The stress in our lives is now so great and so insidious that more and more people are making the deliberate decision to understand it better and to bring it under personal control. The problem of stress does not admit to simpleminded solutions or quick fixes. At root, stress is a natural part of living from which there is no escape. Yet some people try to avoid stress by walling themselves off from life experience; others attempt to anesthetize themselves one way or another to escape it, through food, alcohol, drugs and partying.
But if we do escape temporarily and avoidance become our habitual ways of dealing with our problems, the problems just multiply. They don't magically go away. Facing our problems is usually the only way to get past them.There is an art to facing difficulties in ways that lead to effective solutions and to inner peace and harmony.That is mindfulness !
The first application of mindfulness in medical set-up was to reduce stress and enhance health. Jon kabat-zinn developed the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in 1978, which has trained more than 20,000 participants so far. Over the past thirty-five years has shown consistent, reliable, and reproducible demonstrations of major and clinically relevant reductions in medical and psychological symptoms across a wide range of medical diagnoses.
Researchers theorize that mindfulness meditation promotes what they called meta-cognitive awareness which decreases rumination and enhances attentional capacities through gains in working memory.
This they believe has provided the mindfulness practioners the increased ability to cope with stress. More specifically, research on mindfulness has identified these benefits:
Reduced rumination. Several studies have shown that mindfulness reduces rumination. In one study, for example, Chambers et al. (2008) asked 20 novice meditators to participate in a 10-day intensive mindfulness meditation retreat. After the retreat, the meditation group had significantly higher self-reported mindfulness and a decreased negative affect compared with a control group. They also experienced fewer depressive symptoms and less rumination. In addition, the meditators had significantly better working memory capacity and were better able to sustain attention during a performance task compared with the control group.
Stress reduction. Many studies show that practicing mindfulness reduces stress. In 2010, Hoffman et al. conducted a meta-analysis of 39 studies that explored the use of mindfulness-based stress reduction and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. The researchers concluded that mindfulness-based therapy may be useful in altering affective and cognitive processes that underlie multiple clinical issues.
Those findings are consistent with evidence that mindfulness meditation increases positive affect and decreases anxiety and negative affect.
In one study, participants randomly assigned to an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction group were compared with controls on self-reported measures of depression, anxiety and psychopathology, and on neural reactivity as measured by fMRI after watching sad films (Farb et al., 2010). The researchers found that the participants who experienced mindfulness-based stress reduction had significantly less anxiety, depression and somatic distress compared with the control group.
In addition, the fMRI data indicated that the mindfulness group had less neural reactivity when they were exposed to the films than the control group, and they displayed distinctly different neural responses while watching the films than they did before their mindfulness training. These findings suggest that mindfulness meditation shifts people's ability to use emotion regulation strategies in a way that enables them to experience emotion selectively, and that the emotions they experience may be processed differently in the brain (Farb et al., 2010; Williams, 2010).