Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program (MBSR)

The Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program (MBSR) was founded by Jon Kabat-Zinn in 1979 and, since then, it has been offered by the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.


Scientific Evidence

Main Features of the Program

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The MBSR Program is an educational intervention that helps participants recognize, observe and respond to stress (rather than react), using mindfulness. Mindfulness is based on a very ordinary human capacity: the capacity to be aware, the capacity to know that we know. Mindfulness consists of developing our ability to pay attention to our immediate experience. This capacity is not so much something that we need to get or acquire; rather, it is something that we already have but need to develop. Another definition that is often used in this program is that mindfulness is the awareness that arises by paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally. As we pay attention in this way, we learn to see things as they really are and not as we would like or want them to be.

In this program, mindfulness is cultivated primarily through formal meditation practices and gentle body movements. One of the main benefits of mindfulness is that it allows us to see the intimate relationship between body and mind and, in particular, to recognize how certain patterns of negative or unskillful thoughts tend to aggravate stress, pain, and disease, greatly limiting our capacity for healing.

The MBSR Program is highly respected in the national and international medical community. It is currently offered in more than 350 hospitals, clinics and health centers around the world, including medical schools at the most prestigious universities in the United States such as the University of California-San Francisco, Stanford University and Harvard University.

Scientific Evidence

The evidence documenting the effectiveness of the MBSR Program is robust, varied and very extensive. There are studies in which the participants themselves evaluate the effects of the program and studies in which the program is evaluated by independent observers. Within the first group, a study that has been conducted for more than 30 years consists of providing participants with the same questionnaire at the start and end of the program. The questionnaire asks participants to select physical and emotional symptoms they experienced during the previous month. On average, participants start the program with 22 symptoms (from a list of 110). After only eight weeks of training, at the end of the program, participants report 14 symptoms, that is, a 36 percent reduction [1].

Within the second group of studies, using fMRI brain scanning technology, researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard University found that eight weeks of MBSR training led to the thickening of several regions of the brain associated with learning and memory, emotion regulation, the sense of self, and perspective-taking [2]. They also found that the amygdala, a region deep in the brain that is responsible for appraising and reacting to perceived threats, was thinner after participating in the MBSR Program, and that the degree of thinning was related to the degree of improvement on a scale of perceived stress [3]. Lastly, researchers at the University of Wisconsin and the University of Massachusetts studied the effects of the MBSR program in a corporate setting, where the employees who participated in the study were healthy but stressed. The researchers reported that the electrical activity in certain areas of the brain known to be involved in the expression of emotions (within the prefrontal cerebral cortex) shifted in the MBSR participants in a direction (right-sided to left-sided) that suggested that the meditators were handling emotions such as anxiety and frustration more effectively than the control subjects. This study also found that when people were given a flu vaccine at the end of the eight weeks of training, the MBSR group exhibited a significantly stronger antibody response in their immune system than the control subjects [4]. For more evidence on the many benefits of mindfulness practice, visit this page.

Main Features of the Program

The MBSR Program is a systematic and intensive training in mindfulness meditation and the integration of mindfulness into everyday life. Program participants learn to identify and use internal resources that help them navigate difficult or painful situations with greater clarity, balance, and peace of mind.

Objectives. (1) To improve the capacity to respond and relate to stress, pain and illness in skillful ways. (2) To develop a better understanding of the relationship between health and illness and, in particular, of how this relationship depends on multiple physical, mental and emotional factors. (3) To reduce the frequency and duration of visits to hospitals, emergency rooms and medical offices and, if appropriate, the use of prescription and over-the-counter medications.

Duration. 10 sessions. An orientation session (before starting the course), 8 weekly sessions of 2.5 hours (except the first and the last sessions, which last 3 hours), and a day of intensive silent meditation practice (usually a Saturday or Sunday from 9.30 to 4.30). The program consists of 30 hours of direct instruction.

Potential participants. The course is for adults (18 years of age and older). It is suitable for people going through particularly difficult or stressful situations, for people with acute or chronic medical conditions, and for people who usually live with stress and want to adopt a healthier lifestyle.

Benefits. The course has been beneficial for people living with a wide spectrum of conditions and circumstances, such as divorce, grief, cancer, work- and family-life-related stress, anxiety and panic attacks, insomnia, chronic fatigue syndrome, depression, addiction, chronic pain, heart disease, high blood pressure, heart attack, obesity, diabetes, psoriasis, AIDS, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Materials. Participants receive all the materials needed to carry out the weekly practices. These include written materials and recordings of guided meditations.

Courses 2023

Thank you for your interest! Dates will be announced soon.

Past Courses

Courses 2023 in Spanish

For information on Samma Sati’s MBSR courses in Spanish, visit this page.

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