Medical Meditation Science and Research

Mindfulness Meditation-Based Pain Relief Employs Different Neural Mechanisms Than Placebo and Sham Mindfulness Meditation-Induced Analgesia.

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Recent findings have demonstrated that mindfulness meditation significantly reduces pain. Given that the "gold standard" for evaluating the efficacy of behavioral interventions is based on appropriate placebo comparisons, it is imperative that we establish whether there is an effect supporting meditation-related pain relief above and beyond the effects of placebo. Here, we provide novel evidence demonstrating that mindfulness meditation produces greater pain relief and employs distinct neural mechanisms than placebo cream and sham mindfulness meditation. Specifically, mindfulness meditation-induced pain relief activated higher-order brain regions, including the orbitofrontal and cingulate cortices. In contrast, placebo analgesia was associated with decreased pain-related brain activation. These findings demonstrate that mindfulness meditation reduces pain through unique mechanisms and may foster greater acceptance of meditation as an adjunct pain therapy. MORE.


Just a Few Moments of Meditation a Day Found to Have Profound, Near-Instant Benefits on Stress Reduction.

San Francisco Schools Transformed by the Power of Meditation.

Meditation decreases patients' desire for prescription drugs.

American Academy of Neurology -- Meditation as Medicine. Millions of people all over the world claim that meditation transformed their lives. But for centuries, only anecdotal reports about these benefits were available as proof. Now, scientific evidence from well-designed studies—including images of the brain—is emerging. Some of these studies suggest that meditating for as little as twenty minutes daily can affect the function and structure of the brain in a positive way. Researchers have found that meditation increases attention span, sharpens focus, improves memory, and dulls the perception of pain.

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Mindfulness meditation proves effective for chronic insomnia


The effectiveness of meditation in treating an array of illnesses has led to studies of how meditation can change the brainmeditation class. Since Herbert Benson, the cardiologist and author of the ground-breaking 1975 book “The Relaxation Response,” first began pioneering mind-body research 40 years ago, numerous scientific studies have have reported positive results from meditation in a wide range of ailments, including high blood pressure, stroke risk, heart disease, weight management, chronic pain, and mental health.

pubmed logoRelaxation response (i.e. Qigong) induces beneficial changes in energy metabolism, insulin secretion and inflammatory pathways. This is yet another outstanding research result from the Benson-Henry Institute and Harvard Medical School. Both short-term and long-term practitioners evoked significant temporal gene expression changes with greater significance in the latter as compared to novices. Relaxation response practice enhanced expression of RNA associated with energy metabolism, mitochondrial function, insulin secretion and telomere maintenance, and reduced expression of RNA linked to inflammatory response and stress-related pathways. This research proves some of the most significant benefits of Qigong practice. Also see Meditation Produces Opposite Effect of ‘Fight or Flight’.


pubmed logoQuality of life and functional health status of long-term meditators. Long-term meditators experience better functional health, especially mental health, compared to the general population. 

sitting meditation


Role of Meditation in Brain Development Gains Scientific Support. New York Times.

Cardiovascular Health 

pubmed logoMeditation can produce beneficial effects to prevent cardiovascular disease. All types of meditation are associated with blood pressure control, enhancement in insulin resistance, reduction of lipid peroxidation and cellular senescence, independent of type of meditation. This review presents scientific evidence to explain how meditation can produce beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system, and particularly regarding vascular aspects.

Meditation Practice May Decrease Risk for Cardiovascular Disease in Teens. Regular meditation could decrease the risk of developing cardiovascular disease in teens who are most at risk, according to Georgia Health Sciences University researchers.

pubmed logoMeditation provides myriad cardiovascular system benefits - why a cardiologist should care. The Einstein Medical Center report published in the International Journal of Cardiology says that meditation has beneficial effects upon the autonomic nervous system and decreases blood pressure acutely and after long term practice. Meditation has the potential to positively influence the cardiovascular system through the mind-heart connection and the anti-inflammatory reflex.

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Helps Lower Blood Pressure, Reports Study in Psychosomatic Medicine. Technique Incorporating Meditation and Yoga Shows Benefits in Patients with 'Prehypertension'.

Blood Pressure

pubmed logoEvaluation of a Mindfulness-Based Intervention Program to Decrease Blood Pressure in Low-Income African-American Older Adults. An eight-week study at Johns Hopkins found that meditation lowers blood pressure in low-income older adults, even more than participation in a social support group. 

Study Validates New Approach to High Blood Pressure. Meditation reduces the need for medications for hypertension.

Stress, Anxiety, and Depression

pubmed logoSelf-Regulation of Breathing as a Primary Treatment for Anxiety. The authors suggest that reversing homeostatic alterations with meditation and breathing techniques rather than targeting neurotransmitters with medication may be a superior method to address the whole body changes that occur in stress, anxiety, and depression. Detrimental effects of stress, negative emotions, and sympathetic dominance of the autonomic nervous system have been shown to be counteracted by different forms of meditation, relaxation, and breathing techniques. These breathing techniques could be used as first-line and supplemental treatments for stress, anxiety, depression, and some emotional disorders.

Harvard Scientists Have Good News for People Who Meditate. The news: It turns out meditating is good for more than just quiet time: It can actually help us fight the cripplingly high stress levels we experience during our busy lives, in the office or elsewhere. Scientists from Harvard University and the University of Sienna recently found that meditation is so powerful it can change the physiology of a person's brain, resulting in positive changes like a decrease in anxiety and depression.

Mindfulness relieves anxiety. Brain regions associated with meditation-related anxiety relief were found to be remarkably consistent with the principles of being mindful. Arterial spin labeling (ASL) magnetic resonance imaging was used to identify brain regions activated during meditation. Arterial spin labeling allows the weighting of the fMRI signal by the actual cerebral blood flow.

Mindfulness at Work

meditating at workPalo Alto Medical Foundation Health Blog: How Mindfulness Can Help at Work. “Mindfulness is about paying attention to what you are experiencing right now with genuine interest and a willingness to accept that experience, says Kaveri S. Patel, D.O., a family medicine doctor at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. “The health benefits are many. Studies show that mindfulness reduces stress and anxiety, and provides us with a sense of well-being and the ability to notice the joyful moments in life. It also helps us relate to each other from a kinder place, making work a more positive experience and giving us tools to better cope with challenges.”

Meditation Strengthens the Immune System


prevention magazine meditator23 Ways to Boost Your Immune System. #1: Meditation

Your mind can cut your chances of catching a cold by 40 to 50%, according to a 2012 University of Wisconsin, Madison, study. Fifty-one people who used mindfulness techniques logged 13 fewer illnesses and 51 fewer sick days than a control group during one cold-and-flu season, probably because meditation reduces physical effects of stress that weaken the immune system.

Pain Relief

For People Hooked on Pain Medication, University of Utah Mindfulness Intervention Assists Recovery by Boosting Brain Response to Healthy Pleasures. The MORE intervention concentrates on helping people to recover a sense of meaning and fulfillment in everyday life, embracing its pleasures and pain without turning to substance use as a coping mechanism.

Demystifying Meditation: Brain Imaging Illustrates How Meditation Reduces Pain. Meditation produces powerful pain-relieving effects in the brain. Both before and after meditation training, study participants' brain activity was examined using a special type of imaging -- arterial spin labeling magnetic resonance imaging (ASL MRI) -- that captures longer duration brain processes, such as meditation, better than a standard MRI scan of brain function.

Meditation Reduces the Emotional Impact of Pain. People who meditate regularly find pain less unpleasant because their brains anticipate the pain less.

Brief Training In Meditation May Help Manage Pain. Living with pain is stressful, but a surprisingly short investment of time in mental training can help you cope. A single hour of meditation over a three day period can have the same effect as extensive meditation training.

Meditation can ease pain from stress-related conditions like IBS and arthritis. People who suffer from painful conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis could ease their symptoms using a form of meditation, say researchers.They added that the treatment, known as mindfulness, could prove a cheaper alternative to prescription medicines. Mindfulness meditation involves 'being present' by focusing on breathing patterns and bodily sensations. This reduces worrying about the past and future and has been shown to be effective at alleviating depression. University of Wisconsin-Madison Press Release: Mindfulness meditation may relieve chronic inflammation. People suffering from chronic inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and asthma — in which psychological stress plays a major role — may benefit from mindfulness meditation techniques, according to a study by University of Wisconsin-Madison neuroscientists with the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center. Mindfulness-based stress reduction, originally designed for patients with chronic pain, consists of continuously focusing attention on the breath, bodily sensations and mental content while seated, walking or practicing yoga.

pubmed logoMindfulness Meditation-Related Pain Relief: Evidence for Unique Brain Mechanisms in the Regulation of Pain. Neuroimaging evidence reveals that mindfulness meditation-related pain relief is associated with unique appraisal cognitive processes depending on expertise level and meditation tradition.

Mind Over Matter: Beating Pain and Painkillers. Mindfulness reduces pain and opioid misuse.

Meditation Improves Psychological Health

Meditation reduced psychosocial stress and depression in patients with various conditions such as type-2 diabetes, type-D distressed personality traits, social stress and social anxiety disorder [Hartmann] [Nyklicek] [Britton] [van Son ] [Jazaieri] [Chen]; it improved the quality of life of people living with HIV [Gayner] and improves sleep [Brand]. A systematic literature review showed a moderate to large positive effect on the mental health of breast cancer patients [Zainal]. A University of Western Sydney study found that just fifteen minutes of meditation significantly reduced perceived stress [Melville]. A Stanford University study using fMRI found meditation more effective than an aerobic exercise stress reduction program in reducing negative emotions and social anxiety through increasing attention regulation[Goldin]. A randomized controlled trial showed that mindfulness based stress reduction helps in two measures (quality of life and stress) in patients with asthma, but it did not help lung function [Pbert]. This suggests that Qigong is more clinically effective than meditation alone because Qigong includes respiratory exercise in addition to meditation.

Meditation Appears to Produce Enduring Changes in Emotional Processing in the Brain. Participating in an 8-week meditation training program can have measurable effects on how the brain functions even when someone is not actively meditating. Also see Meditation Training Program Shows Brain Effects Even Outside a Meditative State.

pubmed logoMeditation is an effective non-pharmacological treatment for long-term mental fatigue after stroke or traumatic brain injury.

pubmed logoMindfulness-Based Stress Reduction training reduces loneliness and pro-inflammatory gene expression in older adults: a small randomized controlled trial.Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles and Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh found that older adults who participated in an eight-week program of mindfulness-based stress reduction reported a reduced sense of loneliness on an established ratings scale. Blood tests also indicated a significant decrease in the expression of inflammation-related genes.

Study Reveals Gene Expression Changes with Meditation. The study investigated the effects of a day of intensive mindfulness practice in a group of experienced meditators, compared to a group of untrained control subjects who engaged in quiet non-meditative activities. After eight hours of mindfulness practice, the meditators showed a range of genetic and molecular differences, including altered levels of gene-regulating machinery and reduced levels of pro-inflammatory genes, which in turn correlated with faster physical recovery from a stressful situation.

Positive psychological changes from meditation training linked to cellular health and anti-aging. Positive psychological changes that occur during meditation training are associated with greater telomerase activity, according to researchers at the University of California, Davis, and the University of California, San Francisco. The study is the first to link positive well-being to higher telomerase, an enzyme important for the long-term health of cells in the body. The effect appears to be attributable to psychological changes that increase a person's ability to cope with stress and maintain feelings of well-being.

Neuroplasticity and Improved Cognitive Function


Harvard Unveils MRI Study Proving Meditation Literally Rebuilds The Brain’s Gray Matter In 8 Weeks.  See also Eight weeks to a better brainMeditation study shows changes associated with self-awareness, stress, learning and memory, compassion, and introspection.

meditation and the brainMeditation Can Change Your Brain for Better and LongerThis survey of meditation research compiled by Kevin W Chen, Ph.D. summarizes reports on how meditation could slows the aging process, rewires the brain, and how meditation can lead to actual structural changes in the brain! This can be seen in brain imaging research even after a simple 20-minutes meditation.

Can Mindfulness Rewire Our Brains? One of the most revolutionary and empowering insights coming from cutting-edge neuroscience is the fact that we can change our brains by thinking different thoughts. Positive, productive thinking can actually change the biological structure of our brains.

Neural Basis for Benefits of Meditation. In a newly published neurophysiological review, Brown University scientists propose that meditation practitioners gain enhanced control over sensory cortical alpha rhythms that help regulate how the brain processes and filters sensations, including pain, and memories such as depressive cognitions.

Meditation Appears to Produce Enduring Changes in Emotional Processing in the Brain. Participating in an 8-week meditation training program can have measurable effects on how the brain functions even when someone is not actively meditating.

Meditation Makes You More Creative. This study is a clear indication that the advantages of particular types of meditation extend much further than simply relaxation. The findings support the belief that meditation can have a long-lasting influence on human cognition, including how we think and how we experience events.

Meditation causes neurophysiological changes in the brain at the cellular level, including elevated parasympathetic nervous system activity.

Meditation Correlated with Structural Changes in the Brain. The benefits of meditation have received newfound evidence from neuroscience in the last five years, as researchers are finding real physiological changes due to a sort of formally practiced introspection.

Daily Meditation as Effective for Depression and Anxiety as Antidepressants.

pubmed logoEffect of Meditation on Cognitive Functions in Context of Aging and Neurodegenerative Diseases. Reviewed studies suggested a positive effect of meditation techniques, particularly in the area of attention, as well as memory, verbal fluency, and cognitive flexibility. These findings are discussed in the context of MRI studies suggesting structural correlates of the effects. Meditation can be a potentially suitable non-pharmacological intervention aimed at the prevention of cognitive decline in the elderly.

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Short-term meditation induces white matter changes in the anterior cingulate. Even short term meditation affects white matter changes in the brain.

Impact of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction training on intrinsic brain connectivity. Meditation training alters intrinsic functional connectivity in ways that may reflect a more consistent attentional focus, enhanced sensory processing, and reflective awareness of sensory experience.

Impact of meditation training on the default mode network during a restful state. Meditation increases present moment awareness.

The unique brain anatomy of meditation practitioners: alterations in cortical gyrification. Previous studies have shown increases in grey and white matter in the brains of long-term meditators. This study found significant differences in the pattern and degree of cortical folding (gyrification) of meditators in several brain regions. The functional implications of larger cortical gyrification remains unknown, but the increased size of the insula has some intriguing possibilites.

The Effect of Meditation on Brain Structure: Cortical Thickness Mapping and Diffusion Tensor Imaging. Long-term meditators have structural differences in both gray and white matter in the brain.

Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Researchers at Harvard Medical School found that mindfulness practice leads to increase in grey matter density in brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking.

Meditators and non-meditators: EEG source imaging during resting. The neuroplasticity effects of long-term meditation practice are carried over into non-meditating states.

Meditation improves cognitive performance and enhances emotional regulation.

Meditation evokes a brain state of enhanced perceptual clarity and decreased automated reactivity.

Mechanisms of white matter changes induced by meditation. Brain white matter neuroplasticity affected by short-term meditation.

Meditation increases the depth of information processing and improves the allocation of attention in space. Practicing meditation enhances the speed with which attention can be allocated and relocated, thus increasing the depth of information processing and reducing response latency.

"Mind the trap": mindfulness practice reduces cognitive rigidity. Mindfulness meditation reduces cognitive rigidity via the tendency to be "blinded" by experience.

Stepping out of history: Mindfulness improves insight problem solving. Mindfulness improves creativity.

Meditation changes positive and negative self-views by modifying the brain's cognitive and attention neural networks.

Meditation for Health Care Providers and Doctors

The Importance of Meditation for Parents of Children With Special Needs or Challenges.

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A mindfulness course decreases burnout and improves well-being among healthcare providers.

pubmed logoMindfulness Training Benefits Patients With Progressive Cognitive Decline and Their Caregivers. New strategies are needed to help people cope with the repercussions of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's disease. Patients and caregivers face different challenges, but here we investigated an intervention tailored for this combined population. The program focused on training skills such as attending to the present moment nonjudgmentally, which may help reduce maladaptive emotional responses. Patients participated together with caregivers in weekly group sessions over 8 weeks. Pre-post analyses revealed several benefits, including increased quality-of-life ratings, fewer depressive symptoms, and better subjective sleep quality. In addition, participants indicated that they were grateful for the opportunity to learn to apply mindfulness skills and that they would recommend the program to others. In conclusion, mindfulness training can be beneficial for patients and their caregivers, and it can be delivered at low cost to combined groups.

Mindfulness Meditation May Help Doctors Provide Better Care, Study Suggests.

pubmed logoUCLA study finds meditation and imagery therapy helps dementia caregivers. Family dementia caregivers are at high risk of depression and burnout. Central Meditation and Imagery Therapy for Caregivers is a feasible intervention for dementia caregivers. Results suggest that this therapeutic technique can reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and insomnia, and increase levels of mindfulness. Early response to meditation practice predicted those with the greatest short-term benefits.United States Department of Health and Human Services: National Institutes of Health.