Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, or MBSR as it’s commonly known, is a way to heal through mindful attention to the present moment. So, how does someone heal just by paying attention to the present moment?
Body, mind, and spirit combine in one magnificent whole that is your life. Mindfulness training helps you to learn to be more conscious, aware, or mindful, of what is happening in the present moment. Body sensations, thoughts, and emotions that are left unchecked and unnoticed can lead to illness, injury and unhappiness.
Your (monkey) mind is constantly jumping from one place to another and all the while your body is reacting to the content of the messages in your mind which is usually attached to either the past (which is over and you can do nothing about), or the future (which is not here, you cannot foresee, the details of which you cannot know). Mindfulness promotes healing by helping you anchor your attention in the present moment, recognize what thoughts are currently present that are triggering emotions, and gives you an opportunity to choose to respond rather than react. Keeping your attention on the present moment, enables you to notice the train of thinking that takes you out of the present moment and creates painful emotions that lead to stress.
For example, your train of thinking may go something like this: You’re looking at an old photo album and see images of you and your old boyfriend in the good old days. At first there is a recollection of the relationship then memories of how things went. If the relationship turned out badly – he dumped you for your best friend three weeks before the wedding, you may start to feel anger or sadness, which leads to tearing the picture into a thousand pieces, throwing things, sobbing uncontrollably, or plans for revenge. Your mind, meanwhile, thinks it’s under attack, and starts to prepare for battle, to run away, or to become momentarily paralyzed, also known as the stress response. Once under stress you have a coping strategy that you have learned somewhere in your youth that you typically turn to in order to protect or sooth yourself. It could be to feed the pain with ten pounds of chocolate, drown it in a fifth of tequila, have a cigarette, take drugs, hit someone or something, or any other number of negative reactions. These negative ways of reacting, and the stress itself, are bad for your health.
When you bring awareness, or mindfulness, into your life and pay attention,in the present moment, without judging, what is going on with your body, thoughts, and emotions, you are able to use cues that they are giving you to respond consciously, instead of react unconsciously. This leads to reduced suffering, better decision making, fewer “operator errors”, and improved quality of life.
A mindful response using the scenario above would be to look at the photo and recall the ensuing catastrophe without being consumed by negative emotions by bringing awareness to the fact that this is a moment in the present when you are looking at a photo and are recalling something from the past that was unpleasant. You are not reliving the actual events. You can choose to put the photo back, or throw it away, all while staying calm, cool and collected in the present moment. Your body thanks you.
The possibilities for improving relationships, physical health, and emotional well-being are endless. The last 35 years of research into mindfulness based stress reduction has shown benefits that range from reduced physical pain and symptoms, to increased concentration and attention, reduced anxiety and social anxiety, addiction cessation, and increases in brain gray matter, to name a few.