In-person mindfulness courses help improve mental health for at least six months, a study shows.
Following in-person mindfulness courses can reduce the likelihood of experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety, according to researchers from the University of Cambridge.
The researchers reached this conclusion after observing participants who followed group-based mindfulness courses with a teacher.
“In our previous work it was still not clear whether these mindfulness courses could promote mental health across different community settings,” said lead researcher, Dr Julieta Galante, who conducted the research while at the University of Cambridge.
This new analysis pooling data from 13 studies demonstrated that these courses "do actually work for the average person," she said, having gathered data from 2,371 participants.
What is mindfulness?
The researchers defined mindfulness as “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment”.
These courses, formally known as mindfulness-based programmes (MBPs), often combine elements of meditation, body awareness and modern psychology. They are designed to help reduce stress, improve well-being, and enhance mental and emotional resilience.
One of the most famous MBPs was created by Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn in 1979. It incorporates elements of yoga exercises, meditation, and teachings of Zen Buddhism. However, the programme is secular and was developed to be science-based.
Exercises such as focusing on your breathing and paying attention to your feelings while performing daily tasks like eating or brushing your teeth can be found in MBPs.
‘It just doesn’t work for some people’
In their introduction, the team highlighted that “too little emphasis is placed on prevention rather than treatment” when it comes to mental health disorders. This is despite chronic depression affecting between 5 and 10 per cent of EU citizens, with anxiety-related disorders also being highly prevalent.
The scientists cautioned that these results are based on statistics and that mindfulness is not a miraculous solution. “We are not saying that it should be done by every single person; research shows that it just doesn’t work for some people,” said Galante.
“We have no evidence that mindfulness is better than other feel-good practices but if you’re not doing anything, these types of mindfulness courses are certainly among the options that can be helpful,” she added.
The scientists also expressed their concerns regarding the growing number of mobile applications for mindfulness programs.
“Apps may be cheaper, but there is nowhere near the same evidence base for their effectiveness,” said Galante. “Some apps may say they are evidence-based, but they are often referring to trials that are in-person with a teacher and a group.”