Mindfulness-for-all: Spirituality, gender and age do not affect effectiveness of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction

We are always being told that mindfulness is for everyone – new findings from the University of Pennsylvania, published this month in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine back up this claim. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction [MBSR] is a secular meditation program recommended in the treatment of anxiety and depression. Numerous research projects have documented the benefits of and useful applications for mindfulness practices – yet little was known about how individual differences such as spirituality, gender and age affect the impact of MBSR techniques.

As anticipated, the researchers found that symptoms of depression decreased in the participants who completed the MBSR program but more significantly that individual differences among the participants including religious beliefs, spirituality, motivation for spiritual growth, trait mindfulness, sex and age did not affect the effectiveness of MBSR.

322 adults took part in the community-based MBSR program for 8 weeks, during which multiple regression was used to analyse variations in depressive symptoms. Study participants were surveyed 1 week before the first MBSR session and again 1 week after the last MBSR session. The questionnaires assessed symptoms of anxiety and depression, mindfulness of thoughts and feelings, and spirituality.

As part of the MBSR program, participants were told to practice 20 – 45 minutes of meditation daily, as well as being mindful during everyday activities. There was a weekly group session of 2.5 hours and participants also took part in a full day meditation retreat. Helpful materials including recorded guided mediations and yoga advice were provided to all participants.

The study concluded that: ‘MBSR is associated with improved depressive symptoms regardless of affiliation with a religion, one’s sense of daily spiritual experiences, one’s initial trait level of mindfulness, sex, or age. These results are consistent with the teaching philosophy of MBSR, which presumes that people can benefit whether they pursue mindfulness training as a secular or spiritual practice. In addition, changes in mindfulness and daily spiritual experiences uniquely explained improvement in depressive symptoms, pointing to possible psychological and spiritual mechanisms of change for future study.’

Some people assume that mindfulness is ‘not for them’, associating the practice as something only new-age spiritual types do and some may be put off trying mindfulness-based meditation as they mistake it for having religious incantations. This research proves that mindfulness practice can enhance the lives of everyone, regardless of individual differences.

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