5 Things You Should Know Before Taking MBSR

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By Priscilla Szneke

What should you know before you take a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program?

In 2014, the cover of TIME magazine declared that there was a Mindfulness Revolution occurring. Since then, the word mindfulness has been associated with everything from mindful brewing to mindful jumping to mindful hypnosis. It is now considered the latest self-help fad. 

But it is much more than that. So, what is mindfulness and what is this 8-week MBSR course really about? What do you need to know before you take it?

“Mindfulness is the ability to bring your attention to the present moment without judgment.” The founder of the MBSR program, Jon Kabat-Zinn, frequently uses this definition to describe mindfulness and it seems fairly straightforward. Yes, the concept is simple… but mindfulness is not easy. Pause for a moment and notice how often you judge something! For instance, this article… have you determined that it is good or bad? Do you like or dislike it, have a subtle (or not so subtle) feeling of pushing it away, or grasping it… maybe wanting more information faster? And try keeping your attention on the present moment for just 10 seconds… try it and see what happens.

1. Mindfulness is challenging. 

We are so used to learning in a particular way. We are familiar with and expect to get information in a classroom type of environment. We get lectured to and we write it all down. Some of the information we retain, but most of the time we never look at our notes again. Unless, of course, we get tested on it. Then we try to memorize it. 

MBSR is taught differently. The facilitator gives you the context and foundational components necessary for you to do the exercises and practices. Through practicing, you integrate the coping mechanisms for stress. These foundational components are evidence-based and have been rigorously studied since 1979 when Kabat-Zinn introduced the program. You need to do the work. That work might require up to an hour of your time each day. It’s like learning to play the piano. If you don’t practice, you won’t master the piano. It’s the same with mindfulness. 

2. MBSR is an experiential program. 

There are a variety of meditation practices that are offered during the course. Participants come into the program with different levels of experience in meditation. Some have never meditated, and some have meditated for many years. Some come to the MBSR program to kickstart their meditation practice. What it has to offer you for your meditation practice will depend on you. It will depend on what your intentions are and what your attitudes are when you come into the program. If you are looking to concentrate only on the meditation experience then this program is not for you. Although the MBSR program includes meditation there is more to the program. MBSR is an empirically-supported, 8-week psycho-educational group intervention that teaches mindfulness to cope with stress, pain, and illness. You will not know the benefits of the program until the end. Coming into the program with an open mind will result in maximum benefit.

3. Your intention and attitude will determine if you are a good fit for the program

Mindfulness meditation does not require you to “empty” your mind or shut it down. It invites you to get curious and notice what you are thinking. You can’t stop the mind from thinking. That’s what it does. But you can change your relationship to your thoughts so that you no longer ruminate or react to those thoughts. 

4. You can become more focused and train your mind to be attentive to what you want it to attend; like the present moment. 

I’ve been asked by participants, what can mindfulness do for me? My background is in healthcare and I’ve found that mindfulness is the best way to cultivate well-being. The literature indicates that mindfulness positively impacts depression, chronic pain, and anxiety. 

In addition to affecting well-being, there is good evidence that mindfulness can make you happier. In 2010, research found that during 46.9 percent of our waking hours we are thinking about something other than what we’re doing and this mind-wandering typically makes us unhappy. Mindfulness cultivates our ability to focus on the present moment. 

5. Your well-being might improve as well as your happiness level. 

If you are skeptical, that’s understandable! If you are curious, I suggest you try it.

Priscilla Szneke is a mindfulness and meditation teacher who has been teaching MBSR for the last 10 years and mindfulness based practices for 15 years to corporations, universities, groups and individuals. She is a certified MBSR teacher, a certified Mindfulness-based Blood Pressure reduction teacher, and a certified MB-EAT teacher as well as a Habit Change community facilitator and is adjunct faculty at the Mindfulness Center at Brown University’s School of Public Health. She is authorized to teach Insight meditation, which she has been practicing for 15 years and mentors students who are interested in cultivating their meditation practice. Priscilla spent 35 years working in the health care field in a variety of positions and brings her passion of empowering people so that they can care for themselves in a way that allows for greater well-being and joy.

Priscilla is an instructor for our MBSR course. Click here to learn more and view upcoming classes. 

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