Where's the proof it works?
Not sure of the benefits? Just take a look at some of the scientific studies
Around 7,000 studies have been published in scientific journals all around the world attesting to meditation’s health benefits. That alone tells us of its status in the scientific community. From its beginnings, first recorded around 5,000 BC meditation has been continuously used as a valuable aid to help prevent illness, speed recovery and foster good health, vitality and general wellbeing.
Here is just a sample of some specific clinical applications of mindfulness and meditation.
Depression and burn-out
Research on Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) has found that these techniques more than halve the relapse rate for people who have had depression - from 78% to 36%.1 Meditation changes our relationship to negative thoughts and emotions giving a non-attachment to them and therefore, we are not controlled by them so much.
In adolescents, mindfulness reduces symptoms of anxiety, depression, and somatic distress, and increases self-esteem and sleep quality.2
For professionals with high stress loads such as doctors, Mindfulness has also been found to enhance wellbeing, reduce burnout and mood disturbance with increased empathy and responsiveness to their patients.3
- Ma SH, Teasdale JD. J Consult Clin Psychol. 2004;72(1):31-40.
- Biegel et al. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology (2009) vol. 77 (5) pp. 855-66. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0016241
- Krasner MS, Epstein RM, Beckman H, et al. JAMA. 2009 Sep 23;302(12):1338-40.
Although meditation is about cultivating restful awareness, it can help to significantly improve sleep. Research shows meditation is associated with better sleep quality, being able to go to sleep more easily, longer sleep duration and less use of sleep medications4, all of which may explain why meditation also can be responsible for reducing depression in those with chronic insomnia.5
- Cohen L. et al. Cancer. 2004;100(10):2253-60.
- Britton WB, Haynes PL, Fridel KW, Bootzin RR. Psychosom Med. 2010 Jul;72(6):539-48.
Work by the team led by Australia’s Nobel Prize winning researcher, Elizabeth Blackburn, has found that meditation may slow genetic ageing and enhance genetic repair.6 The over activity of our fight or flight response or allostatic load can lead to our general wear and tear and ageing. Meditation, practiced over time, can help to slow down and maybe even reverse this process.
Telomeres are nucleoproteins at the ends of our double-stranded DNA. Telomeres shorten each time our cells reproduce and therefore reflect our aging at a cellular level. Malignant cells, in contrast, reactivate and over-express the enzyme telomerase that lengthens telomeres allowing the multiplication and growth of the cancer.
Recent research over a follow-up period of 10 years has concluded that there was a statistically significant inverse relationship between telomere length and both cancer incidence and mortality, suggesting that keeping telomeres long could likely prevent cancer and/or increase the chance of survival for individuals who develop cancer.7
Following a 3 three month intensive meditation retreat, researchers including the Nobel Prize winning scientist Dr Elizabeth Blackburn, found that telomerase activity had increased in the participants by 30%.8
While the clinical significance of these findings is the subject of more research, the implications are enormous for disease prevention, healing and life expectancy.
- Epel E, Daubenmier J, Moskowitz JT, Folkman S, Blackburn E. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2009 Aug;1172:34-53.
- Willeit P et al, JAMA. 2010;304(1):69-75.
- Jacobs TL, Wallace A, Blackburn E et al, 2010 Psychoneuroimmunology Jnl
A residential program for people with multiple sclerosis that teaches meditation and lifestyle changes has been shown, over a 5 year period, to lead to significant improvements in general health, including physical symptoms and mobility, many aspects of quality of life and mental health. The people on average improved in all these parameters by around 20%, whereas the general population of people with MS would be expected to deteriorate by around 10% over that same 5 year period.9
- Hadgkiss EJ, Jelinek GA, Weiland TJ, et al.
When people with cancer learn mindfulness in their cancer management they were found to have significantly lower scores for low mood, depression, anxiety, anger, and confusion but they also had more vigour. They also had fewer overall physical and stress symptoms.10 Meditation has also been shown to reduce cortisol levels in cancer patients - a sign of a poor prognosis - and improve quality of life.11 There were also improvements in immunity, with lower levels of the inflammatory hormones that can accelerate cancer growth.12 People also show better immune response to vaccinations and increases in antibodies.13
- Speca M, et al. Psychosom Med. 2000;62(5):613-22.
- Carlson LE. Speca M. Patel KD. Goodey E. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2004;29(4):448-74.
- Carlson LE. Speca M. Patel KD. Goodey E. Psychosomatic Medicine. 2003;65(4):571-81.
- Davidson RJ Psychosom Med. 2003;65(4):564-70.
Dr Ainslie Meares14 and Dr Ian Gawler15 have both reported on dramatic positive benefits observed when people with chronic pain learn to meditate. Mindfulness meditation has been found to be associated with a significant reduction in pain, fatigue, and sleeplessness along with improved function, mood and general health for people with chronic pain syndromes.16 17 18
- Meares, A. Relief Without Drugs. 1967; Hill of Content, Melbourne.
- Gawler IJ, You Can Conquer Cancer, revised edition. 2013; Michelle Anderson Publishing, Melbourne.
- Kabat-Zinn J et al. J Behav Med. 1985;8(2):163-90.
- Singh BB, et al. Altern Ther Health Med. 1998;4(2):67-70.
- Astin JA, et al. J Rheumatol. 2003;30(10):2257-62.
Meditation can be very helpful in making healthy lifestyle change. Stopping smoking, for example, is not easy and one has to learn to deal with cravings. The normal way is to suppress them, but this comes at a cost as far as our mental health is concerned. A study looked at the effectiveness of suppression vs. mindfulness for coping with cigarette cravings. Both groups reported significantly reduced amount of smoking and increased effectiveness in coping with smoking urges, but only participants in the mindfulness group demonstrated reductions in negative affect (mood) and depressive symptoms.19
- Rogojanski J, Vettese LC, Antony MM. Mindfulness 2011;2(1):14-26. DOI: 10.1007/s12671-010-0038-x
Mindfulness looks to be a promising approach for helping in the management of binge-eating disorders. It possibly does this by increasing awareness of the behaviour and physical cues, helping to deal with self-criticism and negative self-image, and assisting in managing impulse and emotions.20
- Kristeller J, Hallett C. J Health Psychol 1999;4:357-63.