New research suggests that even very brief training in mindfulness meditation had a positive impact on our cognitive processing -- most importantly in the ability to sustain attention and vigilance.
After four sessions of either meditation training or listening to a recorded book (J.R.R. Tolkein's The Hobbit), participants with no prior meditation experience were assessed with measures of mood, verbal fluency, visual coding, and working memory.
Both interventions were effective at improving mood but only brief meditation training reduced fatigue, anxiety, and increased mindfulness. Moreover, brief mindfulness training significantly improved visuo-spatial processing, working memory, and executive functioning.
The findings suggest that only four days of meditation training for only 20 minutes each day can enhance the ability to sustain attention; benefits that have previously been reported with long-term meditators.
Lead researcher, Fadel Zeidan, PhD, likens the brief training the participants received to a kind of mental calisthenics that prepared their minds for cognitive activity.
"The simple process of focusing on the breath in a relaxed manner, in a way that teaches you to regulate your emotions by raising one's awareness of mental processes as they're happening is like working out a bicep, but you are doing it to your brain. Mindfulness meditation teaches you to release sensory events that would easily distract, whether it is your own thoughts or an external noise, in an emotion-regulating fashion. This can lead to better, more efficient performance on the intended task."
"This kind of training seems to prepare the mind for activity, but it's not necessarily permanent," Zeidan cautions. "This doesn't mean that you meditate for four days and you're done -- you need to keep practicing."
Zeidan F, Johnson SK, Diamond BJ, David Z, Goolkasian P. Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: Evidence of brief mental training. Conscious Cogn. 2010 Apr 2.Cartoon