Why Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)?
There are plenty of mindfulness programs out there in the world. It can be hard to know which ones are good, which ones are reputable, and which ones might actually work for you. With so many choices available, why should you choose Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)?
MBSR is the gold standard mindfulness training for a reason. We’ll provide a short history of MBSR as well as its benefits over in this article. At the end, you can find a summary of the reasons as well as places to learn more about MBSR, if you want to dive deeper before committing. And you’re always welcome to contact Mindful Leader to request more information about classes.
MBSR is a thoughtfully designed class, with standards and reputable training institutions for instructors. It is well-researched, with studies across disciplines showing its efficacy. And, most importantly, because it is such a widespread and respected program, there are plenty of options for you to select from.
First, it is important to know how MBSR came to be. MBSR was created by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D. at the University of Massachusetts in 1979. Initially, it was designed for people experiencing chronic pain while undergoing treatment, but Kabat-Zinn knew early on that it could help a wide variety of people. He adapted the program and began to research it, leading to the repeatable and standardized MBSR program we have now. It is meant to be a complement to traditional medicine, not a replacement. It grew in popularity starting first with a feature in the PBS Special documentary Healing from Within (1993) created by Bill Moyers and then with Jon Kabat-Zinn’s prolific book collection, including Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness and Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life.
Over the years, MBSR has expanded. Kabat-Zinn consciously chose not to make his program proprietary, which is part of why it has grown so much and is available on several continents and in a myriad of languages. This also means that it is the community rather than one person or organization that shapes the program and its future. While it may have been created by one man, MBSR has created a passionate community that continues to drive research, publicity for the mindfulness community, and class offerings.
While the name MBSR may not be immediately familiar, a lot of its components might be. Jon Kabat-Zinn and MBSR have been a lot of the driving force behind the growth of mindfulness in the west, introducing terms and concepts in language you’ve likely heard before. In his book Full Catastrophe Living, Kabat-Zinn discusses concepts such as simply “being” rather than “doing”, and paying attention purposefully and non-judgmentally. His definition of mindfulness is the one most commonly used by the mindfulness community to explain what it is.
Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally.
Yes, it is considered the gold standard in mindfulness training. And it is the most often researched mindfulness program and frequently shows great results. But, whether or not you know its name, it is also the program whose teachings have entered the cultural consciousness. If you want to learn to meditate in a structured way with a community, there is no better place than in an MBSR class. Your instructor will introduce you to mindful eating, the body scan, yoga, a walking meditation, and many more practices. In an MBSR class, you have the opportunity to try a variety of exercises and practices and build a routine that works for you.
And, because MBSR is designed to be standardized and repeatable, it means the course does not rely on any one teacher or institution. MBSR is so long-lasting and respected because it is set up in a way that allows for a strong community and growth while still maintaining the integrity of the program.
MBSR is the most well-researched mindfulness program in the world. MBSR’s efficacy in stress reduction and other health benefits have been shown across many studies, meta-analyses, and systemic reviews. If you see a study in the news that discusses mindfulness meditation interventions, it is very likely the research was based on MBSR.
Mindfulness can influence two specific stress pathways in the brain, which allows for change in brain structure around parts that deal with stress, attention, and emotional regulation. Mindfulness-based interventions can lead people to focus more on the present, rather than ruminate on the past or on certain thoughts, and they were less likely to have emotional reactions that are unhelpful when stressed.
Certification and Training Programs
Becoming an MBSR instructor is a rigorous process. It is not quick, easy, or inexpensive. This means it is only those who are passionate about MBSR who make it all the way to becoming a certified teacher. There are several reputable institutions that offer MBSR teacher training through certification, including Brown University and UCSD.
The advantage of having a rigorous training process backed by academic institutions is that there is very little risk of MBSR training becoming proprietary, or of a group attempting to drastically change the certification process or the course itself. With MBSR, there is a sense of stability that few other trainings out there have.
If you are interested in learning more about MBSR teacher training, you can click here.
Practices are adaptable after you complete the course. MBSR gives participants a toolkit, one you can use in your life after the class as you see fit. Not everyone will continue daily 45-minute meditations after the class ends, but that’s okay. It is likely that most will come out with a roadmap to find a daily practice that works for them and aspects of mindfulness to incorporate into daily life.
It is also possible to come back to MBSR in the future. Sometimes taking the class at a later time, or with a different instructor or group of peers, can change the experience. Part of the joy of this program is that it is experiential, which means it relies on your own experiences as well as who you are around while you are taking it. No two classes are ever quite the same, and so coming back to MBSR as a refresher can be still be a new experience in so many ways.
MBSR classes are relatively short—eight weeks, with two and a half hour classes each week, an orientation, and a full day retreat. It may seem like a big chunk of time looking at those hours, but it goes quickly. It can also be easier to fit something small into your schedule regularly for two months, especially if taking time away from work, school, or other responsibilities for a long retreat is not possible. The program is also meant to fit into your daily life so you learn how to implement practices in your actual space, rather than an intensive program that is hard to keep up with once it ends.
In those eight weeks, instructors cover a lot. Classes are largely practice oriented. This is an experiential program. Instructors will not teach the history of meditation or much of the science behind what they are doing. Interested participants are welcome to follow up on that after the course (although learning the science is generally not recommended during the eight weeks of your class, it is perfectly fine afterwards). However, instructors will introduce a wide variety of practices, which means that it is very likely that everyone will find something that works for them.
While it is adapted from Buddhist traditions, the MBSR program itself is completely secular. This means that there are no religious practices included, either from Buddhism or from another religious tradition. This makes MBSR a great choice for those whose religions prohibit them from practicing traditions from other religions as well as a perfect choice for the workplace.
Mindfulness training shouldn’t have to break the bank. Because there is such a large community, there are a number of free and low-cost options for people interested in taking a class. If you ask around in your local community, you may be able to find resources for an in-person opportunity. If you are interested in a low-cost online option, Mindful Leader offers a scholarship tier for their classes that you can sign up for with no questions asked.
Additionally, most materials instructors provide throughout the course can be kept afterwards for personal use. So you can maintain your own downloaded copies of your instructor’s meditations or continue to use handouts and worksheets after the class ends. Unlike with a subscription service, what you download remains yours. This is the case because many instructors want to bolster the mindfulness community, and ensuring access to materials is a great way to do that. Some instructors offer ongoing support to those who take their classes as well—if you find you really gel with your instructor, it can be great to see what else they offer!
It has never been easier to find an MBSR class. There are certified instructors in all fifty states and in a large number of countries. Mindful Leader has a list with a number of certified instructors sorted by location. It is also possible to take an online class. You can take one with Mindful Leader here.
This article explains how to find reputable instructors or programs. It can be difficult to know what you’re looking at if you aren’t familiar with the community and all of its acronyms, so that article explains how to tell what level of training an instructor has and what to look for when making sure a class has all the components it ought to. Because MBSR has such a rigorous training for teachers, there are very few offerings out there that do not meet the requirements of this list, but all the same it gives you a good starting place to evaluate your options.
...So, why MBSR?
Here is the summary of why you should try MBSR:
- It is standardized, with instructors rigorously trained to understand the principles and practices.
- The program is incredibly well-researched, with forty years of studies to back it up and more coming out regularly.
- A class only takes eight weeks to complete.
- The class is completely secular.
- MBSR programs are wide-spread, easily available, and come at a variety of price points.
- MBSR classes are a group experience where you will be able to discuss your practice and receive support from other students
Learn More About MBSR:
From Mindful Leader:
- MBSR: 25 Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Exercises and Courses by Courtney Ackerman
- 3 Reasons Why MBSR Should be the Workplace Standard by Ted Meissner
- Jon Kabat-Zinn: Defining Mindfulness by the staff of Mindful Magazine
- Health Benefits of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction by Cathy Wong
- Building an ark: creating a vessel for the education of MBSR teachers (PDF) by Saki Santorelli
- Your guide to mindfulness based stress reduction – What is MBSR? by Rachelle Davis
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program: Handbook (PDF) by Maine Health
Some Reflections on the Origins of MBSR, Skillful Means, and the Trouble With Maps by Jon Kabat-Zinn
- No Blueprint, Just Love an interview with Jon Kabat-Zinn by Barry Boyce
Stressed? Instead of distracting yourself, try paying closer attention by Shereen Marisol Meraji with Jon Kabat-Zinn
Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness by Jon Kabat-Zinn
From Goodreads (4.2 stars): Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, is perhaps the best-known proponent of using meditation to help patients deal with illness. This book is also a terrific introduction for anyone who has considered meditating but was afraid it would be too difficult or would include religious practices they found foreign.
MBSR Every Day: Daily Practices from the Heart of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction
by Bob Stahl and Elisha Goldstein:
From Goodreads (4.1 stars): In the tradition of their highly successful A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Elisha Goldstein and Bob Stahl present a unique, accessible collection of daily practices to help readers stay grounded in the here and now.
A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook
by Bob Stahl and Elisha Goldstein:
From Goodreads (4.1 stars): The ultimate practical guide to MBSR—with more than 115,000 copies sold—is now available in a fully revised and updated second edition.
The Mindful Way through Depression
by Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel V. Segal, and Jon Kabat-Zinn
From Goodreads (4.06 stars): The Mindful Way through Depression draws on the collective wisdom of four internationally renowned cognitive therapy and mindfulness experts, including best-selling author Jon Kabat-Zinn, to help you break the mental habits that can lead to despair.
Mindfulness for Beginners
by Jon Kabat-Zinn
From Goodreads (3.8 stars): What if you could profoundly change your life just by becoming more mindful of your breathing? According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, you can. What if paying attention on purpose (and nonjudgmentally) could improve your health? Again, according to Dr. Kabat-Zinn--it can.
- The Public Health Roots of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, Jon Kabat-Zinn
- The Shared Work of MBSR Teachers with Saki Santorelli, Center for Mindfulness (CFM)
- Meditation as Medicine: Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, Bob Stahl
- Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) at Valley Health System (Hear from people who have experienced MBSR)
Mindfulness Stress Reduction And Healing, Jon Kabat-Zinn