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Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction - Topic Overview

What is mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR)?

MBSR is a program that helps you learn to calm your mind and body to help you cope with illness, pain, and stress.

MBSR teaches "mindfulness," which is a focus only on things happening in the present moment. Mindfulness is not a time to "zone out" or "space out" but is rather a time to purposefully pay attention and be aware of your surroundings, your emotions, your thoughts, and how your body feels. For example, you may sit quietly and notice your emotions. You might focus only on the sounds around you or how your food tastes and smells. When you are mindful, you do just one thing and you pay close attention to that one thing.

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Another important part of mindfulness is to not judge the present moment. This is because judgments may lead you to dwell on (or "get stuck" thinking about) bad situations, feelings, or thoughts. And dwelling on the past does not help you accept or solve problems. It just brings you down.

By training your mind to focus only on the present, you learn not to get lost in regrets from the past or worries about the future. Letting go of such thoughts may help you worry less and accept things as they are. Mindfulness teaches you to be in control of your mind so that your mind doesn't control you.

How does MBSR work?

To help you focus your mind on the present, a class in MBSR usually teaches you to:

  • Focus your attention on your entire body, starting with your feet and ending at your head. As you do this "body scan," you might note places where you're tense or have pain. You might notice how your belly rises and falls as you breathe.
  • Focus on thoughts and distractions that run through your mind, but don't judge them. For example, you might notice that a thought about work comes to your mind. Rather than worry about your thought, simply note the thought ("work") and feeling ("worry") without dwelling on them. Then turn your attention back to the present moment. It is common for the mind to wander when a person begins to practice mindfulness. If that happens to you, it's okay. Keep trying. This is why mindfulness is called a practice—it takes practice to not judge your feelings and thoughts. It takes practice to stay in the present moment.
  • Practice yoga breathing exercises, stretches, and poses to strengthen and relax muscles.
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