Can meditation help you avoid a Snickers or a cigarette? A new study says yes.
Buddhist beliefs include the concept of tanhā, which is discussed in the Four Noble Truths. It’s a thirst, a wish—it can be either mental or physical—and if linked to an inappropriate tendency, can bring about suffering. Now, not all craving is bad. Craving a nice salad and some time to yourself is a good thing. But when craving leads to cigarettes or too much alcohol, a craving is a negative. Meditation has been used as a way to avoid and treat unhealhful cravings, even dating back to the early Buddhist texts. But how does it work? A new study from the City University London sought greater understanding of whether mindfulness strategies reduce cravings, change behavior, or work in a combination of effect.
The work was a review that dove into data from 30 experimental studies involving mindfulness interventions to treat cravings, usually for food or s specific drug. These mindfulness techniques might have included, for example, promoting feelings of acceptance toward uncomfortable feelings or greater awareness of the body’s sensation. After reviewing the studies, the study author concluded that mindfulness reduced craving most likely due to loading working memory, the part of our short-term memory that is associated with immediate perception and linguistic processing. Those immediate benefits were also enhanced by a medium term benefit, of “extinction processes,” where the individual inhibits the craving-related behaviors, a nice cycle that also leads to less cravings.
Though further research is still necessary, Dr. Katy Tapper, the author of the review and a senior lecturer in the Department of Psychology at City, University of London, wrote, “There is some evidence to suggest that engaging in regular mindfulness practice may reduce the extent to which people feel the need to react to their cravings.”