tutors over my two year training there is a fair chance I would not have developed PTSD, and the dysregulation of my system, uncovered and exacerbated by my mindfulness practice, would not have become entrenched in the way it did. Whilst I would like to think that I was the only mindfulness trainee teacher to have this experience, attendance at conferences introduced me to others like me, from all the major UK mindfulness teacher trainer universities who have had similar experiences. Not to mention all the participants who drop out of mindfulness courses, or suddenly leave retreats having had a ‘bad experience’ with the practice. I can therefore not recommend this book highly enough to all mindfulness teachers no matter how much teaching experience they have.
Chapter 1 - the ubiquity of trauma. I took a long time to own my PTSD because I felt I had no reason to have it. The wide ranging coverage of the causes of trauma and the prevalence of it in society finally helped me understand how wide spread it is. Most people have some trauma trapped in their body, and if they practice mindfulness enough, it’s likely to be tapped into at some point.
Chapter 2 - meeting the moment, mindfulness and traumatic stress. A comprehensive explanation of why mindfulness is a “double edged sword” when it comes to trauma healing, and so should be wielded with utmost care.
Chapter 3 - shaped by the past, a brief history of mindfulness and trauma. One of the concerns among UK mindfulness teachers is how participants in groups and mindfulness teachers, are disproportionately white middle class. This chapter helps shed some light on why a whole spectrum of of society might - quite rightly - not feel safe in mindfulness classes, and how mindfulness teachers can gain a much needed appreciation of the life and indeed generational context participants bring with them.
Chapter 4 - the brain and body in trauma and mindfulness. An excellent explanation using the major trauma theories from Levine, Porges, van der Kolk, etc to explain how mindfulness meditation can bring to the surface some of those “dark night of the soul” or more unpleasant experiences such as heightened anxiety, fear or depersonalization.
Part II: the five principles of trauma-sensitive mindfulness
Using examples from practice, each chapter highlights different areas where mindfulness teachers can translate the awareness learnt in Part I, to practical support of participants or clients within 1:1 or group settings. The author is a ‘educator and psychotherapist those work focuses on the intersection of trauma, mindfulness and social justice’ and his experience is of working with clients individually or in couples, so most of his examples are of working in this way. However there is a whole mine of advice for group settings, whether courses, drop in sessions or retreats.
Chapter 5 - stay within the window of tolerance: the role of arousal Chapter 6 - shift attention to support stability: avoiding the fear/immobility cycle Chapter 7 - keep the body in mind: working with dissociation Chapter 8 - practice in relationship: supporting safety and stability in survivors. Chapter 9 - understanding the social context: working effectively across difference.
What this book doesn’t do. This book focuses on how to notice when mindfulness practice uncovers trauma, and how to avoid exacerbating the symptoms unintentionally through mindfulness practice. This book touches on, but doesn’t focus on how to how to ‘cure’ trauma symptoms through mindfulness practice. It does suggest that mindfulness, if used sensitivity, can be an “adjunct to trauma treatments” and does focus on how to practice with the symptoms.
When offering someone mindfulness practice, we do not know if it will uncover trauma held in the body. My only hope is that from reading this book you will realise that due to the ubiquitous nature of trauma as part of being human, it is necessary to offer that mindfulness in a way that is trauma- sensitive, to ensure that when it reveals itself, it is effectively processed and not further embedded in the practitioners physiology.