Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction: might it work for you or not?
MINDFULNESS BASED STRESS REDUCTION is a well-known and clinically proven method to reduce stress and feel more content with life as it unfolds. In this article I would like to tell you about the good and the not-so-good stuff that this method has to offer, so that you can make an informed choice if mindfulness is something you’d might like to try.
Hi, my name is Marisa Garau and I love mindfulness. It has given me a new life when I was forced to quit my successful advertising agency due to chronic stress and burnout. Now I happily run this online mindfulness platform and every year I teach thousands of people around the world how to apply practical mindfulness and change their lives for the better.
Why is mindfulness good for you?
With mindfulness you accept reality for what it is and stick to the present moment. This is a very powerful principle that will change your life completely once you’ll incorporate it into your everyday life.
How do you make Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction work for you?
Your brain likes to cook up all sorts of stories about reality, and charge it with negative of frightening energy. This causes stress.
Take a look at this example
You wait for a train but the train is late. Rather than accepting this reality, your mind goes berserk:
“What the hell is this??? Where is that Ⅎ%#@ train??? I’m on my way to an important appointment and now I will come late! This is a disaster! What should I say? How can I explain this? If I lose this opportunity, I’m lost! Now my life will never come right! And I’m already such a loser!”
You might chuckle now… but if you would closely observe your thoughts, you’d find that you’re not an exception and that this senseless chatter also goes on in your mind. And as you can see, it’s always negative, anxious and judgemental, causing stress, panic and — ultimately — low self-esteem.
Read my in-depth article about mindfulness and why you too can easily benefit from it
Mindfulness helps you to keep your cool and not stress out by turning everyday challenges into a drama.
With mindfulness you prevent yourself from falling prey to this senseless bullying by your out-of-control mind
With mindfulness you keep your wild imagination under control and simply stick to the reality of the present moment
With mindfulness you always remind yourself to think clearly
“I’m waiting for a train which is late, and that’s it. Whatever happens next, I’ll deal with that then. For now, I won’t lose myself in doom scenarios and I won’t be dragged into stressful ‘what if’ thoughts.”
Mindfulness enables you to think with a clear mind without getting into a panic. The big advantage is that, when you practise mindfulness, your body won’t need to produce adrenaline and cortisol, and you won’t feel stressed, frightened or angry.
The 10 principles of mindfulness based stress reduction
Acceptance is only one of the 10 mindfulness principles I choose to live by.
The 10 principles are
As you might have guessed from going over this list, the mindfulness principles are tightly interwoven with one another. If you practise one principle, the next principle will come naturally to you as well. In the end you will choose to allow all principles into your life and feel more balanced and fulfilled than ever before.
Read my article on the 10 mindfulness principles and how they will enrich your life
But why do people think that mindfulness is for hippies?
Most people believe that mindfulness is weirdy-beardy stuff – good enough for hippies but not quite suitable for them. Why is the image of mindfulness so different from its true character? It’s because the 8-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction training hammers on the importance of meditation. And, of course, meditation evokes visions of long-haired flower-children zoning out on meditation cushions.
But meditation is not about zoning out.
Would you like to know how to practise mindfulness based stress reduction and enjoy inner calm and emotional balance? Then download my free e-book about mindfulness without the woo-woo and be surprised how easy my approach is.
What meditation really is
Meditation is solely about observing your thoughts… and not disappearing into their frightening, judgemental, silly content.
Many of my clients believe meditation is ‘zoning out’, ‘not thinking’, ‘stopping your thoughts from appearing into your mind’. Well, it’s not :-)
Meditation is not getting away from your thinking process, but shining a light on your thinking to discover what is really going on in your mind.
Imagine you’re in an old house. Suddenly you hear a strange noise coming from the attic. What your instinct tells you to do is: “Get out of that house, there’s something or someone in the attic!! Run!!!”
Without sensibly examining what is really going on upstairs, you run away, allowing yourself to remain ignorant and easy to scare.
With mindfulness you would take a torch, climb the stairs to the attic, and shine your light around to see what’s causing all the commotion. What do you think you’ll discover? A scary ghost? A crazy guy with a gun? A blood thirsty monster? Of course not :-) You’ll probably discover an innocent mouse making herself comfy in her new environment. Nothing to be scared of.
Now that you have shown a light around that previously dark and mysterious attic, you are a lot smarter about what is going on in your personal upstairs — having literary enlightened yourself — and you won’t be easy to scare anymore. Which means less panic, less stress, less anger. And that’s why mindfulness meditation reduces stress.
read my article about mindfulness meditation and why you don’t need it
Mindfulness rocks — but the standard approach is not very appealing
When you follow the 8-week mindfulness based stress reduction training, you’ll learn 5 different meditations of 45 minutes each. You have to commit to at least one 45-minute meditation per day. And so you’ll have to carefully plan your daily tasks around this meditation since you don’t have all the time in the world but are actually combining a busy job with the care of your family and all sorts of social commitments. Needless to say that this is a scenario doomed to fail.
When I followed the standard mindfulness training in 2006, I wasn’t working because I had left my advertising agency due to burnout. With savings in the bank and no children, I could comfortably spend the whole day practising mindfulness:
I read all the books on mindfulness available
I read all the bestsellers on Buddhism
I followed other, more in-depth mindfulness training courses
I attended spiritual workshops
I travelled to international conferences about mindfulness
I even wrote my own bestseller about mindfulness
And I meditated until I dropped :-)
I had all the time in the world and my whole life revolved (and still revolves) about mindfulness because I just love it and dedicate my life to it.
Who on earth has time to lazy away on a meditation cushion?
But let’s be honest… if you live a normal life, which usually includes a job, children, a partner, elderly parents who need more attention, friends who deserve attention, and countless social obligations – you simply don’t have time to spend hours a day meditating and making mindfulness the centre of your life, now do you?
It won’t surprise you to learn that, once they have completed that 8-week mindfulness based stress reduction training that has cost them at least 500.00 USD, 95% of participants stop doing the meditations right away and rapidly fall back into that old, inefficient behaviour of believing their alarming thoughts. What a waste of time, energy and money…
Following and completing the mindfulness training takes courage, time and commitment. But if you can’t find the time to do the meditations on a daily basis, you’ll quickly feel just as stressed and rushed as you did before the training.
Too time-consuming to apply
After completing the mindfulness based stress reduction training course, my mindfulness trainer offered us participants a free guided meditation session once a month so that we could keep on meditating together. What struck me during those sessions was that my fellow participants (the few that actually showed up) were just as stressed as when they had started the training.
Much later, when I had become a mindfulness teachers myself and sent my clients worldwide a survey asking them if they felt they had actually benefited from reading my mindfulness books or following the training, I found that everybody considers mindfulness a beautiful concept… but only a tiny percentage actually incorporates it into their everyday lives.
Despite the fact that learning to be mindful had been a positive experience, the majority of my followers couldn’t for the world bring themselves to practise mindfulness on a daily basis.
The conclusion was as simple as it was disappointing – everybody loves mindfulness and totally backs its sensible principles, while nobody actually uses it to de-stress their demanding lives.
Not even mindfulness professionals can stomach the meditation regime
The main reason why nobody aches to practise mindfulness in demanding, stressful situations, are the endlessly boring mindfulness meditations.
In a Mindfulness Special of Flow Magazine, editor Nina Siegal wrote that she, after having completed the mindfulness based stress reduction training, immediately threw out the mindfulness meditations: “As soon as I had completed the training, I couldn’t muster the discipline to meditate. As the daily meditation schedule of the training was quickly overtaken by the well known urgent tasks of modern life, I simply forgot to take the time to sit and quietly look at my thought process — I didn’t even give it a minute a day!”
In the same edition Chief Editor Irene Smit confessed: “I have deepened my knowledge of a variety of mindfulness principles. But I still fail to be all zen or balanced. I hardly ever meditate and get trapped in the very pitfalls I suffered from when starting the mindfulness training course.”
Please note that Nina and Irene both work for an internationally published magazine on mindfulness – they both work professionally with mindfulness. If professionals are not able to integrate the traditional approach into their lives…. how on earth could those millions of people who are not mindfulness professionals pull it off?
The standard mindfulness training is not consumer-friendly
Interestingly enough this issue is not fully being acknowledged by mindfulness trainers. My good friend Lonneke, a psychologist who runs a very successful practice where she runs classes Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, admits that her clients quickly fall back into their old, inefficient and damaging behaviour after completing the training – simply because they don’t have time to keep on practising. But even Lonneke stubbornly stresses the importance of the mindfulness meditations, stating that mindfulness without the meditations isn’t really mindfulness.
There are very specific reasons why the standard mindfulness training course is not a very attractive option for many of us.
A rigid training schedule
The standard mindfulness training demands that you attend the sessions of 2,5 hours every week, for a period of eight weeks, in order to learn how to meditate. For many women and men who work full-time jobs and care for children this is an impossible scenario.
Loads of homework
Once home you have to commit to practising mindfulness for at least one hour. Not per week… per day! Every day you’ll spend 15 minutes noting your observations, thoughts and experiences. After that you’ll have to do one of the mindfulness meditations (sitting meditation, walking meditation, body scan meditation or one of the two yoga meditations) that take up at least 45 minutes.
Stressed fellow participants
The trainer used to be a fully qualified psychologist and would decides if people who sign up to the training are mentally fit to work with within a group. But since mindfulness became a commercial hype, and people from all walks of life are encouraged to become a trainer, trainers cope with stiff competition. Naturally, they say ‘yes’ to each and everyone who is willing to sign up. So now the chances of finding yourself in a group with some extremely disturbed people are quite high. There was a young woman in my group who was so utterly burned out that all she could do was cry. If you’re not used to interact with mentally ill people, this is a frightening experience and won’t promote the development of inner calm.
A non-optional silent day
The training compels you to spend one whole Sunday in complete silence and do all the meditations with the group and its trainer. In my group this special day ended in a completely mindless brawl between participants who were after each other’s throats – so long for the relaxation experience and deepening insights we were being promised.
Please don’t get me wrong – the mindfulness based stress reduction training works wonders for those who are willing to invest their time and disciple. But for many others, following the training is a big task because it demands a lot of time and might put you under extra pressure due to the often stressful dynamics within the group.
The guilt trap
As if following the training isn’t challenging enough, the real problem starts after completion of the training course.
After 8 weeks
your group is not meeting up anymore
there will be no homework anymore
you’ll have to do the meditations on your own
you’ll have to figure out by yourself how, where and when you apply mindfulness in everyday situations
After 8 weeks you’re on your own and you’ll have to practise everything you’ve learned on your own accord.
And this is exactly the moment where most people with an average busy life quit.
It’s because you simply don’t have time for introspection. You don’t have time for meditations which take up an hour each. You don’t have time to learn how to encounter challenging situations in a mindful way.
Despite the lack of time to consistently meditate, you’ll somehow have plenty of time to feel guilty. Guilt is your companion when you know very well what to do to calm yourself down in stressful situations… and still choose to not invest time to maintain this healthy state-of-mind.
Fortunately mindfulness has so much more to offer than meditation
While the current conventions of the mindfulness based stress reduction only promote time-consuming meditation as a way to reduce stress and anxiety, I took the liberty to look at mindfulness in a far more practical way. It enables me to apply mindfulness in a way that suits me and my audience perfectly.
Whether it follows the official mindfulness doctrine or not… as long as it improves your quality of life – with less negative thoughts; less intense emotions, less drama, more insight, more inner calm and more zest for life – I frankly don’t care about which road to take to enjoy a wonderful end result. Any road will do, as long as it gets you there.
Sensible, practical and time-efficient
I developed a completely different approach for my clients and followers. My no-nonsense mindfulness offers practical exercises which are easy to do and which prevent you from getting dragged into the frightening content of nagging thoughts.
You can do my easy exercises throughout the day and in every situation. My mindfulness approach is very down-to-earth, without the high-brow meditations. A lot less exquisite, I know :-) but far more effective than the official 8-week training.
My approach fits into your routine, without planning and scheduling
After having followed my e-course, 90% of my clients have made mindfulness based stress reduction their daily habit, doing several of my exercises every day and thus enjoying the benefits throughout their day, every day. It doesn’t cost them any effort or time.
While the standard training demands that you adapt to its rigid practising schedule, my approach is flexible and easy to fit into your daily routine. You don’t have to schedule practising because… you practise with everything you do on any ordinary day.
Mindfulness proves its worth when applied as often as you think of it, in every situation that might be stressful or challenging. My exercises encourage you to practise with challenging situations in your life that you deal with on a regular basis.
No need to set apart time and then solemnly practise mindfulness… disconnected from your normal life. No, you’ll have much better and more sustainable results when you learn how to be mindful in all sorts of stressful situations when you go through your daily routines, right?
That’s why my approach is so much more effective, because my clients keep on practising during the day, and remain in a calm state-of-mindfulness throughout their busy and demanding day.
If you ever doubted if you would be able to learn to be mindful at all times… stop doubting yourself. Please download my free, 50-page e-book to learn all about my approach, its healthy effects, and why it will also give you a more balanced and fulfilling life.
Download my new ebook for free. You'll learn all about mindfulness based stress reduction and how to grow inner calm and better focus – not just for now, but for the rest of your life.