MBI: Mindfulness as Medicine

FullSizeRender 2Mindfulness has long been considered an antidote for human suffering. The Buddha and his teachings have been compared to a doctor and her 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 these teachings to help people who suffer from physical and mental illnesses.

A number of Mindfulness-Based Interventions (MBIs) have emerged to help address 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 MBI 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.

MBIs are programs, usually of eight weeks in duration, that are informed by theories and practices that draw from a variety of contemplative traditions, science, medicine, psychology and education. Although these programs are secular, they are based upon the fundamentals of Buddhism including the four 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 MBIs 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. You can find providers who offer MBIs in the Kansas City metro by visiting KansasCityMentalHealth.com. Below are some links to help you learn more about MBSR and some of the other MBIs (more will be added as the research base grows):

So I will teach you the noble purgative that always succeeds and never fails, a purgative whereby beings subject to… sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress & despair are freed from sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress & despair. Listen & pay close attention. I will speak. – The Buddha as Doctor, the Dhamma as Medicine by Thanissaro Bhikkhu


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

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