Summary of the effects of mindfulness

Kerome

Kerome

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#1
I came across this long article today and it had a particularly good summary of the medical effects of mindfulness, which I've quoted below:

Mindfulness: Good for the Mind

The findings related to mindfulness are particularly impressive. There have now been literally hundreds of studies done on the various benefits of practicing mindfulness exercises, with seemingly more hitting the press each day. And the bottom line is that mindfulness has the potential to improve our mental and emotional health in ways that are nothing short of incredible.

On the whole, individuals who regularly practice mindfulness perform better on a host of mental health outcomes, including an increased presence of positive emotions, coupled with lower rates of stress and anxiety (Keng, 2011). They furthermore appear to be happier and more content on average than their less mindful counterparts, a finding that has been replicated across a number of studies over the years (Ivanowski, 2007; Shapiro et al., 2008).

Those who practice mindfulness tend to be more optimistic as well, and report higher levels of overall life satisfaction (Lyubomirsky, 2008). Practicing mindfulness has even been shown to improve our attention and focus (Moore, 2012), and may even enhance memory. When stressors hit (as they do for all of us), individuals who regularly utilize mindfulness exercises have been shown to engage in healthier and more effective coping strategies than their less mindful peers, suggesting that mindfulness enhances problem-solving enables us to make better choices (Weinstein, 2009).

Though the above findings are indeed remarkable, the connection between mindfulness and depression is particularly exciting. As it turns out, practicing mindfulness has been shown to dramatically decrease the likelihood of developing depression, and has even been demonstrated as a potent form of treatment among those who suffer from illnesses such as major depression. Mindfulness-based approaches have now been shown to be remarkably effective in the treatment of depression, on par with many traditional methods of psychotherapy and medication treatment (Williams and Penman, 2011).

Mindfulness: Good for Our Bodies

As exciting as the above findings certainly are, the impact of mindfulness on our physical health and well-being is perhaps equally impressive. Individuals who practice mindfulness have been shown to have better overall physical health, require fewer doctors’ visits, and spend fewer days in the hospital than their less mindful peers (Williams and Penman, 2011). You may of course be wondering whether it’s simply a matter that healthier people may tend to be more mindful, rather than the other way around. Amazingly, it appears that mindfulness exercises can in fact cause us to become healthier!

In one distinguished study, researchers compared newly trained mindfulness meditators to individuals who had received no training at all in mindfulness. After just eight weeks, they found that mindfulness meditation training resulted in better immune system functioning, and that the meditators had generated more antibodies in response to the flu vaccine as compared to the non-meditators (Davidson & Kabat-Zinn, 2003). A later study found that among HIV-positive patients, mindfulness training was strongly connected to having a higher number of CD4+ T cells in the body. These cells play a crucial role in our immune system functioning, and help protect us against attack. Amazingly, it appeared that the more people practiced mindfulness meditation, the higher their CD4+ T cell count was at the end of the study (Creswell, 2009).

Mindfulness: Good for Our Lives

The above findings are striking, but perhaps the most important benefit of mindfulness may come in its ability to transform our relationships with those around us. Indeed, one of the most powerful benefits of mindfulness is its impact on both our interpersonal and romantic relationships. In a well-known study on the effect of mindfulness on romantic relationships, researchers found that mindfulness training resulted in higher overall relationship satisfaction, greater closeness, and lower stress level among couples (Carson, 2004). Even more impressively, the results were maintained three months later, suggesting that it’s a skill we can continue to benefit from over time.

The Mindful Brain

Study after study has shown that the practice of mindfulness can change our lives. But can it also change our brain? Recent evidence suggests that mindfulness can, and does.

When we experience stress or feel upset, our brains respond in a particular and predictable manner. Specifically, fMRI scans show that when we experience distress, the right prefrontal cortex of our brain becomes far more active than the left side (Williams & Penman, 2011; Davidson, 2003). This part of the brain is associated more with negative emotions, whereas the left prefrontal cortex is generally more connected to positive emotions and well-being. In addition to this right-side activation, we also see increased activity in the amygdala, a small almond-sized part of our brain that plays a role in fear activation, arousal, and our fight-or-flight response. So if this is the picture of a stressed brain, what does a mindful brain look like?

When we utilize mindfulness, our brains respond in a very different manner. Rather than seeing this aforementioned right-sided activation, we see increased activity in the left prefrontal cortex (Davidson et al., 2003). This again is the area of our brain more connected with pleasant emotions and positivity. In addition to this, we see decreased activity in the amygdala, suggesting that mindfulness can help to reduce our response to threats and enable us to manage stress more effectively (Neff, 2009 & 2011). Furthermore, brain scans reveal increased activity in areas associated with memory, emotion regulation, and learning (Holzel, 2011).

To experience the sorts of changes outlined above, you don’t have to practice mindfulness meditation for years, let alone be a Tibetan monk. Rather, many of the findings above were discovered in people who had been trained in mindfulness practice for only a handful of weeks. It’s one thing to see temporary changes in brain activation stemming from mindfulness practice. But what about permanent, lasting changes on a structural level in our brain? Can mindfulness actually achieve that?

Amazingly, recent research suggests that mindfulness exercises can lead to permanent changes in the structure of our brains over time. When compared to non-meditators, individuals who regularly practice mindfulness meditation have been shown to have increased thickening in parts of the brain associated with attention, concentration and memory, empathy, and decision-making. Beyond that, it even seems that mindfulness can help with the aging process in our brains. We all slowly lose brain cells as we age, a process known as “cortical thinning.” Remarkably, studies looking at long-term users of mindfulness meditation show that it seems to slow down and even offset this process. So while we may never find a fountain of youth that keeps us young forever, it seems like mindfulness may be the next best thing!
The whole article is long and about a variety of subjects related to mindfulness.

Mindfulness: 5 Powerful Exercises for Peace and Happiness
 
Kerome

Kerome

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#2
Today I came across this paper which is a meta study of the effects of mindfulness. It cites a lot of other studies which have proven a large variety of effects, almost all beneficial. It’s worth reading through it if you’re even slightly thinking of starting a practice of mindfulness meditations - it will probably convince you it’s a very good idea.

http://www.traumacenter.org/products/pdf_files/Benefits_of_Mindfulness.pdf