Great news for those who crave the benefits of meditation but find the thought a bit intimidating! While a number of studies have demonstrated that long-term mindfulness meditation practice promotes executive functioning and the ability to sustain attention, now a small study involving 49 students has found that as little as four sessions of 20 minutes produced a significant improvement in critical cognitive skills, compared to those who spent an equal amount of time listening to Tolkien's The Hobbit being read aloud. Both groups showed similar improved levels of mood, but only the meditation group improved their cognitive scores. While this group improved on all cognitive tasks, they did dramatically better when under stressful conditions, such as provided by increasingly challenging time-constraints, and particularly in the areas of attention and vigilance. Mindfulness training, as given here, focuses on breathing, letting go one’s thoughts, releasing sensory events that distract. It should be noted that no one is suggesting four days training produces a permanent effect! But it is encouraging to think that benefits might be achieved so quickly. The training also reduced fatigue and anxiety.
(2010). Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: Evidence of brief mental training.
Consciousness and Cognition. 19(2), 597 - 605.