The scientific research on Mindfulness

Outlined below is some of the most pertinent scientific research on Mindfulness to date.

The BBC's Trust Me I'm a Doctor series performed a research study on how best to reduce stress.  The results?  Mindfulness came top of the list.  Here's the Telegraph's article with eye-opening percentages.

Now, starting with the research that really sparked off current interest in the first place.

2007 - Mindfulness meditation reveals distinct neural modes of self-reference

Authors: Norman A.S. Farb, Zindel V. Segal, Helen Mayberg, Jim Bean, Deborah McKeon, Zainab Fatima, Adam K. Anderson

This research study broke new ground in understanding Mindfulness from a neuroscience perspective (neuroscience studies the functioning of the nervous system and brain).

Two groups of people, those who practiced Mindfulness, and those who didn’t, were studied using MRI imaging of the brain.  This highlighted two distinct networks in the brain – ‘Default’ and ‘Direct’.  The Default network is often called the ‘Narrative’ as it's the one that’s constantly planning, daydreaming or ruminating.  This of course does have its uses.  The Direct network doesn’t think that much at all; it's more about experiencing, coming into your senses in real time.  What is happening right now – the present moment.

When the Direct network is activated, all our senses "come alive" at that moment.  When the Default/Narrative network is activated, you don't see as much, hear as much, feel as much, or sense anything as much.

Imagine sitting by the sea on a sunny day, a breeze blowing through your hair, and you have a nice cold drink in your hand.  The Direct mode is experiencing the warmth of the sun on your skin, the cool breeze in your hair, and the cold drink in your hand. 

The Default/Narrative mode, however, is thinking about what to cook for dinner tonight, whether your partner will be home in time for the family to sit together etc etc., and missing this beautiful day entirely. 

Those with a good level of Mindfulness were more likely to notice they were in Default mode, and could bring themselves back to Direct mode to enjoy the experience.

Summarised from an article by David Rock, co-founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute and Summit.

2007 - The effects of Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction on sleep disturbance

Authors: Winbush N.Y., Gross C.R., Kreitzer M.J.

Conclusion: There is some evidence that suggests increased practice of Mindfulness techniques is associated with improved sleep and that participants experience a decrease in sleep-interfering cognitive processes (eg. worry).  More research needs to be done.

2008 Mindfulness skills and interpersonal behaviour

Authors: Dekeyser M., Raes F., Leijssen M., Leysen S., Dewulf, D.

Conclusion:  All elements of Mindfulness were positively associated with expressing oneself in various social situations.  A greater tendency for mindful observation was associated with more engagement in empathy.  Mindful description, acting with awareness, and non-judgmental acceptance were associated with better identification and description of feelings, more body satisfaction, less social anxiety, and less distress contagion. 

2009 Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction for stress management in healthy people

Authors: Chiesa A., Serretti A.

Conclusion:  A direct comparison study between MBSR (Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction) and standard relaxation training found that both treatments were equally able to reduce stress.  Furthermore, MBSR was able to reduce ruminative thinking and trait anxiety, as well as to increase empathy and self-compassion. 

MBSR is able to reduce stress levels in healthy people.....necessity of further research. 

2010 - Mindfulness practice leads to increases in brain gray matter density

Authors: Britta K. Hölzel, James Carmody, Mark Vangel, Christina Congleton, Sita M. Yerramsetti, Tim Gard, Sara W. Lazar.

Conclusion: Participation in MBSR is associated with changes in gray matter concentration in brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking.

2012 – Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction, Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy and Zen meditation for depression, anxiety, pain and psychological distress

Authors: Marchand W.R.

Conclusion:  The evidence suggests that both MBSR and MBCT (Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy) have efficacy as adjunctive interventions for anxiety symptoms.  MBSR is beneficial for general psychological health, and stress management in those with medical and psychiatric illness, as well as in healthy individuals.

2013 Mindfulness-based therapy: a comprehensive meta-analysis

Authors: Khoury B., Lecomte T., Fortin G., Masse M., Therien P., Bouchard V., Chapleau M.A., Paquin K., Hofmann S.G.

Conclusion: Mindfulness-based therapy is an effective treatment for a variety of psychological problems, and is especially effective for reducing anxiety, depression, and stress. 

Recent scientific research on Mindfulness

2015 - Effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy compared with anti-depressant treatment in the prevention of depressive relapse or recurrence
Authors: Dr Willem Kuyken, Rachel Hayes, Barbara Barrett, Richard Byng, Tim Dalgleish, David Kessler, Glyn Lewis, Edward Watkins, Claire Brejcha, Jessica Cardy, Aaron Causley, Suzanne Cowderoy, Alison Evans, Felix Gradinger, Surinder Kaur, Paul Lanham, Nicola Morant, Jonathan Richards, Pooja Shah, Harry Sutton, Rachael Vicary, Alice Weaver, Jenny Wilks, Matthew Williams, Rod S Taylor, Sarah Byford.

Conclusion:  The time to relapse or recurrence of depression did not differ between MBCT and anti-depressants over 24 months, nor did the number of serious adverse events. 

OK, that's enough scientific research on Mindfulness don't you think?  If you would like to see the latest research, check out the Twitter feed 'at mindfully_u' - this is constantly tweeting new research.

Now, come find out about the benefits!