Mindfulness from meditation associated with lower stress hormone

March 28, 2013
Mindfulness from meditation associated with lower stress hormone
The findings come from the Shamatha Project, a comprehensive long-term, control-group study of the effects of meditation training on mind and body.

(Medical Xpress)—Focusing on the present rather than letting the mind drift may help to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, suggests new research from the Shamatha Project at the University of California, Davis.

The ability to focus on immediate experience is an aspect of mindfulness, which can be improved by .

"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 first author of a paper describing the work, published this week in the journal Health Psychology.

High levels of cortisol, a hormone produced by the adrenal gland, are associated with physical or . Prolonged release of the hormone contributes to wide-ranging, adverse effects on a number of physiological systems.

The new findings are the latest to come from the Shamatha Project, a comprehensive long-term, control-group study of the effects of meditation training on mind and body.

Led by Clifford Saron, associate research scientist at the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain, the Shamatha Project has drawn the attention of both scientists and Buddhist scholars including the , who has endorsed the project.

In the new study, Jacobs, Saron and their colleagues used a questionnaire to measure aspects of mindfulness among a group of volunteers before and after an intensive, three-month meditation retreat. They also measured cortisol levels in the volunteers' saliva.

During the retreat, Buddhist scholar and teacher B. Alan Wallace of the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies trained participants in such attentional skills as mindfulness of breathing, observing mental events, and observing the nature of consciousness. Participants also practiced cultivating benevolent mental states, including loving kindness, compassion, empathic joy and equanimity.

At an individual level, there was a correlation between a high score for mindfulness and a low score in cortisol both before and after the retreat. Individuals whose mindfulness score increased after the retreat showed a decrease in cortisol.

"The more a person reported directing their cognitive resources to immediate sensory experience and the task at hand, the lower their resting cortisol," Jacobs said.

The research did not show a direct cause and effect, Jacobs emphasized. Indeed, she noted that the effect could run either way—reduced levels of cortisol could lead to improved mindfulness, rather than the other way around. Scores on the mindfulness questionnaire increased from pre- to post-retreat, while levels of cortisol did not change overall.

According to Jacobs, training the mind to focus on immediate experience may reduce the propensity to ruminate about the past or worry about the future, thought processes that have been linked to release.

"The idea that we can train our minds in a way that fosters healthy mental habits and that these habits may be reflected in mind-body relations is not new; it's been around for thousands of years across various cultures and ideologies," Jacobs said. "However, this idea is just beginning to be integrated into Western medicine as objective evidence accumulates. Hopefully, studies like this one will contribute to that effort."

Saron noted that in this study, the authors used the term "mindfulness" to refer to behaviors that are reflected in a particular mindfulness scale, which was the measure used in the study.

"The scale measured the participants' propensity to let go of distressing thoughts and attend to different sensory domains, daily tasks, and the current contents of their minds. However, this scale may only reflect a subset of qualities that comprise the greater quality of , as it is conceived across various contemplative traditions," he said.

Previous studies from the Shamatha Project have shown that the had positive effects on visual perception, sustained attention, socio-emotional well-being, resting brain activity and on the activity of telomerase, an enzyme important for the long-term health of body cells.

Explore further: Don't worry, be happy -- understanding mindfulness meditation

Related Stories

Don't worry, be happy -- understanding mindfulness meditation

October 31, 2011
In times of stress, we're often encouraged to pause for a moment and simply be in the 'now.' This kind of mindfulness, an essential part of Buddhist and Indian Yoga traditions, has entered the mainstream as people try to ...

Meditation technique enhances children's mental health

March 27, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—Teachers in schools across the globe are turning to a new philosophy to help improve the behaviour and well-being of students.

Yoga boosts stress-busting hormone, reduces pain

July 27, 2011
A new study by York University researchers finds that practicing yoga reduces the physical and psychological symptoms of chronic pain in women with fibromyalgia.

Better living through mindfulness: Study connects traits of mindfulness to emotional well-being

March 7, 2013
A new study from the University of Utah shows that individuals who describe themselves as being more mindful have more stable emotions and perceive themselves to have better control over their mood and behavior throughout ...

Recommended for you

Visual clues we use during walking and when we use them

July 25, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—A trio of researchers with the University of Texas and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has discovered which phase of visual information processing during human walking is used most to guide the feet accurately. ...

Psychopaths are better at learning to lie, say researchers

July 25, 2017
Individuals with high levels of psychopathic traits are better at learning to lie than individuals who show few psychopathic traits, according to a study published in the open access journal Translational Psychiatry. The ...

Toddlers begin learning rules of reading, writing at very early age, study finds

July 25, 2017
Even the proudest of parents may struggle to find some semblance of meaning behind the seemingly random mish-mash of letters that often emerge from a toddler's first scribbled and scrawled attempts at putting words on paper.

Higher cognitive abilities linked to greater risk of stereotyping

July 24, 2017
People with higher cognitive abilities are more likely to learn and apply social stereotypes, finds a new study. The results, stemming from a series of experiments, show that those with higher cognitive abilities also more ...

Exposure to violence hinders short-term memory, cognitive control

July 24, 2017
Being exposed to and actively remembering violent episodes—even those that happened up to a decade before—hinders short-term memory and cognitive control, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National ...

Researchers pave new path toward preventing obesity

July 24, 2017
People who experience unpredictable childhoods due to issues such as divorce, crime or frequent moves face a higher risk of becoming obese as adults, according to a new study by a Florida State University researcher.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.