The Science of Mindfulness

There is an established and ever growing body of evidence to show that the practice of mindfulness has positive effects on our mood, our tolerance, for ourselves, others and the world around us, our concentration and our general sense of well being. As a practice, it is not of itself complex, it is free and requires no equipment – just our willingness to engage.

Mindfulness and meditation teachings are increasingly integrating with those of western science. In research and clinical environments there is a rapidly growing interest in mindfulness-based therapeutic approaches and their benefits to positive emotional health with a greater reduction in stress, insomnia, depression and anxiety.  Mindfulnet.org provides a wealth of information about the growing evidence in support of development of mindfulness.

Studies show that the ways we intentionally shape our internal focus of attention in mindfulness practice induces a state of brain activation during the practice. With repetition, an intentionally created state can become an enduring trait of the individual as reflected in long-term changes in brain function and structure. This phenomenon, known as neuroplasticity – how the brain changes in response to experience, offers a powerful tool to reduce stress and improve well being.

What the Studies Show

A 2013 meta-analysis of mindfulness-based therapies (MBT), involving 209 studies and 12,145 participants, found that MBT showed “large and clinically significant effects in treating anxiety and depression”, with gains maintained at follow-up. These findings were similar to those obtained in previous meta-analyses.

A systematic study on the efficacy of various forms of meditation programs commissioned by the US Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, was published in 2014. After a review of 17,801 citations, involving 2,993 participants, it concluded that:

“Meditation programs, in particular mindfulness programs, reduce multiple negative dimensions of psychological stress.”

The assessment found that:

“Mindfulness meditation programs improved multiple dimensions of negative affect, including anxiety, depression, and perceived stress/general distress … the effects were significant for anxiety and marginally significant for depression at the end of treatment, and these effects continued to be significant at 3-6 months for both anxiety and depression”