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Formal vs. Informal Mindfulness Practice

Updated: Sep 17, 2023



Mindfulness meditation can be practiced both formally and informally. While they share many expected benefits, each approach has unique advantages.


Formal mindfulness meditation typically refers to setting aside a specific time for mindfulness exercises such as sitting meditation, body scans, or mindful yoga.


Benefits of formal mindfulness practice include:

  1. Improved focus and concentration: Formal meditation practices, mainly focusing on a single object like the breath, have improved attention and concentration (Jha, Krompinger & Baime, 2007).

  2. Reduced stress and anxiety: Systematic reviews and meta-analyses suggest that mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) programs, which involve formal mindfulness practices, can help to reduce stress and anxiety (Hofmann, Sawyer, Witt, & Oh, 2010).

  3. Enhanced self-awareness: By setting aside time for introspection, formal mindfulness meditation can help individuals become more aware of their thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations, leading to a greater understanding of oneself (Kabat-Zinn, 2003).

  4. Improved emotional regulation: Research has shown that formal mindfulness practice can enhance emotional regulation, reducing reactivity and increasing response flexibility (Hölzel et al., 2011).


Informal mindfulness practice, on the other hand, involves incorporating mindfulness into everyday activities, such as eating, walking, or doing chores. The benefits of informal mindfulness practice include the following:

  1. Increased present-moment awareness: Informal mindfulness practice can help to cultivate a more present-oriented mindset, reducing mind-wandering and increasing enjoyment of daily activities (Killingsworth & Gilbert, 2010).

  2. Improved relationship satisfaction: By practicing mindfulness in interactions with others, individuals can improve their relationship satisfaction through better communication and reduced conflict (Barnes, Brown, Krusemark, Campbell, & Rogge, 2007).

  3. Enhanced stress management: Incorporating mindfulness into everyday life can provide a means of coping with stress as it arises, potentially reducing its impact on health and well-being (Bishop et al., 2004).

  4. Greater integration of mindfulness into daily life: Informal practice can help ensure that mindfulness's benefits are not confined to the meditation cushion but are brought into every aspect of an individual's life (Carmody & Baer, 2008).


These benefits are not mutually exclusive, and many people find that a combination of formal and informal mindfulness practice is the most effective way to cultivate mindfulness and reap its many benefits.


References:

  • Barnes, S., Brown, K. W., Krusemark, E., Campbell, W. K., & Rogge, R. D. (2007). The role of mindfulness in romantic relationship satisfaction and responses to relationship stress. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 33(4), 482-500.

  • Bishop, S. R., Lau, M., Shapiro, S., Carlson, L., Anderson, N. D., Carmody, J., ... & Devins, G. (2004). Mindfulness: A proposed operational definition. Clinical psychology: Science and practice, 11(3), 230-241.

  • Carmody, J., & Baer, R. A. (2008). Relationships between mindfulness practice and levels of mindfulness, medical and psychological symptoms and well-being in a mindfulness-based stress reduction program. Journal of behavioral medicine, 31(1), 23-33.

  • Hofmann, S. G., Sawyer, A. T., Witt, A. A., & Oh, D. (2010). The effect of mindfulness-based therapy on anxiety and depression: A meta-analytic review. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology, 78(2), 169.

  • Hölzel, B. K., Lazar, S. W., Gard, T., Schuman-Olivier, Z., Vago, D. R., & Ott, U. (2011). How does mindfulness meditation work? Proposing mechanisms of action from a conceptual and neural perspective. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6(6), 537-559.

  • Jha, A. P., Krompinger, J., & Baime, M. J. (2007). Mindfulness training modifies subsystems of attention. Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience, 7(2), 109-119.

  • Kabat-Zinn, J. (2003). Mindfulness-based interventions in context: Past, present, and future. Clinical psychology: Science and practice, 10(2), 144-156.

  • Killingsworth, M. A., & Gilbert, D. T. (2010). A wandering mind is an unhappy mind. Science, 330(6006), 932-932.

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