Lucy Lyus meets Sandy C. Newbigging to explore the benefits a Life Coach can have on wellbeing
Sandy C. Newbigging is in the business of calm. You can become a member of the best-selling author and meditation teacher’s Calm Clan, study ‘Calmology’ through his online course, and read any one of his last three books, which all feature ‘calm’ in the title. You can also meditate with Newbigging on a Champney’s retreat, or like me, attend a one-on-one life coaching session to get a more personalised calm-fix.
Calm, for many of us, has come to be experienced as a luxury good, even without luxury retreat prices: a rare treat that has to be worked for and only indulged under special circumstances.
Rarely a week goes by without hearing of endemic levels of stress in primary school children, students, or workers in any number of industries. According to a new study from the charity FirstLight Trust, women are now twice as likely to feel more stress every day than men. A third (32 percent) of British women confess to feeling stressed every day of their life, compared to just over a quarter (17 percent) of all men. On average, women feel stressed four days a week.
As a qualified yoga teacher, I know the routes to relaxation better than many, yet balancing fast-paced London life, and until recently, three concurrent jobs, means stress has become my default mode, with a perma-clenched jaw and regular bouts of feeling overwhelmed by the to-do lists wallpapering my flat (top tip for an inexpensive way to add that personal touch to your interior design! Note: may induce palpitations). It’s long been known how damaging prolonged stress can be for our mental and physical health, so if Newbigging thinks calm is the answer, I’m all set to give his approach, which also promises “better health, freedom and success” a go.
We meet in a bustling cafe filled with suited office workers swarming over takeaway salads and sandwiches, and looking like they could do with a bit of calm too. It’s not the most conducive atmosphere for cultivating one’s inner millpond, but serves as a good reminder of what today’s meditation teacher, or ‘modern monk’, as Newbigging describes himself, is up against.
After taking some background details, Newbigging gets stuck into the issue I’ve been asked to come along with (a dilemma over choosing a day job that is rewarding yet sustainable – teaching yoga is great, but until I become an overnight YouTube sensation it just isn’t going to pay all the bills) and he fires off questions: “Are you on a journey? If you could have one wish granted, what would it be? What do you fear? What do you desire?”
This feels blisteringly incisive but not all together uncomfortable, and Newbigging is an attentive listener. His theory, as set out in latest book Calm Cure, is that it is the conflict that arises in resisting what we fear, and the stubborn attachment to what we desire that creates unhappiness and stress. Conversely, making peace with how life is – a mixture of wanted and unwanted events – is the key to happiness, and to achieve this one must learn to exist in the present moment and tune out self-defeating thoughts.
“When we stop listening to the noise, we just become happy,” Newbigging explains. “Peace is a by-product of being aware and disconnected from your thoughts.”
This is of course not a new theory; acceptance in one form or another has featured in philosophies from Stoicism to Buddhism, and unaddressed conflict and resistance was brought to the world though Freudian psychoanalytic thought. Mindfulness – learning how to be present – is now taught in schools, workplaces, and on the NHS. What has allowed Newbigging to write and sell books, and lecture all around the world, then, must be in the techniques.
In our two-hour session diagrams and acronyms abound – calm doesn’t mean calm, it means Conscious Awareness Life Meditation. We ‘GAAAWO’ together a couple of times – that’s Gently Alert, Attention Wide Open. This entails sitting very, very still and trying to be aware of all that is happening in your field of vision without consciously attending to it; a way of tuning into the present moment, which does somewhat calm the busy cafe.
Newbigging then takes me through an exercise in reflecting on how willing I am to allow what I fear (judgment from others) to co-exist with what I desire (approval from others – contradictory I know, but that’s suppressed psychological conflict for you). We go back to past events, and forward to the future, to imagine how I would feel to be at peace and let go of both the resistance to judgment and attachment to approval, each time marking the strength of the feeling out of 10 with the aim of increasing it each time. As we progress I do feel calmer, and by the end more willing to put myself out there for jobs where I might have been too afraid of rejection to consider applying for.
In just one session with Newbigging we don’t delve too deep, though I can see how over time this could be an effective way to better get to know your thoughts, learn how to manage them, and gradually relax, in a similar way to talking therapies and more spiritual practices, such as yoga. Newbigging leaves me with some personalised positive mantras, and for a good while after being reabsorbed by the hectic London streets, a little bit of calm.
Calm Cure is out now. For more information visit www.sandynewbigging.com
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