What is the Science behind Mindful Meditation?

In the late 1970’s Jon Kabat-Zinn whilst teaching at the University of Massachusetts Medical Centre first applied the basic principles of mindful meditation to his patients in a medical setting.  This work led to the development of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program.  The program proved effective in alleviating the suffering of medical conditions such as chronic pain.  At the same time he was also collaborating with Richard Davidson, from the University of Wisconsin, in the field of neuroscience.Romantic abstract background

The studies done under the MBSR program showed that the way that people intentionally shape their internal focus when practicing mindfulness induces a certain state of brain activation during the practice.  And that with repetition that the state in the brain can become a trait of the person which is reflected in long-term changes in the brain functions and structure.  Changes to the brain in response to experience are known as neuroplasticity.

The first area that changes in the brain is in a ‘left-shift’ in which the left frontal activity of the brain is enhanced.  This change in the electrical brain function is suggested to have been created by the application of moving towards, as opposed to moving away from, a challenging external situation or internal feeling, thought or memory.  And this forms the basis of neural resilience in the brain.

The degree of the ‘left-shift’ has also been linked proportionately to the improvements in the body’s immune function.  So not only has the mind found resilience but the body is then able to fight infection through mindfulness.

There are also mindfulness studies that have revealed that people feel an internal sense of stability and clarity which has enabled them to improve their attentional problems, personality disorders and depression.  And that this has helped them to differentiate between different streams of awareness in their lives.  By discerning different thoughts, emotions and behaviours more easily, they are able to distance themselves and see things more clearly and feel more stable.