There are two other areas that mindfulness can be helpful with: pain and emotion regulation.
Neuroscientific experiments have found that participants felt less physical pain as a result of practicing mindfulness, and researchers have suggested that this may have implications for managing chronic pain.
Further studies using brain scans have showed that mindfulness helps control emotions, which may help people overcome addiction or lower their stress levels.
However, is it possible that someone who has never meditated before can reap these benefits? This is what a group of researchers — led by Hedy Kober, an associate professor of psychiatry and psychology at Yale University in New Haven, CT — has set out to examine.
Specifically, Kober and colleagues wanted to see whether or not people with no previous mindfulness experience could benefit from a 30-minute introduction to the technique.
Kober and team tested 17 “meditation-naïve” participants, aged 18–45, under two experimental conditions.
In one condition, the participants had to look at 30 negative images vs. 30 neutral images. In the other, they experienced painful vs. warm temperature stimuli 30 times each.
Before the experiments, the researchers trained the participants in mindfulness and how to complete the tasks for a period of 30 minutes.
During this time, the researchers instructed the participants to “react naturally, whatever [their] response might be” in the control condition, so that the scientists could establish a baseline measure of emotional response.
The researchers achieved this by performing brain imaging scans of the participants as they were completing the tasks.
Then, they asked the participants “to attend to and accept their experience as it is.” This was the mindful acceptance mindset, which consisted of two components: “attention to present moment sensation” and “non-judgmental acceptance of the sensation as it is, allowing it to exist without trying to avoid it or react to it.”
For example, in the experiments that involved the physical application of heat to the participants’ forearms, the researchers instructed them to accept the sensation in a non-judgmental way.
The study authors in their paper explained:
“[P]participants were told ‘if you feel a sensation of warmth on your forearm, you should simply attend to what is felt, without making any judgment of the ‘goodness’ or ‘badness’ of that sensation.” explain the study authors in their paper.
The effect of 30 minutes of mindfulness
The experiments revealed that the participants reported less physical pain and negative emotions in the mindfulness condition.
This coincided with changes in their brains. According to the study authors, “Emotion regulation using mindful acceptance was associated with reductions in reported pain and negative affect, reduced amygdala responses to negative images, and reduced heat-evoked responses in medial and lateral pain systems.”
Referring to the physical pain experiments, Kober explains, “It’s as if the brain was responding to warm temperature, not very high heat.”
Kober goes on to comment on the clinical significance of the findings:
“The ability to stay in the moment when experiencing pain or negative emotions suggests there may be clinical benefits to mindfulness practice in chronic conditions as well — even without long meditation practice.”