There is Evidence for Mindfulness. Mindfulness courses have been rigorously tested over the last few decades and the approval by The National Institute of Care and Health Excellence (NICE) and adoption by the NHS, speaks volumes for the results. In general, the Evidence for Mindfulness research concludes that people who regularly practise Mindfulness Meditation are less likely to experience distress, have higher self-esteem, show strong social and academic skills, improved attention, job performance and satisfaction (1, 2, 3). It is telling that in a survey of GPs carried out in 2009, 68% stated it would be helpful for their patients to learn Mindfulness meditation, and 64% stated they themselves would find it helpful to take a Mindfulness course (1).
Evidence for Mindfulness as an Alternative to Medicine
A public opinion poll in 2009 showed that 81% of people believe the fast pace of life is a major cause of stress, unhappiness and illness in the UK today. Interestingly, 75% of GPs admit to prescribing anti-depressants to patients despite believing an alternative approach might be more appropriate. Evidence for Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) suggests that it is the alternative the medical community has been looking for. Studies of patients with recurrent depression, but not currently depressed, frequently report that those taking MBCT were around half as likely to relapse than those taking anti-depressants alone (4). In fact, research suggests that MBCT is as effective as anti-depressants alone at preventing relapse, but with the added benefit of improving quality of life (5).
Evidence for Mindfulness for Physically Altering the Brain
Mindfulness is such a powerful tool that it can even physically alter the properties of the brain. The traditional view of personal characteristics such as positivity was that they were fixed, but those who practice Mindfulness show increased thickness in areas of the brain associated with certain personality traits (6, 3). Areas such as the right prefrontal cortex and right anterior insula, which are associated with decision-making and attention, show increased thickness in Mindfulness meditators compared to non-meditators (7). Similarly, the left pre-frontal cortex, which is associated with positive emotions, shows greater activation in those taking Mindfulness training whilst being much less active in depressed people (8).
In conclusion, the evidence suggests Mindfulness to be a powerful and effective tool at helping with stress, anxiety and depression. It comes with the added benefits that anyone can learn Mindfulness practices, they can be practiced at any time or place and encourages all of us to look after our own wellbeing.
- Gorman, F. (2010). Mindfulness Report. www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/be-mindful-report
- Brefczynski-Lewis, J. A., Lutz, A., Schaefer, H. S., Levinson, D. B. & Davidson, R. J. 2007. Neural correlates of attentional expertise in long-term meditation practitioners. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 104, 11483-8
- Teasdale JD, Segal ZV, Williams JMG et al. (2000). Prevention of relapse/recurrence in major depression by mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 68 615–623
- Kuyken W, Byford S, Taylor RS et al. (2008). Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy to prevent relapse in recurrent depression. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 76 (6) 966─978
- Costa, P.T., & McCrae, R.R. (1980). Influences of extroversion and neuroticism on subjective well-being: Happy and unhappy people. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 38, 668-675
- Lazar SW, Kerr CE, Wasserman RH et a.l (2005). Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness. Neuroreport 16 (17) 1893─1897
- Davidson RJ, Kabat-Zinn J, Schumacher J et al. (2003). Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation. Psychosomatic Medicine 65 564─570