Mindfulness Part 3: Research, Criticism, and Risks

Mindfulness research began in the 1970s. The current evidence we have is in favor of using programs based on mindfulness to deal with symptoms of certain physical and mental disorders.

However, in 2014 in JAMA, a big analysis regarding research done on meditation was published, saying the evidence found on the positive effects of programs based on meditation is insufficient. According to evidence, meditation is no better than exercise, drugs, etc. though it could be just as good as a treatment. The evidence for improving pain, depression, and anxiety is moderate, while results indicating it could improve distress, stress, and other life quality related problems are low.

Although the number of studies done on mindfulness range in the thousands, the quality of the methodology is overall low, so the results are unreliable. Still, meditation is as popular as ever as a research subject, and there are lots of claims regarding its benefits for plenty of outcomes and conditions. It’s even shown to reduce physical pain.

Behavioral tests, physiological techniques, and neuroimaging have been used in studies on mindfulness. From a neural perspective, mindfulness seems to affect attention and emotional regulation, as well as awareness of the body.

Regarding one’s character, self-acceptance, authenticity, responsibility, and compassion, according to studies, mindfulness helps build a healthier and more coherent sense of identity and self. According to neuroimaging based research, practicing mindfulness leads to changes in the insula, cingulate cortex, frontolimbic network, and the temporoparietal junction. It may also delay or prevent the appearance of Alzheimer or cognitive impairment.

Also, studies done recently seem to indicate mindfulness may influence the expression of your genes, reducing the risk of inflammation caused diseases, and changing biomarkers favorably.

Mindfulness Movement Criticism

Several scholars have been critical of psychological western publications’ representation and definition of mindfulness. The modern understanding of this practice is very different from what appears in Buddhist texts, as well as in commentaries from the Indian Mahayana and Theravada traditions.

According to Adam Valerio, the ongoing conflict of scholars over the definition, understanding, and popular representation of mindfulness may be due to a paradigmatic, institutional, and personal battle trying to own the practice. The way writers, researchers, and academics are invested in this is similar to religious conflicts.

Some critics termed turning mindfulness into a commodity as McMindfulness. As indicated by Safran, a well-made marketing strategy is responsible for mindfulness’ popularity. It was marketed as a dream, as a makeover for your identity leading to an ideal lifestyle.

Loy and Purser claim the practice is no longer used to give one insight into the roots of delusion, ill will, and greed. Instead, it’s currently a self-help technique, therapeutic and banal. It may even have the opposite effect and reinforce the passions it was supposed to quench.

Modern mindfulness is used to help with stress, while the Buddhist version is designed to awaken compassion, social harmony, and wise action. Privatizing mindfulness ignores the organizational and societal causes of discomfort and stress. Instead, it encourages you to adapt to the situation. Without looking closely at the society causing these conditions, mindfulness may be used to reinforce consumer capitalism and to justify it.

Buddhists are critical of the mindfulness movement which is presented as the same as the Buddhist version, when it may have undesirable and denatured consequences, like straying from Buddhist ethics.

Mindfulness Risks

Through the media, we’ve learned of those suffering from unusual effects from mindfulness, like increased anxiety and fear, meltdowns or panic after practicing it. However, academic articles have written on the rarity of such effects, and their appearance seems to be due to a weak understanding of the practice.

To avoid such side effects, we recommend you study mindfulness meditation further. If you haven’t read the other parts of this article, get to it.

Mindfulness works for as long as you practice it. Studying the subject every once in a while may also bring you back to presence.

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