Most people are aware that regular meditation practice can have various benefits. Meditation can reduce stress and anxiety, improve a person’s mood, help treat insomnia, and enhance the quality of a practitioner’s sleep. Meditation has other benefits, too, including improvements in one’s physical health. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), an eight-week program based around mindfulness meditation and patient education, is especially effective.
There are many forms of meditation. Some of these involve deep trance states and altered consciousness, but not all forms of meditation require this. One of the types of meditation with the best research pedigree is mindfulness meditation. This type of meditation is based on a continuous awareness of the present moment, with the meditator’s attention being focused on interoception and kinesthetic senses. In mindfulness meditation, the meditator directs their attention to the experience of the present moment: the sensations, emotions, thoughts, and desires that make up their awareness. The intent is to allow the meditator to become aware of these experiences in a non-judgemental, disengaged way.
Mindfulness and stress
One of the chief benefits of mindfulness meditation is its capacity to significantly reduce stress. Regular mindfulness meditation has been linked to lower levels of stress and tension. It has also been shown to be an effective treatment for anxiety disorders in a large percentage of patients. In general, the daily practice of mindfulness meditation has been shown to improve most practitioners’ emotional states and to have a positive effect on mood levels. Mindfulness may reduce psychological distress in a range of contexts, including lifestyle stress in healthy people and anxiety in those coping with health problems.
Mindfulness and heart health
Mindfulness meditation practiced regularly, has been correlated with improved cardiovascular health. In general, mindfulness practitioners have lower levels of heart disease and are more likely to have blood pressure levels that are closer to optimal. In studies, pre-hypertensive patients who were assigned mindfulness meditation sessions showed a more significant reduction in blood pressure than patients who were given relaxation exercises.
Mindfulness may have cognitive benefits
As we grow older, the brain naturally goes through changes. Mindfulness meditation appears to slow these changes somewhat, reducing cognitive decline and memory issues associated with aging. Regular mindfulness meditation has also been correlated with better outcomes for people at risk of dementia. It also appears to slow the progress of dementia in some studies.
Mindfulness may improve your immune response
There have been several studies on the effect of mindfulness meditation on the immune response. The results of these studies have been relatively encouraging, with some patients showing a statistically significant increase in certain types of immune cells. Some studies have shown improvements in other biomarkers for improved immune system health, such as higher levels of the protein interleukin-8. These improvements were found in both younger patients and older test subjects, including seniors.
Mindfulness may be able to slow cell aging
Studies into the effects of mindfulness meditation on cell aging have yielded some exciting results. While it’s a little too early to say that mindfulness definitively reduces cell aging, there are some indications that specific mindfulness programs may be effective in this regard. In particular, MBSR programs seem to slow cell aging in some patients. In a study of patients who had survived breast cancer, those who underwent an eight-week MBSR program had longer telomeres than patients who did not undergo therapy. Other studies showed more significant telomere activity in subjects who underwent MBSR. It’s not clear yet whether these improvements in cell aging are specific to mindfulness meditation, but researchers are keen to pursue this line of study.
While it’s impossible to say for sure whether mindfulness or other kinds of meditation will improve a specific condition in any given individual’s case, it’s clear that mindfulness can have significant benefits in terms of health and overall well-being for most people. Mindfulness meditation can benefit healthy individuals as well as those suffering from various medical conditions. While not everyone may be able to access an MBSR program, mindfulness meditation is something that everyone can practice.
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