Class 1 of The Introduction to Mindfulness-Based Resilience Series - Mindful Awareness and Attention Regulation.
Mindful Awareness is that crystal-clear sensory experience we can feel in a forest. Or when standing on a quiet beach or at the top of a mountain. Mindful Awareness is what we can sense when we connect to nature and what we share with animals.
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We can culture Mindful Awareness by practising focused attention meditation.
Focused attention meditation is often called mindfulness meditation and is an ancient mental exercise that helps you focus on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting your feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. Focused attention builds attention regulation, which in turn, can enhance many aspects of our lives.
In layman's terms, attention regulation is our ability to manage and direct our focus on things we want to pay attention to while filtering out distractions. Here's how focused attention meditation can help with attention regulation and the benefits it offers. The scientific references backing this up are at the end of the article.
- Improved concentration: Mindfulness meditation trains your mind to focus on a single point, such as your breath or a mantra. This practice helps you develop the skill to concentrate on one thing at a time, which can be useful in many situations, such as work or study.
- Reduced stress and anxiety: By directing your attention to the present moment, mindfulness meditation helps you let go of worries about the future or regrets about the past. This can reduce stress and anxiety, leading to a more peaceful and focused mind.
- Increased self-awareness: Through mindfulness meditation, you become more aware of your thoughts and feelings. This heightened self-awareness can help you better understand your emotions and thought patterns, which can lead to healthier coping strategies and better decision-making.
- Better emotional regulation: As you become more in tune with your emotions, you can learn to regulate your emotional responses. This can help you respond more calmly and effectively to stressful situations, improving your relationships and overall well-being.
- Enhanced cognitive flexibility: Mindfulness meditation can improve your ability to switch between tasks and adapt to new information. This cognitive flexibility can help you navigate complex situations and solve problems more efficiently.
In summary, mindfulness meditation can help to improve attention regulation skills, which can lead to better concentration, reduced stress and anxiety, increased self-awareness, better emotional control, and enhanced cognitive flexibility. These benefits can positively impact various aspects of life, such as work, study, relationships, and overall mental well-being.
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Here are some highly-cited research studies supporting each benefit of meditation along with a brief summary of their findings:
Improved concentration: Study: Lutz, A., Slagter, H. A., Dunne, J. D., & Davidson, R. J. (2008). Attention regulation and monitoring in meditation. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 12(4), 163-169. Summary: This review paper discusses various studies on different meditation practices and their effects on attention. The authors suggest that meditation can enhance attentional skills, including improved concentration, by training the mind to focus on a chosen object while filtering out distractions.
Reduced stress and anxiety: Study: Hofmann, S. G., Sawyer, A. T., Witt, A. A., & Oh, D. (2010). The effect of mindfulness-based therapy on anxiety and depression: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 78(2), 169-183.
- Summary: This meta-analysis examined the effect of mindfulness-based therapy on anxiety and depression. The authors found that mindfulness-based interventions, including meditation, significantly reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression across various clinical populations.
Increased self-awareness: Study: Farb, N. A., Segal, Z. V., Mayberg, H., Bean, J., McKeon, D., Fatima, Z., & Anderson, A. K. (2007). Attending to the present: mindfulness meditation reveals distinct neural modes of self-reference. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 2(4), 313-322.
- Summary: This study used functional MRI to investigate the neural correlates of mindfulness meditation. The results showed that participants who practised meditation exhibited increased activity in brain regions related to self-awareness and present-moment focus.
Better emotional regulation: Study: Creswell, J. D., Way, B. M., Eisenberger, N. I., & Lieberman, M. D. (2007). Neural correlates of dispositional mindfulness during affect labelling. Psychosomatic Medicine, 69(6), 560-565.
- Summary: This study used functional MRI to examine the relationship between dispositional mindfulness and emotional regulation. The results revealed that individuals with higher dispositional mindfulness showed greater neural activity in regions associated with emotional regulation when labelling emotional experiences.
Enhanced cognitive flexibility: Study: Zeidan, F., Johnson, S. K., Diamond, B. J., David, Z., & Goolkasian, P. (2010). Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: Evidence of brief mental training. Consciousness and Cognition, 19(2), 597-605.
- Summary: This study found that participants who underwent a brief 4-day mindfulness meditation training demonstrated improved cognitive flexibility, among other cognitive skills, compared to a control group. The results suggest that even short-term meditation practice can enhance cognitive functioning.