Please note: These are brief answers to complex concepts! There is an abundance of research information available. Please just ask me for additional resources if you are interested in learning more.
• What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is like a diamond with many facets. And trying to define it is like defining art or love… You will hear many different opinions and, in fact, part of the beauty of the Mindfulness journey is the invitation to become clearer about what Mindfulness means to you.
Generally speaking, Mindfulness is a trainable skill. That skill is attention. Therefore, Mindfulness is a form of attention training. But there’s something specific that makes Mindfulness practice so special: The element of being non-judgmental as we pay attention. Mindfulness is non-judgmental present moment awareness. We can learn to focus our attention on something without colouring what we observe with our many beliefs, opinions, preferences, etc. We learn to be with something just as it is – without needing it to be different. We learn to pay what is often referred to as kindly attention. We cultivate an attitude of non-judgement and look at things as if we were in the observer seat. When we do this, we can step out of issues and step back for a while -even if only for one moment- and create a gentle breathing space between ourselves and our thoughts. We learn to relate to issues rather than from them. This practice can allow us to respond to whatever occurs instead of reacting to it.
Mindfulness helps us to wake up from the automatic pilot mode of mind. On automatic pilot, we are more likely to feel triggered. Events around us, and our own thoughts, feelings and sensations (of which we may be only dimly aware) can trigger old habits of feeling, thinking and behaviour that are often unhelpful. This can often lead to worsening mood, or to physical and emotional symptoms of stress.
The aim of Mindfulness is to increase our awareness so that we can learn to live more fully, responding to situations with choice rather than reacting automatically. We do this by learning to pay attention to all our experiences, including our bodily sensations, thoughts, moods and emotions, and to the small changes within them.
• Is Mindfulness a religious practice?
Although it is generally considered that Mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism (which is a philosophy and science of mind rather than a religion), Mindfulness can be experienced and practiced entirely secularly. The MBSR course has no intention to purposefully promote any religion and all sessions and practices are secular.
• How to practice Mindfulness? And is it the same as meditation?
During the MBSR programme, you will learn about formal and informal Mindfulness practice. Formal practice consists of exercises including sitting meditation, body scans, breath awareness, and mindful movement. Informal practices invite us to bring mindful awareness to daily activities such as doing the dishes, taking a shower, mindful listening to a friend, and so on. All great opportunities to practice paying non-judgemental attention. It is more challenging than it may seem! We soon realise how distracted we are during those everyday activities…
To build the Mindfulness “muscle,” it is important to train it. To use an analogy, if Mindfulness is your fitness level, you’d go to the meditation gym to boost that fitness level. However, Mindfulness is but one form of meditation. During the MBSR course, you have ample opportunity to experience both formal and informal Mindfulness practice.
• How does it work?
Psychologically, practicing Mindfulness (intentionally paying kindly attention) allows for a shift in perspective to occur. A meta-cognitive awareness called reperceiving or decentering. Reperceiving can help change our relationship to our experience (including thoughts, feelings and emotions). It becomes easier to disidentify from our mind’s content, observe the inner commentary and recognise the impermanence of our predicament. This is not passive resignation but a very alive, active process which facilitates a healthy sense of control and befriending ourselves.
Neurologically, Mindfulness practice can positively affect the brain and other parts of our nervous system. When we pay mindful attention, we operate more from the prefrontal cortex (the rational part of the brain which we use for more executive functions such as critical thinking, and is evolutionary the youngest part of the brain) therefore downregulating activity in the older, more emotional and fear-involved parts of the brain. With Mindfulness practice we develop our capacity to integrate different parts of the brain so they can work more harmoniously together, leading to better perspective-taking, less emotional reactivity and more self-regulation.
• What are the benefits?
Although Mindfulness is not a panacea and mustn’t be presented as one, there are many well- documented benefits that thousands of people around the world report as a result of practicing Mindfulness. Countless scientific studies back up these results and can easily be accessed online for further information. In England, the National Health Service offers Mindfulness training as a treatment to help prevent depressive relapse.
Cultivating a daily Mindfulness practice can: Increase self-awareness and self-regulation, reduce stress, bolster the immune system, improve empathy, memory, perspective-taking, attention, patience, reduce anxiety and more. Overall, practicing Mindfulness can lead to suffering less, greater wellbeing and flourishing in life.
“Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is an effective, scientifically researched method for reducing physical and psychological suffering while building resilience, balance, and peace of mind.”
– Mindfulness Center at Brown University
MBSR was developed by Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn in the 1970’s at the University of Massachusetts Medical Centre. It is an 8-week, evidence-based programme that uses a combination of mindfulness meditation, mindful stretching, yoga and interactive group exercises to help participants explore habitual patterns of thinking, behaviour and more. MBSR is a secular and intensive Mindfulness training course to assist people with stress, anxiety, depression and pain. To help enable that, the following seven foundational attitudes of Mindfulness according to Kabat-Zinn are explored during the course: Acceptance, non-judging, non-striving, beginners mind, letting go, patience and trust.
The programme is taught by specially trained teachers. It does not intend to diagnose, treat, or cure any medical condition, but rather to help participants change the way they relate to their circumstances through the powerful practice of non-judgemental mindful awareness. This approach can help people live more effectively with their problems. MBSR has proven to be so successful, it is used in hospitals around the world and is also taught in non-clinical settings, including workplaces, schools and many other contexts.
This is an 8-week programme (online and/or in-person, Covid-19 restrictions depending). Following an orientation session (approx. 1 hour), classes are held weekly and last approx. 2 hours. Daily homework mindfulness practice (min 6 days per week) is about 30 – 45 mins and an essential part of the course. There is an All-Day between Week 6 and Week 7. More info on the All-Day event will be provided separately during the course. MBSR class size is between 5 and 15 participants to ensure a comfortable and enriching learning experience for all.
The MBSR course Christoph teaches carefully follows the official MBSR curriculum (Centre for Mindfulness, University of Massachusetts Medical School) and MBSR training documents by the Centre for Mindfulness Research & Practice, Bangor University.
Session 1 – Introducing Mindfulness. Theme: There is more right with you than wrong with you.
Session 2 – Perception. Theme: Perception and creative responding.
Session 3 – Mindfulness of the Breath & the Body in Movement. Theme: The pleasure and power of being present.
Session 4 – Learning About our Patterns of Reactivity to Stress. Theme: The shadow of stress.
Session 5 – Coping with Stress: Using Mindfulness to Respond Instead of React. Theme: Finding the space for making choices.
Session 6 – Stressful Communications and Interpersonal Mindfulness. Theme: Working with difficulty situations.
All-Day Session. Theme: “Dive in!”
Session 7 – Life-Style Choices – How Can I Best Take Care of Myself? Theme: Cultivating kindness towards self and others.
Session 8 – Keeping Your Mindfulness Alive! Theme: The 8th week is the rest of your life.
Registration for MBSR courses is open year-round. For more information and to register, please email Connect@ChristophSpiessens.com or call +44 (0)7884 076 893.
The fee for this course is £150 per person. This includes tuition, handouts and meditation recordings. The workbook is not included in the fee and is available for around £10 from major retailers.
Christoph will process your enquiry or application ASAP. An Orientation Questionnaire (including Consent Form) along with payment details will be sent separately to you.
Enough. These few words are enough. If not these words, this breath.
If not this breath, this sitting here.
This opening to life we have refused again and again until now.