Study: Meditation practice, both formal and informal, helps develop equanimity over time

We are liv­ing through a time of uncer­tain­ty, a sky-high pile of ques­tion marks. It has become increas­ing­ly dif­fi­cult to make plans because the state of our world today is so volatile due to the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic. Some peo­ple are adapt­ing to their homes becom­ing their offices indef­i­nite­ly, or in dan­ger of los­ing their jobs, while oth­ers long to embrace loved ones they are stuck six feet away from.

In a time when emo­tions like stress, anx­i­ety, bore­dom, and anger are hard to avoid, a new study sug­gests that a par­tic­u­lar med­i­ta­tion prac­tice can help us face them.

Cather­ine Juneau, of Cler­mont Auvergne Uni­ver­si­ty in France, and her col­leagues exam­ined how med­i­ta­tion prac­tice affects equa­nim­i­ty, the abil­i­ty to main­tain a calm and bal­anced state of mind even in the face of dif­fi­cult situations.

Eighty-nine col­lege stu­dents with min­i­mal med­i­ta­tion expe­ri­ence were split into groups who either did a body scan med­i­ta­tion, did a breath­ing med­i­ta­tion, or lis­tened to poems. All par­tic­i­pants prac­ticed dai­ly at home for a week and then came into the lab for a 30-minute ses­sion. They com­plet­ed sur­veys at the begin­ning, right before the final prac­tice, and at the end. Although the week of prac­tice didn’t have much effect, the 30-minute ses­sion did: Even through this short exer­cise, body scan med­i­ta­tion made peo­ple more even-mind­ed, or sta­ble and com­posed under stress. The breath­ing exer­cise and poet­ry didn’t have the same effects.

In oth­er words, a body scan can pro­vide us with an imme­di­ate, tem­po­rary sense of calm and bal­ance. But the sec­ond part of Juneau’s study sug­gests that med­i­ta­tion may have more last­ing effects on our men­tal habits, too.

Here, 106 adult par­tic­i­pants with pre­vi­ous mind­ful­ness med­i­ta­tion expe­ri­ence answered ques­tions about their prac­tice, such as their fre­quen­cy and total hours of med­i­ta­tion. They then com­plet­ed an equa­nim­i­ty sur­vey, which con­sist­ed of state­ments such as “I am not eas­i­ly dis­turbed by some­thing unex­pect­ed” and “I often wish to pro­long moments that are very pleasurable.”

The more hours peo­ple had spent prac­tic­ing med­i­ta­tion, the high­er their equa­nim­i­ty in life in gen­er­al. They tend­ed to be more even-mind­ed, and they didn’t let their emo­tions rule their reac­tion to sit­u­a­tions. This was true for peo­ple with more expe­ri­ence in both for­mal and infor­mal mind­ful­ness practices—for exam­ple, just tak­ing a pause to breathe or be aware of feel­ings in every­day life.

Bud­dhist prac­tices, [such] as mind­ful­ness med­i­ta­tions, aim to bring about a sta­ble state of well-being that is not depen­dent on stim­uli,” write the authors. “Mind­ful­ness prac­tice teach­es how to attain this state of equanimity.”

Lots of research sug­gests that med­i­tat­ing can help us expe­ri­ence more pos­i­tive emo­tions and few­er neg­a­tive ones. But increas­ing our equa­nim­i­ty is dif­fer­ent: It doesn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly mean chang­ing our emo­tions, but chang­ing the way we relate to them. This study sug­gests that even for those new to the prac­tice of mind­ful­ness, they can expe­ri­ence short-term increas­es in emo­tion­al sta­bil­i­ty with a body scan.

Cul­ti­vat­ing this state could pos­si­bly help us cope with the cur­rent chaos we are liv­ing through, at least a lit­tle bit bet­ter. The con­nec­tion between med­i­ta­tion and equa­nim­i­ty may be a solace for those look­ing to find peace with the unknown. If you are able to go about your life with a more even-mind­ed state of mind, you’ll be in bet­ter shape to take care of your­self and others.

– Sophie McMullen is a recent grad­u­ate of UC Berke­ley, where she majored in psy­chol­o­gy with a dou­ble minor in Span­ish and pub­lic pol­i­cy, with aca­d­e­m­ic inter­ests includ­ing cog­ni­tive and devel­op­men­tal psy­chol­o­gy in chil­dren. She is a research and edi­to­r­i­al assis­tant for Greater Good mag­a­zine. Based at UC-Berke­ley, Greater Good high­lights ground break­ing sci­en­tif­ic research into the roots of com­pas­sion and altru­ism. Copy­right Greater Good.

To learn more:

About SharpBrains

SHARPBRAINS is an independent think-tank and consulting firm providing services at the frontier of applied neuroscience, health, leadership and innovation.
SHARPBRAINS es un think-tank y consultoría independiente proporcionando servicios para la neurociencia aplicada, salud, liderazgo e innovación.

Top Articles on Brain Health and Neuroplasticity

Top 10 Brain Teasers and Illusions


Subscribe to our e-newsletter

* indicates required

Got the book?