I’ve been practising mindfulness meditation for about 30 years. In that time, I’ve come across so many different, flavours, styles and nuances.
Read on to discover 3 different approaches; the mindfulness marathon, the mindfulness jog and the mindfulness stroll.
I became a fan after sitting 10-day silent retreats in my 20’s. I meditated in silence for many hours a day, sometimes struggling through the process, having moments of bliss, and feeling great for a couple of months’ post-retreat.
10-day silent treats are like the marathon of mindfulness. They are physically and psychologically demanding. Once done, they are never forgotten. I found them life-affirming in at least 3 ways.
1. I discovered a capacity to pay attention for long periods of time and to become aware of subtle inner-experiences.
2. I experienced strong urges, often to get up and leave and didn’t act on them. I learned that if I don't act on a strong urge, it passes. As a result, I began to take my thoughts less literally.
3. I came out knowing I could do something difficult and that having a clear goal in mind would help me stay on track even when my 'thoughts' seemed to disagree.
These are all good skills to have and they have helped me manage difficult experiences over a lifetime. They've with things I have chosen to do like rock climbing or hard, long distance bushwalking and also in emotionally difficult situations, such as facing loss and uncertainty.
I feel good and deeply rested after a retreat but I often found it hard to keep meditating afterwards. After all, the intensity of the retreat experience cannot be replicated in daily life.
Then mindfulness made it into western psychology and into my work as a counsellor. This was a very different type of mindfulness, more like a stroll than a marathon.
Mindfulness integrated into counselling is often viewed used more as a skill than a practice. Mindfulness in bite-sized chunks, tidbits that some call Mc Mindfulness.
Mindfulness exercises can provide an easy way to demonstrate that when we cannot control things, it may be more useful to be with our experience just as it is, without trying to change it. I was initially skeptical and watched astounded as clients took the lessons learned in these short exercises and applied them to living life better.
Students in a 4- week procrastination group reflected that procrastination is a type of avoidance that they often pair with doing something more enjoyable like going out, checking social media or watching Netflix. They decided that mindfulness is the opposite of this. A kind of tuning in and being with whatever your personal experience is. The students used mindfulness practices to try 'turning in' when they felt like procrastinating. At the end of the course, most students said that their mindfulness practice had been the most useful thing in the course.
Here mindfulness was a useful learning tool but the evidence does show that regular practice brings greater benefits. So, on to the mindfulness jog!
Finally, I found a way to blend the benefits of the marathon and the stroll. 8-week courses such as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) are the gold-standard in secular mindfulness training.
These secular courses are a good middle ground, neither a mindfulness marathon or a gentle stroll but perhaps a regular jog that builds up the mindfulness muscle - gently. You learn all of the lessons that you learn with a marathon and a stroll, with the support of peers.
MBSR offered me much of what I learned on the retreat experience, minus the intensity. It was more useful in helping me apply what I was learning in meditation to my daily life and supported me in getting a practice going.
The 8- week time frame is very different from a mindfulness stroll. It allows new habits to form.
MBSR has a very strong evidence base and positive results have been shown with managing pain, depression, anxiety, everyday stress, IBS etc. Google MBSR and just about anything and you are likely to find some research. A course like this, with a trained facilitator, is a good middle ground.
Something for everyone
So, there is something on offer for everyone, whether it’s a mindfulness marathon, a stroll in the park or a regular jog.
Just like different exercise regimes demand different levels of fitness and deliver different outcomes so do different styles of mindfulness training.
And of course, there are times and situations where mindfulness practices may not be your best option. Check this out with the facilitator of whatever it is you may choose to do.
Are you interested in an MBSR course?
Our next MBSR course begins Tuesday Oct 29 in Marrickville. There is more info at www.headrest.com.au or to book directly https://www.trybooking.com/ZOOC Try to book by Sunday Oct 20 or make sure you give me a call by then to let me know of your interest.