Mindfulness-based interventions have become extremely popular in large part because of the growing body of evidence of their success in alleviating suffering across a range of human problems and populations.
Formal mindfulness practice is no longer limited to Buddhist monasteries and retreat centers; it’s now being taught in hospitals, youth centers and community clinics.
But whether you’re a seasoned mindfulness practitioner or have recently begun a formal practice, teaching mindfulness in your clinical practice can be daunting. In their book, A Clinician’s Guide to Teaching Mindfulness .
Christiane Wolf, MD, Ph.D, and Greg Serpa, Ph.D—a physician-turned-mindfulness teacher and clinical psychologist, respectively—present tips for getting started. The following have been adapted from their book.
Stick to teaching what you know.
Even if you only have a few months of personal mindfulness practice under your belt, it’s still entirely possible to teach beginning mindfulness to your clients. But be mindful—no pun intended—of going too deep into exercises that reach far beyond what you have personal experience with.
“The closer you stay to what you know through your direct experience, the better,” write Wolf and Serpa.
- Practice what you preach. Literally.
Teaching is a great way to support your own mindfulness practice. By instructing others in mindfulness meditation you’ll likely refine your own understanding and learn new ways to approach practice through the feedback you get from students. But teaching also comes with a level of responsibility.
Don’t be in a hurry to encourage students or clients to do anything that you yourself wouldn’t want to do. Be accountable for the practices you teach and practice them on your own first before bringing them in to the space for others to try.
If you tell students to practice for a short time each day, make every effort to do the same. Not only will this accountability deepen your practice, it will help you better empathize and understand the potential challenges and setbacks that your students face which will make you better able to help them.
- Remember that you are a model of the practice for your students or clients.
Part of teaching mindfulness to your clients will involve modeling the practice. In fact, a study conducted in the early 1990s showed that when mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) students were taught mindfulness exercises by teachers who did not participate in the exercises themselves, the results were disappointing.
“The teacher is an important model, demonstrating to the student how to gently be with everything, including difficulties, just as it is,” write Serpa and Wolfe. “Our own sustained, continuous effort and practice of mindfulness is a nonnegotiable prerequisite of our being ‘good enough’ mindfulness facilitators.”
- Take cues from the teachers who have inspired you.
To a certain extent, it is true that the practice itself is the teacher. What we learn through mindfulness meditation is only accessible through the experience of practice. And yet, teachers play a crucial role in that they are the facilitators and transmitters of the methods that we use to heal ourselves and others. Without the skills and wisdom of the teachers who’ve come before us, many of us would not have been exposed to mindfulness practice in the first place.
“Model yourself after a mindfulness teacher who inspired you or is still doing so. Ask yourself what it is about him or her that inspires. Is it her intimate knowledge of the teachings? His enthusiasm and kindness? Her deep trust in the transformational power of the practice? His way of walking the talk?” write Serpa and Wolfe.
- Invest in your own practice by finding a good teacher, joining a facilitator group, and attending retreats.
Having your own teacher is another good way to hold yourself accountable and to keep your practice evolving. Your own teacher can also be a great resource for questions related to teaching and instructing others in mindfulness practice. If there aren’t any teachers in your immediate area, you may be possible to find someone who presents mindfulness seminars online or who hosts a retreat once a year in a location that’s doable for you.
There are also groups of mindfulness facilitators that can provide an excellent source of peer support and consultation around things you may be stuck on either in your teaching or your personal practice.
For more about teaching mindfulness meditation in clinical settings, check out this website www.sharingmindfulness.com.