Previous research on mindfulness meditation has shown that it aids in lowering blood pressure, improves immune system and brain function and minimizes pain sensitivity. A new review of past literature on mindfulness now breaks down what exactly it is about the practice that seems to have these beneficial effects.
Researchers defined mindfulness as "the nonjudgmental awareness of experiences in the present moment" in the Perspectives on Psychological Science study. They identified the four acting components of mindfulness meditation: regulation of attention, body awareness, self-awareness and regulation of emotion.
Each of these elements helps us in different aspects of our lives, according to the study. For example, regulation of attention may help us be extra-aware of our bodily state. And by being aware of our bodies, we are able to recognize the emotions we are currently experiencing, researchers said.
The findings "unveil the conceptual and mechanistic complexity of mindfulness, providing the 'big picture' by arranging many findings like the pieces of a mosaic," study researcher Britta Holzel, of Justus Liebig University and Harvard Medical School, said in a statement.
Previous research from Holzel has shown that mindfulness meditation can actually change the structure of the brain, especially in the brain regions responsible for sense of self, stress, memory and empathy.
In that study, published earlier this year in the journal Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, researchers looked at brain images of 16 people who participated in an eight-week mindfulness stress reduction program.