This post is also available in Dutch.
In recent years, practitioners and scientists alike have made grandiose claims about the benefits of mindfulness meditation. Countless case studies support the idea that mindfulness meditation can improve virtually every domain of life. Unfortunately, few of these benefits meet scientific consensus. So which ones hold up? Find out here.
The recent burst in popularity of mindfulness meditation (MM) is unlikely to have gone unnoticed by anyone. You may have heard that MM increases focus, thinking speed, alertness, memory, relationship quality, and even immune functioning. Conversely, you may have also heard that it reduces anxiety, negative emotions, distress, and trauma. It’s no surprise that clinical psychologists are increasingly interested in MM.
MM is a form of attention training that has its roots in the Buddhistic Vipassana tradition. The practice can be defined as “paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally”. This typically means that practitioners sit down on a cushion with closed eyes and pay careful attention to their breath, other physical sensations, thoughts, sounds, or anything else they might perceive. Whatever sensation they encounter, they try to fully experience it without getting stuck in mental narratives about what they are experiencing.
Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction
All the way back in 1979, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn turned the practice into a standardized program called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and made it popular in the West. MBSR and its clinical counterpart, MBCT (Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy), are now taught worldwide.
Since MM could potentially be very helpful to psychiatric patients, many studies have assessed its efficacy. The gold standard for such assessments are meta-analyses of randomized clinical trials (RCTs), several of which have been conducted for MM.
Treat your depression or addiction with mindfulness
A recent review concludes that mindfulness-based interventions perform as well as traditional evidence-based treatments in treating depression and addictive disorders. Also, both types were vastly superior to other types of treatment.
This is great news. Given that in the Netherlands 800,000 people suffer from a mood disorder and two million people abuse or are addicted to substances, we need every effective treatment we can possibly find.
Suffer less from pain
Another review shows that MM improves subjective pain experience and depressive symptoms in individuals suffering from chronic pain. Since conventional treatments for chronic pain often include risky medications such as antidepressants and even opioids, non-drug options are important—making MM an interesting alternative.
Meditate to sleep better
Finally, a review shows that MM increases sleep quality in people with insomnia; even though it doesn’t increase the total sleeping time, this is a valuable improvement. MM could be a good treatment in parallel to traditional treatments for sleep complaints.
These findings show that mindfulness alleviates several psychological complaints by aiding the acceptance of negative experience and removing some of the preventable suffering caused by our thinking. And, of course, whether clinical or not, negative experiences happen to all of us. Maybe then mindfulness is for you, too. You can try the Headspace app or find an MBSR teacher somewhere nearby.