Don't worry, be happy -- understanding mindfulness meditation

October 31, 2011

In times of stress, we're often encouraged to pause for a moment and simply be in the 'now.' This kind of mindfulness, an essential part of Buddhist and Indian Yoga traditions, has entered the mainstream as people try to find ways to combat stress and improve their quality of life. And research suggests that mindfulness meditation can have benefits for health and performance, including improved immune function, reduced blood pressure, and enhanced cognitive function.

But how is it that a single practice can have such wide-ranging effects on well-being? A new article published in the latest issue of , a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, draws on the existing scientific literature to build a framework that can explain these positive effects.

The goal of this work, according to author Britta Hölzel, of Justus Liebig University and Harvard Medical School, is to "unveil the conceptual and mechanistic complexity of mindfulness, providing the 'big picture' by arranging many findings like the pieces of a mosaic." By using a framework approach to understand the mechanisms of mindfulness, Hölzel and her co-authors point out that what we think of as mindfulness is not actually a single skill. Rather, it is a multi-faceted mental practice that encompasses several mechanisms.

The authors specifically identify four key components of mindfulness that may account for its effects: attention regulation, body awareness, emotion regulation, and sense of self. Together, these components help us attend to and deal with the mental and physiological effects of stress in ways that are non-judgmental.

Although these components are theoretically distinct, they are closely intertwined. Improvement in attention regulation, for example, may directly facilitate our awareness of our physiological state. Body awareness, in turn, helps us to recognize the emotions we are experiencing. Understanding the relationships between these components, and the brain mechanisms that underlie them, will allow clinicians to better tailor mindfulness interventions for their patients, says Hölzel.

On the most fundamental level, this framework underscores the point that mindfulness is not a vague cure-all. Effective mindfulness meditation requires training and practice and it has distinct measurable effects on our subjective experiences, our behavior, and our brain function. The authors hope that further research on this topic will "enable a much broader spectrum of individuals to utilize mindfulness as a versatile tool to facilitate change – both in psychotherapy and in everyday life."

Explore further: UA psychology professor seeks relief for chronic headache sufferers

Related Stories

UA psychology professor seeks relief for chronic headache sufferers

May 10, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Dr. Beverly Thorn, chair of The University of Alabama's psychology department, is seeking volunteers for a key study into how "mindfulness meditation" can help manage chronic pain from headaches.

Recommended for you

How the shape and size of your face relates to your sexuality

September 19, 2017
Men and women with shorter, wider faces tend to be more sexually motivated and to have a stronger sex drive than those with faces of other dimensions. These are the findings from a study led by Steven Arnocky of Nipissing ...

Behavioral therapy increases connectivity in brains of people with OCD

September 19, 2017
UCLA researchers report that people with obsessive-compulsive disorder, when treated with a special form of talk therapy, demonstrate distinct changes in their brains as well as improvement in their symptoms.

Cognitive scientists find that people can more easily communicate warmer colors than cool ones

September 18, 2017
The human eye can perceive millions of different colors, but the number of categories human languages use to group those colors is much smaller. Some languages use as few as three color categories (words corresponding to ...

Why bad sleep doesn't always lead to depression

September 18, 2017
Poor sleep is both a risk factor, and a common symptom, of depression. But not everyone who tosses and turns at night becomes depressed.

People with schizophrenia have threefold risk of dying

September 18, 2017
People with schizophrenia are three times more likely to die, and die younger, than the general population, indicating a need for solutions to narrow this gap, according to research published in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association ...

Happiness is not determined by childhood biomarkers

September 18, 2017
Happiness is not determined by childhood biological markers such as height or body fat, according to a team of European researchers involving UCL.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.