The Neuroscience of Mindfulness: New Meditation Studies

With more meditation studies emerging and the field of neuroscience expanding our understanding of the brain, more evidence points to meditation as a serious antidote in the medical world.

Meditation Study 1


One of the least understood organic structures known to man is the human brain. Contained within those three pounds of matter is the phenomenon of consciousness and all that it entails from emotion to creativity to memory. Now, meditation studies are shedding more light onto that phenomenon.

University of Wisconsin-Madison Neuro Scientist, Richard Davidson, has studied the brain extensively, particularly in conjunction with the practices of meditation and mindfulness. His meditation studies not only revealed that meditation “could promote a positive pattern of electrical activity in the brain,”1 but also specific patterns particular to a meditator’s level of experience.

Davidson uses modern day technology to view brain scans of Buddhist monks, all of whom have received the same meditative training. Some of Davidson’s most significant results have found a “connection between meditation and resilience.”2

The amygdala is the region of the brain associated with emotions and emotional memories. At times activity in the amygdala continues long after the triggering situation has passed, which is called perseveration. Davidson’s meditation studies findings have indicated a positive correlation between mindfulness practice and amygdala recovery. In other words, the more an individual meditates and receives mindfulness experience, the easier it is to move on from past traumas – making it a practical healing mechanism for stress disorders such as PTSD.

Mindfulness and Body Health

Stress is a daily hindrance for many people. And while some distract themselves through both diversionary vices such as Television and productive vices such as exercise, often times the stress comes back the moment those activities are over. It’s not because they are unhealthy or counterproductive, but because they don’t address the underlying issue.

Unknown to many, stress is the cause of countless health-related issues: from lowering the immune system to increasing the pain of previously existing conditions. One of the recent meditation studies3 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison goes as far as showing a link between meditation and boosted immune function. In the study, 149 individuals were divided into three groups. One group practiced meditation, the other exercised, and the last group did nothing. The study’s results were nothing short of extraordinary.

Those who meditated were absent for 76% fewer days of work than the control group while exercisers only 48% fewer. Additionally, the duration of illness experiences were reduced by 50% for people who meditated and only 40% for the exercise group. Therefore the study not only demonstrated the preventative aspect of meditation but also its effectiveness as treatment.

But the increasing proof of meditation’s power to heal, doesn’t stop there. Many chronic health issues such as arthritis, asthma, and inflamed bowel syndromes are also affected by stress. Another study4 from Wisconsin-Madison examined the connection between mindfulness and reduction of pain for chronic symptoms.

The experiment contrasted meditation and mindfulness with exercise and music therapy. By using a social stress test and a special cream meant to cause inflammation on the skin, the team of Neuro Scientists were able to measure the effectiveness of the techniques. While both regimens were helpful for reducing stress, the mindfulness-based techniques were shown to be more effective at physically reducing inflammation.

What does this mean? Well, right now it means that meditation is considered a drug-free alternative to the rather costly and often harmful medication-based cures. Meditation studies have revealed that meditation can reduce inflammation in joints, airways, bowels as well as help the process of recovery from traumas and chronic pain issues such as arthritis, asthma, and IBS symptoms. And the best part is that it’s drug-free and at your disposal any time you want or need it.

Meditation for Medication

A recent federal panel examined 34 meditation trials in order to evaluate the benefit of meditation. Afterward, they concurred with findings indicating that meditation may not only reduce chronic pain but also stress. However, the personal testimonial from a former US marine takes it a step further.

Patrick Slavens returned home to the US, however between his diagnosis of ADHD and compulsive smoking habit, he quickly discovered himself taken “with the rush of, you know, every day life.”5

That was until he started the practice of regular meditation. Professor Davidson’s work suggests that 30 minutes of daily meditation for two weeks is enough to allow physical changes in the brain, called neuroplasticity, to occur. At the present, Slavens no longer requires his ADHD medication and has completely quit his smoking habit.

But regardless of whether or not you take Slavens’ account as a form of evidence or swear by the abundance of meditation studies lending credence to the idea that treatment may not be limited to expensive prescription medication, one thing is for sure; meditation is being taken seriously by the scientific world. And while Davidson himself insists that meditation should not be treated as a replacement for conventional methods, its added presence is certainly making a visible impact on recovery and adjustment.

Be Well

Lazy Yogi

Silent Journey Contributor

Cited sources:
1. Parry, Wynne. “Exercising Your Brain May Improve Your Life.” LiveScience.com. N.p., 10 Feb. 2013. Web. 13 Feb. 2013.
2. Ibid
3. “New Study Says Meditation Can Stave off Cold and Flu.” Pakistan Daily Times, 11 Feb. 2013. Web. 13 Feb. 2013.
4. Bates, Claire. “Meditation Can Ease Pain from Stress-related Conditions like IBS and Arthritis.” Mail Online. UK Daily Mail, 17 Jan. 2013. Web. 13 Feb. 2013.
5. “Meditation As Medication?” Ivanhoe Medical Broadcast News. Ivanhoe Newswire, 4 Jan. 2013. Web. 13 Feb. 2013.

 

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