A new study suggests that home practice is an important component of developing competency in mindfulness.
Danish researchers discovered a typical student in a standard mindfulness course says they practice for 30 minutes at home every day — with the practice making a difference.
Traditionally, students taking part in a standard Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) or Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) courses are asked to practice mindfulness meditation practice for 45 minutes a day at home, as well as attend weekly group sessions with the teacher.
And the 45 minutes is every day, six days a week for the eight weeks that the course lasts.
Still, in the new study, investigators from Aarhus University in Denmark found practice of 30 minutes a day was effective even though teachers asked for more. Researchers discovered that although students practiced for less time than requested, positive benefits were derived including reduced stress, pain, and better well-being.
The review was an international collaboration between the Universities of Aarhus, Oxford, and Bristol and has recently been published in the journal Behavior Research and Therapy.
“This is the clearest evidence we have that mindfulness-home practice can make a difference. This is a big source of debate because there are many components at play in a MBSR or MBCT course. The support of a teacher might bring about benefit, practicing mindfulness on the actual course, or being in a group with similar other people,” said associate professor Dr. Christine Parsons.
According to the study, the effect of doing home practice is small, but statistically significant in the 28 scientific studies included in the analysis. In all studies, the MBCT or MBSR courses were eight weeks long, and the participants kept diaries of their practice at home.
The diaries were used by researchers to examine the benefits of practice. Unfortunately, there is always uncertainty linked to a self-report diary, which Parsons is trying to minimize.
Researchers wonder if they can rely on students to tell their own teacher about their home practice? Moreover, do student’s fill in their diaries faithfully? We know that people have difficulty reporting on their food or alcohol consumption or even physical activity. Should mindfulness practice be any different?
Similarly, Parsons is concerned about the difference between the quantity of mindfulness practice and the quality of the practice. Anyone who has tried to meditate knows that practice can be difficult.
For example, it is easy to spend time thinking about a conflict at work or writing a long mental shopping list. Mindfulness practice is about cultivating awareness of the present moment, without judging or evaluating, not just spending time on a yoga mat.
“We need to understand how people truly engage with their home practice. There are many problems with self-report as our only assessment method.”
To solve some of these problems, Parsons will develop a number of other measurement methods that will clarify how mindfulness students behave outside the classroom.
For example, she and a group of engineers from Aarhus University, led by associate professor Dr. Kasper Løvborg Jensen and the Danish Center for Mindfulness, are developing an app that records how long participants listen to the guided meditations, which are part of the home practice in MBCT or MBSR.
The information will be sent via the mobile phone app to a server that registers and compares the incoming data with information from a ‘fitness’ wristband. This enables the research team to see what happens to, for example, the student’s heartbeat when he or she is practicing mindfulness.
“It’s all little pieces of the big jigsaw puzzle — how students actually behave outside the classroom. How they practice, what it means, and what actually works,” said Parsons, without wanting to undermine the importance of the recently published result.
“This study forms the basis of our new work, and now we know, that practicing at home has an impact.”
Source: Aarhus University/EurekAlert