More science about meditation

There has been some backlash against meditation with newspapers publishing articles claiming that meditation is overrated. Fortunately, serious scientists continue to publish solid objective data proving that meditation not only relieves pain and headaches and makes you feel better, but in fact changes the structure of your brain. In my recent post I wrote about one such a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

A new rigorous scientific study was just published in Biological Psychiatry. It looked at the benefits of mindfulness meditation and how it changes people’s brains and potentially improves the overall health.

The study was conducted at the Health and Human Performance Laboratory at Carnegie Mellon University.

The researchers recruited 35 unemployed men and women who were looking for work and were under significant stress. Half of the people were taught mindfulness meditation at a residential retreat center, while the other half were provided sham mindfulness meditation, which involved relaxation and distraction from worries and stress.

All participants did stretching exercises, but the mindfulness group was asked to pay attention to bodily sensations, including unpleasant ones. The relaxation group was encouraged to talk to each other and ignore their bodily sensations.

After three days, all participants felt refreshed and better able to deal with the stress of unemployment. However, follow-up brain scans showed changes only in those who underwent mindfulness meditation. The scans showed more activity among the portions of their brains that process stress-related reactions and other areas related to focus and calm. By four months after the retreat most people stopped meditating, however the blood of those in mindfulness meditation group had much lower levels of interleukin-6, a marker of harmful inflammation, than blood of those in the relaxation group.

These changes occurred after only 3 days of meditation. It is likely that an ongoing meditation practice will produce stronger positive effects. Personally, I try to meditate 30 minutes on at least 5 days a week and this is what I recommend to my patients. Even 10 or 20 minutes can have an impact on migraine headaches and general well being.

There are several excellent resources for learning meditation. Free podcasts by a psychologist Tara Brach is an excellent resource. My favorite book to learn meditation is Mindfulness in Plain English by B. Gunaratana. And of course, there is an app for that – Headspace.com and Calm.com.

1 comment
  1. Ellen says: 02/29/20165:09 pm

    Thank you for this informative post. Please keep writing about the latest research on mindfulness meditation and its impact on headaches and the ability to cope with chronic illness. This is such an important topic and a ray of hope to those of us who with chronic migraine.

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