The Benefits from Meditation and Mindfulness
A new US study has found that meditation is a good thing and that it can relieve stress. Early studies, into the benefits from meditation and mindfulness, found daily practice to have a significant affect on participant’s stress levels. The new study was an observational study in which the researchers measured the cortisol, body mass index (BMI) and self-reported mindfulness of 60 volunteers, both before and after a 3-month intensive meditation retreat held at the Shambhala Mountain Center in Red Feather Lakes, Colorado.
The study participants paid for their own room and board but were compensated for the testing sessions in the study at $20/hr. The study subjects met 2 times a day for 1-hr sessions to engage in guided meditations and dialogue but primarily practiced solitary meditation for much of the day. These solitary meditations were practiced in 20–30 min increments. During the retreat, the participants practiced cultivating benevolent mental states, including loving kindness, mental calmness, compassion, and empathic joy. Also, during the middle portion of the 3-month retreat, the participants were encouraged to enter into silence for 4 weeks.
The study researchers then used a questionnaire to measure aspects of mindfulness among the 60 study participants. Mindfulness is a psychological concept and it is the focusing of attention and awareness, based on the Buddhist meditation concept of mindfulness.
The Benefits from Meditation
The new study came from the Shamatha Project which is a comprehensive long-term, control-group study of the effects of meditation training on mind and body. The study found that cortisol levels did not significantly change from pre-retreat to post-retreat but mindfulness was inversely associated with evening cortisol at both pre-retreat and post-retreat, after controlling for age and BMI. The study found a correlation between a high score for mindfulness and a low score in cortisol both before and after an intensive 3-month retreat. Furthermore, those study participants whose mindfulness score increased after the retreat were found to have a decrease in cortisol.
Tonya Jacobs, a researcher at the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain and a co-author of the new study explained that his study was the first to show a direct relation between resting cortisol and scores on any type of mindfulness scale.
High levels of cortisol, a hormone produced by the adrenal gland, are associated with emotional or physical stress because when under stress, the body releases more cortisol. The new study suggests that focusing on the present moment – specifically sensory experience and the task at hand can lower the resting levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
A very recent study conducted by researchers working in Wisconsin, Spain, and France has already shown that mindfulness can even affect your genes. Specifically, the new study shows that mindfulness can limit the “expression” of genes associated with inflammation.
Reduce Stress: Mindfulness and Other Benefits from Meditation
When your mind is constantly occupied by worries over work, finances, your children, your spouse, etc., your body automatically goes into a state of stress, whereby your adrenal glands release cortisol in order to allow you to cope. This is perfectly normal. Constant worry, however, causes constant stress, which in turn puts your body in a constant state of alert, causing your adrenal glands to release ever higher quantities of cortisol. This constant increase in cortisol production leads to all kinds of health complications, such as heart palpitations, sleeping problems, anxiety, and a whole lot more.
Meditation, and by implication the practice of mindfulness, puts the body and mind into a state of relaxation, thereby decreasing the adrenal glands’ cortisol production. The effect on your health and state of mind is extremely positive. The reduction in cortisol levels allows for the proper functioning of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. The HPA axis is your body’s automatic response to stress and responsible for proper hormone production and the handling of any stressful situation.
But what does mindful imply, and what are other benefits from meditation?
Mindfulness means being aware of your thoughts and feelings. In other words, you need to be aware of the present, what is happening, what is being said, and the situation you are in. Then you need to accept those feelings, thoughts, and the situation and realize you cannot do anything about it right then and there. What you could do, however, is to devise a strategy to overcome what is bothering you, break the strategy down into smaller goals, and then attain each of those goals until the problem you are facing is overcome. If there is nothing to be done about what is bothering you, let it go.
Meditation is a deep state of peace attained through calming the mind then pondering on that which causes the stress. When the mind is calmed, the thought process is clearer, leading to a conclusion that one might not normally come to when stressed out.
By calming the mind and being in the moment, not only does it lead to a more fruitful conclusion to what is causing the stress, but the impact on your body and the adrenal glands and their functionality is a positive one.
Source: “Self-Reported Mindfulness and Cortisol During a Shamatha Meditation Retreat”, first published on line on March 25, 2013 in the journal Health Psychology.