Mindfulness meditation is all the rage in meditation circles but does it work? Most research claiming benefits have focused on lengthy, weeks-long training programs using people who already like meditation. A new paper in Psychoneuroendocrinology is about a small study and the authors found that brief mindfulness meditation practice – 25 minutes for three consecutive days – alleviates psychological stress.
For the study, 66 healthy individuals aged 18-30 years old participate in a three-day experiment. Some participants went through a brief mindfulness meditation training program; for 25 minutes for three consecutive days, the individuals were given breathing exercises to help them monitor their breath and pay attention to their present moment experiences. A second group of participants completed a matched three-day cognitive training program in which they were asked to critically analyze poetry in an effort to enhance problem-solving skills.
Following the final training activity, all participants were asked to complete stressful speech and math tasks in front of stern-faced evaluators. Each individual reported their stress levels in response to stressful speech and math performance stress tasks, and provided saliva samples for measurement of cortisol, commonly referred to as the stress hormone.
The participants who received the brief mindfulness meditation training reported reduced stress perceptions to the speech and math tasks, indicating that the mindfulness meditation fostered psychological stress resilience. More interestingly, on the biological side, the mindfulness mediation participants showed greater cortisol reactivity.
"When you initially learn mindfulness mediation practices, you have to cognitively work at it – especially during a stressful task," said lead author J. David Creswell, associate professor of psychology at Carnegie-Mellon University. "And, these active cognitive efforts may result in the task feeling less stressful, but they may also have physiological costs with higher cortisol production."
The authors say they are now testing the possibility that mindfulness can become more automatic and easy to use with long-term mindfulness meditation training, which may result in reduced cortisol reactivity.