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It isn’t just in your head. A scientific study shows mindfulness meditation really does reduce stress and “rewire” the brain to be less reactive.

There has been anecdotal suggestions that mindfulness meditation, which involves being aware and non-judgmental in each moment, helps the brain and body relieve stress. However, there were problems with studying its effects scientifically—until researchers at Carnegie Mellon University figured out a way to create a placebo for comparison between groups.


The scientists found 35 unemployed people under stress from their job searches. All were given brain scans and blood tests to measure levels of inflammation and and levels of cortisol — a chemical related to stress.

They were then put through a three-day program to test the effectiveness of mindfulness meditation.

Half the group was taught actual mindfulness meditation and practiced it for 25 minutes a day for three consecutive days. The mindfulness group “paid close attention to bodily sensations, including unpleasant ones.” The rest were put in a placebo routine of a fake form of meditation. Those people were given stretching exercises, relaxation, and joked during their sessions.

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After the three days, people in both groups claimed they felt better. But follow-up examinations showed a much different story.

Brain scans on those who’d followed the legitimate form of meditation showed actual decreases in inflammation. That didn’t happen with the participants in the placebo meditation group.

Another follow-up four months later showed those who were taught mindfulness meditation showed lower levels of chemicals related to stress in their blood stream than those in the placebo group.

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David Creswell, lead author of the study and associate professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon, recommends training people in mindfulness meditation because the practice “improves your brain’s ability to help you manage stress, and these changes improve a broad range of stress-related health outcomes, such as your inflammatory health.”

The researchers published their findings January 29th in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

(READ more at the New York Times) — Photo: unsplash, CC

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