And researchers have been quick to back up its effectiveness.
The University of Montreal last year conducted a truly comprehensive study of 209 separate studies covering 12,145 people and, as reported in the Clinical Psychology Review, concluded that mindfulness was “an effective treatment for a variety of psychological problems and is especially effective for reducing anxiety, depression and stress”.
Another study last year from Lund University in Sweden – held in co-operation with its regional council and reported in the Huffington Post – said the group mindfulness treatment for 215 people as part of an eight-week course was “as effective as individual cognitive behavioural therapy in patients with depression and anxiety”.
So with such clinical results, what physical changes have been reported through the use of mindfulness skills?
- Researchers at UCLA have found that meditation increases the gyrification or “folding” of brain which “may allow the brain to process information faster”. Because they also saw a direct correlation between the amount of meditation and the amount of gyrification, the researchers suggest this is “further proof of the brain’s neuroplasticity, or ability to adapt to environmental changes”.
- This study by researchers from MIT and Yale and Harvard universities in the US suggested that meditation “may be associated with structural changes in areas of the brain that are important for sensory, cognitive and emotional processing. The data further suggest that meditation may impact age-related declines in cortical structure”.
- Joint research in 2009 between Jena University in Germany and UCLA School of Medicine detected “significantly larger gray matter volumes in meditators in the right orbito-frontal cortex” which are connected to regulating emotions and responses. The study hypothesised “larger volumes in these regions might account for meditators’ singular abilities and habits to cultivate positive emotions, retain emotional stability, and engage in mindful behavior.”
- And it’s not just physical changes – mindfulness can change the brain’s chemistry too. A study from 2013 showed meditators had a different expression of metabolites linked to anxiety and depression when compared to healthy non-meditators.
- If the brain’s physical nature and chemistry can be changed by meditation and mindfulness skills, then neuroscientists have also looked at the way it can alter brain activity. For example, this study in 2011 showed an association between meditation and a decrease in our “default mode” of mind-wandering. The research linked that default network activity and mind-wandering to unhappiness, and showed how meditation can therefore help control brain functions responsible for disorders such as anxiety and ADHD, and help others with lapses of attention.