Research gathered from Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, Center for Healthy Minds at University of Wisconsin–Madison, Center for Mindfulness at UMass Medical School, and American Mindfulness Research Association.
Feeling good in your own skin
Do mindful people feel better about their bodies? Researchers asked 115 female college students about their level of mindfulness, body responsiveness, body shame, and overall health. Women who reported greater awareness and who tended to be nonjudgmental and nonreactive—key mindfulness skills—had less body shame, were more attuned to their bodies, and were healthier overall. The researchers say it’s not yet clear whether mindfulness increases body satisfaction, or vice versa.
Building your meditation muscle
In a comparison of adults who listened to either a guided meditation or a podcast daily for 13 minutes, researchers found that meditators reaped more benefits. For instance, after eight weeks meditators felt less anxiety and reported fewer negative mood states. And their performance on a set of computerized tests showed that they’d developed better attention and memory skills than podcast listeners.
The brain networks that work to keep us in the present moment and remember information are like mental muscles: They need exercise to keep them sharp and well-functioning, and meditation may provide that workout. The study also found that people in the meditation group were better at regulating their emotions, which was tied to having fewer negative moods.
But before you think this was a quick fix, think again. When the researchers checked to see if these benefits could be detected after four weeks, they came up empty-handed. Most of the gains didn’t show up until after eight weeks of steady practice. As with exercising a physical muscle, it takes time, patience, and repetition for change to take effect.
Be kind to yourself
Self-compassion may make aging easier. A review of the research showed that adults over 65 who practiced self-compassion tended to be less anxious and depressed, and felt a greater sense of well-being, than those who didn’t. (Tip: It probably doesn’t hurt to start practicing when you’re young.)
Researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota surveyed nearly 1800 women aged 40 to 65 to see if those with a more mindful disposition might experience fewer menopausal difficulties. In fact, those with higher mindfulness scores were less stressed and had fewer symptoms like mood swings, hot flashes, insomnia, and fatigue—encouraging results for the millions of women experiencing this midlife passage.
Does mindfulness make you kinder? That’s the question researchers asked when reviewing 31 studies on mindfulness and prosocial behavior. They found that dispositionally mindful people and those who completed some form of mindfulness training tended to be more compassionate and helpful. Being nonjudgmental, empathic, having a positive outlook on life, and knowing how to regulate emotions also increased behavior that benefitted others.
There were a few catches. Adults tended to be more prosocial than teenagers, and people who rated themselves higher in mindfulness were more helpful to people they knew than to strangers.
This didn’t apply to those who’d attended formal mindfulness training, though. They were just as kind to people they didn’t know as to those familiar to them. One big surprise was that people who’d received mindful awareness training and those who’d had compassion-focused instruction were equally prosocial, debunking the myth that the benefits of mindfulness are only limited to the individual. In other words, just being mindful may be enough to up your kindness quotient.