MBSR

Home » Articles » Mindfulness & MBSR: An Overview
Mindfulness & MBSR: An Overview


Mindfulness & MBSR: An Overview

Mindfulness is simple in both concept and application: the capacity to attend, purposefully and non-judgmentally, to what we are experiencing in the here and now. However, while this is simple enough, it is by no means easy. Most of us are deeply lost in our thinking minds, are disconnected from our bodies and function out of habit. The consequence of this is the tendency to be out of touch with what is happening in the present and so either missing the moments, quite literally, or reacting to what we are thinking as opposed to what is actually happening. The consequence of this internal pull - our minds in one place, our bodies in another - is to be observed in the pervasive experience of stress, and its manifestations - physically, emotionally or behaviourally.

So how can mindfulness help? The more present we are, the more we are able to respond to what is in front of us, as opposed to mindlessly reacting out of habit. This means that we are more likely to make decisions and choices which are creative and congruent, and as such, are generally more orientated towards health. In psychological terms, the locus of control, or sense of being in control, moves towards our centre, as opposed to our feeling like a hapless victim of circumstance. Hence the caveat of stress management: it is not the stressor per se that is the problem but how we respond to it.

Because mindfulness is based in our awareness, it is always centered in us, and so whenever we are mindful we return to our centre of gravity, our very being, literally.

Further, with formal mindfulness techniques such as body scanning and sitting meditation, we also cultivate physiological relaxation which helps to offset the impact of chronic stress on the body.

Perhaps at the heart of mindfulness practice is the rather radical idea that being still every now and then can help us to function better in the world. Many people imagine that by stepping off the treadmill and 'doing nothing' they will become meditative zombies. Nothing could be further from the truth; it is simply a matter of restoring some balance, some natural rhythm, between stillness and action, allowing them both to inform the other. Activity without quietness and silence become freneticism, while stillness without action might lead to disconnection from the world and passivity. The image of the ocean is often used to describe this relationship: on the surface are waves, sometimes small, some large (how true is this of our lives?), but as we descend beneath the waves it becomes quieter...the waves do not disappear because there is stillness beneath the surface! With mindfulness we purposefully cultivate a relationship with the "stillness beneath the surface" and allow this to inform our activity in the world.

After many years of meditative practice, I fortuitously discovered mindfulness meditation, which comes through a specific contemplative tradition known as "Insight Meditation." This allows us to investigate and enquire deeply into our minds and bodies, essentially to explore these realms subjectively but without harsh judgment, and to see where and how we are suffering or distressed. This approach lends itself superbly to stress reduction, as it is only though turning towards our stress and seeing deeply into it that we can begin to turn the tide towards balance. In other words we cannot bypass what is stressful if we wish to manage stress!

Because mindfulness is momentary, we can apply it at any time at any place: all that is needed is for us to be present, attentive and gentle in our attitude to what we are experiencing. This means that as a tool for stress reduction it is incredibly flexible, so that instead of seeing meditation as a technique that you do and then get stressed out afterwards and have no tool available, with mindfulness we turn our life itself into the meditation. As my teacher pointed out "We can turn our lives into a ballet of mindfulness"

This approach was formalized into an 8-week, structured intervention at an academic hospital in the US about 25 years ago. Called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), this programme offers patients with chronic illness, chronic pain and stress related problems an intensive training in mindfulness practices. The growing use and research into this programme confirms its broad applicability in many disorders, as well as for those who simply want to live more mindfully. Freed of dogma or specific ritual, we turn towards ourselves, cultivate our capacity to witness, to pay attention, to be caring, to be awake in the world, and as such honour what is fundamental in all human beings. Mindfulness is not Buddhist per se (although it was developed by the Buddha); it is human and humane. Interestingly the research that is being produced in mainstream medicine and psychology is showing how effective it is as a health tool, and has gone as far as showing significant impact on brain and immune function.

An additional benefit is that mindfulness, as for all forms of meditation, is a self-regulatory skill. That is, you are not inherently reliant on something or someone outside of yourself. Thus once the initial skills are learnt, we can continue to grow and cultivate them in our own way, at no cost, other than our own time. Our experience here in Cape Town, where we have been running a hospital-based MBSR programme for 10 years, is that most people resonate with the simplicity and authenticity of the practice. Following the growing international trend in healthcare and education (even certain sectors of law and business) it is clear that being more mindful is applicable here in South Africa, given the tremendous individual and social stress of transformation, and because its core principles - 'human and humane' - are suitable for our multi-culturally diverse society. The cost effects, of course, are self evident!

So in the MBSR programme, we meet with participants once a week for 2.5 hours for 8 sessions, as well as a full-day session of 8 hours. There are 3 levels which occur more or less simultaneously: formal techniques (body scan, sitting meditation, yoga) which participants practice daily at home with a CD; the integration of mindfulness into the activities of daily life (such as driving, walking, eating); and looking more deeply at stress reactivity i.e. what it is medically, psychologically and experientially, and how deepening presence might reduce the impact of this reactivity on our health.

Consider this simple definition: "Paying extraordinary attention to the ordinary." Now choose something ordinary, your breath, a mouthful of food, walking, showering, the sounds of birds chirping...and apply this definition. That is the beginning of your practice.

 
Holding my daughter in my arms is no longer just an action, it is me being present with my daughter, feeling the power of my love for her, smelling her presence in my arms and appreciating all she has brought into my life.

  • Notice: Undefined variable: img_dimensions in /home/mbsr.co.za/public_html/modules/mod_jw_sir/mod_jw_sir.php on line 160
  • JoomlaWorks Simple Image Rotator

  • Notice: Undefined variable: img_dimensions in /home/mbsr.co.za/public_html/modules/mod_jw_sir/mod_jw_sir.php on line 160
  • JoomlaWorks Simple Image Rotator

  • Notice: Undefined variable: img_dimensions in /home/mbsr.co.za/public_html/modules/mod_jw_sir/mod_jw_sir.php on line 160
  • JoomlaWorks Simple Image Rotator

  • Notice: Undefined variable: img_dimensions in /home/mbsr.co.za/public_html/modules/mod_jw_sir/mod_jw_sir.php on line 160
  • JoomlaWorks Simple Image Rotator

  • Notice: Undefined variable: img_dimensions in /home/mbsr.co.za/public_html/modules/mod_jw_sir/mod_jw_sir.php on line 160
  • JoomlaWorks Simple Image Rotator

  • Notice: Undefined variable: img_dimensions in /home/mbsr.co.za/public_html/modules/mod_jw_sir/mod_jw_sir.php on line 160
  • JoomlaWorks Simple Image Rotator

  • Notice: Undefined variable: img_dimensions in /home/mbsr.co.za/public_html/modules/mod_jw_sir/mod_jw_sir.php on line 160
  • JoomlaWorks Simple Image Rotator

  • Notice: Undefined variable: img_dimensions in /home/mbsr.co.za/public_html/modules/mod_jw_sir/mod_jw_sir.php on line 160
  • JoomlaWorks Simple Image Rotator

  • Notice: Undefined variable: img_dimensions in /home/mbsr.co.za/public_html/modules/mod_jw_sir/mod_jw_sir.php on line 160
  • JoomlaWorks Simple Image Rotator

  • Notice: Undefined variable: img_dimensions in /home/mbsr.co.za/public_html/modules/mod_jw_sir/mod_jw_sir.php on line 160
  • JoomlaWorks Simple Image Rotator