Our lives are filled with distractions — email, Twitter, texting we’re constantly connected to technology, rarely alone with just our thoughts. Which is probably why there’s a growing movement in America to train people to get around the stresses of daily life.
It’s a practice called “mindfulness” and it basically means being aware of your thoughts, physical sensations, and surroundings.
MBSR - Overview
When is the last time you did absolutely nothing for 10 whole minutes? Not texting, talking or even thinking? Mindfulness expert Andy Puddicombe describes the transformative power of doing just that: Refreshing your mind for 10 minutes a day, simply by being mindful and experiencing the present moment. (No need for incense or sitting in uncomfortable positions.)
CFM Guest Lecture Series – November 19, 2014 at the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society, Shrewsbury, MA
Published on Dec 15, 2014
University of California at San Diego (UCSD) Center for Mindfulness Director, Dr. Steve Hickman, joins William Mobley, MD, PhD for a discussion of how to be present in the moment and leverage the practice of mindfulness to stay engaged, focused, and fulfilled.
We have tried to answer some of the most commonly asked questions about MBSR here, but if you have any questions about the program, or your participation in it, please do not hesitate to contact Kate in the strictest confidence.
These questions are derived from the Center for Mindfulness FAQs, adapted only for Kate’s particular locations of teaching.
Will my health insurance pay for the MBSR course?
Some insurance companies are trying to promote preventative medicine and have become more willing to reimburse members under wellness codes. We can provide a receipt for you to submit to insurance company.
Will mindfulness make me more passive?
Mindfulness is a process of noticing how we are, as much as possible with an investigative quality. In this process of investigation we are learning to have more options around self-regulation and how we react and respond to the world around us. Mindfulness and this investigative process allows us not to be passive but rather to be able to choose with intention and clarity how we would like to interact with the people and the world around us.
Will MBSR disrupt my ongoing psychotherapy?
MBSR can be a wonderful compliment to psychotherapy. If you are currently in therapy we do recommend that you speak to your therapist about your intention to participate in an 8-week course. Our preference is that your therapist is in support of your taking the class. We can with a consent agreement and your permission speak with your therapist if you choose as you go through the program.
Will MBSR allow me to control my thoughts better?
Participants will become very familiar on how their mind works. While “control” is not the goal of MBSR, participants may begin to see they have more choices on where and how they give their attention. Participants report living in the present moment and find it easier to plan for the future without living in the future as well as knowing the past without dwelling in the past. The process of mindfulness is building on the skill of noticing where the thoughts go and what emotions and physical sensation may be associated with them.
Why do people take the MBSR course? What conditions or illnesses can it help treat?
What risks are involved with taking the MBSR course?
When choosing to participate in an MBSR class, self pacing and judgment are encouraged and are essential.
The gentle yoga is a possible physical risk of strain or muscle injury and each individual is responsible for not going beyond her or his comfort. Participants are encouraged to take care of themselves by acknowledging their limits without overwhelming their body.
Some participants may experience increase in pain, depression, or anxiety within the first few weeks of the 8-week MBSR course as the they begin to “look at” as opposed to “look away” from aspects of their lives they may have been unwilling to explore in the past.
Please know that there are always options and participants are encouraged to take care of themselves throughout the course. Pain, depression, and anxiety have been found in the research to be reduced by the end of the course.
What is the impact on mindfulness in my everyday actions?
Mindfulness can help bring awareness to things we may take for granted in the routine of our day-to-day lives. The awareness that we start to discover can help us to remember all of the small really special things that are happening in our everyday lives. It can also help increase our feelings of connectedness. It may also help us in responding to situations rather than reacting to them. Mindfulness allows us to have a more direct experience of our lives as we are living them.
What is the average size of an MBSR class?
The average size of an MBSR course is typically 25-35 people.
A large component of class is dedicated to the group and how the unfolding of mindfulness being integrated into the lives of the participants. Having a broad range of many different people can foster a supportive environment that holds many different insights and discovery’s as people participate in the program.
We understand there may be those for whom it can be more difficult to be in a large group setting or to speak in front of others. We do want to let you know that while we encourage participation that speaking or sharing in front of the group is optional and you can always choose not to share.
What is Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)?
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a psychoeducational experiential learning program based on the core principle of mindfulness.
The program is offered in a group setting and guided by a skilled MBSR teacher as the curriculum unfolds over 8 weeks. The class meets once a week for 2 ½ hours and is a combination of mindfulness practices, group sharing of experience with practice, and exploration of topics such as mindfulness, stress, and communication. In addition, there is an All Day of practice that occurs between the 6th and 7th week of the 8-week program. In addition to the 31 hours of practice in a supportive classroom environment guided by a professionally trained MBSR teacher, each participant engages in an hour of mindfulness practice daily between classes as homework to foster the development of the new habit of mindfulness.
What is Mindfulness?
It is the intention to pay attention to each and every moment of our life, non-judgmentally. While there are many possible definitions, the key aspects of any definition of mindfulness involve purposeful action, focused attention, grounded in the current experience, and held with a sense of curiosity.
What impact does mindfulness practice have on my brain and cognitive processing?
Mindfulness is an active area of research with many studies focusing on the structural and functional changes in the brain due to completion of an MBSR program. Please explore the UMASS Center for Mindfulness Therapeutic Neuroscience Lab site for additional information about the research.
What if I would like to become a Certified MBSR teacher?
To learn more about the path to becoming a Certified MBSR Teacher visit the Oasis Institute, the teacher training and professional education institute of the Center for Mindfulness.
Should I be in therapy prior to taking an MBSR course?
Not generally…This determination is made on a case-by-case basis during a one-on-one meeting with an MBSR Teacher during the orientation for the MBSR program. If you are working with a therapist prior to entering the program we encourage you to share your interest with your therapist and continue to seek their support during the MBSR program as it can be a strong compliment to what you are learning about yourself.
Is mindfulness just a way to distract myself from issues in my life?
Mindfulness is not a way to distract one’s self from life issues. In fact the process is more about turning toward the challenges that we are facing and beginning to look at and investigate that process. In the turning toward the challenges we may be able to find new options and solutions so that we can meet them with skillfulness and kindness whenever possible.
Is mindfulness compatible with my religious faith?
MBSR was developed in a way that is accessible to all people regardless of the religious traditions or beliefs. Mindfulness practice is really just about being awake to our lives as they are and working with seeing our process and ourselves more clearly. This tends to be a good compliment to many religious traditions in ways that you can explore as you develop your practice. The Center for Mindfulness, where the MBSR Program was developed is a secular organization.
Is mindfulness a Buddhist concept?
Mindfulness is a life concept and is found in many traditions and cultures. However, Buddhism has made mindfulness as one of its central concepts and practices. From our perspective MBSR is a secular program that is accessible to all people regardless of religion or beliefs.
Is MBSR supported by scientific evidence?
MBSR over the past 35 years has shown consistent, reliable, and reproducible major and clinically relevant reductions in medical and psychological symptoms across a wide range of medical and psychological diagnoses. It has been recognized by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) as an evidenced based program through the National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices (NREPP). Mindfulness is an active area of scientific research with new studies on MBSR being shared on a regular basis.
Is MBSR good for my medical condition?
MBSR has been scientifically shown to be an effective compliment 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.
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)
Is MBSR a type of group therapy?
No…MBSR was never conceived as group therapy. It is a form of participatory medicine where participants experientially learn about their stress, stress reactivity, and how they might be able to respond to their life challenges.
It may be better viewed as an educational course where we offer an atmosphere that allows you to explore your own life and patterns and we invite you to investigate what you find there. We are not sharing the context of the things that have happened or are happening in our lives rather we are focusing on our own reactions and responses to our current state of being as we take the class. Our hope is that you will build enough resources to take the tools with you as you leave the classroom and be able to integrate them into your normal day-to-day routine.
Is it possible to shut off thoughts or gain a blank mind through mindfulness meditation?
Maybe… but this does not match our experience and is not taught as part of MBSR. Mindfulness is about being present to what is here. Participants are encouraged to notice instead of blocking or denying thoughts, sensations, and emotions. It is through this “noticing” we might begin to find our mind may become more quiet or focused.
I live a very busy life, do I have time for mindfulness?
Sometimes we mention to the people in our classes that coming to the stress reduction program is stressful. We are aware that so many of us have very busy lives and that adding a class one time per week and setting aside 45 minutes to an hour for mindfulness practice can be challenging.
One thing to keep in mind is that while time may feel like a challenge adding mindfulness into our lives tends to help us prioritize and become efficient at work. Additionally, taking time to restore and rebalance can give us more energy reserves to meet the demands of our very busy lives.
I cannot sit still for very long, can I still take an MBSR class?
Yes… Mindfulness is not about sitting still or moving slowly. Mindfulness and MBSR is about bring attention to this moment whether it is stillness or fidgety. Participants will be engage in many different forms of mindfulness practices which include sitting, lying down, standing, and moving. Participants are encouraged to take care of themselves. If you need to leave the room and walk a bit and then come back that is an option. The class may also be a good place to explore the edges of our boundaries with this and to notice what it is like to stay with this and notice if it perhaps changes over time.
How much practice is in the MBSR class week to week?
Mindfulness practice is a major component of each class meeting as well as the time in-between classes. During the week participants use mindfulness CD’s or MP3’s to support daily practice. The CD’s/MP3’s contain mindfulness mediations and yoga sequences that are about 40-45 minutes long.
How much mindfulness practice is required after the course?
Mindfulness is an approach to life and participants are encouraged to find their own mindfulness practice that supports them. By the end of the eight weeks, each participant will have a better understanding of what he or she needs for a mindfulness practice.
How might mindfulness meditation benefit my life?
The direct benefit is living our lives in this moment with awareness instead of “on automatic pilot” or solely in the past or future.
Patients often report greater joy for the simple things in life, such as a shared moment with their child or partner or more aware of the change of seasons as flowers bloom and snow falls. We begin to realize that there is more “right” with us than “wrong” with us as we become more engaged in our lives. Many of the side effects of mindfulness meditation found in scientific research include decrease in psychological symptoms such as anxiety and depression as well as greater stability in physical symptoms such as blood glucose levels and blood pressure.
Ultimately, it is an empirical question and everyone is encouraged to find out for themselves how mindfulness meditation might benefit their lives.
How long has MBSR been taught and used by other patients?
Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn founded the Stress Reduction Program in 1979. Since its inception 35 years ago, more than 20,000 people have completed the eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program (MBSR) and learned how to use their innate resources and abilities to respond more effectively to stress, pain, and illness. The central focus of the program is intensive training in mindfulness meditation and its integration into the challenges/adventures of everyday life.
How is mindfulness different from other forms of contemplative practice?
Mindfulness is a practice of present moment awareness. Mindfulness increases ability to see things as they arise clearly without judgment. Mindfulness facilitates both focusing and widening our attention as we become aware of ourselves and the world around us. The “goal” is to be more fully present in our lives
There are many types of contemplative practices and we encourage the exploration of practices that allow people to increase their well-being. Many other contemplative practices have a specific focus such as building concentration, one-pointed awareness, or a relationship with a higher power. If mindfulness does not match your interest you may wish to explore other forms of contemplative practices.
Do I need to read any books prior to the course?
No…It is not necessary to read any books prior to attending the MBSR class. In fact during the class we recommend not reading any books, as mindfulness is a highly experiential process. We invite you to use this time to investigate your own process and experience of the course and then after it is finished it may be useful to expand your understanding through reading books such as the ones listed below:
Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn
Heal Thyself by Saki Santorelli
Where Ever You Go There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn
Do I need to have experience with meditation or yoga prior to the course?
No…While prior mindfulness practice may motivate individuals to take MBSR. The MBSR program and teacher have no expectation that participants have experience with meditation or yoga or any other mindfulness practice. Everyone will have the opportunity to explore and experience mindfulness while having a skilled teacher to guide and help answer questions about practice.
For those that have experience with meditation or yoga in the past, the course can be a good refresher to rebuild a strong daily practice.
Do I need to be athletic or flexible to take and MBSR course?
No… The class is open to a wide variety of individuals who may have a wide variety of abilities. The yoga is designed to be gentle and the focus is more on giving attention to the movement (even if imagined) than to the particular posture. Participants are encouraged to let their teacher know if they have any physical challenges. This will allow the teacher to fully support the participants as they engage in the mindfulness practices such help modify the practices to fit the individual. There will always be the encouragement to take care of yourself in the best way possible.
Do I need a textbook for the MBSR class or a notebook to take notes during the class?
No…You will not need to have a textbook or a notebook for the MBSR class itself. We recommend that while in the class you don’t take notes. We have included many things you may want to reference in a workbook given to all participants. Ultimately, our experiences with the mindfulness practices and our lives become our textbook and notes.
Some participants have found it helpful to keep a journal outside of the class to note experiences during the unfolding of the class.
Do I need a medical doctor referral?
No…In most cases you do not need a medical doctor referral to be able to attend an MBSR course.
However, if you are under the care of a physician or mental health professional and have any specific health concerns we would want to address those with you prior to your acceptance into the MBSR program. With your consent and permission we can set up an agreement to speak with your doctor or mental health professional as you go through the course in order to increase the support network for you as you move through the program.
Do I have to engage in mindfulness practices to benefit from the program?
Yes… Mindfulness is a highly experiential practice and therefore engaging the formal mindfulness practices is perhaps the most important component of the course. We encourage all of the participants to use the 8-weeks as a testing ground for the mindfulness practice. In this way you will be able to see what benefits may come from taking the course. After the class participants are encouraged to continue with their mindfulness practice as it fits and supports their lives.
Can MBSR reduce my chronic pain?
Yes… Studies have shown that MBSR can reduce the perception of pain. While chronic pain does not go away, your relationship with pain may shift and change. Research have found that participants report less limitations due to pain, reduced severity of pain, and more joy in life even in the presence of pain.
Can MBSR help with anger and other strong emotions?
Yes… emotions are part of life and participants in the MBSR program will be encouraged to acknowledge and see the impact of strong emotions on their lives. Mindfulness is not about always being calm or numb to emotional events in our lives. However, through mindfulness practice we may begin to see options and choices on how to respond before emotions overwhelm us. For example, we will still become angry, but might notice its impact in the moment and choose to walk away before we hurt ourselves or others.
Can children and teens sign up for the MBSR course?
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction was designed for adults and we encourage individuals 17 years or older to register for the program. Specialty programs for adolescents are being developed and introduced in some schools. Parents of children or adolescents may wish to explore other mindfulness programs not offered by Kate or the UMASS Center for Mindfulness.
Are there different guided meditations that I can use to support my mindfulness practice?
Yes…The MBSR program includes a variety of different guided mindfulness meditation and practices from a lying down body scan, to guided seating meditation exploring different objects of attention, to loving kindness meditations, to yoga, to walking meditations, and many more options to engage in mindfulness practice.
Are there conditions or life situations where taking an MBSR course is not recommended?
There are some conditions that participants are encouraged to be under the care of a mental health professional or medical doctor and in still other cases participants are encouraged to delay entering an MBSR program or seek other treatments.
A partial list of conditions or life situations may include a history of substance or alcohol abuse with less than a year of being clean or sober, thoughts or attempts of suicide, recent or unresolved trauma, as well as being in the middle of major life changes. The hope is that participants can complete the MBSR course at a point in their life where they are supported and able to gain full benefit from the mindfulness practices.