Mindfulness for Women by Vidyamala Burch and Claire Irwin reviewed by Celine
Date of publication: 2016
Genres: Non-fiction, spiritual, self-help, mind body & spirit
This book is 340 pages long and comes with a CD with 8 guided meditations. The meditations can be used as an 8 week course, with chapters 4 to 11 as the accompanying guide. I enjoyed reading this book, which is easy and comforting to read.
The content is well set out with examples in each chapter of a real-life diary of a particular person who has set out to try out the meditation activities throughout the book. As you read, you are absorbed in this woman’s journey and it serves to illustrate how the information in the book can help and change someone.
The book is very logically set out. The Introduction or prologue is excellent, explaining how women naturally engage in numerous tasks and may feel unique pressures upon them, and it is everyone’s right to be happy and relatively free with what they do; not to feel obliged or rail-roaded into certain areas because of factors like gender. It mentions not to compare oneself to others, in terms of how well others are doing compared to yourself, which I feel is an important point that others may miss out in books like this.
This is followed by a prologue “How to Use this Book” which explains there are 4 parts –
PART ONE Love your Body (Chapters 4 and 5)
PART TWO Find Peace of Mind (Chapters 6 and 7)
PART THREE Let Kindness make you Happy (Chapters 8, 9 and 10)
PART FOUR Mindfulness in every-day Life (Chapters 11 and 12)
Each Chapter of each Part has “Habit Releasers“which are snap-shots of activities one can undertake anywhere in order to break away from mindless habits, a recommended 10 minute meditation related to the theme of that chapter, and a summary of the chapter.
Before Part One starts with Chapter Four, there are 60 pages including –
Chapter One “Don’t Just Exist, Shine”
Chapter Two “What is Mindfulness” and
Chapter Three “How to Meditate”
Chapter 1 is about the usefulness of meditation or mindfulness.
Chapter 2 explains that “mindfulness” is living in the moment or being aware, and that although this seems simple or straightforward, that if one is fully aware of each moment, this mindfulness can not only keep oneself calm (and thus alert to “realities”) but will have long term benefits.
Mindfulness is about NOT being on “auto-pilot” but about purposely being fully present, no matter what, so then one is better able to deal with crises, however small or big; plus it brings a nice sense of stillness or peace to oneself.
Mindfulness is the quality of awareness that you are seeking to experience quite naturally in your everyday life.
Meditation is the process or time when you practice cultivating this type of experience.
Thus meditation is seen by the authors to be a technique of mindfulness or of time periods of conscious mindfulness, through the instructed or defined process of meditation. Each meditation in the book focuses on one aspect of your experience, e.g. on your body.
There are 3 main methods of meditation in the book, taken from Buddhism.
This is about bringing your mind back to a point of focus, time and again (to gain mastery over the “monkey mind”).
This requires focused awareness, as above. Once you have a more calm and focused mind, observe the flow of everything that just is, then let it go.
Cultivate a warm, emotionally engaged, kindly attitude toward yourself and others. This will build mental, emotional and physical resilience, as you relate to others on the basis of fellowship rather than on the basis of isolation or separateness, or opposition.
Chapter 3 on “How to Meditate” is very good, looking at the How, Where and When, at the importance of correct breathing, and what to watch out for when beginning with meditation, in order to know what to expect and how to bring yourself back to the practice.
The rest of the Chapters takes the reader through a journey of honouring and understanding one’s body form and how mindfulness helps wholistically.
Part One talks about the emotion regulation systems – the need to turn down perceived threats with the biological flight / fright / freeze response (driven by cortisol and adrenaline) and to turn down “Achieving“ with its biological resource driver (which the neurotransmitter, dopamine, triggers), and TURNING UP Contentment / Soothing, which are driven by oxytocin and endorphins.
Mindfulness activates the parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for connection or for feelings of contentment, helping to turn down the “flight or fright” response, which was suitable for our ancestors but is not always applicable to modern realities.
Part Two talks about a mirror-like quality of awareness, meaning viewing or perceiving or observing happenings as they are, without judging them or embellishing them with emotional judgements or thoughts. It is about a deep sort of acceptance facilitated by mindfulness which is about observing in a detached manner and letting go anything that disturbs you, while being in a peaceful calm state of strength and energy so that you CAN respond appropriately to situations that need your attention.
Part Three is about genuine care and concern for oneself and all others, with intrinsic understanding of what others are attempting or intending, and taking peaceful relevant action associated with this. I find the following mantra very useful – asking us to just observe from a neutral stance, or to LET IT BE, and to quickly note or experience painful or distressful experiences but THEN to quickly LET IT GO (i.e. to purposely reduce or lessen its effect), and to allow or LET IN the “good” ( or a solution or appropriate response, and a further flow of “events” for the good of all ).
Let be, let go and let in
Part Four, “Mindfulness in Every Day”, in my opinion, reiterates what is said in Part 3 and reminds us that mindfulness is the key to living a life of grace – by minimising stresses and worries, by being alert in the now to all possibilities, and by remaining postive and happy, and relating with kindliness to oneself and others.
I got a great lot from this book and recommend it to any woman interested in mindfulness and / or meditation. The CD tracks can be imported into itunes or “ripped” to you computer, for use on your portable device, or otherwise.
The authors recommend 10 minutes of each meditation associated with each chapter twice a day for one week. The Meditations on the CD are:
- Body Scan with emphasis on the breath
- Compassionate Body Scan meditation
- Breathing Anchor meditation
- Compassionate Breathing Anchor meditation
- Self-compassion meditation
- Connection meditation
- Open heart meditation
- Three-minute breathing space meditation
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book through completely once, while tagging with Post-it Notes, the pages that really appealed to me. I then returned later to work through the book again, in order to reinforce or experience key points for myself.
Thank you Vidyamala and Claire.