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    Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) to Help Chronic Pain


    Mindfulness is an ancient practice that has its roots in Buddhist and Hindu teachings.

    It is based on the principles attention, awareness and being present. It is intended to calm the mind and induce relaxation. While a University of Massachusetts professor, Kabat-Zinn created a program called Mindfulness-Based stress Reduction in the late 1970s. The secular program was created to aid people with chronic pain.

    Mindfulness has become a mainstream part of science and medicine. It is used to manage stress, anxiety, depression, and other chronic health issues such as pain.

    How it works

    The eight-week Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction program focuses on mindfulness training and consists of eight weeks of stress reduction. It is now being used in hundreds upon hundreds of hospitals, clinics, medical centers, and other settings around the globe.

    This course includes various mindfulness practices, such as body scan, gentle yoga, sitting meditations, and gentle yoga. The course’s goal is to help participants get in touch their thoughts, feelings, and emotions so that they can gain greater insight into their behavior patterns, especially when it comes down to how they react to stressful situations. MBSR’s main purpose is to help people realize that they have some control over what happens around them. However, they can choose how they respond.

    Chronic pain symptom relief

    As we have already mentioned, MBSR was initially created to assist people suffering from chronic pain.

    Kabat-Zinn published in 1985 a study that included 90 participants with chronic pain. The participants reported significant improvements in their moods, pain symptoms, and body image. These effects were evident at a follow-up of 15 months.

    Over the past decades, more research has been conducted to determine the impact of mindfulness-based stress relief on chronic pain. The intervention has been shown to decrease pain sensitivity.

    Reduce the pain and discomfort.

    RELATED: 8 Great Pain Reliefs You Don’t Need

    Research suggests that mindfulness-based stress relief actually alters the brain’s response to pain. MRI scans showed that participants in the program had structural changes in the brain areas involved with pain sensitivity.

    Mindfulness-based stress reduction was found to be particularly effective in reducing lower back pain.


    Rheumatoid arthritis and

    Additional Health Benefits

    Research has shown that MBSR may be beneficial for a variety of other health conditions.

    • Reduce blood pressure, stress and other symptoms that can lead to heart problems, such as coronary artery disease, depression, and anxiety.
    • Gastrointestinal problems, including IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)
      to inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), by keeping doctors in the moment, reducing their rumination about symptoms, and relieving psychological distress


    • Reduce stress as a trigger for skin conditions such as psoriasis.
    • Helping people with diabetes manage stress and psychosocial issues.
    • Menopause can be reduced by psychological symptoms of anxiety and depression.
    • Multiple sclerosis can be prevented by reducing anxiety and stress perceptions
    • By reducing anxiety, fear and fatigue, cancer patients can live a better quality of life.

    General Health and Wellness Benefits

    Research has shown that MBSR can have many benefits for emotional well-being and overall health. Studies have shown that MBSR practitioners are more able to concentrate on the present moment, and less likely be distracted by negative thoughts and experiences.

    Research also suggests that meditation programs such as mindfulness-based stress relief can improve memory, cognitive flexibility and self-awareness.

    Studies have also shown that mindfulness-based stress reduction can lead to lower levels of psychological stress.

    MBSR may also be helpful in reducing anxiety and depression symptoms. A mindfulness-based stress reduction program led to significant improvements in depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts in veterans, according to one study.

    It has been proven that the intervention can improve sleep quality and mental well-being in those suffering from insomnia.

    MBSR has been shown to increase well-being and sleep quality in athletes. It also improves athletic performance.

    How do I get started?

    Working with a mindfulness instructor is a great way to start mindfulness-based stress relief. Look for a teacher who is trustworthy. Many schools offer online and in-person courses.

    What to Expect from a Live MBSR Training Course

    It is a commitment to complete an MBSR program. The mindfulness-based stress reduction program includes weekly classes that are attended by approximately 15-30 people over eight weeks. Each session lasts between 2.5 and 3 hours. A full-day session is offered after the sixth class, which focuses on mindfulness in a retreat setting.

    Participation in groups is required and may even be mandatory. The topics include mindful communication, dealing with difficult emotions, and how perception affects our relationships to stressful events.

    Participants are also given home assignments that they can complete outside of class.

    Are MBSR fees expensive? Is MBSR covered by health insurance?

    A mindfulness-based stress reduction course costs are determined by the institution, hospital or clinic that is offering it.

    Health insurance does not usually cover fees. The cost for the entire program is generally between $300 and $650, which includes all materials and the retreat.

    Here are some examples of the costs associated with a mindfulness-based stress reduction program at large institutions in the United States:

    • The University of Massachusetts charges between $300 and $650. There are some discounts for students and employees.
    • The University of California, San Diego costs about $600. There are discounts and scholarships. It also offers free phone consultations so you can find the right mindfulness program for you.
    • The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences costs about $300, with discounts and scholarship options.

    Remote live MBSR classes can be found online.

    • Brown University estimates that it costs between $300 and $700 on a sliding-scale basis.
    • Cooper Beach Institute: From $400 to $600
    • East Coast Mindfulness offers a sliding scale of $350-$600.
    • Mindful Leader’s online course costs approximately $300-$700, with scholarships available

    You can also record (but not live) your options:

    • MBSR Online Course – About $300 on Sounds True The online course is similar to the live one. It consists of eight sessions and a self-guided retreat. Different weeks will focus on different practices. Week 5 teaches participants how to use mindfulness when they experience pain or other sensations.

    There is no shortcut to mindfulness cultivation. However, if you are worried about the price of MBSR, the following tools and samples will help you to get started. These are not the same eight-week-long in-person classes. They may be interactive and live.

    Below $50

    • Weekly Podcast at Hammer The Mindful Awareness Research Center at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), hosts a 30-minute guided meditation at the Hammer Museum every week. This podcast is archived and then available for download. These podcasts are available for free at MARC’s website. You can also download the UCLA Mindful App. A podcast on dealing with physical pain is a particularly useful podcast for those with rheumatoid arthritis. It is also available for downloading.
    • Books Public libraries have classic mindfulness books, audiobooks and e-books. For titles that you should add to your reading list, see Resources We Love.
    • This book, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction: The MBSR Programme for Enhancing Health & Vitality, was written by Linda Lehrhaupt (European expert on MBSR) and Petra Meibert. It is based on the 8-week course. It provides guidance through many steps and allows readers to complete the exercises on their own.
    • Two-Session Course Kabat Zinn has published Mindfulness Meditation for pain Relief: Guided Practices to Reclaim Your Body and Your Lives. In the first session, you will learn how mindfulness can be used to reduce chronic pain. He leads listeners through guided meditations based on his MBSR method in session 2. An audio download from Sounds True costs around $11
    • Copper Beech Institute offers On-Demand Meditation Sessions ($25) as well as a Seven-Day Mindfulness Challenge ($50).

    From $125 to $225

    • MAPs for Daily Living is an online version of the six week MAPs (Mindful awareness Practices) program that MARC offers. The program is $200 and classes meet for two hours once a week. You can also opt for a recorded webinar to learn at your own pace. This option includes eight weeks of access and $125.

    Considerations and risks

    Some people might experience strong emotions such as sadness, fear, anger, especially when they first start MBSR. These reactions may be more common in those who have suffered from trauma, abuse, substance misuse disorders, suicidality, or a family history.

    Particularly for those suffering from chronic diseases, it is important to pay attention to your body. If you feel pain while doing mindful movement, you can either modify the pose or rest. If you have questions, speak to the instructor.

    Resources We Love

    For information on Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, Favorite Organizations

    This site is a great resource for mindfulness information. It offers articles on meditation, sleep, anxiety, mindfulness, and children. You will also find a bimonthly magazine and online mindfulness courses.

    This site offers three series of guided meditation practices, each one narrated by Kabat Zinn. You can download each series digitally for $20 or purchase the entire set for $49. You can also find links to videos on mindfulness and meditation apps.

    Mindful Awareness Research Center

    MARC lists Kabat Zinn’s mindfulness-based stress relief program as one of the major contributors to its mindfulness programs. MARC’s website offers a variety of meditation resources including guided meditations and a weekly podcast. It also provides information about local drop-in meditations. The UCLA Mindful App is also available for free. It offers basic meditations in English and Spanish for beginners, as well as wellness meditations that can be used by people with certain health conditions.

    Favorite books about Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction

    Living Full Catastrophe: How to Use the Wisdom of Your Mind and Body to Face Stress, Pain, Illness

    This book, written by Kabat Zinn, provides a step-by-step guide for mindfulness meditation. It is based on the eight week program of the Stress Reduction Center at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. This book describes a self guided training program in mindfulness-based Stress Reduction to help readers feel calm and self-aware when faced with the “full chaos” of life.

    Other books by Kabat-Zinn, including Mindfulness for Beginners and Coming to Our Senses as well as Wherever You Go. There You Are are worth reading.

    You might also consider The Miracle of Mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Fully Present: Science, Art, and Practice of Mindfulness, Susan L. Smalley and Diana Winston.

    Favorite apps for Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction


    Although it doesn’t focus on mindfulness-based stress relief, Headspace is a well-known and popular meditation app. You can use it to supplement your meditation practice after the eight-week course. You can sign up to receive a free 14-day trial. An annual subscription is available for $70 after that.


    Calm, another popular meditation app, offers a variety of meditations, breathing techniques, and calming exercises to help users relax and think more mindfully. You can also find stories about sleeping and relaxing music, as well nature sounds, to help you fall asleep while working or studying. The app is free for seven days, then you can subscribe for $70 per annum.

    Fact-Checking and Editorial Sources


    • Greeson J., Eisenlohr–Moul T. Chapter 12. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction to Chronic Pain. Mindfulness-Based Treatment Approaches (Second edition). 2014.
    • Wilson J. On Mindfulness. Tricycle: The Buddhist Review. 2016.
    • Booth R. Master Mindfulness, Jon KabatZinn: “People are losing their minds.” This is what we need to wake up to. The Guardian. October 22, 2017.
    • Khan Niazi A. Khan Niazi S. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction: A Nonpharmacological Approach to Chronic Illnesses. North American Journal of Medical Sciences. January 2011.
    • What is MBSR? Institute for Mindfulness-Based Approaches.
    • Gu J, Strauss C., Bond R., Cavanaugh K. Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapie and Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Can Improve Mental Health and Wellbeing? A systematic review and meta-analysis of Mediation Studies. Clinical Psychology Review. April 2015.
    • Lao S., Kissane D., Meadows G. Cognitive effects of MBSR/MBCT. A systematic review of neuropsychological outcomes. Consciousness, Cognition. October 2016.
    • Goyal M, Singh S, Sibinga E, et al. Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress Management and Well-Being: Systematic Review and Metaanalysis. JAMA Internal Medicine. March 2014.
    • Taylor S, Serpa J., Tillisch K. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Reduces Anxiety and Depression in Veterans. Medical Care. December 2014.
    • Chen T, Chang S, Hsieh H, et al. The Meta-Analysis of the Effects Mindfulness-Based Stress Reductions on Sleep Quality and Mental Well-being for Insomnia Patients. Journal of Psychosomatic Research. August 2020.
    • Jones B, Kaur SM, Miller M, Spencer R. Mindfulness based stress reduction benefits psychological well-being, sleep quality, and athletic performance in female collegiate rowers. Frontiers in Psychology. September 2020.
    • Kabat-Zinn, Lipworth, and Burney, L. Mindfulness Meditation as a Clinical Method for Chronic Pain Self-Regulation. Journal of Behavioral Medicine. June 1985.
    • Zeidan F, Salomons T, Faris S, et al. The Neural Mechanisms that Support the Relationship between Dispositional Mindfulness & Pain. Pain. December 2018.
    • Gard T, Holzel B, Sack A, et al. Mindfulness is associated with decreased cognitive control and increased sensory processing in the brain. This helps to reduce pain. Cerebral cortex. November 2012.
    • St. Marie R. Talebkhah K. Neurological Evidence for a Mind-Body Connect: Mindfulness and Control The American Journal of Psychiatry. April 2018.
    • Anheyer D, Haller H, Barth J, et al. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction to Treat Low Back Pain: A Systematic Analysis and Meta-Analysis. Annals of Internal Medicine. April 2017.
    • Perez-Aranda A, Feliu-Soler A, Montero-Marin J, et al. The EUDAIMON Study: Randomized controlled effectiveness trial of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. Pain. November 2019.
    • Fogarty F, Booth R, Gamble G, et al. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Disease Activity in Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients: Randomized Controlled Study. Annals of Rheumatic Diseases. November 2014.
    • Parswani M. Sharma M., Iyengar SM. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program for Coronary Heart Disease: Randomized Control Trial. International Journal of Yoga. Jul-Dec 2013.
    • Naliboff B, Smith S, Serpa J, et al. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Improves Irritable Bowel Syndrome’ (IBS) Symptoms through Specific Aspects Of Mindfulness. Neurogastroenterology & Motility. September 2020.
    • Neilson K., Ftanou MM, Monshat K., et. al. A controlled study of a group mindfulness intervention for individuals with inflammatory bowel disease. Inflammatory Bowel Diseases. March 2016.
    • Kabat-Zinn J, Wheeler E, Light T, et al. The Effect of a Mindfulness Meditation Based Stress Reduction Intervention on Skin Clearing Rates in Patients with Moderate to Severe psoriasis. Psychosomatic Medicine. Sept-Oct 1998.
    • Wong C, Yip B, Gao T, et al. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction or Psychoeducation for Menopausal Symptoms Reduction: A Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial. Scientific Reports. April 2018.
    • Simpson R, Mair FF, Mercer S. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction for People with Multiple Sclerosis — A Feasibility Randomized Controlled Study. BMC Neurology. May 2017.
    • Lengacher C, Reich R, Paterson C, et al. An Experimental Controlled Randomized Study to Examine Broad Symptom Improvements Resulting from Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction in Breast Cancer Survivors. Journal of Clinical Oncology. August 2016.





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