Meditation: The Minimum Amount That Works

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Study finds least mindful people benefit most from a surprisingly small amount of meditation.

A very brief meditation intervention — just 75 minutes spread over three days — can reduce the psychological reaction to stressful events.

The conclusion comes from a study which also found that the short training session was most beneficial for those who were naturally the least mindful in their everyday lives (Creswell et al., 2014).

Lead author, J. David Creswell, explained the motivation for the study:

“More and more people report using meditation practices for stress reduction, but we know very little about how much you need to do for stress reduction and health benefits.”

Many previous studies on meditation look at the effects of 8 or 10-week courses: a length of time that is not practical for many.

For this study, 66 participants were given three 25-minute training sessions on consecutive days:

  • In a control group, half the participants critically analysed poetry to improve their problem-solving skills.
  • In a meditation group, the other half of the participants were taught the basics of mindfulness meditation: how to focus on your breath, focus your attention and be ‘in the moment’.

After their brief training sessions, people had to give a stressful speech and complete math tasks in front of a panel of stern-faced evaluators.

Once completed, they were asked how stressed they were during the tests and asked to provide a sample of their saliva to measure their levels of cortisol, the ‘stress hormone’.

Those in the mindfulness training group reported feeling less stressed but their cortisol levels spiked higher.

The researchers think this reflects a dual effect of the meditation.

Not only does it make you feel less stressed, but it also represents more active coping and greater engagement with the task, which is why cortisol levels were higher.

Cresswell continued:

“When you initially learn mindfulness meditation practices, you have to cognitively work at it — especially during a stressful task.

And, these active cognitive efforts may result in the task feeling less stressful, but they may also have physiological costs with higher cortisol production.”

→ Find out more about the benefits of meditation.

Image credit: c_liecht

About the author


Dr Jeremy Dean is a psychologist and the author of PsyBlog. His latest book is "Making Habits, Breaking Habits: How to Make Changes That Stick". You can follow PsyBlog by email, by RSS feed, on Twitter and Google+.

Published: 9 July 2014

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