Mindfulness-Based Programs (MBPs) are evidence based mind-body programs that train participants in the cultivation of mindfulness in order to support wellbeing, address the causes of human distress, and offer pathways to relieving suffering. They are informed by theories and practices from contemplative traditions, science, medicine, psychology and education.
Mindfulness has long been considered an antidote for human suffering. The Buddha and his teachings have been compared to a doctor and medicine – his Four Noble Truths diagnosed the human condition, identified the cause of suffering, and prescribed the proper course of treatment, which if followed carefully, could alleviate suffering. It is no wonder that in the modern day, we are adapting and secularizing these teachings to help people who suffer from physical and mental illnesses.
A number of MBPs have emerged to help treat a variety of health conditions, starting with Jon Kabat-Zinn‘s Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) clinic in 1979. Being a practitioner of Buddhist meditation and yoga as well as a professor of medicine, Zinn used these practices to ease the suffering of chronic pain patients who had exhausted the limits of medical intervention at the medical center where he worked and taught. When offered as a complement to traditional medical and psychological treatments, research has shown MBSR to be effective in helping to treat anxiety, gastro-intestinal distress, stress, grief, asthma, headaches, cancer, heart disease, chronic illness, high blood pressure, depression, pain, eating disturbances, post-traumatic stress (PTSD), fatigue, skin disorders, fibromyalgia and sleep problems.
Mindfulness-Based Cognitive therapy (MBCT) was the next MBP to emerge out of MBSR. It was created by Dr.s Zindel Segal, John Teasdale and Mark Williams in order to help individuals with chronic depression for whom medication was not adequately preventing relapse. It combines the attitudes and practices of mindfulness with cognitive behavior therapy to reduce depressive symptoms, prevent future episodes, and in some individuals, help reduce the need for medication. Research has shown that it is statistically as effective as maintenance doses of antidepressants in preventing a relapse, decreasing the risk of future depression by half. Studies are showing beneficial effects for anxiety sufferers as well.
MBPs are usually of eight weeks in duration and secular by design, but based upon the Buddhist foundations of mindfulness (mindfulness of body, mind, feelings, and mental objects) and the sublime attitudes of compassion, loving kindness, appreciative joy, and equanimity. They are designed to addresses the causes of human distress and the pathways to relieving it through helping participants:
- develop a new relationship with experience based on present moment focus, decentering, and welcoming difficulty
- improve attentional, emotional and behavioral self-regulation
- cultivate useful qualities such as compassion, wisdom, and equanimity
- train in mindfulness meditation practice through an experiential inquiry-based learning process that helps develop insight and understanding
There are many other MBPs, which are tailored to specific contexts and populations, and more are emerging every year. The research base behind them is quite promising and growing exponentially.
All the suffering, stress and addiction comes from not realizing you already are what you are looking for… No one can listen to your body for you… To grow and heal, you have to take responsibility for listening to it yourself. – Jon Kabat-Zinn
Cullen, M. (2011). Mindfulness-Based Interventions: An Emerging Phenomenon. Mindfulness.
Shonin, E, Gordon, V. & Griffiths, M. (2013). Mindfulness-based interventions: towards mindful clinical integration. Frontiers in Psychology, (4) 194.
UMASS Medical School Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Healthcare, and Society