The origins of mindfulness lie in Buddhist traditions, although there is nothing inherently religious about mindfulness. It does, however, have everything to do with waking up and living in harmony with ourselves and the world around us.
Mindfulness is not about ‘emptying the mind’. Minds are designed to have thoughts and it is awareness of these patterns of thought which can bring about change.
Mindfulness and compassion can be described as two wings of the same bird. We use mindfulness by paying attention with awareness in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally (Jon Kabat-Zinn). We can use self compassion and compassion techniques to help us to accept the things we cannot change; the courage to change the things we can; and the wisdom to know the difference (Serenity Prayer).
The brain is designed to react in times of danger. The Amygdala (lizard brain), the oldest part of the brain, is responsible for our fight, flight or freeze response. This response raises our heart rate, blood pressure, and puts us on high alert ready for action. Trouble is, we no longer live on the plains of the Serengeti, where we needed cortisol and adrenaline to help us escape from sabre toothed tigers. Yet we are still having the same fight, flight, freeze response when we are triggered by stress in our busy, hectic lives. We often see this happening on our roads.
This fear response may be familiar to many of us when teaching people to drive. There are pupils who literally grip the wheel so hard, they have no idea they are pointing the car directly at the oncoming bus (freeze) and when they can’t fight or flee the situation (because they are behind the wheel of a car, underneath a seat belt and closed door), they sometimes do something else – completely tune out or melt down. This fear response caused by the Amygdala also affects memory and the rational part of the brain, the pre-frontal cortex, which is responsible for cognition and conscious thought. When under stress, brains can go ‘offline’. The fear response is totally normal, albeit somewhat unhelpful, when what we are facing is traffic rather than being eaten by a tiger.
Mindfulness and driver training
We are not required to be mindfulness teachers as well as driving instructors, but if we choose to live and teach mindfully, we can integrate mindfulness and compassion into our profession. This will have a knock-on effect as our pupils will become better, safer and more aware drivers with improved ability to respond rather than react when faced with conflict or challenges. Ultimately we want to make our roads safer which is inherently affected by the mental attitude of drivers.
Mindfulness and compassion practice can help with listening skills, generally feeling happier, increasing our ability to stay calm and remain centred, developing our ‘felt sense’ and an awareness of our internal and external landscape. It can also help with understanding emotions (ourselves and others), feeling less reactive, developing a deeper sense of kindness and compassion for ourselves and others and managing physical and psychological difficulties in a new way.
Mindfulness meditation practice is rather like going to a gym for the brain. When we meditate, we are growing new neural pathways that strengthen our ability to choose where to rest our attention and how we respond to challenges. Mindfulness and compassion is an antidote to stress and anxiety.
I have been a ADI for 17 years and am a grade A Instructor working in Gloucestershire. After living with anxiety, and intense back and shoulder pain, I greatly benefitted from the transformative effects of mindfulness and compassion practices in my own life which have been profound.
I decided to train to teach mindfulness and compassion with MindfulnessUK in both the Compassionate Mindful Resilience Programme and the Integrating Mindfulness and Compassion in Professional Practice. This has enabled me to integrate mindfulness techniques into my driver training with great effect.
Mindfulness and compassion have become part of my everyday life and I use its tools to help pupils overcome some of the hurdles they face when learning to drive. Mindfulness can help with anxiety both during lessons and test day nerves, supporting the ability to remain focused, as well as maintaining concentration and emotional intelligence around the behaviour of others. It also helps me to offer the best version of myself to my pupils, despite the challenges of life on the roads.
Source: ADI News
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