Mindfulness meditation – How does it work?

By | November 22, 2011

Buddhist Mindfulness practice has been around for more than 2500 years. Now, revamped in a psychological and neuroscientific context, we start asking the question, how this practice actually works. Well, we are not talking about how it helps individuals to reach a state of liberation or even to move on to enlightenment, but we want to see whether some of the processes that lead to beneficial outcomes can be described in psychological and neuroscientific terminology.

You may wonder if this is really needed? For a practitioner not necessarily – I would think. But as we see the practice of mindfulness becoming more and more woven into psychological mainstream a clear model that describes the underlying processes will be helpful for devising programmes that benefit those people who do not directly want to attend a buddhist meditation centre. It will also help focusing the question whether such ‘psychological’ mindfulness programmes are really beneficial in improving lives.

And here we go, Britta Hölzel with several colleagues from the Bender Institute of Neuroimaging in Giessen and from the Harvard Medical School in Boston just published a theoretical paper that outlines their ideas of some of the main mechanisms of mindfulness meditation. Building on previous work by Shauna Shapiro, by Bishop et al, and also by Baer et al. they suggest that the interplay of four components is at the core of mindfulness meditation. These four components are: (1) Attention regulation, (2) Body awareness, (3) Emotion regulation and (4) Change in perspective on the self.

I will write more on this paper in another post soon …


Hölzel, B. K., Lazar, S. W., Gard, T., Schuman-Olivier, Z., Vago, D. R., & Ott, U. (2011). How does mindfulness meditation work? Proposing mechanisms of action from a conceptual and neural perspective. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6(6), 537-559.


© 2011 – 2016, Peter Malinowski. All rights reserved.

One thought on “Mindfulness meditation – How does it work?

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