Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction
What is Mindfulness?
“Mindfulness is a lifetime’s journey along a path that ultimately leads nowhere, only to who you are”
Mindfulness is a form of meditation practice known as vipasana. Another form of meditation, known as shamatha, is the foundation for mindfulness. In shamatha, attention is focused on one thing, usually the sensation of the breath entering and leaving the body. Anything that arises in the mind outside of the object of meditation (for example, a thought, emotion, or sensation) is viewed as distraction and is disregarded. Shamatha practice is known as concentration or “one-pointed” meditation. Through the practice of shamatha, calmness and stability are cultivated.
Mindfulness arises out of shamatha or one-pointed practice, as you learn to move into a wider scope of observing and into inquiry. In mindfulness practice, thoughts, feelings, and sensations are no longer disregarded. Instead, you develop a capacity to notice and observe intentionally but nonjudgmentally, moment-by-moment, as events enter your field of awareness. By taking a step back and observing with curiosity and nonjudgment, you become less caught up in the thoughts, feelings, or sensations, and develop an ever increasing capacity for a deeper and deeper perspective on whatever arises. You begin to observe the idiosyncrasies of your mind and body and your reactions to stress and pressures.
Essentially, what you are working to cultivate in mindfulness practice is your capacity to identify, accept, and become intimately familiar with the nuances of your physical discomfort and limitations, your emotions, your reactions, your tension and stress, your feelings of insecurity or unworthiness, etc. when they are present. As you become more able to acknowledge the present moment reality of your mind-body as it exists, you have made the first step towards transforming that reality and your relationship to it.
With dedicated mindfulness practice, you begin to nurture an inner balance of mind that helps you to face life situations with equanimity, clarity, compassion and wisdom and to respond effectively and with dignity.
Jon Kabat-Zinn uses the metaphor of the surface of the ocean to help in understanding mindfulness. On the ocean, the waves never stop. Meditation practice is not intended to stop the waves so that the water becomes peaceful or tranquil. Meditation practice will help you “keep your balance” as you ride the waves.
Research & Outcomes
Since its inception in 1979, the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at the UMass Medical School and other medical research centers around the world have been committed to studying the effectiveness of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program.
A growing body of research shows us that learning and practicing MBSR can reduce medical and psychological symptoms across a wide range of diagnoses and can enhance overall quality of life. Medical conditions for which MBSR programs have resulted in positive outcomes for participants include a variety of pain conditions, psoriasis, anxiety disorders, depression, immune response, many types of cancer and addictions.
Recent scientific findings on the benefits of mindfulness practices for other populations include:
- office workers who practiced MBSR for twenty minutes a day reported an average of 11% reduction in perceived stress
- fifth-grade girls who did a 10-week mindfulness program were more satisfied with their bodies and less preoccupied with weight
- medical students who practiced mindfulness experienced improved empathy
- physicians who practiced mindfulness had decreased burnout and enhanced attitudes toward their patients
- following participation in a MBSR program, chronic pain patients reported less present-moment pain, less difficulty with physical activity, and fewer medical symptoms than those following traditional pain treatment
- binge eaters who took part in mindful eating programs reduced the frequency of their binge eating by approximatley 75% and reduced their levels of insulin resistance (a precursor to diabetes)
- people with risk factors for coronary artery disease showed decreased negative emotions and increased well-being through mindfulness practice
- mindfulness meditation helped people with multiple sclerosis cope with the depression, fatigue and anxiety associated with the disease
- Researchers have also found that psychological hardiness and self-efficacy – traits which can be strengthened through mindfulness practices – enhance healing, ability to cope with stress, and quality of life.
For more information on research efforts, visit Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society and click on "Research and Bibliography."
What to Expect
The program consists of eight weekly two-and-a-half hour classes and a one day retreat between class six and seven.
The program is highly participatory and structured. You are likely to find the program challenging and life-affirming. Brenda’s goal is to create and maintain a safe, supportive and deeply engaging experiential learning environment. Over the course of the program, you will receive:
- Guided instruction in mindfulness meditation practices
- Guided mindful movement and yoga
- Group dialogue and experiential work with mindful communication
- Home practice materials including guided mindfulness practice recordings (CD or flashdrive) and a workbook
As a participant you will be expected to attend all sessions (since each session provides the building block for subsequent sessions) and to practice home assignments for 45 to 60 minutes per day.
You may have concerns about a physical condition that could limit your ability to participate in some aspects of the program. A physical limitation does not exclude you from attending the program as Brenda will work with you to accommodate your limitations.
Prior to commiting to participate in the program, you will be asked to attend a one-hour orientation where you will learn more about MBSR and have an opportunity to ask any quesitons you may have.
Who will benefit?
Stress – including workplace, family, relationships, finances, loss, grief, major life transition, feeling “out of control”
Medical Conditions - including chronic illness or pain, heart disease, high blood pressure, gastrointestinal distress, cancer, arthritis, fibromyalgia, autoimmune disorders
Psychological Distress – including anxiety disorders, panic attacks, depression, sleep disturbance
Prevention & Wellness – including a desire to take better care of yourself, to understand the interplay of mind and body, to connect with your own resources for coping, healing, and living life more fully, and to develop a greater sense of balance
The MBSR program is recommended as a complement to, rather than as a replacement for, the care you may be receiving from your physician.
Can I Practice Mindfulness on My Own?
Yes, you can! However, if mindfulness practice is new to you, you may benefit from guidance and support as you begin. There are both formal and informal mindfulness practices you can do.
In the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program, we use three basic formal mindfulness practices. Each of these practices gives you a focus or a series of focal points on which to concentrate your awareness. As the mind wanders from the focal point (which it will do over and over again), you simply observe, as nonjudgmentally as possible, where the mind went (a thought, a preoccupation with a sensation in the body, a feeling of boredom, impatience, anxiety, etc), and then gently bring your mind back to the focal point or the object of meditation. The process of noticing where your mind wandered to, or the noting of the changing quality of moment-to-moment experience is the cornerstone of mindfulness practice.
In the body scan, you slowly and systematically move your awareness through the various regions of your body, typically beginning at the feet and ending at the head. The body scan is generally done lying down, which makes it easier than other practices for people with physical health problems. In the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program, you will be guided through the body scan and will receive a recording of a guided body scan so you can practice it at home.
Sitting meditation is perhaps the practice most likely to come to mind when you hear the word "mindfulness." In sitting meditation, it is important to sit in a dignified posture where your head, neck and back are aligned and erect but not stiff. You can sit on a straight-backed chair or on a meditation cushion (both work well). Choose a single object of meditation – in the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program, you will be using the breath. Focus on the breath by observing moment-to-moment as it enters the body and as it leaves the body. You can focus on the breath at the level of the belly, the chest, the throat, or even as it moves through the nostrils. Once you have cultivated the ability to hold your mind on the flow of the breath, you can then expand your practice to techniques where you observe other parts of the body and mind. As you expand your awareness, continually use your breath to anchor you (i.e., return to the breath when your mind wanders off). In the MBSR program, you will receive a recording of a guided meditation to practice at home.
Yoga is a gentle but powerful mindfulness practice that we work with in the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program. The practice of yoga involves moving into, holding, and moving out of specific postures. Yoga is a practice of mindfulness because you attend to your breathing and to the physical sensations of lifting, stretching and balancing in a variety of postures. Depending on your health and fitness level, there are many yoga classes that you can attend locally. For the purpose mindfulness practice, it is important to choose a teacher who supports the philosophy of yoga as mindfulness training.
Because mindfulness is simply the cultivation of moment-to-moment awareness of your experience, you can practice mindfulness throughout your day: waking in the morning, showering, preparing meals, answering the telephone, playing with your children, speaking with your boss, hugging a loved one, etc. Here are some ways to practice mindfulness during your day:
In the morning when you awaken, before you move to get out of bed, pause and ask yourself “How is my body feeling this morning? How is my mind feeling this morning?”
When the telephone rings (or the doorbell), take a moment to be mindful of thoughts, feelings, or sensations that arise in your body before you answer.
At the beginning of a meal, try to be silent and mindful for just one bite. Note the color and textures of the food on your plate. Then take your first bite mindfully, being aware of the motion of moving the food toward your mouth; observing the sensation of the food as it touches your lips, your tongue, your palate; noticing the sensation of chewing; bringing awareness to the flavors, texture, temperature of your food. You might also notice any emotions and thoughts that arise in response to taking one bite of food. Notice the intention to swallow, the sensation of the swallow. Notice the impulse perhaps to rush through this bite of food or the impulse to pause and savor this bite of food.
As you walk to the coffee shop, the grocery store, your place of work, or the mail box, be mindful of your walk. Note your posture, observe your breath, notice your pace and your gait. Observe any feelings of pleasure or displeasure as you walk. Experiment with a one-pointed practice of simply observing your feet as they rhythmically move through space. If you use a wheel chair, you can observe the rhythmic motion of moving your chair with your hands.
When you’re waiting for someone or for an event to begin, take a moment to be mindful of your breath. See if you can watch your breath for three cycles without allowing your mind to be drawn away by your thoughts or sensations or by whatever is happening in your environment.
Brach, Tara, True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart. New York: Random House (2016).
Chodron, Pema,The Wisdom of No Escape. Boston: Shambhala Publications (1991).
Germer, Chris, The Mindful Path to Self Compassion. New York: The Guildford Press (2009).
Hanson, Richard, & Mendius, RIchard, Buddha's Brain.Oakland, New Harbinger Publications, Inc. (2009).
Kabat-Zinn, Jon,Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness. New York: Hyperion (2005).
Kabat-Zinn, Jon, Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness. New York: Delta Publishing (1999).
Kabat-Zinn, Jon, Letting Everything Become Your Teacher: 100 Lessons in Mindfulness. New York: Delta Trade Paperbacks (2009).
Kabat-Zinn, Jon, Wherever You Go There You Are. New York: Hyperion (1995).
Kornfield, Jack, A Path with Hearth. New York: Bantam Books (1993).
Neff, Kristin, Self Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself. New York: Harper Collins (2015).
Salsburg, Sharon, Loving Kindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness. Boston: Shambhala Publications (2002).
Santorelli, Saki, Heal Thy Self: Lessons on Mindfulness in Medicine. New York: Three Rivers Press (1999).
Siegel, Daniel, Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation. New York: Bantam Books (2010).
Williams, M., Teasdale, J., Segal, Z., Kabat-Zinn, J., The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness. New York: Guilford Press (2007).
Winter MBSR Program:
Thursdays, February 6 to March 26, 12:00 to 2:30 and Sunday, March 15, 9:00 to 4:00
Anyone interested in participating in the MBSR program is asked to attend a free orientation on one of these dates: Thursday, January 16, 23, or 30 from 12:00 to 1:00
Orientations are held at: 214 - 2900 Pandosy Street
Spring MBSR Program will begin in later April to early May
"The MBSR program provided me with the tools to identify stressors in my daily life and effective strategies for managing those stressors. Upon completion of the program, I am much calmer and less reactionary to events than when I started. These are life long skills that can be applied to any setting and I am grateful to Brenda for the opportunity to participate in her program." Sheila Farrell
"As I am finishing the MBSR program, the world is in lock down due to the COVID-19 virus. I'm thankful that I have meditation, body scans, and mindfulness to practice as I deal with the stress and uncertainty we live in. It brings quietness and refreshes my mind/body. I helps me appreciate that slowing down and being in the moment brings with it a richness of color, smells, feelings, and for me a calmness." Jane Donahue
"This is the second time I have taken the MBSR program with Brenda. The second time it became more clear to me than ever what a powerful program it is. Brenda is an amazing instructor. She really enjoys what she's doing and radiates empathy. I would highly recommend her and the program." JM
"I would highly recommend the MBSR program to all! Brenda is a fantastic soft spoken and loving teacher, thorough in her teachings. She clearly believes in the practice, lives it, and is genuinely happy to share her knowledge. This course is a gift. It will teach you how to create balance in the body, eliminating or lessening harm that life stress can create in the body. This course is well worth your time and money enrich your life." Susan
As a professional with a demanding and often stressful work life and a very busy family life, I found that I was not experiencing a deeper sense of joy and contentment. I felt like I was in autopilot. I was going through the motions of living, without truly experiencing life. I was becoming more distant from my emotions and less connected with myself and the important people in my life ... and I was losing resilience. Through the MBSR program, I gained insight into how I was reacting to the world around me, rather than really experiencing the world around me. Brenda provided me with the tools and the instruction to live "mindfully." Through meditation, I have learned how to reduce the stressors in my life by shifting my perspective and focusing on living in the moment. Like any skill, it takes practice and commitment, but it has been a game changer for me." S.
"When I initially signed up, I thought it would be 'impossible' to commit to a daily practice. But Brenda introduced so many different practices that were so beneficial, it made it possible - and enjoyable - to do daily practice. As a result, I've felt more energised, grounded, present in my life. It's been life changing in eight weeks and I feel confident to continue down this path." LS
"Seeing how confident I became while learning to discipline and commit to "taking" the time to just "be with me" was a joy. I soon realized how safe I felt in quiet mindfulness and remembered I have everything I need inside to take better care of myself in life, as long as I learn how to focus and access it. My MBSR journey opened my eyes to renewed anwareness of trusting myself, trusting in the unfolding of life, patience, pausing before responding, and letting go." Suzanne Cornu
"This class has helped me immensely to focus on my own well-being and put myself first - even for only moments a day. Brenda has an exceptional ability to make us as participants feel supported, peaceful and loved. I recommend this program to anyone." OH
"There are many steps to take on this path in life. Participating in MBSR is only one of them. It's so much more than a stress reduction program. MBSR is an opportunity. An opportunity to experience what 'just is.' Thank you Brenda for helping me breathe again for the first time in a long time." RJB
"Struggle as I might, I seemed to be pinned by life's little vagueries. With MBSR I was able to separate these notions from myself and dispassionately set them aside. I could see that I had a set of tools inately within me that I had not been using throughout my lfe. MBSR gave me a sense of 'newness'." MS
"NBSR has shown me how being present can improve your life. An unexpected example is the way I eat. I've always been someone who eats out of boredom, frustration, sadness or just because it's routine to eat at a certain time. As I eat mindfully, I'm enjoying my food much more and am satisfied with less. I'm aware how the food feels in my body." DC
"Brenda Forster is one of the best teachers I have encountered in any learning environment. Being an ex-teacher, I am always impressed by people who can combine their knowledge with caring for the individuals in their care." Ken Andrusiak
"It was a magical experience and I recommend it to anyone and everyone. Life Changing! Wonderful!" AJ
"I can honestly say that Brenda was a gift to me. The universe generously provided Brenda and the MBSR program to me when the time was right. I was ready and committed despite the 6 hour return trip to see her weekly. She has a gentleness and obvious commitment to the program that exudes from her, which was perfect for my personality and learning needs. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Brenda Forster and the MBSR program to anyone wanting to more fully experience the magic in every moment for the rest of their lives." DW
"Brenda did a brilliant job of presenting the MBSR program. Each week she managed to create a very special environment to come to. I believe the tools I learned will be life long gifts.” DA
"If you struggle with anxiety, the MBSR course will give you insight and tools to heal and move past your difficulties. I had been fighting and avoiding anxiety for most of my life and the MBSR course has shown me how to walk alongside anxiety instead of fearing what actually is a normal life force." AH
"Thank you for the amazing job you did in teaching the MBSR program. You have a wonderful open calm, and gentle teaching style that made me feel very comfortable with you, the group, and with the entire process, and your obvious non-judging demeanor has helped me on the path of being a little kinder to myself." MH
"Brenda, you are very warm and giving in your program. I always felt comfortable and able to "be myself" in your classes. Thank you for giving me new tools to combat pain!" Chad MacDonald
"Before taking the MBSR Program, I was having a lot of trouble with anxiety, stress and chronic pain. I have now learned how to reduce my stress levels by using mindfulness as a tool in every day life. My pain level has dropped and I am more aware of what my body is telling me. All around, I feel more balanced in daily life. I am so grateful for everything I have learned in the MBSR course." MB
"The MBSR program as presented by Brenda Forster was a wonderful introduction to incorporating tools for meditation into my life. Her deceptively 'simple' and enjoyable weekly sessions offered profound insight for continuing to integrate mind and body." Susan Currie
“Mindfulness is not something you have to ‘get’ or acquire. It is already within you – a deep internal resource available and patiently waiting to be reawakened and used in the service of learning, growing, and healing."
- Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society
If you would like to learn to draw on your inner resources to create healthy balance in your life, to heal, to experience resiliency and renewal, or to take better care of yourself – and if you are willing to actively engage in your own health and well-being, then the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program may be for you.
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction was founded in 1979 by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Since its founding, more than 18,000 people have completed the program through the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society. In addition to offering stress reduction programs, the Center trains professionals from around the world to teach MBSR programs.
The Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program consists of eight weekly two-and-a-half hour classes and a one day retreat between class six and seven. The program is comprised of guided instruction in mindfulness meditation practices, gentle stretching and mindful yoga, mindful communication exercises, home practice assignments and home practice materials.