This is an extract from What Is Mindfulness? by Tamara Russell
There are multiple routes to developing your innate mindfulness skills. These are some key considerations that will help you find the best mindfulness training route for you. In addition, we included two exercises prepared by Tamara, which you can try right away.
What are the various training considerations?
You may feel more than a little overwhelmed with choice when it comes to selecting the best approach to your mindfulness training. There’s no right or wrong way to start; the most important thing is that you match the approach with your expectations. Don’t expect a half-day workshop to totally transform your mind or an app to cure depression overnight. But do expect regular practice to gradually transform how you relate to any experience. Also, are you interested in self-transcendence or self-development? Your answer to this may lead you to access mindfulness in a spiritual or secular setting.
Many spiritual traditions and faith practices from both the East (Buddhism, Taoism, Sufism) and West (Quaker, other Christian) offer routes to develop awareness that either overtly include mindfulness or have practices that tap into the same brain networks. They offer a life-long path to expand awareness in the service of connecting to the Divine. Spiritual or religious paths are usually well-defined, formalized and supported by a community. Finding a suitable spiritual teacher or guru is no small matter, however. Take your time and explore your options carefully before committing to a certain route.
If your intention is general self-development, secular training may be more suitable. You might find a MBSR or MBCT group advertised at your local health or community centre, or via a local charity. Some spiritual centres are also now offering secular mindfulness training programmes.
This training is typically a group of 12–20 individuals, meeting for 2–3 hours a week, to get basic instruction in mindfulness from an experienced (usually secular) mindfulness practitioner and teacher. You’ll additionally be encouraged to practise by yourself for 45 minutes a day, so, to do this programme justice, I recommend ensuring you are able to make this time commitment before enrolling.
You may need or like to take a course tailored for a specific group, and these exist, too. For example, there are courses for children, young people, parents, creatives, corporate workers – you name it, there will likely be a mindfulness course based around it. More information on some specific courses can be found in the Further Reading section at the back of this book.
Does your motivation match your intention?
Are you ready for formal training or just wanting to dip a toe in the water with informal practices? Remember, the same practices can be used for both routes . If you have a modest intention to be more aware of the present and have time to relax in it, then a mindful colouring book or a nature-based activity is a relatively easy option to access. If your intention is to arrive at work less stressed and more focused, then informal and short practices may be sufficient. An app, workbook, an introductory workshop or a short course would give you the necessary tools to get started.
Although these quick approaches have their obvious benefits, without formal guidance, they can sometimes be more distraction than mindfulness training.
If you have a high level of motivation and really want to fine-tune your attention, increase your productivity and develop your capacity to relate more deeply to others, a formal course would be a good starting point. These could be completed in a group or by following a programne in book form, such as MBCT-based Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Mark Williams and Danny Penman. If you like to work with practices that use your moving body, you could complete the Body In Mind training course in my book Mindfulness in Motion. Try this exercise from the book.
What else do I need to think about?
Your personal learning preferences will also impact on your choice of approach. There are four things to consider:
1 The frequency of your training (paced/intensive)
2 The source of instruction you follow (self-guided/taught)
3 How you will learn (group/individual/real-life/online)
4 Your learning style (verbal/visual/auditory/kinaesthetic)
Depending on your expectations, you might select a taught mindfulness course, which could be an intensive period of training spaced out over a couple of months. Alternatively, you might want to start with a drop-in group, allowing you
to dip in when it suits you.
Try this Body and Mind Training Exercise: Alert and Relaxed to help you manage stress, anxiety or depression, and can lead to unprecedented self-awareness through body-centred mindfulness.
Tamara Russell is a neuroscientist, author, clinical psychologist, martial arts expert and leading mindfulness trainer. She has helped people all around the world transform their lives using her ground-breaking mindfulness techniques. Tamara works as an academic, clinician and consultant – teaching groups and individuals in the public and private sector. Her clients include NHS trusts, arts organizations, professional athletes, businesses, teachers, artists, lawyers, journalists, parents and students. Tamara is also involved in international research investigating how Mindfulness changes the structure of the brain and exploring how mindful movement taps into these neural circuits in a particularly powerful way. She lectures in Neuroscience and Mindfulness at Kings College London, has been in dialogue with his Holiness the Dalai Lama, and speaks regularly on Mindfulness around the globe, appearing both on stage and radio – you can find links to videos of these appearances here.