A Little Meditation Goes a Long Way
You don’t need to be an expert in mindfulness meditation to experience its amazing stress-relieving benefits. In fact, in a new study, participants who meditated for just 25 minutes, for three consecutive days, reported feeling less anxiety during a stressful test, compared to non-meditating participants.
The practice of mindfulness meditation teaches us to relax into ourselves and to go deeply into the present moment just as it is. No matter what is going on around us, or within us, we are able to stay calmly aware, centered, and present. As a result, we experience our own deeper wisdom and learn to stop actively resisting and running from the discomforts of life.
Although mindfulness meditation is growing rapidly in popularity, most research has focused on its long-term benefits. This prompted researchers from Carnegie Mellon University to investigate whether receiving short-term training in meditation could offer immediate benefits during a stressful test. It turns out that it can.
For the study, published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, researchers recruited 66 healthy individuals, ages 18-30. For three days, one group of participants received mindfulness meditation training for 25 minutes per day. This included instruction on breathing techniques as well as learning to stay in the present moment. The rest of the participants underwent three days of learning how to analyze poetry in order to enhance their problem-solving skills.
After the training, all of the participants took part in a stressful speech and math test in the presence of stern-looking evaluators. Each person was then asked to rate their feelings of stress during the test. They also had their saliva tested for levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
The individuals who had received training in mindfulness meditation reported feeling lower levels of stress during the test than did the poetry analysis trainees. Interestingly, however, the mindfulness meditation group showed higher levels of cortisol in their saliva samples.
Why is this? J. David Creswell, associate professor of psychology at Carnegie-Mellon University, explained that there is mental effort involved in learning mindfulness meditation. So although the task at hand (in this case, the speech and math test) may feel less stressful, the mental effort of applying the new mindfulness skills may result in physiological effects—such as higher cortical production.
The researchers are currently testing whether cortisol levels will decline with long-term practice, as meditation becomes easier and more automatic for participants in the long run.