How Can MBSR Help You Listen to Yourself?

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By Andy Lee

Mindfulness has seen an incredible surge in popular acceptance over the last ten years. Due mainly to the proliferation of mindfulness apps, the principles and practice of mindfulness are more accessible to more people than ever before. As a result, the number of people practicing tripled from 2012 to 2017 to 14% of the population, and has certainly continued to expand in the years since.

While this trend has brought some level of benefit to more people than could have even been imagined a decade ago, it has also come at a cost. Here are some of the key changes and their impact

Shorter practices

Perhaps the most prominent of these changes is that mindfulness practices have become shorter. From the standard of 30-45 minute sessions in past decades, today’s sessions are commonly 5-10 minutes long. While practicing mindfulness for any period of time is a good thing, the time/benefit relationship is not a linear one. In my experience, the first 5 minutes of practice are primarily about down-regulating the body and settling the mind a bit. Next, the mind often turns to running through ‘the news of the day’, as mindfulness teaches and author Ron Siegel puts it. 

It is often after this that the mind begins to settle enough to observe thoughts and emotions with a level of detachment and curiosity - and this is where another type of personal benefit begins to manifest. As a result, shorter practices may benefit people a great deal in some ways, but may also limit their access to other, less easily accessible benefits.

More guidance

At the same time, mindfulness practices now seem to have more guidance. For example, it is common for practices to offer less than 30 seconds of silence at any time. (I also see this tendency in my own guidance.) In addition, the guidance offered seems ever more prescriptive. With the advent of practices for specific situations and conditions, people are told ever more about what to notice, how to relate to it, when to let go of it, and so on. 

Clear guidance in a mindfulness practice can be incredibly helpful. At the same time, it limits the opportunities to explore and work with one’s own unique internal environment and dynamics.

The space to listen

What is being lost as guided mindfulness practices become shorter and chattier? To me, it is something that is exceedingly precious and rare: The opportunity to tune into, listen to, and be in dialog with ourselves. The opportunity to believe that right now, perhaps you don’t need an expert to tell me what to do or how to be. Instead, perhaps you can find that wisdom within yourself. We spend so much time taking in information, that we may be losing confidence in our ability to explore, accept, and ultimately heal ourselves. Ultimately, this is one of the capacities that true mindfulness practice develops. And no amount of skillful guidance can replace it. 

Happily, there is still a program that affords participants the space to listen to themselves. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), the original secular mindfulness program, offers teachings and principles that are broad and inclusive; practices that are both spacious and supportive; and an environment that allows participants to engage in mindfulness in a way that is both universal and profoundly personal. 

Brief, accessible mindfulness practices have enabled many people to take the first steps to discovering the benefits of mindfulness. And for those who are drawn to a deeper exploration, and a different set of benefits, the MBSR program is well worth considering.

Andy Lee has been practicing mindfulness for over 20 years, and has been teaching mindfulness both in organizations and in the community since 2011.  He is a certified MBSR teacher by the Center for Mindfulness at the Brown University Center for Public Health, and has an MA in organizational psychology from Columbia University and a certificate in executive coaching from CUNY Baruch. Andy spent the first half of his career as a human resources executive in Fortune 500 companies and in 1999 he came to mindfulness in order to manage his own challenges with stress. Besides teaching MBSR, Andy is also the founder of Mindful Ethos LLC, and a Senior Consultant with Potential Project, the global leader in workplace mindfulness programs. 

Andy is an instructor for our MBSR course. Click here to learn more and view upcoming classes. 

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1 comment

Reflecting on my own practice journey, I would say that the shorter, chattier guides as you  put it @Andy Lee were helpful as a beginner to know where to aim and sustain attention and return again. As I continue to practice, I find that I need and value more silence and less guidance and more time. I wonder if it is because over time I've learned to trust myself and have a little more confidence in my abilities to be my own guide? I completed the MBSR training twice at different times in my life and have found the principles and teachings to be supportive of not only my personal practice but also skills as a workplace facilitator.  Thanks Andy for this reflection. 

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