Cultivating mindfulness helps our brains better focus on tasks. Researchers tested this idea by comparing the brain activity of subjects new to meditation before and after an eight-week mindfulness meditation training. They found that the post-training brain activity of these subjects was associated with an improved ability to tune out distractions and focus their attention (Kerr et al., 2011).
The effect of mindfulness meditation on brain function seems to reach beyond focusing well. In another study, researchers looked at the mindfulness-associated changes in gray matter (the brain layers that contain the bodies of neurons) in several brain areas of participants. They observed that an eight-week training of mindfulness meditation resulted in increases in gray matter density in brain areas associated with learning, memory, and emotion regulation (Hölzel et al., 2011).
Are you tossing and turning in bed as your mind wanders from one thought to another? Research suggests that mindfulness may help you get some shut-eye time. A meta-analysis evaluated 18 studies that used mindfulness meditation interventions to test the effect of mindfulness on sleep quality. The analysis indicated that mindfulness meditation might alleviate some parts of sleep disturbance (Rush et al., 2019).
Are you looking for a way to deal with your daily stress and anxiety? Mindfulness may be of help again. Practicing mindfulness can reduce your stress and anxiety by allowing you to become less reactive to unpleasant situations (Kabat-Zinn, Massion & Kristeller, 1992). In fact, a meta-analysis has found that mindfulness-based interventions exhibited efficacy in lessening anxiety and depression symptom severity in a wide range of patients and consistently outperformed non-evidence-based treatments and active control conditions (Hofmann & Gomez, 2017).
Mindfulness-based interventions have also been increasingly incorporated into therapies for treating pain. A systematic review of randomized controlled trials suggests that although mindfulness meditation has a limited capacity to reduce pain, it seems to be quite effective in improving the quality of life of chronic pain patients (Hilton et al., 2017).
Tips for Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness meditation can be easier said than done. Here are a few tips that may help you achieve better results.
Start small. As we mentioned before, if you haven’t been meditating regularly or are a beginner, shorter practices can help you get into a habit of meditating. You can slowly increase your meditation duration once you get in a rhythm.
Use a timer. That way, you don’t have to wonder during your meditation whether you have meditated for the intended duration.
Remove distractions. Anything that can distract you can ruin your focus. You might want to silence your phone and choose a quiet place for your meditation. If you are using guided meditations, those with no (or minimal) music may work better. Also, lighting up incense may become distracting; if you like their scents, try using them after you are done with your meditation.
Don’t suppress thoughts and emotions. Instead, let them come and go through an open door in your mind. Try to acknowledge them and let them go.
Progress requires practice. Don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t reap all of the benefits of mindfulness shortly after you start meditating. The more regularly you practice mindfulness meditation, the better you get at it, and the more benefits you may start to enjoy.