talkhealth meets... James Scholfield
On Thursday 10 June, James Scholfield will be hosting an expert webinar on mindfulness and chronic pain. As founder of A Mindful Earth, James has dedicated his work to helping others unlock their minds for better health.
Ahead of his expert webinar, James shares his knowledge on the foundations of the practice and his tips for becoming more mindful!
You adopted the mindfulness practice because of your frantic life, what’s your story?
I spent a good deal of my early adult life working too hard, chasing happiness and turning away from pain. I was also suffering from chronic stomach discomfort, stress and burnout. One day I typed into Google, “how to be less angry?”, and Mindfulness popped up, at this time I wasn’t aware of the concept! I researched a little deeper and found out that mindfulness courses were being taught around the corner at Bethnal Green Buddhist Centre so I signed up, and here we are today!
I have practised mindfulness for 10 years and shared my knowledge of it for the last three. It is a way of life and I am constantly learning new things about the subject and myself. I would like to spend the rest of my life helping people find peace through mindfulness courses and coaching.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is defined by Jon Kabat-Zinn, the person who brought the concept to the West, as “paying attention, on purpose, to the present moment, without judgement”.
Our lives are made up of millions of moments and Mindfulness is a way of life, not just a practice. There are no goals because being present and aware is always there, like the sky above us. However, like the sky above sometimes being covered with clouds, our awareness of the present moment is sometimes muddled with thoughts, feelings, sensations and perceptions. The sky will always have clouds like the mind will have thoughts, but becoming mindful helps us deal with thoughts that send us spiralling into sadness, anxiety, or stress.
What are the long-term benefits of becoming more mindful?
Over the last 30 years, there have been studies that show that mindfulness and self-compassion soften our experience of physical, mental and emotional pain. The practise helps you to develop a more aware and compassionate connection to yourself, others and the world by:
Decreasing repetitive thinking and reactivity
Increasing a sense of acceptance for unpleasant sensations
Reducing rumination and avoidant behaviours
Increasing a sense of acceptance for the present moment
Inducing relaxation and decreasing stress
Bettering your sleeping patterns
Would you describe the practice as a form of therapy? How does your work differ from other forms of counselling?
I wouldn't say mindfulness is a form of therapy but being mindful gives you the tools to change the structure of your brain, which in turn helps you deal with difficulties that arise throughout your life. If you want to build strength in your shoulders you have to consistently go to the gym, the same can be said for the mind and mindfulness practices.
I allow my clients to have the opportunity to sit with, and make sense of, the unique experience of their troubles. I spend a great deal of time asking questions, holding space and listening. I ensure the space is safe and non-judgemental so that people can gently explore their situation. I believe that kindness and presence can change the world, one conversation at a time.
In your opinion, why has mindfulness become so popular in recent years?
Jon Kabat Zinn, Sharon Salzberg and Andy Puddicombe have done a terrific job to make it more accessible. I also feel that as the stigma around mental health continues to reduce people are more willing to talk about what is going on in their mind.
I am wary of mindfulness/spiritual materialism though. You see misguided advice or mindfulness ‘products’ popping up all over the internet nowadays. We can’t forget that many people turn to mindfulness when they are not in a good place. The last thing that should happen is for them to be taken advantage of or the practice to be turned into a profit-making machine.
The practice has Buddhist roots, how does mindfulness today differ from this original form?
Mindfulness meditation is only one of the most important elements of the Buddha's Noble Eightfold Path to end suffering and instil wisdom. The practice has evolved a great deal over the last 2,500 years but it wasn’t until 1979, when Jon Kabat-Zinn founded the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program at the University of Massachusetts to treat the chronically ill in the Western world, that people in the West became aware of it. His program sparked the application of mindfulness ideas and practices in medicine for the treatment of a variety of conditions in both healthy and unhealthy people.
What is the link between mindfulness and chronic pain?
Mindfulness can help people focus on what is happening in their body without judgement. Pain is real, it is horrible and it is complex. A great deal of suffering is caused by how we react to the primary cause of the pain. The way you experience pain is affected by many factors, in addition to the actual discomfort, your emotional state and beliefs about pain and your future with it all play a part.
Daily mindfulness helps you change your relationship with pain. Gently turning towards the discomfort, tuning into the sensations, noticing the thoughts that contribute to the suffering. Once you start befriending certain parts of your body, you’ll notice that part of the suffering begins to dissolve. It is not a substitute for medical treatment but it certainly compliments it.
Mindfulness is something that we can all access, what are your top three tips for becoming more mindful?
Being present and mindful brings about a little bit of peace. By practising mindfulness, over time our lives become lighter, happier, softer.
My top 3 tips for being more present:
Slow down and notice. Take your time to do everyday tasks and feel the soles of your feet touch the ground!
Sit and meditate. Make yourself comfortable. Close your eyes. Follow your breath.
Stop and smile. Become aware of small pleasures. The birds singing, the softness of your hoody, even the taste of coffee.
Overall, give the present moment your undivided attention.
If you or anyone you know needs support for their mental health check out our talkmentalhealth hub and mymentalwellbeing support programme, where you’ll find loads of expert-backed, actionable advice.
Information contained in this Articles page has been written by talkhealth based on available medical evidence. The content however should never be considered a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek medical advice before changing your treatment routine. talkhealth does not endorse any specific products, brands or treatments.
Information written by the talkhealth team
Last revised: 28 April 2021
Next review: 28 April 2024