Frequently asked questions
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness has been described as moment by moment, non-judgmental awareness. It is a way of doing things. For example, you can eat mindfully, being fully aware of the sensations and experience of the food.
Why practice mindfulness meditation?
There continues to be substantial research done into mindfulness training in the UK at Oxford, Bangor, Exeter Universities and internationally. The research indicates that regular mindfulness practice can significantly benefit physical and psychological health. In particular it has been found to be beneficial in the management of stress, depression, addictions and chronic pain. Mindfulness training (MBCT) is recommended in the NICE guidelines for the treatment of depression and anxiety. Mindfulness-based interventions are currently being taught in the NHS, in workplaces, in the community and in schools across the UK.
In his survey of mindfulness research Ed Halliwell (Mindfulness Report, Mental Health Foundation, 2010) found that mindfulness training is reported as having a positive impact on:
- Stress and anxiety
- Depression and low mood
- Fatigue and low energy levels
- Mood regulation
- Concentration and memory
- Chronic pain
- High blood pressure and heart disease
- Immune system functioning
- Addictive behaviours
Where does mindfulness training come from?
Mindfulness training integrates traditional Buddhist teachings and practices with western science and psychology. MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) was developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn in the 1970s. Mark Williams and John Teasdale used MBSR as the basis of MBCT (Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy).
What is meditation?
A simple answer is ‘sitting still, doing nothing’. A fuller answer might be, letting yourself open to your full experience in the moment. Doing this allows you to develop a centre of calm awareness, an acceptance of how things are and more resilience in the face of difficulties.
Will mindfulness help me get rid of my stress/anxiety/low mood/anger/pain?
Mindfulness training helps you develop skills to work with stress, anxiety, low mood, anger and pain. Research suggests that people who do an 8-week mindfulness course and maintain their practice, become more resilient to difficulty and experience greater peace of mind and well-being. However a key element in mindfulness training is acceptance; learning to live with, rather than get rid of my stress, pain, etc. The power of mindfulness is that I find a way to live with myself as I am.
How quickly can I expect to see an improvement?
Research suggests that mindfulness training can have a radical impact on how individuals experience suffering. Typically by the end of an 8-week course many participants report feeling more comfortable in themselves and more resilient to what life throws at them. However it’s not a quick fix. It’s a skill that takes time and commitment to develop. (Ironically the change we seek often occurs when we let go of wanting things to be different.) We encourage you to keep your expectations low and simply continue with your practice. To maintain the changes after the course has finished, it’s important that you continue with your practice.
Is it better to learn mindfulness in a group or one-to-one?
It’s personal. Some people prefer the flexibility of working one-to-one; the content of the sessions, the timing and pacing can be adapted to what suits you best. Others benefit from the structure of attending a regular group and enjoy learning with other group members.
When I try to meditate, my thoughts get in the way?
That’s part of the journey, you’re doing fine. The process of learning to meditate is about learning to observe your thoughts and not get hooked into them. The more you do it the more you’ll find that your thoughts will begin to quieten by themselves.
I’ve tried to sit still but I can’t. Maybe meditation’s not for me?
You’re in good company. Most people, if not everyone, struggle to sit still at some stage of their practice. The core of the practice is learning to turn towards the difficulty – for example you might notice thoughts, ‘I can’t do this’, ‘I haven’t got time to sit around’, ‘I’ll try it again when I’m in the mood’. You might become aware of bodily sensations such as agitation, restlessness, itchiness. There might be emotions such as frustration, irritation or anxiety. The invitation of mindfulness mediation is to turn towards all of this experience, to get curious, to make space for this. You’ll find that each time you’re able to sit with a few moments of difficulty next time it’ll be a little easier. Learning to meditate is a skill that you develop over time, just like learning a language or to play a sport or a musical instrument.
I can’t find the time to do home practice. Can I still do a course?
Home practice is a key element of mindfulness training. Each session you’ll be given several home practice activities to do during the week, including daily meditation. At the beginning of the course this will be 15/20 minutes of meditation. The meditation practice will increase by 5 minutes each week so by the end of the course you’ll be doing 40-45 minutes a day. Alongside this you’ll be invited to bring mindful awareness into everyday life, eg. mindfully eating a piece fruit, drinking tea, walking or gardening. To get the most out of the course you do need to be able to fully commit to the home practice.
I already have a meditation practice. Should I do a Level 1 or Level II course?
Meditation is a key aspect of mindfulness training but it is only one aspect. The course is much fuller than that. Benefits come from the informal mindfulness practices, learning to work actively with difficult thoughts, emotions and pain, the interactions with the trainer. Secondly, what’s the hurry? Mindfulness work is very much about coming back to this moment – not racing to get somewhere else.
So, yes, we’d encourage you to do Level I even if you already do have experience.
I have to miss a session during course. Is it still ok to sign up?
We encourage you to attend all sessions. If you can’t attend a session do read through the sessions notes and in particular, move on to the next home practice. It might be valuable to contact your tutor and other group members to find out their experience of the session. If there is a parallel course running, you’re welcome to attend the parallel session. Or you might choose to have a one-to-one session. If you are likely to miss two or more sessions it might be better to delay till the next course.
Do you need any special equipment?
You’re asked to wear comfortable clothes, especially something that is loose around the waist. Jeans or tight trousers aren’t suitable. And to bring the following to each session:
Yoga or meditation mat
4 or 5 cushions
Some people find using special meditation cushions useful. The 'classic' thing to sit on is a zafu and zabuton (mat and cushion) but it certainly doesn't suit everyone. The meditation stools are also quite comfortable for many people. Blue Banyan supply meditation aids and equipment.
I find it difficult to meditate as I’m in pain.
Sitting still when your body is hurting can be a real challenge. However, research suggests that the more you do it the more you benefit. Over time you’ll find your relationship with pain starts to shift. Rather than trying to push your pain away you’ll find it’s possible to make space for the pain and to live your life more fully.
Make it easy for yourself; find a posture that’s as comfortable as possible – it might help to use several cushions; start with small chunks of time; notice if you find yourself getting frustrated or angry with your pain. Is it possible to bring the same kindness you might offer to a friend in pain, to yourself?
Is mindfulness meditation Buddhist?
The MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) and MBCT (Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy) courses are secular training programmes which integrate traditional Buddhist teachings and practices with western science and psychology.