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What Is MBSR? A Definition

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (or MBSR) is a group program that was developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn in the 1970s to treat patients struggling with life’s difficulties and physical and/or mental illness. Although it was initially created to aid hospital patients, it has wide applicability and has been used by a broad range of people from all walks of life.

MBSR is a flexible and customizable approach to stress reduction. Instead of following a script or acting out meticulously described steps, mindfulness is practiced in the manner that best suits the individual (Center for Mindfulness, 2017).

While MBSR is often different for every person in practice, it is based on the same set of principles. These descriptions are pulled straight from the Center for Mindfulness website:

1. Making the experience a challenge rather than a chore and thus turning the observing of one’s life mindfully into an adventure in living rather than one more thing one “has” to do for oneself to be healthy.

2. An emphasis on the importance of individual effort and motivation and regular disciplined practice of the meditation in its various forms, whether one “feels” like practicing on a particular day or not.

3. The immediate lifestyle change that is required to undertake formal mindfulness practice, since it requires a significant time commitment (in the clinic 45 minutes a day, six days a week minimally).

4. The importance of making each moment count by consciously bringing it into awareness during practice, thus stepping out of clock time into the present moment.

5. An educational rather than a therapeutic orientation, which makes use of relatively

large “classes” of participants in a time-limited course structure to provide a community of learning and practice, and a “critical mass” to help in cultivating ongoing motivation, support , and feelings of acceptance and belonging.

6. A medically heterogeneous environment, in which people with a broad range of medical conditions participate in classes together without segregation by diagnosis or conditions and specializations of intervention. This approach has the virtue of focusing on what people have in common rather than what is special about their particular disease (what is “right” with them rather than what is “wrong” with them), which is left to the attention of other dimensions of the health care team and to specialized support groups for specific classes of patients, where that is appropriate. (Center for Mindfulness, 2017

When added to an existing medical and/or psychological treatment, MBSR has shown to effectively enhance the results of treatment related to:

  • Anxiety and panic attacks

  • Asthma

  • Cancer

  • Chronic illness

  • Depression

  • Eating disorders

  • Fatigue

  • Fibromyalgia

  • Gastro-intestinal distress

  • Grief

  • Headaches

  • Heart disease

  • High blood pressure

  • Pain

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder

  • Skin disorders

  • Sleep problems

  • Work, family, and financial stress (Center for Mindfulness, 2017)

With such an impressive list, it’s hard to argue against giving MBSR a shot, especially since the program does not require an inordinate amount of time, energy, or resources.

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