Mindfulness has grown in popularity over the last decade, both in the popular press and in the psychotherapy literature. The practice evolved from a largely obscure Buddhist concept established around 2,600 years ago to a mainstream psychotherapy construct today.
Mindfulness proponents would have us believe that almost every client and therapist would benefit from being more mindful. Self-control, objectivity, affect tolerance, enhanced flexibility, equanimity, improved concentration and mental clarity, emotional intelligence, and the ability to relate to others and oneself with kindness, acceptance, and compassion are among its theorized benefits.
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5 Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation
However, are the benefits of mindfulness meditation really as they are advertised? This article provides an overview of mindfulness research and discusses its implications for practice, research, and training.
1. Reduction in Rumination
Several studies have found that practicing mindfulness reduces rumination. For example, Chambers et al. (2008) asked 20 novice meditators to participate in a 10-day intensive mindfulness meditation retreat.
When compared to a control group, the meditation group had significantly higher self-reported mindfulness and lower negative affect after the retreat. They also had fewer depressive symptoms and rumination. Furthermore, when compared to the control group, meditators had significantly better working memory capacity and were better able to sustain attention during a performance task.
2. Reduction in Stress
Numerous studies have found that practicing mindfulness reduces stress. Hoffman et al. published a meta-analysis of 39 studies on the use of mindfulness-based stress reduction and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy in 2010. The researchers concluded that mindfulness-based therapy could help change the affective and cognitive processes that underpin various clinical issues.
These findings support evidence that mindfulness meditation increases positive affect while decreasing anxiety and negative affect. Participants in one study were randomly assigned to an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction group and compared to controls on self-reported measures of depression, anxiety, and psychopathology, as well as neural reactivity as measured by fMRI after watching sad films.
3. Boost Memory
According to research, another benefit of mindfulness is improved working memory. For example, documented the benefits of mindfulness meditation in a military group that participated in an eight-week mindfulness training, a nonmeditating military group, and a nonmeditating civilian group in a 2010 study. Both military groups were experiencing high levels of stress prior to deployment.
The researchers discovered that nonmeditating military personnel had decreased working memory capacity over time, whereas nonmeditating civilians had stable working memory capacity. Working memory capacity increased with meditation practice in the meditating military group. Meditation practice was also found to be directly related to self-reported positive affect and inversely related to self-reported negative affect.
4. Improves Focus
Another study looked at how mindfulness meditation affected people’s ability to focus and suppress distracting information. The researchers compared a group of experienced mindfulness meditators to a group of people who had never meditated before. They discovered that the meditation group performed significantly better on all measures of attention and reported higher levels of mindfulness. Meditation practice and self-reported mindfulness were found to be directly related to cognitive flexibility and attentional functioning.
5. Less Emotive
According to research, mindfulness meditation reduces emotional reactivity. Researchers discovered that mindfulness meditation practice helped people disengage from emotionally upsetting pictures and enabled them to focus better on a cognitive task when compared to people who saw the pictures but did not meditate in a study of people who had anywhere from one month to 29 years of mindfulness meditation practice.
6. Better the Cognitive Flexibility
Another line of research suggests that, in addition to reducing reactivity, mindfulness meditation may improve cognitive flexibility. According to one study, people who practice mindfulness meditation seem to develop the skill of self-observation, which neurologically disengages the automatic pathways created by prior learning and allows present-moment input to be integrated in a new way.
Meditation also stimulates the brain region responsible for more adaptive responses to stressful or negative situations. This region’s activation corresponds to a faster return to baseline after being negatively stimulated.
7. Satisfaction in Relationship
According to several studies, a person’s ability to be mindful can help predict relationship satisfaction — the ability to respond well to relationship stress and the ability to communicate one’s emotions to a partner. According to empirical evidence, mindfulness protects against the emotionally stressful effects of relationship conflict, is associated with the ability to express oneself in various social situations, and predicts relationship satisfaction.
The Final Words
Mindfulness has been shown to improve self-awareness, morality, intuition, and fear modulation, all of which are associated with the middle prefrontal lobe of the brain. Evidence also suggests that mindfulness meditation has numerous health benefits, such as improved immune function, increased well-being, and decreased psychological distress. Furthermore, mindfulness meditation practice appears to increase information processing speed while decreasing task effort and having unrelated thoughts.