Different studies have suggested that mindfulness meditation, an ancient Buddhist practice that focuses on being aware of the present moment, is effective in reducing stress as well as improving concentration and even cognitive performance.
A team of researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in the US led by social psychologist David Creswell divided 66 healthy volunteers aged 18 to 30 into two groups for a three-day experiment. The first group had 25-minute mindful meditation sessions. In their practice they were taught to be present and to focus on their breathing. The other group was taught to analyse poetry to boost their problem-solving skills.
After the training, both groups were asked to complete a stressful speech and maths test in front of evaluators. The researchers collected saliva samples to measure the participants’ levels of the hormone cortisol, which is a clear marker of stress.
The people in the group who practised mindful meditation found the tasks less stressful than the other group, but their cortisol levels were still high. “When you initially learn mindfulness mediation practices, you have to cognitively work at it—especially during a stressful task,” said Creswell in a press release. “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 study, according to the release, is the first to show that brief mindfulness meditation practice can help alliviate stress.
The team is now testing how mindfulness can become a more automatic response that can also help reduce cortisol activity.