In a new study, researchers found three main factors that could be linked to the mental health benefits of mindfulness meditation.
The research was conducted by a team at Pontifical University of Salamanca in Spain.
Mindfulness meditation has become increasingly popular, particularly as a tool to reduce stress or anxiety and gain a greater sense of wellbeing.
While many studies have confirmed that regular meditation, especially mindfulness meditation, can have beneficial effects on people’s mental health, very little is known about the mechanisms underpinning these effects.
In the study, the team aimed at uncovering some of the reasons why mindfulness meditation can improve people’s psychological health and wellbeing.
After reviewing some of the contributions of previous research, they proposed that three variables could play an important role.
The three factors include the capacity for self-compassion; experiencing that life has meaning; and reducing the extent to which a person avoids thoughts, emotions or experiences that may be unpleasant but are part of his/her life.
In addition to identifying three factors that could underlie the positive effects of mindfulness meditation, the team proposes that practicing mindfulness meditation on a regular basis can increase levels of self-compassion.
This, in turn, makes life feel more meaningful, finally motivating the person meditating to become more involved in life, thus reducing their avoidance of both pleasant and challenging experiences.
The team defines self-compassion as one’s ability to be kind towards oneself rather than harsh or self-critical, while also recognizing that suffering, pain, and difficulties are common to our shared human nature rather than feeling alienated or weird.
This entails the ability to be mindfully aware of potentially aversive inner experiences, such as disturbing thoughts, negative emotions or upsetting sensations, instead of over-identifying with these experiences.
The researchers asked 414 meditators and 414 nonmeditators to answer questionnaires designed to measure their levels of mental health, self-compassion and experiential avoidance, as well as how much they felt life had meaning.
They then analyzed the data they collected, comparing the responses of meditators with those of nonmeditators.
They found that consistently practicing mindfulness meditation encourages self-compassion, helping people to find greater meaning in their life, but also reducing the tendency to avoid or escape from unpleasant thoughts or emotions that cause pain, suffering or discomfort.
Combined, these three factors could lead to improvements in wellbeing and mental health.
The findings highlight the benefits of meditating regularly.
The team says that for meditation to be associated with positive effects it must be practiced regularly over time.
When meditation is only practiced on an occasional basis, its effects can be negligible, or the practice can even become a form of experiential avoidance in itself.
The lead author of the study is José Ramon Yela.
The study is published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology.
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