Mindfulness meditation: the science

In recent decades, there has been a huge amount of research pointing to the effectiveness of mindfulness meditation training for both individuals and organisations to increase health and wellbeing, help manage stress and enhance interpersonal skills, leadership and performance.

Much of this research comes from the US or Europe and Openground for Organisations (OGO) is interested in developing an empirical body of Australian based research as to the effectiveness of mindfulness interventions, as well as contributing to the overall research base for mindfulness globally.

Here is a snapshot of some of the research pointing to the effectiveness of mindfulness training for individuals and organisations.

  Neuroplasiticity

There has been great excitement in recent years about the brain's ability to transform itself through activity - that is though how we use our minds. Mindfulness training can be helpful to train our minds (and therefore brains) in a useful direction. Some examples:

  Managing stress 

Stress can have a dramatic effect on how our bodies function and how we experience our lives. It distracts us from getting on with enjoying life. It gets in the way of our attempts to sort out the problems causing it. And if we let it get the better of us, it can even make us physically ill. So dealing with our stress is important. For decades science has been confirming that stress can contribute to many of the diseases and conditions we suffer from in our society. Everything from heart disease, cancer, allergies, digestive and immune problems, ulcers and diabetes to anxiety and depression and other psychological conditions have all been linked to the effects of stress.

One of the first impacts of practising mindfulness can be the capacity to move out of an aroused, activated, stressed state into a calmer, reflective, regulated state. This relaxed state—called the parasympathetic state—shows in responses such as slowing down of the heartbeat, increase of expiration, relaxation of muscles, increased digestive activity and recuperation and rest.

When we cultivate our innate capacity to pay attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally we cultivate self awareness (of our body sensations, thoughts and emotions) so that we can recognise the markers of stress early, and to respond with effective strategies sooner. Research indicates that practising these skills reduces stress reactivity, increases focus and concentration and so helps with managing major life changes and transitions. It gives us more mental clarity and perspective on our problems so we can make better choices. Some research snapshots:

 

  Physical health and well-being

Stress can lead to physical health problems but also, being ill – especially chronically – can be very stressful. We can feel out of control of our life and become anxious and depressed about our suffering and its impact on relationships, finances and work.

People often come to mindfulness training with a range of health issues including IBS, chronic pain, gastritis, hepatitis C, non-Hodgkin’s lymphona, migraine, immune problems, chronic sinus, inflammation, asthma, chronic pain, thyroid disorders and cancer.

 

  Mental health and well-being

Numerous scientific studies have found meditation to be effective for treating anxiety and depression.

 

  Working under pressure

Being able to perform under pressure is an important capacity for most humans who are pursuing a full life - whether it is a high powered job, a difficult child or a life transition involving new added demands. It seems that mindfulness can actually help us become more skilled at staying present, alert and calm under pressure.

 

  Focus and cognitive performance

Whatever we are pursuing in our lives - our performance and ability to learn new things is dependent on our ability to focus.  But it goes beyond this. Focus can have far reaching consequences in many areas of our lives. Being able to focus and resist distraction is also linked to our ability to control our impulses, emotions and achieve long-term goals.

 

  Self-regulation

Self-regulation is the ability to change states flexibly - which is an essential capacity in all of our roles - as friends, partners, workers and parents. We probably all know that experience of being hijacked by anger, or finding ourselves stuck in a low mood. Feelings and thoughts are signals that are so beneficial in letting us know our responses to what is going on in our lives. But sometimes we find ourselves so caught up we are unable to reflect on what we are experiencing emotionally and what we are thinking and seem to get stuck and recreate unhelpful states long after their productive use-by date. Mindfulness helps us to become aware of our states and teaches us how to see, feel and let go of unhelpful states of mind and body.

 

  Creativity and innovative problem-solving

Living a full life is a creative act in itself, and creative thinking has the power to help you open doors and take advantage of all your opportunities. When you’re faced with problems - whether that’s with a relationship, a broken appliance or an issue in your work - a touch of creativity can often help you find the solution. So it’s good to know that scientists have found evidence that meditation helps people to be more innovative.

 

  Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is the capacity of individuals to recognise their own, and other people's emotions, to discriminate between different feelings and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behaviour.

 

  Leadership

Mindfulness training is being shown to contribute to leadership capacity by increasing emotional regulation, tolerating uncertainty increasing clarity and focus.

 

  Engagement

Workplace engagement is a critical issue for many leaders in terms of being able to motivate and retain staff and to make work a place of flourishing rather than of endurance.

 

  Compassion

Compassion is a skill that anyone can learn and has been taken up across the world as a way to cultivate a more easeful and generous relationship with ourselves and others.

 

References

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2. Hozel, Carmody, Lazar et al (2011) Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain grey matter density. Psychiatry Resource 2011 Jan 30;191(1):36 43. Epub 2010 Nov 10.

3. Goldin, P. & Gross, J. (2010). “Effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) on emotion regulation in social anxiety disorder’. Emotion. 10, 1. 83-91.

4. Klatt, M.D., Buckworth J., and Malarkey, W.B., (2009) “Effects of low dose mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR-ld) on working adults.” Health Education and Behaviour, 36, 601-145.Wolever RQ1, Bobinet

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6. Nyklicek, I., Mommersteeg, P.M.C., van Beugen, S., Ramakers, C., and van Boxtel, G.J.M. (2013) “Mindfulness based stress reduction and physiological activity during acute stress: a randomized controlled trial.” Health Psychology, 32, 1110-13)

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9. Current Contributions of Psychological Research to General Health: The Case of Mindfulness TrainingBruno Cayoun, University of Tasmania

10. Biological Psychiatry, Alterations in Resting State Functional Connectivity Link Mindfulness Meditation With Reduced Interleukin-6: A Randomized Controlled Trial, Creswell et al, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2016.01.008

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13. Kabat-Zinn, J., Massion, A. O., Kristeller, J., Peterson, L. G., Fletcher, K., Pbert, L., Lenderking, W. & Santorelli, S. (1992). Effectiveness of a meditation-based stress reduction program in the treatment of anxiety disorders. American Journal of Psychiatry. 149. 936-943.

14. Goldin, P. R., & Gross, J. J. (2010). Effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) on emotion regulation in social anxiety disorder. Emotion. 10, 1. 83-91.

15. Hölzel, B.K., Carmody, J., Evans, K.C., Hoge, E.A., Dusek, J.A., Morgan, L., Pitman, R. & Lazar, S. (2009). Stress reduction correlates with structural changes in the amygdala. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. 5. 11-17.

16. Jha, Amishi P., et al, “Examining the protective effects of mindfulness training on working memory capacity and affective experience.” Emotion, Vol 10 (1), Feb 2010, 54-64.

17. MacLean, K. A., Ferrer, E., Aichele, S. R., Bridwell, D. A., Zanesco, A. P., Jacobs, T. L., Saron, C. D. (2010). Intensive Meditation Training Improves Perceptual Discrimination and Sustained Attention. Psychological Science. 21, 6. 829-839.

18. Mrazek M.D., Franklin M.S., Phillips D., Baird B., and Schooler J. (2013). “Mindfulness training improves working memory and GRE performance while reducing mind-wandering.” Psycholical Science, 24, 776-81.

19. Levy, D.M., Wobbrock, J.O., Kaszniak, A.W., and Ostergren, M. (2012) “The Effects of Mindfulness Meditation Training on multitasking in a high stress information environment. Proceedings of Graphic Interface, Toronto, Ontario (May 28-30 2012). Toronto: Canadian Information Processing Society, pp. 45-32

20. Van Leeuwen, S., Singer, W., & Melloni, L. (2012). Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 6(133).

21. Hulsheger, U.R., Alberts, H.J.E.M., Feinholdt, A., and Lang, J.W. B. (2013) “Benefits of mindfulness at work: the role of mindfulness in emotion regulation, emotional exhaustion, and job satisfaction.” Journal of Applied Psychology, 98, 310-25

22. Colzato, L., Ozturk, A. & Hommel, B. (2012). “Meditate to create: the impact of focused-attention and open-monitoring training on convergent and divergent thinking.”

Front. Psychology. 3, 116 18 April 2012.

23. Greenberg J, Reiner K, Meiran N (2012) “Mind the Trap”: Mindfulness Practice Reduces Cognitive Rigidity. PLoS ONE 7(5): e36206. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0036206

24. Davidson, R.J, and McEwen, B.S. (2012) “Social influences on neuroplasticity: stress and interventions to promote wellbeing.” Nature Neuroscience, 15, 689-95

25. Carson, JW.,“Mindfulness Based Relationship Enhancement”, Behavior Therapy, 35, 471–494, 2004

26. .Reb, J., Narayanan, J., and Chaturvedi, S. (2014) “Leading Mindfully: Two studies on the influence of supervisor trait mindfulness on employee wellbeing and performance.” Mindfulness, 5(1), 36-45

27. Leroy H., Anseel, F., Dimitorva, N.G., and Sels, L. (2013) “Mindfulness, authentic functioning, and work engagement: A growth modeling approach” Journal of Vocational Behaviour, 82, 238-47

28. Neff K.D., Rude, S.S., and Kirkpatrick, K.L. (2007) “An examination of self-compassion in relation to positive psychological functioning and personality traits.” Journal of Research in Personality, 41, 908-16

29. Eberth, J. & Sedlmeier, P. (2012). The effects of mindfulness meditation: A meta-analysis. Mindfulness, 3, 174-189.

30. Khoury, B., Sharma, M., Rush, S., & Fournier, C. (2015). Mindfulness-based stress reduction for healthy individuals: A meta-analysis. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 78, 519-528.


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