"In this very moment, no matter what your condition or situation, you have within you all the resources you need for growing, healing, and working with stress, pain, illness, and the everyday challenges you are facing. A growing body of scientific evidence supports the reality of a profound mind-body connection and now recognizes that learning and practicing mindfulness can positively affect your sense of health and well- being physically, mentally, and emotionally, while simultaneously offering you a means of discovering a deeper sense of ease and peace of mind."
- Saki F. Santorelli, EdD, MA
Executive Director, Centre For Mindfulness Associate Professor of Medicine, University of Massachusetts Medical School
The body of research in the fields of mindfulness, neuroscience, psychology and health is growing exponentially. Below are links to some interesting scientific findings with brief summaries provided.
A wandering mind is an unhappy mind.
Killingsworth, Glibert (2010) Science Vol 330 no. 6006 p. 932.
Human beings spend a lot of time thinking about what is not happening right now. This wandering mind is our brain's default mode of operation. This has clear evolutionary advantages as thinking about the past or future allows us to plan, reason and learn, but it may have an emotional cost. These researchers developed a web application for the iPhone that allowed them to contact participants at random moments to ask a series of questions:
The third question had four possible responses:
The human mind is a wandering mind and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind. The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost.
Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation.
Davidson,Kabat-Zinn, et al. (2003). Psychosom Med 65(4): 564-570.
We have noted that our prefrontal cortex (PFC) can influence our stress response. Richard Davidson and colleagues have shown that the right and left sides of this part of the brain regulate emotions differently. When we are distressed there is more activity on the right. Activation of the left side of the PFC is associated with reduced anxiety, fear and aggression and greater resilience in the face of emotional challenges. Each of us has an inherent left/right preponderance that determines the range of our daily mood fluctuations. Resilient people may have up to 30 times the amount of activation in the left PFC compared to someone who is more reactive.
Davidson partnered with Jon Kabat-Zinn to look at the effects of mindfulness mediation on PFC activation. After eight weeks of a daily 30 minute meditation practice, executives shifted from the stressed out right side to the more resilient left side.
The same study showed significantly greater increases in anti-body titre responses to a flu vaccination in the meditation vs. control group.
Stress reduction correlates with structural changes in the amygdala.
Holzel, Carmody, et al. (2010). Soc Cogn Affect Neuroscience 5(1): 11-17.
The amygdala is a brain structure that plays a crucial part in the stress response. In this study stressed, but otherwise healthy, individuals participated in an eight week MBSR programme. Perceived stress levels were assessed and magnetic resonance images (MRI's) of the amygdala were taken before and after participation. Participants reported significantly reduced perceived stress after MBSR. This reduction in perceived stress was matched by a decrease in the density of grey matter in the amygdala. This study demonstrates physical changes in the brain (neuroplasticity) associated with improvements in a psychological state (perceived stress levels) following MBSR.
Neural correlates of dispositional mindfulness during affect labeling.
Creswell, Way, et al. (2007). Psychosomatic Medicine 69(6): 560- 565.
This article describes a potential neurocognitive mechanism by which mindfulness might reduce negative emotions.
Minding one's emotions: Mindfulness training alters the neural expression of sadness.
Farb, Anderson, Mayberg, et al. (2010). 10(1), 25-33.
This article explores a possible mechanism by which mindfulness training facilitates recovery from emotional challenge and increased tolerance of negative mood states.
Mindfulness Practice Leads to Increases in Regional Brain Gray Density Matter.
Hölzel, Carmody, Vangel, Congleton, Yerramsetti, et al. (2011). Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, 191, 36-43.
This controlled, longitudinal study investigates changes in brain gray matter concentration before and after an MBSR programme. Magnetic resonance imaging brain scans of sixteen healthy participants,who had never meditated before, were obtained before and after an MBSR programme. Increases in gray matter concentration in brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking were found in the MBSR group compared to the control group.
Mindfulness Training Improves Working Memory Capacity and GRE Performance While Reducing Mind Wandering.
Michael D. Mrazek,et al.
This randomized controlled investigation, examined whether a 2-week mindfulness-training course would decrease mind wandering and improve cognitive performance. Mindfulness training improved both reading-comprehension scores and working memory capacity. It also reduced the occurrence of distracting thoughts. The results suggest that cultivating mindfulness is an effective and efficient technique for improving cognitive function, with possibly wide-reaching consequences.