MBSR, or Mindfulness-based stress reduction, is a program that teaches you how to calm both your body and mind in order to better cope with stress, pain, and illness. The system was developed under the leadership of Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn with the creation of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Many who practice mindfulness-based stress reduction use a meditation timer or chime to remind them periodically throughout the day to breathe deeply, take a break, or whatever they find helpful.
“Mindfulness” itself is the practice of focusing only on what is occurring at that moment. It isn’t a time for “zoning out”, but is instead a time to become more aware of your emotions, thoughts, and surroundings as well as how your body is feeling. You might sit quietly and focus solely on your emotions or thoughts, or you may focus on the sounds and smells around you. Mindfulness is doing a single thing and closely focusing on that, and only that, particular thing. Mindfulness is something akin to walking meditation, where you aren’t “tuned out”; simply focused very specific things.
MBSR training involves workshops, home practice, and a retreat session
MBSR programs are typically an eight-week workshop which entails at least one two-hour class per week, a day-long retreat at around the 6- or 7-week mark, and formal home practice. Home practice generally constitutes at least 45 minutes each day, at least 6 days per week. Programs also teach three formal techniques; body scanning, simple yoga techniques, and mindfulness meditation. During the first 4 weeks, the first prolonged formal technique taught is usually body scanning.
Body scanning is lying quietly and focusing on various regions parts of your body beginning with the toes and continuing up to the head. As you do this, you begin to notice small differences. You may note areas where you are tense or feel pain, how your stomach rises as you breathe, or how muscles shift as you adjust your position.
MBSR teaches acceptance of thoughts
MBSR also teaches you to focus on distractions and thoughts that cross your mind without judging them. For example, as you focus, your mind might shift to a thought about your job. Rather than worry about that thought you will learn to simply note it and return your attention to the present rather than dwelling on it.
Non-striving, non-judging, acceptance, and letting go, beginner’s mind, patience, acceptance, trust, and non-centering are the tenets of MBSR. These types of programs may vary in detail, but they have helped millions of people reduce their stress levels and achieve happier and healthier lives.