Research-Backed Reasons to Practice Mindfulness

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With thousands of studies published to date (many peer-reviewed), scientific resesearch continues to show how mindfulness practices can help across a wide spectrum of issues, from health to relationships. 

Longtime meditation teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, nonjudgmentally.” 

Today, many variations of mindfulness exist, and secular versions of the practice are widely used in therapeutic settings, schools, and businesses. Mindfulness practices has been found to be effective for lessening anxiety, reducing race and age bias, and even helping with emotional eating and weight loss.

Many thousands of studies on mindfulness have been published to date, and the field of research has expanded to look beyond practices that involve sitting still to movement-based contemplative practices, such as yoga and tai chi.  

Here are six studies that may help you or a loved one on the path to better health and well-being. (To keep up on the latest in mindfulness research, see the American Mindfulness Research Association's database (subscription), Mindfulness journal (subscription), or 

1) Severe Headache Relief

Migraines, are intense, throbbing headaches that can cause nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light, are considered the sixth most frequent cause of disability.

In a 2020 randomized controlled trial, scientists tested whether mindfulness training could help reduce migraines by altering structure and function in regions of the brain associated with cognitive aspects of pain processing.

Researchers assigned 98 people who had experienced consistent severe headaches in the past month to either an enhanced Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) group or a stress management program (control group). More than 52 percernt of MBSR participants had at least a 50 percent improvement in their headaches by week 20 in the study compared to 23 percent improvement in the control group. The MBSR partcipants also reported significantly less headache-related disability at that 20-week mark.   

2) Looking To Be Less Distracted?

Another small 2020 study highlights how a regular meditation practice can yield significant neurocognitive benefits. In this study, half of the participants completed a formal MBSR training, while the other half completed a pilates training. Before and after the trainings, scientists tracked the participants electrical brain activity.

The results? The MBSR group exhibited enhanced cognitive control processes and the ability to overcome distractions, i.e. better ability to focus. 

3) Calming Chronic Back Pain

Nearly eight out 10 people in the United Stated will experience lower back pain in their lives. The back supports most of the body’s weight and with more and more people spending the majority of their day sitting, it’s all to easy to develop pain and discomfort.

In a study of 342 people aged 20 to 70 published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers found that participants using Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) had greater improvement in function and back pain compared to the group that remained in standard care.  

4) Help With Postpartum Depression

Approximately one in eight women have postpartum depression after giving birth, according to the CDC. Symptoms include feeling hopeless, anxious, and irritable, and having low energy.

Dr. Sona Dimidjian, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Colorado Boulder, released research that offers hope to new moms. She found that Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, which utilizes mindfulness exercises, is as effective as conventional treatment when it comes to preventing postpartum depression.

5) Focus at Work

A recent analysis of mindfulness research found that a “corporate culture of mindfulness not only improves focus, but the ability to manage stress and how employees work together.”

The researchers combed through 4,000 scientific papers to write "Contemplating Mindfulness at Work," which was published in the Journal of Management. Their main conclusion? Mindfulness is linked to better workplace function because it heightens the ability to concentrate, pay attention, and listen. Mindfulness also positively impacts work relationships and the ability to work in teams.

6) Resolving Relationship Conflict

Even the best romantic relationships go through challenging times. One study measured the impact of mindfulness practices during mild relationship conflicts and found promising results. In particular, the participants experienced quicker recovery time from their stress hormone levels, supporting the idea that mindfulness can lessen the physiological impacts of negative behaviors during tense times.