Science Confirms: Mindfulness Meditation Can Improve Physical and Mental Health

10/25/2017 09:09 pm ET Updated Oct 26, 2017
RikkiLynn Shields

The practice of meditation appeared way before modern medicine and scientists began to show interest in meditation as a form of healthcare. In more recent years, neuroscience researchers and neurophysiologists have gained interest in the practice as a means of healing. Now, meditation is not soely seen as a spiritually-driven practice.

The potential application of mindfulness meditation is said to treat a variety of stress-related conditions, along with provide a significant increase in the practicioner’s ability to regulate emotions, sustain concentration, and improve the practicioners overall life.

Now, you’re probably thinking: How do I begin?

First, let’s start by defining mindfulness meditation and it’s ancient roots, along with go over the origin of its modern applications.

Mindfulness Meditation and its Ancient Roots

The cultivation of mindfulness, along with the practice of mindfulness meditation has its roots deeply embedded in Buddhism, and is otherwise known as vipassanā meditation in the Buddhist tradition.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, to cultivate “mindfulness” is defined as “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one's thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.”

Modern Applications

In 1975, Dr. Herbert Benson, founder of Harvard’s Mind/Body Medical Institute, introduced “The Relaxation Response” to mainstream medicine. The “response” is defined as your individual ability to encourage your body to release chemicals/signals that allow your muscles and organs slow down and increase the blood flow to your brain. Benson’s clinical study of meditation was the first implication of mindfulness in medicine, proving that it has the ability to treat a variety of stress-related disorders.

In 1979, Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder and former director of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, began using mindfulness meditation as a form of prevention and healing through his program titled Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).

Physical & Mental Health Benefits

  1. Slowing of Brain Aging. In a study published by The Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, the practice of meditation has been proven to slow, and in some cases stop the progression of global cortical atrophy, which is responsible for the cognitive decline of brain aging.
  2. Enhancement of Self-Regulation. A study in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, mindfulness meditation was seen to lead to an enhancement of one’s self-regulation, leading to an improvement in one’s ability to manage thoughts, emotional responses, and behavior more effectively than before.
  3. Depression. Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy is a program developed by Zindel Segal, John Teasdale, and Mark Williams to treat depression and depression-related relapses. MBCT was proven to be more effective than anti-depressants.
  4. OCD. Neuropsychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz of the University of California and colleague Lewis Baxter formed a behavior-therapy group in 1987 to study and eventually treat OCD. “The week after patients started relabeling their symptoms as manifestations of pathological brain processes, they reported the disease was no longer controlling them, and that they felt they could do something about it,” Schwartz said (Begley 2007: 140).
  5. Anxiety. Mindfulness meditation was proven to have the ability to override the right prefrontal cortex, which is associated with experiencing anxiety. “Happiness” is now seen as something that not only can be cultivated, but also something that can be taught.
  6. Stress-Managment & Emotional-Regulation. Along with MBSR, a study done on present-moment awareness found that cultivating mindfulness facilitates a more positive response to our daily stressors, proving that mindfulness can help us alleviate/better handle stress through improving emotion regulation.
  7. Lowering of Heart Rate & Relaxation. In a study published in the Journal of Chronic Disease, mindfulness meditation was proven to lower heart and respiratory rates, along with psychological outcome measures that indicate improved relaxation.
  8. Improve Sleep. A study published in Frontiers in Neurology shows that meditation can improve our sleep habits.
  9. Reduce Chronic Pain. While meditation has the ability to reduce various causes of chronic pain, the improvement of chronic headaches was just one issue that Kabat-Zinn’s MBSR program was able to treat.
  10. Well-Being. Mindfulness meditation can have an overwhelming effect on one’s well-being and quality of life, by inadvertently teaching a practitioner to manage and regulate the autonomic functions of their own body, and teaching the practitioner to develop better self-awareness. This increases the ability to effectively modulate one’s behavior, and promote a progressive and positive shift from predominantly self-focused to increasingly decentered and prosocial– subsequently training them to overcome stress-related conditions and other ailments as listed above.

Along with the ten benefits listed above, the list goes on.

While the study of mindfulness meditation in relation to health remains in its infancy, it encourages the human mind and body to work together to overcome imbalance, and inadvertently aid the practitioner in a positive self-transformation.

I know what you’re thinking...

How Do I Begin?

Whether your practice of mindfulness meditation be spiritually driven or not, there are benefits available for everyone.

There are a variety of smart phone applications and websites that will introduce you to mindfulness meditation, and teach you how to implement it into your lifestyle. However, what’s better than a good old-fashion book?

Here are some of my personal recommendations (ALL under $15, AND available on AMAZON PRIME) to get you started:

To learn more about the health-related benefits:

To begin your practice:

The implication of mindfulness meditation in healthcare proves that our thoughts have the ability to alter our neurochemistry.

At the center of our lives, we have the ability to improve our mental and physical health by means of mental training that can be practiced in the comfort of our own homes. What’s better than that?

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