Meditation Shown to Lower Stress Hormone Levels

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, 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.

Time Magazine Interviews Jon Kabat-Zinn

He started meditating in 1966 at age 22, and founded the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center 35 years ago. Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the new book “Mindfulness for Beginners,” is also an MIT-trained molecular biologist. He recently talked to Time Magazine about meditation, its benefits and more.

“Mindfulness is often spoken of as the heart of Buddhist meditation,” Kabat-Zinn said in the article. “It’s not about Buddhism, but about paying attention. That’s what all meditation is, no matter what tradition or particular technique is used.”

He spoke about Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and bringing the technique to medical patients in the form of an eight-week course.

“Recent studies from Massachusetts General Hospital have shown that eight weeks of MBSR can actually produce thickening in particular regions of the brain important for learning, memory, executive decision-making and perspective-taking: all important functions to have at optimal levels when you are under stress or experiencing pain,” Kabat-Zinn said in the article. “Also, certain regions get thinner like the amygdala, which involves threat and fear circuitry. If the amygdala is getting thinner after you’ve been practicing mindfulness for only eight weeks, I find that pretty amazing.”

For the full interview, visit Time Magazine.