What Is MBSR?

intimacy with present moment

I’m not a huge fan of how today’s culture overuses abbreviations and actually turns them into words. But because the name of this program is such a mouthful, I put this abbreviation to good use. I learned in my first Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) class that the founder actually named it such a long and boring name to appeal to the masses. This was funny to me as someone with a marketing background … we usually try to snap up the names of books, articles and programs to attract people.

But back in the late 70’s, meditation, yoga and eastern practices were not widespread. The science behind MBSR was the angle they were trying to highlight with the title. Starting with “Mindfulness-Based” to sneak in the meditation that the program is based on, and ending with “stress reduction.” After all, who doesn’t want to reduce stress?

Kudos to the creator for targeting people who may have been otherwise closed to beginning their journey into mindfulness, meditation and self-discovery had it been called something more mystical or creative.

Overview of the MBSR Program

The MBSR program was created in 1979 by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts. UMass Center for Mindfulness sums up the benefits of the program well on their website, “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction has emerged as an effective, scientifically-tested method for reducing physical and psychological suffering while building resilience, balance and peace of mind.”

MBSR is an eight-week course based on 34 years of clinical experience. As of 2013, there were over 720 mindfulness-based programs in hospitals, medical centers and clinics around the world that model themselves after the original MBSR program at UMass. It’s becoming a big thing and growing faster than ever.

My Experience With MBSR (so far)

I’m one week into my MBSR class at UCSD. I’ve wanted to take the class for years, but never prioritized it, so I’m really excited to be signed up and on my way. That was difficult for me—to actually prioritize the class, sign up, pay the course fee, and arrive at the first class. I thought the hard part was over.

But what I quickly learned was that the class was going to be challenging for me, too. I have had a daily meditation practice for a while now, which I do each morning. But it rarely exceeds 20 minutes. The class encourages a daily 45-60 minute practice, which I’m already struggling with. With each practice I finish—as difficult as it may be and as irritated as I may feel while in it—I do notice a shift.

In the first class, the teachers offered their definition of mindfulness, which I liked and wanted to share since there are so many definitions out there, and some people find it difficult to grasp what it really is. I felt connected to their definition of the term…
Mindfulness: awareness of the present moment with curiosity and without judgment.

Still Interested?

There is so much to say about MBSR as a program … as a way to get to know yourself, as a helpful tool to reduce stress and pain, and as a way to increase awareness and overall contentment. I don’t know enough about it yet to write more, but I will share what I learn in future blogs. If you’re interested in learning more, I highly recommend Jon’s book Full Catastrophe Living, which offers many case studies of how the program has helped individuals with pain and illness, in corporate settings, with psychological distress, and the list goes on. The book gives you the framework of the program and practice, so you can do the work on yourself, for yourself.

Kabat-Zinn opens the first chapter with a quote from an 85-year-old woman, Nadine Stair, which I found endearing and a good way to end this blog. She said, “Oh, I’ve had my moments, and if I had to do it over again, I’d have more of them. In fact, I’d try to have nothing else. Just moments, one after another, instead of living so many years ahead of each day.”

If you have interest in learning more about MBSR, here are some resources:

20-Minute Guided Practice

This week, I thought I would share some of the homework I was given through the MBSR class I’m taking. While we were assigned daily 45-minute guided body scan meditations, I recommend you start with a 20-minute version and see what you think.

Here is a link to a list of guided meditations through UCSD Center for Mindfulness, where you can select a guided meditation to download, or click to listen from the website. The 20-minute body scan is the third link listed on the page.

UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center also has an assortment of free guided meditations on their site.

Feel free to share your experience in the comments below.

Melissa Eisler

Melissa Eisler is an ICF Certified Leadership and Executive Coach, certified meditation and yoga instructor, and author. She created Mindful Minutes to offer practical, relatable anecdotes and tips on how to bring mindfulness into the busyness of the digital age. Her intention is to share what she learns about overcoming her own challenges with meditation, mindfulness, and life balance while maintaining a challenging schedule and career. Learn more about Melissa here.


  1. Casey Jones on March 22, 2014 at 2:48 am

    Great read, thanks Melissa! Look forward to giving this a try. Will let you know how I do.

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