Prisoner Self-Help

tools for healing, changing, growing

Yogic Eye Exercises

by Masha Bennett www.practicalhappiness.co.uk

This is a simple exercise for relaxation, relieving tension in the eye muscles and to help improve sleep.

It can initially feel a bit strange and tiring for the eye muscles, as we are not accustomed to using our eyes in this way. These exercise are said to be used by yogi, but you don’t have to know anything about yoga to benefit from them.

Important note: if you suffer from cataracts or other eye problems it may be better to avoid these exercises or consult with a medical professional before trying them.

eye

When doing these eye exercises:

*Keep your head straight and do not move it, only moving the eyes.

*Close and relax your eyes for about 30 seconds between the exercises.

*If you normally wear contact lenses, it’s better to take them off for these exercises.

1.Keep your head still and look ahead. Look up and down, floor to ceiling, 10-15 times. Close your eyes and rest for half a minute.

2. Look left and right moving your eyes sideways as far as you can 10-15 times. Close your eyes and rest again for half a minute.

3. Move the eyes diagonally as far as possible 10-15 times one way, rest, then move them 10-15 times the other way, rest.

4. Move the eyes in a 180 degree upwards arc (like a rainbow) 10-15 times. Rest.

5. Finally, move the eyes in a 180 degree downwards arc (upside down rainbow) 10-15 times. Rest.

If you feel a bit dizzy or uncomfortable at any point during these exercises, just stop, close your eyes and allow them to rest for longer.

Masha Bennett is a UKCP registered psychotherapist and a trainer of EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques). She has worked for a number of years within the UK criminal justice system, including running a drug rehabilitation programme in a women’s prison, and currently combines work in the National Health Service with her private therapy practice. Her website is www.practicalhappiness.co.uk.

Innocent man re-building his life after 20 years in jail

Frankie Carillo was falsely convicted of murder when he was just 16. Twenty years later, the eyewitnesses admitted that they had lied. Now Frankie is making a new life for himself, has become a student and is beginning to develop a relationship with his son who was just a baby when his father was wrongly convicted.

See a video of Frankie talking about re-building his life on the BBC website.

 

 

Stepping Back from Negative Thoughts

by Andy Hunt www.practicalwellbeing.co.uk

We do lots of thinking every day. Our thoughts come and go constantly from the moment we awake until the moment we fall asleep.

Depressed

Each of these thoughts has an effect on us. Many thoughts trigger emotional states in us for good or ill

Thoughts like this probably make us feel good:

  • “I think this is a great song”
  • “That chocolate cake looks good”
  • “I love you too sweetie”
  • “I’ve done well at…”

Thoughts like these probably make us feel bad:

  • “She makes me so angry”
  • “How could I be so stupid”
  • “I am so fat!”
  • “I am a failure”

Sometimes we are stuck to our ideas of ourselves and what is going on. If these ideas or thoughts are unhelpful this identification with them can be very stressful because we believe that what we are thinking is true. The thought triggers an emotional response whether it is appropriate or not. Our mistake is that we forget that the thought is just a thought about something, not the something itself. It’s as if we see a sign saying “Beware of the bull” and become afraid even though the field is quite empty.

A common response to having negative thoughts can be to try to add positive thoughts to the mix as an attempt to counteract or attack those negative thoughts.

This is like putting another gladiator in the ring and expecting the fighting to stop.

What we don’t do, or can’t do, is step out of the mental arena and let the thoughts go.

Fortunately, there are ways to ease the power of these thoughts by stepping away from them. One way of doing just that can be found in the book The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris. It is one of several, simple techniques that you can use to step out of unhelpful thinking patterns.

The process is simplicity itself. Let’s imagine that you have the thought “I’m no good” going around in your head. When you have this thought it provokes a very stressful and debilitating reaction.

First I would ask you to think the thought: “I am no good” then notice what effect that has on you.

Second I would ask you to think the thought: “I am having the thought that I am no good” then notice what happens when you do that.

Third I would ask you to think the thought: “I am noticing that I am having the thought that I am no good”, then notice what happens when you do that.

When they do this, people usually report that this technique puts the original thought “at a distance” to them, and that they are less troubled by it.

Instructions

1. Choose a thought that stresses you.

2. Think that thought and notice what it does to you

3. Then think “I am having the thought [insert the thought here]

4. Then think “I am noticing that I am having the thought [insert the thought here]”

This is a really simple process for taking the charge out of negative thinking.

The only challenge is remembering to use it. Here are two approaches that might help:

1. When ever you have an unhelpful thought make a note of it in a journal or piece of paper. At some convenient time of the day, review your notes using the technique for each thought that causes you trouble.

2. When ever you are in difficult or stressful situations ask yourself the question “What am I thinking now?” and make a note of your answers, treating each one with the process.

Image courtesy of Sander van der Wel

Andy Hunt is a therapist, advanced practitioner and trainer of EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) and master practitioner and trainer of NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming). His website is www.practicalwellbeing.co.uk

How to Hug a Tree

by Masha Bennett http://www.practicalhappiness.co.uk

When I include this exercise in my courses and personal development sessions, many people are reluctant to try it. But virtually everyone later reports that that it was a profound and healing experience..

If you have access to a real tree, that’s great. If you don’t, you can still do the exercise in your imagination. Think of a tree that you know – or you can make one up in your mind. Then go through the following steps, slowly, with no hurry, trying to maintain an attitude of curious openness…

1. Approach the tree slowly.

2. From some distance, notice the shape of the crown, the way the branches reach out to the sky.

3. Take in the colours, different shades of green, the texture of the foliage, how the leaves are intricately positioned, to allow in as much sunlight as possible.

4. Notice – what do you like most about the tree? And is there anything you don’t like – are there any flaws, perhaps some damage to the branches, gaps in foliage, anything that is not pleasing to your eye?

5. Come closer, touch the tree trunk, feel the bark gently underneath your palm, your fingers. Is it rough, or smooth? Warm, cool?

6. Lean on the tree trunk, allow it to support your body.

7. Optional (I really like this bit):  put your cheek on the bark, really allow that sensitive part of your to feel the tree’s outer skin.

ash_tree

8. Put your arms around the tree – depending on the size of the tree, your hands may or may not meet on the other side of the trunk.

9. Close your eyes and focus on your physical sensations and your emotions. Feel the energy of the tree (it is a very large energy field of a very large organism!)

10. Spend a few minutes just quietly noticing whatever you are experiencing, without trying to analyse or judge it

11. You may like to ask the tree a question – out loud, or in your mind perhaps. Wait for the answer. This may come as thoughts, images, physical sensations, an awareness, insight.

12. Let go of the tree trunk slowly. Thank the tree.

You may now feel energized, or perhaps a little emotional, or possibly calm and peaceful. Whatever it is, it’s the right thing for now. You can now take your new insights, the new energy, the new connections with you.

Try this with different trees – and if you can, try it both with a real tree and a tree in your imagination – the experience will vary but will always be healing and enlightening.

Masha Bennett is a UKCP registered psychotherapist and a trainer of EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques). She has worked for a number of years within the UK criminal justice system, including running a drug rehabilitation programme in a women’s prison, and currently combines work in the National Health Service with her private therapy practice. Her website is www.practicalhappiness.co.uk.

Are You Hanging Onto Old Wounds?

by Andy Hunt www.practicalwellbeing.co.uk

A man walks into a bar with an arrow sticking out of his chest.

He walks up to the astonished barman and asks for a beer.

The barman stares in disbelief at the arrow poking out through an old check shirt encrusted with dried blood.

He asks: “What the hell happened to you?!”

The man, rolling his eyes, says ” What does it look like? I was shot in the chest with an arrow!”

“Does it hurt?”, says the barman, staring at the arrow while pouring the beer.

“What do you think?”

“Why don’t you go to hospital and have it taken out and get yourself patched up?”

“No! I’m not letting any doctor take this arrow out! That the job of the evil S.O.B who shot me. He’s the only one who can take the arrow and the pain away!”

“That’s stupid!”, says the barman, “You should have someone remove that arrow and patch you up. I’ll phone a paramedic, you could be free of that problem in half an hour”.

“No! You don’t get it! Only the man who shot me can make this right, I’m waiting for him to come to me on bended knee and apologise for what he’s done, he can take out the arrow and then we’re done. He did the damage, he can make it better”

The barman studies the arrow noticing how old and tattered it looks, some of the feathers are missing, the wood is stained and splintered. He also notices that the mans shirt is old, ragged and dirty.

“When did you get shot?”

“20 years ago! … one of the worst days of my life!”

“What!!! You’ve been walking around with an arrow in your chest for 20 years! Are you nuts!”

Indignant the man says: “No, I’m in pain, can’t you respect my suffering?”

“Yeah, but 20 years!”, pointing at the arrow, “Doesn’t that cause you problems?”

“You bet. It hurts like hell, I have to avoid revolving doors, and can’t do press-ups, it’s a real nuisance”

“And you’re waiting for this guy to come and take the arrow out?”

“Yeah”

“Isn’t that unlikely, I mean he did shoot you in the first place. Why would he want to help you?”

“He should do it! It’s only right that he should make amends for what he did”

“Do you know where is he?”

“Yeah. In the cemetery. He’s been dead for seven years”

“What! How can he take the arrow out if he’s dead? You need to get someone else to take out the arrow”

“No way, that’s his job! I’d rather go to my grave suffering than let him get away with what he did by having someone else take this arrow!”

“You’re crazy! You’re holding onto this pain waiting for someone who will never come to make it all better”

“You don’t understand”, says the man finishing his beer, “Nobody ever does … “, putting down his empty glass he leaves the bar (being very careful of the swing doors).

Andy Hunt is a therapist, advanced practitioner and trainer of EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) and master practitioner and trainer of NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming). His website is www.practicalwellbeing.co.uk

43,000 strip searches of children

Freedom of Information request revealed that despite promises by the Youth Justice Board to stop routine strip-searching of children in young offender institutions and other secure settings, more than 43,000 took place over the last 21 months in England and Wales, some on children as young as 12, with 48% of those strip searched coming from minority ethnic backgrounds.

Read the full article on The Guardian website.

The Butterfly Hug

by Masha Bennett www.practicalhappiness.co.uk

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation & Reprocessing) is a complex and powerful therapy that is used to treat Post Traumatic Stress, anxiety and some other mental health issues. Unfortunately it can only be safely used by specially trained mental health professionals and at the moment is rarely available in prisons. However, the so-called Butterfly Hug is one small tool in EMDR toolbox that can safely be used by anyone (even children) for self-help. You can try the Butterfly Hug to soothe yourself when you feel anxious, uncertain or fearful. Similarly to the full EMDR procedure, this tool employs bi-lateral stimulation, i.e. stimulation of the two sides of our brain, which is thought to help process trauma and calm anxious feelings.

This is how to do the Butterfly Hug. Whilst sitting up with your back straight, cross your arms across your chest, as if you are giving yourself a hug, with your right hand resting on your left upper arm, and your left hand on your right upper arm. (It doesn’t matter which arm is on top.) Observe any feelings of anxiety, fear or upset in yourself, and tap your hands on your arms alternately – left, right, left, right – at whatever speed is comfortable for you.

After tapping for a minute or two, stop and take a deep breath. Notice how you are feeling – are you a little calmer, somewhat relaxed, a bit more comfortable? Just notice whatever feelings or sensations you are experiencing, and continue tapping until you feel as calm as you would like to be.

butterfly_compressed

Butterfly is an ancient symbol of transformation

If you don’t notice any change, try tapping for a little bit longer and you may feel it then. You can do the Butterfly Hug for as long as you like, and as many times a day as you like. You can do it on your own, together with a friend or with a group of people.

This method was created by EMDR therapists who worked with children in the aftermath a natural disaster in Mexico City in 1998.

The Butterfly Hug is a useful tool but it will not work for everyone every time. If for any reason you begin to feel worse, please stop tapping and try calming yourself down by using any other methods that are available to you.

Another simple way to do bi-lateral stimulation (which should have a similar effect to the Butterfly Hug) is to pass a small ball or even a pebble from one hand to another repeatedly – it appears that almost any type of repeated left-right stimulation of our body is likely to have a balancing and soothing effect.

Masha Bennett is a UKCP registered psychotherapist, EMDR therapist and a trainer of EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques). She has worked for a number of years within the UK criminal justice system, including running a drug rehabilitation programme in a women’s prison, and currently combines work in the National Health Service with her private therapy practice. Masha teaches EFT, trauma awareness and self-help tools to professionals and general public across Europe, Asia and Middle East. Her website is  www.practicalhappiness.co.uk.

Useful links and references

EMDR Association UK & Ireland

EMDR Europe

EMDR International Association

Nancy Napier’s website

Chief inspector’s concerns over Winchester prison

The Chief Inspector of Prisons in England and Wales, Nick Hardwick, found that HM Prison Winchester is overcrowded and has unacceptable levels of violence. 10% of prisoners reported that they developed a drug problem in jail.

Read the summary of his findings on The Guardian website here, or the full report here.

Grounding Techniques

by Masha Bennett www.practicalhappiness.co.uk

When we suffer with anxiety, have been shocked or traumatised, it is not uncommon for us to feel disconnected from our body or from reality (psychiatrists may call these states “depersonalisation” and “derealisation”).  We may feel numb, spaced out, distracted and generally “not with it”. It is a way our mind protects us from difficult feelings. However this disconnection or dissociation from our bodies can cause problems, as it numbs positive emotions as well as negative ones, and can also prevent any healing or therapy you undertake from working effectively. When we are ungrounded we are also more likely to suffer flashbacks to traumatic experiences.

The so-called grounding can be very important especially during stressful times, and helps us to reconnect our body and mind. It involves some very simple techniques that can help us feel calmer and safer. Grounding is also very useful to do in preparation for learning and practice of any form of relaxation, meditation or self-hypnosis. (If we are ungrounded when we attempt to relax, it is possible that the relaxation process itself may, paradoxically, provoke anxiety.)

Photo by gubgib atwww.freedigitalphotos.net

Photo by gubgib atwww.freedigitalphotos.net

To put it simply, grounding refers to our sense of connection with the ground (the earth or the floor) – with our physical environment.

The basic principles of grounding are straightforward – it is about paying attention to the sensations of your body being physically connected to the ground, floor, chair or any other surface you are in contact with. For example:

  • Feeling your feet standing firmly on the floor
  • Feeling the weight of your body in the seat
  • Feeling your back against the chair
  • Feeling your elbows on the armrest.

That’s it! When practising grounding, you will probably notice that your attention drifts from the physical sensations of your feet on the floor and your body in the chair to something else – e.g. everyday thoughts or worries, and that’s completely normal. When you notice that just gently bring your attention to the physical sensations of connecting with your environment again.

Touching and holding objects with your hands also has a gentle grounding effect – hugging a pillow or a soft toy, touching wood or metal and noticing their temperature and texture, focusing on the feel of fabric of your clothes or bedding – all can help to practise being in the “here and now”.

If you get a chance to try grounding outdoors, that is even better – when we can feel the ground or the grass with our bare feet, we re-connect with the Earth naturally. Hold a handful of soil, touch (or even hug) a tree, feel a leaf or a twig with your fingers.

Some people like to enhance the pleasant feeling of relaxation that is often associated with grounding through visualisation techniques (making pictures in your mind)– for example, imagining that there are “roots” growing from the soles of their feet, reaching deep into the ground, anchoring them firmly to the Earth, supporting them and holding them. The well-known holistic teacher and author Dr William Bloom suggests a range of grounding visualisation techniques in his book The Endorphin Effect, including imagining and sensing  that you are:

  • a tree with a strong trunk and deep roots
  • a mountain rising out of the earth
  • the big fat smiling Buddha sitting firmly on the ground
  • the wide-hipped “Earth Goddess”

tree

You can also ground yourself whilst walking – just pay attention to the sensations in your legs when you move them and the feeling in your feet as they connect with the floor.

If you are beginning to feel anxious and it seems like a part of you is disconnecting from your body, or when you are getting a flashback to a traumatic experience, you can bring yourself back to “hear and now” by stamping your feet hard on the ground or floor a few times (if there are people around you, it may be helpful to explain what you are doing, so that they don’t think you are having a tantrum!) Any other strong sensory input can be helpful – for example, holding an ice cube or putting your hands in cold water (or splashing it into your face. Strong smells can also be useful for grounding too – if you can get hold of spices or herbal teabags, you can use them to help yourself ground.

Eating food also has a grounding effect (meat, root vegetables and starchy foods especially so) so try to make sure that you don’t miss your meals, and pay conscious attention to the food whilst eating it. This may be one of the reasons that some people who have experienced trauma develop eating disorders – with the numbness and painful emptiness inside being temporarily soothed with food.

If you enjoy listening to or making music, deep low notes also tend to have a grounding effect – if you have enough privacy to do this comfortably you could hum or sing to yourself at the lower range of your voice and notice the effect it has on your mind and body.

Regular grounding practice is especially important for people who experienced trauma, suffer with anxiety, eating disorders, self-harm and addictions, and should become an integral part of your healing process.

References and further information

Bloom, William (2011) The Endorphin Effect. Piatkus.

Behaviour Health Resources www.bcbhr.org/Articles.aspx?7

Mosaic Minds www.mosaicminds.org

Masha Bennett is a UKCP registered psychotherapist and a trainer of EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques). She has worked for a number of years within the criminal justice system, including running a drug rehabilitation programme in a women’s prison, and currently combines work in the UK National Health Service with her private therapy and training practice. Masha teaches EFT, trauma awareness and self-help tools to professionals and general public across 10 countries in Europe, Asia and Middle East. Her website is  www.practicalhappiness.co.uk.

How to Get Over Grief

by Pete Michaud www.petermichaud.com

I was 21 years old when my dad killed himself.

Dad had left after a big fight with my mom. I had been talking to my mom for the whole week he’d been missing, and that morning was no different. I had to hang up with her to go to class, and I called her back afterward to keep her mind busy while we figured out where dad was driving to.

A man picked up the phone and asked who I was. The detective passed the phone to Mom when I told him I was her son, and that’s when she told me they’d found Dad at a reststop a few miles outside of town. His body baked for 2 or 3 days in the back of his Denali before someone found him. His toxicology report told me what I already could’ve guessed: cocaine, narcotic pain medication, and a bottle of red wine.

My family had been normal. In his youth my dad had been wild, but he was sober since before I was born, he was a middle manager at a major corporation. He was a good dad, always joking, everyone liked him.

Pete MichaudWhen we lived in Mexico, he decided to have a taste of the old times while he could, and he got just a little coke. Five years later, his body rotted in the back of an SUV at a rural Ohio reststop.

The news literally knocked the wind out of me and knocked me off balance for a moment. That’s why people need to sit after news like this. I remember the exact view I had when I fell into my office chair, looking at my wife at the time, who immediately understood what I’d heard on the phone. Grief instantly struck her face as she fell back onto the couch. She, like everyone else, loved my dad.

A couple of numb hours later, I picked up a video game controller and pretty much didn’t put it down for the next three days. When I stopped playing, I’d start crying.

Reimagine

Grief is the process of reimagining what your life will be like now that something or someone you expected to be part of it, no longer will be.

You had one idea before your dad died, or before your husband left you, and now that idea doesn’t make sense anymore because those people aren’t in the picture anymore. They aren’t there, and the needs that were being met by their presence will no longer be met by them. Your subconscious goes into overdrive, deep down into the recesses of your brain, and has to tear that whole future narrative out from the root.

That whole process hurts like hell, and we call it grief.

I flew to my parents’ house to help with the funeral, and I was busy for about a week. I felt nothing really, I was just doing things like writing the eulogy, and arranging flowers and that sort of thing.

Someone had picked up a Stevie Ray Vaughan CD to play at the funeral, as that was some of my dad’s favorite music. I popped it in to figure out what song to play. I was sitting on my mom’s couch when “Life Without You” came on, and I lost my shit. I bawled like a heart broken toddler.

Distracting myself felt better than sitting and dwelling on my dad, that’s for sure. But remember what all that pain is for: it’s rebuilding the mental image of your life.

It’s identifying needs that used to be filled by someone, going through the pain and fear of feeling that those needs will no longer be met, then connecting with new resources to get those needs met in lieu of the departed.

So all those video games, busy work, alcohol, long work hours, only serve to slow down and stop the process of grief. You’re trying to make it go away, but the way you’re doing it is just making it stay longer.

Take breaks from the pain if you must, but let the tears, rage, and desperation flow through you until it’s said its piece. Then you’ll be free.

Pete Michaud is a catalyst. He accelerates change by pulling you toward the ingredients necessary to transform, and pushing you away from anything that keeps you static. Pete’s website is www.petermichaud.com

Sources of information and support

Cruse Bereavement Care is a UK charity offering information, counselling, practical advice and support with bereavement and grief. In Northern Ireland Cruse provides specialist Prison Support Services as well as services in the community.

Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide provides emotional and practical support to those bereaved by suicide of a close relative or friend.

The Compassionate Friends offers support for parents, grandparents and siblings after death of a child or children.

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