What is Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction
Mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) is an eight-week evidence-based program that offers secular, intensive mindfulness training to assist people with stress, anxiety, depression and pain. Developed at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in the 1970s by Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn, MBSR uses a combination of mindfulness meditation, body awareness, yoga and exploration of patterns of behavior, thinking, feeling and action.
Mindfulness can be understood as the non-judgemental acceptance and investigation of present experience, including body sensations, internal mental states, thoughts, emotions, impulses and memories, in order to reduce suffering or distress and to increase well-being.
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Mindfulness meditation is a method by which attention skills are cultivated, emotional regulation is developed, as well as rumination and worry are significantly reduced.
During the past decades, mindfulness meditation has been the subject of more controlled clinical research, which suggests its potential beneficial effects for mental health, as well as physical health.
While MBSR has its roots in spiritual teachings, the program itself is secular.The MBSR program is described in detail in Kabat-Zinn’s 1990 book Full Catastrophe Living.
Studies say that eight in 10 Americans experience stress in their daily lives and have a hard time relaxing their bodies and calming their minds, which puts them at high risk of heart disease, stroke, and other illnesses.
Of the myriad offerings aimed at fighting stress, from exercise to yoga to meditation, mindfulness meditation has become the hottest commodity in the wellness universe.
Modeled after the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program created in 1979 by Jon Kabat-Zinn to help counter stress, chronic pain, and other ailments, mindfulness courses these days can be found in venues ranging from schools to prisons to sports teams.
Even the U.S. Army recently adopted it to “improve military resilience.”
Part of mindfulness’ appeal lies in the fact that it’s secular. Buddhist monks have used mindfulness exercises as forms of meditation for more than 2,600 years, seeing them as one of the paths to enlightenment. But in the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program, mindfulness is stripped of religious undertones.
Mindfulness’ popularity has been bolstered by a growing body of research showing that it reduces stress and anxiety, improves attention and memory, and promotes self-regulation and empathy.
A few years ago, a study by Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist and assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School (HMS) and assistant researcher in psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, was the first to document that mindfulness meditation can change the brain’s gray matter and brain regions linked with memory, the sense of self, and regulation of emotions.
The pioneer of scientific research on meditation, Herbert Benson, extolled its benefits on the human body — reduced blood pressure, heart rate, and brain activity — as early as 1975. He helped demystify meditation by calling it the “relaxation response.” Benson is director emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and Mind/Body Medicine Distinguished Professor of Medicine at HMS.
In the 1980s, mindfulness had yet to become a buzzword, recalls Paul Fulton, a clinical psychologist who has practiced Zen and insight meditation (vipassana) for more than 40 years. In the mid-1980s, when he was working on his doctoral dissertation on the nature of “self” among Buddhist monks, speaking of mindfulness in a medical context among scientists was “disreputable,” he recalled.
“Gradually because of the research, it became chic, no longer disreputable,” said Fulton, a lecturer in psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at HMS and co-founder of the Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy. “And now you can’t step a foot out of the house without being barraged by mindfulness.”
Melanie Denham, head coach of Harvard women’s rugby team, recently attended a mindfulness workshop, intrigued by the idea of incorporating the techniques into her players’ training regimen to help them cope with the pressures of “expectation and performance.”
Mindfulness practitioners admit the practice can offer challenges. It requires consistency because its effects can be better felt over time, and discipline to train the wandering mind to keep coming back to the present, without judgment. A 2014 study said that many people would rather apply electroshocks to themselves than be alone with their thoughts. Another study showed that most people find it hard to focus on the present and that the mind’s wandering can lead to stress and even suffering.
Mindfulness builds resilience and awareness to help people learn how to ride life’s ups and downs and live happier and healthier lives, said Westbrook, who, after helping heal the bodies of thousands of patients in 36 years as a doctor, plans to devote her second career to caring for people’s spirits and souls, maybe as a chaplain.
“Mindfulness is not about being positive all the time or a bubblegum sort of happiness — la, la, la,” she said. “It’s about noticing what happens moment to moment, the easy and the difficult, and the painful and the joyful. It’s about building a muscle to be present and awake in your life.”
Source: Harvard University
Mindfulness meditation made easy
Find a quiet space. Using a cushion or chair, sit up straight but not stiff; allow your head and shoulders to rest comfortably; place your hands on the tops of your legs with upper arms at your side.
Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and relax. Feel the fall and rise of your chest and the expansion and contraction of your belly. With each breath notice the coolness as it enters and the warmth as it exits. Don’t control the breath but follow its natural flow.
Thoughts will try to pull your attention away from the breath. Notice them, but don’t pass judgment. Gently return your focus to your breath. Some people count their breaths as a way to stay focused.
A daily practice will provide the most benefits. It can be 10 minutes per day, however, 20 minutes twice a day is often recommended for maximum benefit.
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