Is meditation good? What Science Says | by Claudia Feitosa-Santana
Meditation is an exercise in observing the present state, and it can also be the observation of the breath or thoughts that invade our minds. Contrary to what many people think, meditating is not emptying the mind; intrusion of thoughts is normal, part of practice, and occurs frequently, even for many monks.
There are several forms of meditation and everyone can find their own. Beyond mindfulness and zazen, for example. Breading or praying the rosary can also be considered meditative practices like running or surfing, it depends on the person. Being or not being a meditative practice can be quite subjective because it depends on who practices it.
There is no doubt that meditative practice is associated with improved quality of life, but it is important to know that many people do not feel well and have, for example, decreased sleep, increased anxiety or even attacks of panic. Studies to analyze its effects are just beginning, but we already have some important findings! Below you can check some of them.
Meditative practice can act to reduce or control the symptoms of depression. However, the number of sessions varies from patient to patient, as the effectiveness of meditation depends a lot on the profile of people, something that still is poorly understood, in addition to the severity of the disease. But most importantly: practicing meditation reduces the risk of developing depression, as well as reducing the risk of relapse for patients who have already had the disease.
Meditation seems to improve symptoms, but it is still not possible to say whether it changes the diagnosis. Again: it depends on the person’s profile and the type of disorder. Meditation may even be contraindicated for some people who have GAD and have never meditated and so it is recommended that it be initially supervised. On the other hand, just like for depression, meditation can be one of the preventive mechanisms, preventing the evolution of symptoms because it seems to help improve attention.
A group of Brazilian researchers evaluated the effect of attention on meditation: the non-meditation group was less efficient in a task that required a high attention load, compared to the meditators group (who already practiced meditation, on average, for more 8 years). This study also detected relevant differences in brain functioning between two groups.
Brain and Mind: Meditation can improve the way we function
Another Brazilian study found that women over 60 years of age who practiced yoga for at least 8 years had greater cortical thickness in a frontal region, which suggests that they had greater cognitive capacity, that is, greater ability to acquire knowledge in general. These Brazilian studies, along with many other international ones, lead us to believe that meditation can change our brain structure and our connections, improving the way we function.
Groups of healthy meditators seem to have less cortical loss with age, and patients who meditate and who have neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, are in a better state than non-meditators.
I brought here just a few findings from recent studies. Although it seems obvious that meditation generally produces positive results, the evidence still points to relatively small or moderate effects. Of course, because it must be part of an entirely healthy attitude towards life; good nutrition, good nights sleep and regular physical activity.
Here is the list of references used to write this article, and also others that are extremely pertinent about meditation studies and that were not covered in the article or in the video:
- Afonso et al (2017) Greater Cortical Thickness in Elderly Female Yoga Practitioners-A Cross-Sectional Study. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience 9: 201. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc /articles/PMC5476728/
- Bassam Khoury et al. (2017) Effectiveness of traditional meditation retreats: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Psychosomatic Research 92: 16-25. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27998508< /li>
- Britton et al (2010) Polysomnographic and Subjective Profiles of Sleep Continuity Before and After Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy in Partially Remitted Depression, Psychosomatic Medicine 72(6): 539-548 https://doi.org/10.1097/PSY.0b013e3181dc1bad
- Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health (2015) Mindfulness Interventions for the Treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Depression, and Substance Use Disorders: A in>Review of the Clinical Effectiveness and Guidelines. Rapid Response Report: Summary with Critical Appraisal; 2015 Jun 19. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK304574/
- Cebolla et al (2017) Unwanted effects: Is there a negative side of meditation? The multicentre survey. PLoS ONE 12(9): e0183137. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0183137
- Chen et al (2012) Meditative therapies for reducing anxiety: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Depression Anxiety 29(7): 545-562. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22700446< /li>
- Danhauer et al (2017) Review of yoga therapy during cancer treatment. Support Care Cancer 25(4): 1357-1372. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5777241/
- Evans et al (2018) Systematic review of meditation-based interventions for children with ADHD. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry 27: 7-8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28547119< /li>
- Galante et al (2021) Mindfulness-based programs for mental health promotion in adults in nonclinical settings: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. PLoS Med 18(1): e1003481. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1003481
- Goyal et al (2014) Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-being: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Intern Med 174(3): 357-368. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4142584/
- Kozasa et al (2018) Effects of a 7-Day Meditation Retreat on the Brain Function of Meditators and Non-Meditators During an Attention Task. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 2: 222. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29942255< /a>
- Kozasa et al (2012) Meditation training increases brain efficiency in an attention task. NeuroImage 59(1): 745-749. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21763432< /li>
- Sato et al (2012) Brain imaging analysis can identify participants under regular mental training. PLoS One 7: e39832. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal. pone.0039832
- Schlosser et al (2019) Unpleasant meditation-related experiences in regular meditators: Prevalence, predictors, and conceptual considerations. PLoS ONE 14(5): e0216643. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0216643
- Strauss et al (2014) Mindfulness-Based Interventions for People Diagnosed with a Current Episode of an Anxiety or Depressive Disorder: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. PLoS One 9(4): e96110. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal. pone.0096110