What is MBSR?
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a course created by Jon Kabat - Zinn, a molecular biologist in 1979. Kabat-Zinn had a committed practice in meditation and yoga, having studied Eastern philosophy in India over several years.
Working in a hospital setting at University of Massachusetts Medical Center, Kabat-Zinn was able to witness first hand the suffering of patients with chronic medical conditions. Talking with physicians, he was surprised to find that they felt they only really helped about 20% of their patients. “What happens to everyone else?” he asked. They replied, “Well some get better on their own and the rest fall into this chronic limbo where we really can’t help them very much”. Realizing that meditation and yoga might be helpful in healing the body-mind, Kabat-Zinn created the protocol that is today known as MBSR with the idea that this would offer meditation and yoga based on the cultivation of mindfulness right in the heart of the medical center.
Word about MBSR spread through Jon’s best selling book “Full Catastrophe Living”, first published in 1990, and the PBS special, “Healing and the Mind”, which first aired in 1991. The documentary, which follows Bill Moyers and a group of patients at UMASS Medical Center through the eight - week program, informed millions of people about MBSR.
As Kabat-Zinn witnessed the shift in patient’s attitudes toward their symptoms, he also understood the imperative to study this protocol. In 1982 there were 3 articles in the medical literature on Mindfulness and today there are approximately 600 per year.
The MBSR curriculum is a rigorous training of ancient, time - tested practices in a group format. The program involves 2.5-hour group classes held each week for eight weeks and one all-day class held in silence. There are daily home practices assigned each week. The curriculum includes training in formal and informal mindfulness practices.
Formal practice includes different types of meditation in which we teach our mind to focus. Meditation is often compared to physical exercise. We take our bodies to the gym to do pushups and pump iron so that we can navigate our physical world with confidence and grace. Meditation is the equivalent of taking our mind to the gym of mental training. We determine our point of focus in meditation and continue to bring our mind back to that point of focus over and over and over again. This translates to having the capacity to be present and focused for whatever we are doing throughout our day. There are several types of formal practices taught in the MBSR course so that by the end the practitioner has a toolbox filled with many choices.
Informal practice involves cultivating awareness of the present during our everyday routines. This might include observing the surroundings on the bus, car or subway ride to work, listening intently to people during conversation, or having awareness of food while eating a meal. Informal practice allows us to be present wherever we are – whether at work – being totally present for our job, or at home – being totally present for our family or friends.
MBSR has been scientifically shown to be an effective complement to a wide variety of medical and psychological conditions. Below is a partial listing of medical and psychological conditions with citations of some of the benefits of mindfulness practice as shown on the University of Massachusetts MBSR website.
Anxiety (Hoge, Bui, Marques, Metcalf, Morris, Robinaugh, et. al., 2013)
Asthma (Pbert, Madison, Druker, Olendzki, Magner, Reed, et. al., 2012)
Cancer (Carlson, Doll, Stephen, Faris, Tamagawa, Drysdale, & Speca, 2013)
Chronic Pain (Reiner, Tibi, & Lipsitz, 2013)
Diabetes (Hartmann, Kopf, Kircher, Faude-Lang, Djuric, Augstein, et. al., 2012)
Fibromyalgia (Schmidt, Grossman, Schwarzer, Jena, Naumann, & Walach, 2011)
Gastrointestinal Disorders (Zernicke, Campbell, Blustein, Fung, Johnson, Bacon, & Carlson, 2013)
Heart Disease (Sullivan, Wood, Terry, Brantley, Charles, McGee, Johnson, et. al., 2009)
HIV (Duncan, Moskowitz, Neilands, Dilworth, Hecht, & Johnson, 2012)
Hot Flashes (Carmody, Crawford, Salmoirago-Blotcher, Leung, Churchill, & Olendzki, 2011)
Hypertension (Hughes, Fresco, Myerscough, van Dulmen, Carlson, & Josephson, 2013)
Major Depression (Chiesa & Serretti, 2011)
Mood Disorders (Hofmann, Sawyer, Witt, & Oh, 2010)
Sleep Disturbances (Andersen, Wurtzen, Steding-Jessen, Christensen, Andersen, Flyger, et. al., 2013)
Stress Disorders (Kearney, McDermott, Malte, Martinez, & Simpson, 2012)