By Charles O'Connor
Posted in Mental Health Resources
Mindfulness meditation has been lauded as a tool that can help people cope with the stressors of day to day life. However, many have a hard time learning and utilizing meditation as a tool due to its esoteric nature. Often times, when you bring up the concept of meditation to someone it invokes images of a stoic, bald headed monk, who uses fluffy terms like “Spirit of the universe” and eschews worldly pleasures for a life of meditation. The meditation itself is thought of an effort to clear the mind completely in order to achieve some sense of deep enlightenment. With the amount of stimuli most of us are exposed to on a daily basis this can sound like a daunting feat, rightfully so.
I’ll make the argument that mindfulness meditation can be conceptualized in a much simpler way. That any average person can grasp with a bit of effort and practice. One definition of meditation that I’m fond of is “To focus one’s thoughts: reflect or ponder over”. Mindfulness meditation has been explained to me as a system for directing one’s attention to the different mental and physical sensations experienced in a moment to moment basis. These experiences can vary greatly and can include, but not limited to:
- External physical sensations (i.e. an itchy nose)
- Internal physical sensations (i.e. That feeling of butterfly in your stomach)
- External sounds (i.e. the sound of a car of driving by)
- Internal noise (thoughts)
- External vision(sight)
- Internal vision (mental imagery)
Learning a system to observe and effectively process these different sensory experiences through meditation, has been shown to have a number of different benefits. Here are some:
- Mindfulness reduces anxiety A 2013 study conducted by Mass General showed a significant reduction in anxiety among patients diagnosed with Generalized anxiety disorder who took part in an 8 week group intervention with mindfulness based stress reduction.
- Mindfulness based therapies may help treat Depression Oxford University conducted a study which found that Mindfulness based cognitive Therapy helped to reduce depression recurrence. Willem Kuyken, PHD, the professor who conducted the study, when speaking of patients who took part in Mindfulness based therapy to combat depression, said “MBCT helps them to recognize that’s happening, engage with it in a different way and respond to it with equanimity and compassion.”
- Mindfulness can increase Body Self Image A study by researchers Ellen R. Albertson, Kristin D. Neff, and Karen E. Dill-Shackelford, showed that women who received a 3 week compassion based meditation experienced a reduction in bodily dissatisfaction, shame, and contingent self worth based on appearance.
- Mindfulness can improve cognition A 2010 study Published in Consciousness and Cognition Journal , showed that even brief mindfulness training reduced fatigue and anxiety, and improved visuo-spatial processing, working memory, and executive functioning among participants who were made to listen to an audio book. Researchers, speaking of the results of the study said “Our findings suggest that four days of meditation training can enhance the ability to sustain attention; benefits that have previously been reported with long-term meditators.”
- Mindfulness can help the brain reduce distractions and increase focus A study done by Harvard University showed that participants who took part in an 8 week mindfulness meditation training made faster and more attention based judgements than those in the control group
In summary, mindfulness meditation can be a useful tool for the average person to increase their level of focus and manage negative emotions that arise. All that is required is a bit of training, and a minimal time commitment for practice. There are more resources today than ever for anyone who may be interested in learning more about meditation and its potential benefits. These include recorded meditation exercises, apps, or traditional classes.