How Mindfulness Meditation Helps Us Regulate Our Emotions

Recent research1 has helped us understand how mindfulness resulting from meditation helps regulate our emotions. First of all, mindfulness increases awareness of our internal states. So if something starts to anger us, such as an insult or an aggressive driver, the mindfulness person will recognize these feeling faster than less mindful counterparts.

The mindful person will also have greater emotional awareness. So should a mindful person encounter an aggressive driver, the mind sends a warning that this anger needs to be regulated. Similarly, when a mindful person starts to feel depressed, there is an awareness that this emotion needs to be controlled and that it can be controlled.

The following2 is a classroom exercise that is used to show the benefits of mindfulness. Students are each given a few raisins. Half of the class is asked to look at their feet and remain quiet for 4 minutes. These students serve as the control group. The other half of the class is the mindfulness group. The following phrases are shown on PowerPoint slides for 30 seconds each.

Holding: Take one raisin and hold it in the palm of your hand between your finger and you thumb. Focusing on it, imagine that you’ve just dropped in from Mars and have never seen an object like this before in your life.

Seeing: Take time to really see it; gaze at the raisin with care and full attention. Let your eyes explore every part of it, examining the highlights were the light shines, the darker hollows, the folds and ridges, and any asymmetries or unique figures.

Touching: Turn the raisin over between your fingers, exploring its texture, maybe with your eyes closed if that enhances your sense of touch.

Smelling: Hold the raisin beneath your nose, and with each inhalation, drink in any smell, aroma, or fragrance than may arise, noticing anything interesting that may be happening in your mouth or stomach.

Placing: Now slowly bring the raisin up to your lips, noticing how your hand and arm know exactly how and where to position it. Gently place the raisin in the mouth, without chewing, noticing how it gets into the mouth in the first place. Spend a few moments exploring the sensations of having it in your mouth, exploring it with your tongue.

Tasting: When you are ready, prepare to chew the raisin, noticing how and where it needs to be for chewing . Then, very consciously, take one or two bits into it and notice what happens in the aftermath, experiencing any waves of taste that emanate from it as you continue chewing. Without swallowing yet, notice the bare sensations of taste and texture in the mouth and how these may change over time, moment by moment, as well as any changes in the raisin itself.

Swallowing: When you feel ready to swallow the raisin, see if you can first detect the intention to swallow as it comes up, so that even this is experienced consciously before you actually swallow it.

Following: Finally, see if you can feel what is left of the raisin moving down into the stomach, and sense how the body as a whole is feeling after completing this exercise in mindful eating.

Next all students write a paragraph about their biggest life stressors. Then the students are asked to identify the emotions that these stressors cause. The mindfulness group should list more emotion words than the control group because the mindfulness group should be more aware of their internal states. Finally the students are asked the following question: “How upset are you right now, that is AT THE PRESENT MOMENT, about the stressful things you listed” using a rating scale from 1= not at all upset to 10=extremely upset. The mindful students are expected to be less upset than the students in the control group because they are better able to regulate their emotions.

Bear in mind that this is one of many types of meditation. Entering either “mindfulness,” or “meditation” into the healthymemory blog search box will yield many healthymemory posts on these topics.

1Reper, R. Segal, Z.V., & Inzlicht, M. (2013). Inside the mindful mind: How mindfulness enhances emotion regulation through improvements in executive control.

2DeWakk, C.N., & Meyers, D. G. (2014). Mindful Students: The Pain and Pleasure of Awareness and Acceptance. Observer, 27, 2, 30-31.

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