Choosing a mindfulness teacher – the gap between theory and practice.

MIND THE GAP

Mindfulness is a ubiquitous term these days. From parliamentary staff to train drivers, bankers and the big four accountancy firms, everyone seems to be talking about mindfulness in the workplace.  This practice of moment by moment awareness is being hailed as the answer to a multitude of problems and modern day malaise. However, as a qualified mindfulness practitioner and a student of applied positive psychology, two things seem to be missing for me; the integrity and experience of the people we choose to support our learning and the risks that mindfulness may pose to some.

When I train mindfulness techniques, delegates often ask me how they can find out more and where they can learn mindfulness in their local area. Unfortunately, mindfulness is an unregulated industry. Anyone can read a book, complete an online course or practice a few meditations in a class or from an app and believe they are suitably qualified to lead the learning of others. I find this disappointing, when most mindfulness teachers have invested valuable resources to become a credible practitioner. When working with clients I may use the principles of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for example, but I would never purport to be a therapist or counsellor nor would I use CBT with a clinical population as I’m not certified to do so.

Whilst the theory of certain subjects can be read and delivered superbly by a great trainer or coach, mindfulness is not something you learn from a book. Mindfulness is a way of being. Mindfulness requires a deeper, experiential learning and lifelong commitment. It is not a theory or a concept.

The UK network for mindfulness based teaching organisations is a good place to start.

Ask your mindfulness teacher whether they have completed an 8-week mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) or mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) course followed by an intensive period of teacher training. Check they have a regular daily practice and that they attend a silent mindfulness based retreat at least annually to deepen their experiential knowledge. If they don’t tick these boxes as a minimum, why entrust them with your mind and your awareness?

The ease of access to mindfulness practice belies the fact that at its heart, mindfulness involves participants examining their inner most thoughts emotions and sensations. This is precious cargo, not to be handled by an amateur. You wouldn’t entrust your physical health to an inexperienced medical student. Why entrust your sense of self and being to someone perhaps only marginally more experienced that you?

Mindfulness teachings take skill and deep understanding, not only of the benefits of practice, but of the possible pitfalls and contraindications. A good practitioner will know how to handle a learner who finds themselves struggling with recurrent thoughts, sensations or emotions which they feel unable to handle. All therapies and interventions involving the mind carry an inherent risk, though this is rarely talked about. Mindfulness is no different. There have been rare instances of significant negative responses to mindful practice.

Mindfulness does not suit everyone. Just like any other life skill, you need to try it on for size and be guided by someone who truly knows what they are talking about. Someone who can create a safe space in which to learn and a balanced perspective of the benefits and challenges of this deep practice. Mindfulness can be a wonderful, life changing, empowering skill for many people and I hope it will be for you. Do take care in selecting your guide. You are entrusting them with your mental wellbeing.

If you would like to chat about mindfulness with no obligation, please don’t hesitate to contact me at lucy.whitehall@transformandthrive.co.uk