New research from the Shamantha Project at the University of California, Davis – a long-term, control-group study on the effects of meditation training on the mind and body – shows focusing on the present moment rather then letting the mind drift may help lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, ScienceCodex.com reported.
“This is the first study to show a direct relation between resting cortisol and scores on any type of mindfulness scale,” said Tonya Jacobs, a postdoctoral researcher at the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain, and the first author of a paper describing the work published in the journal Health Psychology.
High levels of cortisol, which is a hormone produced by the adrenal gland, is associated with physical and emotional stress, and prolonged release of the hormone contributes to a host of adverse effects on physiological systems, according to the report.
Researchers used a questionnaire to measure aspects of mindfulness among a group of volunteers before and after intensive, three-month meditation retreat, and they also measured cortisol levels in the volunteer’s saliva, the report stated.
During the retreat, researchers trained participants in mindfulness breathing, observing mental events, and observing the nature of consciousness by Buddhist teacher B. Alan Wallace of Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies. They also practiced loving kindness, compassion, empathetic joy and equanimity.
There was a correlation between a high score for mindfulness and a low score in cortisol before and after the retreat, and those whose mindfulness score increased, also showed a decrease in cortisol.
Training the mind to focus on immediate experience may reduce the propensity to ruminate about the past and worry about the future – thought processes that have been linked to cortisol release, said Jacobs.