This is a question you may have pondered yourself and it’s completely justified. I totally get that taking the leap into meditation and finding the right teacher can be a bit daunting. So imagine my delight when Hector, a guy I worked with recently, told me he had written a blog about the mindfulness journey we shared – no need for me to tip-toe around the many reasons I could give for living life more mindfully. He tells the story much better than I ever could. Over to you Hector.
“Daddy, since you started meditating you are a lot calmer and you seem a lot happier”.
This is what my twelve-year-old daughter said to me one bleak winter’s day, in the bleakest winter in memory, mid-January 2021, right smack in the middle of the covid lockdown. Her saying this made me really happy, as I had started meditating in the summer of 2020 specifically so I could cope with the inevitable winter lockdown.
I am divorced, and although my kids live with me half the time, I felt very lonely and restless when I was alone in the house. I was particularly anxious about the idea of long winter days working at home not having any contact with other humans.
Initially I had found a meditation course on the Headspace app that addressed loneliness. I used that for a month or so, and it seemed to improve things. At least while I was actually meditating, I didn’t feel so restless. I thought it worthwhile to keep going and see if it could improve other areas of my life; maybe make me slightly more at ease with day-to-day living; and therefore help my kids be more at ease with their lives too.
I did other courses on the Headspace app, but as they got more advanced, they asked me to use visualisation or just to follow the breath. I found these practices really challenging, as my mind raced all over the place. While this is “normal and natural”, it didn’t feel like I was doing very well, and I was becoming a bit disheartened.
Maybe you are at a similar point. I can picture you sitting in your meditation position, with a slightly dissatisfied look on your face. You have just finished meditating, but you really aren’t convinced you’ve done it right. Despite practising regularly for the last few months, you don’t really believe that you’re getting any better at meditation.
So what do you do? Do you give up meditation altogether? But you do believe it is benefiting you in some way.
Maybe try another meditation app that is better than the one you’re on? But you’ve been using Headspace and everybody else seems to rate it.
Maybe just need to try harder while you’re meditating? But everything you’ve heard tells you that trying harder is counter-productive for meditation.
Perhaps there’s another way to get better meditation? Maybe there are people out there who can teach mindfulness meditation? Maybe you could find a meditation teacher that won’t lure you into some weird religious cult?
Do these teachers actually exist? How do you find them? How much do they cost?
In this blog, hopefully I will answer these questions and I’ll tell you how I got on.
How weird are Mindfulness Meditation teachers?
I spoke to three or four teachers before I decided on Simon Barnes, a Mindfulness Meditation teacher in Bristol. To be fair, they all seemed to be decent reasonable people. In my admittedly limited experience, people involved in mindfulness tend to be very genuine and really believe in what they are teaching. But they are rarely preachy, and don’t try to sell you an impossible dream. Mindfulness is a westernised secular form of Buddhism, so no teacher is likely to get overly spiritual or religious.
I chose Simon because the course timing suited me, and he seemed like a normal bloke. He would describe himself as a Buddhist but he rarely uses Buddhist terminology. Also he drinks beer and watches rugby. These are two of my favourite habits, that I had no desire to stop simply because I wanted to get better at meditating.
What qualifications do mindfulness teachers have?
One of the frightening things about mindfulness is that it is completely unregulated. Anyone could set themselves up as a mindfulness teacher, so it is open to abuse. That said, there’s a lot of science behind mindfulness meditation.
Buddhist meditation practices were first westernised by John Kabat-Zinn who is a professor of medicine at MIT and has a PhD in molecular biology. Many of the mindfulness leading lights are academics in recognised universities; for example Kristin Neff, a specialist in self-compassion mindfulness, is a professor in educational psychology at Texas University. One of the leading voices in the UK is Mark Williams, a professor of clinical psychology at Oxford University. In fact Oxford along with Bangor and Exeter universities are the leading education centres for mindfulness in the UK.
They set up the British Association of Mindfulness-Based Approaches (BAMBA). So if your teacher belongs to BAMBA they are likely to have had thorough training. Simon Barnes did a Masters in Mindfulness over five years at Bangor University.
How will a mindfulness teacher teach you?
If the teacher has come through the BAMBA training they’re likely to teach you one of these courses:
- MBSR – Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction – This was created by John Kabat-Zinn and is normally taught in a group setting
- MBCT – Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy – This has many overlaps with MBSR but it is more centred around cognitive therapy and depression
- Finding Peace in a Frantic World – This is a pared down MBSR course developed by Professor Mark Williams which can be taken in groups or individually. This is the course I did with Simon on a 1-2-1 basis.
How much does a mindfulness teacher cost?
Obviously this will vary between teachers. I paid Simon £50 per session, which may sound a lot, but most sessions lasted over an hour and half. The courses tend to cost between £300 and £500 depending on the length and many are done in groups.
It won’t get too weird
If the cost isn’t prohibitive, I would recommend contacting a few teachers and speaking to them to see what they offer. You can simply Google “Mindfulness Meditation near me” or you could go through the BAMBA website. The choice is huge these days as they all teach over Zoom, so you are not limited by geography. If you go through the BAMBA website, or simply contact Simon, things won’t get too weird.
On a course the teacher will take you through various aspects of mindfulness so you can get deeper into the practice. They will also explain the science behind it and demonstrate lots of different meditations as you go along. I loved being able to discuss which meditations worked for me and which didn’t. Simon gave me realistic expectations that some just wouldn’t suit me and I should concentrate on the ones that did. Also, that even for him, some days the meditation just feels really average, and that accepting that reality is a breakthrough in itself. Having weekly sessions with him meant I kept practicing. Therefore I developed the habit of regular meditation that I have been able to sustain. Having someone to discuss the meditation with, enabled me to realise that I was making progress and getting minor breakthroughs as I went along.
These breakthroughs are notoriously difficult to describe but they do feel good, and have had a positive effect on the rest of my life. I do believe I am slightly more at ease with day-to-day living, and my family did survive the lockdown with our sanity intact. As I said my daughter certainly noticed the difference.
So be brave and give a mindfulness meditation teacher a call. You won’t get forced into anything, or any cult! You never know, if you do a course, your loved ones may tell you how much calmer and happier you are since you started meditating.
Written by Hector Taylor
Hector is a freelance copywriter and content marketer.