By Kate Heaney
A YOUNG woman from County Armagh who has made her home in Donegal is helping to improve the lives of people locally with her mindfulness meditation classes.
Aoife Valley holds weekly classes, gives one to one tuition as well as residential retreats in a practice which has grown hugely in popularity. Said to have its origins in Buddhism, it is believed to have been practised by Hindus even before the Buddha’s birth some 2,500 years ago. The Christian desert fathers or Coptic monks of Egypt also practised it.
Speaking to the Donegal News this week Aoife explained that mindfulness meditation is for everyone, irrespective of religious beliefs. Her own background includes 10-years practising mindfulness with five of those years teaching it in way which is very respectful of people’s religions.
Mindfulness has now been brought into health care and the more religious aspects have been taken out. It is now more secular. With the frenetic pace of life, more and more people are feeling the need for mindfulness.
“I started doing retreats in the UK in 2005 and was over and back to Ireland lot. I moved back when I saw the need for classes in mindfulness here and I adapted the teaching methods to suit,” Aoife explained.
She works with HSE groups in mental health services, family and social workers – mostly helping staff find ways of managing their stress. She also works with the Donegal Education Centre helping teachers and with Donegal ETB helping staff.
The Armagh native pointed out that many organisations and workplaces are now providing a room where staff can go just to sit and relax for a time during the day. Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and the US military are all using mindfulness in order to get the best from their staff while improving their quality of life. Even the British houses of Parliament are offering mindfulness classes.
Mindfulness Meditation Aoife said, is about breathing and feeling your feet on the ground – noticing what is happening in the body instead of judging what is happening in the body and really experiencing that you are not your feelings – they are happening within you. Identity is often what stresses people out.
“Part of the mind wants to control everything because it gives a false sense of security and is all based on the past. When this happened in the past, you did this – in the present you have access to more creative thinking and are safer. It allows people to come back down to health or base line so they are not constantly on hyper alert.
“I work with teachers out of the school environment and I have given a number of classes to students in the Loreto in Milford which have been very successful. I work with teams and Foróige groups.
“Young people don’t have as many conditions as older people – the older you get the more complicated you become. Teenagers just want to be happy and don’t care what package it comes in. The course I deliver in schools lasts nine week and can be adapted for any group,” she said.
Aoife maintains one of the reasons mindfulness has become so popular is because of the many evidence-based studies which show positive effects in the brain and immune system.
“It has been shown to be one of he most powerful ways of stopping the recurrence of clinical depression – 50 per cent non-recurrence – the other 50 per cent didn’t do mindfulness. It is not a pill that will fix everything, you must do it every day and it really works when you do. That is why I started doing it – I was so unhappy and had panic attacks as well as suffering from depression. It helped me to come out of it really quickly.”
She runs two drop-in classes a week in Rossan College in Letterkenny. These she describes as a “great way to get away and come back to yourself and balance of mind.”
For further information on Mindfulness Meditation see her website at www.mindfulnessdonegal.com