[The history of Mindfulness put to the test of current scientific data: unresolved questions]

Encephale. 2014 Dec;40(6):474-80. doi: 10.1016/j.encep.2014.08.006. Epub 2014 Sep 5.
[Article in French]


The first part of this paper describes the long history of the concept of Mindfulness. Contrary to the belief that Mindfulness only has Buddhist and Hindu origins, it is also rooted in Jewish, Islamic and Christian religions. Furthermore, western philosophers have described a mindful path to become more aware of thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations. Mindfulness can be considered as a universal human ability embodied to foster clear thinking and open-heartedness. As such, this form of being requires no particular religious or cultural belief system. The current acceptance of what a mindful path is, refers to a psychological quality that involves bringing one's complete attention to present experience on a moment-to-moment basis, in a particular way: in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally. Although such a definition is well accepted in France, the French translation for Mindfulness is not easy to use: being conscious and being aware are translated with the same French word. The French language fails to clearly separate the dimensional attributes of a mindful subject from the ways for developing mindfulness through formal meditation practice. In line with this conception, stability and assessments of Mindfulness mainly were examined. How this disposition allows the development of concentration, attention and acceptance moment by moment in a nonjudgmental way is described in the second part. Particular attention is paid to its positive effects in several aspects of mental and physical health. In particular, positive effects on the ability to cope with stress are described from a physiological point of view. Third, this article intends to present neurobiological aspects currently proposed to explain the benefits of Mindfulness meditation. Modifications of cerebral networks and neurobiological functioning are described in relation to expertise in meditation practice. The hypothesis of the role of meditation on neuroplasticity is also discussed. Furthermore, the specific impact of Mindfulness meditation practice on these mechanisms will be considered in comparison with relaxation techniques. With the increasing growth of well-designed and well-controlled meditation research, however, future studies will be needed to compare between different meditation techniques. This will enable researchers to outline the effects of the technique-specific differences on behavior, cognitive function, underlying physiology and neurobiology and clinical effectiveness. Finally, the most recent data on the changes in functioning of a resting brain (Brain Default Mode) induced by a Mindfulness practice, demonstrate differences in the default-mode network that are consistent with decreased mind-wandering. That is a way to better understand possible neural mechanisms of meditation for health benefits of Mindfulness.

Keywords: Esprit vagabond; Health; Meditation; Mind-wandering; Mindfulness; Méditation; Neuroplasticity; Neuroplasticité; Pleine conscience; Santé; Stress.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • English Abstract
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attention / physiology
  • Awareness / physiology
  • Behavior / physiology
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Humans
  • Meditation / psychology
  • Mindfulness*
  • Nerve Net / physiopathology
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Relaxation Therapy / methods
  • Religion and Psychology*
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology
  • Stress, Psychological / therapy