Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Coursewith Gill Mathews
starting 22 August 2016
MINDFULNESS is something that is present within us all, a skill that can be developed and learned by almost anyone who purposefully trains their mind to pay attention with an attitude of openness, non-judgement and acceptance (Kabat-Zinn, 2004). Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist Zen master describes it thus:
“Mindfulness is our inherent capacity of healing and renewal. It is the basis for transforming ourselves and creating a more harmonious family and society. To be mindful is to be aware of what is going on in our body, in our feelings, in our mind and in the world, as we avoid doing harm to ourselves and others. With the help of conscious breathing – breathing and knowing we are breathing, we are able to touch and be nourished by the peace and joy that are available within and around us, in the here and now.
Our true home is in the present moment. To live in the present moment is a miracle. The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green Earth in the present moment, to appreciate the peace and beauty that are available now. Peace is all around us – in the world – and in nature – and within us – in our bodies and our spirits. Once we learn to touch this peace, we will be healed and transformed. It is not a matter of faith; it is a matter of practice.”
Thich Nhat Hanh (2009)
TRAINING IN MINDFULNESS involves learning and practising a range of formal and informal meditation, gentle movement and stress-relieving techniques either in a group setting or on a 1:1 basis with a mindfulness teacher. The programme is designed to focus the mind and to help students become more present and connected within their own bodies. It also develops a greater understanding of the self through experiential learning and promotes confidence through the application of mindfulness within daily life. Mindfulness can also help people to better manage pain, anxiety and other conditions and may be useful to people with long-term conditions that can sometimes be difficult to fully manage and treat by medicines alone.
By bringing a careful awareness to daily events such as washing the dishes, driving the car, brushing our teeth, answering the phone, and so forth, mindfulness can become part and parcel of everyday life. Daily activities provide opportunities to observe our relationship to different phenomena and can help us practice being more present in the moment. For example, something as simple as taking three slow in and out breaths before answering the phone can change the quality of our call bringing a more calm and measured response. Thus mindfulness is something that can be practiced and shared with others throughout the informal or routine context of our lives as well as within formal meditation practice.
LEARNING BY EXPERIENCE
Mindfulness requires skill development in different methods supported by ongoing practice. It is not a universal panacea and does need time and commitment to bring about positive change. It’s a bit like going to the gym or taking regular exercise such as swimming, walking or jogging to keep fit. These activities build and tone muscles in the body and promote overall well-being. Mindfulness also tones and increases at the cellular level. Neuroscience research shows us that parts of the brain associated with positive emotion and memory develop and become more active in long-term practitioners (Lazar et al, 2014). Even participation in short programmes can enhance resilience, adaptive abilities and the immune response supporting our capacity to address symptoms of stress and burn-out (Cohen-Katz et al 2005; Irving et al, 2009). Research findings show a consistent benefit across a range of conditions with regard to physical and psychological improvement (Grossman et al, 2004; Merkes, 2010; Campbell and Christopher 2012; Baer, 2014) and outcomes strongly point to the promise of mindfulness interventions as a worthwhile option for those who wish to play a more involved role in the management of their condition. The emphasis is strongly focused on practice and that’s what the course is mainly about. This means testing the water for yourself to see if it works!
RISKS ASSOCIATED WITH MINDFULNES
Mindfulness training has been carried out in many countries involving tens of thousands of people, including people with chronic health conditions. The vast majority of research studies demonstrate multiple health benefits from taking part including better coping with illness symptoms, improved physical and emotional well-being and enhanced quality of life. Mindfulness is regarded as a low risk intervention overall but it is important to say that it is not the best option for everyone and there are some circumstances when mindfulness may not be recommended. This approach requires dedicated home practice time, discipline and concentration thus it may be difficult for someone coping with an acute phase of illness, active addiction, a significant psychiatric disorder, or whilst dealing with a major life event such as the loss of a close relative. Meditation practice may not be beneficial for people within these categories because the behavioural demands of the programme might prove too stressful and, in such instances it is advised to consult your doctor before committing to mindfulness.
THE MINDFULNESS COURSE
The introduction to mindfulness based course is run over an 8-week period and is designed to help you take better care of yourself and get more out of day to day life. Most of those who complete the programme report a range of benefits including:
- An increased ability to relax at will and experience calm
- Improved appreciation for life
- Increased self-confidence
- Enhanced awareness of the body and self and more acceptance for things as they are
- Reduced reactivity to life stress and a greater capacity to cope more effectively with anxiety and other conditions
During the course you will learn to use simple physical and mental exercises to increase your ability to be fully present and aware of what is happening inside and outside of your mind and body on a moment-to-moment basis. These include guidance on breathing techniques, body awareness and gentle movement.
Home Practice: A vital part of programme success
Programme participants are invited to practice mindfulness techniques through daily home practice. This involves approximately 45mins – 60mins on 6 days of the week and comprises:
- Listening to, and practising with audio-recordings of different mindfulness exercises
- Making notes on experience
- Undertaking some informal practices in daily life, which can be done as part of a daily routine and ordinary activities
Learning within mindfulness comes through personal experience of the different practices and from an integration of this particular way of being into daily life. Thus the practitioner is essentially in control of their own process. The teacher is there to give instruction and guidance on the various methods and techniques and to offer support through the weekly sessions. These also provide an opportunity to reflect on how things are going, to ask questions and explore experience.
Through regular, ongoing repetition of mindfulness it is possible to develop a deepened understanding of ourselves, others and the world around. This type of knowledge, based on mind-body awareness and self-compassion, contains the seeds for positive change and the reduction of suffering, outcomes which represent the heart of this approach as described by one course completer: “It’s like a diamond really, inside you, multifaceted, just being able to keep things in the right state for optimum life.”