I’m always interested to see the deep and lasting changes that can come from a regular meditation regimen…
…especially when those changes can be measured on a physical level.
Meditation has long been touted as a go-to source for stress reduction, and in recent years, researchers have been compiling evidence to back up those claims, even showing that mindfulness causes changes in brain structure.
Some of the latest findings come from the work of Richard J. Davidson, PhD and his colleagues in Wisconsin, Spain, and France.
(If his name sounds familiar, that’s because Dr. Davidson has been doing a lot of work looking at the brain’s response to meditation, and he’s the author of the New York Times Bestseller, The Emotional Life of Your Brain.)
While lots of studies have shown the positive effects of meditation, Dr. Davidson’s team took a unique approach. They wanted to find out what was happening at a cellular level.
To do that, they compared the effects of a day of intensive mindfulness meditation in a group of 19 experienced meditators with a group of 21 untrained people who engaged in a day of quiet leisure activities.
At the beginning and end of the day, each participant gave a blood sample.
When the blood samples were analyzed, they found evidence of a rapid change in gene expression within those folks who meditated – genes that regulate inflammation and pain as well as some associated with cortisol recovery from a stress test.
These findings are pretty exciting because the genes involved have been a target for pharmaceutical interventions. So meditation could offer an alternative solution with the potential for fewer side effects.
One caveat to this study is that researchers were looking at the effects of an intense one-day meditation intervention in people who were already experienced meditators. That means we can’t generalize the results to new meditators.
It’ll be interesting to see how the results turn out when non-meditators are given the same intervention.
This study presents a novel way of looking at the effects of mindfulness, and it is sure to open the door to some really cool new research (and perhaps some new methods for treatments).
If you’d like to read more about this work, it was published in Psychoneuroendocrinology, volume 40.
It’s always encouraging to learn about the physical changes that can come from mindfulness. Changing the brain, or even gene expression, are just some of the exciting possibilities for mindfulness as treatment.
Even more exciting (to me, anyway) is how mindfulness can change the way we interact with people. Mindfulness can help almost any relationship.
How has mindfulness made a difference for you or your patients? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.