What Should I Look for When Signing up for an MBSR Course?

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By the Mindful Leader Team

So you've made the decision to sign up for an MBSR class. Congratulations! Now it's time to decide where you would like to take your class. There are certified programs in most U.S. states and in over 30 countries as well as online programs, so there are many options for those looking to try a course.

Here are some things to keep in mind as you choose your class

1. Your MBSR course should consist of weekly group meetings (these are 2.5 hour long classes), a one-day retreat with a seven-hour mindfulness practice, and daily homework (these practices generally last at least 45 minutes). 

2. A live, peer-based community is an essential part of the program. A live and interactive, group-based class is what gives MBSR its heart. Groups create spontaneity, a sense of connection, and enliven a class, rather than the repetitiveness that can come from self-paced offerings done alone. In an MBSR class, everyone is a participant, everyone will discover things, and you will be your own best teacher. Every member of a class both gives and receives knowledge.

3. Make sure your instructor is qualified to teach. They may list the information for where they received their training on their website or they may be listed in a database. You can see Mindful Leader's list of certified instructors trained by institutions such as the Mindfulness Center at Brown University, UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness, Mindfulness-Based Professional Training Institute, or the University of Massachusetts Mindfulness Center. Instructors are qualified to teach MBSR classes after they have completed level one of any legitimate teacher training, so look for instructors who list themselves at "Level 2" or "Level 3."

4. Look at the organization providing your MBSR course. Taking a program from a reputable university, or from someone who has been trained by them, is a good way to know if you will be taking a true MBSR program. Additionally, there are other well-regarded organizations that offer MBSR courses. If you are not sure if the organization you are looking at is reputable, look up their reviews online or compare their website to the MBSR standards of practice to ensure the course will contain all of the necessary components to be considered an MBSR course. 

5. Familiarize yourself with the standards of practice. Here are the standards of practice for MBSR classes from Jon Kabat-Zinn and Saki Santorelli (PDF). While there might be slight differences in MBSR classes, there are necessary aspects. Here is the list of what participants should look for from Kabat-Zinn and Santorelli:

  • The experience should be a challenge, not a chore. It should be something the participants want to do for themselves, rather than being disheartening and something they have to do to be healthy. 
  • An understanding of the importance of the individual's own effort and motivation, meaning that the practice session must be done daily even when it feels hard or unnecessary
  • An understanding that this is a lifestyle change and that it will have to happen immediately. Adding 45 minutes of meditation to one's day six or seven times a week along with the live sessions is a commitment, but one the participant should be aware of going into the course.
  • Fostering knowledge of the importance of the present moment during the practice. 
  • This comes from an educational place rather than a therapeutic one, and the timed, but limited live sessions with group practice are important.
  • A medically heterogeneous environment, which is to say that when being used for an explicitly medical purpose, participants should not be split into classes based on their diagnosis. This allows for a focus on what they all have in common, rather than what they are experiencing due to their disease, illness, or condition that makes them separate from other people.
  • Pre- and post-program interviews are not necessary, but can often be helpful. This may be as simple as a survey you fill out before and after the course.
  • The program must consist of: an orientation session (2.5 hours), eight weekly classes (2.5-3.5 hours each), an all-day silent retreat during the sixth week of the program (7.5 hours), "formal" mindfulness meditation methods, "informal" mindfulness meditation methods, daily home assignments, individual and group dialogue about the home assignments, and an exit assessment strategy and individual self-assessment during the week eight course.
  • All course teachers must meet the MBSR standards of readiness and competency.
  • As the group format is essential to MBSR, class size should not exceed the instructor's ability to listen to and aid each student when necessary, or become so large that the group aspects of the program are no longer useful.

6. Talk to your potential instructor. An instructor can give you a sense of their teaching style and talking to them gives you a chance to connect. You'll spend a lot of time with your instructor during the eight weeks of your class, so it is important to make sure you feel you connect with them and can trust them.

7. Decide if you'd like to attend in-person or online. Both are valid options. When looking at online classes, you'll want one that meets on Zoom or another video conferencing platform and that allows live sessions. For an in-person class, your instructor should have a dedicated, quiet space with COVID-19 protocols that you are comfortable with. 

Once you've found a class that works for you, go for it! 

Click here to learn more about taking an MBSR class with Mindful Leader.

Have you taken an MBSR class before? Let us know in comments how your experience was and who you took it with. And if you have any questions about signing up for a class, we are happy to help!


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