y its simplest definition, mindfulness is a practice of remaining fully mental present “in the moment.” Mindfulness can be thought of as a form of meditation where the purpose is to guide one’s attention back to the immediate environment whenever it is distracted.
Mindfulness has been a part of spiritual practices around the world for thousands of years. It features prominently in world religions. However, mindfulness is not a religious practice. By fostering the ability to focus attention at will, it can produce mental health benefits.
Information about the benefits of mindfulness has been gathered for centuries. However, modern science has only explored the topic over the last few decades. Mindfulness is not known to treat or cure any condition, but it is associated with positive mental health results.
In particular, mindfulness changes the way the individual responds to stress. Stress is a contributor to a host of conditions affecting mind and body. When someone lacks healthy coping mechanisms for stress, many body systems must “work overtime” to manage it.
Of all the problems stress plays a role in, cardiovascular health may be the most visible. Chronic levels of high stress contribute to high blood pressure, which makes stroke and heart attack more likely. Heart disease, in turn, kills 1 in every 4 American adults.
Aside from stress reduction, these other benefits have been attributed to mindfulness:
Mindfulness is effective alone and as part of therapy, but it cannot replace therapy for those who need it. Its mental health benefits are largely due to reduced rumination, repetitively “replaying” a negative thought without reaching any conclusion.
Since literature about mindfulness stretches back centuries, many researchers are interested to discover which benefits can be proven. Many positive effects have been validated in mindfulness clinical trials and mindfulness studies in the lab.
Many mindfulness clinical studies have focused on measuring changes in emotional affect, or mood, in groups taught to practice mindfulness. Some studies have used advanced imaging to map practitioners’ brains during mindfulness practices.
One of the most interesting results in mindfulness research has to do with relationships. Studies in 2007 and 2008 suggested people who practice mindfulness tend to have higher relationship satisfaction. They discuss emotions and respond to relationship stress better.