An estimated 16 million people in the US reported major depression during 2014, leaving them struggling to function and in the depths of despair. The recent global pandemic has likely exacerbated the general mental health crisis. Recent Google search statistics identified a significant increase in search terms relating to mental health from March to August 2020
Along with the public interest in mental health, there has been an upsurge in interest in alternative approaches to mind and body health. In particular, mindfulness based meditation has soared, raising the interest of the scientific community, resulting in a number of randomised controlled trials on the beneficial effect of mindfulness meditation.
According to a recent article summarizing scientific findings on the subject., the number of randomized controlled trials involving the benefits of mindfulness has jumped from 1, in the period from 1995‒1997 to 11 from 2004‒2006, to 216 from 2013‒2015,
The real meditation practice is how we live our lives from moment to moment
Jon Kabat - Zinn
Studies have shown benefits against a variety of conditions both physical and mental, including irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, psoriasis, anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Whilst some of the studies have been called into question due to the small sample sizes, a number of well-designed, well-run studies have shown benefits for patients engaging in a mindfulness meditation program that are similar to other existing treatments for depression, chronic pain, and anxiety, 1
"The idea that we can train our minds in a way that fosters healthy mental habits and that these habits may be reflected in mind-body relations is not new; it's been around for thousands of years across various cultures and ideologies,"
Tonya Jacobs, postdoctoral researcher at the University of California. 3
A number of other areas of wellness where Mindfulness has been proved to be beneficial are:
Increased brain gray matter
A survey of American Psychological Association licensed psychologists by Consumer Reports, found that mindfulness, along with cognitive therapy and problem-solving, are “excellent” or “good” weight loss strategies. That’s because the focus of dieters should be more on the role their emotions play in weight management, rather than solely on exercise and calorie control or eating less.
A review of 47 clinical trials, found that mindfulness meditation programs show “small improvements in stress/distress, and the mental health component of health-related quality of life.”
The study by the University of California found that focusing on the present through the practice of mindfulness can reduce levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. 2
Researchers found that brief meditation training 'four days' can lead to enhanced ability to sustain attention. Other benefits included, working memory, executive functioning, visio - spatial processing, reductions in anxiety and fatigue, and increased mindfulness.
Increased brain gray matter
Meditation also appears to increase gray matter in the brain. A controlled longitudinal study, investigated pre and post changes to gray matter that could be attributed to participation in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, Increases in gray matter concentration occurred in the left hippocampus, the posterior cingulated cortex, temporal parietal junction and cerebellum, regions involved in memory and leaning processes, and regulation of emotion.
The idea of practicing mindfulness and meditation as a proven way to improve health and mental well-being is just beginning to be integrated into Western medicine as objective evidence accumulates