Mindfulness evidence

Mindfulness evidence from a wide range of studies

There are many studies that have produced mindfulness evidence and a very large amount of research that has been done to show its success for different situations. Repeated practice has been shown to bring about changes in our lives, such as

• Reducing stress and physical pain
• The need to have more calm and positivity in your life
• Dealing with negative emotions
• Increasing self awareness to detect harmful negative patterns of thought, feeling and action
• Stimulating and releasing creativity
• Improving attention, concentration and focus
• Dealing with painful life events
• Increasing interpersonal skills and improving relationships
• Enhancing performance, in sport, work or study
• Raising your body’s ability to fight illness by boosting your immune system

Some examples from research

Here are some well-known examples, with links to articles on the web:

Increased positive feelings, a reduction of negative feelings, and greater health and wellbeing

People who practice mindfulness see an increase in their positive feelings and sense of wellbeing. They are also learn to better manage negative states like anxiety and depression. Their health is improved, as witnessed by enhancements in their immune system referred to below.

John Teasdale and others at Cambridge University found in research that learning mindfulness prevented a relapse by clinically depressed patients in remission back into depression. Teasdale argues that it is the aspect of mindfulness known as “metacognition” that plays a big part, the ability to be the “neutral” observer or witness of your thoughts and feelings. He found that those with the strongest metacognition were the least likely to relapse. They could be more aware and could disengage from a renewed bout of depressing thoughts and feelings. His approach was what he called “mindfulness-based cognitive therapy” (MBCT).

A recent Oxford study has confirmed that for people who have been on anti-depressants for at least 2 years mindfulness practice can be at least as effective as pills for preventing relapse.

Another recent study has confirmed previous research that there is powerful evidence that mindfulness practice helps prevent relapse for those recovering from depression.

Boosts physical immunity

People who  say they are more mindful report less physical illness and fewer visits to the doctor. Faster rates of healing have been observed in several studies. A study by David Richardson at the University of Wisconsin found that flu resistence (as measured directly by antibody titer) was greater in a group given a flu jab after 8 weeks of mindfulness practice compared with another group who did conduct the practice. Cancer patients who were given a mindfulness program (in addition to cancer treatment) had stronger immune responses than a group not offered the program (click here for the study re the cancer patients)

Eases chronic pain

Mindfulness tools can help reduce and manage pain. In a study in Montreal, 13 very experienced meditators from the Zen tradition, each with more than 1000 hours of practice were tested for their pain response to heat stimulation on their calves. When they applied mindful attention to the pain, their reports of pain went down. Those who  were non-meditators by contrast reported no decline in their reported pain. Jon Kabat-Zinn ( also mentioned below re stress reduction) initally developed his MBSR program to help those who had been given the “final diagnosis”, in effect that they will have to find a way to live with their pain (examples included chronic back pain). About half of participants reported a 50% reduction in their pain levels. In another study of his, participants reported less present-moment pain, had less difficulty with movement, reported less physical symptoms, and improved mood and body image (for report, click here)

Stress reduction

The work of Jon Kabat-Zinn and his 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program at Massachusetts University Medical Center is well-known and now widely used to help people manage and reduce their stress levels. His programs include mindfulness meditation, mindful body scans, very light yoga stretches and walking meditations. SeeJon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living (Bantam, 1990)

  • A well-known study of US Marines showed that those who had undergone a period of mindfulness practice before deployment to Iraq showed significantly better responses to stress and better thinking ability under pressure. Click here.

Positive changes in the brain

A lot of evidence has been emerging to show that mindfulness results in positive growth in the brain, through a process called neuroplasticity. A study at the University of Massachusetts Medical School of certain people who had undergone the above-mentioned 8-week MBSR program showed that they experienced changes in grey matter concentration in brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking.

Seeing thoughts as thoughts and not as facts

By developing a mindful perspective, practitioners learn to see their thoughts as just thoughts and not as facts or as who they are. This is “metacognitive awareness”, seeing thoughts in a wider field of awareness. This frees people from negative thoughts but also gives more flexibility and a greater sense of choice, an ability to manage the mind, and an ability to adopt different interpretations and perspectives, and make new meaning.

Mindfulness transforms suffering

There is an emerging view in psychology that mindfulness can transform what we experience through being mindful of it. This is important work. Click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2 of a collaborative article by Michael Chaskalson and John T Teasdale (you’ll need to sign up on the site to get the download but they are good , have integrity and it is worth it!)

Enhanced emotional intelligence

Meditation leads to enhanced Emotional Intelligence (EI). EI consists of self awareness, self management or self regulation, social awareness (eg empathy) and relationship management abilities (Goleman, Working with Emotional Intelligence, 1998)

Self-management is a term used in the field of EI. It is the ability to influence and manage your internal state. Mindfulness is key to developing effective self-management, as this study shows as regards benefits to people’s work productivity. There’s a great comment in this article about the value of paying attention to attention, and how neglected it has been.

  • Emotional reactivity: a key aspect is the ability to manage our emotions and in particular feelings like anger and upset. The above article describes how people can be coached to better manage their emotions through mindfulness

Empathy and attunement to others is another area of EI that is particularly enhanced by meditation: In a study of people in Taiwan, Li-Chuan Chu found that those who meditated had significant levels of EI, and those that meditated more had higher levels still. Evidence now abounds that people who practice mindfulness-based meditation experience less stress, better emotional intelligence, and less negative mental health. See this study