Improve Well-Being, Attention, and Emotions with Meditation
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“How are you feeling? Meditation gives us a chance to entertain that question at a deeper level. It can give us the room to fully experience an emotion for what it is.” – Mindful
Mindfulness practice has been shown to improve emotions and their regulation. Practitioners demonstrate more positive and less negative emotions and the ability to fully sense and experience emotions, while responding to them in appropriate and adaptive ways. In other words, mindful people are better able to experience yet control their responses to emotions. The ability of mindfulness training to improve emotion regulation is thought to be the basis for a wide variety of benefits that mindfulness provides to mental health and the treatment of mental illness especially depression and anxiety disorders.
There are, however, a number of different meditation techniques. Two common forms are focused and open monitoring meditation practices. In focused attention meditation, the individual practices paying attention to a single meditation object, learns to filter out distracting stimuli, including thoughts, and learns to stay focused on the present moment, filtering out thoughts centered around the past or future. In open monitoring meditation, the individual opens up awareness to everything that’s being experienced regardless of its origin. These include bodily sensations, external stimuli, and even thoughts. The meditator just observes these thoughts and lets them arise and fall away without paying them any further attention.
What forms of meditation work best to improve emotions and over what period of time is necessary for practice to produce benefits have not been well studied. In today’s Research News article “The Effects of Different Stages of Mindfulness Meditation Training on Emotion Regulation.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6610260/), Zhang and colleagues recruited young adults (aged 19-32) who had not engaged in meditation practice previously and randomly assigned them to either a wait list control condition or an 8-week mindfulness training program. The mindfulness training consisted of 4 weeks of focused meditation followed by 4 weeks of open monitoring meditation. They met for 2 hours once a week and were requested to practice at home daily for 20-30 minutes. They were measured before training, at the 4-week point of training and after training for mindfulness, positive and negative emotions, anxiety, depression, rumination, and a cognitive attention task (Stroop task).
They found that the meditation group significantly increased in mindfulness from baseline to the 4-week point with further increases observed at 8 weeks, while the control group did not increase. For the meditation group positive emotions were significant higher at both 4 and 8 weeks while rumination, negative emotions, anxiety, and depression were significant lower. The meditation group also had significantly improved ability to attend to stimuli amid interference at 4- and 8-weeks post-training while the control group did not.
The results are interesting and suggest that 4 weeks of focused meditation practice improves the psychological well-being of young adults while an additional 4 weeks of open monitoring meditation practice either maintains or further increases the benefits. These results replicate many previous findings that mindfulness training significantly improves mindfulness, attention, and emotions, and significantly reduces rumination, anxiety, and depression. This strongly supports providing meditation training for young adults to improve their psychological health and well-being.
So, improve well-being, attention, and emotions with meditation.
“in order to successfully navigate life, you need to be able to both name the emotion you’re experiencing and describe the feelings that make up your experience. This is where meditation can help, by teaching us to observe, identify, and respond instead of just react.” – Richard Miller
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Zhang, Q., Wang, Z., Wang, X., Liu, L., Zhang, J., & Zhou, R. (2019). The Effects of Different Stages of Mindfulness Meditation Training on Emotion Regulation. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 13, 208. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2019.00208
This study examined mood enhancement effects from 4-week focusing attention (FA) meditation and 4-week open monitoring (OM) meditation in an 8-week mindfulness training program designed for ordinary individuals. Forty participants were randomly assigned to a training group or a control group. All participants were asked to perform cognitive tasks and subjective scale tests at three time points (pre-, mid-, and post-tests). Compared with the participants in the control group, the participants in the meditation training group showed significantly decreased anxiety, depression, and rumination scores; significantly increased mindfulness scores; and significantly reduced reaction times (RTs) in the incongruent condition for the Stroop task. The present study demonstrated that 8-week mindfulness meditation training could effectively enhance the level of mindfulness and improve emotional states. Moreover, FA meditation could partially improve individual levels of mindfulness and effectively improve mood, while OM meditation could further improve individual levels of mindfulness and maintain a positive mood.