It is well documented that practicing mindfulness on a daily basis can bring many benefits, including stress reduction and relaxation.
Mindfulness is about focusing on the present moment with openness and without judgement.
The MBSR program
Prof. John Kabat-Zinn developed the mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) program in the late 70s. It combines mindfulness meditation, yoga and an awareness of body and breath.
As a strong supporter, I was keen to participate and experience for myself the benefits of this program. So in mid July, the journey began!
What does the program involve?
The program runs for 8 weeks, and consists of weekly sessions of 2.5 hours each. The sessions were filled with:
- evidence-based and practical information (often thought-provoking)
- group discussion including sharing all our experiences (both positive and negative)
- as well as a range of mindful meditation practices.
The first exercise in particular was a memorable one, where we examined a sultana in our hand. The aim was to bring our attention to the current moment, and in this instance the sultana. I found this difficult, as all I wanted to do was eat the sultana!
As part of the program we were assigned homework for each week which included both formal and informal practices.
Informal practices included eating, washing the dishes or brushing our teeth mindfully, as well as pausing throughout the day to take some mindful breaths.
We were also encouraged to be mindful of our mind/our thoughts, and in particular when we were experiencing strong physical or emotional sensations.
Another informal practice involved being mindful of our interactions with others and being more ‘present’ with them.
The more formal practices (guided by a CD), included a 40 minute body scan, standing and floor yoga, as well as an awareness of our breath. This also included becoming aware of the sensations of our body and the sounds around us.
We kept a journal of our experiences, as the aim of these practices were to help us start integrating our new learnings into our daily life.
Mindfulness silent retreat
As part of the MBSR program, there was also a one day mindfulness “retreat” day of total silence. This included not speaking or making eye contact with another group member. Even during the scheduled tea and lunch breaks, we went about these activities in silence and with mindfulness…
From the outset I was committed to follow the program but on many occasions, due to rushing, I had forgotten to be mindful during one of the informal practices. I also at times had to remind myself to pause throughout the day and to take some mindful breaths.
The longer mindfulness practices I initially found very challenging. I struggled to lie or sit still for such an extended period of time and my mind constantly wandered about the purpose of it all, how boring it was and when it would be over. At other times, I was tired and just wanted to fall asleep!
My thoughts would then move on to the day ahead (planning my to do list!), what happened yesterday (rehashing events/presentations), what I was doing over the weekend (anticipating the fun!), as well as constantly rehearsing work presentations in my head! I was just not able to focus and be present in that particular moment.
Over time (hence I now understand the rationale for an 8 week program), I found the longer meditation practices much easier. I was able to settle my mind and be much more aware of ‘me’, my breath and my current surroundings.
As to the silent retreat day – I was apprehensive about this. I wondered how I was going to survive without speaking or making eye contact with other members.
Surprisingly, the day wasn’t as difficult as I expected. In fact I found the day refreshing, calming and energising. Complete silence can be liberating!
As we moved from one mediation practice to another, it helped to consolidate all that we had learned…
The program provided me with a wonderful opportunity to challenge myself, my thoughts and experiences.
As a result, I do feel a lot calmer, at peace and in control, even during times of stress..
I’ve realised that I don’t become as overwhelmed with the ‘things that need to get done’ during the day, both professionally and personally.
When I experience a stressful moment, I’ve noticed I’m much more grounded and are able to deal with the situation much more positively and effectively. Even just pausing and taking a few short deep breaths can do wonders, and can help bring back the clarity that is needed to move forward.
I encourage you to give it a go
I continue to practice mindful moments throughout the day (although I am ‘a work in progress’!), and whenever I can, I participate in the longer mindful practices as they always bring me a deeper sense of peace and relaxation.
I encourage you to give any type of mindful practice a go, including taking a moment to pause and focus on your breath throughout the day. If you’re not sure, have a look at our previous posts for some useful tips to help you get started.
If however, you’re interested in attending an intensive program focusing on mindfulness based stress reduction as developed by Prof. John Kabat-Zinn, then I encourage you to give this program* a go.
We hope you enjoyed this post and until next time, wish you all great health and wellbeing!
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* If you would like further information about the MBSR program I attended in Melbourne, visit http://www.claritycentre.com.au/ for further information.