Episode 17: Mindfulness and Buddhism with Susan Woods


“At its deepest, MBSR really allows people to trust themselves and their own wisdom.”

In this episode of the Numinus podcast, Dr. Joe speaks with senior mindfulness teacher Susan Woods about contemporary mindfulness and its relationship with Buddhism. They take a deep dive into where Mindfulness-Based Programs (MBP) sometimes align with and sometimes diverges from traditional Buddhist teachings, covering, among other topics like the place for ethics and values in Mindfulness-Based Programs, the role of the mindfulness teacher and the importance of their personal meditation practice, and how mindfulness teacher-training programs are designed.

Susan Woods is a clinical social worker and senior Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) teacher, advisor, trainer, and supervisor. She has worked with Jon Kabat-Zinn and Zindel Segal to develop mindfulness teacher-training curricula and has been training health professionals since 2005. Susan is responsible for the professional certification programs at the Mindfulness-Based Professional Training Institute (MBPTI) at UC San Diego and Centre for Mindfulness Studies (CMS).

Susan recently published her first book, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy: Embodied Presence and Inquiry in Practice, which is now available on Amazon and New Harbinger. She will be in Toronto for a book launch on June 18th and in Montreal for a 2-day teacher training on Inquiry in October, hosted by Numinus and CMS. You can find more information about her and her work at slwoods.com.

Mindfulness Teacher Training in Montreal

Susan’s mindfulness teacher-training programs are available at Numinus, in partnership with CMS. Please visit the professional development section of our website to learn more about the MBSR and MBCT facilitation certificates and the events scheduled in Montreal and Toronto.

MBSR, MBCT and MSC in Montreal

Numinus offers a variety of Mindfulness-Based Programs in Montreal, including MBSR, MBCT, and MSC. Information on our schedule and teachers is available here.

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Episode 3: Mindfulness Teacher Development with Patricia Rockman

It was a tremendous privilege to have Dr. Patricia Rockman on the podcast. Pat is probably the Canadian authority on mindfulness teacher training and has a strong international reputation in this field.

She has taught close to 150 Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) groups, trained dozens of mindfulness teachers through the certification programs at the Centre for Mindfulness Studies in Toronto, and brought mindfulness to many organizations.

As my own mentor, she has had an enormous impact on my teaching and professional development. Pat is one of the most authentic, creative, and generous people I’ve ever met. She also holds some strong convictions about the mindfulness training and made some controversial statements about the politics in the mindfulness community. You’ll definitely want to stay tuned for that…

A little on her background: Pat is physician with a focused practice in mental health, particularly in mindfulness. She’s an associate professor with the University of Toronto and the Director of Education and Clinical Services at the Centre for Mindfulness Studies. She used to be a psychotherapist but now focuses on teaching mindfulness. Throughout her career she was involved in training other healthcare professionals and in recent years has become a widely respected trainer of mindfulness teachers. She helped create CMS’ MBCT teaching certificate and is also the lead trainer in the MBSR certification.

She’ll be coming to Montreal later this year for an MBCT training which is not to be missed. All info available at mindfulnessstudies.com and numinuswellbeing.com.

I also post updates about CMS’s MBSR/MBCT teacher certification (hosted at Numinus) at Dr Joe Flanders on:


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Here are some highlights from our conversation:

5:25 What is your background? How did you get involved in mindfulness?What about your training in clowning and how does it fit with your mindfulness practice? Tell us about CMS and what you do there.

10:35 How would you compare and contrast MBCT and MBSR? Pat offers some interesting reflections on the origins of the 2 programs and how that shapes their similarities and differences.

16:15 CMS offers teacher certifications in MBSR and MBCT. How did those programs come about? What is their relationship to the UMass Centre for Mindfulness (CfM) and the founders of MBCT?

19:08 Define “Inquiry”

“Inquiry is a process, what we’re now calling a contemplative dialogue – a conversation, a reflection – questions that come immediately following a meditative practice, in which we are inquiring into the mindfulness practice or the cognitive exercise that a participant has engaged in, in order to help them to notice, recognize their experience for what it is, learn how to track it, and to describe it and also begin to consider how they could integrate what they are learning into their daily lives to reduce their suffering.”

20:20 Tell us about the history of your MBSR certification program, the response from CfM, and your relationship with Susan Woods.

22:05 Who has the authority to offer teaching certifications in MBSR and MBCT? Pat points out that the field is not regulated and likely never will be. But all of the people she trains in MBCT are health professionals, who are covered by their professional governing bodies. But MBSR has no such requirement, which may be problematic:


“A lot of people that come to our MBSR groups have a lot of pathology – they have a lot of mental health and other problems that wouldn’t be picked up if you didn’t do a fairly in depth intake or assessment and I don’t know what’s going on in a field that’s unregulated and people are often practicing in isolation.”

“What makes the arbiters of who should be certified and how do we know that they are even good enough to practice. Well really, on one level you could argue we’re self appointed. On another, you could argue that we have the trust of the community because they hire us to do this and we have a lot of experience in the field.”

“We don’t really know. But, we’re in a field that has taken western culture by storm and meditation is not a panacea and it’s not risk free and to the best of our ability as clinicians and professionals in the various fields we are in, we have a duty to serve our clients to not do harm.”

“By developing a protocol that we evaluate and test with our participants and trainees, at this particular point in time without additional research. We’re doing the best we can.”

28:10 How has the UMass Centre for Mindfulness has received the emergence of MBCT and the need for teacher training.

“Where there are people, there will be issues related to power… The cfm has had quite a tight hold on MBSR but the horse is out of the barn because there are people teaching MBSR all over the world. The practice was around long before MBSR or MBCT. They haven’t responded to us teaching MBSR or MBCT teachers.”

“We have Zindel Segal here in Toronto and he is an adviser to us and he’s connected with the centre he supports what we’re doing so that’s another reason I guess we are able to run a certification program because we have his blessing is one of the developers.”

“It’s kind of the wild west actually. But people want to be trained well if they’re interested in this work. Because I think for them it needs a number of needs  and one of those is a need for meaning and personal transcendence. That’s my view. And I think it’s really congruent in a culture that is privileging science but is also finding itself with declining interest in religion and other things that provide meaning to human beings and this fits the bill.”

31:18 How do you feel about having regulating body in the field and her take on the International Mindfulness Teachers Association (IMTA)

“The interest in regulation is actually a sign of a desire for professionalisation and an interest in increased status and credibility and power.”

“There was a big backlash when they came out with their announcement. They made a mistake in that they didn’t consult with the whole community… The reaction really was ‘who are you?! What makes you think you can just say you’re doing this?!’ “

“If you want to do something like this, you have to be very inclusive because it’s going to be political and territorial. So really what do I think? Not much. I don’t care about them. I’m not sure we need them. I have enough police! I have the college of physicians and surgeons on top of me.”

36:05 What makes a good mindfulness teacher?

“We are asking our teachers to be present for whatever is a rising in the group and both guide the group but allow themselves to be led by their participants. This is a dance.”

40:16 Why is inquiry so important and how do you train it?

49:30 How has all of this training has and teaching shaped your own practice? Pat talks about the participants in her groups and teachers she trains:

“I’m continually learning from them. How to show up. How to be vulnerable… The repeated exposure to this kind of practice has enabled me when I’m in the process of running a group inquiring dealing with trainees and participants to be present and in practice most of the time and I think this is because I no longer have to carry a lot of that cognitive load around the form you know the structure of the protocol but rather can really be with those people that I’m training and able to really listen for the key themes and points as they arise through our interactions and when they’re teaching.”