There is a long list of scientific reasons to start meditating and we will briefly address them here (4.15).
Improves immune function
Davidson, Richard J. PhD et al, conducted research aimed at exploring biological processes that are associated with changes in mental and physical health in response to meditation. The researchers measured brain activity before and immediately after and then four months after an eight week training program in mindfulness meditation. At the end of the program everybody was vaccinated with an influenza vaccine. The researchers found increases in the left-sided anterior activation, a pattern associated with the positive effect, in the meditators compared with the non-meditators. The researchers also found a significantly stronger immune response to the influenza vaccine among subjects in the meditation group. Finally, the magnitude of the increase in left-sided activation predicted the magnitude of the immune response. The researchers concluded that these findings demonstrate that a short program in mindfulness meditation can produces demonstratable affects on brain and immune function. The findings also suggest that meditation may change brain and immune function in positive ways and justifies the need for additional research.
Meditation decreases pain
F. Zeidan et al. conducted research into brain mechanisms that support modulation of pain by mindfulness meditation. The researchers start by acknowledging that the subjective experience of one’s environment is constructed by interactions among sensory, cognitive and affective processes. In order to understand how meditation influences the sensory experience the researchers conducted brain scans to assess the neuronal mechanisms by which mindfulness meditation influences pain in a healthy human participant. The participants received four days of mindfulness meditation training. Actual meditation was performed by the participants in the presence of noxious stimulation in the researchers measured a significant reduction in pain unpleasantness of 57% and pain intensity ratings were lower by 40% when compared to rest. After mapping the regions of the brain that were activated by meditation and contributed to the reduction in pain unpleasantness, the researchers concluded that the data did indicate that meditation engages multiple brain mechanisms that alter the construction of the subjectively available pain experience.
Meditation decreases inflammation
Melissa A. Rosenkranz et al conducted research to examine a comparison of mindfulness-based stress reduction and an active control in modulation of newer genic inflammation. Psychological stress is one of the major contributing factors to symptoms in chronic inflammatory conditions. The researchers were aware that there had been a significant increase in interest in the use of meditation to minimize the effect of stress in this situation. The researchers designed a study to rigorously compare and eight week mindfulness-based stress reduction intervention to a well matched active control intervention (the specific health enhancement program) in order to compare their ability to reduce psychological stress and experimentally induced inflammation. The results show that both programs had comparable post training stress evoked cortisol responses as well as equivalent reductions in self-reported psychological distress and physical symptoms. The researchers suggest that behavioral interventions designed to reduce emotional reactivity may result in a therapeutic benefit in chronic inflammatory conditions.
Meditation increases positive emotion
B. L. Fredrickson conducted research to examine the assertion that positive emotions compound over time to build several consequential benefits. One group of participants was randomly assigned to begin a practice of lovingkindness meditation and another group did not meditate. The results showed that the meditating group produced more daily experiences of positive emotions over time and, this in turn, resulted in increases in a wide range of, what they referred to as, personal resources that included increased mindfulness, purpose in life, social support and a decrease illness symptoms. Further, the increments in personal resources predicted increased life satisfaction and reduced depressive symptoms.
J. Kabat-Zinn et al conducted an eight week course in mindfulness-based stress reduction in order to explore its impact on depression and anxiety. The participants in the study had a lifetime of mood disorders. The results indicated that mindfulness meditation practice primarily leads to decreases in ruminative thinking, or to put it another way, mindfulness meditation resulted in less incidents of the thinking that contributed to depression.
Albert J. Arias et al conducted research of existing studies to systematically review the evidence supporting the efficacy and safety of meditative practices in treating illness. The researchers discovered 20 randomized controlled trials that met the criteria. These studies involved 958 subjects and showed that there were no serious adverse events reported in any of the trials. The researchers concluded that the strongest evidence for efficacy was found for epilepsy, symptoms of premenstrual syndrome and menopausal symptoms. However, the research also demonstrated benefits for mood and anxiety disorders and autoimmune illness.
Shauna L Shapiro et al conducted research to examine the extent to which a short-term mindfulness-based stress reduction could be beneficial for health care professionals suffering from stress-related symptoms. The results from this perspective randomized control study indicate that an eight week mindfulness-based stress reduction intervention may be effective for reducing stress and increasing quality of life and self compassion in healthcare professionals.
Meditation changes your brain for the better
Eileen Luders et al recognized that existing research provided evidence for meditation induced improvements in psychological and physiological well-being. Further, meditation not only benefited higher-order cognitive functions but also altered brain activity. Therefore, the researchers set out to understand the link between meditation and brain structure. The researchers detected significantly larger gray matter volumes in meditators in the right orbitofrontal cortex (and other areas of the brain). They also discovered that meditators had significantly larger volumes of the right hippocampus. The orbitofrontal and that hippocampal regions have been implicated in emotional regulation and response control. Therefore, the larger volumes in these regions may account for the ability of meditators to cultivate positive emotions, retain emotional stability and engage in mindful behavior.
Next article in this series: