Despite originating in Eastern contemplative traditions, meditation has today gained a foothold in both American popular culture and scientific research. In the U.S., many meditative practices have expanded beyond their reputation as stress-relieving exercises, and have been increasingly introduced by researchers as interventions for various psychological and behavioral disorders. Mindfulness meditation, in particular, has promised a myriad of health benefits for children and adults alike. Whether pursued as a clinical intervention or as a systematic method toward self-development and personal insight, mindfulness meditation may be able to address a wide range of health issues. Here, we take a look at some of these benefits.
What Is Mindfulness Meditation?
Mindfulness meditation is a form of meditation that prioritizes conscious living, summarized in the quality of mind-body awareness called mindfulness. The basis of mindfulness is surprisingly simple: avoiding unconscious or mechanical activity, tuning in to the present moment, and becoming fully aware of your inner sensations and the world around you
What Mindfulness Meditation Can Do for Your Brain
Enhance your cognitive abilities
Mindfulness meditation may be able to improve brain function due to brain plasticity, or the brain’s ability to be changed over time. A 2003 study published in Psychosomatic Medicine evaluated the effects of an 8-week mindfulness meditation program on brain function. Results demonstrated for the first time that meditation can increase activity in the left anterior, or the front left, side of the brain. This region of the brain is associated with greater resilience toward negative or stressful events, suggesting that mindfulness training may be able to mitigate the cognitive effects of stress.
Reduce symptoms of depression
As a combination of MBSR and cognitive therapy techniques, MBCT may be a powerful tool in reducing relapse for patients with recurrent depression. Studies published in the Journal of Counseling and Clinical Psychology in the years 2000 and 2004 discovered that MBCT reduced relapse rates for patients with 3 or more previous episodes of depression by almost 50%. In addition to reducing depression relapse, mindfulness meditation techniques may counter depression by decreasing negative ruminative thought, which involves repetitive reflections on one’s assumed faults or shortcomings.
What Mindfulness Meditation Can Do for Your Body
Boost activity in your immune system
In addition to improving cognitive function, mindfulness meditation may be able to enhance the vitality of the immune system, specifically by increasing antibody production. Antibodies are proteins produced by the immune system in order to destroy viruses and other harmful substances, and stressful events can decrease antibody production. A 2003 study published in Psychosomatic Medicine found that participants who completed an 8-week mindfulness meditation program experienced a greater increase in antibodies to influenza vaccine than a control group, suggesting that mindful meditators may be less vulnerable to the effects of stress on the immune system.
Treat binge eating
Due to its emphasis on greater self-awareness and self-control, mindfulness meditation may be effective in treating eating disorders marked by binging. Evaluating a 6-week mindfulness intervention on obese women, a 1999 study published in the Journal of Health Psychology noted a significant drop in the number of binges reported by participants after mindfulness training. The study revealed that mindfulness meditation may increase the ability to recognize and respond to normal satiety cues, thereby decreasing the tendency to binge.
Mindfulness-based interventions may also be able to improve emotional eating and reduce external eating frequency. By mitigating maladaptive eating behaviors, mindfulness practice can constitute an effective means toward weight loss and weight maintenance.
Prevent cellular aging
Telomerase is an enzyme that hinders the age-related loss of genetic material, thus contributing to greater cell longevity. Its activity decreases with age and age-related diseases, but can may actually increase with meditation practice.
When and Where to Practice Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness meditation can be pursued independently, as part of a course, or as part of a clinical intervention. There is no magical formula for cultivating mindfulness, and meditation techniques can be modified to individual needs and goals. Since mindfulness involves consciousness of internal and external stimuli, a quiet environment might be considered ideal. Nonetheless, mindfulness meditation does not need to be practiced in a secluded environment. Mini-meditations are also possible, allowing individuals to take a few moments to stop where they are and tune in to their thoughts and feelings.
Article reference(s): http://exploreim.ucla.edu.