Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction

Although mindfulness and meditation had been studied in psychology for decades, it was Kabat-Zinn’s pioneering work with his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program (MBSR) in the early 1980s that helped lay the groundwork for the recent expansion of mindfulness-based treatments. MBSR is a stress reduction program based on the Buddhist notion that suffering is caused when people struggle against their pain. MBSR emphasizes remaining in the present moment and adopting an attitude of non-judgment towards one’s experience (Kabat-Zinn, 1990). MBSR is usually presented in 8-10 weekly group sessions with daily homework assignments between meetings. Participants are taught a technique called the body-scan, as well as basic yoga and formal sitting meditation. They are encouraged to integrate these practices in some form in their everyday lives. With the body-scan, participants lie on their backs and, beginning with their toes, gradually shift their attention through different parts of the bodies. Hatha yoga is taught to encourage participants to become more in touch with their body through slow, deliberate stretching exercises. The practice of formal sitting meditation allows participants to create greater awareness around their thoughts and emotions. Through use of these techniques, which help to cultivate varying degrees of mindfulness, participants are taught to observe thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations objectively without trying to cling to or push away their experience.

MBSR has been shown to help people with chronic pain (Kabat-Zinn, Lipworth, & Burney, 1985; Kabat-Zinn, Lipworth, Burney, & Sellers, 1986) anxiety disorders (Kabat-Zinn et al., 1992; Miller, Fletcher, & Kabat-Zinn, 1995), binge-eating (Kristeller & Hallett, 1999), reduction of stress among cancer patients (Carlson, Speca, Patel, & Goodey, 2003; Speca, Carlson, Goodey, & Angen, 2000; Tacón, Caldera, & Ronaghan, 2004), and increasing quality of life among those with traumatic brain injuries (Bédard et al., 2005). It has also been shown to increase gains among people also involved in individual outpatient psychotherapy (Kutz et al., 1985; Weiss, Nordlie, & Siegel, 2005). Overall, empirical evidence suggests that MBSR can benefit a wide variety of people (Baer, 2003; Grossman, Niemann, Schmidt, & Walach, 2004).