Tag Archives: caroline jaine

Mindfulness, Meditation and Brain Training


I have written before about how the 2020 Covid lockdown had a positive impact on me, especially in terms of research into the science behind healing. (Read more) Perhaps what I haven’t shared is that a lot of my epiphanies came from deep, long sessions of meditation – somtimes for up to eight hours long.

Over the past year I have been running hour long Introduction to Meditation classes and ongoing guided meditation sessions for groups of public service workers – many of them with jobs in the emergency services. It has been well received and I find it a calming, relaxing experience myself.

Aside from this personal experience there is lots of research about the benefits of meditation. There is a growing body of evidence that consistently associates mindfulness with certain changes in the structure and function of the brain, as well as changes in behavior. This suggests that mindfulness can have a positive effect on our thoughts and feelings, including reducing fear and pain. Research concludes that mindfulness-based therapy may be useful in altering affective and cognitive processes that underlie multiple clinical issues. These findings are consistent with evidence that mindfulness meditation increases positive affect and decreases anxiety and negative affect.

A study by the National Centre for Complimentary and Integrative Health shows that meditation was as effective as prolonged exposure therapy at reducing PTSD symptoms and depression, and it was more effective than PTSD health education. The veterans who used meditation also showed improvement in mood and overall quality of life. It can also strengthen areas of your brain responsible for memory, learning, attention and self-awareness.


Many people don’t fully understand the notion of “mindfulness” or meditation. Some think it is a simply requirement to empty your mind and “think of nothing”. Others think it is just about focussing on breath. Some give up after just a few minutes as their mind wanders and they cannot “sit still”.

In fact, there are very many ways to meditate and in tuition I offer, there is an explanation and introduction to three basic categories of meditation or “brain training”: mindfulness (or focussed); transcendental meditation (TM); and compassion-based meditation. The benefits that each type of meditation has is explained and insight provided into the areas of the brain that can be improved using different techniques. Much like going to the gym, different exercises have different benefits. When considering what is right for you, it is also important to look at environmental considerations, resilience building techniques (grounding) and body position – you don’t have to sit on the floor cross legged, as some think.


There is a confusing array of “mindful apps” and Youtube meditations out there – it is near impossible to find what resonates with you. My top tips at the moment are:

·         For a down to earth and slightly sweary Irishman who has amazing knowledge on the benefits of meditation try Niall Breslin, who does an excellent podcast called “Where is my Mind” (I found it on Spotify).  His focus is more on mindfulness. I enjoy his hour long podcasts, more than his guided meditation, but he may work for you.  He guides at a quite fast pace, which can work for over-active minds.

·         Deepak Chopra’s 21 day programme also on Spotify is worth a listen.  His approach combines all three types of meditation – but mostly compassion based with some TM techniques.  He also speaks a lot about abundance, which may or may not resonate with you.

·         If you are interested in TM – then I recommend 1 Giant Mind app as a starting point.  Just a warning on TM – as it works so well, it has been monetised and you can pay up over £500 to be trained in it!

I have been practicing meditation and Qigong for over 20 years and the Covid Lockdown gave me the space and time to qualify as a Reiki practitioner and take my meditation so much further.

If you would like to take the conversation further, or you are intersted in guidance or classes, let me know. I am considering offering online guided sessions in the near future.


Healing for Sceptics


I love science.  Proof.  Fact.  

Lockdown happened in March 2020 and suddenly, for the first time in my life I had time on my hands to reconsider my life.  I decided I wanted to commit to some research into what I could only describe as “energy healing”. I wanted to change my life to help others and was exploring how.  I am writing this to explain my journey and what I discovered, for those who, like me, have a healthy, but well-meaning scepticism.

All my life I have worked with my hands in one way or another: I’ve fixed cars, painted pictures, made stuff.  When I was five I used to “think my hands warm” on cold days when I didn’t have gloves.  I’ve often sent friends who are ailing “good vibes” and was even told once that my voice was so calming, it made them feel that their hair was being stroked.  I was told this whilst under fire in southern Iraq.  

That’s just a very brief summary of what led me to embark on some further research.  I felt I “had something”, some kind of energy in my hands and about me that I could use for good.  I certainly have good intentions too.  I began Googling healing and was met with a barrage of purple images and insipid memes that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a 1980s greeting card.  I’ve never described myself as “spiritual” or thought of myself as some kind of angel from heaven. No messiah complex here. I ploughed on through the jarring aesthetics of healing to look for qualitative and quantitative research on the matter.  Academic stuff. Testing things.  If I was going to reconsider myself as a healer, I didn’t want to be winging it.  I didn’t want mystery, I wanted to know what was going on, as best as my brain could manage.  I love science.  Proof.  Fact.

I enrolled with various healing organisations and began to talk to their members. The healers were varied – a Bristolian shaman, a Scandinavian healer, an ex-military officer who healed at hospices.  By far the most influential book I read at the time was Deepak Chopra’s Quantum Healing.  Written by a man who is a qualified doctor and endocrinology expert, it is a dense text laden with examples and research.  Setting aside Chopra’s Hollywood guru identity, his knowledge is phenomenal.  I read many other texts too and underlined and noted down where scientific tests had been carried out.

I am interested in three things:

Is it possible to “move energy”? I had experienced sending energy around my own body – as a child and as someone who regularly practised Qigong.  Think Chinese slow-moving arm-waving in parks if you don’t know what this is.  I am interested in where this energy comes from – from within or without – and whether it can be channeled into another person. And further, if it is, would that be beneficial?

Second, I am interested in placebo and the power of suggestion.  Many healers I discovered don’t like talking about this.  They prefer to be mysterious, I think.  But the fact that if you give someone a sugar pill and tell them it will ease pain and in generally between 30% – 60% of cases it will, cannot be overlooked. The fact that it might work for just 1% is impressive.  Someone in my family even read how placebos might ease back pain and asked their specialist at the hospital if they could be prescribed some!  The whole billion-dollar industry of advertising is based on the fact that when things are suggested to us, we go and buy them.  I found some incredible research that had been carried out with thousands of paramedics in America.  They discovered that what people were told by paramedics that treated them did make a difference to the speed of their healing.  If injured and unwell people heard paramedics telling them that the worst was over and their bodies were going to start healing from this point, they healed quicker than if they were surrounded by people shouting “Help! He’s going to die!” So when people say, “oh, it’s just the placebo effect” they vastly underestimate how incredibly powerful that effect is.

Thirdly, I am interested in our body’s natural willingness to heal.  If we cut our finger we don’t need to tell red blood cells to create collagen or send instructions to weld our skin back together.  Just as our heart beats and our lungs breath, our whole body functions without intervention.  Our bodies are constantly trying to balance themselves – to cope with the food and drink we ingest, the air that we breath, and the circumstances we experience.  Our bodies naturally produce antibiotics, painkillers, and diuretics.  They are miracles at self regulation – they want to be perfect.  It is only ourselves that sabotage that.  I’m interested in how we can eliminate the saboteur and allow the smooth running of the human machine.

I also stumbled upon evidence that what we look at in recovery has an impact on how well we heal. I learnt about the frequency of colour and its impact on the endocrine system. I learnt about neurological pathways and how to change them.  And I have tested this in recent years, unravelling all of the self-harming habits I once had. I also learnt about the genetic markers that can be improved through meditation. I improved my own genetic markers one day, by meditating for eight hours straight. I really didn’t have a bad lockdown. 

Once I did enough research to be convinced that there really was something in the idea of “energy healing”, and that I might be able to help others with it, I decided to do some training. I was able to grow my knowledge of Qigong locally with some one-to-one classes by the fantastic Master Joe Dymond who has studied in China. Joe also drives a Harley Davidson and is a DJ – my kind of guy. By chance I also landed a place studying a technique called Reiki in South Wales.  I liked that the founder of this Japanese method of hands on healing, Mikao Usui, is relatively modern, and studied the ancient arts of healing himself, saving me a lot of time. I do have a tendency to over-research things.

My Reiki teacher is a wonderful, capable no nonsense Welsh woman, who I instantly warmed to. In lockdown I studied Part 1 and passed both practical and written tests and I aim to complete my Part 2 in the next month or so, allowing me to become a practitioner.  I love that it is a structured technique, but does incorporate some intuitive aspects.  The practice patients I have worked on so far have really spurred me on.  I am fascinated by what they have felt during and after I treat them – and they of course form part of ongoing research. 

As time goes by I hope to develop my healing practice to incorporate the spoken word to help others – as I now understand better the science behind its power. I also hope to offer guidance on meditation. Given that 95% of ailments are related to stress, I am well aware that just the chance to lie down for an hour and be surrounded by good intentions can really help.  But now I know that energy healing is so much more than that.  It is a science.  And I have a growing bank of proof that it works.

Caroline Jaine

The Chilcot Inquiry & My Better Basra


In the week that the Chilcot-lead Iraq Inquiry report is published, I am revisiting my own attendance giving evidence at the Inquiry six years ago.  The introductory chapter to my book, A Better Basra: 100 days in Iraq coping with men, media and militias sets out how the Inquiry inspired me to write my story.


A few weeks ago I joined about 70 others at the QEII Conference Centre opposite Westminster Abbey in Central London.  Together we shared stories, some cried, all laughed, and some simply gazed into the distance.  A diverse range of civil servants and consultants, we had one thing in common – we had all served in Iraq at some stage between 2003 and 2009.  This was the first time we had ever been gathered together to talk about the successes and failures of our Iraq experience – and the first time many of us had felt listened to.  Our hosts and facilitators were Sir John Chilcot and his colleagues, who made up the Iraq Inquiry – and I thank them for providing the opportunity to reflect.

I was only in Iraq for 100 days and next to veterans of years I felt somehow that my experience was inadequate and perhaps that I had over-dramatised it in part – but I was wrong.  I soon understood that in the context of the six years that Britain and her allies occupied Iraq, the short time that I had been there, had been quite exceptional in terms of danger – and not least, frustration.  There was a realisation too that the civilian effort was often forgotten about and – as I found out first hand as a government Press Officer – was of no real interest to the media.  Civilian presence in Iraq was after all dwarfed by the military.

It is for this reason that in June 2010, I searched my hard-drive for the part -finished story of my time in Iraq that I had hastily scrawled a year or so ago and bottom-drawered for future generations of Jaines.  But I see now that the story of an ordinary civilian in extraordinary times should be heard by more and not lost.  The mere few months I spent living in Iraq proved to be a huge catalyst for change in me, both personally and professionally – but it has taken me several years to realise that I have an interesting story to tell and that I needn’t be shy of telling it.

I have written and blogged about freedom of expression – but I now understand that I have been my own worst censor.  I joined the Foreign Office in my mid twenties and even as a fledgling diplomat, I bought into the culture that one just didn’t write about one’s experiences.  It just wasn’t cricket.  The likes of Craig Murray and Christopher Meyer were held up as examples of how NOT to behave, yet many of us would scuttle up to Waterstones on Trafalgar Square to buy their words (core reading for those about to be posted to Washington or Uzbekistan).

I realise of course that I am no Murray, I am no Meyer.  I am not about to shine a spotlight on a controversial human rights issue nor offer jaded insight into British/US relations (although maybe a fleeting glimpse on the latter).  In Iraq, I was neither an Ambassador nor High Priestess.  I was just a woman in a warzone.  A mother of three, with honourable – if possibly naïve – intentions,  separated from her loved ones for the first time in 13 years and thrown into a world of mortars, rockets and defence correspondents.  I am not claiming that I was anything but average.  I never saved anyone’s life with my bare hands, nor did I patch up a wounded soldier under mortar attack.  I didn’t crumble, I didn’t shine, but I did operate reasonably well in extraordinary and life threatening circumstances and I’m sure that being a female of the species helped me to some extent.

There is another reason for writing this – one which may well be revealed by the Iraq Inquiry – and that is that many civilians are ill-prepared for sharing life in a military theatre.

On a “Hostile Territories” course we were shown real life videos of captives being beheaded, we were chased around woodland by armed men, and mopped up fake blood from the spurting wounds of convincing actors. But it is a bit like reading books on parenthood in preparation for becoming a mum – it is difficult to know exactly how you will behave when the responsibility is with you, when it is actually yours.  The more exposure and training you can get before deploying on such an assignment, the better.  Reading briefings, going on political courses, and attending meetings are all good – but nothing really prepares you for the experience of living in fear, of co-habiting with the culture of uniform, of “compound” mentality – nor of what to expect from yourself as “normal” when exposed to hyper-stress or physical danger.  It is hoped that this account proves to be relaxed and entertaining, but also a useful preparation for anyone (perhaps particularly women) considering volunteering for civilian assignment in a war zone – and I can’t help but think of Afghanistan as I write this.

It should be noted however, that as we nibbled polite sandwiches (and some of us gnashed teeth) with our Inquiry friends at the QEII Centre, Sir John quite rightly observed that everyone in the room had a very different story to tell.  Those in Maysan and Kirkuk experienced a very different civvy Iraq than those stuck in the bureaucratic hub that was Baghdad.  Some felt isolated and frustrated at the lack of ability to meet Iraqis – others enjoyed regular outside contact and a high level of responsibility. Some had witnessed violence first-hand; others had enjoyed their mission from the Embassy bar.  Much depended on where you were, when you were in Iraq and more often the personalities you worked with.  One thing that can be said is that it was an experience that none of us will forget.

Ebola and ISIS make it OK to be racist


ebolaI would like to report a disturbing trend among some of the British people I know – including some friends and family. Despite being in the information and travel age, people appear to be buying into prejudice and intolerance on a grand scale. Having access to more knowledge about others, doesn’t mean we are using it. On the contrary, we are overloaded with information and appear to reach for dumbed-down caricatures of “other cultures” and the easiest sound bites we can swallow to help us make sense of the world and ourselves. And the ISIS and Ebola newsfeeds have provided a rich stream. To give you an example, a teenager recently said to me, “I’m pretty scared about Ebola. Bloody Africans not washing their hands and eating bats. Dirty bastards, I wish they hadn’t started all this.” And on ISIS, someone suggested that Britain should bomb whole civilian areas in Iraq, because “they will probably become ISIS or killed by ISIS, so we might as well be rid of them.” Another actually suggested that Ebola be shipped to the Middle East to “finish them all off”. The frightening thing is that many of the comments (and there have been many more besides these) have been made by middle class so-called liberal thinkers. The word “they” is prevalent.

Cameron’s fantastic stage isismanagement of the Europe bill in a transparent bid to draw back UKIP supporters has lead to a well-educated friend saying, “We just aren’t European. We are different from them”. This is probably a very tame version of what many out and out racists are saying, but I am nervous about xenophobia seeping into mainstream Britain from the radicalised edges. Are we that fragile in our own identity that we need to constantly assert it by finding failings in “others”?

Although I usually write more about the positive things in society, I’m blowing the whistle on the middle-class racists, for I fear them most. At the moment I am staying by their sides and attempting to offer calm and rational insight, but if you have any advice about how I can handle this without shouting please let me know.