Mindfulness-based stress reduction: how does it work?

Mindfulness-based stress reduction: how does it work?

Mindfulness is a type of meditation that includes cognitive and psychoeducational elements .

One of his signature programs is Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) , developed in 1990 by Kabat-Zinn, an American medical teacher and expert in yoga and Zen meditation.

In this article we will explain what this program consists of, what its objectives, components and techniques are. In addition, we will see what the empirical evidence says about its effectiveness and results, and we will know the characteristics and qualities of Mindfulness in general.

Mindfulness: what is it?

Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction is a type of Mindfulness-based program . Before explaining in detail what this program consists of, let’s see what Mindfulness is and what its main elements are.

Mindfulness, also called mindfulness, encompasses a series of meditation techniques and tools aimed at focusing attention on the present moment. It is a contemplative experience, which aims not to judge, only to observe and feel.

It also includes cognitive elements, such as meditation, breathing, relaxation and yoga, among others, as well as another fundamental element: the Body Scan technique, which focuses on experiencing one’s own body sensations.

This type of meditation has its origin in Zen Buddhist meditation. Kabat-Zinn is an American professor of medicine, considered an important figure in the field of Mindfulness, which promotes the interest of the same throughout the West. Kabat-Zinn, a leading practitioner of yoga and Zen meditation techniques, used the knowledge he had gained to create the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program.

Qualities

Christopher K. Germer, doctor and creator of different Mindfulness programs, characterizes it with 8 qualities: according to him, Mindfulness is a non-conceptual process (where thoughts are not elaborated), present (centered in the here and now), non-valuable , intentional (the participant decides where his attention is directed), which implies participant observation (without judging), non-verbal, exploratory and liberating.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a type of program based primarily on meditation. It stands for “Mindfulness-based stress reduction program” and was developed by Kabat-Zinn, an American medical teacher and expert in yoga and Zen meditation, in 1990.

Stress reduction based on mindfulness, as its name suggests, aims to reduce stress and anxiety , either in healthy people or in people with some pathology (mental or physical). In addition, it favours attention and concentration, and promotes spirituality.

Characteristics

The mindfulness-based approach to stress reduction is psychoeducational; that is, this program focuses on providing the patient with the information they need to understand what they are doing , what the therapy is about and the changes they are feeling. Its structure is based on 8 weekly sessions, of 2 and a half hours each.

It is a group program, with recorded support material, which allows participants to practice between sessions. On the other hand, through the program sessions, a series of formal guided instructions are administered, which allow participants to acquire the Mindfulness skills needed to reduce the strength of the reaction to stress and the detrimental effect it has on people.

The goal of mindfulness-based stress reduction is for the participant to increase his or her awareness of the present experience, and to do so moment by moment, without judging the experience.

Empirical evidence

In studies carried out comparing this program in healthy subjects and in subjects with some kind of disorder, it has been proved how the improvement effects are produced in both groups of subjects . Furthermore, in another study, MBSR was compared with standard relaxation training, and the results showed how the two treatments reduced stress, and did so equally.

On the other hand, studies show that stress reduction based on mindfulness can reduce stress and anxiety traits, as well as reflective thinking. In addition, it has also been shown how it can increase participant self-pity and empathy.

However, it is true that much more research is needed to provide reliable results with sufficient empirical evidence.

Techniques

There are essentially five techniques used by Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction. They are as follows.

1. Self exploration of the body

The body scan, also called body scan , consists of the patient exploring his body in a very conscious way, focusing his attention and energy on feeling each part of his body. In essence, it is about experiencing the bodily sensations that the body and the present experience provide.

2. Mindfulness or vipassana meditation

This can be done in a sitting or walking position . It consists of focusing on the present moment, trying to leave the mind blank, letting thoughts flow and applying a series of breathing techniques.

3. Stretches and postures of Hatha Yoga

Hatha Yoga is a type of Yoga that includes a series of characteristic postures and stretches . Like all types of Yoga, its aim is to unite the mind with the spirit and the body, acquiring an emotional balance.

4. Attention to daily life

Following the same line of mindfulness already mentioned, attention to daily life constitutes another technique of mindfulness-based stress reduction. It is based on paying attention to what is happening around us on a daily basis ; this attention is intentional and conscious.

5. Exercise of eating a grape with full attention

It can also be a raisin. It is an exercise that aims to increase our level of awareness, focusing on an act as light as eating a grape or a raisin, thinking about what we feel at all times.

Program components

Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction, like all Mindfulness programs, has a number of intrinsic components . These are key to achieving the stress reduction promoted by Mindfulness techniques, as well as the emergence of inner peace and mental and spiritual well-being.

1. Focus on the present moment

Like all Mindfulness practices, Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction promotes intentional focus on the present moment . The goal is to develop full, quality, sustained and focused attention, rather than scattered and fragmented attention.

2. Openness to experience

The second component of MBSR is openness to experience , which implies living and participating in it with full awareness. This experience encompasses all the thoughts and bodily sensations the person has, as well as the external stimuli he or she perceives.

3. Radical acceptance

This unconditional acceptance implies not being upset by unpleasant experiences and not being attached to pleasant experiences. It involves accepting and letting go.

4. Do not judge

It is important that the participant does not judge himself or the experiences he experiences; MBSR also promotes non-judgment of anyone in general. It is a program that aims to open the mind and perspective of things.

5. Giving up control

The last component of mindfulness-based stress reduction is based on giving up any control you intend to exercise; thus, it promotes not seeking direct control over thoughts, experiences and oneself, and letting things simply happen. In short, it promotes “being” instead of “doing” .

Bibliographic references:

  • Chiesa, A. and Serretti, A. (2009). Mindfulness-based stress reduction for managing stress in healthy people: a review and meta-analysis. J Alternating Complement Med, 15 (5): 593-600.

  • Feixas, G; Miró, T. (1993). Approaches to psychotherapy. An introduction to psychological treatments. Ed. Paidós. Barcelona.

  • Parra, M., Montañés, J., Montañés, M. and Bartolomé, R. (2012). Getting to know Mindfulness. Essays, Journal of the Faculty of Education of Albacete, 27: 29-46.

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