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Explore and Walk: using mindfulness, outdoor space, music and movement for professional development

21 September 2015

It has been a while since we have blogged so I thought I would start off the academic year by sharing with you my recent experience on a three-day leadership development course run by Academi Wales.

The course is called ‘Explore and Walk’, and took place at the National Trust’s Stackpole Estate in Pembrokeshire.

I arrived last Tuesday not entirely sure what to expect, apart from knowing we would be doing some walking and some mindfulness practice and reflecting on leadership practices. Our group of twelve gradually gathered for coffee and we started with a short mindfulness practice and then stated why we were there and what we wanted to get out of the course. With a new term about to start and having moved house two weeks previously my aim was simple: to rejuvenate for my return to work and reflect on my leadership style, strengths and areas for improvement.

We were a mixed bunch; a consultant surgeon, several county council workers, a Chief Executive of a charity, someone from Sport Wales, and a teacher in FE.  All of our roles had leadership responsibility.

Once we introduced ourselves we looked for a schedule. However, there was none! A little disconcerting for some. And with no mobile phone or Wi-Fi signal either, many of us were feeling outside our comfort zones. Regardless, we set off for a walk to the coast path, talking along the way and getting to know a bit more about each other. We arrived at the beautiful Barafundle beach and did another Mindfulness practice and reflection on what was coming forward for us, and then had lunch and a swim, a chance to enjoy the huge waves!


More of the same followed for the next two and a half days. The first evening was spent in the group room chatting, and the second outside by a roaring fire. Moira, one of the leaders, is a musician and led us in some singing (she also led most of our Mindfulness practices as she is a Mindfulness trainer).

We did a little bit of thinking about our Myers Briggs profiles facilitated by our other leader, James, and reflected on developing negative capability, the ability to hold uncertainties and doubts without ‘reaching after fact or fiction’ (Keats (1817)). The majority of our time was spent talking to each other about current work issues and offering each other different perspectives.

This all may sound rather a jolly! However, the experience was deeply profound; a level of trust developed in the group allowing everyone to explore and share what they were thinking. I learnt a huge amount and also felt extremely nourished and refreshed by the experience. I came back with a determination to build more reflective time into my working life, and to see what meetings I could carry out whilst outside and moving.

The course is fully backed up by evidence based methods for development, the use of Mindfulness, physical movement, space to connect with nature and music. All of these methods together can allow us to develop our negative capability through reflection, development and appropriate physical exercise.

Mindfulness gives us space and time to pause and settle before moving on to something else. There is evidence from neuroscience that this positively changes the structure of the brain and encourages balance, creativity and positivity (Sowing Seeds, Mindfulness, Academi Wales 2014).

Movement stimulates our brain to help us think and feel better. We know when we move we feel better, but it is so hard to build movement into our work days. It is easier to sit in front of a computer all day without getting up. However, ‘movement of bodies’ helps ‘movement of thinking’ (Sowing Seeds, Mindfulness, Academi Wales 2014). Our facilitators invited us to think about taking opportunities to move during a working day, and to carry out meetings walking in a park or somewhere similar.

Space outside to connect with nature is known to make people feel more alive, and to feel an increased sense of vitality. Research studies have shown that being outside, with nature, for 20 minutes a day, increases our caring responses, energy and mood (Sowing Seeds, Mindfulness, Academi Wales 2014).

I certainly experienced this first hand last week. I’m an outdoorsy sort of person, but I have never taken things so slowly and reflectively outside, even on holiday. It created a deep level of calm. It was comforting to hear about others’ experiences of working in the public sector, about how austerity measures, or even simply the austerity talk in the ether is affecting everyone even when there is no direct threat to self. There is nothing we can ‘DO’ about these things, but what we can do is take really good care of ourselves, practice Mindfulness, get outside more (especially during a working day), and enjoy music!

Committing to self-care in this way can help develop a more positive mindset and refresh creativity, help you sleep better, and make you feel more generous and able to support others.

So how about starting a short daily Mindfulness practice (the free app Headspace is a great place to start) – you only need to practice for a few minutes a day to feel a difference. Make sure you go outside every lunch-time and get some fresh air, get up, move away from your desk and stretch every 20 minutes throughout the day, and enjoy some music on your way home to begin unwinding and the transition to focusing on home. Oh, and if you have leadership responsibilities, book yourselves on to a free Explore and Walk Academi Wales course! Or alternatively, as a start, a Staff Counselling Mindfulness session (watch out for adverts coming to our blog very soon).