In the past few decades after some surprising initial findings, mindfulness meditation has become an increasingly popular field of modern scientific research. Meditation research in the departments of psychology, cognitive science, and neuroscience in prestigious institutions such as Harvard and Stanford Universities over the past few decades has consistently provided evidence that mindfulness meditation has remarkable positive effects on both the body and mind. This research has not gone unnoticed by doctors and other clinical practitioners in areas of service as diverse as prenatal education, business leadership and sports psychology.
As this body of empirical research has grown, medical professionals have begun to explore the potential of mindfulness to treat a variety of problems from high blood pressure to anxiety and depression. Psychology in particular has embraced mindfulness meditation as an important treatment approach and foundational skill for mental health and emotional wellness. As practicing clinical psychologists, we have seen mindfulness vastly improve the quality of life of many of who have suffered from a variety of physical and mental illnesses. Our goal at A Meditative Moment is to make this simple but profound practice available in a way that is clear and accessible for everyone. We see meditation as far more than just a method for treating illness or some other problem. For us it is an integral part of a wellness lifestyle.
Mindfulness and Your Heart
It is commonly known that meditation is good for your heart. In fact, meditation has become a front line treatment for many types of heart disease, and is now being taught every day in health clinics across the country for this purpose. Scientific research continues to discover many pathways by which the regular practice of meditation affects the heart. For example, a study published in 2013 in Psychosomatic Medicine: Journal of Behavioral Medicine demonstrated that individuals with borderline high blood pressure who undertook a regular practice of Mindfulness Meditation successfully lowered their blood pressure to the safe normal range – thereby avoiding the need for medication. This powerful effect of meditation on heart health became widely known in the medical community following a landmark study in 2005 published in The American Journal of Cardiology showing that patients who began a meditation practice achieved a 30% decrease in death from cardiovascular disease.
Mindfulness and Your Immune System
The same 2005 study published in The American Journal of Cardiology cited above found that in addition to cardiovascular benefits, a regular meditation practice was also associated with a 49% decrease in mortality due to cancer, and a 23% decrease in mortality overall. Since this ground breaking research scientists have continued to discover the unique ways in which a meditation practice strengthens the immune system as a whole, and as a result prevents many illnesses and diseases from ever developing. For example, a 2003 study by two pioneers in the science of meditation Richard Davidson and Jon Kabat Zinn demonstrated that a regular meditation practice even made participants more resistant to the common flu. Meditation has been shown to strengthen your immune system through a number of different and distinct pathways, and this area of research holds great promise moving forward.
Mindfulness and Your Brain
Research has shown that meditation has surprising effects on the brain itself. The original study which demonstrated these effects was published in The Neuro Report in 2005 by Lazar, et. al. This study surprisingly found that meditation has the power to change the actual physical structure of the brain. Specifically, it was shown that meditation practitioners had thicker brain regions associated with attention and sensory processing. Even more remarkably this research also found that meditation offset the typical cortical thinning brought on my normal aging. More recent research as shown that meditation produces measurable changes in the areas of the brain associated with memory, empathy, sense of self, and stress regulation. In this same research meditation was also associated with improved mood and overall sense of well-being.
Mindfulness and Creativity
Research has shown that meditation increases your ability to think creatively and see things from “outside the box”. In a 2012 study authored by Lorenza Colzato and published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology demonstrated that meditation improved the subject’s capacity for divergent thinking. Divergent thinking is essential for creativity – making meditation particularly useful for artists, musicians, and others in creative fields. Mindfulness in particular has been shown to induce a state of awareness in which it is easier to be objective about a situation and to achieve a novel, creative response free from past emotional conditioning.
Mindfulness and Anti-Aging
Meditation has been shown to slow down or even reverse the aging process. For example, Dr. Hoge at the Harvard Medical School has discovered that people who meditate daily have longer elomeres, which are the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes that normally wear down through the normal aging process. This protective effect on your chromosomes translates into a significant impact on health, longevity, and quality of life. Meditation has also been shown to reduce cellular oxidative distress through a number of pathways including decreasing stress hormones like cortisol. In 2010 researchers at The University of Pennsylvania discovered that a regular meditation practice increased blood flow to the brain increasing overall brain function. Repeated studies over the past three decades have shown meditation to have a strong positive effect on memory and concentration across the lifespan.
Mindfulness in Mental Health:
Meditation in general and mindfulness meditation in particular have become increasingly popular tools in the fight against many types of psychological disturbance. Over four decades of research have now conclusively shown that mindfulness is a powerful weapon in the fight against almost all of the most common psychiatric problems and disorders. We will briefly outline some of the latest scientific research on mindfulness and mental health below.
Increased Emotion Regulation
In the past two decades mindfulness meditation has achieved broad acceptance and use in the world of clinical psychology. This is due in large part to the research of Dr. Marsha Linehan at The University of Washington and her development of Dialectical Behavior Therapy. Mindfulness skills are at the core of this unique approach to psychological treatment. Dialectical Behavior Therapy was designed to treat some of the most severe forms of psychological distress such as borderline personality disorder and chronic self-injury, and many years of research has shown Dialectical Behavior Therapy to be one of the first empirically validated treatments for these severe forms of emotional disturbance.
In 2014 researchers at John’s Hopkins Medical School undertook a meta-analysis of all the research studies on meditation that met their rigorous scientific standards. These scientists found that meditation was effective in treating symptoms associated with a number of common psychological problems like stress, anxiety and depression. For example, they found that mindfulness meditation significantly reduced the symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder which is characterized by excessive worry, inability to sleep, gastrointestinal disturbance, and irritability. In research published in The Psychological Bulletin in 2006, it was shown that meditation slows EEG activity in the brain indicating a reduction in anxiety and arousal. Research at the U.S. National Institute of Health found that meditation promotes anxiety and stress reduction by activating the parasympathetic nervous system which controls the relaxation response. More information about this can be found in our Free Lecture on Relaxation in the guided meditations section as well as in our Online Course.
Depression is one of the most undertreated conditions in modern medicine even though antidepressant medications are among the most common prescribed medications. Meditation has been repeatedly shown to aid in the prevention and treatment of depression in a number of ways. Mindfulness in particular leads to the development of emotional awareness and self-understanding, both of which are essential for the treatment of any depressed state. The meta-analysis by scientists at Johns Hopkins Medical School cited above showed mindfulness meditation to be as effective as antidepressant medication in treating mild to moderate depression. In a recent update to that research published in the journal Lancet in 2015, it was again demonstrated that mindfulness meditation was as effective as medication in the treatment of depression.
Mindfulness and Quality of Life
Perhaps most importantly, mindfulness meditation has been shown to improve the quality of your life. For example research on married couples has found that mindfulness improved both communication and overall marital quality. Mindfulness meditation has been associated with increased school performance among school children and increased work satisfaction among executives in leadership positions. In a study published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine in 2008 it was shown that mindfulness leads to an increase in positive emotions and overall quality of life. It is our belief that the impact of mindfulness meditation on the quality of our lives is perhaps it’s greatest benefit.