THE SCIENCE OF MINDFULNESS

Neuroscience explains how Mindfulness

can benefit both mind and body

 

People who practice mindfulness say it fundamentally changes how they experience life.  Now modern neuroscience is explaining this in biological terms, revealing that mindfulness changes the structure and function of your brain in positive ways – perhaps in as little as 8 weeks.

Here are results from some seminal studies that demonstrate how mindfulness can change your life.

 

Meditation Can Reduce Anxiety, Depression, and Pain

Stress-related health problems like anxiety, depression, and pain appear to be treatable with meditation according to a meta-analysis of 47 studies.  Researchers found that going through mindfulness meditation programs (including Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, Vipassana, and other mindfulness meditations) effectively reduces the negative components of psychological stress, with effects comparable to what would be expected from the use of an antidepressant.

REF: “Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well Being:  A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis,” JAMA International Medicine, January 6, 2014, doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.12995.

 

Mindfulness Increases Immune Response

Meditators who went through an eight week mindfulness training program had significantly more flu antibodies than their non-meditating peers after they received a flu vaccine, according to a randomized controlled study by Richard A. Davidson and Jon Kabat-Zinn published in Psychosomatic Medicine.  After measuring the brain activity of both meditators and non-meditators they found increases in both positive feelings and antibody responses to immune system challenges.

REF:  "Alterations in Brain and Immune Function Produced by Mindfulness Meditation." Psychosomatic Medicine, Volume 65, Issue 4, July-August 2003, Pages 564-570

 

Mindfulness May Protect the Aging Brain

Muscle control and sensory perception are controlled by regions of the brain known as gray matter, believed to decrease in volume with age.  A study by Dr. Eileen Luders at the UCLA School of Medicine and Nicholas Cherubin at the Centre for Research and Aging in Australia, showed that the brains of long-term mindfulness practitioners had less gray matter atrophy than non-practitioners.

REF:  “Forever young (er): Potential age defying effects of long-term meditation on gray matter atrophy,”Frontiers in Psychology, 5: 1551,21 January 2015: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01551

 

Mindfulness-Based Programs Improve Components of Cognition

Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment.  A recent meta-analysis of 18 studies of eight-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) found that mindfulness-based programs may support components of cognition.  Those include short-term and autobiographical memory, cognitive flexibility, and meta-awareness (e.g. self-awareness) – key skill sets that allow individuals to develop awareness of negative thought patterns in order to develop new ways of thinking and responding to experiences.

REF:  “Cognitive effects of MBSR/MBCT:  A systematic review of neuropsychological outcomes." Consciousness and Cognition, Volume 45, October 2016.  Pages 109-123. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.concog.2016.08.017

 

Mindfulness Decreases Mind-Wandering

The brain's default mode network (DMN) is associated with mind-wandering and self-referential processing, and it becomes highly active when we’re not focused on a single task.  A study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that the DMN of advanced meditators was not as active, suggesting seasoned practitioners may experience less mind wandering and a resting state closer to a meditative one: able to shift out of ruminative thoughts with more ease and carry out tasks with less distraction.

REF:  “Meditation experience is associated with differences in default mode network activity and connectivity.” PNAS November 23, 2011. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1112029108

 

Mindfulness Helps Reduce Risk of Depression Relapse

When comparing routine treatments for depression, including antidepressants, MBCT reduced rates of relapse for up to 60 weeks, according to a review of nine clinical trials published in JAMA Psychiatry.  Willem Kuyken and colleagues found MBCT was particularly effective for patients with high levels of depressive symptoms to begin with.  Further, this reduction in relapse risk was observed regardless of sex, age, education, or relationship status.

REF:  “Efficacy of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy in Prevention of Depressive Relapse An Individual Patient Data Meta-Analysis From Randomized Trials, “JAMA Psychiatry, Volume 73, Issue 6, 2016, Pages 565-574 doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2016.0076

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Credit:  Mindful magazine, www.mindful.org

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