About MBSR &
Beyond the overview provided on our home page, further information on mindfulness and the program is provided below. If you are interested in attending the program and have further questions, we encourage you to contact us and arrange a call to discuss your questions and if the program is suited to your needs.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is defined by Jon Kabat-Zinn as "pay attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally" (page xxvii). 'On purpose' refers to it being an 'intentional' action, or one that we knowingly (with awareness) direct some effort towards. The 'present moment' refers to the 'here and now', or moment-to-moment awareness, in contrast to the mind going to thoughts or emotions of the past or future. 'Non-judgmentally' refers to it being done without judgment of self, others, or the situation itself. In the MBSR program we explore each of these elements in an experiential way as the weeks unfold. Often over-analysing the concept or practice of mindfulness, including the definition, from a cognitive viewpoint can stand in the way of truly experiencing it, and hence we have kept the information here quite light. However there are plenty of other references online if you wish to explore the concept in more detail.
What is the 'full catastrophe' of life?
The full catastrophe of life is the idea from Jon Kabat-Zinn that encapsulates what he sees as the nature of our human lives, and the reality of pain and suffering, big and small. In his book Full Catastrophe Living, he refers to it as: "...it means the poignant enormity of our life experience. It includes crises and disaster, the unthinkable and the unacceptable, but also includes all the little things that go wrong and that add up." (page liv). Mindfulness is one of the antidotes that can help in coping with such challenges, big and small.
What are the 9 'attitudes' of mindfulness?
The 9 attitudes refer to the ‘qualities of mind’ that participants in the program are encouraged to bring to and develop through their practice. ‘Non-judging’ refers to both judging of the self and others. Self-judgment can be very common in the early stages of developing a meditation practice due to feelings of ‘incompetency’ associated with ‘mastering’ the practice. This is primarily related to the expectation of maintaining careful focus on the breath, whilst the typical experience is that the mind is seemingly ‘out of control’ and spends most of its time focussed on thoughts and emotions instead. ‘Beginner’s mind’ refers to bringing openness and curiosity to the practices, in order to experience them with a ‘fresh set of eyes’ each time. This allows the participant to fully experience what might be new in situations. ‘Patience’ refers to a willingness to continue with the practice even when there might not be immediate signs of progress, as is often the reality. Non-striving refers to letting go of goals and expectations. The very seeking to ‘get somewhere’ commonly creates a barrier and somewhat counter-intuitively actually limits progress in the practice. ‘Acceptance’ refers to “coming to terms with things as they are” (p. 27), and seeing them as clearly as possible and without fabrications. Kabat-Zinn is clear though to indicate that it does not necessarily mean needing to ‘like’ the situation, nor doing nothing about the situation. ‘Trust’ means developing trust in your own self, including signals from your own body, thoughts, emotions and intuition. ‘Letting go’ refers to releasing one’s grip on desires we have for certain things, or aversions (i.e. not wanting) of certain things. ‘Generosity’ refers to the giving of time, energy and attention to others, and finally ‘gratitude’ refers to the expression of appreciation and maintaining a sense of wonder for life as it unfolds.
What are the 'formal practices' taught in the MBSR and how do they 'work'?
The term ‘formal practice’ is used in the program to refer to practices of meditation, and are based on sitting or lying in a quiet spot and paying attention to a particular aspect of one’s present-moment experience. The object of attention can include the breath and the felt experience of the breath in the body, as in the sitting meditation, or body sensations, as in the body scan and hatha yoga, or even specific thoughts and emotions, such as the wishes expressed during loving-kindness meditation, or the visualisations in the lake or mountain meditation. During the practice of meditation, participants are guided to focus their attention on the specified object, and when the mind wanders to thoughts, emotions on body sensations, are instructed to gently direct their attention back to the breath. This happens over and over again, in a process that effectively ‘trains’ attention, and hence the term ‘practice’. The premise then is that with greater attention skills, and alongside the development of the ‘attitudes’, participants will be able to bring greater mindfulness to moments of life, and particularly those stressful or difficult moments where helpful or positive responses are most needed.
What are the 'informal practices' and how do they 'work'?
Mindfulness can be practiced informally in day to day life by intentionally bringing attention to a particular activity the individual may be engaged in. As an example is mindfulness applied to eating, and as an example there is an exercise in Week 1 of the program in which participants fully explore, with all senses active, and with a high degree of attention, the ‘mindful eating’ of a raisin. Participants are reported to more fully engage with and enjoy the experience, demonstrating the benefits of doing the activity mindfully. Additional examples include cleaning the house and walking. Informal practices ‘work’ in a similar way to which formal practices work, by training attention and building strength within the attitudes.
What are the mechanisms by which stress arises and can be 'managed'?
As the name of the program suggests, the reduction of stress is one of the central purposes of the program. Below is a short summary of the process by which stress develops within the body, then the individual reacts or responds to the stress, and how mindfulness meditation can help manage it. The central mechanisms of stress are referred to as the Stress Reactivity model. In this model, the individual is subject to various ‘stressors’, that can be internal as well as external. When these stressors occur the individual typically reacts, often using what is referred to as the ‘fight or flight’ reaction. These are in-built mechanisms to protect the individual. However, the reaction is often negative or unhelpful to the individual, such as getting angry (and experiencing the emotion of anger). These reactions are often ‘conditioned’ from a life-time of reacting to certain situations in a particular way. In this sense, they can be considered ‘habits’. Over time, in an attempt to better cope with the stress, the individual may adopt coping strategies that are maladaptive (harmful), such as consuming alcohol (which may in turn lead to addition). This may further exacerbate the stress and create additional health issues.
The alternative process to negative and unhelpful ‘reacting’, and maladaptive coping, is for the individual to ‘respond’ in a positive and helpful way. However in order to break the habit or conditioning or automatic reacting, the individual needs to first have awareness of themselves within the context of the situation in order to generate options as to how they can respond. This is where mindfulness, as present moment awareness, can help. When the individual is mindful (rather than operating on auto-pilot), they can generate options and then make better and more helpful choices. Additionally, if the individual has access to, or has cultivated, certain attitudes, then these can imbue their experience of the situation and help with making a more appropriate response.
Who is Jon Kabat-Zinn?
Jon Kabat-Zinn is a mindfulness and meditation teacher as well as author, and is well-known for developing the first mindfulness program targeting clinical populations. The program was initially established in 1979 in the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, and it was later formally named as the “Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction” (MBSR) program. The program has since been taught all around the world in many different settings, from hospitals to universities to community groups and via private practices. A unique aspect of the program is that while the underpinnings of the mindfulness approach and meditation practices are from Buddhism, the program is entirely secular or non-religious in nature, in order to serve as wide a population as possible.