Why meditate? A summary of the research

Meditation enhances brain functioning: 2

  • Greater activity in left pre-frontal cortex (seat of positive emotions, happiness), reduced activity in right pre-frontal cortex (seat of negative emotions, anxiety).

  • Produces high amplitude gamma wave synchrony (= expanded awareness, alertness, insight)

  • Improves learning and intellectual capacities Meditation enhances psychological functioning:3

  • Increases production of endorphins, decreases stress hormones (cortisol, adrenalin)

  • Helpful in easing trauma (military vets)

  • Decreases aggression, hostility, and recidivism in prisoners

  • Helpful in alleviating depression

  • Helpful in treatment of eating disorders

  • Helpful in obsessive-compulsive disorders

  • Gratitude meditations and journaling contribute to overall sense of happiness

Meditation enhances bodily health:4

  • Helpful in recovery from cancer

  • Helpful in dealing with chronic pain

  • Helpful in recovery from psoriasis

  • Helpful in weight loss and fitness

  • Helpful in alleviating heart problems

Meditation improves work performance:5

  • Less absenteeism

  • Greater cooperation, collaboration

  • More focused attention on tasks with increased effectiveness

  • Increased job satisfaction

1 Summary developed by Dr. Fran Grace, Dept of Religious Studies, University of Redlands

2 Sharon Begley, Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain, Ballantine Books, 2007;Lisa Takeuchi Cullen, "How to Get Smarter, One Breath at a Time," TIME, (Jan 16, 2006), p. 93; Angie Green, "A space where students can nurture their minds, spirits: Meditation centers…," Los Angeles Times, (May 5, 2007), B2. Sarah Lazar, et al. "Functional Brain Mapping of the Relaxation Response and Meditation," NeuroReport (15 May 2000): 1-5; A. Lutz, et al. "Long term meditators self-induce high amplitude gamma synchrony during mental practice," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, (2004), 101: 16369-73; Andrew Newberg, et al. Why God Won't Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief, (Ballantine, 2001); James Austin. Zen and the Brain, (Cambridge: MIT, 1998); Jamie Talan, "Science of Meditation," Scientific American Mind, (Feb/Mar 2006), 40-43; Wolf Singer, Max Planck Institute for Brain Research, research presented at "The Science and Clinical Applications of Meditation: Dialogues in Washington D.C., 2005", hosted by the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Georgetown University, and the Mind and Life Institute, on link between meditation and the synchronization of oscillatory activity in cerebral cortex and gamma frequencies; Bruce O'Hara, research presented at Society for Neuroscience, Annual Meeting, Washington, D.C., 2005, reported in Alison Motluk, "Meditation builds up the brain," New Scientist, (Nov 15, 2005). O'Hara's study at University of Kentucky demonstrated that students' brain functioning is more enhanced by 40 minute of meditation than by napping, watching TV, reading, or talking. B. Allan Wallace, Attention Revolution: Unlocking the Power of the Focused Mind, Wisdom Publications, 2006. Meditation is shown to alleviate two main problems of attention: agitation and dullness.

3 Richard Davidson, "Towards a Biology of Positive Affect and Compassion," in Richard Davidson and Anne Harrington eds., Visions of Compassion, (Oxford University Press, 2002), 107-130; Ruth Baer. "Mindfulness Training as a Clinical Intervention: A Conceptual Review," Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice 10:2 (Summer 2003): 123-143; Kelly Griffith, "Inmates find freedom behind bars: Meditation helps participants find inner peace to cope with crises," Los Angeles Times, (April 22, 2007), p. A17; Emory University conducted study in 2005 in which students with depression, who agreed to do a compassion meditation regularly, showed alleviation of their symptoms and led to establishment of a Meditation Program for Preventive Health. http://tibet.emory.edu/research/index.html, retrieved October 2, 2007; study done by Zindel Segal at University of Toronto found that meditation prevented relapse of depression, reported in Katherine Ellison, "Mastering Your Own Mind, "Psychology Today, (Sept/Oct 2006); Jennifer Woods, "Study finds meditation may aid eating disorders," Science and Theology News, (May 2004), p. 15, which covers study done at Center for the Study of Health, Religion, and Spirituality, at Indiana State University, conducted by Jean Kristeller; Paul Ekman, Richard Davidson et al., "Achieving Enduring Happiness," Current Directions in Psychological Science, 2005; Nick Street, "Returning Soldiers Tap Meditation to overcome PTSD," Los Angeles Times, (July 12, 2007); for OCD, see UCLA neuropsychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz's research, reported in Begley, Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain, pp. 137-141.

4 Anna M. Tacon. "Meditation as a Complementary Therapy in Cancer," Family and Community Health 26:1 (Jan-March 2003), 64-74; Jon Kabat-Zinn, "Influence of mindfulness-based stress-reduction intervention on rates of skin clearing in patients with moderate to severe psoriasis undergoing phototherapy UVB and photochemotherapy PUVA," Psychosomatic Medicine (1998): 60: 625-632; DVD: "The Science and Clinical Applications of Meditation: Dialogues in Washington D.C., 2005", hosted by the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Georgetown University, and the Mind and Life Institute; Satish Sivasankaran, on heart research conducted at Yale Univ., "The effect of a six-week yoga and meditation program on endothelial function," presented at American Heart Assoc Scientific Sessions, New Orleans, 2004.

5 Lisa Takeuchi Cullen, "How to Get Smarter, One Breath at a Time," TIME, (Jan 16, 2006), p. 93, highlights Wall Street executive; Frederica Saylor, "Study: meditation has place in business," Science and Theology News, p. 16; Maia Duerr, director of Contemplative Net Project, found 135 companies offer contemplative practices to employees, with the positive effects observed.