New research on mindfulness meditation

02.19.16 |

Mindfulness is drifting toward being a buzzword

The power of mindfulness has been a built-in facet of the Habits of Health since its inception. We have talked for a long time about how being more aware of your environment, your thought processes, and your habit loops can help you to reprogram your Habits of Disease. We called this process Stop. Challenge. Choose.

In recent years, mindfulness has become so popular that it’s hard to read about a wellness professional praising it. While it’s exciting to know that more people might be tapping into one of the core processes of reprogramming Habits of Disease, the idea of mindfulness is drifting toward being a buzzword. When something becomes a buzzword, there is a danger of it being taken less seriously. Good news: more research is confirming what we’ve known about mindfulness meditation for some time.

In a study published in Biological Psychiatry, researchers found that individuals who underwent mindfulness meditation to reduce stress—one of the most powerful triggers for Habits of Disease like emotional eating, loss of sleep, or excessive drinking—exhibited improved brain activity and four months after the study had lower levels of unhealthy inflammation in their blood samples.

How mindfulness works

This is a small study, so there is a lot more research to be done on this front before we can say with absolute certainty that these results are what the majority of average people can expect to get from mindfulness meditation.

But, we can take an educated guess at what’s at work here. Let’s break it down.

  • We can train ourselves to react more proactively to stress. Though something like emotional eating might feel like your default coping mechanism, it is actually a learned behavior. Sugary, unhealthy foods are usually not far from our reach, so it doesn’t take long for almost everyone to grab “comfort” food when times are hard. Mindfulness meditation replaces that behavior with something more positive.
  • Our mental states are very much physical. When we talk casually, we often divide physical and mental into two silos, but in terms of our physiology, your brains have mass and have physical connections to every other part of our body. If we reprogram a habit loop, it’s likely that we are making new connections in our own brains. These subjects, for example, found a more effective way to reduce stress, and that was visible in their brain scans.
  • Stress is a major cause of inflammation. If we can lower our stress levels, we are likely to see improvements in multiple areas of our lives. High stress levels affect everything from blood pressure to mental focus. If mindfulness is effective at reducing stress, we should see those results ripple into other markers, which is likely why this study found lower levels of inflammation in the participants’ blood samples.

This is an exciting new frontier for medical research. So far, there are only more reasons for you to continue practicing mindfulness meditation to lower your stress and improve your Habits of Health.