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What is MBSR – Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction?

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I get this question a lot.  It stands for Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. The program began in 1979 at UMass Medical School Hospital by a gentleman named Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD. He noticed there were many chronic pain and heart attack patients that traditional medicine was only helping them to a certain point, that they could benefit from this unique style of class and started a stress reduction clinic within the hospital. Now, it’s being taught, literally, all over the world in public schools and universities, business (Google, Twitter, IBM and General Mills all have mindfulness programs in place for staff), prisons, hospitals, even the military.

MBSR is a relatively intensive class that is meditation based. It sits on over three decades of research that has proven to grow the brain’s gray matter density related to emotion regulation and empathy.* Scientific findings suggest that meditation can change our immune function in positive ways, lower toxic stress, and improve creativity as well.*  MBSR is based in experiential learning, meditation, and teaches how to respond more wisely to stress. It is taught in a universal, secular, group setting.

While this class is not therapy, it can be deeply therapeutic and healing. It’s adult experiential learning from within (how I named my business) from the inside, out.  Self-discovery versus rote memorization. Experimenting with practice first, then reflecting and inquiring about your direct experience or knowing.  This style of learning is quite different than conceptualizing and intellectualizing, which is what we’re all used to in our society and educational systems. Mindfulness is a rich complement to traditional medicine and at it’s core, is the process of going from “doing and thinking” mode to “being and feeling” mode.

Simply put – the busier and hectic your life is, the more beneficial the practice.

My Experience I spent many of my adult years being disconnected from my body. Abusing it with over-exercising, overworking, alcohol to “take the edge off,” stuffing food into it out of nerves or habit, not allowing myself time to recharge and relax for fear I would get behind or seen as lazy or not productive.  I got to a point a few years ago that my body started to revolt against my mind bullying it all the time.  The whispers turned to yelling, then screaming – acute neck and back pain, heart palpitations, chest pain, sweating, acne, overreacting to situations, insomnia. I knew an intervention was needed and decided to take the class.  I couldn’t find a teacher in Des Moines at the time, so I took it online. 

I laughed at myself at how difficult and uncomfortable it was to slow down and notice things in the present moment. I was in such a hurry with the meditations and aggravated at how slow they were that I began to ask myself:  “If I can’t be present and patient enough to mindfully eat ONE RAISIN, where else am I just going through the motions on autopilot in my life??” 

During the Body Scan, which literally teaches you to experience what it feels like to have a body….sounds weird, but many of us live in our heads, not in our bodies.  I felt very confused, and couldn’t feel much of anything when I first started.  The best advice I got was that it’s totally ok to not “feel” anything…there’s no such thing as doing this incorrectly, which was very refreshing. To quote JKZ, “You don’t have to like it, you just have to do it.” 

I kept following along, and over a couple weeks, with consistent practice and discipline, I started to feel very subtle sensations in my hands and feet first – prickling, tingling, pulsing, almost felt like ants crawling on my skin. Then I started to realize what the word embodiment actually meant and how useful it is, especially in times of distress and anxiety.  I came to class needing stress reduction, and came out realizing it was more about relating to my life more skillfully – teaching myself how to be more present with loved ones, colleagues, and friends. It wasn’t one more thing to add to my “To Do” list – it became integrated as a way of being and living more deliberately.

Why would someone take this course? Some of the major reasons why people take the MBSR course is job, school or family stress, chronic pain, sleeplessness, mild depression and anxiety, anger issues, grief, or simply taking a more proactive role in greater overall health and well-being. It’s designed to recognize and put to use our inner psychological resources to take better care of ourselves.

What will I learn? – Mindfulness meditation techniques and how to work with difficult emotions, thoughts, and physical sensations – Techniques to respond more wisely to stressful events and difficult communication – How to be more present for our life as we’re living it, in a more non-judgmental, engaged manner – Support in continuing a daily formal and informal mindfulness practice

“I just completed Allison’s 8 week MBSR course. I very much appreciated her gentle approach, encouragement and kindness. This course is helpful for those who have previous meditation/mindfulness practices and those who are new to the experience.” – Dawn

Includes up to 26 total in-person hours, which includes: -Group meetings once per week for 8 weeks for 2-2.5 hours. We discuss didactic curriculum, practice, group dialogue, reflection, etc. Each participant is expected to do home practice (meditation, body scan, yoga), the other 6 days per week for about 45 minutes per day.  (Consistent, formal and informal practice will allow you to see the most growth, transformation and benefit from class.) -One all-day silent retreat experience to deepen the practice of seamless, meditative awareness and incorporate into daily life. This is usually held on a weekend day following week 6 class, from approximately 9am-3pm.

Continuing Education Credit is available for counselors and therapists, teachers, clergy, and spiritual directors. Teachers, Educators: 15 contact hours- 1 License Renewal Credit through Heartland AEA Therapists, Counselors and Psychologists: 20 Contact hours- 20 CEUs Clergy and Spiritual Directors: 20 Contact hours- 2 CEUs

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*Mindfulness Practice Leads to Increases in Regional Brain Gray Matter Density,  Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, (2011) 191:36-43 Hölzel, B., Carmody, J., Vangel, M., Congleton, C., Yerramsetti, S., Gard, T., Lazar, S. **Alterations In Brain and Immune Function Produced by Mindfulness Meditation.  Psychosom Med (2003) 65:564-570 Davidson, R.J., Kabat-Zinn, J., Schumacher, J. Rosenkranz, M., Muller, D., Santorelli, S.F., Urbanowski, F., Harrington, A., Bonus, K., and Sheridan, J.F.


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