Several practices and disciplines can promote mindfulness, such as qi gong, tai chi, and yoga; however, most of the research has been focused on mindfulness that is developed through meditation, a practice involving self-regulation control.
It fosters mental wellbeing and development, or specific capacities such as calmness, concentration, and clarity.
Scientists have theorized that mindfulness promotes cognitive awareness, enhances the ability to be attentive, and decreases rumination. These cognitive gains contribute to strategies involving “emotion-regulation.”
More specifically, the research on mindfulness techniques has found that mindfulness has these benefits, especially for very busy people:
1. It decreases rumination. There have been many studies showing that mindfulness decreases rumination about the future. For example, researchers asked twenty meditators to participate in a ten-day mindfulness meditation retreat. After the retreat, the participants who practiced mindfulness had a higher degree of mindfulness and decreased rumination. Those who practiced mindfulness had a better working memory and were better able to focus on daily tasks.
2. Mindfulness reduces stress in busy people. There have been several studies indicating that practicing mindfulness-based cognitive therapy and mindfulness-based stress reduction may be helpful in altering cognitive and affective processes.
These findings are similar to evidence that mindfulness decreases negative affect and anxiety, and increases positive affect. One study showed that participants assigned to an 8-week mindfulness-based stress program were compared to controls on measures of psychopathology, anxiety, and depression.
It also measured neural activity as measured by a functional MRI scan after watching several sad movies.
Additionally, the functional MRI scans showed that those who practiced mindfulness had less neural reactivity when they were exposed to the movies when compared to the control group.
This suggests that mindfulness shifts the person’s ability to make use of emotion regulation strategies in such a way that enables them to experience emotion selectivity. The emotions they experienced might be processed differently inside the brain.
3. Mindfulness increases working memory. Improvements in the working memory of busy people seem to be another benefit of mindfulness. In a 2010 study, for example, there were documented benefits of mindfulness among a group of participants who underwent an 8-week course in mindfulness training.
Both groups were highly stressed. The researchers found that those that didn’t meditate had a decrease in their working memory, while those who meditated had an increase in working memory. In addition, mindfulness was related to positive affect and inversely related to negative affect.
4. Mindfulness improves focus in busy people. There was another study that looked at how mindfulness meditation affected the participant’s ability to focus on attention and their ability to suppress distracting information.
The researchers looked at those who were experienced in mindfulness with those who had no experience with the technique. Those who practiced mindfulness had better performance on attention tasks and had a greater degree of self-reported mindfulness.
5. Mindfulness decreases emotional reactivity. Researchers also supported the idea that mindfulness lessens emotional reactivity. In a study of those who had from a month to 29 years of mindfulness practice, those that had practice in mindfulness helped people disengage from emotionally-upsetting pictures and helped them focus better on cognitive tasks when compared to those who did not practice mindfulness.