(via flickr user crdotx)
You are probably aware of the benefits of stopping for a moment to take a deep breath. Well, focused breathing in the form of meditation is particularly beneficial, and research continues to shed new light on its physical and mental benefits.
What is mindfulness meditation?
Mindfulness meditation began as a Buddhist tradition, and is now recognized by psychotherapists as a form of cognitive therapy.
Mindfulness is a seated meditation technique that focuses attention on breathing, bodily sensations and mental relaxation to achieve a state of active but open attention on your present state of being. In short, it encourages living in the moment.
What makes the mindfulness technique unique from other forms of meditation is that the primary focus is on one’s current physical state rather than on personal or societal improvement.
RELATED INFOGRAPHIC: WHY MEDITATION WORKS
Can mindfulness meditation soothe inflammation?
Neuroscientists at the University of Wisconsin found that mindfulness meditation was surprisingly effective in lowering stress-induced inflammation. Subjects were divided into two groups for the study. The first group participated in the Campus Health Enhancement Program, which merged nutritional education with exercise and music therapy, and the second group participated in the mindfulness meditation approach. Both programs required an equal amount of time, training and home practice.
Scientists then induced psychological stress using a tool called the Trier Social Stress Test, coupled with a capsaicin cream used to induce inflammation on the skin. Next, they collected immune and endocrine data, and that revealed that the mindfulness approach was more effective in reducing inflammation.
These findings are particularly interesting because there hadn’t been any research into the specific ways that mindfulness is beneficial, or into who specifically could benefit from its practice. The Wisconsin scientists believe that if combined with other existing health regimens that include social interaction and support, mindfulness may be able to further reduce inflammation – particularly in those suffering from inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. Offering stress management and relaxation classes as a form of preventive care would likely also be cost-effective and beneficial for those living with a chronic inflammatory condition.
Mindfulness meditation and the brain
Until recently, mindfulness was considered merely a way to focus our attention, but researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) developed a model to better understand how mindfulness engages the brain.
The researchers were able to identify six active neuropsychological processes exercised during mindfulness practice. Ultimately, these processes begin with an intent and incentive to attain mindfulness, followed by a consciousness of one’s negative habits. Once this occurs, a person can begin to alter their emotional state to recover faster from mental disturbances. This suggests that through practice, we would have the ability to mold our emotional self--increasing empathy and reducing negative tendencies, such as attachment to material possessions or aversion to things we dislike.