Evidence-based Meditation Research

Evidence-based Meditation Research

The National Institute of Complementary and Integrative Health at the National Institutes of Health recognizes meditation as a mind-body practice.  They currently set the standards for evidence-based practices in the field of mind-body medicine offering research on such practices. The practice of meditation, breathing techniques, relaxation and other mind-body protocols are supported by research funding.

What is Meditation?

According to the Complementary Integrative Medicine sector of the National Institutes of Health, Meditation falls under the category of being a mind and body practice.

Meditation is known to:

  • Improve calmness and focus
  • Improving psychological resilience
  • Improving a practitioner’s ability to cope with illness
  • Supporting overall health and well-being

Mind and body practices focus on the interactions among the brain, mind, body, and behavior. Most importantly the secret to understanding mind-body practices resides in the understanding and control of the breath. Hence, the reason we see much of the literature using breath as a component in the studies.

There are many types of meditation, but most have four to five elements in common:

  • A quiet location with as few distractions as possible
  • A specific, comfortable posture (sitting, lying down, walking, or in other positions)
  • A focus of attention (a specially chosen word or set of words, an object, or the sensations of the breath)
  • A specified breathing practice
  • An open attitude (letting distractions come and go naturally without judging them).

How Much Do We Know About Meditation?

  • Many studies have been conducted to look at how meditation may be helpful for a variety of conditions, such as cardio vascular disease, high blood pressure, certain psychological disorders, and pain. A number of studies show evidence of meditation workings on the brain.

What do we know about the effectiveness of meditation?

  • Research suggests that practicing meditation may reduce blood pressure, symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety and depression, insomnia, and the incidence, duration, and severity of acute respiratory illnesses (such as influenza). Evidence about its effectiveness for pain and as a smoking-cessation treatment is supported by some research but not by others.

Meditation and the Brain

  • Some research suggests that meditation may physically change the brain and body and could potentially help to improve many health problems and promote healthy behaviors.
  • Results suggested that people who practiced meditation for many years have more folds in the outer layer of the brain. This process (called gyrification) may increase the brain’s ability to process information.
  • Meditation may slow, stall, or even reverse changes that take place in the brain due to normal aging.

References: Evidence behind the practice of meditation

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Some Reflections on Meditation and Mindfulness

Review article.  the meditation styles and their application to Mental Health. Some Reflections on Meditation and Mindfulness Shader, Richard I. MD; Taylor, Susan PhD Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology: February 2017 – Volume 37 – Issue 1 – p 2–5 doi: 10.1097/JCP.0000000000000644

Breathing Modulates Brain Activity and Mental Function

The rhythm of breathing co-ordinates electrical activity across a network of brain regions associated with smell, memory, and emotions, and can enhance their functioning, according to a new study by researchers at Northwestern University. The findings, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, suggest that breathing does not merely supply oxygen to the brain and body, but may also organize the activity of populations of cells within multiple brain regions to help orchestrate complex behaviors. Zelano, C., et al. (2016). Nasal Respiration Entrains Human Limbic Oscillations and Modulates Cognitive Function. J. Neurosci., 6: 12448 –12467 [Abstract]

New Insights into the Mind Body Matrix

Neuroscientists at the University of Pittsburgh have identified the neural networks that connect the cerebral cortex to the adrenal medulla, which is responsible for the body’s response when the mind perceives a threat.   The study provides the evidence for the neural basis of a mind-body connection. Specifically, the findings shed new awareness on how our mental states can alter organ function, supporting the concepts around the field of psychoneuroimmunology. The research also provides a concrete neural substrate that may help explain why meditation and the practice of  yoga can be tools in changing the body’s responses to physical, psychological and emotional stress. http://www.pnas.org/content/113/35/9922.full.pdf

Scientists Discover Non-opioid Pain Pathway in the Brain

Study provides evidence for the existence of a non-opioid process in the brain to reduce pain through mindfulness meditation. Results from a new study, funded in part by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, demonstrate that mindfulness meditation does not rely on the endogenous opioid activity to reduce pain, which is an important consideration for using meditation to treat chronic pain. The study, conducted by researchers at Wake Forest School of Medicine and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, was published in The Journal of Neuroscience. F Zeidan, AL Adler-Neal, RE Wells et al. Mindfulness-meditation-based pain relief is not

Medical Benefits of Diaphragmatic Breathing

Hypertension is one of the major risk factors for cardiovascular disease. This research compares the acute effects in lower blood pressure using diaphragmatic breathing and slow breathing in elderly patients who are under treatment for hypertension. The findings suggest that both breathing exercises could reduce blood pressure in acute term effect in treated hypertensive patients. Only diaphragmatic breathing could lower both systolic and diastolic blood pressures. Pirompol, T. Thanarojwanich, K. Kiettitarai, P. Phansathitwong et. al. ( 2015) Acute-Term Effects In Lowering Blood Pressure After Diaphragmatic Breathing And Slow Breathing In Treated Hypertensive Patients.  WCPT Congress 2015 / Physiotherapy 2015; Volume

Mindfulness Meditation and Youth

A first published meta-analysis of the extensive literature on mindfulness meditation with youth (conducted between 2004 and 2011) identifying the effects produced from mindfulness training among different youth populations.  Mindfulness meditation was found to be helpful when compared to control subjects without causing injury. A significantly larger effect size was found for psychological symptoms compared to other dependent variable types and for studies drawn from clinical samples compared to non-clinical samples. Mindfulness practice appears to be a positive intervention and training for youth. Zoogman, S., Goldberg, S. B., Hoyt, W. T., & Miller, L. (2014). Mindfulness interventions with youth: A

Individual Levels of Mindfulness May Predict Brain Function

Mindfulness, a meditation practice has been defined as the ability to maintain non-judgmental awareness of present experiences through breath.  Studies have shown that practicing mindfulness improves brain function leading to emotional and mental well-being. Many investigate studies have investigated the cognitive / neurophysiological mechanisms involved with mindfulness.  A study done by Malinowiski, et. al.  showed the practice of mindfulness contributed to inhibitory control and response monitoring, considered to be important factors that support mindfulness’s neurological effects.   Malinowski, P., Mead, B. and Pozuelos-López J. (2011). Individual levels of mindfulness predict brain activity related to inhibitory control and response monitoring. Frontiers

Diaphragmatic Breathing, Meditation and Stress Reduction

Mediation and diaphragmatic breathing are  relaxing and therapeutic, reduce stress, and are fundamental to Yoga, Zen, Transcendental Meditation, Focused Awareness Meditation and other  mindful based meditation practices. Analysis of oxidative stress levels in people who meditate indicated that meditation correlates with lower oxidative stress levels, lower cortisol levels and higher melatonin levels.   Martarelli D1, Cocchioni M, Scuri S, Pompei P. Diaphragmatic breathing reduces exercise-induced oxidative stress.  Evidenced Based Complement Alternat Med. 2011;2011:932430. doi: 10.1093/ecam/nep169. Epub 2011 Feb 10. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19875429  

Anxiety and Evidence-based Meditation

Anxiety is a growing challenge in our society. Anxiety disorders are among the most common psychiatric disorders; meditative therapies are frequently sought by patients with anxiety as a complementary therapy. While research has come far in identifying how these disorders influence our thoughts and actions, research shows that meditation and it’s practices including breathing and mindfulness have a positive effect. Although multiple reviews exist on the general health benefits of meditation, no review has been focused on the efficacy of meditation for anxiety specifically. Therefore, here we look at anxiety related to illness, pain and other areas where anxiety exists

Meditation and Cognitive Function

There is growing interest in the potential benefits of meditation and wellness. Of particular interest are meditation practices, namely mindfulness in terms of counteracting some of the cognitive effects associated with aging. Studies using attention on breath, namely mindfulness meditation show positive results in cognitive function which includes executive control and emotion regulation.  One study of particular interest was conducted in older adults, by means of studying behavioral and electrophysiological changes. The conclusion of this study showed that even taking up meditation later in life can have a benefit on cognitive functions. Links to the Research: Malinowski, P., Moore, A.

Evidence-based Meditation Research February 11, 2016
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Medical Disclaimer

The contents of this website are for informational purposes only and are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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