8 week Mindfulness Course Information

You can read the following 8 week Mindfulness Course Information.
See Mindfulness Courses & Workshops for information on upcoming courses led by Mindful Health Teachers.

Meditation for Coping with Depression and Stress Course

“Combining cognitive behavioural therapy with meditation techniques in an approach called ‘mindfulness therapy’ can help anyone who leads a frantic life” Prof Mark Williams of Oxford University. ‘You Magazine’ March 2011

We spend too much time in the past or future:
Life consists of millions of moments, and most of us aren’t ‘there’ in them because we are in auto-pilot mode, wishing we’d chosen a faster queue or worrying about work tomorrow.

Two hours a week for eight weeks can change your life:
That’s the length of the mindfulness therapy course developed for the NHS which any GP can refer you to for help with a range of problems such as depression and anxiety disorders. You learn techniques that help you to pay attention to what’s happening in the mind and body moment by moment. We are often caught up in our heads so moving your awareness to your body can switch off habitual negative thought cycles that can lead to stress or depression.

Over-thinking is the problem:
Our mind often makes simple issues more complicated, telling us we’re useless. Psychotherapy would ask you to analyse these worries; CBT may ask you to change the way you think and, in so doing, change the way you feel. Mindfulness shows you don’t have to address them because it’s the thinking that’s the problem. The mindfulness course teaches you how to relate to your thoughts more objectively: to see that thoughts are not facts…even the ones that say they are!

The mind has a mind of its own:
Thoughts are not necessarily true. Like clouds, they come and they disperse…if you have the courage to wait for them to disappear. The course asks people to sit for up to 40 min just focusing on their breathing or body sensations and noticing the thoughts and feelings that come and go. At first it’s really difficult because the mind gets bored and starts wondering about, but if you train your attention to stay in one place, the next time you feel hijacked by negative thoughts you can remember how to relate them differently…and let them go!

Taking mindfulness skills right into your everyday life: 
One of the simple practices taught is called ‘The 3-minute Breathing Space’.
This can be done whenever you’re stressed or anxious. In this 3 step practice for the first minute become aware of what’s going on in your body and mind. In the second minute you focus clearly on your breath– bringing your attention back to your breath whenever the mind strays. Then in the third minute you expand your attention to your body as a whole seeing all the sensations within it and then expanding out to listen to sounds around you before you continue with your day or evening.

(Adapted from an article in ‘You Magazine’ March 2011 by Prof Mark Williams of Oxford University)

Background, Aims and Practices of MBCT/MBSR

MBCT (Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy) for coping with depression/anxiety is an approach developed in the 90’s by three cognitive therapy specialists in an internationally linked programme of research into the prevention of depression. It was developed as an extension of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s earlier work on Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) in the USA. It is recommended by the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (N.I.C.E.) as a means to work with depression that is proven to help prevent relapse in people who are currently well. This approach is also widely used for anxiety related and stress disorders.

How MBCT differs from Cognitive Therapy:
Cognitive therapy works through trying to change thoughts and feelings and is mostly done in a focussed, one-to-one therapeutic relationship. ‘MBCT discarded the therapy framework to work more fully within a ‘Mindfulness’ approach which emphasises holding thoughts and feelings in awareness rather than trying to change them.’ (Segal et al, 2002). It aims to help people build their own strategies for staying well, based on skills and practices that are best taught in a group rather than in a one-to-one context.

Core aims of MBCT:
To prevent the consolidation of self-perpetuating patterns of negative thinking and feeling that may escalate via mood states into a depressive relapse; to help people liable to depression/anxiety to stay well.

Core skills and practices:
All revolve around means to become more aware of negative patterns of thought and feeling, so as to ‘step out of, and stay out of’ them. ‘MBCT introduces practices and skills that aim to bring about a different way of relating to experience, replacing an old mode of ‘fixing and repairing’ problems with a mode of allowing things to be as they are, in order to see more clearly how best to respond.’

How it works:
Since it is often the continued attempts to ‘fix’, escape, or avoid difficult experiences that keeps the negative cycles turning, the key skill revolves around non-judgemental acceptance. 

If you learn how to open to thoughts and feelings, and not try to shut them off or change them, you can then taste a degree of freedom, where you are not necessarily plagued by obsessive or difficult thoughts because you know they are just bubbles in the stream of thought, and they are not the reality.Jon Kabat-Zinn

It’s all about noticing patterns of thinking and feeling, and from this increased awareness learning to relate differently to them …rather than habitually trying to ‘fix’ them. Trying to ‘fix’ or change difficult thoughts and feelings can too often be an expression of our anxiety, fear, frustration or denial, and because of this it does not ‘work’.

What the course involves: some points to bear in mind

The general approach:
The core of the MBCT approach is practice and experiential learning. The sessions focus mainly on teaching skills that develop awareness of body sensations, feelings, and thoughts, which are then applied in relation to particular cognitive therapy-based exercises. In each session there will be a mixture of ‘skills practice’, ‘conversation’ about this practice and exercises from cognitive therapy. Everything is ‘invitational’ and there is no expectation that participants will have to share personal histories although we will invite conversation about the practices we engage in.

Home practice is an important part of the Course
The patterns of the mind that we will be working to become more aware of have often been around for a long time. These patterns are frequently habitual and automatic. We can only expect to be less enslaved to these long established ways of mind if we put time and effort into learning new ways. Because of this the course asks for a commitment to 30 – 40 minutes of home practice per day.

It is challenging to carve out time to do the home practice that is part of this course . It really is worth it though. A useful attitude to adopt is ‘I’ll give this a go, with an open mind. In order for you to make a decision about whether this approach could be a useful part of your life, you need to engage with it as fully as you can during the course.

A part of each session will be used to reflect on your experiences of the home practice during the week. We will discuss any difficulties that you may be experiencing with the practice – either in getting to do it or things that arise for you during the practice itself. Much of the learning of the course can be drawn from these experiences.

Facing Difficulties
A central aim of this approach is to learn how to be more fully aware and present in each moment of life. The good news is that this can make life more enjoyable, interesting, vivid and fulfilling. On the other hand, this can mean facing what is present, even when it is unpleasant and difficult. In practice you may find that turning to face and acknowledge difficulties is, in the long run, the most effective way to reduce unhappiness. In this course you will learn gentle ways to face difficulties and will be supported while doing this. It is recommended that you consider the support you can call on during the course (family members/friends/professionals).

Patience and Persistence
Because we will be working to change established patterns of mind, much of the approach will involve investing considerable time and effort, the effect of which may only become apparent later. The encouragement is, therefore, to approach this course with the same spirit of patience and persistence – committing yourself to put the time and effort into what will be asked of you, while accepting, with patience, that the fruits of your efforts may not show straight away.

See Mindfulness Courses & Workshops for information on upcoming courses led by Mindful Health Teachers.