What to expect
Each teacher will run their mindfulness courses slightly differently, but this will give you an idea of what to expect from a typical course.
A professionally trained mindfulness teacher will organise an introduction, (called an orientation) before the course begins.This is an opportunity for you to discuss why you are doing the course and help you decide if this mindfulness course is the best one for you.
An orientation can be held in groups or individually, either face to face or over the phone.
HOW LONG IS THE COURSE?
Most courses run for 8 weeks with each weekly session lasting between 2 and 2.5 hours. There is also usually a longer retreat session (day or half day) around week 6 or 7 of the course.
HOW MANY PEOPLE WILL BE IN MY GROUP?
Class sizes vary. They can be anywhere between 8 and 25 or more people. If you prefer a small or large group, ask your teacher what size the group will be at your orientation.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN IN THE SESSIONS?
Most mindfulness courses include learning meditations, such as the body scan, mindful movement and walking, sitting meditation, and shorter meditations like the three-minute breathing space.
There will also be some guided movement during some sessions. Mindful movement is very gentle and involves simple stretching and yoga or qi-gung based movement. All of the mindfulness practices can be adapted so that you can take part regardless of mobility or other issues.
There is also some formal teaching, small and large group discussion, and individual reflection.
You will be invited to share how you experienced the home practice and meditations in class. This is always optional and it is fine to remain quiet in class if you prefer.
WHAT POSITION WILL I NEED TO BE IN FOR MEDITATIONS?
You will usually be invited to sit or to lie down during meditations. There is no need to sit perfectly still though. You will be able to stand up or move around as you need to during longer meditations.
There are usually ordinary chairs in the room and there may also be options to sit on meditation cushions or stools if you wish to.
WHAT MUST I WEAR?
You can wear ordinary clothes - some people come to class at lunchtime or straight after work in their work clothes. It is helpful to wear clothes that are not too tight around the waist as these can restrict your breathing. It is also a good idea to bring an extra layer and warm socks with you, as your body temperature can change when you are sitting or lying still.
WILL I HAVE TO PRACTISE BETWEEN MY COURSE SESSIONS?
In between sessions you will be invited to listen to guided meditations each day. These are usually between 20 and 45 minutes long.
You will also be invited to do other simple mindfulness activities, such as eating a meal mindfully. This home practice is a very important part of the course. It is usually between 30 to 60 minutes a day in total.
It is important to think about whether you have time to commit to meditating most days when you decide about attending a course.
WILL I NEED TO BRING ANYTHING WITH ME?
The most useful thing to bring to a mindfulness course is an open mind, a healthy curiosity and a willingness to make space for yourself and try out new ways of being for the 8 weeks.
On a practical level, many mindfulness courses will have equipment such as yoga mats, blankets and cushions available. Some teachers may invite you to bring your own yoga mat, blanket or cushion though. Ask the teacher at orientation whether you need to bring anything with you.
HOW HARD WILL IT BE?
Mindfulness can sound like hard work and in some ways it is. It is also very nourishing. You are committing to putting aside time for yourself over the 8 weeks and experiencing the benefits of simply being, without striving to be somewhere or someone else.
Mindfulness is a bit like starting an exercise programme: it's challenging at first and then in time, the benefits of all your practice begin to shine through. It's like planting seeds - gentle handling, patience and knowing when to 'just let it happen' helps.