Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is a form of bodywork that integrates relaxation techniques, meditation, and gentle stretching through yoga. The therapeutic benefits of practicing mindfulness-based stress reduction have been noted to be helpful in combating a variety of disorders and conditions. It is also gaining momentum has a therapeutic tool in western psychology and psychiatry. However, the fundamental principles of mindfulness-based stress reduction are not a New Age development. In fact, they were established more than 2,500 years ago in ancient India.
Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, is credited with defining mindfulness and promoting its practice in everyday life. In short, mindfulness is living in the present moment. In meditative practice, it is the ability to fully return to the present after contemplating the past or future. Collectively, the tools used in mindfulness-based stress reduction training enable the practitioner to move beyond experiencing life as a race to get from one event to the next. At the same time, mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques allow the individual to pay attention to his or her inner dialogue, but without the urge to silence, filter, or validate the ongoing self-talk.
By recognizing the duality of one’s inner and outer reality, the individual is free to focus on what is and what is not perceived. Otherwise, one may develop and become too attached to automatic attitudes, albeit unconsciously. In other words, we get caught up in living life according to the script we think exists and not the one we create for ourselves. Mindfulness-based stress reduction practitioners acknowledge that without this enhanced view, there is a diminished awareness of the mind-body relationship. As such, therein lies the greater potential for developing disease.
For example, it has been well established that the mind is a control factor in stress-related disorders that impact the body. Mindfulness-based stress reduction provides a safe, effective, and non-pharmaceutical means to address such disorders. In fact, mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques have been used to successfully treat rheumatoid arthritis, chronic pain, high blood pressure, and even HIV and cancer.
An interesting element to the mindfulness-based stress reduction therapeutic model is the occasional use of martial arts to help individuals coping with chronic pain and impaired mobility. While this activity may seem contrary to the serenity of mediation and yoga, the same principles of mindfulness-based stress reduction apply. In this case, however, the objective is to replace atrophy with awareness-filled action.
The University of Massachusetts Medical Center is home to the renowned Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program. The program, developed by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn is offered in more than 200 hospitals throughout the U.S. In addition, the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program has been the subject of several outcome studies funded by The National Institutes of Health's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. These studies have revealed that many patients with chronic pain have been able to improve coping skills while minimizing the need for medication.