Over the past few years, meditation has become a huge practice in the worlds of health and wellness. Despite meditation’s popularity, many people find themselves hesitant to give it a go. Who wants to sit alone in silence for hours upon end? If you want to be good at meditation, do you have to become a Buddhist monk? Will mediation clash with the religion that you already follow?
If you have hesitations about meditation, I have the perfect practice for you: MBSR.
What Is MBSR?
Mindfulness-based stress reduction was developed in 1979 by Jon Kabat-Zinn as a way to reduce stress in patients by encouraging them to behave in more mindful thoughts. It is a more personalized, accessible, and secular way to reduce stress and start living a more mindful life.
Who Is Jon Kabat-Zinn?
Jon Kabat-Zinn is one of the founding members of the Cambridge Zen Center, as well as the creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He’s also the author of Wherever You Go, There You Are.
Kabat-Zinn is trained in Buddhism, but doesn’t consider himself to be a Buddhist. His Buddhist training did, however, influence the creation of MBSR.
The program lasts for eight weeks, and includes group meetings, a retreat, and homework. Online versions of this program are also available for practitioners who may not be able to afford the program or would prefer to complete it while self-isolating at home. Once you’ve finished the course, you receive a certification - but that’s not the only reward! You’ll have tools, practices, and lessons that will continue to elevate your quality of life long after you finish the course.
Who Can Practice MBSR?
There are many Buddhist principles within the MBSR program, including non-judgement and acceptance. But that doesn’t mean you have to be a Buddhist to practice MBSR. The program takes a more secular look at body scanning, meditation, and yoga. All of these practices support a more mindful life.
Do you need to be flexible, patient, or fully mobile to practice MBSR? Not at all. There have been many studies done on the effectiveness of MBSR. Results show that this program can help anyone, including:
- Healthy adults, adolescents, and children
- People experiencing eating disorders
- People with various psychiatric conditions or experiencing psychological distress
- People experiencing chronic pain
- Cancer patients
The list goes on and on. If you have time to dedicate to the MBSR program, the program will welcome you with open arms. No matter who you are, you can practice mindfulness and use this idea to elevate your overall quality of life.
What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the central idea of MBSR. You can practice mindfulness while you are at work, at home, at your religious institution of choice, or wherever you find yourself in this world.
Mindfulness, simply put, is observation without judgement. Our minds are not naturally attuned to observing every detail around us. We may spend entire minutes, hours, or days wrapped up by the thoughts in our head. Anxiety or stress may pull us outside of the present moment - we instead live in the past, the future, or in different places. This only causes a tighter cycle of stress. Mindfulness allows us to step out of our “monkey mind” and instead take in every sight, sound, smell, taste, and feeling around us. When we are mindful, we stay in the present moment. This can do wonders for the mind, body, and even the people around us.
Different Mindfulness Practices
During the eight weeks of the course, MBSR instructors guide practitioners through different ways to approach mindfulness. One approach is mindful eating. If you put down distractions and take the time to truly focus on the taste, smell, and feeling of the food that you are eating, you are likely to enjoy and appreciate your meal more. Other approaches taught in the course include using mindfulness as we perceive and process information.
Stress causes changes in our mental state and physical body. You may find yourself gripping onto the steering wheel or clenching your jaw without even noticing it. Mindfulness teaches you how to observe how your mind and body are reacting to stress, and release tension that might be building up in your body. Body scan meditations, practiced throughout the course, are a great gateway into the practices of both mindfulness and mediation.
Mindfulness is a state of being. For example, you can take a moment right now to be mindful. What do you see around you? What do you hear? What thoughts are going through your mind? By being aware of these answers, you are being mindful.
Benefits of MBSR
Stress, and the behaviors and bodily functions that go along with it, are more dangerous than you might think. Science shows that chronic stress can:
- Increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, gut disease, chronic fatigue, diabetes, obesity, depression, and various immune disorders
- Increase cholesterol levels
- Negatively impact your ability to sleep (and stay asleep throughout the night)
- Cause heartburn
- Increase or decrease your appetite, leading to further complications
- Affect testosterone production, cause irregular menstrual cycles, and reduce sex drive
Unfortunately, stress is everywhere. Demands from work, stressful news, and obligations to family can increase stress level every minute of the day. Using practices like MBSR can process and manage stress more mindfully, reducing the impact that stress has on your mental and physical health.
Studies on the effects of MBSR show that the program can reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression, but that’s not all. Practitioners have reported a boost in self-esteem after completing the course. MBSR can also increase immune functioning and the mind’s ability to focus. A reduction in stress indirectly reduces the risk of chronic disorders, heart attack, stroke, metabolic disorders, and a long list of complications. People with chronic pain report lower levels of symptoms after completing the MBSR course.
MBSR is safe, effective, and easy to access. It’s not the only meditation program out there, but is one that appeals to many people with many different mental or physical health conditions.
What Is MBSR Training?
If you get familiar with MBSR and want to take your practice to the next level, you may want to consider MBSR training. These online courses may be accessed for free and takes you through multiple weeks of MBSR principles and instruction.
Other Types of Meditation and Mindfulness Programs
If you have done any research on meditation or mindfulness programs, you might have come across similar programs, including MCBT. While these programs are similar, they take slightly different approaches to mindfulness and stress reduction.
MBSR takes a more broad look at using mindfulness in your everyday life. MCBT focuses more on specifics. This program uses concepts from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to analyze how we react to stress and how mindfulness can direct us toward more healthy reactions and coping mechanisms.
Other Types of Buddhist Meditations
MBSR was influenced by different Buddhist teachings, but not every concept or practice within MBSR is directly related to Buddhism. You could take an entire eight weeks to learn and practice all of the meditations that have come from Buddhism! This allows every practitioner to find the type of practice that works best with their mind, stress level, and experience. Meditations like the “loving-kindness” meditation do not require your mind to be “silent.” Instead, you direct your attention and focus to people throughout your life and repeat different mantras.
Apps like Insight Timer or Headspace can direct you to meditations more rooted in Buddhism.
Other Types of Meditation or Yoga
Of course, not every module within MBSR is focused on meditation. Hatha Yoga is also a part of the MBSR course. Other types of Yoga, like Vinyasa Yoga or Yin Yoga, may incorporate elements of mindfulness or meditation into the practice. If sitting still sounds uncomfortable, consider attending a yoga class first.
Where to Access MBSR
There are a lot of classes and practices available to people who want to reduce stress and learn more about living a mindful life. MBSR is one of those practices. It has taken the world by storm and become more accessible than ever. If you are interested in taking an MBSR course or practicing an MBSR meditation, you won’t have to look too far.
Online MBSR courses are free, flexible, and legit. You can study the course materials alone, or join online communities and engage in discussions about the materials with other practitioners. These courses may also come with suggested reading materials, including Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Wherever You Go, There You Are, and Thich Nhat Hanh’s Peace Is Every Step.
Not sure if you’re ready to commit to eight weeks of mindfulness? Listen to a guided meditation based in MBSR. Popular meditation apps like Insight Timer offer short meditations based on MBSR principles. If you enjoy these meditations, you will likely enjoy the MBSR course.
You can also attend an MBSR course in-person if they are available in your area. Do some research before choosing a group. MBSR instructors should be certified before setting up a workshop in their area. If the instructor is not certified in MBSR, they may offer a slightly different meditation program.
Ready, Set, Meditate!
If you have interest in meditation, yoga, or even just reducing stress, MBSR can be a great introduction to mindfulness. Mindfulness is a secular practice proven to reduce stress and improve your overall well-being. Even if you do not have the funds to attend an in-person workshop, you can still take an MBSR course and start living a more mindful life.