Meditation Based Stress Reduction (MBSR): Definitions and Treatment Outcomes

Geteasyhealth.com – There has been a proliferation of research about Meditation-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) interventions in the last few years.

MBSR is an educational intervention that is the outgrowth of work done primarily by Jon Kabat-Zinn and colleagues at the Stress Reduction and Relaxation Program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. Participants in MBSR programs learn formal and informal meditation techniques that are practiced at least 45 minutes a day for at least 6 days per week. Formal meditation techniques include body scan, sitting meditation, and hatha yoga, while informal techniques include mindfulness of eating, routine activities, stress reactivity, and difficult communications. The informal techniques are assigned during different weeks to be practiced during the conduct of daily living. These MBSR intervention programs typically meet for 2 hours a week for 8 weeks with a day-long silent retreat during the latter half of the program (Miller, Fletcher, & Kabat- Zinn, 1995).

Previous work has also validated the use of mantra, that is, a word or phrase repeated silently to achieve a
meditative state, for both nonpsychiatric and anxiety neurosis groups (for review see Kabat-Zinn et al., 1992).
Although Kabat-Zinn’s program does not incorporate the use of mantra (Kabat-Zinn et al., 1992), it may be
particularly useful for participants whose daily routine does not permit time for extended periods of formal
meditation practice because the mantra can be repeated silently during the conduct of daily activities in order to become more calm and focussed.

Most forms of MBSR are based on Buddhist practices of mindfulness. Mindfulness meditation is a practice
designed to cultivate a stable, non-reactive, non-judgmental, moment-to-moment awareness and to sustain this awareness over time through regular daily practice. The roots of Buddhist mindfulness can be found in yogic practices described in the Upanishads (Indian philosophical texts concerning the nature of consciousness) thousands of years before the advent of Buddhism. Fundamentally, mindfulness is conceptualized as a universal human attribute that has to do with a particular way of paying attention (Miller et al., 1995).

Thus, mindfulness meditation practices are not thought of as religious practices, but rather as self-regulatory behavioral strategies, like relaxation and biofeedback (Kabat-Zinn et al., 1992).
A number of studies attest to the effectiveness of various forms of meditation interventions for reducing
psychological and medical symptoms. Some studies have reported reductions in stress and other psychological symptoms following MBSR (Greene & Hiebert, 1988; Astin, 1997). A study of 22 patients with diagnosed anxiety disorders showed clinically and statistically significant improvements in anxiety and panic symptoms following MBSR and after a 3-month follow-up (Kabat-Zinn et al., 1992). A 3-year follow-up study of 18 of the original 22 subjects showed maintenance of the gains obtained on a variety of anxiety and depression measures (Miller et al., 1995). In addition, this study found that the majority of subjects showed ongoing compliance with the meditation practice after 3 years.

Kabat-Zinn and colleagues compared ninety patients with chronic pain who were trained in MBSR with a
comparison group of pain patients who received traditional treatment protocols. The patients who received
MBSR showed significant reductions in measures of present-moment pain, negative body image, inhibition of activity by pain, mood disturbance, and psychological symptomatology; comparison subjects evidenced no significant improvements on study measures (Kabat-Zinn, Lipworth, & Burney, 1985).

MBSR has been tested as an adjunct to traditional medical treatments in two recent studies. In a study of 77
fibromyalgia patients undergoing a 10-week MBSR program, Kaplan and colleagues found that the mean scores of all patients completing the program showed improvement, and 51% showed moderate to marked
improvement in at least half of the outcome measures, which included a medical symptom checklist, global wellbeing, pain, sleep, fatigue, and experience of feeling refreshed in the morning. In a recent study of patients with moderate to severe psoriasis undergoing phototherapy and photochemotherapy, patients who received MBSR achieved faster rates of skin clearing as compared to controls who received only the light treatments (Kabat-Zinn et al., 1998).

In addition, previous research has established the usefulness of MBSR in study groups that are demographically similar to the population that is the focus of the current study: older and Spanish-speaking adults. In a study of outcomes of MBSR among Spanish-speaking patients in an inner-city community health center, Roth and Creaser (1997) found significant decreases in medical and psychological symptoms and increases in self-esteem.


Another study demonstrated the effectiveness of two different meditation-based programs for improving
performance on cognitive tasks, cognitive flexibility, systolic blood pressure, and ratings of behavioral
flexibility in a group of 73 residents of homes for the elderly (mean age = 81 years) (Alexander, Langer,
Newman, Chandler, & Davies, 1989). Thus, there are preliminary indications that MBSR may benefit Hispanic
and Anglo caregivers.

taken from Pacific Meditation Center

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