Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction

Last week, I started formal training in MBSR, mindfulness-based stress reduction. I sound a bit stodgy calling it “formal training,” but that description serves to differentiate my class experience from the half-assed mindfulness meditation I’ve been attempting on my own (with varying degrees of success).

I’m still at the point where, in the first few seconds after hearing the word “meditation,” I think of chanting and swamis ordering me to completely clear my mind. I think of orange robes, big gongs, and Asia. I think of hippies and LSD. Yes, I am operating entirely on stereotype.

But after those first impressions have passed, I begin to think of meditation for what it is in my life, for what it is to me. Mindful meditation does not ask you to magically erase your mind. Mindfulness encourages you to be completely in tune and at peace with what’s going on, to focus on the present and only the present. There’s no point in scolding yourself for a wandering mind: the mind’s nature is to wander, and that wandering is part of the mindfulness process. The key is to notice that your mind is drifting and then to bring it back gently to whatever you’re trying to focus on.

I’m not doing the program justice. Do a google search, download some mindfulness tapes, enroll in a class. Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the main folks who popularized mindfulness, has written (or co-written) several books on the process, and several of those books are accompanied by CDs. Worth the investment.

My instructor told us that if we could keep a journal about our mindfulness meditation practices, we’d learn a lot about the nature of our individual minds and would also notice patterns of thought. This evening I listened to a CD track of the body scan, a 30-minute process during which you slowly and methodically focus on one body part at a time. It can be extremely calming, but tonight I was just not into it. More than once I thought about getting up and turning the stereo off. I kept going, though, continually redirecting my thoughts as I got distracted again, and again, and again by potentially stressful things in my life.

So far I am most easily distracted by my to-do list. I have so much to do, so little time. And when I do have time, I waste some of it on frivolity. Other times I am not feeling at my best physically but beat myself up for not being able to plow through the discomfort in order to keep trucking.

In any case, the to-do list popped up over and over as I meditated, and I continually redirected my focus to whatever body part I was *supposed* to be focusing on. And you know what? About half the time it worked. I feel a lot more calm than 45 minutes ago before I hit “play,” and I’m glad I didn’t turn off the CD. The times you are most tempted to NOT engage in stress-relieving activities are most likely the times you need the most stress relief. Note to self: remember this.

Has anyone else tried MBSR? If so, any reports from the field?

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