Through mindfulness-based stress reduction therapy, patients are taught to develop moment-to-moment awareness of thoughts, feelings, and sensations.
By Dr. Mel Borins
Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is a therapy program that was founded by Jon Kabat-Zinn in 1979 in the Department of Behavioral Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. Patients were taught to develop non-judgmental, moment-to-moment awareness of thoughts, feelings, and body sensations through a number of mind-body practices. Many subsequent programs have been modeled on this one, and a number of research studies have shown the approach useful for pain, anxiety, depression, and many other divergent conditions.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction: Expanding Field of Attention
Meditation is the intentional self-regulation of attention from moment to moment. Mindfulness is a non-judgmental and non-reactive way of paying attention in the present moment to what is happening within us and around us whether we are meditating or doing something active. Rather than restricting attention to one focus point, this approach emphasizes detached observation of a constantly changing field of focus points. Over a number of sessions, patients learn to expand their field of attention to include all physical and mental events such as body sensations, thoughts, memories, emotions, perceptions, intuitions, and fantasies.
In awareness meditation practice, no event is considered a distraction but simply another object of observation. No mental event is accorded any relative or absolute value or importance in terms of its content. All thoughts are just noted as they arise and are not judged. The implication is that, when we pay attention without judgment, we see things more clearly and develop a greater understanding of why things are the way they are. The intention is to approach each moment with more calmness, clarity, and wisdom. Patients learn to respond consciously rather than react automatically to events. They also learn to be more mindful of what is occurring in the body, to be less judging, and more accepting of themselves and life’s challenges, and to be more compassionate and kind with themselves and others.
Mindfulness Meditation Practice
Mindfulness meditation practice includes:
- Doing a “body sweep” or “scan” while being aware of posture, movement, resistance, spatial orientation, and using periodic suggestions of relaxation and breath awareness;
- Mindfulness of breath, thoughts, emotions, and other perceptions;
- Hatha yoga involving simple stretches and postures;
- Doing eating, walking, and standing mindfulness meditation exercises;
- Reading informative material regarding physiology and coping with stress.
- The intention of the program is to teach patients simple techniques that they can continue to practice and utilize in their daily lives after the program is over.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction: Enhancing spiritual experiences
Twenty-eight individuals who participated in an eight-week stress-reduction program based on training in mindfulness meditation had significantly greater reductions in overall psychological distress symptoms, an increase in a sense of control in their lives, and higher scores on a measure of spiritual experiences when compared with controls.
Two studies done on medical students showed the program significantly improved the way students handled stress. They had decreased anxiety and depression, increased scores on overall empathy levels, and increased scores on a measure of spiritual experiences after the program.
Fifty-nine adults in an eight-week program showed significant decreases from baseline in:
- daily hassles (24%),
- psychological distress (44%), and
- medical symptoms (46%).
These results were maintained at the three-month follow-up compared to control subjects.
MBSR Compared to Relaxation Techniques
In 2007, researchers assigned 83 university students to one of three groups: mindfulness meditation, somatic relaxation techniques, or a no-treatment control. After a brief training, students in the first two groups practiced the intervention treatment over a 30-day period. Throughout the trial, measurements were taken for a positive state of mind and for distractive and ruminative thoughts. Results showed that practice of either mindfulness meditation or somatic relaxation techniques significantly reduced distress and improved mood over the no-treatment control group. Researchers also found that those who learned mindfulness techniques had a larger stress-reduction effect and, unlike the relaxation group, showed a significant decrease in distractive and ruminative thoughts.
Most people with a variety of conditions can benefit from attending mindfulness-based stress reduction classes. Many of my patients have taken MBSR courses and have noticed a dramatic improvement in their health. I highly recommend this effective program for improving well-being.
This article has been excerpted from A Doctor’s Guide to Alternative Medicine: What Works, What Doesn’t, and Why by Dr. Mel Borins (Globe Pequot Press, 2014) by Dr. Mel Borins. Dr. Borins uses the latest scientific research and double-blind studies to educate patients and physicians alike on which alternative treatments work, and how to use them safely. www.melborins.com
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