Exploring the Research on Mindfulness Training

Mindfulness practice helps us meet life’s challenges. The catch is, it won’t work if we don’t practice.

I’d like to take more of a skeptic’s orientation toward mindfulness and start with a question I often get asked when I pitch an idea for a research project. I get asked this question about mindfulness training by leaders of all kinds of organizations, and, in fact, I was asked most recently at the U.S. Pentagon, and it’s this: Does it work?

The question sounds simple, but I think what’s being communicated is a little more complex. What I think I’m being asked is: What are the real, known, effective benefits of mindfulness training? So I want to break this down to really explore its parts.

The first thing to examine in “Does it work” is the word “it.” What’s meant by that? Does it mean reading a book, downloading an app, listening to a lecture, or, potentially, signing up for a course that lasts a few weeks or a retreat that lasts several months? There are many forms of what “it” might mean. But when we think about research on mindfulness training, we have to constrain our questions to programs that we call “manual-ize,” meaning they actually follow a manual or a prescription that can be repeated by various…

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About the author

Amishi Jha

Amishi Jha is a neuroscientist and Professor of Psychology at the University of Miami and author of a forthcoming book Peak Mind (2021, Harper One) on the science of attention. Her research focuses on the brain bases of attention, working memory, and mindfulness-based training. With grants from the US Department of Defense and several private foundations, her current projects investigate how to best promote resilience in high stress cohorts using contemplative/mind training techniques that strengthen the brain’s attention networks. She was selected as a Science and Public Leadership Fellow by PopTech, and serves on editorial review boards of Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Frontiers in Cognitive Science, and Frontiers in Psychology.