But doctors have questioned whether this ancient Eastern practice really offers measurable health benefits. A fresh review of the evidence should help sort that out.
Meditation does help manage anxiety, depression and pain, according to the 47 studies analyzed in JAMA Internal Medicine on Monday, but does not appear to help with other problems, including substance abuse, sleep and weight.
“We have moderate confidence that mindfulness practices have a beneficial effect,” wrote the author of the paper, Dr. Madhav Goyal of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, in an email to Shots. He says the positive effects on anxiety, depression and pain can be modest, but are seen across multiple studies.
“It was surprising to see that with so little training [about 2.5 hours of meditation practice per week] we were still seeing consistent effects,” Goyal wrote.
One type of mindfulness training that was used in many of the research studies is calledMindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (or MBSR). It’s typically taught in eight sessions.
Think of it as Buddhist meditation “but without the Buddhism,” says Jon Kabat-Zinn, the father of MBSR. It’s completely secular.
The focus of mindfulness meditation is to train the brain to stay in the moment. To do this, practitioners are taught to let go of the regrets of the past as well as anxieties about the future.
This study reviewed earlier research that evaluated the effectiveness of meditation for managing a whole range of medical conditions — from breast cancer, irritable bowel syndrome and fibromyalgia to depression.
If you are sitting to meditate daily but are not practicing staying in the moment, you aren’t getting the same benefit.
I’m still using the iPhone app Equanimity to track my progress. It has nice chimes and timer options, a journal, and a chart of your progress. My goal is to meditate daily for a year. So far so good. Nine straight days! Woo!