Who is the MBSR course for?
The MBSR program is not religious in any way and is therefore accessible to people of all faiths or none
The course is suitable for both beginners and experienced meditators
Some who attend may simply be interested to engage more fully in their work, creative and personal lives
Some may seek improved emotional regulation from states such as anger, unhealthy eating habits or addiction
Many parents attend courses, seeking to bolster connection with their children and model characteristics of Presence and kindness
While others have health conditions attributing to symptoms such as exhaustion, pain, sleep disturbance, worry or anxiety, unhappiness, depression or high blood pressure.
How will MBSR benefit me?
With commitment to the practice, scientific evidence supports experiencing:
Reduced stress & anxiety
Improved resilience & coping in the face of negative life events
Improved immune system
Improved ability to manage pain & illness
Improvements in physical conditions as varied as psoriasis, heart disease & chronic fatigue syndrome
Greater creativity secondary to improved cognitive flexibility
Heightened feeling of contentment, wellbeing & gratitude
Enhanced cognitive function such as attention, concentration, memory, processing speed & problem solving
Heightened self compassion
Greater harmony within relationships
What actually is 'mindfulness'?
Reflecting on formative and important experiences of our lives -which don’t come along every day- we may notice that they have something in common. They tend to be moments where we feel most present and intensely alive. What tends to accompany that feeling in these moments, is one of being connected to ourselves, to others and the world around us, allowing us to experience beauty, discover things about ourselves, and learn life’s most important lessons.
Living fully in the present moment, is another way of saying ‘being mindful’. Mindfulness is a way of Being. Living from Being gives rise to a more open, curious and heartfelt view of the world and is supported by other qualities such as joy, embodiment, connection, open-heartedness, creativity and a new sense of ‘knowing’ that does not belong to the everyday mind.
Many of us spend much of our time doing. Even when not physically doing-something, we are often mentally futuring or pasting and operating out of autopilot mode. This automatic way of being in the world is coloured by our past experience, expectations, anticipation, fear, cultural norms etc. Training our attention through mindfulness practices enables us to switch out of autopilot mode and this shift presents alternative pathways for us, allowing us to break free from knee-jerk reactions and unconscious and unskillful habits. With practice, a more open, authentic and relaxed awareness-based way of Being in the world becomes available to us.
Our life may still contain hardship, if for example, we are living with pain or illness, however experiencing that we can choose various responses to our experience, no matter what situation we face, offers us tremendous freedom, clarity, insight and wisdom. It offers a way of systematically working with the difficulties of everyday life which strengthens our internal resources making them available to be used in the service of learning, growing and healing. In this way, mindfulness enables us to take charge of our lives.
Through the cultivation of mindfulness, believe it or not, we can all experience a pervasive wellbeing that is not grounded in the ongoing ups and downs of daily life.
Our opportunity, is to start responding rather than habitually reacting. In our chosen response lies our growth and our freedom.
Mindfulness isn’t for me!
I often hear people say things like “I can’t sit still for long, so mindfulness isn’t for me” or “I tried it once but my mind was too busy, so mindfulness isn’t for me”. The fact is that restlessness and thoughts arise by nature of being human. Each and every one of us experiences this to some degree, particularly in this day and age, where multitasking, achieving, and stress have all been normalised, no, idolised. If we were to start learning how to juggle, no doubt initially many balls would be dropped and frustrations would arise. The same is true for learning the mental skill of mindfulness.
I was listening to a talk from Tibetan Buddhist Nun, Pema Chödrön, who joked that despite her years meditating in the serenity of a monastery, on waking in the morning she would still find her mind grasping for things to think about “whether to have peanut butter or jam on my toast today” or to “walk around the grounds one way or the other”. No one is immune from a chattering mind, yet in the words of Eckhart Tolle, we all have the capacity to learn how to use it, rather than having it, use us!
It is not the lack of thoughts that we are ‘aiming’ for in mindfulness practice, rather, the development of a method of inquiry into our present state and the truth of our experience, moment to moment. Thoughts are not the enemy, but they do require some supervision, or chaos will ensue! It is true that relaxation and improvements in busy states of mind do arise with this kind of practice, as a welcome byproduct of meditation.
Whether we are encountering an aching, restless or sleepy body, or a chattering, negative mind-stream, these very ‘unwanted’ ‘internal events are precisely how growth and insight arise. Through mindfulness practice, we begin to develop a deeper understanding of ourselves and this deepening relationship with ourselves is where transformation can occur.
Is mindfulness religious?
It is easy to think that Buddhists created ‘mindfulness’ however, there is nothing particularly Eastern or Western about it -it is Universal and does not belong to any one religion, or individual. It has however, been around for a very long time. Wise sages have been speaking about it for thousands of years including the wise philosophers of Ancient Greece, Plato and his teacher, Socrates.
It must be said however, that the Buddhist tradition, with its emphasis on disciplined observation of mental processes, has a deep and profound understanding of mindfulness practice and as such, offers valuable insights into significant questions regarding our true nature. As with modern day science, mindfulness practice encourages us to take nothing on ‘faith’ alone, -it requires empirical evidence, based on rigorous investigation. And what tool do we use for this investigation? You guessed it, mindfulness meditation
The MBSR program was founded by all round fabulous Mindful Being, Prof. Jon Kabat-Zinn (Center for Mindfulness (CFM), School of Medicine at The University of Massachusetts). Since 1979 the program continues to benefit from ongoing scientific research supporting it to be an effective antidote to the stressors of modern living, including a wide variety of medical and psychological conditions including: anxiety, depression, pain, headache, fatigue and sleep-disturbance, heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, skin disorders, diabetes, fibromyalgia, hot flashes, mood, stress and gastrointestinal disorders.
For an overview of the major research findings about the MBSR program, please follow this link to the CFM website.
The fruits of fostering a mindfulness practice do not only present by way of feeling better (physical and psychological); the effects are neuro-biological -meaning that our brain, nervous system, immune system and even our genes(!) over time heal and repair through mindfulness practice.
As the brain changes, our emotions, and corresponding physiological responses (stress hormones, immune function, blood pressure etc), change as well, making for a happier mind, and body. Isn’t it liberating knowing that mindfulness rewires our brains (literally changes our brains’ anatomy and connectivity) within areas responsible for:
Show me the evidence!
To list all of the studies on the effects of mindfulness and the specific MBSR program would require much more space than I have, and more time than you have to read them all.
medical teams producing high quality Research
Jon Kabat-Zinn PhD, MiCBT Institute
Fadel Zeiden PhD, Wake Forest school of Medicine
Rick Hanson PhD, The wellspring institute
Sara Lazar PhD, ‘The Lazar Lab’ Harvard