Calming effects of meditation

According to a March 2006 article in the "Psychological Bulletin", EEG activity begins to slow as a result of the practice of meditation. The human nervous system is composed of a parasympathetic system, which works to regulate heart rate, breathing and other involuntary motor functions, and a sympathetic system, which arouses the body, preparing it for vigorous activity. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has written, "It is thought that some types of meditation might work by reducing activity in the sympathetic nervous system and increasing activity in the parasympathetic nervous system," or equivalently, that meditation produces a reduction in arousal and increase in relaxation

Research on the processes and effects of meditation is a growing subfield of neurological research. Modern scientific techniques and instruments, such as MRI and EEG, have been used to see what happens in the body of people when they meditate, and how their bodies and brain change after meditating regularly.

These studies have shown substantial bodily changes as a consequence of regular meditative practice, for instance one study by Richard Davidson and Jon Kabat-Zinn showed that eight weeks of mindfulness-based meditation produced significant increases in left-sided anterior brain activity, which is associated with positive emotional states. It seems that we are able to think of positive emotion as a skill which can be achieved with training similar to learning to ride a bike or play the piano.

Since the 1950s, 3,000 studies on meditation have been conducted and yet many of the early studies had multiple flaws and thus yielded less conclusive data. More recent reviews have pointed out many of these flaws with the hope of guiding current research into a more fruitful path. More reports assessed that further research needs to be directed towards the theoretical grounding and definition of meditation.

Meditation has been practiced within religious traditions since ancient times, especially within monastic centers. These days there also exist many secular programs in the West including mindfulness-based programs. Today mindfulness-based meditative practices have become popular within the Western medical and psychological community, due mainly to the observable, positive impact such processes have on patients suffering from stress-related health conditions

The goal of NIH research is to acquire new knowledge to help prevent, detect, diagnose, and treat disease and disability, from the rarest genetic disorder to the common cold. The NIH mission is to uncover new knowledge that will lead to better health for everyone. NIH works toward that mission by conducting research in its own laboratories, supporting the research of non-federal scientists (in universities, medical schools, hospitals, and research institutions throughout the country and abroad), helping in the training of research investigators, and fostering communication of medical and health sciences information

Insight meditation

Main article: Insight_meditation#Scientific_studies

A study done by Yale, Harvard, Massachusetts General Hospital have shown that meditation increases gray matter in specific regions of the brain and may slow the deterioration of the brain as a part of the natural aging process.

The experiment included 20 individuals with intensive Buddhist "insight meditation" training and 15 who did not meditate. The brain scan revealed that those who meditated have an increased thickness of gray matter in parts of the brain that are responsible for attention and processing sensory input. Some of the participants meditated for 40 minutes a day while others had been doing it for years. The results showed that the change in brain thickness depended upon the amount of time spent in meditation. The increase in thickness ranged between .004 and .008 inches

Science News

... from universities, journals, and other research organization

University Of Wisconsin Study Reports Sustained Changes In Brain And Immune Function After Meditation

Feb. 4, 2003 — MADISON – In a small but highly provocative study, a University of Wisconsin-Madison research team

has found, for the first time, that a short program in "mindfulness meditation" produced lasting positive changes in both the brain and the function of the immune system.

The findings suggest that meditation, long promoted as a technique to reduce anxiety and stress, might produce important biological effects that improve a person's resiliency.

Richard Davidson, Ph.D., Vilas Professor of psychology and psychiatry at UW-Madison, led the research team. The study, conducted at the biotechnology company Promega near Madison, will appear in an upcoming issue of the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.

"Mindfulness meditation," often recommended as an antidote to the stress and pain of chronic disease, is a practice designed to focus one's attention intensely on the moment, noting thoughts and feelings as they occur but refraining from judging or acting on those thoughts and feelings. The intent is to deepen awareness of the present, develop skills of focused attention, and cultivate positive emotions such as compassion.

In the UW study, participants were randomly assigned to one of two groups. The experimental group, with 25 subjects, received training in mindfulness meditation from one of its most noted adherents, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D. (Kabat-Zinn, a popular author of books on stress reduction, developed the mindfulness-based stress reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center.) This group attended a weekly class and one seven-hour retreat during the study; they also were assigned home practice for an hour a day, six days a week. The 16 members of the control group did not receive meditation training until after the study was completed.

For each group, in addition to asking the participants to assess how they felt, the research team measured electrical activity in the frontal part of the brain, an area specialized for certain kinds of emotion. Earlier research has shown that, in people who are generally positive and optimistic and during times of positive emotion, the left side of this frontal area becomes more active than the right side does.

The findings confirmed the researchers' hypothesis: the meditation group showed an increase of activation in the left-side part of the frontal region. This suggests that the meditation itself produced more activity in this region of the brain. This activity is associated with lower anxiety and a more positive emotional state.

The research team also tested whether the meditation group had better immune function than the control group did. All the study participants got a flu vaccine at the end of the eight-week meditation group. Then, at four and eight weeks after vaccine administration, both groups had blood tests to measure the level of antibodies they had produced against the flu vaccine. While both groups (as expected) had developed increased antibodies, the meditation group had a significantly larger increase than the controls, at both four and eight weeks after receiving the vaccine.

"Although our study is preliminary and more research clearly is warranted," said Davidson, "we are very encouraged by these results. The Promega employees who took part have given us a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate a real biological impact of this ancient practice."

Davidson, who is integrally involved with the HealthEmotions Research Institute at UW, plans further research on the impact of meditation. He is currently studying a group of people who have been using meditation for more than 30 years. His research team is also planning to study the impact of mindfulness meditation on patients with particular illnesses.

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The above story is reprinted from materials provided by University Of Wisconsin-Madison.

Note: If no author is given, the source is cited instead.

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of ScienceDaily or its staff.

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Can Meditation Curb Heart Attacks? By RONI CARYN RABIN Richard Patterson for The New York Times Recent research suggests transcendental meditation may be good for the heart.

When Julia Banks was almost 70, she took up transcendental meditation. She had clogged arteries, high blood pressure and too much weight around the middle, and she enrolled in a clinical trial testing the benefits of meditation.

Now Mrs. Banks, 79, of Milwaukee, meditates twice a day, every day, for 20 minutes each time, setting aside what she calls “a little time for myself.”

“You never think you’ve got that time to spare, but you take that time for yourself and you get the relaxation you need,” said Mrs. Banks, who survived a major heart attack and a lengthy hospitalization after coronary artery bypass surgery six years ago.

“You have things on your mind, but you just blot it out and do the meditation, and you find yourself being more graceful in your own life,” she said. “You find out problems you thought you had don’t exist — they were just things you focused on.”

Could the mental relaxation have real physiological benefits? For Mrs. Banks, the study suggests, it may have. She has gotten her blood pressure under control, though she still takes medication for it, and has lost about 75 pounds.

Findings from the study were presented this week at an American Heart Association meeting in Orlando, Fla. They suggest that transcendental meditation may have real therapeutic value for high-risk people, like Mrs. Banks, with established coronary artery disease.

After following about 200 patients for an average of five years, researchers said, the high-risk patients who meditated cut their risk of heart attacks, strokes and deaths from all causes roughly in half compared with a group of similar patients who were given more conventional education about healthy diet and lifestyle.

Among the roughly 100 patients who meditated, there were 20 heart attacks, strokes and deaths; in the comparison group, there were 32. The meditators tended to remain disease-free longer and also reduced their systolic blood pressure by five millimeters of mercury, on average.

“We found reduced blood pressure that was significant – that was probably one important mediator,” said Dr. Robert Schneider, director of the Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention, a research institute based at the Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, who presented the findings. The study was conducted at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, in collaboration with the institute.

An earlier study of high-risk Milwaukee residents, many of them overweight or obese, also found transcendental meditation, along with conventional medications, could help reduce blood pressure. Most of those in the study had only high-school educations or less, about 40 percent smoked and roughly half had incomes of less than $10,000 a year.

The participants found transcendental meditation easy to learn and practice, Dr. Schneider said.

“Fortunately, it does not require any particular education and doesn’t conflict with lifestyle philosophy or beliefs; it’s a straightforward technique for getting deep rest to the mind and body,” he said, adding that he believes the technique “helps to reset the body’s own self-repair and homeostatic mechanism.”

Dr. Schneider said other benefits of meditation might follow from stress reduction, which could cause changes in the brain that cut stress hormones like cortisol and dampen the inflammatory processes associated with atherosclerosis.

“What is it about stress that causes cardiovascular disease?” said Dr. Theodore Kotchen, associate dean for clinical research at the Medical College of Wisconsin. “Hormones, neural hormones, cortisol, catecholamines — all tend to be elevated in stress. Could they in some way be contributing to cardiovascular disease? Could a reduction in these hormones with meditation be contributing to reduction in disease? We can only speculate.”

Another recent study focusing on transcendental meditation, published in The American Journal of Hypertension, focused on a young healthy population. It found that stressed-out college students improved their mood through T.M., and those at risk for hypertension were able to reduce their blood pressure. Dr. Schneider was also involved in that study, which was carried out at American University in Washington and included 298 students randomly assigned to either a meditation group or a waiting list.

Students who were at risk of hypertension and practiced meditation reduced systolic blood pressure by 6.3 millimeters of mercury and their diastolic pressure by 4 millimeters of mercury on average.

Research on Mindfulness: An Introduction

Mindfulness can help with some of the most costly health conditions facing employers, payors, and employees. Recent studies shows its effectiveness in stress management, weight control, diabetes, mental health, addiction, heart disease, pain management, and much more.

These conditions also contribute to employee absenteeism and productivity, which mindfulness can improve by addressing these underlying root causes.

The concept of mindfulness is simple.

“The goal of all mindfulness is to maintain awareness moment by moment, disengaging oneself from strong attachment to beliefs, thoughts, or emotions, thereby developing a greater sense of emotional balance and well-being.”1 Detachment from thoughts and emotions allows individuals to observe their habitual patterns of behavior without judgment, creating space for wiser choices.

The practice of mindfulness is known to have effects on human physiology, including improved blood pressure and cardiac functioning (eg, Anderson et al,2 Schneider et al,3 and Dusek et al4). Stressors activate the sympathetic nervous system (the fight-or-flight response), causing higher blood pressure and having a deleterious effect on the heart. Mindfulness, on the other hand, actually reduces sympathetic activation (measured by blood biomarkers and cardiac indices). For example, a study of 19 patients with congestive heart failure found that a 12-week meditation program reduced blood levels of the stress hormone norepinephrine, improved cardiovascular function, and enhanced quality of life.5 Walton et al6 evaluated studies of meditation and cardiovascular disease and found that meditation “may be responsible for reductions of 80% or greater in medical insurance claims and payments to physicians.” Another study of meditation among 23 African Americans recently hospitalized with congestive heart failure found that the meditation group had fewer rehospitalizations and better cardiac function than the control group.7 Not surprisingly, they also exhibited improved mood and enhanced quality of life. The seminal study by Dean Ornish et al8 published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that lifestyle changes that included meditation-based stress management actually reversed coronary atherosclerosis over a five-year period in a group of 20 persons with moderate to severe coronary heart disease. Patients in the control group (n _ 15) had more than twice as many cardiac events than those in the experimental group. As many mindbody medicine advocates have pointed out, if there were a pill that could do this, the government would mandate its immediate and widespread use.

Recent studies point to the role of meditation in bolstering immunity by modulating the stress response. In a landmark study, Davidson et al9 were the first to demonstrate that meditation changes both brain and immune function. They found that an eight-week mindfulness meditation program produced beneficial changes in both brain and immune function in a group of 25 healthy participants. In addition to showing that the meditation group, compared to the controls, had increased brain activity in an area associated with positive emotions, they also demonstrated increased production of antibodies in response to a flu vaccine.10

For more information on research conducted by


1. Ludwig DS, Kabat-Zinn J. Mindfulness in medicine. JAMA. 2008;300:1350-1352.

2. Anderson JW, Liu C, Kryscio RJ. Blood pressure response to transcendental meditation: a meta-analysis. Am J Hypertens. 2008;21:310-316.

3. Schneider RH, Walton KG, Salerno JW, Nidich SI. Cardiovascular disease prevention and health promotion with the TM program. Ethn Dis. 2006;16(3 supple 4):15-26.

4. Dusek JA, Hibberd PL, Buczynski B, et al. Stress management versus lifestyle modification on systolic hypertension and medication elimination: a randomized trial. J Altern Complement Med. 2008;14:129-138.

5. Curiati JA, Bocchi E, Freire JO, et al. Meditation reduces sympathetic activation and improves the quality of life in elderly patients with optimally treated heart failure: a prospective randomized study. J Altern Complement Med. 2005;11:465-472.

6. Walton KG, Schneider RH, Salerno JW, Nidich SI. Psychosocial stress and cardiovascular disease. [Part 3: TM] Behavioral Modification. 2005;30(4):173-183.

7. Jayadevappa R, Johnson JC, Bloom BS, et al. Effectiveness of transcendental meditation on functional capacity and quality of life of African Americans with congestive heart failure: a randomized controlled study. Ethn Dis. 2007;17:72-77.

8. Ornish D, Scherwitz LW, Billings JH, et al. Intensive lifestyle changes for reversal of coronary heart disease. JAMA. 1998;280:2001-2007.

9. Davidson RJ, Kabat-Zinn J, Schumacher J, et al. Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation. Psychosom Med. 2003;65:564-570.

10. McCabe Ruff, K., Mackenzie, E., Baime, M., Biegel, G., Brantley, J., Chadwick, J., et al. (2009). The Role of Mindfulness in Healthcare Reform: A Policy Paper. Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing, 5(6), 313-323.

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