We’ve all heard it before, mindful meditation will give you a basket-full of health and wellness benefits: reduced stress, reduced risk for disease, a positive outlook on life and a rewired brain. But these benefits have never actually been scientifically proven…until now.
J. David Creswell, an associate professor of psychology and the director of the Health and Human Performance Laboratory at Carnegie Mellon University, set out to scientifically prove the benefits of mindful meditation claimed by so many who practice it. In his study published in Biological Psychiatry he showed for the first time scientific proof that unlike a placebo, mindful meditation does in fact change the brains of average people and can potentially improve their health.
The obvious challenge presented to the researchers of this study was that to create a placebo group would be considerably difficult because people can usually tell if they are meditating. However, the Dr. Creswell and his fellow scientists managed to fake mindfulness.
They gathered a group of 35 unemployed men and women who were going through a considerably stressful time during their job search. After giving initial blood work and brain scans, half the group was taken to a 3 day meditation retreat where they practiced authentic mindful meditation. The other half were told they were also being taken to a meditation retreat; however, the meditation they practiced was anything but mindful. While the mindful group were paying close attention to each and every bodily sensation, the fake group was told to relax while chatting away and cracking jokes with their instructor.
At the end of the three days, both groups reported feeling happier and more refreshed; however, the true results would be shown in their brain scans. The group who practiced mindful meditation showed significant improvement in activity, or communication, among the portions of their brains that process stress-related reactions and other areas related to focus and calm. Even four months later, the mindful group’s brain scans showed much lower levels of a marker of unhealthy inflammation in their blood than the relaxation group, even though few were still meditating.
The researchers believed the improvement in brain scans were due directly to the mindful meditation, but it is unclear exactly how. When it comes to mindful meditation, the benefits are obvious but the amount that needs to be practiced in order to reap those benefits remains unclear.