Mindfulness meditation, an essential part of Buddhist and Indian yoga traditions, has recently been shown to have benefits for health and performance, including improved immune function, reduced blood pressure, and enhanced cognitive function.
Given the wide-ranging benefits of the technique, researcher Britta Hölzel, Ph.D., of Justus Liebig University and Harvard Medical School attempted 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.
According to the authors, mindfulness has four key components 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, researchers said. Although the components are unique, they are closely intertwined.
For example, improvement in attention regulation may help us be aware of our physiological state while body awareness, in turn, helps us to recognize the emotions we are experiencing.
A better understanding of the relationships between these components, and the brain mechanisms that underlie them, will allow clinicians to better prescribe mindfulness interventions for their patients.
Hölzel believes this framework underscores the point that mindfulness is not a vague cure-all. Indeed, successful practice of mindfulness meditation requires training and practice. As the technique is mastered, it has a distinct measurable effect on our subjective experiences, our behavior, and our brain function.
The authors hope that further research on this topic will “enable a much broader spectrum of individuals to utilize mindfulness meditation as a versatile tool to facilitate change – both in psychotherapy and in everyday life.”
Her study is published in Perspectives on Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.