How to Plan a Mindfulness Workshop: Best Ideas for Success

Mindfulness WorkshopSince Jon Kabat-Zinn (1990) first published his seminal study of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), Full Catastrophe Living, training in mindfulness skills has become a popular intervention in a range of health and wellbeing contexts.

So much so that the third wave of behavioral therapies (Hayes & Hofmann, 2017) evolved from a hybrid of mindfulness skills, cognitive science, and behavioral therapy techniques.

These include MBSR, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and Dialectical Behavior Therapy.

These mindfulness-based approaches have now been applied by a range of helping professionals in both clinical and non-clinical settings to improve people’s wellbeing and quality of life with great results.

Would you like to plan an introductory mindfulness workshop for those new to the practice? Then read on, as we provide you with all the information.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Mindfulness Exercises for free. These science-based, comprehensive exercises will help you cultivate a sense of inner peace throughout your daily life and give you the tools to enhance the mindfulness of your clients, students, or employees.

How to Plan a Mindfulness Workshop: A Guide

Our specialist training course Mindfulness X is discussed toward the end of this article. This is a complete standalone program that trains the trainer and provides all the materials and resources you need to run an eight-session program with your clients based on the eight pillars of mindfulness.

When offering an introductory workshop, it is best to focus on experiential exercises and discussions of participants’ experiences, keeping the theory to a minimum (although some background is needed). The group should be a manageable size so that everybody contributes and shares within the time available.

Planning a one-day introductory workshop

You will require some equipment to deliver this workshop. Make sure you have a whiteboard, flip chart and pens, handouts of worksheet exercises, a laptop, projector, Bluetooth speaker, meditation cushions, yoga mats, and chairs.

Ensure that participants know the type of clothes they should wear: loose and stretchy to allow for a range of movements and postures. There are also tips for delivering the workshop online below.

1. Settle participants in

Begin the workshop by leading a mindfulness exercise as soon as the participants have arrived. Try this Noticing Five Things exercise to ensure participants settle down and become fully present. This should take at most 5–10 minutes.

2. Invite brief introductions

You can make this into a group warm-up exercise by splitting people into pairs and asking them to ask each other’s names and what they want from the workshop. Then ask them to introduce each other. This should take roughly 20 minutes.

3. Warm up with brainstorming

Get the group warmed up further by asking them what they think mindfulness is during a brainstorming session. Encourage people to say anything that comes to mind. Use this session to discuss what mindfulness is and isn’t, and relate it back to their expectations of the workshop.

In addition, you can show this short video from Russ Harris, which offers a brief overview of some myths about mindfulness. This should take another 20 minutes, including 3.5 minutes for the video.

After the video, lead a Breath Awareness exercise to bring participants mindfully back to the present moment. Then distribute a handout timetabling the remaining workshop.

In total, the three steps above should take about 50–60 minutes. You might want to take a break here for refreshments.

4. History of mindfulness

Next, you can present a short history of mindfulness from early Buddhism to contemporary neuroscience. You can use the short video below, where Ruth Farenga, the founder of Conscious Leaders, explains the neuroscience of mindfulness in highly accessible terms.

Workshop themes to consider

For your workshop, it would be ideal to select a central theme and build upon that. For our example, we will discuss the five facets of mindfulness according to neuroscience.

The five facets were identified by scientific research that developed psychometric instruments to operationalize and measure mindfulness (Quaglia et al., 2015).

This resulted in the creation of the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire.

This scientifically grounded approach to understanding mindfulness provides a handy framework for introducing others to mindfulness and its benefits. Each facet is explained below in accessible terms. Experiential exercises that cultivate mindfulness are listed underneath.

1. Observation of inner experience

Cultivating mindfulness enables us to watch our thoughts, feelings, and sensations rather than identify with them. A simple example would be noticing you are experiencing anger rather than thinking, “I am angry.” In the latter example, we have identified with our anger so that our sense of self and inner experience have fused.

When we notice our inner experience, we are observing our emotions and thoughts, which opens a gap between experience and action. Thanks to this gap, we have a space to choose how to respond, rather than reacting impulsively.

2. Describing inner experience

For example, describing thoughts we notice arising during meditation as ‘thinking’ reinforces our observation, rather than fusion, with thoughts and thinking. Describing our inner experience supports observation.

3. Present moment awareness

Research has shown the effectiveness of mindfulness as an intervention in recurrent depression.

The cultivation of present moment awareness disrupts the tendency to ruminate on the past, which can lead to feelings of guilt, regret, and the tendency to worry about the future, which generates anxiety (Edenfield & Saeed, 2012; Hofmann et al., 2010; Hoge et al., 2013). This has great benefits for managing many sources of stress.

4. Nonjudgment of inner experience

When we practice mindfulness, our tendency to judge is replaced by curiosity and inquiry.

Judgments often rely on assumptions rooted in past experiences that lead to expectations of the future. Learning to observe and describe inner experience as it arises in the present moment disrupts our tendency to judge. Harsh inner criticism is also reduced, which enhances our compassion for ourselves and others (Corliss, 2014; Davis & Hayes, 2012).

5. Nonreactivity to inner experience

Observing and describing our present moment experience without judgment creates a gap between noticing and action that reduces reactivity. Impulsive behavior driven by urges and reactions is gradually replaced by responsiveness and acceptance (Kral et al., 2018).

These five facets of mindfulness are summarized in this short fun animation: Why Mindfulness Is a Superpower.

4 Mindfulness practices

The rest of the workshop should be experiential and provide regular opportunities for discussion. Keep practice sessions short. For an introductory workshop, I suggest a maximum of 20 minutes for each exercise.

Here are some short mindfulness exercises you can offer with links to our free worksheets.

  1. Try our Anchor Breathing practice, which introduces observation and present moment awareness by anchoring our focus on the breath.
  2. The Body Scan Meditation is a core mindfulness practice that cultivates all five facets of mindfulness.
  3. Walking mindfully can be practiced indoors or outdoors and cultivates all five facets of mindfulness while moving rather than lying down or sitting
  4. Eating and drinking mindfully could be a silent break-time practice. For some ideas, look at our Raisin Meditation worksheet. You can use this script and adapt it to any snack. In addition, our Fun Mindful Eating exercise has been adapted for kids.

Drinking your tea mindfully is an established practice in many Buddhist monasteries and was a favorite mindfulness practice of the Vietnamese Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh. This article on Alo Moves offers a great script for making and drinking tea mindfully inspired by his practice.

For a further description of drinking tea mindfully, view the short video below where Brother Phap Dung describes how his practice was modeled by his teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh.

2 Unique Ideas for Your Workshop

Try out these two suggestions in your workshops.

1. Breathing mindfully together encourages connectedness

Use this group experience to introduce mindful co-presence by conducting a breathing-together exercise. This will introduce participants to the reality of interconnectedness that is heightened by group mindfulness practice. There are several good breathing-together practice scripts in our Mindful Breathing article.

Cultivating a sense of interconnectedness can help reduce loneliness, which Buddhism teaches is based on a faulty perception of ourselves as separate and isolated from others and the world around us (Buddhistdoor Global, 2018).

Mindfulness enhances not only our self-awareness, but also our awareness of others through empathy and compassion (Raab, 2014). In this way, mindfulness helps cultivate our sense of connection to the world rather than separateness.

2. Mindful photography enhances curiosity and reduces judgment

Consider getting people to use their phones to try Mindful Photography as a souvenir of the workshop. Mindful looking enhances a sense of wonder and awe as we learn to appreciate the extraordinary in the apparently ordinary, examining the play of texture, light, shadow, color, and perspective as aspects of seeing that deepen our perception.

Ask participants to photograph ordinary things at odd angles and then send them to your device to share with the group. Then ask the group to identify the subject of the photograph. Often, it is impossible without distance and context.

This shows the importance of perspective and how easily we can misjudge things when we don’t have all the surrounding information at hand. This mindful looking and photography exercise helps us reflect on how curiosity about something that confuses us is more useful than guessing and judging.

Teaching Mindfulness Online: 4 Tips

Teaching mindfulness online

  1. Conduct presentations using slides and short videos rather than only talking into your webcam to keep participants interested and engaged.
  2. Make use of guided meditation videos that are freely available online, rather than trying to lead them all yourself. Or you could record your own meditations and replay them.
  3. Consider practicing meditation with the group then share your own experience alongside the participants’ experiences in discussions. This will promote a sense of intimacy and involvement, which being the teacher alone might miss.
  4. Use collaborative learning methods by encouraging work in small groups of two to four to help overcome the isolation of remote learning.

You can also use the additional online tools described below to help you with teaching mindfulness.

Step-by-Step Plan for Teachers and Educators

Taking up a personal mindfulness practice as a teacher or educator can help establish a quiet presence in the classroom and a more supportive learning environment for students (Filipe et al., 2021).

Mindfulness practice for kids has been introduced into many schools worldwide with remarkable effects, as reported by the Mindfulness in Schools Project (MiSP).

MiSP recommends teachers and educators follow their five-step plan to introduce mindfulness into their school or college, summarized below. They suggest first exploring mindfulness to establish if bringing mindfulness into the school environment is the right thing to do.

If you are interested, this is the five-step process suggested by MiSP.

  1. Learn mindfulness on an eight-session experiential training course, either in person or online.
  2. Practice mindfulness in a regular sitting group or on retreat with other practitioners.
  3. Teach mindfulness by taking a training course tailored for your student age group. You need an established mindfulness practice first to model the practice to others authentically.
  4. Develop mindfulness by acquiring further skills as a practitioner and educator.
  5. Lead mindfulness by training as a school mindfulness lead and supervising other teachers.

Most Effective Training Course for Practitioners

Mindfulness trainingIf you have an established mindfulness practice and are interested in taking a flexible training course that equips you with not only the skills required to teach, but also the materials required for your students, try our Mindfulness X course.

Mindfulness X and its features

Mindfulness X offers a science-based, fully customizable training program that trains the trainer and provides all the materials you need to offer mindfulness training in a range of contexts. It includes group and one-to-one mindfulness practices, a workbook, and over 200 PowerPoint slides to support your presentations either in person or online.

Like MBSR and MBCT training, the course offers an eight-session training course based on the eight pillars of mindfulness. The train-the-trainer component is delivered on video by Hugo Alberts, PhD, a former professor of psychology and cofounder of PositivePsychology.com.

The course covers all the practical matters associated with setting up and offering training, including creating a safe training space, establishing the foundations of the course in your own mindfulness practice, the equipment required, and how to adjust your training to meet the needs of your participants.

You will need to customize the training. What you offer in a school to children will be quite different from what you offer to an organization. Mindfulness X emphasizes delivering mindfulness training in a safe way that is rooted in your own mindfulness practice and tailored to the needs of the group.

Using Online Tools for Your Workshop

Quenza is an application for coaches, therapists, and trainers to engage their clients digitally and deliver a range of activities between sessions. Using a simple drag-and-drop mechanism, you can create beautifully designed micro lessons consisting of videos, audio, and text-based components to keep clients engaged with your mindfulness program between sessions.

You can also use the activity builder to create assessments, feedback forms, and homework exercises that are an essential component of mindfulness training, including pathways that comprise sequenced activities.

Finally, Quenza includes an expansion library of pre-built activities and pathways deemed the most useful by the coaches and therapists who regularly use the app.

Quenza activities are sent to your clients using push notifications and can be accessed via app or web browser, whichever they are most comfortable with. It provides essential support between live online sessions that can help keep clients on track.

Best Resources From PositivePsychology.com

For further resources, try downloading our three mindfulness exercises for free. These science-based tools can be used during your introductory workshop with a range of client groups.

In addition, if you are not quite ready to dive into Mindfulness X, we have 17 Mindfulness Tools for instant download. Many practitioners who have used the tools report that they have led to breakthrough moments in their own lives and the lives of clients.

Last but not least is the Positive Psychology Toolkit©, containing over 400 exercises, tools, and assessments. It is the perfect kit to support your work with coaching, counseling, and psychotherapy clients. Every single tool is based on the latest scientific research, and many exercises in the toolkit can be used during an introductory mindfulness workshop.

A Take-Home Message

The science is clear: mindfulness enhances the health, wellbeing, and quality of life of practitioners from all walks of life and of all ages.

Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of mindfulness is that it teaches us how to pause and step back during times that test our patience. This can help us overcome the many challenges posed by our busy lives.

You don’t have to be a master meditator to offer mindfulness training. However, you do need an established practice that enables you to lead others confidently while being fully present with whatever arises during training.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Mindfulness Exercises for free.

References

  • Buddhistdoor Global. (2018, August 29). Buddhistdoor view: Loneliness as a spiritual concern and ailment. Retrieved February 14, 2022, from https://www.buddhistdoor.net/features/buddhistdoor-view-loneliness-as-a-spiritual-concern-and-ailment/
  • Corliss, J. (2014). Mindfulness meditation may ease anxiety, mental stress. Harvard Health Blog, Harvard Health Publishing. Retrieved January 4, 2022, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/mindfulness-meditation-may-ease-anxiety-mental-stress-201401086967
  • Davis, D. M., & Hayes, J. A. (2012). What are the benefits of mindfulness? Monitor on Psychology, 43(7), 64.
  • Edenfield, T. M., & Saeed, S. A. (2012). An update on mindfulness meditation as a self-help treatment for anxiety and depression. Psychology Research and Behavior Management, 5, 131–141.
  • Filipe, M. G., Magalhães, S., Veloso, A. S., Costa, A. F., Ribeiro, L., Araújo, P., Castro, S. L., & Limpo, T. (2021). Exploring the effects of meditation techniques used by mindfulness-based programs on the cognitive, social-emotional, and academic skills of children: A systematic review. Frontiers in Psychology, 12.
  • Hayes, S. C., & Hofmann, S. G. (2017). The third wave of cognitive behavioral therapy and the rise of process-based care. World Psychiatry, 16(3), 245–246.
  • Hofmann, S. G., Sawyer, A. T., Witt A. A., & Oh, D. (2010). The effect of mindfulness-based therapy on anxiety and depression: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 78(2), 169–183.
  • Hoge, E. A., Bui, E., Marques, L., Metcalf, C. A., Morris, L. K., Robinaugh, D. J., Worthington, J. J., Pollack, M. H., & Simon, N. M. (2013). Randomized controlled trial of mindfulness meditation for generalized anxiety disorder: effects on anxiety and stress reactivity. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 74(8), 786–792.
  • Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990). Full catastrophe living. Piatkus.
  • Kral, T., Schuyler, B. S., Mumford, J. A., Rosenkranz, M. A., Lutz, A., & Davidson, R. J. (2018). Impact of short- and long-term mindfulness meditation training on amygdala reactivity to emotional stimuli. NeuroImage, 181, 301–313.
  • Quaglia, J. T., Brown, K. W., Lindsay, E. K., Creswell, J. D., & Goodman, R. J. (2015). From conceptualization to operationalization of mindfulness. In K. W. Brown, J. D. Creswell, & R. M. Ryan (Eds.), Handbook of mindfulness: Theory, research, and practice (pp. 151–170). Guilford Press.
  • Raab, K. (2014). Mindfulness, self-compassion, and empathy among health care professionals: A review of the literature. Journal of Health Care Chaplaincy, 20(3), 95–108.

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