Meditation: In Depth

How much do we know about meditation?

Many studies have been conducted to look at how meditation may be helpful for a variety of conditions, such as high blood pressure, certain psychological disorders, and pain. A number of studies also have helped researchers learn how meditation might work and how it affects the brain.

What do we know about the effectiveness of meditation?

Some research suggests that practicing meditation may reduce blood pressure, symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety and depression, and insomnia. Evidence about its effectiveness for pain and as a smoking-cessation treatment is uncertain.

What do we know about the safety of meditation?

Meditation is generally considered to be safe for healthy people. However, people with physical limitations may not be able to participate in certain meditative practices involving movement.

 

What Is Meditation?

Meditation is a mind and body practice that has a long history of use for increasing calmness and physical relaxation, improving psychological balance, coping with illness, and enhancing overall health and well-being. Mind and body practices focus on the interactions among the brain, mind, body, and behavior. A new report based on data from the 2017 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) found that U.S. adults’ use of meditation in the past 12 months tripled between 2012 and 2017 (from 4.1 percent to 14.2 percent). The use of meditation by U.S. children (aged 4 to 17 years) also increased significantly (from 0.6 percent in 2012 to 5.4 percent in 2017).

There are many types of meditation, but most have four elements in common: a quiet location with as few distractions as possible; a specific, comfortable posture (sitting, lying down, walking, or in other positions); a focus of attention (a specially chosen word or set of words, an object, or the sensations of the breath); and an open attitude (letting distractions come and go naturally without judging them).

 

What the Science Says About the Effectiveness of Meditation

Many studies have investigated meditation for different conditions, and there’s evidence that it may reduce blood pressure as well as symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and flare-ups in people who have had ulcerative colitis. It may ease symptoms of anxiety and depression, and may help people with insomnia.

Meditation and the Brain

Some research suggests that meditation may physically change the brain and body and could potentially help to improve many health problems and promote healthy behaviors.

What the Science Says About Safety and Side Effects of Meditation

  • Meditation is generally considered to be safe for healthy people.
  • People with physical limitations may not be able to participate in certain meditative practices involving movement. People with physical health conditions should speak with their health care providers before starting a meditative practice, and make their meditation instructor aware of their condition.
  • There have been rare reports that meditation could cause or worsen symptoms in people with certain psychiatric problems like anxiety and depression. People with existing mental health conditions should speak with their health care providers before starting a meditative practice, and make their meditation instructor aware of their condition.

 

NCCIH-Funded Research

NCCIH-supported studies are investigating meditation for:

  • Teens experiencing chronic, widespread pain, such as from fibromyalgia
  • Stress reduction for people with multiple sclerosis
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder, headaches, reducing blood pressure.

More to Consider

  • Don’t use meditation to replace conventional care or as a reason to postpone seeing a health care provider about a medical problem.
  • Ask about the training and experience of the meditation instructor you are considering.
  • Tell all your health care providers about any complementary or integrative health approaches you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care.

Key References

  • Barrett B, Hayney MS, Muller D, et al. Meditation or exercise for preventing acute respiratory infection: a randomized controlled trial. Annals of Family Medicine. 2012;10:337–346.
  • Black LI, Barnes PM, Clarke TC, Stussman BJ, Nahin RL. Use of yoga, meditation, and chiropractors among U.S. children aged 4–17 years. NCHS Data Brief, no 324. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2018.
  • Brewer JA, Mallik S, Babuscio TA, et al. Mindfulness training for smoking cessation: results from a randomized controlled trial. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. 2011;119(1–2):72–80.
  • Brook RD, Appel RJ, Rubenfire M, et al. Beyond medications and diet: alternative approaches to lowering blood pressure: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Hypertension. 2013;61(6):1360–1383.
  • Carim-Todd L, Mitchell SH, Oken BS. Mind-body practices: an alternative, drug-free treatment for smoking cessation? A systematic review of the literature. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. 2013;132(3):399–410.
  • Chen KW, Berger CC, Manheimer E, et al. Meditative therapies for reducing anxiety: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Depression and Anxiety. 2012;29(7):545–562.
  • Cherkin DC, Sherman KJ, Balderson BH, et al. Effect of mindfulness-based stress reduction vs cognitive behavioral therapy or usual care on back pain and functional limitations in adults with chronic low back pain: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA. 2016;315(12):1240–1249.
  • Clarke TC, Barnes PM, Black LI, Stussman BJ, Nahin RL. Use of yoga, meditation, and chiropractors among U.S. adults aged 18 and over. NCHS Data Brief, no 325. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2018.
  • Cramer H, Haller H, Lauche R, et al. Mindfulness-based stress reduction for low back pain. A systematic review. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2012;12(162):1–8.
  • Dakwar E and Levin FR. The emerging role of meditation in addressing psychiatric illness, with a focus on substance use disorders. Harvard Review of Psychiatry. 2009;17(4):254–267.
  • Desbordes G, Negi LT, Pace TW, et al. Effects of mindful-attention and compassion meditation training on amygdala response to emotional stimuli in an ordinary, non-meditative state. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 2012;6:1–15
  • Fang CY, Reibel DK, Longacre ML, et al. Enhanced psychosocial well-being following participation in a mindfulness-based stress reduction program is associated with increased natural killer cell activity. Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2010;16(5):531–538.
  • Gaylord SA, Palsson OS, Garland EL, et al. Mindfulness training reduces the severity of irritable bowel syndrome in women: results of a randomized controlled trial. American Journal of Gastroenterology. 2011;106(9):1678–1688.
  • Goldstein CM, Josephson R, Xie S, et al. Current perspectives on the use of meditation to reduce blood pressure. International Journal of Hypertension. 2012;2012:578397.
  • Goyal M, Singh S, Sibinga EM, et al. Meditation programs for psychological stress and well-being: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Internal Medicine. 2014;174(3):357–368.
  • Greeson JM, Webber DM, Smoski MJ, et al. Changes in spirituality partly explain health-related quality of life outcomes after Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. Journal of Behavioral Medicine. 2011;34(6):508–518.
  • Jedel S, Hoffman A, Merriman P, et al. A randomized controlled trial of mindfulness-based stress reduction to prevent flare-up in patients with inactive ulcerative colitis. Digestion. 2014;89:142–155.
  • Lakhan SE, Schofield KL. Mindfulness-based therapies in the treatment of somatization disorders: a systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS One. 2013;26;8(8):e71834.
  • Luders E. Exploring age-related brain degeneration in meditation practitioners. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 2013;1307:82–88.
  • Luders E, Kurth F, Mayer EA, et al. The unique brain anatomy of meditation practitioners: alterations in cortical gyrification. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 2012;6:1–9.
  • Nidich SI, Rainforth MV, Haaga DAF, et al. A randomized controlled trial on effects of the transcendental meditation program on blood pressure, psychological distress, and coping in young adults. American Journal of Hypertension. 2009;22(12):1326–1331.
  • Morgan N, Irwin MR, Chung M, et al. The effects of mind-body therapies on the immune system: meta-analysis. PLOS One. 2014;9(7):1–14.
  • Ong JC, Manber R, Segal Z, et al. A randomized controlled trial of mindfulness meditation for chronic insomnia. Sleep. 2014;37(9):1553–1563.
  • Reiner K, Tibi L, Lipsitz JD. Do mindfulness-based interventions reduce pain intensity? A critical review of the literature. Pain Medicine. 2013;14:230–242.
  • Rosenkranz M, Davidson RJ, MacCoon D, et al. A comparison of mindfulness-based stress reduction and an active control in modulation of neurogenic inflammation. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. 2013;27(1):174–184.
  • Rubia K. The neurobiology of meditation and its clinical effectiveness in psychiatric disorders. Biological Psychology. 2009;82(1):1–11.
  • Tang Y-Y, Tang R, Posner MI. Brief meditation training induces smoking reduction. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2013;110(34):13971–13975.
  • Westbrook C, Creswell JD, Tabibnia G, et al. Mindful attention reduces neural and self-reported cue-induced craving in smokers. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. 2013;8(1):73–84.
  • Zeidan F, Adler-Neal AL, Wells RE, et al. Mindfulness-meditation-based pain relief is not mediated by endogenous opioids. Journal of Neuroscience. 2016;36(11):3391–3397.

Acknowledgments

NCCIH thanks the following individuals for their technical expertise and review of the 2014 edition of this publication: Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D., Vilas Professor, Psychology and Psychiatry, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Jeffrey M. Greeson, Ph.D., M.S., Assistant Professor, Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Duke University Medical Center; Helané Wahbe, N.D., Assistant Professor, Neurology, Oregon Health & Science University; and John Glowa, Ph.D., and John (Jack) Killen, Jr., M.D., NCCIH. Thank you to David Shurtleff, Ph.D., NCCIH, for his review of the current edition of this publication.

This publication is not copyrighted and is in the public domain. Duplication is encouraged.

NCCIH has provided this material for your information. It is not intended to substitute for the medical expertise and advice of your health care provider(s). We encourage you to discuss any decisions about treatment or care with your health care provider. The mention of any product, service, or therapy is not an endorsement by NCCIH.

Last Updated: April 2016
Source:
https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/meditation-in-depth