Author: Lynn Rossy, Ph.D.
Teaching someone the meditation practices that cultivate mindfulness and mindful eating requires time, training, and personal experience with what you are teaching. The ability to teach these practices well comes, to a great extent, from your own time on the cushion, on the yoga mat, and at the table. But if that time is not paired with wise and clear understanding, you will not be prepared to meaningfully discuss your clients’ experiences and lead them to greater compassion and clarity—to their own inner wisdom.
For someone just learning mindfulness, this could be asking a lot. I remember when I first started teaching mindfulness, I was still reading off a script as I led people through body scans and seated meditation practices. I was not yet sure of myself and wanted to make sure to “do it right.” At the same time, I was working on my own personal understanding of mindfulness and meditation. Sitting through numerous silent retreats, I learned to examine my own mind and heart with the help of advanced teachers.
|Foto de Lee Soo hyun en Unsplash|
It might sound a little overwhelming at first, but if you are someone wanting to teach others, know that you are embarking on a beautiful journey of healing for yourself and others. And there are support materials and experiences
available to you--both for improving your proficiency in teaching and in deepening your own practice—through The Center for Mindful Eating (TCME). Your ability to lead your clients to their internal wisdom depends on you having connected with your own inner teacher first. For instance, when professionals tell me they want to learn to teach the Eat for Life program, I always have them take the class for themselves first. Their willingness to address their own issues with food, their bodies, and their own mind and heart is essential in understanding how to teach it well.
The Practice of Inquiry
So, you’ve taught someone a meditation or mindful eating exercise; what happens next?
What happens next is one of the most important parts of teaching mindfulness. Simply put, inquiry is the practice of asking the appropriate questions which investigate clients’ experiences after meditation or mindful eating practices. Ironically, inquiry is one of the most difficult practices to learn and one of the most vital for those wishing to teach mindfulness. It is at the heart of all mindfulness-based programs.
Mindful inquiry helps the client understand their experience through the lens of ancient Buddhist teachings. Some of these teachings include the following ways that lead to suffering:
When we refuse to acknowledge the truth of impermanence.
When we cling to things being other than they are.
When we chase after the pleasant and push away the unpleasant.
When we negatively judge ourselves, others, and our experiences.
When we overidentify with thoughts and feelings as who we are.
Understanding some basic teachings of Buddhism can help you undertake the practice of inquiry with much greater skill and clarity. If you would like to know more, Beyond the BASICS: The Teachings at the Heart of Mindful Eating is a two-part professional TCME series that takes you through the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, one of the seminal teachings of Buddhism and is deeply informative for a mindful eating practice. In addition, many of the relevant teachings are woven through the chapters of my book Savor Every Bite: Mindful Ways to Eat, Love Your Body, and Live with Joy, which could serve as a great resource for your clients as well.
Three Layers of Questions:
You could view inquiry as a discussion that takes place between the teacher and the client that supports the investigation of experience arising from the practice of mindfulness. As an experiential and interactive process, it does not rely on a script. However, there are some helpful instructions that you can follow for practicing the art of inquiry.
This method of inquiry is elegantly outlined in the book, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction: Protocol, Practice, and Teaching Skills by Susan Woods, MSW LICSW and Patricia Rockman, MD (2021). They describe three layers of questions relating to the noticing and awareness of experience, the difference between mindful and habitual attending and/or the tracking of experience, and the integration of skills into daily life. Although the book outlines the popular mindfulness-based stress reduction program, the instructions for inquiry are the same when teaching mindfulness in a mindful eating practice. And I highly recommend this book for further investigation into inquiry and teaching mindfulness in any kind of program.
What did you notice? What showed up? Any surprises?
These questions help the client begin to develop mindful awareness--reflecting a value on noticing without judgment. For instance, when you lead a mindful eating experience like the raisin exercise, you make sure to guide the client to attend to all her senses, including thoughts, and then elicit information about what she noticed. It is important for the teacher to always maintain a nonjudgmental and excepting stance. This helps to model for the client the way to welcome all experiences: unpleasant, pleasant, and neutral.
How is paying attention in this way different from how you usually pay attention? What struck you about this way of paying attention?
These questions encourage participants to recognize that they are attending in a new way, cultivating the skills of observing, reflecting on sensations, being present, and maintaining a non-doing attitude. They help clients see the difference between their usual “doing” mode and this mindful way of “being.”
What has this got to do with mindful eating? What might be the relevance of this practice?
These questions and their answers help make the link between the practice and what people are coming to you for—helping the client generalize what is being learned and its application to everyday life. These insights are important motivators for encouraging home practice and an ongoing commitment to the work of mindfulness and mindful eating.
Final Thoughts on Inquiry
These questions can give you a method for engaging in inquiry, but they can also become mechanical. The best approach is to become genuinely interested in your client’s experience. Inquiry, as a mindfulness practice, is an art that unfolds as a verbal and nonverbal dialogue between the teacher and the participant. Because it is different than how we normally converse, it will take time to develop your familiarity with it.
It is important to note that inquiry is an ongoing investigation of experience as opposed to an examination of preference. In other words, it is not about whether you like something or not. So, for instance, you would not ask, “What did you like about that practice?” Whereas the inclination in normal conversation is to digress into a litany of binary assessments about people, places, and things. Inquiry, on the other hand, is a conversation, an exploration, or an investigation into the experience without judgment.
Inquiry becomes particularly important when a client is struggling with aversive states due to difficult emotions and thoughts as well as body sensations. At this point, inquiry can help a client move toward the difficult states. Intentionally asking clients to face what they would normally avoid or push aside is counterintuitive but extremely important learning that is inherent in the mindfulness practice. Welcoming difficulty without running away is a key healing aspect of the teaching. So much of our practice is finding ways to sit with challenging moments and doing the best we can by staying as present as possible. You can reinforce the value of witnessing one’s experience and, in doing so, make room for observing experience rather than simply reacting to it.
Lastly, inner wisdom arises from the inquiry process as it allows your client to give voice to her direct experience in a way that is healing and transformative. What seems permanent becomes impermanent, what seems like you become a passing phenomenon, and what feels unmanageable becomes a testimony to your resilience.
If you are a TCME member, you can access this Foundation Serie in our TCME library.
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Dr. Lynn Rossy is a health psychologist, author, and Kripalu Yoga and EMYoga (Energy Medicine Yoga) teacher. Her books include The Mindfulness-Based Eating Solution: Proven Strategies to End Overeating, Satisfy Your Hunger, and Savor Your Life (2016) and Savor Every Bite: Mindful Ways to Eat, Love Your Body, and Live with Joy (2021). She developed and researched the successful Eat for Life Program for mindful eating at the University of Missouri—taught to hundreds of people around the world. After serving as President for many years, she now sits on the Advisory Council for The Center for Mindful Eating. She leads retreats, classes, and workshops on mindfulness, mindful eating, and yoga both nationally and internationally.
She writes a regular blog called Tasting Mindfulness.
Rossy, L. (2021). Savor Every Bite: Mindful Ways to Eat, Love Your Body, and Live with Joy. New Harbinger: Oakland. Ca.
Woods, S. & Rockman P. (2021). Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction: Protocol, Practice, and Teaching Skills, New Harbinger: Oakland, CA.