Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction programme
Why is the MBSR programme as long as 8 weeks?
Why is the MBSR programme as long as 8 weeks?
Recently someone said that they were really interested in Mindfulness but didn’t want to commit to an 8 weeks programme unless there was a good reason.
What a great question. It really had me thinking.
The term ‘Mindfulness’ has been hijacked in recent years and has been applied to selling almost anything. It is also easy to find meditation classes described as ‘Mindfulness’ that involve looking at a candle flame or listening to soothing sounds whilst possibly concentrating on the breath or some other focus – which is no doubt very relaxing - at the time!
The MBSR course is different. It is a training programme that follows a well formed, eight-week programme, each week building on the last. It is on this structured programme that thousands of the Mindfulness research papers have been based since the early 80’s.
Mindfulness training works best if participants engage in daily practice of around 30 minutes. To help with this there are weekly handouts to take away, guided meditations provided on cd or as downloads and ongoing support throughout the course via email or telephone. Half an hour a day may seem a lot when we have busy lives and feel overwhelmed by our to do lists. On the other hand, participants report that regular practice gives them a sense of spaciousness in their lives. They report that it liberates them from the pressures that arise when confronted with life's never ending demands.
Briefly the course outline is as follows:-
Jon Kabat Zinn, who developed the MBSR programme in the late 1970's says that 'As long as you are breathing there is morne right with you than wrong with you'.
Much of our life is spent focussing on the negative things about our lives and health etc that we miss out on the rest of it. We can go along in ‘Automatic Pilot’, being physically present but our minds are usually off somewhere else, thinking of what we might say next, worrying about the future, mulling over past mistakes or disappointments, focussing our attention on what's wrong..
In session 1 we are introduced to the ‘Body scan’ meditation. With teacher guidance this brings our gentle awareness to sensations in the body starting at the toes of the left foot. Soon we notice our mind has taken us off elsewhere and there we are, one thought leading to the next and we have become immersed in ‘Mind chatter’. This is what minds do!
Learning to notice how our minds take us away from the present moment – the only moment we are alive in - is a major theme throughout the course.
We explore how our automatic and habitual thought patterns often lead us into jumping to the wrong conclusion, filling in the blanks in unhelpful ways. We continue with the ‘Body scan’ this week and introduce a short sitting meditation focussing on the breath, noticing when our mind has drifted off and returning to the breath.
Why the breath? The breath is always here for us. We don’t need anything else. We find that the breath can become our anchor point to return to in times of challenge. Sometimes we focus on sounds or bodily sensations. Occasionally a participant may have difficulty with focusing on the breath, for example asthma or panic feelings. In this case the focus can become the sense of hands opening and closing or the connection of the feet with the floor.
We begin to explore the sense of the body in movement. Until I took my own initial 8 week course at the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, I hadn’t realised how unaware I had become from my body. Yes, I would feel aches and pains, back ache, tight shoulders, headaches but apart from that pretty much zilch. We begin to explore what our body feels like as we gently engage with ‘Mindful Movement’. Depending on the group this might be simple yoga type stretches or movement based on Qigong Shibashi (related to Tai Chi).
We also start to reflect on our experience during the previous days of ‘Pleasant Events’. We explore what happens in the body when we have these experiences and what thoughts might arise at the same time.
The ‘Three Step Breathing Space’ is introduced. This short practice is a brilliant tool to have on hand whenever we find stress arising.
We continue with Mindful Movement which now includes Mindful Walking.
Our Sitting meditation extends to breath and body awareness.
We also start to explore what happens when we experience ‘Unpleasant Events’.
The teaching this week includes information about what happens in our body when we become stressed and how this can stop us thinking clearly, leading often to a vicious circle of more and more stress. Many of the stress responses we all experience as part of the human condition are universal and this recognition emerges through the group process.
Mindful movement continues. Sitting meditation expands now from breath and body to include sounds.
Observations about how we react to challenging events enable us to recognise more fully our habitual patterns. This awareness is by now starting to dawn, it enables us to pause before we jump into a reaction. We begin to see that we have choices.
Again, this session includes Mindful Movement and Sitting Meditation.
The guidance for the meditation extends to include Thoughts and Emotions too. We recognise the link between our thoughts, our feelings and how they can show up in bodily sensations. We also discover that thoughts are just thoughts – we are not our thoughts.
We go on to look at Stressful Communications and how these can often act as a mirror to our own reactivity. We also consider Aikido moves as a metaphor for communication styles.
The All Day Retreat
Between weeks 6 & 7 (this can vary slightly) we have a day long retreat where all of the meditation & movement practices covered in the course are revisited. This is a day when we offer ourselves the precious gift of time to stop 'doing' and discover 'being'.
We continue with Sitting Meditation practices as previously.
Now, having come this far, we look at how we can best take care of ourselves and find the necessary balance in our own busy lives.
The final session of the course and the beginning of a new era. We come full circle, revisiting some of the practices such as the Body Scan. We also look at how we might maintain a more mindful approach and continue to put into practice what we have been learning over the last eight weeks. A list of resources is also shared.
Monthly ‘Staying Mindful’ sessions are on offer for those who have been through the course as well as an invitation to join future Retreat Days.
Training to Teach Completion of the MBSR course also enables participants to apply to train to teach with world renowned teacher training organisations such as Oxford Mindfulness Centre, Oxford University and the Centre for Mindfulness Research & Practice at Bangor University.
Mindfulness in Schools Project For those with experience of working with children, MBSR enables you to train to teach children on the Mindfulness in Schools Project courses Paws.b and .b (MiSP)