Mindfulness practices decrease depression
In a study conducted at five middle schools in Belgium, involving about 400 students (13 ~ 20 years old), Professor Filip Raes concludes that “students who follow an in-class mindfulness program report reduced indications of depression, anxiety and stress up to six months later. Moreover, these students were less likely to develop pronounced depression-like symptoms.”
Another study, from the University of California, made with patients with past depression, concluded that mindfulness meditation decreases ruminative thinking and dysfunctional beliefs.
Yet another concludes that mindfulness meditation may be effective to treat depression to a similar degree as antidepressant drug therapy”.
Sources: ScienceDaily, Link Springer, Jama Network
Mindfulness meditation helps treat depression in mothers to be
High-risk pregnant women who participated in a ten-week mindfulness yoga training saw significant reductions in depressive symptoms, according to a University of Michigan Health System pilot feasibility study. The mothers-to-be also showed more intense bonding to their babies in the womb. The findings were published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice.
Source: Medical News Today
Meditation practices help regulate mood and anxiety disorders
This is also the conclusion of over 20 randomized controlled studies taken from PubMed, PsycInfo, and the Cochrane Databases, involving the techniques of Meditation, Meditative Prayer, Yoga, Relaxation Response.
Another research concludes that mindfulness meditation may be effective to treat anxiety to a similar degree as antidepressant drug therapy.
Source: The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Jama Network
Meditation reduces stress and anxiety in general
A study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison indicates that the practice of “Open Monitoring Meditation” (such as Vipassana), reduces the grey-matter density in areas of the brain related with anxiety and stress. Meditators were more able to “attend moment-to-moment to the stream of stimuli to which they are exposed and less likely to ‘get stuck’ on any one stimulus. ”
“Open Monitoring Meditation” involves non-reactively monitoring the content of experience from moment-to-moment, primarily as a means to recognize the nature of emotional and cognitive patterns.
There are other studies as well, for which I simply present the link below, to avoid repetition.
Sources: NCBI, Wiley Online Library, The American Journal of Psychiatry, ScienceDirect, American Psychological Association, American Psychosomtic Medicine Journal, Medical News Today
Meditation helps reduce symptoms of panic disorder
In a research published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, 22 patients diagnosed with anxiety disorder or panic disorder were submitted to 3 months meditation and relaxation training. As a result, for 20 of those patients the effects of panic and anxiety had reduced substantially, and the changes were maintained at follow-up.
Source: American Journal of Psychiatry
Meditation increases grey matter concentration in the brain
A group of Harvard neuroscientists ran an experiment where 16 people were submitted to an eight-week mindfulness course, using guided meditations and integration of mindfulness into everyday activities. The results were reported by Sara Lazar, PhD. At the end of it, MRI scans show that the grey matter concentration increases in areas of the brain involved in learning and memory, regulating emotions, sense of self, and having perspective.
Other studies also show a larger hippocampal and frontal volumes of grey matter for long-term meditators.
Meditation acutely improves psychomotor vigilance, and may decrease sleep need
On a research conducted by the University of Kentucky, participants were tested on four different conditions: Control (C), Nap (N), Meditation (M) and Sleep Deprivation plus Meditation. Non-meditators, novice meditators and experienced meditators were part of the experiment. The results suggest that:
Meditation provides at least a short-term performance improvement even in novice meditators. In long term meditators, multiple hours spent in meditation are associated with a significant decrease in total sleep time when compared with age and sex matched controls who did not meditate. Whether meditation can actually replace a portion of sleep or pay-off sleep debt is under further investigation.
Long-term meditation enhances the ability to generate gamma waves in the brain
In a study with Tibetan Buddhist monks, conducted by neuroscientist Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin, it was found that novice meditators “showed a slight increase in gamma activity, but most monks showed extremely large increases of a sort that has never been reported before in the neuroscience literature”.
Source: The Wall Street Journal
Meditation helps reduce alcohol and substance abuse
Three studies made with Vipassana meditation in incarcerated populations suggested that it can help reduce alcohol and substance abuse.
Meditation improves your focus, attention, and ability to work under stress
A study led by Katherine MacLean of the University of California suggested that during and after meditation training, subjects were more skilled at keeping focus, especially on repetitive and boring tasks.
Another study demonstrated that even with only 20 minutes a day of practice, students were able to improve their performance on tests of cognitive skill, in some cases doing 10 times better than the group that did not meditate. They also performed better on information-processing tasks that were designed to induce deadline stress.
In fact, there is evidence that meditators had thicker prefrontal cortex and right anterior insula, and also to the effect that meditation might offset the loss of cognitive ability with old age.
Meditation improves information processing and decision-making
Eileen Luders, an assistant professor at the UCLA Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, and colleagues, have found that long-term meditators have larger amounts of gyrification (“folding” of the cortex, which may allow the brain to process information faster) than people who do not meditate. Scientists suspect that gyrification is responsible for making the brain better at processing information, making decisions, forming memories and improving attention.
Source: UCLA Newsroom
Meditation gives you mental strength, resilience and emotional intelligence
PhD psychotherapist Dr. Ron Alexander reports in his book Wise Mind, Open Mind that the process of controlling the mind, through meditation, increases mental strength, resilience, and emotional intelligence.
Source: Dr. Ron Alexander
Meditation makes you stronger against pain
A research group from the University of Montreal exposed 13 Zen masters and 13 comparable non-practitioners to equal degrees of painful heat while measuring their brain activity in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner. What they discovered is that the Zen meditation (called zazen) practitioners reported less pain. Actually, they reported less pain than their neurological output from the fMRI indicated. So, even though their brain may be receiving the same amount of pain input, in their mind’s there is actually less pain.
Sources: Time Magazine, NCBI, David Lynch Foundation
Meditation relieves pain better than morphine
In an experiment conducted by Wake Forest Baptist Medical Centre, 15 healthy volunteers, who were new to meditation, attended four 20-minute classes to learn meditation, focusing on the breath. Both before and after meditation training, study participants’ brain activity was examined using ASL MRI, while pain was inflicted in them by using heat.
Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D., lead author of the study, explains that
This is the first study to show that only a little over an hour of meditation training can dramatically reduce both the experience of pain and pain-related brain activation. (…) We found a big effect – about a 40 percent reduction in pain intensity and a 57 pe reduction in pain unpleasantness. Meditation produced a greater reduction in pain than even morphine or other pain-relieving drugs, which typically reduce pain ratings by about 25 percent.”
Source: Huffington Post
Meditation helps manage ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)
In a study made with 50 adult ADHD patients, the group that was submitted to MBCT (Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy) demonstrated reduced hyperactivity, reduced impulsivity and increased “act-with-awareness” skill, contributing to an overall improvement in inattention symptoms.
Sources: Clinical Neurophysiology Journal, DoctorsOnTM
Meditation increases the ability to keep focus in spite of distractions
A study from Emory University, Atlanta, demonstrated that participants with more meditation experience exhibit increased connectivity within the brain networks controlling attention. These neural relationships may be involved in the development of cognitive skills, such as maintaining attention and disengaging from distraction. Moreover, the benefits of the practice were observed also in normal state of consciousness during the day, which speaks to the transference of cognitive abilities “off the cushion” into daily life.
The meditation practice examined was focusing the attention on the breath.
Source: Frontiers Journal
Meditation improves learning, memory and self-awareness
Long-term practice of meditation increases grey-matter density in the areas of the brain associated with learning, memory, self-awareness, compassion, and introspection.
Mindfulness meditation improves rapid memory recall
According to Catherine Kerr of the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging and the Osher Research Centre, “Mindfulness meditation has been reported to enhance numerous mental abilities, including rapid memory recall”.
Meditation improves your mood and psychological well-being
Researchers from Nottingham Trent University, UK, found that when participants with issues of stress and low mood underwent meditation training, they experienced improvements in psychological well-being.
Source: Link Springer
Meditation prevents you from falling in the trap of multitasking too often
Multitasking is not only a dangerous productivity myth, but it’s also a source of stress. “Changing gears” between activities is costly for the brain, and induces feelings of distraction and dissatisfaction from the work being done.
In a research conducted by the University of Washington and University of Arizona, Human Resource personnel were given 8 weeks of training in either mindfulness meditation or body relaxation techniques, and were given a stressful multitasking test both before and after training. The group of staff that had practiced meditation reported lower levels of stress and showed better memory for the tasks they had performed; they also switched tasks less often and remained focused on tasks longer.
Source: ACM Digital Library
Meditation helps us allocate limited brain resources
When the brain is presented two targets to pay attention to, and they right after one another (half a second difference), the second one is often not seen. This is called “attentional-blink”.
In an experiment conducted by the University of California, a stream of random letters was shown in a computer screen, in rapid succession. In each session, one or two numbers or blank screens would appear in the middle, and participants were later asked, immediately after the stream ended, to type the numbers they saw. They were also asked whether they thought a blank screen was shown or not.
Subjects that had undergone 3 months of intense Vipassana Meditation were found to have a better control over the distribution of attention and perception resources. They showed less allocation of brain-resource for each letter shown, which resulted in reduction in “attentional-blink” size.
Source: PLOS Biology
Meditation improves visuospatial processing and working memory
Research has shown that even after only four sessions of mindfulness meditation training, participants had significantly improved visuospatial processing, working memory, and executive functioning.
Meditation prepares you to deal with stressful events
A study from All India Institute of Medical Sciences, conducted with 32 adults that had never practiced meditation before, showed that if meditation is practiced before a stressful event, the adverse effects of stress were lessened.
Source: The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine
Meditation increases awareness of your unconscious mind
A study by researchers from the University of Sussex in the UK found out that people that practice mindfulness meditation experience a greater pause between unconscious impulses and action, and are also less subject to hypnosis.
Source: New Scientist
Mindfulness meditation fosters creativity
A research from Leiden University (Netherlands) demonstrates that the practice of “open monitoring” meditation (non-reactively monitoring the content of experience from moment-to-moment) has positive effects in creativity and divergent thinking. Participants who had followed the practice performed better in a task where they were asked to creatively come up with new ideas.
Source: The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine
Mindfulness meditation reduces risk of Alzheimer’s and premature death
Results from recent research, published online in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity, states that just 30 minutes of meditation a day not only reduces the sense of loneliness, but also reduces the risk of heart disease, depression, Alzheimer’s and premature death.
Source: Nature, HealthCentral
The neuroscientific study of spiritual practices.
Professor Andrew Newberg is a neuroscientist at the Thomas Jefforson, he has the distinction of also being adjunct Professor of Religios Studies and Associate Professor of Radiology. He has published numerous books and papers on this topic. Read his 2014 paper in Frontiers in Psychology here.