INDIE INTERVIEWS: SALLY HARRIS MINDFULNESS
Natasha Molloy interviews Sally Harris, accredited mindfulness trainer and supervisor, based in Oxford, whose mission it is to help people meet life’s joys and challenges with presence, compassion and resilience.
Tell us how you got started in mindfulness…
I first learnt mindfulness when I was in my early 20s. I jumped in the deep end and went on a 10-day silent meditation retreat, just out of interest. It was an intense way to learn getting up at 4.30am and meditating for hours and hours a day but I learnt so much about myself and my mind, and I was instantly hooked!
I meditated on and off for years after that, but I really got more serious about it when I was struggling with chronic pain and stress about 8 years ago. I went on a Mindfulness for Health course and also learnt about Mindful Self-compassion.
My relationship with myself really changed through those courses; from feeling like I was always fighting my body and the pain I started to become a lot gentler and softer, to look after myself a lot better. With practice the physical pain diminished, and I felt inspired to keep going and eventually trained so I could share what I’d learnt with others.
What is it about being a mindfulness trainer that you love most?
I absolutely love leading courses and seeing my students change over the weeks and months. It brings me so much pleasure to watch people who start out feeling tense, stressed or anxious slowly coming back to themselves, feeling more grounded, more alive or just better at taking little breaks throughout the day to look after themselves. It really works!
What are the challenges?
Although mindfulness is becoming more mainstream, there are still a lot of unhelpful misconceptions about it. For example, some people get put off because they think they’re supposed to make their minds go empty when they meditate and feel like they’ve failed when that doesn’t happen.
In fact, it’s perfectly normal to have a busy mind with lots of thoughts coming and going and mindfulness isn’t about stopping or getting rid of them. The aim is to get better at observing the flow of thoughts, rather than getting so caught up with their content.
What would be your top 3 tips for someone completely new to mindfulness practice?
You don’t have to sit cross-legged on the ground to meditate! Most people I teach chose to sit on a chair or lie down. If you want to sit on the floor there are lots of different postures you can try, but the main thing is to be comfortable! It’s not meant to feel like punishment.
Start small: just a few minutes of mindfulness a day can make a surprisingly big difference. One of my favourite practices is a Breathing Space meditation which can be done in just a couple of minutes (you can listen to one of mine for free here: bit.ly/freebreathingspace), but you can also practice just by doing everyday things with your full attention; walking, washing up, drinking a cup of tea.
You’ll be much more motivated if you learn with other people. It’s really hard to stick with it on your own. Learning in a group gives you accountability, motivation and support to keep going, and you also have the bonus of connecting with other like-minded people.
What does the future hold for Sally Harris Mindfulness?
I plan to keep leading 8-week courses as that’s at the heart of what I do, but I’m excited to start offering more retreats too for those who want to dive a bit deeper. I have some morning and day retreats coming up this autumn with fellow IndieOxford member Lynne Davies-Craine (@wanderingtowonder_coaching), but in the long run I’d love to lead longer ones.
Where can people learn more about you?
When’s the next course and how do people sign up?
My next retreat is on 4th December. Find out more here.
I also regularly run free mindfulness courses for people who live in Oxfordshire, funded through my partnership with The Mix and Abingdon & Witney College. This term I’m offering a Mindfulness for Health online course (starting 24th September), and a Mindfulness for Stress course in Wantage (starting 6th October)