A Look at Mindfulness from the ScienceBlog

1 Comment July 6, 2012 / Posted in Uncategorized


This was shared in the Science Blog. As always it is about the practice.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy – Understanding Mindfulness Meditation
November 1, 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 Perspectives on Psychological Science, 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 meditation as a versatile tool to facilitate change – both in psychotherapy and in everyday life.

For more information about this study, please contact: Britta K. Hölzel at britta@nmr.mgh.harvard.edu.

Perspectives on Psychological Science is ranked among the top 10 general psychology journals for impact by the Institute for Scientific Information. It publishes an eclectic mix of thought-provoking articles on the latest important advances in psychology. For a copy of the article “How Does Mindfulness Meditation Work? Proposing Mechanisms of Action From a Conceptual and Neural Perspective” and access to other Perspectives on Psychological Science research findings, please contact Anna Mikulak at 202-293-9300 or amikulak@psychologicalscience.org.

1 Comment... What do you think? Subscribe via RSS
  1. Tina said on July 27th, 2012 at 5:40 am

    A lot of schools in Buddhism hemamr in the need for study. Some Zen schools describe such study as poisonous to your practice and preach PAINTED CAKES WILL NOT SATISFY HUNGER! My Thai Buddhist monk teacher told me that I did not need to read anything, so this can cause a lot of confusion. I do not want to upset your practice, but the greatest book on how to do Insight Meditation seems to be Mindfulness in Plain English . And the main Bible of Insight Meditation seems to be this book, The Heart of Buddhist Meditation . I read it 25 years ago and immediately fell in-love. It really gets to the heart of Buddhism. You will discover how and why the vipassana practice will help you in ALL areas of your life. In relationships. In your job. In reducing anxiety and tension. It is simply a must read for someone WHO IS NOT PRACTICING WITH A TEACHER RIGHT NOW. If you aren’t, get these two books. The Why is in this book. The How is in Mindfulness in Plain English . If you have $200, The Insight Meditation Course is simply wonderful. And you will have a teacher by e-mail and by mail. Good luck. One more thing. Stretching exercises may really come in handy. Doing the lotus position can really be a blessing.

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