The practice of mindfulness meditation trains you to pay attention to the present moment, noting thoughts, feelings and body sensations with an attitude of interest and kindness. This non-reactive stance toward experience creates the possibility of being in life as it is and allows for working more wisely with the challenging aspects of human experience (e.g., emotional difficulties, relational difficulties, impulses, aversion, confusion, rumination, worry…). Learning to calm the mind and work with these challenges is central to acting with wisdom and compassion in the world.
Contemporary mindfulness training originated in 1979 with Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program and was further developed in the 1990s by psychologists (Zindel Segal, Mark Williams, and John Teasdale) with Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). MBSR and MBCT have both undergone extensive research demonstrating increases in well-being, reductions in stress, reductions in anxiety and depression and improvements with medical conditions. MBCT is recommended in England by the national health services as a front line treatment for preventing depression. Multiple randomized controlled trials have shown that MBCT is as effective as antidepressant medication in preventing relapses of major depression.
MBSR and MBCT are the foundation of the Mindfulness Training (MT) offered by U of I instructors. An MBCT workbook serves as the guide for the daily home practices, daily reading, and daily journaling completed throughout the weeks of training.
Mindfulness Training: What You Need to Know
Christopher Menard, PsyD, and Heidemarie Laurent, PhD teach the 8-week (20-hour) introductory MT class along with the Psychology PhD students who they supervise. In addition, Dr. Menard trains and supervises C-U local professionals wishing to bring mindfulness into the classroom and other professional settings.
MBSR and MBCT are the foundation of the MT course offered by our instructors. The Mindful Way Workbook serves as the guide for participants throughout the 8-week MT.
In the MT 20-hour training, participants meet together as a class (with an instructor) for eight weekly 2-hour classes and a 4-hour Saturday Practice Session (this is typically held between class #6 and #8. ). The main ‘work’ of the program is done between classes, using MP3s with guided audio meditations that support participants developing practice outside of class. Participants are expected to practice daily with the MP3 audios for 30 – 50 minutes. In each class, participants discuss the obstacles that inevitably arise as well as the many different experiences that arise while being guided by instructors on how to deal with these obstacles and experiences skillfully. Each class is organized around a theme that is further explored in each chapter of the Mindful Way workbook.
THE IMPORTANCE OF PRACTICING BETWEEN CLASSES
Regardless of each person’s motivations for learning mindfulness, one can only expect to see results if they put the time and effort into practice. Practice can sometimes seem boring. Sometimes we become frustrated with the busyness of our minds. Sometimes we feel too tired. Sometimes we think that we don’t know how to practice mindfulness. Facing these and other obstacles is essential when embarking on a journey to cultivate mindfulness.
This training approach depends entirely on your willingness to do home practice between class meetings. This home practice will typically include 30 – 50 minutes of daily formal mindfulness practice (e.g., the first two weeks of the course asks participants to lay down daily at a set time for about 35 minutes and listen to a Guided Mindfulness Body Scan Audio that leads them through the practice) and 2 – 10 minutes of informal mindfulness practice (e.g., being attentive to the sensations of brushing teeth, washing dishes, showering, or some other routine daily activity) each day, 6 days a week, for 8 weeks. This includes some brief reading and written exercises. We appreciate how it is often very difficult to carve out time for something new in lives that are already very busy and crowded. However, the commitment to spend time on home practice is an essential part of the class; if you do not feel able to make that commitment, it would be best not to start the classes and wait till you are able to set 8-weeks aside with some time each day for practice.
The classes and the home practice assignments can teach you how to be more fully aware and present in each moment of life. On one hand, this makes life more interesting, vivid and fulfilling. On the other hand, this means facing what is present, even when it is unpleasant and difficult. In practice, you will find that turning to face and acknowledge difficulties is the most effective way, in the long run, to reduce unhappiness, to increase one’s capacity to work skillfully with stressful situations and to prevent depression. Seeing unpleasant feelings, thoughts, or experiences clearly, as they arise, means that you will be in much better shape to “nip them in the bud,” before they progress to more intense or persistent low moods.
PATIENCE AND PERSISTENCE
Because we will be working to change well-established habits of mind, you will be putting in a lot of time and effort. The effects of this effort may become apparent only later. In many ways, it is much like gardening – we have to prepare the ground, plant the seeds, ensure that they are adequately watered and nourished, and then wait patiently for results. Building a mindfulness practice can also be equated with an exercise regimen, in that only after regular daily work-outs are the health benefits realized.
We ask you to approach the classes and home practice with a spirit of patience and persistence, committing yourself to put time and effort into the practice, while accepting, with patience, that the fruits of your efforts may not show straight away.
Over the eight weeks of the program, the practices help you:
- To become more present in your physical body as opposed to being lost in thought, stuck in rumination about some past event, daydreaming/fantasizing about some imagined future, or actively avoiding aspects of life.
- To become familiar with the workings of your mind.
- To notice the times when you are at risk of getting caught in old habits of mind that re-activate downward mood spirals.
- To explore ways of releasing yourself from those old habits and, if you choose, enter a different way of being.
- To put you in touch with a different way of knowing yourself and the world.
- To notice small beauties and pleasures in the world around you instead of living in your head.
- To be kind to yourself instead of wishing things (and you) were different all the time.
- To be kind to yourself as opposed to being lost in striving and driving yourself to meet impossible goals.
- To accept yourself as you are, rather than judging yourself.