Interest in mindfulness meditation continues to grow as accumulating evidence suggests mindfulness training encourages more positive functioning. However, basic questions about the conditions best suited for realizing mindful states remain unanswered. Prominent among these is whether a group mindfulness practice setting is more effective for novice meditators than a solitary practice setting. Answering this question has assumed new urgency due to the imposition of physical distancing measures designed to stop the spread of COVID-19. In a time of limited social contact, is a simulated group practice setting better than practicing alone? This preliminary study investigated whether environmental setting impacted mindfulness practice experience by examining the effects of three simulated meditation practice environments (1. group practice, 2. nature practice, and 3. solitary practice) on state mindfulness and perceived social connectivity in a sample of novice meditators. Significant differences emerged across the three simulated practice settings. Findings suggest watching others meditate while meditating appears to most effectively induce a state of mindfulness and strengthen feelings of social connectivity. This study supports traditional beliefs about the benefits of group mindfulness practice. These findings also have implications for social workers struggling to stretch limited resources to address growing mental health demands, especially during times of heightened social isolation due to COVID-19. If a simulated group practice confers the same cognitive benefits as solitary practice while also conferring social benefits, simulated group instruction may be preferable for therapeutic and economic reasons.

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© The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2021 This article is made available via the PMC Open Access Subset for unrestricted research re-use and secondary analysis in any form or by any means with acknowledgement of the original source. These permissions are granted for the duration of the World Health Organization (WHO) declaration of COVID-19 as a global pandemic.

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