Around the world scientists are avidly researching the effects of mindfulness and meditation practice. The results are coming in and the are showing that they help you sleep better, avoid depression, make more rational decisions … and they change the shape of your brain
Mark Williams (Professor of Clinical Psychology at Oxford University) and Danny Penman give an excellent roundup of research findings in their book, Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World (Piatkus 2011). Summing up, they conclude that meditation makes you happier and healthier:
Numerous psychological studies have shown that regular meditators are happier and more contented than average. These are not just important results in themselves but have huge medical significance as positive emotions are linked to a healthier life.
Anxiety, depression and irritability all decrease with regular sessions of meditation. Memory also improves, reaction times become faster and mental and physical stamina increase.
Studies worldwide have found that meditation reduces the key indicators of chronic stress, including hypertension.
Meditation has also been found effective in reducing the impact of serious conditions such as chronic pain and cancer, and can even help relieve drug and alcohol dependence.
Here are links to specific studies.
Scientists tracked people playing the Ultimatum Game (an economics-based game) and found that meditators react angrily half as often as non-meditators when they are on the receiving end of an unfair decision. They activate a different network of brain areas and that enables them to uncouple negative emotional reactions from their behaviour.
Mindfulness training increases brain grey matter concentration
Researchers measured the concentration of grey matter in important regions of the brain in a group of people about to start an eight wek MBSR mindfulness course. When they measured the same areas again after they had completed the course they found that they grey matter had grown denser, showing more connections and more activity, in regions involved in learning and memory, and the capacity to regulate emotion and have a realistic perspective on what is happening to you.
In this famous study, Richard Davidson and a team from the U Wisconsin Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience found that people taking an eight-week mindfulness course showed an increase in the activity in the left side of their brains: a pattern associated with positive feelings and responses. To their surprise they also found a significant boost to the immune system among the group.
This survey of 350 adults found that participants with greater meditation experience showed higher emotional intelligence, felt less stress and enjoyed better mental health. And people who then undertook a course in meditation improved their scores.
Mindfulnet has an excellent listing of the growing evidence into the effectiveness of the mindfulness training for
ADHD, Aggression, Alcohol abuse, Bipolar disorder, Blood pressure, Brain injuries, Cancer, Chronic Pain, Depression & anxiety, Diabetes, Eating disorders, Fibromyalgia, Heart Disease,Hepatitis/ HIV /Aids, Immune System, Learning difficulties, OCD, Parkingsons disease, Quality of life, Organ transplants, Preventing relapse, Pregnancy, Psoriasis, Multiple Sclerosis, Sleep problems, Smoking Cessation, Stress Reduction, Substance abuse and addictions, Tinnitus, Visual sensitivity
- Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)
- Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
- Mindfulness for Teachers & students
- Mindfulness in Prisons
- Mindfulness at work
- Neuroscience of Mindfulness
The Mental Health Foundation’s ‘Mindfulness Report’ (2010) also offers a useful summary of this research.