Mindfulness meditation is a simple form of meditation based on the Buddhist Vipassana meditation method. This form of meditation may also be referred to as Insight Meditation – to see things as they really are.
During the meditation, the meditator sits in observance of all things – their surroundings, their breath, and their thoughts without judgement, exercising compassion, patience, and acceptance for all things.
While it has Buddhist roots, the practice evolved based on research regarding the mind-body connection’s influence on good health. This meditation method does not have religious or philosophical dogmas attached to it.
The practice may be accessed by anyone of any background with beneficial outcomes. Mindfulness encourages and cultivates the art of paying attention without engaging with or attaching meaning to the events, thoughts, and emotions in a manner which causes conflict or anxiety.
Why Practice Mindful Meditation
In various studies, participants who practiced mindfulness meditation for eight weeks to six months experienced a reduction in anxiety, depression, and physical pain symptoms.
A study conducted by Mass General Hospital and Billings University found these effects persisted even when the participants were not actively meditating. The study also found other long-term benefits of meditation practice:
- Practicing meditation trains the brain to process emotions differently, lending stability to an individual’s emotional state as well as decreasing depression and anxiety.
- Participants learned to process information without immediate reaction or by responding differently.
The study employed two forms of meditation – compassion meditation and mindfulness meditation. Compassion meditation focuses on teaching practitioners to observe experiences, themselves, and others through a lens of loving kindness and compassion. Mindfulness meditation teaches practitioners to observe thoughts and experiences without attaching meaning – to simply observe what is.
Brain scans were taken while participants viewed positive images, negative images, and neutral images. This was repeated during and after their participation in the meditation program. The results indicate that people who participated in the study showed less activity in the emotion and memory center of the brain, the amygdala.
- The compassion meditation participants presented lowered activity in the amygdala when shown positive and neutral images; the activity in the amygdala increased when they were shown negative images, which showed some form of human suffering. Even with this increase, the compassion meditation group reported lower rates of depression.
- The mindfulness meditation participants showed an overall decrease of activity in the amygdala to all images – positive, negative, and neutral – suggesting improved emotional stability.
The results from the two groups support the study’s hypothesis. Based on the mindfulness meditation results, meditation improves the emotional stability and stress response.
How Does It Work
Gaëlle Desbordes, PhD, a research fellow at the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at MGH and at the BU Center for Computational Neuroscience and Neural Technology explained the study results by saying, “We think these two forms of meditation cultivate different aspects of the mind. Since compassion meditation is designed to enhance compassionate feelings, it follows that it does increase the amygdala response in the brain to watching people suffer. Increased amygdala activation correlated to lower depression levels in the compassion meditation group, which could mean that having more compassion towards others certainly benefits oneself. Overall, these results are consistent with the overarching hypothesis that meditation may result in enduring, beneficial changes in brain function, especially in the area of emotional processing.”
How Long Do The Benefits Last
The follow-up observations for the Mass General Hospital and Billings University study were conducted three weeks following its conclusion. This study shows meditators experience the benefits of emotional stability and decreased depression and anxiety when not actively meditating.
The results of this study also indicate the benefits of meditation extend beyond immediate participation in a meditation program. Whether or not the benefits are sustained beyond this period requires further study. The effects of meditation on emotional stability without a program environment, as well as the level of independent practice by participants necessary to experience the same benefits, seem to be the next avenues of inquiry.
How This Benefits You
The fact that mindful meditation involves exercising compassion, patience, and acceptance for all things can serve us in a variety of ways. Obtaining emotional stability is a benefit in itself, but it can further serve us in many ways.
In mindful meditation and emotional stability, one can achieve a higher understanding and appreciation of self, which makes for a more positive attitude towards life. Several studies have shown positive thinking to be of benefit to our health.
Positive thinking is known to have a wide reach in serving our health, both physical and emotional. Optimists have better immunity, less depression and anxiety, and better heart health.
Positive thinkers are also better able to deal with stress because they are more resilient and have the ability to face challenges and adversity with a positive outlook. This makes them more resistant to and better able to avoid the harmful effects that stress hormones have on the body.
Mindful meditation can help with developing a strong positive attitude, which in turn can greatly improve our health and wellness.