What is Mindfulness
Based Stress Reduction?
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a program developed in 1979 by Jon Kabat-Zinn, who wanted to find a way to bring the benefits of mindfulness meditation and yoga to people who would not normally attend a meditation retreat or go to a yoga studio. (Let's just pause to acknowledge how times have changed!)
He conceived of a model that has only been modified slightly since then: 8 weekly classes of two and a half hours each and an all day class on a weekend which is usually scheduled after week 6. Classes consist of formal mindfulness practices (a body scan, meditation, gentle yoga, walking) and inquiry as a way of training people to relate differently to the stresses in their lives and to relate differently to each moment of their lives. There are ongoing practice assignments every day of the program - consisting of these formal practices as well as informally cultivating a kind and purposeful - mindful - attention to daily activities, whether it is eating, brushing one's teeth, taking a shower, bathing one's children, riding the subway, or walking the dog. There is also attention given to various aspects of our lives that support the unfolding curriculum.
While MBSR was originally piloted with patients in chronic pain, tens of thousands of people - those dealing with the serious stress of illness or simply the day to day stress which at times seems like it can be too much to handle - have participated and received benefit. Research over the past 38 years indicates that a majority of the people who complete this program report a greater ability to cope more effectively with short and long term stressful situations; an increased ability to relax, lasting decreases in physical and psychological symptoms; reduction in pain levels an enhanced ability to cope with chronic pain and, most importantly, a greater energy and enthusiasm for life. The body of research continues to expand.
Some of the skills people develop in MBSR courses include:
- Practical coping skills to improve one's ability to handle stressful situations
- Methods for being physically and mentally relaxed and at ease
- Gentle full body conditioning exercises to strengthen the body and release muscular tension
- Becoming increasingly aware of the interplay of mind and body in health and illness
- Facing change and difficult times in life with greater ease