The Many Roads to Mindfulness: A Review of Nonmindfulness-Based Interventions that Increase Mindfulness

J Altern Complement Med. 2019 Sep;25(9):874-889. doi: 10.1089/acm.2019.0137. Epub 2019 Jun 26.


Objectives: Mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) have become increasingly popular for treating various physical and mental disorders. An increase in mindfulness levels through the teaching of mindfulness meditation is the most well-studied mechanism of MBIs. Recent studies, however, suggest that an increase in mindfulness is also observed in physical or psychosocial interventions not explicitly labeled as MBIs, or what the authors call non-MBIs. The authors aimed to review what non-MBIs can increase mindfulness levels despite not explicitly teaching mindfulness meditation. Design: The authors conducted a literature search for studies that included a non-MBI study arm measuring pre- and postintervention mindfulness levels using one of the following eight validated self-reported mindfulness questionnaires: Five-Faceted Mindfulness Questionnaire, Mindful Awareness and Attention Scale, Freiburg Mindfulness Inventory, Toronto Mindfulness Scale, Philadelphia Mindfulness Scale, Kentucky Inventory of Mindfulness Skills, Child and Adolescent Mindfulness Measure, and Cognitive and Affective Mindfulness Scale-Revised. The authors identified 69 non-MBI study arms from 51 independent studies of the non-MBI itself or as active controls of an MBI under investigation. The authors documented or calculated, if not provided, effect sizes (ES) for changes in mindfulness levels following these interventions. Results: Among the 69 non-MBI arms, 36 showed no effect for change in mindfulness (ES <0.20), 3 were indeterminate (no ES available or unable to calculate), 13 had small effects (0.20 < ES <0.5), 13 had medium effects (0.50 < ES <0.80), 3 had large effects (0.80 < ES <1.3), and 1 had a very large effect (ES >1.3) for change in mindfulness. Conclusions: Analysis of the characteristics of non-MBIs with significant increases in mindfulness levels suggested some commonalities between MBIs and non-MBIs, shedding light on a spectrum of mindfulness-related interventions and the possibility that there are many roads to developing mindfulness.

Keywords: exercise; meditation; mindfulness; nonmindfulness-based interventions; psychotherapy; review.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Meditation
  • Mindfulness*
  • Psychotherapy / methods*