Good Practice Guidelines for Teaching MBSR

The Mindfulness Center at Brown University School of Public Health

Good Practice Guidelines for Teaching MBSR

To ensure depth and fidelity in teaching for MBSR teachers, the Mindfulness Center at Brown is committed to high standards of training, assessment and integrity. 

The following principles for good practices in teaching Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) are adapted from the UK Network of Mindfulness-Based Teachers (https://www.ukmindfulnessnetwork.co.uk/guidelines/) , and reflect consistency with long-term practices recognized by the International Mindfulness Integrity Network (IMI Network) which represents some of the most well-known and long-standing international training programs (LINK).

MBSR, as it has been developed and researched since its founding in 1979 by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., offers accessible and pragmatic skills in formal and informal mindfulness practices. At Brown University, we lead a charge for ongoing, rigorous research in order to:

• Delineate the mechanisms of mindfulness;

• Articulate and pilot translational science findings for best applications;

• Support policy changes in health insurance coverage for broader access to mindfulness, especially across socio-economic barriers;

• Refine MBSR pedagogy, knowledge and skills for MBSR teacher training, especially to reflect new evidence and best practices to meet trauma; inclusion, diversity and equity issues; and other cultural, economic and global realities that impact individuals and communities; 

• Develop programs for specific populations; and

• Integrate the best evidence-based programs into domains beyond healthcare, including education, business and workplace settings, government, first-responders, and more. 

The 8-week MBSR program is based on accessible and pragmatic skills that, with regular practice, hone the human capacity to attend and bring awareness to all the moments of our lives, supporting behavior change using a mind-body perspective. Participants often turn to MBSR as a means of meeting a variety of physical, emotional and psychological challenges, and teachers need comprehensive training to meet the range of experiences that show up in the classroom. 

The principles that follow have been time-tested to support the ongoing strength, flexibility and maturity of MBSR teachers. 

A teacher of MBSR should have the following:

Mindfulness-Based Teacher Training

• Familiarity of the MBSR course through personal participation (usually completed as a prerequisite of training).

• Completion of an in depth, rigorous teacher training program consisting of experiential, didactic and practice-based learning, that relies on sustained reflection, inquiry, application and regular self-, peer-, and trainer-assessment. Such training includes close supervision/mentoring with senior trainers and opportunities for direct, constructive feedback. 

• Recognition of both an ethos and ethical framework that supports the work and the person of the teacher. 

Such ethos and ethics begin with the admonition to firstdo no harm. They broaden out to create a space of equality, respect, and the recognition that every human being is whole and entire with the capacity to know and act on inner wisdom, even when faced with life challenges. The ethos, or spirit of MBSR can be expressed through the feeling of natural human warmth, collegiality, respect, and willingness to acknowledge and invest in human relationships as the very basis of healing, connection and community. These qualities are none other than those cultivated, nourished and re-discovered as innate wisdom through the practice of mindfulness. 

Foundational Training

MBSR teaching draws deeply from the teacher’s own personal meditation practice and study. This practice and study is made up of the daily, consistent commitment to formal and informal mindfulness practice as well as regular participation in multi-day, silent, teacher-led retreats. Together, these two elements: Personal meditation practice and retreats, create a foundation of experiential investigation and wisdom in MBSR teaching.

The process of training teachers in MBSR and other mindfulness-based programs requires time, dedication, continuity of commitment and practice, and, in some fundamental way—a sense of this work as a “calling,” to foster human well-being and the cultivation of wisdom, connection and peace. This inner orientation reflects the ethos of wholesomeness, compassion and human connection as a viable avenue to healing and flourishing. Support for these interior aspects of mindfulness includes: 

• A depth of understanding and comprehension of the foundational underpinnings specifically in the following areas*:

• Buddhist principles (as they relate to the practices of MBSR)
• Yoga and other traditions as expressions of perennial wisdom
• Experiential education
• Stress psychology and physiology
• Neuroscience and the mechanisms of mindfulness
• Group process, especially within a frame of mindfulness practice (vs more psychological interventions)

• The opportunity to practice teach and receive feedback from peers, and the use of films and recordings in mentoring or supervision. Regular, timely mentoring, especially during early teaching experience, supports new teachers to reflect on and inquire into the personal process of teaching

Prior training or relevant background

• While many MBSR teachers have backgrounds in medicine, health care, psychology, nursing, mental health and education—it is also recognized that life experience along with more divergent backgrounds such as business or law, may well have offered a teacher adequate life-learning to be skilled in teaching.

• While MBSR is most usually offered to support a homogeneous group, it is sometimes warranted for specific populations, such as cancer patients, caregivers, first responders, or others.  It is expected that a teacher would have knowledge and experience with the populations and milieu that a course is offered in. An alternative would be to co-teach with a colleague/teacher who has this knowledge as well as knowledge of the MBSR curriculum.

Ongoing good practice teaching guidelines

The Mindfulness Center at Brown University makes these suggestions for ongoing learning and development for certified MBSR teachers. These are practices that senior teachers and trainers have found to be beneficial, deepening, and clarifying one’s teaching:

• A commitment to a personal mindfulness practice through daily formal and informal practice. This commitment is in accordance with the guideline that MBSR teachers only ask of participants what we are willing to do ourselves, including a deep commitment to longer daily meditation, a commitment to practice directly with the MBSR formal practices that you are teaching, and a commitment to turn towardsthose areas of practice that may be challenging. This means that the support of a mentor/supervisor, meditation teacher, colleague, therapist or coach may be suitable from time to time for dialogue around specific practice and life issues.      

• A commitment to multi-day, silent, teacher-led retreats whereby the collectivity of the mind is nourished, mindfulness practices and tenants of mindfulness and other wisdom traditions are highlighted, and the atmosphere of silence, non-harming, and inquiry are the focus. This commitment is undertaken in the spirit of refining understanding and acknowledges the lifelong capacity for humans to grow, heal and transform. 

• Recommended: at minimum, the equivalent of 10 days over two calendar years. This may take the form of several weekend retreats—especially in recognition of those with young children or family needs--two 5-day retreats, or a single 10-day retreat. Please note that this recommendation does not include trainings or “retreat-trainings.”

• A commitment to regular mentoring or supervision with an experienced mindfulness-based teacher that includes the opportunity to reflect on and inquire into personal processes in relation to both one’s personal meditation practice as well as one’s teaching. After certification, this may take the form of peer-mentoring, group mentoring, or intermittent individual mentoring at least once during a teaching cycle. Use of teaching films is encouraged. The regular viewing and reflecting on one’s teaching adds further dimension for clarity and insight. 

• Recommended: At minimum, four formal mentoring/supervision sessions a year if teaching two or more cycles of MBSR or other MBPs.)

• Cultivation of relationships with other mindfulness teachers and practitioners for collective learning and community.

• Recommended: Participation in local, in-person or online group mentoring, teachers’ meetings, or trainings that support ongoing personal and collegial investigation into teaching, study, science and practice. 

• Engagement in a regular reflective practice supported by journaling, and—where possible—regular review of teaching films or audio recordings of one’s own teaching, and dialogue and peer-mentoring with teaching colleagues. 

• Regular review of scientific literature and evidence for mindfulness-based programs.

• Recommended: Subscription to peer-review journals that regular provide updated research on all aspects of mindfulness research, and or/participation in continuing education with scientists engaged in mindfulness research.

• Continued training for skills development, certification adherence, and deepening knowledge for improved delivery of mindfulness-based approaches.

* This list is not exhaustive. Over time, other foundational aspects of the curriculum may be added or acknowledged as impacting the most comprehensive understanding of how the curriculum unfolds in the aliveness of the classroom.