MBSR exercises

Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR)


These instructions are a guide only. If any of the exercises are painful or uncomfortable, please stop doing them and talk about this with your doctor or the MBSR trainer.

When you're ready to practise, we suggest you do:

All the exercises follow a 3-stage process called hourglass meditation. We encourage you to take some time to understand this first.

Getting started

To begin, sit comfortably upright in a chair or lie down.

The recordings make some suggestions about your posture at the start of each exercise.

Avoid drinks that contain caffeine (such as coffee or energy drinks), alcohol, and medicines that make you sleepy (such as sleeping tablets) before the exercises. They can make MBSR more difficult to do and make it less effective.

The MBSR exercises can be divided into 4 groups:

1. Body scanning

This is a mindfulness exercise, where you pay attention to the sensations in the different parts of your body. You can usually do the exercise lying down or sitting up. 

Taking a breathing space. So, noticing whatever you're experiencing in your body right now. Noticing any tension or discomfort that's here. But also noticing where you are and whatever sensations are here. Your feet on the ground if you're sitting. Perhaps whatever you're sitting on. Your clothes against your body and the air against your skin. And noticing, as well, whatever's here in your mind. Whatever thoughts are here. And as best you can just observing your thoughts. Noticing the landscape of the mind right now, and noticing as well whatever you're feeling emotionally. Not trying to change it right now but just noticing how you're feeling. And now, bringing your awareness to your breath. Just noticing the rise and fall of your belly, as you breathe in and out. Your breath, as you breathe out, bringing your awareness to your breathing. The rise and fall of your belly as you breathe. And if you find your mind wandering away from your breath, simply bringing it back again. Coming back to this breath in this moment. Now, allowing your awareness to expand encompassing your breath. Moving in your body, bringing your awareness to your mind and your thinking, whatever you're feeling emotionally right now. And as these few moments of taking some space to breathe come to an end, preparing to move on to the next part of your day.

2. Sitting meditations

The purpose of this exercise is to observe the mind wandering away from something that you focus on, such as your breathing. You can then gently bring your mind back to the breath. Repeat this exercise for as many times as you notice your attention wandering.

3. Mindful movements

This exercise is about accepting and observing the sensations in your body as it moves slowly and stretches. The exercise takes 35 minutes, and you'll need to be able to balance on 1 leg and move on the floor.

We recommend that you try the exercises you feel comfortable doing, and leave any you cannot do or feel uncomfortable doing.

4. Mindful tasks

This means noticing the physical sensations of a task, such as walking or eating. There is a mindful walking exercise in the recordings.

Hourglass meditation

All of the exercises follow a 3-stage process. 

  1. Being aware of sensations in your body created by your environment.
  2. Observing the natural movements in your stomach created by the breath.
  3. Noticing what you experience within the whole body.

This 3-stage process is often called ‘hourglass’ meditation. You first expand your awareness outwards to the body, then draw your focus inwards, before expanding it out to your body again. 

For 1 to 3 minutes

Sit still on a chair or lie on a bed. Be aware of sensations from:

  • the floor
  • the chair or bed
  • clothes
  • air against your skin
  • any thoughts or worries

For 1 to 2 minutes

Notice the movements of your breath in your lower stomach. If your mind wanders away to other thoughts, keep bringing it gently back to the breathing in your tummy. Repeat whenever there are any distractions.

For 10 to 40 minutes

Turn your attention from the breathing towards the whole body. You can do this by scanning through the body from your feet to your head. Otherwise, be aware of the body as a whole and try to accept it the way it is at the moment. Avoid judging, analysing or interpreting the body’s sensations or how it feels.

Again, if your mind wanders off to other thoughts, gently bring it back to the sensations in your body. It is normal for the mind to wander and this is OK. Just gently focus again on the body when this happens.

Staying motivated

You might find it challenging to stay motivated to do the exercises after you have first tried them. This is natural. For example, you may struggle to find the time to do the exercises or feel too tired or bored.

Overcoming these issues is part of the therapy (acceptance and commitment-based therapy). We encourage you to continue with MBSR to overcome the obstacles in time.

Find more tips and support from the NHS

Resource number: 3759/VER3
Last reviewed: February 2022
Next review due: February 2025 

Trusted Information Creator. Patient Information Forum

Contact us

If you have any problems doing the exercises, please contact Dr Ernst.

Phone: 020 7188 2516

Email: [email protected]

Do you have any comments or concerns about your care?

Contact our Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS)

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