Mindfulness Training for Health and Wellbeing

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I wanted to report on some research that I was alerted to in the most recent revised copy of Full Catastrophe Living.

The first paragraph of the article from the prestigious science magazine SCIENCE, captures the curiosity of the authors of the research.

Here is how it reads:

Unlike other animals, human beings spend a lot of time thinking about what is not going on around them, contemplating events that happened in the past, might happen in the future, or will never happen at all.  Indeed, “stimulus-independent thought” or “mind wandering” appears to be the brain’s default mode of operation.  Although this ability is a remarkable evolutionary achievement that allows people to learn, reason, and plan, it may have an emotional cost.  Many philosophical and religious traditions teach that happiness is to be found by living in the moment, and practitioners are trained to resist mind wandering and “to be here now”.  These traditions suggest that a wandering mind is an unhappy  mind.  Are they right?

It is with this question in mind that the authors of the study developed a web application for the iPhone which made it possible to collect data from a large number of people on real time reports of thoughts, feelings, and actions as people went about their lives.

It turned out that data was collected randomly from 2,250 adults in the USA.  The application contacted participants randomly during waking hours and asked three questions including:

  1. How are you feeling right now?
  2. What are you doing right now?
  3. Are you thinking about something other than what you are currently doing?

Here are some of the interesting findings.

Mind wandering was reported in 46.9 percent of the sample responses.

A regression analysis revealed that people were less happy when there minds were wandering than when they were not.

What people were thinking was a better predictor of happiness rather than what they were doing.

I found these results to be extremely interesting.  In my teaching of meditation and yoga, I am always encouraging the participants to recognize their wandering minds and to return their attention to the object of practice, whether it is breathing and/or body sensations.  This is the essence of a mindfulness practice.

What is your experience?