Five benefits of practicing mindfulness in a group
Mindfulness is often perceived as a solitary act, an unfolding of awareness of our true selves. Indeed, mindfulness meditation involves dedicating time and space to being a witness to your thoughts, physical sensations and emotions. There are a plethora of books, recordings and apps available for people to practice and learn about mindfulness in the comfort of their own home, alone. Cultivating mindfulness and self-compassion can help individuals to develop a more positive relationship with themselves. Our relationship with ourselves directly effects our relationship with others, the world and how we live our lives. However, practicing in a group situation offers even more benefits.
However, ‘feeling comfortable in your own skin’ does not mean isolation from others. Regular sustained mindfulness practice often leads to a greater awareness of the inter connectedness of all things. Human beings are essentially social beings. Meditating with others allows us to share our insights, concerns, obstacles, doubts and discoveries. Although we are all on our own personal journey, travelling with others can help us find our direction. People who practice mindfulness regularly often describe having a deeper experience when meditating in a group. Some of the key benefits of learning and practicing in a group are;
Group activity can reinforce our motivation and commitment to practice this is true for many human activities. Mindfulness is sometimes compared to going to the gym for the mind. Only a small proportion of those joining gyms attend regularly, those that do generally attend regular classes. Similarly, running clubs reinforce motivation to continue. It is easier to stop running, stop exercising or stop meditating when you are on your own than when you are with others. It is harder to find an excuse to do something else when someone else has created the time and space for you. I certainly find this to be true with my own personal practice. From my experience in delivering guided meditations to groups, I have noticed individuals become distracted, look around and then return to the practice and to stillness.
The presence of others, in every meaning of the word, can give us a boost when our resolve is weakened.
Having a group to bring your experiences to can help clear the clouds of self-doubt and recrimination. The shared wisdom of the group supported by an experienced teacher can help us overcome the barriers created by thoughts such as ‘This isn’t working for me, I must be doing it wrong’, ‘I’m useless, I keep getting distracted’ ‘I keep falling asleep, that can’t be right’ etc.
In 2014 I was fortunate to attend a talk by Jon Kabat Zinn and his words still resonate for me; “Meditation is simple but it isn’t easy”
It takes effort, and it isn’t always relaxing as we may become aware of challenging emotions and feelings that we have previously blocked, buried or pushed away. Hearing of the challenges faced by others can help give context and awareness to our own experiences.
Recently I supported my colleague in delivering a course to teachers and their feedback from the course highlighted the importance of sharing within the group;
“Also talking in the group, listening to other peoples experiences and thoughts was really useful, to know that other people found certain aspects of mindfulness difficult too”
Belonging and connection
The awareness that ‘we’re in this together’ develops compassionate understanding, that our experience is part of being human and ‘we are not alone’. Practices such as loving kindness can feel very different in a group setting, for many providing a richer and deeper experience.
- When we learn to meditate, it’s advisable to do it with a well-trained teacher. a well-trained mindfulness teacher will support the process of learning how to meditate through the use of inquiry using insight dialogue. The teacher creates a safe, supportive space to facilitate and encourage a greater awareness of the persons present moment experience generating deeper insight and to come into touch with who they really are.
Although inquiry is an interaction between the teacher and an individual participant, the whole group benefits from each inquiry. As the group listen to the interaction, others may recognise similar or entirely different experience, this recognition can reinforce understanding that there is no right or wrong, just your experience.
An experienced teacher will also model the attitudes of mindfulness including;
- By modelling the attitude of non-judgement, group members are given permission to express their own subjective experience without fear of being right or wrong;
- By thanking participants for their input and experience, enquiry can exemplify the attitude of gratitude.
- By modelling being imperfect, students are given permission to explore their own imperfections.
By making the active choice to attend a mindfulness group we not only reinforce our intention to practice but also remove ourselves from our daily distractions. Choosing to go to a neutral space we have fewer excuses to not meditate – no dishes to wash, no emails to send, no mail to open, no box set to watch etc. Attending a group can reinforce and strengthen our personal practice and remind us of our motivation for wanting to practice mindfulness.
Finding a mindfulness group near you
Mindfulness is becoming increasingly accessible, with more individuals and organisations offering courses and classes. Regular practice sessions are sometimes dependent on having undertaken a course which can be prohibitive in terms of cost and time, however, increasingly organisations are offering drop-in classes for all levels of experience. The quality of delivery and experience of those delivering varies greatly and we would recommend checking the level of experience and training of those delivering guided classes. Mindfulness is not regulated, although there is UK listing of accredited teachers the listing is very specific to trainers having been trained to deliver specific mindfulness programmes and there are many very experienced trainers who do not choose to be accredited. However there are people with limited experience and training also offering mindfulness classes who may not be able to offer the same level of guidance as someone who has received training in teaching mindfulness. It is always good to just ask about the experience and training of the tutor.
A great online resource for finding mindfulness groups near you is Meetup, alternatively your local Buddhist centre may also offer mindfulness practice opportunities.