Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is a mindfulness-based program that was initially designed to assist people with pain management and life issues that were difficult to treat in a hospital setting. MBSR uses a combination of mindfulness meditation, body awareness, and yoga to help people become more mindful.
MBSR was developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. According to Kabat-Zinn, the basis of MBSR is mindfulness, which he defined as “moment-to-moment, non-judgmental awareness.”
The MBSR program started in the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in 1979 and is now offered in over 200 medical centers, hospitals, and clinics around the world. The MBSR program is an eight-week workshop taught by certified trainers that includes weekly group meetings, homework, and instruction in three formal techniques: mindfulness meditation, body scanning and simple yoga postures.
How Effective is MBSR?
Studies show that MBSR can reduce stress and help people relax. Research also shows that MBSR helped people sleep better and feel less anxious, and it helped ease symptoms of depression. In some people, MBSR also helped improve blood sugar and blood pressure.
Taking part in MBSR has been linked to positive changes in the areas of the brain that affect how you pay attention, how you feel, and how you think.
How Does MBSR Work?
To help you focus your mind on the present, a class in MBSR usually teaches you to:
- Focus your attention on your entire body, starting with your feet and ending at your head. As you do this “body scan,” you might note places where you’re tense or have pain. You might notice how your belly rises and falls as you breathe.
- Focus on thoughts and distractions that run through your mind, but don’t judge them. You may notice that a thought comes to your mind. Rather than worry about your thought, simply note the thought and feelings associated without dwelling on them. Then turn your attention back to the present moment.
- Practice yoga breathing exercises, stretches, and poses to strengthen and relax muscles.
Try MBSR on Your Own
- When you go outside, take a few deep breaths. What is the air like? Is it warm or cold? How does the warmth or chill feel on your body? Try to accept that feeling and not resist it. Notice any plants, their colours, and the contrast of those colours against the sky and clouds.
- Eat a meal in silence. Don’t do anything but focus on your food. Smell your food before eating it. Notice what your food looks like. Eat slowly, and savour each bite. What flavours do you taste?
- When you can, take some time at the beginning of your day to sit alone and think. Focus on your breathing. Gaze out the window, and listen to the sounds outdoors. Or take a slow walk by yourself. Count your steps while you breathe in and out.
- If you can do this at work, try to stop for a few moments each hour. Note how your body feels. Let yourself regroup and let your mind settle before you return to what you were doing.
- If you struggle with anxiety or “worry thoughts,” imagine your mind as a blue sky and your worry thoughts as clouds. Now imagine those worry thoughts floating across your mind’s sky, almost the same as you would watch clouds float across the sky. Do not judge or resist your thoughts.