Our curriculum follows the UK Best Practice guidelines for Teaching Mindfulness and Mindfulness Teachers used by institutions such as Bangor, Exeter and Oxford. Our course is based on both the standard MBSR and MBCT 8 week courses taught around the world
Session 1 - What is Mindfulness? - There is more right with us than wrong
Theme and learning focus - From our point of view, as long as you are breathing, there is more right with you than wrong so whatever the challenge or difficulty we face, this is workable. Cultivating mindfulness, which can be defined as ‘the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non judgementally’ (Kabat-Zinn, 1990/2013), is key in this approach since the present moment is the only moment each of us has for growing, transforming, learning and loving. When we practice mindfulness, this can help us to reduce the negative physiological and psychological effects of stress reactivity and to develop effective ways of responding positively and proactively to stressful experiences in our lives.
In this session we will explore mindfulness in practice. We will learn that when we are in “automatic pilot” it is easy to drift unawares into a busy “doing” mode and ruminative thought patterns that can create additional stress in our lives. This continual “doing” mode can rob us of our potential for really living our lives moment by moment. We learn how we can transform this experience by intentionally paying attention in particular ways. We practice waking up to automatic pilot by paying attention to the sensations in the body, mind, emotions and to aspects of our everyday experiences with a beginners mind, curiosity, openness, acceptance and kindness, as best we can.
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few”
Session 2 Perception and creative responding: Gathering the scattered mind
Theme and learning focus - How we see or don’t see things has a major influence on how we will react or respond to them. Well-being seems to come as much from the approach we bring to our experiences as from what's actually happening and what we decide to do. It’s not so much the stressors but our perception of those stressors and how we handle them that influences the short and long-term effects on our minds, bodies and overall health. If we can cultivate healthy approaches to our experiences, we will probably feel better, no matter what is going on.
In the previous session, we discovered that there are advantages and disadvantages to automatic pilot. It’s good that our automatic reactions are quick and unreflective - for survival - but maybe not so great for a life of ease and well being. The mind is often scattered and lost in thought because it is working away in the background as much to what it expects to happen, as to what is actually happening. Research shows that our minds wander for about 46.9% of the time so we miss many of our moments and out of awareness, our minds may be working in unhelpful ways.
In this session we will practice how to “come back to our senses”, gathering the scattered mind back to the present moment by tuning into the breath and body to reconnect ourselves. We may have no control over the experience, but we do have some with our attitude to it. You could think of the attitudes we will explore in this session as seeds, just as seeds can flower when tended, so attitudes can grow if we nurture them. In gently practicing kindness to whatever appears, we hold a key to transformation. However we are feeling, the very fact of knowing and being willing to experience it, even for just a moment, makes the situation workable. We don’t have to struggle, force or badger ourselves to become aware, or judge ourselves for having wandered off into automatic pilot, we practice learning how to just notice, to come back. This process of noticing, and choosing to come back again and again, is the heart of mindfulness practice.
Use the breath as an anchor to tether your attention to the present moment. Your thinking mind will drift here and there, depending on the currents and winds moving in the mind until, at some point, the anchor line grows taut and brings you back.
What is Stress? Bringing awareness to our patterns of reactivity to stress
Theme and learning focus - There is both pleasure and power in being present. As we attend to and investigate our experience of how things are in the body and mind in the present moment, through the practices of mindful movement and meditation, we can become familiar with our patterns of perception, reactivity and responding. With this awareness, we may discover the joy of being, the value of appreciating life as it is and the power in choosing how to be with our present moment experience.
In the previous sessions, we began exploring ways to bring mindful awareness of our everyday moments and maybe we are discovering the extraordinary in the ordinary. We are also continuing to nurture the attitudes that support us through life including its inevitable difficulties and challenges. In this session, we continue becoming more familiar with our own patterns of reactivity in the face of stress. When we practice mindfulness this can help us to tune into our bodies with a gentle curiosity and kindly interest. From this place of mindful awareness, possibilities open up for choosing helpful responses that support our wellbeing in the present moment and beyond.
Cultivating mindfulness can reduce the negative physiological and psychological effects of stress reactivity, as well as help develop more effective ways of responding positively and proactively to stressful situations and experiences and this can help us to break out of the negative stress cycle and to step back of reactivity.
The present is the only time that any of us have to be alive - to know anything - to perceive - to learn - to act - to change - to heal.
Session 4, The Shadow of Stress: Wherever you go, there you are.
Theme and learning focus - Our perception and conditioning shape our moment to moment experience and our actions. It has been said that as much as 90% of our experience is shaped by our perception with 10% arising from the situation itself. Mindful awareness invites us to pay attention to our perceptions and how these shape our choices and actions. Shining the light of awareness on the shadow of stress. By practising mindfulness, we cultivate a kindly interest in these aspects of our experience and this can help us to develop effective ways of responding positively and proactively to stressful, situations, experiences and pain.
In this session we continue to explore further how our perception of our difficulties or pain shapes our experience of stress. We investigate the equation that pain (situation) x resistance (perception) = suffering (reactivity). We practice bringing mindfulness to all aspects of our present moment experience, exploring how this practice cultivates curiosity and openness and helps us to learn new ways to relate to both internal and external stressors. We explore how mindfulness supports us in our inquiry into our habitual patterns, we learn how to soften the resistance to our present moment experience that we might find and how to reduce our experience of suffering.
What we practice grows stronger so the more we practice directing and redirecting our attention, with kindness and openness, expanding our field of awareness, the more flexible our attentional capacity becomes and the possibility of greater choice in our actions opens up to us.
The overall tenor of mindfulness practice is gentle, appreciative and nurturing. Another way to think of it is heartfulness.
Session 5 Responding instead of Reacting: You are not your thoughts
Theme and learning focus - We have reached the mid-way point in this session. We reflect on how we are growing our capacities to adapt to our everyday moments in more skilful ways that support our health and well-being. We are recognising our habitual patterns of reactivity, we are growing our understanding that these have developed to support our survival, though this may not always serve us in modern life. With mindful awareness we can stop the reactivity, we can see more clearly the choices we have available to us and we can respond more effectively to our stressful moments.
In this session, we explore how we can relate differently to our thoughts, freeing ourselves from the ruminative doing mode and seeing clearly that negative thinking is a distorted product of the mind. It is enormously liberating to realise that our thoughts are merely thoughts, even the ones that say they are not! In Session 2 we saw that we are often scattered and ruminating about the past or planning the future, and that we may be ‘away from the body’ for about 48% of the time. Mindfulness helps us to practice reclaiming our moments, we don't need to live to be 200, we just need to be here in the moments that we have. During this session we will be learning how to observe our thoughts as passing events arising and passing on and we can come to realise that “I are not my thoughts”.
With regular practice of mindfulness we experience how we can work with stressful situations in helpful ways and how it can help quicken our recovery from these situations when they arise in our lives. This capacity to recover more quickly helps reduce the ‘wear and tear’ of the negative stress cycle on our health and wellness.
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”
Session 6, Stressful Communications: Growing awareness of emotions
Theme and learning focus - Our relationships with others may be the most important part of our lives. It can also be the part that can be experienced as difficult and stressful and be negatively affected when we are stressed. Over the history of our lives, we develop automatic patterns of relating to ourselves and others. We also develop habits of emotional expression. When we apply mindful awareness to the area of communication, we invite attention to these patterns and to the barriers to exploring how we think and behave with others and ourselves. With an open receptive awareness we can explore ways to remain balanced in relationships, discover how we respond to the strong expectations of others, ourselves and our automatic habits of emotional expression, especially in the face of stress reactivity.
In the last session we practised becoming aware of and labelling thoughts as a way to keep us grounded in the body and out of the ruminating mind. In this session, we will explore awareness of emotions and how we can move us out of emotional mind traps. We explore knowing and expressing our feelings. We learn that when we feel a certain emotion, a whole system is activated. This system includes the thoughts and images that enter the mind, the memories that show up, the aspects of ourselves and the world around us that we notice, the body, the mental sensations experienced, the physical changes maybe to appetite, and the behaviour and things we feel like doing or not doing. We practice recognising emotions as ‘just emotions’, allowing their expression rather than resisting the experience and investigating what we can feel without becoming overwhelmed by or identifying with the emotion. For example, rather than ‘I am an unhappy person’, we notice that ‘there is a lot of unhappiness here’. We will also explore our relationship to ourselves and how we can practice self-kindness and warmth towards our own difficulties and pain, recognise our shared human experience and how taking a curious, open and accepting attitude towards all emotions we may have can support us in seeing things clearly without ignoring, exaggerating or catastrophising our experience.
As we practice applying the skills we are learning in this course to our everyday lives, we are cultivating our natural capacities to be more flexible and to recover more quickly during challenging interpersonal situations. As we grow our awareness of emotions, we may better understand the messages we are sending to others and receiving from others and the barriers to being with ourselves and others in heartfelt and authentic ways.
“Once you can communicate with yourself, you’ll be able to communicate outwardly with more clarity.”
Thich Nhat Hanh
Session 7, Lifestyle Choices: How can I be kind to myself?
Theme and learning focus - If life feels like a struggle with the world, it may be that the real struggle is with yourself. At times, our own suffering can also cut us off from others, and experiences like stress, pain, anxiety or depression can make us preoccupied with our difficulties. However, if we turn towards our experience with kindly awareness we can find the deepest kind of peace and happiness that comes from within, even in the midst of stress and difficulty. Developing kindness for ourselves can help us reconnect with the world and open into kindness and compassion for others.
As we have seen over the sessions, mindfulness is the practice of choosing to come back to awareness of the present moment, using the breath and the body as anchors that we can return to, again and again. This takes a certain sort of intention, a deliberate effort and a gentle commitment to be kind, not to judge or be critical to our experiences. This week we are continuing to explore practices that help us to befriend our experience, as best we can. Through the changing conditions of our lives, we practice coming back to the present moment, asking ourselves, ‘what do I need to take care of myself now?” and “how can I be kind to myself?”.
We also reflect on the choices we make in our daily lives that are supportive and nourishing as well as those that are not so helpful and limiting. As we continue to cultivate present moment awareness, we open up to new possibilities and we grow a certain flexibility in making choices that support rather than limit our health and well-being. We learn how the practices can also help us to develop a disposition of generosity so that it may arise more readily enriching both our own day-to-day lives and the lives of those we meet and with whom we interact.
“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf”.
Session 8, A Mindful Life: Keeping your Mindfulness Alive
Theme and learning focus - We’ve reached session 8 of this MBSR course and the eighth week … is the rest of your life! As we move on from this curriculum, we carry on with the curriculum of life that is ever-unfolding, moment by moment, whether or not we like what is happening in the moment. We’ve been inspired by each other and challenged to discover the ways mindful awareness can helps us to choose actions that support our health and well-being.
In this session we reflect and celebrate our shared and individual experiences in taking the course, what we are taking away and what has been discovered. We will also explore what supports may be helpful to continue in our process of integrating the learning from this experience. Maintaining and extending a more mindful and caring way of being requires clear intention, attention, attitude and planning. It can be helpful to link regular mindfulness practice to a personally significant value or positive reason for taking care of yourself. Perhaps, by asking yourself “how do I feel differently to the start of the 8 week course?”
“Mindfulness provides a simple but powerful route for getting ourselves unstuck, back in touch with our own wisdom and vitality.
The most important point is to really be yourself and not try to become anything that you are not already….
being in touch with your deepest nature, and letting it flow out of you unimpeded”
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