This course is intended to help you understand what Mindfulness is, but much more importantly to experience Mindfulness for yourself.
These eight sessions will provide practices and insights that can help people to be less reactive to life’s challenges, to be more aware and responsive, and to have more choice in dealing with difficulties. The sessions will be experiential and use a range of awareness practices including simple movement practices. The aim is to become more in touch with thoughts, feelings and body sensations so we can respond with less stress. Mindfulness will be introduced from a secular perspective without any assumption of prior knowledge or practice.
So, what is Mindfulness? In the late 1970’s Jon Kabat-Zinn established a “stress reduction clinic” at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He was inspired to take a number of Buddhist practices and teach them to people who had chronic and persistent medical problems that clinicians were unable to cure. The intention was not to cure those illnesses, but to help people live more effectively with their problems. The programme developed and was remarkably successful, and a protocol call Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) was created and used extensively, both within Massachusetts hospital and more widely.
Over the next two decades, alongside good anecdotal evidence, studies started to show that there were significant benefits arising from MBSR. A development of that protocol, Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) was developed, and studies showed that as an intervention this was marginally better than drug therapy for helping people with certain depressive illnesses to avoid relapse, and it is now an NHS recommended treatment.
Much more than its therapeutic value for some conditions, mindfulness practice is an excellent way of staying well and enjoying life. Those who start out on a regular practice usually keep it up, and they see it not just as a fix for a problem but see mindfulness as a way of cultivating a more easeful life.
John Kabat-Zinn originally defined mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally”. That is an easy thing to express, but not easy to do. Mindfulness has become very popular and the media is bringing a lot of attention to it. This course should leave you much more informed and give you a rich experience.
You should follow the course as rigorouslyas possible through use of the home practices, where much of the experiential learning will take place. You are not marked on your compliance with home practice, but it is daily practice that cultivates mindfulness even if it can be difficult at times. If you miss a day or more of practice, or do not meet the target times for practice, note that in your diary and bring that experience with you to the next session.
Whatever you do, take care of yourself. Mindfulness is about learning to be kinder to yourself and exploring personal boundaries, not pushing yourself beyond your limits. If you have any concerns or problems, speak to a tutor privately.
Guiding Principles of the course
This course is meant to be a learning experience for each individual. Everyone will take away different things from it. The learning is co-created by the group, and will come as much if not more from the participants as from the tutors. It is important to protect that group experience. Therefore as a group we ask participants to observe a few simple principles.
- People will be invited to share their experiences. Learning will come out of the group, as we all have different experiences of the present moment. Please treat anything that is shared as confidential.
- No-one is obliged to share their experiences – you are welcome to just listen.
- We will be working with our “edges”, and exploring our personal boundaries. However, if there is anything about a practice you are really uncomfortable with, you need not follow it. You can discuss it privately with a tutor. Do not do anything that is likely to cause you harm.
- If we are working in a room together and you need anything for your own comfort, please sort yourself out. If you need the bathroom at any time, just take time out.
- If you are going to leave the session before the end, or need to miss a session, please let the tutor(s) know. The course is progressive, and builds on earlier experiences.
- If there is anything you think the tutor(s) should know, please speak to them privately if necessary.
- If you can’t make a session, please can you let the tutor(s) know in advance.
- Please turn up in good time for the class.
- Mindfulness is a label that is widely used, and it means many things to many people. Rather than define it, we will be exploring it throughout the course. Your experience should enrich your personal understanding.
- The course is experiential, and not theoretical. The tutor(s) would be happy to discuss theory outside of the class and recommend reading for those wanting to explore further.
- Mindfulness is developed through practice. To benefit from the course, you are encouraged to try the practices yourself on a daily basis. Personal learning will come from regular practice, including the struggle to do that practice. Each week there will be some home practice which is an important part of the course.
- The course is secular and not tied to any particular religion or world view. There will be strong overlaps with some Buddhist practices, and if you have any questions the tutor(s) would be happy to clarify to the best of their abilities. Buddhism has a strong emphasis on ethics and wisdom that are not so explicit in mindfulness practices, and different Buddhist schools have subtly different uses of the term “mindfulness”.
- Please respect the environment you are working in, including online environments.
Week 1: Coming to our senses
The first week will introduce mindfulness and some exercises that are intended to make us much more aware of what is going on in our bodies. The intention is to start to move away from automatic pilot, where we are driven by our inner thoughts and feelings, and to become more in touch with the world around us.
Week 2: Exploring our edges, and coming home to our bodies
By being more in touch with our body and feelings, and noticing how we react, we can start to take a little more control. Our natural tendency to challenges is the “fight or flight” response. That might have worked well in more primitive times, but in modern times the tendency is to contain our reactions which creates stress. In this session, we start to explore the edges that we have, and understand a little more about how our reactions.
Week 3: Being present
Staying in the present moment and not getting lost in thoughts or daydreams is an important skill to practice. This session looks at meditation practices that can be long or short. There will also be some mindful movement practices that help us to gently wake up to our bodies.
Week 4: What is stress?
This session we looks at how we respond to stress. Stress is not just caused by the events in our lives, but also in the way we deal with them. Different people respond to the same events in different ways. By now we will have explored some useful tools, and now we will see how they can be applied.
Week 5: Responding more effectively to stress.
This session looks at how we can transfer the skills we develop in practices such as meditation into daily life and deal more effectively with difficult situations. By bringing greater awareness of our thoughts, feelings and sensations to bear, we can waste less energy and approach problems more effectively.
Week 6: Dealing with others.
Often it is our relationships that cause the most stress, and mindful communication can help us deal more effectively with others. This session looks carefully at some aspects of communication in stressful situations, and through some simple practices learn how to deal more skilfully with ourselves and others.
Week 7: Taking more care of ourselves.
Life is a game of snakes and ladders, but if there are too many snakes and not enough ladders it can be a tedious game. We often pile pressure on ourselves, and forget to relieve that pressure. We can do that until we come to breaking point. This session looks at how we can mindfully rebalance our lives.
Week 8: Keeping it up.
“Well that 8 week course really made me feel better. What next?” How often have we been on some course, felt wonderful after it, and then a week later been back to square one? Before we finish, we will look at how each of us can keep up the practices we have learned, and grow in awareness.