Mindfulness means learning to pay attention intentionally, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.
In MBCT programmes, participants meet together as a class (with a mindfulness teacher) two hours a week for eight weeks, plus one all day session between weeks 5 and 7. The main ‘work’ is done at home between classes.
There is a set of CDs to accompany the programme, which you use to practise on your own at home once a day, six days a week. In the classes, there is an opportunity to talk about your experiences with the home practices, the obstacles that inevitably arise, and how to deal with them skilfully.
Over the eight weeks of the program, the practices help you:
- to become familiar with the workings of your mind
- to notice the times when you are at risk of getting caught in old habits of mind that re-activate downward mood spirals
- to explore ways of releasing yourself from those old habits and, if you choose, enter a different way of being.
- to put you in touch with a different way of knowing yourself and the world
- to notice small beauties and pleasures in the world around you instead of living in your head.
- to be kind to yourself instead of wishing things were different all the time, or driving yourself to meet impossible goals.
- to find a way so you don’t have to battle with yourself all the time
- to accept yourself as you are, rather than judging yourself all the time.
MBCT teachers are professionals with a background in health and social care or education, who have been trained to teach the MBCT programme. In the UK, the Oxford Mindfulness Centre within the University of Oxford provides programmes of training for professionals. The UK Network for Mindfulness-based Teacher Training Organisations maintains a list of organisations committed to providing the highest quality training in the UK.
How can I find a class near me?
Classes for the general public are held at the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, which may suit you if you live within reasonable travelling distance of Oxford, England. The UK mental health charity The Mental Health Foundation‘s BeMindful – learn mindfulness can help those based elsewhere in the UK. Outside of the UK you will need to ask locally.
Can I practise without attending a class?
The MBCT programme has been developed to follow a structure which includes coming to a class once a week throughout the course, where you have the benefit of being able to discuss with the teacher how the meditation practice is going. It is this combination of class-led and home-based meditation practice that has been proven to combat depression so successfully. However, at the moment there are not many classes available in the healthcare system. If you wish to pursue the programme by yourself, then there are the following options.
First, there is a Workbook specifically written for those who wish to go through the programme for themselves at home of with the aid of a friend or a therapist: The Mindful Way Workbook: An 8-Week Program to Free Yourself from Depression and Emotional Distress by John Teasdale, Mark Williams & Zindel Segal. Each week’s guided meditations (narrated by the authors) are provided on the accompanying MP3 CD and can also be downloaded.
Second, you can learn more about the background to the MBCT programme and follow it yourself in the book that Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal and Jon Kabat-Zinn have written especially for those who have struggled with depression in their lives. It is called “The Mindful Way Through Depression: freeing yourself from chronic unhappiness” and comes with a CD of guided meditations narrated by Jon Kabat-Zinn.
Finally, it is possible to purchase the CDs or download the meditations that are used in classes in the Oxford Mindfulness Centre (narrated by Mark Williams) and work through them by yourself.
If you wish to go into further detail on the theoretical background and rationale, you might find it helpful to read the book written for programme instructors “Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression“.
Can I learn mindfulness if I have not been clinically depressed?
Yes. People can benefit from mindfulness whether they have a specific problem or not. We all have times in our lives when we experience difficulty, stress and struggle; and for some of us this is our daily experience.
Developing greater awareness can open us to seeing how the mind becomes entangled in and blinded by its own liking and disliking, pursuing and rejecting when we try to maximize our happiness.
Mindfulness helps us see with greater clarity how we may approach our moment-by-moment experience skillfully, taking more pleasure in the good things that often go unnoticed or unappreciated, and dealing more effectively with the difficulties we encounter, both real and imagined.
For those who wish to explore mindfulness practice in this way, a more general introduction to mindfulness with shorter meditation practices can be found in the book by Mark Williams and Danny Penman Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World.