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Deidre Savage's "brain training" helps people deal with their stress through mindfulness. Photo: ALICE PARMINTER

Mind over matter: taking the stress out of brain training

Calming thoughts are a way of life for mindfulness coach Deirdre Savage. The Thames woman, founder of non-profit organisation MindfulPath, has used the practice for years to support the mental health of herself and others by developing new neurological pathways in the brain. Now, she’s teaming up with the Thames Community Centre to bring her tools and tricks to those who need help reducing stress and feeling more in control of themselves. 

“It’s evidence-based,” Deirdre said of her style of teaching. 

“I draw from the science. I’m very interested in neuroscience, the psychology, even the sociology of it. Every day we’re learning new stuff about what we’re capable of… We can change our brains, we can rewire them.”

It’s this “rewiring” that Deidre is most interested in. She describes mindfulness as a way of paying attention, compassionately, to your thoughts and impulses, and training yourself to take control of those thoughts. 

“It’s literally about which neural pathway you’re going to go down – are my electrical impulses going to fire down that neural pathway towards that thought? [Or] let’s cultivate another path. In Buddhism it’s called bhavana, it’s cultivating.”

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Deirdre fell into mindfulness around 20 years ago when she was diagnosed with a serious cancer. Having already been a long-time practitioner of Buddhist-style meditation, she found mindfulness to be a useful addition to her mental health toolbox. 

“At first I was very sceptical [but] it was a turning point for me,” she said. 

“It was like, okay, all the science stuff I’m learning actually tracks totally with the meditation I’ve been learning from a Buddhist perspective, which is a whole different vocabulary, and a whole different set of experiences.”

That revelation has grown into a business which helps others find ways to navigate through the stresses and challenges of life. 

Thames Community Centre [manager] Jeff Whitfield said the concept of mindfulness was a perfect complement to the centre’s tenets of learning, sharing and connecting – so when Deirdre moved to Thames, they both saw it as the perfect opportunity to help the community. 

“I trained as an occupational therapist, and I worked in mental health, so I’ve had a longstanding interest in working with groups of people, just sharing and supporting each other,” Deirdre said. 

“What I want to do is encourage people to try and just explore it a bit. We’re so used to paying attention to ourselves and our thoughts in a critical way, and sometimes we just feel helpless in the face of that, but we can train to pay attention differently. [I] look specifically at that – practical, daily things.”

Deirdre is beginning with a free “taster” course, introducing the ideas and basic techniques of mindfulness in a two-hour class. For those who wish to learn more, the community centre has put together a highly-subsidised series of weekend workshops and longer courses. 

“There’s people in the community that need as many tools as they can to get through hard times,” Jeff said. 

“We want [the course] to be ongoing and sustainable, and realistically accessible.”

DETAILS: Free mindfulness taster session: June 19, 12.30pm at the Thames Community Centre. Weekend workshops June 15 and September 8. Limited places, contact 027 868 9797 or for more information.