Does Mindfulness Meditation Really Work?

I have been asked this question very often. Does mindfulness meditation really work? Are there any evidence? Can we prove it?

There are two ways to answer this question.

  1. Practice mindfulness meditation and see it yourself.
  2. Provide scientific research-based results and facts. 

On this page I am going to provide facts from trustworthy sources to prove that mindfulness meditation really works.

Does Mindfulness Meditation Really Work?

Mindfulness meditation is a type of meditation exercise that requires that you focus on your present state of mind or situation. This could be just as simple as being aware of your emotions, surroundings, and even one’s breathing. It could also be something as simple as enjoying every single moment of a delicious meal. It can be easy to rush through life without stopping to notice much. It’s about being present in the present moment (in your thoughts, feelings, and all that surrounds you). Some people call this awareness "mindfulness". Mindfulness can help us enjoy life more and understand ourselves better. According to Professor Mark Williams, formerly of Oxford Mindfulness Centre, mindfulness is immediately knowing what is going on both inside and outside of oneself, from one moment to the other. He’s of the opinion that this kind of awareness can help us easily notice early signs of stress and anxiety and also help us deal with them better.

Over the years, meditation has become widely known and celebrated as a method of easing stress and anxiety, dealing with depression and addiction, and also fighting chronic pain. In recent times, meditation has become very mainstream and is seen as a way to enhancing human performances, thereby finding its way into businesses and schools. Mindfulness meditation itself has bloomed into a billion-dollar business, as revealed in a market research carried out by IBISWorld. There have been many claims that mindfulness meditation does help with battling depression, high blood pressure and hypertension among other ailments. Even though there is an arsenal of established clinical treatments and therapies for these ailments, the fact that they don’t work for everyone is quite depressing. With a major increase in the number of reported cases of depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and others, it is quite expected that alternative treatments be sought out. Mindfulness meditation is one of such alternatives and there has been so much buzz about its efficacy, but scientists are finding it difficult to accept such claims. So, the question is, “Does mindfulness meditation really work?”

Scientific Studies: does mindfulness meditation really work?

When transcendental meditation gained huge popularity in the 1970s, Herbert Benson, a Harvard Medical School professor, at what was then Beth Israel Hospital, explored a phenomenon he called “The Relaxation Response,” identifying it as the common and functional attribute of meditation (including transcendental meditation, yoga, and deep religious prayer). In his book titled “The Relaxation Response”, co-written with Miriam Z. Kippler in 1975, he defined the relaxation response as an autonomic reaction (a reaction from the autonomic nervous system in the body) that results from a simple act of meditation. Benson went ahead to describe this response as the inverse of the body’s “fight or flight” adrenalin-fuelled response, which was identified by physiologist Walter Cannon Bradford in 1915, also at Harvard. Recent studies say that this response is not as common as Benson originally claimed. 

In a recent 2018 study, Harvard scientists came up with evidence that mindfulness meditation really does work. They found out that the practice of clearing your mind for 15 minutes each day does bring about a change in the way one’s genes operate. The study indicated that over 8 weeks, the people who took part in this medication exercise showed a striking change in the 172 gene expression responsible for the regulation of circadian rhythms, glucose metabolism, and inflammation and in turn, led to a significant decrease in their blood pressure. However, critics claim the study was small and it had no control group of non-meditators to be used as a comparison, and as a result, it doesn’t count as proof. 

Another researcher, Gaëlle Desbordes, an instructor in radiology at HMS and a neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital, in 2012 using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) showed changes in the brain activity of subjects who had learned to meditate. The scan showed less activation in the amygdala when participants were watching images with emotional content as compared to before the start of the eight weeks of meditation. Disturbed, though excited about the results, was quite realistic in her response, saying that even though the effects are believable, the results were by no means earth shattering.

Having provided all of the above facts, my suggestion, and the best way to answer does mindfulness meditation really work is to try and get your own experience. If you are a busy person then one minute mindfulness meditation may be a good place to start.