10 Aug Mindfulness: How to Become Mindful
Mindfulness, a moment-by-moment awareness of one’s thoughts, feelings and sensations, has gained worldwide popularity as a way to promote health and well-being. But what if someone isn’t naturally mindful? Can they become so simply by trying to make mindfulness a “state of mind”? Or perhaps through a more focused, deliberate effort like meditation or mindfulness skills?
Researchers from Michigan State University recorded the brain activity of people looking at disturbing pictures immediately after meditating for the first time. The study showed that these participants were able to moderate their negative emotions just as well as participants who were naturally mindful. The findings demonstrate that meditation improves emotional health, but also that people can develop these benefits regardless of their ‘natural’ ability to be mindful, it just takes some PRACTICE.
Researchers assessed 68 participants for mindfulness using a scientifically validated survey. The participants were then randomly assigned to engage in an 18-minute audio-guided meditation or listen to a control presentation of how to learn a new language, before viewing negative pictures (such as a bloody corpse) while their brain activity was recorded.
The participants who meditated – they had varying levels of natural mindfulness – showed similar levels of “emotion regulatory” brain activity as people with high levels of natural mindfulness. In other words their emotional brains recovered quickly after viewing the troubling photos, essentially keeping their negative emotions in check.
In addition, some of the participants were instructed to look at the gruesome photos “mindfully” (be in a mindful state of mind) while others received no such instruction. Interestingly, the people who viewed the photos “mindfully” showed no better ability to keep their negative emotions in check.
This suggests that for non-meditators, the emotional benefits of mindfulness might be better achieved through using some formal skills, rather than “forcing it” as a state of mind, said Dr. Jason Moser, a co-author of the study. “If you’re a naturally mindful person, and you’re walking around very aware of things, you’re good to go. You shed your emotions quickly,” Moser said. “If you’re not naturally mindful, then learning some skills can make you look like a person who walks around with a lot of mindfulness. But for people who are not naturally mindful and have never learned, forcing oneself to be mindful ‘in the moment’ doesn’t work.”
Whether it’s mindfulness skills or more formal styles of meditation. PRACTICE. PRACTICE. PRACTICE. And any one of us can be a mindful person.
Authored by: Kiara Moore, LMSW
Reference: Yanli Lin, Megan E. Fisher, Sean M. M. Roberts, Jason S. Moser. (2016). Deconstructing the Emotion Regulatory Properties of Mindfulness: An Electrophysiological Investigation. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience,10.