Research suggests that up to 90 percent of all medical conditions are stress-related, which would easily rank stress as the world’s #1 killer. With mounting evidence backing up this claim, it’s no surprise that stress-reduction programs have been popping up all over the place.
One such program, mindfulness-based stress reduction, has a solid track record. Pioneered by Jon Kabat-Zinn over 30 years ago, MBSR is a derivative of mindfulness, a technique that’s been practiced by Buddhists and meditation practitioners for thousands of years. To practice mindfulness means to be non-judgementally aware of what is going on in the present moment. It is both a secular meditation practice and a way of life that requires no prior meditation experience. Mindfulness-based stress reduction is designed specifically to deal with health-related and quality of life issues.
Mindfulness-based stress reduction is typically taught as an eight-week program, delivered through weekly half-hour classes and a one-day retreat on a weekend. Tens of thousands have gone through this mindfulness course in over 200 locations around the world.
The program offers a nice balance of participation and structure. Mindfulness meditations are guided by an experienced instructor, so no previous meditation experience is necessary. Mindful yoga and stretching are also offered to better engage the body. Other practical exercises include mindful communication and group dialogue to help practitioners learn to deal with real-world stressors. There are also home assignments such as audio-based guided mindfulness meditations to ensure regular practice between sessions.
Benefits of mindfulness
MBSR isn’t considered an alternative to mainstream medicine, but a complement to it—a highly effective complement. Practitioners have reported a number of benefits, such as a better ability to relax, an improved ability to cope with stressful situations, greater energy and improved self-esteem. But the benefits aren’t just related to stress, MBSR helps with a variety of medical conditions, including:
- chronic pain
- heart disease
- skin disorders
- breast cancer
- sleep disturbances
The mindfulness-based stress reduction program has also helped people realize an overall improvement in wellness as well as helping many to learn effective strategies for preventing future illness.
Jon-Kabat Zinn and the Center for Mindfulness
Kabat-Zinn has a unique background both as Professor of Medicine at the University of Massachusetts and as a practitioner of meditation, which have lent legitimacy to MBSR, helping it to become the popular program that it is today.
The Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society is within the University of Massachusetts Medical School. With the backing of a major university, Kabat-Zinn and his colleagues have developed a wide body of research that support mindfulness-based stress reduction’s efficacy.
With a strong focus on scientific investigation, the Center for Mindfulness has conducted a number of studies to test mindfulness-based stress reduction. “Since the inception of the Stress Reduction Clinic, MBSR research at UMass and other academic medical centers has shown consistent, reliable, and reproducible demonstrations of major and clinically relevant reductions in medical diagnoses.”
The Center for Mindfulness has found that the majority of those who complete the eight-week mindfulness course report lasting decreases in physical and psychological symptoms. Mindfulness-based stress reduction—it’s effective and it’s backed by scientific research. No wonder it’s so popular!
image: DeathByBokeh (Creative Commons BY-SA)