In our busy, fast-paced world, moments of rest and quietness are few and far between. This can take a toll both physically and mentally. We evolved to have moments of rest, interspersed with intense activity. We weren’t really meant to stay wired and under stress for hours every day. Clearly, it’s time for an old-fashioned remedy to give our minds and bodies a break.
If you’ve always been curious about meditation but have never given it a try, here’s some convincing evidence to get you motivated. According to a recent study, meditation not only has calming effects on the mind, but it also triggers measurable and beneficial molecular changes in the body.
For the study, a team of researchers had one group of participants perform a whole day of intensive mindful-meditation. These participants were experienced meditators. The second group of participants were encouraged to do quiet, non-meditative activities for eight hours.
The research team then measured various markers in the body. They found that after the eight-hour meditation group, there were a number of genetic and molecular differences that occurred in comparison to the quiet activity group. These differences included reduced levels of pro-inflammatory genes. These are the genes that jump into action during stressful situations.
This is new territory in mapping the health benefits of meditation. This is the first study to show a link between meditation and gene expression. The researchers hope that future studies will show that meditation could help in the treatment of chronic inflammatory conditions.
In another clinical trial performed at the University of Oxford, researchers investigated the effectiveness of an online mindfulness course in relieving symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression.
About 300 people participated in the trial. The online program consisted of 10 sessions. The participants followed guided meditations presented in video format. Automated emails were also sent to engage the participants in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. The study lasted four weeks.
The participants were asked to self-report their symptoms when logging in for each session. The research team found that stress, anxiety, and depression levels decreased by the end of the four week trial. Even one month after the study ended, the participants were still reporting improvements in mental health.
You can practice meditation on your own. Choose a time of day that is best for you. You may prefer the morning, when you haven’t yet started to face a busy day. Or you may find that a little meditation in the afternoon creates an oasis in which to relax and de-stress before continuing on with your schedule. You might also decide that meditating before bed is the best way to ensure that you always allow time to complete this healthy practice. Everyone is different, so give all three time slots a try and see what works best.
As for the best venue, you can practice meditation with a group or you can follow a program at home. You purchase a DVD or try an online course, just like the participants in the study did.
Weber, B., “Meditation changes gene expression, study says,” Medical News Today web site, Dec. 10, 2013; http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/269910.php, last accessed Dec. 10, 2013.
Krushe, A., et al., “Mindfulness online: an evaluation of the feasibility of a web-based mindfulness course for stress, anxiety and depression,” BMJ Open. November 2013; 3(11): e003498.