Category Archives: Mindfulness in Ireland – Newspaper Articles

How to keep your mindset as sharp as your skillset – the era of corporate mindfulness training


Irish Times Article March 24 2015


Picture the scene: more than 200 business people sitting in silence at round tables in a large conference room with their eyes closed at 8.30am on a weekday. They are not sleeping, but practising an exercise in mindfulness led by Rasmus Hougaard, the Danish managing director of the Potential Project, an international corporate-based mindfulness training organisation.
The Irish Management Institute (IMI) has invited Hougaard to Dublin to introduce the IMI’s first such training. The techniques are based on ancient Buddhist teachings that have been widely embraced by healthcare practitioners around the world and are finally reaching the business world. But don’t expect an orange-robed teacher, burning candles or incense sticks: this training is placed firmly in the slick corporate environment, with prices to match.
Simon Boucher, director of the IMI, says many of us now check our emails before we get out of bed. “People check their mobile devices up to 150 times a day; that’s every six to eight minutes. In this context, mindfulness has risen to the top of the pile as a skillset and mindset to adopt to the 24/7 working environment,” he says in his introduction to Hougaard’s presentation.

The clean-shaven smiling Danish man asks the audience how many people have already done some mindfulness training. Almost half of the audience put up their hands.
“Many of the Fortune 500 companies are now doing mindfulness training as a mainstream thing. You can use mindfulness as a way of working more effectively, to be more present in your work and as a kinder way of working,” he says. He cites companies such as Carlsberg and Accenture as examples of those that have brought the training to their employees. While he is in Dublin, Hougaard is to have meetings with Microsoft, Google and Enterprise Ireland.


One audience member expresses a concern that mindfulness training in the business world will be less authentic. “My concern is that the corporate world will embrace it and then throw it away as another toy,” he says. Hougaard counters that he has been practising mindfulness for 25 years and that it is not just another fad.


“People are under pressure. They are always on, dealing with information overload and constantly distracted,” he says. Quoting a 2014 workforce study by Deloitte, he adds, “The overwhelmed employee is the most significant human capital challenge for Irish organisations. Information overload and the 24/7 working environment are contributing to reduced productivity, reduced decision-making and lower levels of engagement.”

In this so-called “attention economy”, workers increasingly need the ability to pay attention. “The ability to pay attention has dropped radically, with 46.9 per cent of workers involuntarily wandering away from what we are trying to focus on,” says Hougaard. He refers briefly to neurological research on brain plasticity to explain that behavioural, attitudinal and indeed personality change is possible with mindfulness training.

“Mindfulness helps the brain to refresh and refocus when it goes off task. Breaks are also crucial, as letting the mind wander helps creativity and innovation but with an awareness of being focused or not,” he says. Therein follows the simple mindfulness exercise with everyone sitting comfortably with their eyes closed while they pay attention to their breathing, acknowledging and letting go of mental distractions as they do so.

“Getting a group of people to sit in silence for five minutes is an interesting exercise, with no Twitter, no emails and no other distractions. How would this work at the beginning of a meeting?” he asks. Meetings at Carlsberg became 35 per cent shorter when they introduced mindfulness at the start, according to Hougaard.

Brian McIvor, career coach and IMI member, says, “Tech startups and established companies have a set of behaviours that shape profitability and success. Unless mindfulness resonates with the deepest part of the company culture, it will shrivel up. People no longer do time-management courses. The measure of success of organisations is to be seen to be busy and to multitask. There is a huge distrust of the person who stands back and reflects. A tool like mindfulness would require an organisation to take the long-term view in shaping performance and culture.”

Hougaard acknowledges that other areas of the corporate work environment, such as realistic workloads and having a sense of purpose at work, would also need to be addressed.

“The workload is relentless in some organisations and companies need to look at smarter ways to work and change to the work/social culture of their organisations,” he says. “Multitasking reduces efficiency, decreases the quality of work, hampers creativity, drains energy and increases stress. There are two rules for mental effectiveness: focus on what you choose, and choose your distractions mindfully.”

Have yourself a Mindful Christmas

Opinion: Have yourself a mindful Christmas

Some tips to help you enjoy a peaceful and magical celebration.

Joanne O’Malley

THERE IS A chill and a sparkle in the air and an aroma of pine leaves. Leaves of trees are piled on footpaths, wistful romantic tunes jingle – “I’ll be home for Christmas”, colourful lights twinkle, people bustle. I’m already waking up at night… excited, expectant, planning… Oh no, not again!

It’s so easy to get swept up and lost in the nostalgia, the idealism, the madness, the hype. Then, our actions become ‘mindless’ reactions – we overdo the decorations, presents, food, parties because we mistake the illusion of Christmas for reality. Of course, we all want the sharing, the caring. We want to experience the warmth, fun and celebration at Christmastime but our tendency is to focus our energy in all the wrong places so often it turns out quite differently… tension, strained relationships, family fights, sadness and loneliness.

But, how can we avoid the pitfalls and make the most of whatever we have? And, what about the people who are not excited or looking forward to the next few weeks. Maybe you are alone, or have lost someone dear, or you are unwell or dealing with a challenge – is there any help out there, you might ask?

Simplicity is the answer

Whoever you are and whatever your story, ‘mindfulness’ or your capacity to be aware, right here and now means you stay with yourself and your experience as it unfolds, moment by moment with kindness, curiosity, openness and acceptance. So, instead of ‘having our buttons pushed’ and ‘reacting’ unconsciously to ongoing events, circumstances and other people, we stay open.

Perceiving with all of our senses (really looking, listening, feeling, smelling, tasting) takes our attention out of the stream of thinking (so we don’t get ‘lost’ in the story of what ‘must’ be done for instance) and we see reality as it is with lots of choices. Rather than worrying about what has happened or might happen, we deal with what is happening and our ‘presence’ (fully here) means we respond effectively and appreciate more fully.

When we are mindful we slow down and see the bigger picture. We realise that each moment (not just the moments on 25 December) is precious and an opportunity to re-write patterns and habits that are no longer serving us. We choose to re-engage with living, savouring the ordinary stuff like good company, loving relationships, delicious food, fun, laughter, music.

Research supports mindfulness

Research has shown that it is less ‘the event’ that makes us happy – than what we bring to it. So, when we get caught up in ‘rushing around’, ‘doing too much’, ‘getting anxious about having everything just so’, we become stressed and unable to relax and enjoy ourselves.

However, when we allow some space to replenish ourselves, we increase activity in the parts of our brain associated with positive emotion, joy, a sense of enthusiasm and decrease the activity in the areas associated with depression, rumination, excessive self concern as well as fear and anger.

Consciously choose happiness

You can consciously choose to make some space to cultivate awareness or mindfulness even if you have real difficulties to deal with. Mindfulness can help you to:

  • Stop and settle
  • Focus on what matters
  • Make some skilful choices
  • Manage anxiety, stress, loss and fears
  • Deal compassionately with self and others
  • Come to your senses
  • Move your body
  • Enjoy silence
  • Give generously
  • Appreciate fully
  • Bring it back to self
  • Savour moment by moment

Irish Times Article: Mindfulness and rumination

Irish Times Mindfulness and Rumination Article 
Padraig O’Morain
Irish Times Life & Style Health & Family
Tue, Nov 4, 2014, 01:00

Sitting in a traffic jam the other day I glanced at the car to the right. The driver was hunched over the steering wheel as if he were speeding along. He wasn’t actually going anywhere, but his posture said otherwise.
It seems reasonable to assume that the hold-up threatened to make him late for some important appointment. As I watched discreetly, he began to talk to himself. Then the god of traffic jams went off to annoy somebody else in some other city and we got going again.
The tension in that man’s face stayed with me, though, because this little scene illustrated how the components of a stress reaction can work together to make an experience worse than it needs to be.
I think of a stress reaction as having three components. First there’s a physical reaction, which was pretty obvious in this man’s case. Next is the emotional reaction, which is usually connected with fear or anxiety. The third reaction is rumination. In other words, we recycle the same thoughts and stories about the situation again and again.
So our driver might have been recirculating images of the disapproval with which he might expect to be greeted by whoever he was going to see; or he could have been going over and over the negative consequences of being late.
These three components amplify each other in a vicious circle. If you can drop, or significantly reduce, the intensity of one of them, then you get to reduce your overall stress level.
Now, if you tell people who are highly stressed that they should relax they will want to hit you, so that really isn’t going to do a lot of good. Similarly, you cannot tell people to stop feeling anxiety because we have little direct control over our feelings.
The biggest intervention we can make is to cut out rumination. But how? Here are a few ways.

First, recognise that rumination is harmful. It is not the same thing as calmly analysing a situation and working out what, if anything, you can do next.
It’s going over and over the same distressing and scary thoughts and images again and again, and it’s associated with depression as well as stress.
Simply recognising and believing that rumination is bad for you is a huge step towards stepping out of it whenever you find yourself doing it.
A second way to get out of rumination is to turn your attention to absorbing, unstressful activities.
Walking, running, going to the gym, cleaning the house, reading a book or newspaper or cooking a meal can all take you out of your ruminating mind and into a positive and pleasant engagement with the present.
The third way to come out of rumination is to get into contact with your present-moment experience. That’s probably the method that was most available to the man in the car.
But what in your present moment experience can you come back to? Awareness of breathing is one approach: just awareness, without forcing it. Another is to bring your awareness to how you feel physically – pretty tense in this case – but to do so silently, in other words without commenting on it in your head. A third way is to focus your attention on what you see or hear in your environment.
The key idea is this: if you think you have too much stress in your life, watch out for rumination.
And remember that the way to get out of rumination is to keep bringing your attention back to your present-moment experience or to get into absorbing, unstressful activities.
Absorbing activities
This approach has been tried out in schools in Canada on children with high levels of stress: the method has been to get them to engage in absorbing activities. The result has been to lower their stress levels and increase learning, because when your stress reaches a certain level your learning function switches off.
For more about the Canadian initiative, see
Padraig O’Morain is a counsellor accredited to the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His latest book is Mindfulness on the Go. His mindfulness newsletter is free by email

Mindfulness on the Agenda in Schools in Ireland

Irish Examiner Saturday, October 11, 2014

Just a moment: Ena Morley, Principal at St Ultan's Primary School, Cherry Orchard, Dublinpictured teaching Mindfulness classes.

Just a moment: Ena Morley, Principal at St Ultan’s Primary School, Cherry Orchard, Dublin pictured teaching Mindfulness classes.

Adults have been introduced to Mindfulness for some time, but the relaxation practice is now being taught in schools, says Helen O’Callaghan

CHILDREN in a classroom near you may not just be learning their seven times tables or their English reading — they may well be embracing the practice of mindfulness.

Mindfulness invites us to focus on the present moment — to bring mindful attention to our experience as it is happening right now. It’s an approach that helps us become calm and feel good about ourselves. It helps us build inner resources for dealing with daily stressors.

Teachers are training up for two reasons, says Ann Caulfield of Mayo-based Mindfulness Matters. They want to enable their pupils be aware of themselves and to problem-solve. “And they want to create a nice calmness in the classroom, helping children learn better.”

Caulfield and her colleague, Derval Dunford, have worked with a few thousand teachers nationwide since 2011, who want to bring mindfulness into their classrooms. This year, 1,500 teachers signed up for the company’s online course. Meanwhile, the UK-based Mindfulness in Schools Project (MISP) has trained approximately 90 teachers in Ireland and is running another course here this month.

Learning mindfulness gives children a toolkit of practices they can use whenever they need, says Claire Kelly, operations director with MISP, which has two curricula in which teachers train — paws.b is for seven to 11-year-olds, while .b (Stop, Breathe, Be!) is for older children. Set up eight years ago, MISP will have trained almost 1,000 teachers internationally by end of 2014.

Kelly says it’s clear that anxieties and difficulties facing young people have increased beyond anyone’s prediction. “Even at primary level, children are worrying about friendships, fitting in, being popular, doing well at school. They’re tested much more and are constantly comparing themselves — what they look like, how they behave, what they should be aspiring to.”

With parents caught up in rigours of the daily routine, with social media pressures for instant communication and worries about money, Kelly believes children aren’t seeing good role models at home for how to deal with stress. “Mindfulness gives skills to deal with the difficult stuff in life but also to notice the good stuff,” she says.

You don’t just do mindfulness while sitting on a cushion in a quiet room with sounds of bells ringing. Teachers are doing it in very ordinary classrooms — at the beginning of the day and at other transition points during the school-day, such as before or after break and before key events— class tests or sporting contests.

Children’s first introduction to learning mindfulness involves training their attention not to wander off — to stay in the present moment. A simple exercise, done standing up, has them focusing on their breathing, shifting attention to the lower half of their body, exploring physical sensations in ankles, feet and knees and realising how they’re centred and can do whatever lies ahead.

“If a child’s feeling upset, shifting attention to the lower half of the body helps their sympathetic nervous system calm them down emotionally,” explains Kelly.

Children are also asked to practice mindfulness at home. One exercise — mindful mouthful — has them really paying attention to what a mouthful of food tastes and feels like, in their mouth, as well as to notice any thoughts, urges or memories that come up during this process.

Research backs up mindfulness teaching for children. A US-based study of six to eight-year-old children, who took a 12-week programme of breath awareness and yoga, showed their attention and social skills improved, while test anxiety decreased. In another six-week study with anxious children, teachers reported an improvement in academic function and decrease in anxiety symptoms. And two pilot studies by UCLA’s Mindfulness Awareness Research Centre showed improvement in self-regulatory abilities among preschoolers and elementary schoolchildren after they’d done eight weeks of mindfulness training.

“Mindfulness enables children to know they feel out of kilter emotionally and to find a way to respond to difficult emotions,” says Ann Caulfield.

Children may be small but the chaos and busyness of their lives is big — it’s good to know we can do something to help them find their inner oasis of calm.


ENA MORLEY, principal of St Ultan’s Primary School, Dublin, trained earlier this year with British-based MISP. She immediately introduced mindfulness to fourth class pupils and is now doing it with fifth class.

“As a teacher calling the roll in the morning, children would answer ‘anseo’ — ‘here’ — and I’d wonder with some of them if they were present in spirit.

“In the school environment you can easily get sucked into ‘let’s get onto the next thing’.

“I felt it would be good if there was a time in the week when children could stop, breathe and be, when they could be present for themselves. It would be a check-in for their body — how am I in my body today? Are my mind, emotions and heart in tune or are they all disconnected?

“I was really delighted with how receptive the children were to the paws.b programme. It easily links into the SPHE (Social, Personal & Health Education) weekly lesson. I do 12 half-hour mindfulness sessions with 25 children in one of the fifth class groups.

“I introduce them to the idea of training their ‘puppy’ mind — that their mind is like a puppy, jumping all over the place.

“Another exercise I do is to ask them to stand up. They shift their weight from heel to toe until their heel lifts up. They come back onto their heels and then slowly shift their weight from the right foot to the left. I then ask them to take their weight completely on one foot and see if they wobble.

“This helps them explore the idea of grounding ourselves when we wobble. Sometimes our bodies wobble and so our minds wobble too with thoughts and anxieties. It could be worries about tests or losing a match.

“Doing this helps them become more alert to the signs in their body that they’re anxious.

“I’ve seen children able to use mindfulness in the playground. When they see a child annoyed, they tell them to stop and take deep breaths. When you ask how they reacted to a disagreement in the playground, they say ‘I took my deep breaths’. It becomes their default mechanism to take deep breaths and calm themselves.”


Visit  and  for more information

© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved