Monday, June 17, 2013

Teacher Training in MBSR: Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction

About nine months or so ago I undertook the first official leg along my certification process route for MBSR: Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction professional teacher training. This was the Practicum Teacher training held at the Center for Mindfulness Studies at the University of Massachusetts Medical School Campus in Shrewsbury, MA. It was/is a life changing opportunity to immerse oneself in the training process while taking an MBSR class with close to 40 other participants who were program, not practicum, participants. But an important distinction to note here is that while I gained valuable teaching insight from the practicum, I also participated fully in the MBSR class. My personal growth and embodiment of the entire MBSR program  came from my own ability and willingness to face myself each day and look at the places that needed to be examined in an effort to teach MBSR classes one day, on my own, with a clearer focus and direction.

It is not a teacher training program to be taken on whim or undertaken lightly. In fact, the people who both work and teach at The Center for Mindfulness (CFM) take great care in selecting people to enter the program who have demonstrated a solid meditation, yoga and mindfulness practice of their own, as well as a forthright openness about their own insight and personal struggles. In addition, a professional background that demonstrates a readiness to discuss and teach a program that requires a certain degree of competency, fluency and comprehension  of the scientific research regarding the medical, social, physical  and psychological aspects of MBSR and its ability to impact a person's well being. This is necessary in order to decimate the information to inform the teaching process. 

MBSR all started quite humbly over 30 years ago in the basement of the University of Massachusetts Medical School Hospital. I recently attended a second training class in MBSR, this time lead by the two people who are instrumental to the  success of this program as well as champions of the ongoing research that is being carried out today by neuroscientists, psychologists and host of other researchers. These two people are Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn and Dr. Saki Santorelli. Jon and Saki led a 7 day training program in lovely Rhinebeck, NY for well over 200 or so attendees. The program is intensive and the days are long, but the leadership, direction and guidance was inspirational to both myself and others.

People came to this program from all over the world. I met medical professionals, researchers and teachers from as far away as China, Germany, Spain, the UK, Costa Rica, and Canada just to name a few. This particular class is open to not only people like myself desiring to teach MBSR classes, but also people who are interested in learning more about MBSR and how it may impact them in a personal way. These people, like many of us, came to find Jon and Saki's books a beacon of light in the maelstrom of life's storms and calamities. There are also people taking the class who are simply new to this world of mindfulness and are looking to learn more. In other words, all are welcome and the waiting list to attend is quite long, at least 300 to 400 hundred or more each year wait to find if they will be lucky enough to attend. Jon and Saki typically teach this week long class in the USA twice per year. Once in California and once in NY. They also teach this same program in Europe (Austria, I believe this year) and are heading to China, to lead the program. Imagine, Jon and Saki leading classes in a country which for many conjures up images of a populace rife with mindfulness, rooted in long-standing Buddhist belief system. Who better to reignite the path to mindful practice then this authentically embodied duo of MBSR leaders in the world today?

So, my journey toward certification, which can take up to 5 or more years, has begun. I am taking it slow and steady as MBSR teaching, to me, is not to be undertaken lightly. It is a program that has profound and lasting impact on people, and it is so important to recognize that each and every class taught is further opportunity for BOTH the students and teacher to learn more about themselves in a way that enhances the experience for all who attend. Training in MBSR is not a quick and dirty methodology of taking one training class and you are henceforth able to teach the class forever and ever. Just as a the full 8-week MBSR program is open to all participants, it is NOT a quick fix to all life's problems for them as well, no indeed. Neither teachers nor students stop learning after one session of classes. The learning is a life long process, and the skills taught become part of your daily life. Teachers are held to a higher degree of expectations,  and need to be open to themselves and their students. This insures the experience is true, authentic and being carried out in a mindful way, that can change moment by moment. The curriculum being taught is there, but the day to day process of teaching and imparting this information is more organic, in some ways as the participants and teacher both grow, learn, stumble and falter in their own process toward developing a life long practice.

To say I am equal to the challenge of teaching is irrelevant or more importantly, not what I am striving for here . What I am is committed to the ongoing process of learning more about myself in a way that embodies the heart and spirit of the MBSR program. To teach MBSR as taught at the CFM, University of Massachusetts Medical School, in a format that is viewed worldwide as the gold standard in MBSR training is not overstating things in the slightest. Jon Kabat-Zinn started a clinic to help people combat the physical pain in their lives. People who were being discarded by the medical profession as incurable or even worse, disposable to the medical community. What Jon did was introduce a compassionate form of training that did something remarkable: it taught the patient to take charge of their lives in a way that allowed for self healing and growth to occur. From a basement start, in a hospital, where the first 1,000 people were not even charged a penny came the birth of over 750 mindfulness-based programs worldwide that have won the respect and accolades of the medical profession a thousand times over.

Thank you Jon and thank you Saki, Jon's successor and current Director at CFM, University of Massachusetts Medical School, for ensuring the quality and consistency of training MBSR professionals. I am honored to be a VERY small cog in the wheel of a program that for many has shed light into places where no one thought they would ever feel the warmth of healing or a sense of wholeness. What many find is true meaning to the following words: Nothing to fix, no one is broken,  present for each moment in whatever is occurring, here and now,  for us as individuals, in THIS present moment.

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