Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a type of mental training that uses the mind to combat anxiety and bring about a sense of wellbeing. It includes mental practices that heighten physical awareness, as well as gentle stretching exercises (such as Hatha yoga), breathing techniques, and time spent in quiet, reflective meditation. Developed by Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn in 1979, MBSR helps people foster their own mind-body connection, as well as create a deeper awareness of how thoughts and feelings can affect physical and emotional health. In contrast, mindlessness is a loss of awareness resulting in forgetfulness, separation from self, and a sense of living mechanically.
The typical Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course consists of an eight to ten week programme in a group setting, which includes guided instruction in mindfulness meditation practices, gentle stretching exercises, breathing, stress response and coping techniques. This includes approximately 20 hours of classroom training and a 6-hour retreat (usually between weeks 6 and 7), as well as daily home practice of mindfulness (recommended formal practice of 45 minutes daily, 6 days per week).
The core practices of the MBSR program include body scan (systematic awareness of different body sensations, generally done lying down), mindful movement (e.g. gentle Hatha yoga), and sitting meditation. Didactic content includes perception (and the impact of thoughts on the way one feels), stress physiology, and how to integrate mindfulness practices into everyday life. Sustained and maximum benefits occur with ongoing practice. Research clearly demonstrates a direct relationship between the amount of formal meditation practice and the magnitude of positive effects. Once one learns the basic skills, mindfulness meditation can be practised anywhere. Some people use meditation cushions and mats, though these are not essential. While mindfulness meditation is generally practised in a seated position, it can be done lying down, which may be preferred by some cancer patients.
While this mind-body approach is rooted in Eastern religion and philosophy, namely Buddhism, which dates back well over 2,000 years, its integration into modern healthcare settings and society is relatively recent. The seminal launch of the mindfulness movement in the West was the establishment of the Stress Reduction Clinic and Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, in 1979. This is now the leading world centre for MSBR. Today tens of thousands of people have been trained in MBSR and related mindfulness-based clinical interventions throughout the world, in every continent except Antarctica.
Mindfulness meditation is very safe, has few associated risks and is suitable for anyone affected by cancer (patients, carers or family members – if you are a patient, you should have completed your first treatment). Sometimes people may experience a transient increase in anxiety when learning it, as they let go of usual busyness and distractions and become aware of unsettling thoughts and feelings. There is solid evidence that mindfulness-based therapy, including yoga, meditation exercises and other psychological techniques can help cancer patients to cope better with difficulties such as illness and stress, to experience a more vivid and clear sense of the present moment, experience inner peace and stillness, and to direct their attention away from the worries and speculation that make them depressed and anxious. Studies have shown significant improvements in mood, sleep quality, quality of life and wellbeing and that mindfulness-based therapy is an effective way of treating anxiety and depression in cancer patients. The two methods which have proved most effective are Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), and Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT).
It is important that the mindfulness exercises are practised correctly if they are to be of any help. Although there are many books and guided meditation audio recordings available, Yes to Life recommends working with a teacher and having the support of other meditation practitioners. However, if you would like to read more about mindfulness before making a commitment to attend a course/do the training, Mindfulness-Based Cancer Recovery: A Step-by-Step MBSR Approach to Help You Cope with Treatment and Reclaim Your Life by Linda Carlson and Michael Speca is a good place to start.
Some cancer centres listed in this directory offer free courses. If there are no courses/ practitioners listed in your area, speak to your GP. MBSR group sessions are offered in many medical centres, hospitals and clinics.
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