"When I started the classes, I wasn't sure what to expect, but I was so stressed that I would get any help… I really feel that I am more calm, happier, more present..."
Shahla Shams, recent Mindful Changes MBSR Course participant
In our world today, there are so many things to worry about; from our families and what their and our future holds, to worldwide events that leave us numb with disbelief. So many events in our lives can be stressful.
Don't get me wrong, there is "good" stress – the kind that propels us to climb mountains, help people in need, write the perfect exam, or get off the couch and run a marathon. But today I'm talking about the chronic, debilitating stress that leaks into our daily interactions with our co-workers, local baristas, or family and friends. We are all impacted by stress, and yet we continue to live day to day saying we’re stressed but doing the same things, and getting the same results.
So, now for the most important question: what can we do differently?
The answer: Mindfulness-based stress reduction training
Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) training is based on an 8-week course developed in 1979 by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn while he was a Professor of Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. As I learned while going through the training to become an MBSR teacher, during his time at U of M, there were many chronically ill patients for whom nothing could be done except to prescribe pain medications that interfered with their daily lives. Dr. Kabat-Zinn worked with these patients in the basement of the medical school for 8 weeks, teaching them the practices of mindfulness. The MBSR course, as it now stands is an "empirically supported 8-week psycho-educational group intervention." The program teaches mindfulness meditation skills as a way to develop a different relationship to stress.
MBSR is not a therapy program, it's a self-reflective course in which participants become aware of the layers of stress they have been walking around with. It's definitely not easy but it is simple, and it requires daily practice. Participants still may continue to have a chronic illness or their life stresses, but what becomes clear is how they can "be" with the pain. They learn how to live in the moment, and how to breathe so it calms the brain and brings peace.
In my MBSR classes, there have been participants who were dealing with chronic pain, family stresses, or chronic illnesses. People participate for reasons as diverse as their stress – job, family, financial – and for easing chronic pain and illness, anxiety and panic, GI distress, sleep disturbances, fatigue, high blood pressure, headaches. Many participants have just an intention to handle future stressful situations more healthfully.
How does it work?
The program approaches the cultivation of mindfulness by embodying and practicing certain attitudes that we can keep in mind. Jon Kabat-Zinn describes these attitudes in his book, Full Catastrophe Living:
With MBSR courses, mindfulness classes, and daily practice, we can bring these attitudinal approaches to our everyday life – with our children, our partners, our parents, and our colleagues.
Mindfulness and MBSR training help us to develop greater awareness of self and others, and they teach new ways of managing stress, pain, and anxiety. Two decades of published research by the Center for Mindfulness indicates that the majority of people who complete the course report that the program increased their ability to be calm and improved concentration and creativity.
We learn to find greater empathy and understanding for ourselves and others. The ability to be fully present in the moment eventually leads to greater enthusiasm and appreciation of life. In fact, participants typically report feeling more alive, and more "in-tune" with themselves and others.
"Living in my mind makes me anxious and depressed and this is a big struggle for me. Using the daily mindfulness practices from the course has helped me release myself and my fears and thoughts."Atousa Soroushi, recent Mindfulness Changes MBSR Course Participant
Learning MBSR practice in Vancouver
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