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.
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? The website 4MindfulnessMeditation.com says:
With mindfulness meditation, we take on the role of an impartial observer of everything that passes before our attention. Our intention is not to be focused, but rather to be mindful, that is, to be fully aware and awake of what is going on in the present moment. Often the breath is still used as an anchor to the present moment in mindfulness meditation, but apart from that, no attempt is made to direct the attention.
Whatever thoughts, so called distractions, sounds, images, ideas, or feelings arise, nothing is excluded. Everything is welcomed. We simply pay attention to whatever is there. We do not judge or evaluate. Whatever happens, whatever occurs is okay – we just sit quietly and observe.
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.
The article is tilted: How Does Mindfulness Meditation Work? Proposing Mechanisms of Action From a Conceptual and Neural Perspective. To read the entire article, click here.
Sources: Association for Psychological Science and Science Daily