Research On Mindfulness
Mindfulness has been on the planet for more than 2500 years. Gratitude to Buddha and all the teachers who transmitted the teachings and practices from one generation to another.
Several psychologists, leaders and scientists explored and discovered mindfulness meditation in their personal lives. This sparked off their interest to study its applications in various physical and mental health settings. Each study opens up a new box of benefits that this ancient practice brings. In fact several Buddhist monks and world renowned teachers like the Dalai Lama, Matthieu Ricard and Thich Nhat Hanh have supported extensive scientific research along with practical teachings to aid this process.
So much of research now clearly links happiness, wellness, physical and mental fitness to the practices. This is great! Especially, as the kind of world we live in now has tremendous faith in science.
Take the example of running. Just about 15 years or so ago you would see a handful of people in the park walking or jogging. Fast forward to now, the parks are overflowing and often you see people sprinting on the roads, yoga classes at every nook and corner. Practically everyone has a fitness routine. How is that so? Simple, science proved it.The doctors advised exercise and everyone followed.
With the progress made in scientific studies for meditation and mindfulness, in a decade or so you will see people meditating everywhere. At bus stops, at office desks and perhaps we will have huge parks only for meditating in nature. Thanks to the great investigations done by researchers in this field, humanity is benefiting and will continue to benefit.
Current research mainly looks at how the brain responds to mindfulness meditation practice and the positive impacts it has on mental and physical health. Some studies even look at some shifts people make in the areas of compassion, joy and self-acceptance.
Research on Mindfulness &
Groundbreaking research has consistently proved that 8 weeks of 20 minute daily meditations change the structure of the brain. This leads to several positive changes in an individual’s soma and psyche. Studies in the area of mental health are promoting more usage of mindfulness techniques in psychotherapy for the alleviation of mental health symptoms. Therapists now introduce mindfulness practices in individual counselling as well as group counselling. Here are some key studies in the area of mood, depression stress and anxiety.
The University of Oxford published a study in 2013, which investigated the effects experienced by 273 participants of the Be Mindful Online Course. After just one month this was the average reduction found in stress, depression and anxiety.
- A 58% reduction in anxiety levels
- A 57% reduction in depression
- A 40% reduction in stress
Hofmann, Sawyer, Witt, and Oh (2010) conducted a meta analytic review of 39 studies with patients suffering from a variety of medical and psychiatric disorders. They found that mindfulness interventions had a moderate effect in improving anxiety and depressive symptoms. In patients with co-occurring anxiety and mood symptoms, the effects were much larger.
In some recent studies on veterans (Serpa, Taylor, & Tillisch, 2014) it has been found that mindfulness reduces depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. It has also been effective in treating psychological stressors and coping in life threatening and chronic illnesses (Carlson, 2012).
Studies with nurses (Bruce, Young, Turner, Vander Wal, & Linden, 2002), oncology patients (Lerman, Jarski, Rea, Gellish, & Vicini, 2012) and adults suffering from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (Biomed Res Int. 2015) showed a marked improvement in the quality of life. These studies also found that there was an improvement in mood and attention as well. Thus, studies are clearly indicating that mindfulness leads to a shift in the perceived quality of life in individuals who are healthy as well as those who are experiencing physical or mental concerns.
A number of studies indicate that the practice helps to reduce ruminative thinking. Meditators are able to cope with repetitive thoughts well. In turn they have lesser depressive symptoms and other negative affect (Chambers et al., 2008).
The ability to pay attention and concentrate is an outcome of mindfulness meditation. This helps people deal with distractions, focus on the task at hand and promotes cognitive flexibility. (Moore and Malinowski, 2009).
Numerous self reports from meditators indicate that the habitual patterns of emotional reactivity reduce. It paves ways to cope with emotions and chose appropriate responses (Cahn & Polich, 2006; Davidson et al., 2003). The tendency to impulsively react reduces greatly (Ortner et al., 2007). Another interesting finding is that post the negative episode there is a fast recovery to the baseline mood. (Davidson, 2000; Davidson, Jackson, & Kalin, 2000).
Mindfulness helps a person understand and express their emotions to their partners (Dekeyser el al., 2008). Mindfulness enhances an individual’s ability to communicate effectively during conflicts. This helps to cope with conflicts, cultivate emotional intimacy and build happy relationships. It is no wonder that there is evidence predicting relationship satisfaction (Barnes et al., 2007; Wachs & Cordova, 2007).
Source: Research works cited on APA.
Research on Mindfulness &
Chronic Conditions: A host of studies have investigated how mindfulness can help individuals with chronic health concerns. Some of the illness investigated were rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, organ transplant, chronic pain, fibromyalgia and irritable bowl syndrome (Carlson, 2012). The results from these studies do not show improvement or cure of the disease however all the findings proved that patients developed the ability to cope better with their ailments. For example, mindfulness meditation is taught to several cancer patients to aid them with pain management. The pain does not diminish but the ability to cope and tolerate the pain is markedly improved.
Some new emerging research shows an improvement in the symptoms of certain physical symptoms. There has been extensive research in the area of Oncology which shows significant improvements in mood, reduction of stress, fatigue and better sleep cycles. (Carlson & Garland, 2005).
A very new research has promising findings for those suffering from obesity and overweight issues. Mindfulness has helped participants improve their eating habit, change their attitudes leading to a decrease in depressing and anxiety which in turn has led to weight loss (Rogers, Ferrari, Mosely, Lang, & Brennan, 2017).
Jean Kristeller and the research team stated that it certainly helps people to know the difference between emotional and physical hunger and satiety. They say it introduces a moment of choice between the urge and actual eating. Their studies at Duke Unversity showed that people who meditated during meal and also off meal times benefited more from the program of mindfulness eating techniques.
This opens up a world of health benefits. Such researches indicates that people who are mindful are more prone to eat healthier and stay away from foods that are processed and toxic. Besides helping with weight management it could have a host of other health benefits. It is no wonder that mindfulness is being included and studied in the treatment of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. A US team from Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey, Pennsylvania stated that their recent study possibly indicates that mindfulness could be useful in managing and treatment diabetes in overweight women. Most of the research investigating diabetes and mindfulness indicates that mindfulness plays one role in the treatment, but it is not the sole treatment method.
A study from 2015 showed that mindfulness is related to improvements in cardiovascular health through a lower incidence of smoking, more physical activity and a healthier body mass index (Loucks, Britton, Howe, Eaton, & Buka, 2015).
There have been some studies that show that mindfulness has a positive impact on telomere length which helps to decrease cellular aging and cogitivie stress. (Epel et al., 2009).
Changes in biological markers has been seen; this includes stress hormone markers, immune and endocrine system markers (Black and Slavich, 2016).
Eventually it seems as though mindfulness could serve as a great preventive method to illness. It helps a person tune into their body and live more consciously making healthier choices and developing healthier attitudes and habits. This promotes over all wellbeing. For example a study from last year proved a similar point showing that mindfulness increases multiple healthy behaviors like getting regular health checkups, being more physically active, using seat belts and avoiding nicotine and alcohol (Jacobs, Wollny, Sim, & Horsch, 2016).
Brain and Neuroscience
Rewiring Neural Pathways for Resilience & Happiness
Tang, Holzel, and Posner (2014) consolidated the findings of a meta analysis from 21 neuro-imaging studies which examined 300 experienced meditation practitioners. They stated that the effects of meditation on the brain are wide scale, meaning we could actually change the structure’s of our own brain. Often neuroscientists refer mindfulness to a rewiring of the brain. Rick Hanson, a leading psychologist in the field of mindfulness suggests meditations and practices to help rewire the neural pathways in the brain to create more resilience and happiness.
The Neuroscience Behind Mindfulness
Read an article by our team to understand how exactly mindfulness affects the brain and how its rewiring takes place
Mindfulness & Mental Health Practitioners
Here are some specific areas identified in psychotherapists and trainee therapists who practice mindfulness meditation:
Studies have shown a significant increase in the level of empathy post exposure to mindfulness practices (Shapiro, Schwartz, & Bonner, 1998). A study by Wang (2007) found that therapists who were advanced meditators scored higher in measures of empathy than therapists who did not meditate. Mindfulness-based stress reduction training has helped enhance self compassion amongst health care providers (Shapiro, Astin, Bishop, & Cordova, 2005). The qualities of non judging and non reactivity were correlated with self-compassion. In turn these lead to possibilities of an increase in compassionate understanding and communication with clients. It is no wonder that the final outcome of mindfulness is a more peaceful and happier world.
Therapists who have participated in mindfulness training courses report that they are more comfortable with silence, feel more connected and attuned to themselves as well as their clients and report that they are able to be more attentive to the therapy process. It has helped them make a shift from thinking about the therapeutic process to being fully present with their clients. (Newsome, Christopher, Dahlen, & Christopher, 2006; Schure, Christopher, & Christopher, 2008).
Mindfulness helped to reduce stress, negative affect, rumination, and anxiety in healthy psychotherapist trainees (Shapiro, Brown, & Biegel, 2007). Mental healthcare professionals often use it as a tool to care for their own wellbeing. It helps them stay centered amidst dealing with the problems and challenges of their clients.
Mindfulness & Workplace
A detailed analysis of mindfulness research co-directed by a management scientist at Case Western Reserve University (2016) has considered 4,000 scientific papers of mindfulness at the workplace. They state that out of these there were only two papers that reported a small downfall. This management-based research concludes that mindfulness improves attention, cognition, behavior and physiology. thereby having a positive impact on the workplace. Mindfulness improves teamwork, leadership and productivity when integrated into workplaces.
Mindfulness & Education
Children and Young People
There are 2 recent reviews of 20 individual studies of mindfulness interventions with school aged children which show that mindfulness does no harm. In fact it helps to reduce reactivity and bad behavior. It reduce anxiety, promotes self-awareness and empathy. It can contribute directly to the development of cognitive and performance skills.
Research conducted on teenagers practicing mindfulness is very scarce. Mindfulness can help teenagers cope with the stresses and strain at this age. It can help them accept themselves, improve concentration and make better choices in life. Click here to read more about how teenagers can benefit from mindfulness.
Teachers benefit greatly by reducing stress and burn out. Research has shown that teachers who practice mindfulness have a better efficacy in their work. They are also better in managing and supporting students.