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?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


View Comments (21)
  • Heather Zanitsch
    8 years ago

    I recently began biofeedback, but Kabat-Zinn’s methods have also been suggested to me as well. I like the biofeedback, but my problem with it is that it’s 2 or 3 13 minute sessions out of my day where I feel as if I could be doing something better with my time. Not that I know what that “something better” is, but I hope that eventually the feeling will go away and instead I will feel rewarded by my time utilizing it for some pain relief as well as mindfulness. For right now, I feel like it’s a bother and my husband has to “remind” me to do it. I know I need to do it, the thought of stopping to slow down for a moment just produces anxiety until I actually do it. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who realizes I need to do it regardless. Then again, I am also getting tired of the same track over and over again. I haven’t graduated to the next level or track yet.

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    8 years ago

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  • themigrainegirl
    9 years ago

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    @Healing Less Traveled: I haven't been keeping up with the MBSR program as much as I want to. I've taken two courses now, and whenever I go to yoga (which is about 70% of the time due to my travel schedule), we do a little mindfulness/relaxation exercise. It's one of those things: I KNOW it will help, but because I don't always get instantaneous results, I skip it when I need it most.

  • Healing Less Traveled
    9 years ago

    I haven't read the books you mentioned, but I'm lucky enough to have a great mindfulness meditation group in my area. I have fibromyalgia, migraines, and some other chronic pain diagnoses attached to my name. I'm at a point where I don't know how I would cope without mindfulness meditation. I'm not always able to do 30 minute sits – it's great when I do – but I also try to make time to "check in" with myself throughout the day. Thanks for posting this, it's a great post!

    I realize you posted this awhile ago – are you still practicing mindfulness meditation? I guess I should go look through some of your archives.

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    9 years ago

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    9 years ago

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    9 years ago

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    9 years ago

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  • Findyourdrug_pain
    9 years ago

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  • Diana Keough
    9 years ago

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    9 years ago


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  • Anonymous
    9 years ago

    Yes, I started doing mindfulness practice as part of my spiritual practice. I have neurogenic chronic pain and mindfulness practice helps me to be able to distance myself from the pain and obseve it.

  • Anonymous
    9 years ago

    I am beginning to use MBSR for clients who struggle with stress and their capacity to relax. I am in talks with a number of OB/Gyn groups to offer an MBSR class for their pregnant clients. MBSR has also been used effectively, per a study I recently read, with women who experience hot flashes. Cheers to the support network where MBSR is! My blog can be found here

  • meganconser
    10 years ago

    I just found your blog- I am excited to read all of it! I too am a headache/migraine/chronic pain sufferer– I started up my own blog just for my headaches- seems like a good outlet and maybe I can help support someone else. Anyway- I subscribed to your site and look forward to getting to know you better.

  • Michael Cowden
    10 years ago

    Thanks for the suggestion of John Kabat-Zinn. I've been trying for several years (off and on) to get serious about meditation. Something about his style really resonated with me… I'm going to buy the book today. Here's a great video I found on youtube:


  • Mary Carol
    10 years ago

    I would like to explore this idea of mindfulness. I haven't checked into yoga ideas where I live, but that calm time still makes me want to try a class again! (For that fact alone, I should explore the brainstorm you recently suggested I consider, my daughter.)

  • themigrainegirl
    10 years ago

    The course I'm taking with Mr. Mike Healy (which I linked to in my post) is based on Kabat-Zinn's _Full Catastrophe Living_! Glad to hear my blogger friends have some experience with this. MJ, I might actually have to get off my lazy butt and read blogs more often! xo

  • MaxJerz
    10 years ago

    Funny you should post this. I just got the first series of Jon Kabat-Zinn's book/CDs on MBSR and plan to start. I just started reading the book tonight and will be starting the CD of exercises soon. His program is 8 weeks long, and I plan to post about it in my blog, so keep an eye out.

    Best of luck to you!

    Be well,

  • Diana Lee
    10 years ago

    I'm a huge fan of and believer in MBSR. Jon Kabat-Zinn's Full Catastrophe Living is where I recommend people start. It's a wonderful book. I really like his body scan, too.

  • Nancy Harris Bonk moderator
    6 years ago

    Hi Julie,

    I find that if I concentrate on my breathing, even counting my breaths, that will help calm my mind down. I can never seem to turn my mind off – meditation and being mindful are things I practice every day. It is not easy for a busy mind.

  • Julie
    6 years ago

    I have been trying to do MBSR using Full Catastrophe Living and the Mindfulness CDs that come along with it and really struggling. I am having daily migraine pain right now and I can’t seem to get past it to settle my mind down enough to really focus and be still and think about anything else. I have had to just shut the CD off a few times so I can move and clutch my head instead of be still and focus like I am supposed to. Any suggestions? Should I just pick another time with less pain and keep trying? I really want to pursue this and the days I have done it with less pain, I had some success clearing that pain from my thoughts for a while.

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