What’s the Evidence for Mindfulness and Meditation?
Mindfulness has its origins in Buddhist and Tibetan traditions and the practice of mindfulness has existed for thousands of years. Practicing mindfulness involves noticing on purpose and without judgment.
More specifically, mindfulness is the practice of first intentionally being aware of your present internal and external experiences, and then holding that awareness without judgment or trying to change anything. A substantial amount of scientific research has been done to examine if (and how) mindfulness can be helpful for physical and psychological health.
Mindfulness for health
Many people may think of mindfulness as being good for your mental health. Practicing mindfulness exercises has been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Mindfulness has also been shown to help with other aspects of psychological well-being like attention, cognition, self-concept, and stress.
However, mindfulness also has been shown to play a role on physical health! Mindfulness may affect biology itself, with some research finding that mindfulness may alter brain activity, immune function, and responses, and increase parasympathetic nervous system activity (or the body’s relaxation response system).
Yet, these results have been inconsistent, with some researchers’ hypothesizing that the key to mindfulness’s physical health-promoting properties are a result of it’s psychological health-promoting properties. In other words, mindfulness may be beneficial for physical health because it can help people cope with stress, something that can be detrimental to physical health. Research is still being conducted in this area frequently and often today!
Mindfulness for individuals with chronic illness
Many studies have examined the role of mindfulness in the care of individuals with a variety of chronic illnesses, from cancer to HIV. In general, studies of mindfulness-based interventions in individuals with chronic illnesses often shows that mindfulness can improve an individual’s quality of life. There are fewer studies examining the effects of mindfulness on physical symptoms of disease, and results are often small or mixed. So, mindfulness may have a role to play in overall disease management as it seems to be particularly helpful for improving well-being and quality of life in individuals who have chronic illness, but it may not directly influence physical symptoms of the disease.
Mindfulness and IBD
Many studies have begun to look at mindfulness-based interventions for people with IBD. A recent systematic review found that mindfulness-based interventions can help with psychological symptoms, particularly stress reduction, in people with IBD. However, this review of studies did not find significant effects of mindfulness on the physical symptoms of IBD. Studies are continuing to examine mindfulness’s role and utility in the treatment of IBD today.
Mindfulness and IBS
In IBS research, mindfulness has shown benefits for both quality of life and gastrointestinal symptoms. One study found that the mindfulness-based intervention used showed symptom improvement in approximately 70% of participants. A randomized controlled trial of women with IBS also found that a mindfulness-based intervention improved both quality of life and gastrointestinal symptoms, with a 28% reduction in physical symptoms at the follow-up appointment.
Studies like this again are still being conducted today to more deeply examine how and why mindfulness can be useful in the treatment of IBS.
Implementing mindfulness in your own life
Using mindfulness in your own life looks different for everyone! It doesn’t necessarily have to look like a structured meditation – for example, you can take a mindful drink of water: notice, on purpose, what your water looks like, tastes like, and how it feels like in your mouth without wishing the water was soda, or judging yourself for not drinking enough water!
If you want to begin implementing mindfulness into your own life, consider starting small. For example, you may try to set aside 5 minutes a day to mindfully notice your surroundings or do guided meditation or visualization.
As you begin to create your own mindfulness practice, remember one of the core components of mindfulness – to observe without judgment! If you find your mind wandering, if you find that you skip several days of your practice, or if you find that certain aspects of mindfulness aren’t working well for you try to simply notice, withhold judgment, and forgive yourself! You’ll learn to create a practice that feels right to you and can help bring the benefits you yourself are looking for.
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