Meditation shares something with exercise: It takes discipline to get started, but once a consistent habit is established it can be very rewarding. In addition to the spiritual benefits of meditation, changes take place in the body that affect our physical and mental health, and these changes have been recorded through research.
A study published in Psychoneuroendocrinology (December 2013) showed that following a period of mindfulness meditation there was evidence of specific molecular changes in the body. Study author Richard J Davidson (photo left) said, “To the best of our knowledge, this is the first paper that shows rapid alterations in gene expression within subjects associated with mindfulness meditation practice.” The study investigated the effects of a day of intensive mindfulness practice in a group of experienced meditators, compared to a group of untrained control subjects who engaged in quiet non-meditative activities. Davidson is founder of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
After mindfulness practice, the meditators showed a range of genetic and molecular differences, including altered levels of gene-regulating machinery and reduced levels of pro-inflammatory genes, which in turn correlated with faster physical recovery from a stressful situation. See the press release from the University of Wisconsin-Madison here.
Last week another study on meditation reinforced the benefits. Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine shared results of related research. “A lot of people use meditation, but it’s not a practice considered part of mainstream medical therapy for anything,” says Madhav Goyal, M.D. “But in our study, meditation appeared to provide as much relief from some anxiety and depression symptoms as what other studies have found from antidepressants.” (These patients did not typically have full-blown anxiety or depression.)
Goyal and his colleagues found that so-called “mindfulness meditation” — a form of Buddhist self-awareness designed to focus precise, nonjudgmental attention to the moment at hand — also showed promise in alleviating some pain symptoms as well as stress. The findings held even as the researchers controlled for the possibility of the placebo effect. The investigators focused on 47 clinical trials performed through June 2013 among 3,515 participants that involved meditation and various mental and physical health issues. See the full press release here on the study which was published in the JAMA Internal Medicine January 6, 2014.