Although each practitioner will run courses differently, it’s likely that will be similarities between courses run over eight weeks. And that’s the first thing to appreciate, that mindfulness courses are usually run over multiple weeks, most commonly 8 weeks, with one formal session per week of two or two and a half hours.
Whereas some courses may be shorter or longer, the 8-week x 2.5-hour session model comes from the first courses designed by Jon Kabat-Zinn run in the pain clinic at Massachusetts General Hospital, starting in 1979. This model has become the most studied, and the de-facto standard for running mindfulness courses.
I have run much shorter courses and introductions to mindfulness, though my standard course follows this tried and tested model, in two-hour sessions.
So, you turn up for your first two-hour mindfulness class, what next?
Each session combines three things:
- a topic related to how our mind works
- mindfulness practise meditation (at the start and towards the end)
- and some conversation.
For example, the topic for week one is ‘running on autopilot’, related to how our brilliant brain automates tasks that we repeat. If you are driving a car, notice how you don’t have to ‘think’ about driving anymore; but can you recall all of the individual processes and skills you had to master while you were learning to drive? Your brain learned to automate the tasks involved in driving a car so that your thinking mind can be free to do other things.
We would talk about how this is both helpful and sometimes unhelpful (do you have any habits you would rather you didn’t?)… and what we might do about those unhelpful autopilots. This is coupled with the mindfulness meditation practice of a body scan.
Here are the topics from week two…
- Week 2 – Living in our heads
- Week 3 – Gathering the scattered mind
- Week 4 – Recognising aversion
- Week 5 – The odd thing about ‘allowing’
- Week 6 – A thinking exposé
- Week 7 – A time to dance?
- Week 8 – The present in the future
There is also the option of a day retreat, which in my case runs from 10am – 3.30pm. This really helps to integrate the mindfulness practice – the ultimate goal of which is to live our lives more consciously (see Why practice mindfulness? for more notes on this).
So, there it is. A taste of what happens on a mindfulness course.