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How a zookeeper and a mindfulness teacher changed lives within 2.5 hours

For our final post of 2023, we share one of the more unusual projects we were involved in this year which practically illustrates the benefits mindfulness can bring.

In addition to delivering our range of standalone courses, we regularly work with our customers on tailored solutions. These can include creating and delivering sessions as part of management development programmes, team wellbeing days and school in-service days. However, as we move towards year end, we thought we would share one of the more unusual requests we received this year.

Back in June, we were approached by a member of the events team at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS). They were looking to include a mindfulness element within a series of workshops being arranged as part of their public events programme at Edinburgh Zoo; and we were delighted to get involved.

Although their keepers love spiders, RZSS recognises that many of the population do not share this affection with some having such a strong fear it can impact their everyday life. The events team at RZSS were looking to offer the opportunity to book onto an interactive session which would help those attending move forward in their journey to overcome a fear of spiders.

To be helpfully run during ‘spider season’ (September in Scotland), each 2.5-hour workshop would comprise of 3 sections – a brief theory of understanding spiders, mindfulness, practical catch & release – delivered in a safe and supportive environment at the zoo.

We felt this was a perfect project for our accredited and experienced mindfulness practitioner, trainer and coach, Karen Barr. Karen was keen to get on board and set about developing the mindfulness elements of the workshop. These included a 45min session comprising of a brief understanding of what mindfulness is and the fight/flight reflex, a short mindful breathing practice, followed by an exercise to help with minor dislikes and allowing time for questions at the end. Karen also offered individual support during the catch and release section.

The workshops proved to be a great success and were a real honour to be involved in. With the gentle help of skilled zookeepers and a mindfulness specialist, every participant succeeded in catching and releasing spiders.

The powerful combination of knowledge imparted, and anxiety reduced led one participant to even request more handling time. Everyone left the workshops with increased understanding and confidence. Many believed they would now be able to approach and safely remove any arachnid friends who might try invading their personal space this autumn.

Some of the lovely comments received from those who attended include:

“We all did so well in picking the spiders up and releasing them. I still can't believe I did it! This achievement is my proudest yet and I have a degree and UK national award. I really can't thank you enough for such a good, enjoyable session and afternoon.”

“This has been the most helpful thing I have done in attempting to overcome my fear of spiders. It’s definitely taken me a huge step forward. The pace of the class is really good and the staff running the course were all so sensitive and patient. I would highly recommend.”

RZSS are obviously well tuned into the demand for practical help and techniques from those looking to overcome arachnophobia and the workshops were sold out well ahead of time with waitlists in operation. They hope to offer them again next year, so if these Creep Calm workshops have piqued your interest, keep an eye on this page of Edinburgh Zoo’s website.

In the meantime, we have many free resources available on our mindfulness resource page to help you creep calm and carry on!

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