What is Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction?

Alternative stress reduction therapies have been gaining in popularity. At a time where many people are prescribed medications to help cope with their stress symptoms (some argue these are over-prescribed), many people are searching for alternative therapies to either complement or replace traditional medicine.

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is one such alternative therapy that has a popular following. MBSR is ‘rooted in contemplative spiritual traditions in which conscious awareness is actively cultivated’. It encourages the practice of meditation, often focusing awareness on the breath, leading to a ‘state of relaxation and observant detachment’.

MBSR was devised by Jon Kabat-Zin in the 1970s. While it has its roots in Buddhist teachings, the program itself does not affiliate with any particular spiritual movement or religion and as such, is practiced by people from all ages, races and religious backgrounds. Kabat-Zin defines mindfulness as ‘a moment to moment, non-judgmental awareness’.

Of course, being diagnosed with any kind of serious illness is a great stressor; as such, some recent studies have looked at the efficacy of MBSR in cancer patients. Alternative therapies have become more and more popular among cancer patients as many seek treatment that is less damaging to the body, complements their current care, or seek alternatives where their prognosis is grim.

One of the benefits of MBSR in cancer patients has been shown to be immunological effects. Cancer patients have been shown by many studies to have compromised immune function, with immune factors being strong predictors of disease progression. A study published in the Journal of Sports medicine in 1995 showed that meditation (a key component of MBSR) is associated with immunological effects, by suppressing the effects of physical stress on the immune system. In a study of cancer patients, 8 out of 10 responded well to MBSR and reported improvement of stress symptoms.

There have been several studies looking into MBSR as a treatment for health complaints. It has been shown to be effective for conditions such as chronic pain, anxiety, epilepsy and high blood pressure. At the very least, MBSR has been linked to a considerable mood improvement among practitioners, which may allow them to better cope with any physical symptoms.

Apart from studies of those with health complaints, MBSR has also been studied as a treatment for work stress. A recent study showed that it is possible to integrate mind-body stress management programs into the workplace and gain effective results with relatively short-duration programs.

As an alternative stress-reducing therapy, MBSR has shown some promising results. One of the great things about it is that it doesn’t require huge expense on equipment, medication etc, but can be practiced wherever the practitioner feels comfortable. For more on MBSR from Jon Kabat-Zin, see the video with this post.