Meditation: A self-directed practice for relaxing the body and calming the mind. Most meditative techniques have come to the West from Eastern religious practices, particularly India, China, and Japan, but can be found in all cultures of the world. Until recently, the primary purpose of meditation has been religious, although its health benefits have long been recognized. It is now being further explored as a way of reducing stress on both mind and body.

Research Spotlight

The databases often return hundreds of medical studies for a single wellness approach. This section summarizes a sampling of five studies – providing just a taste of the available research. These Spotlights were not selected because they are the most favorable or the most recent, but to provide you an introduction to the more extensive research you’ll uncover searching the four databases found in the “Research” section of this site.

  • A Week of Intense Meditation Caused Positive Changes to Immune System

    A 2022 University of Florida study found that meditation done at an intense level caused diverse positive changes in participants’ immune systems. The meditation experience studied was certainly intense: an 8-day retreat with 10-hour daily meditation sessions all conducted in silence. Those retreat participants saw robust activation of their immune systems, with positive changes in 220 immune-related genes–but without activating inflammatory signals.
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  • 6 Months of Meditation Training Significantly Reduces Cortisol Secretion and Systemic Stress

    A 2021 study from Germany’s Max Planck Institute showed that daily meditation training for 3 to 6 months significantly reduces the long-term stress load of healthy adults. The study was unique for measuring the levels of cortisone (the cortisol–stress hormone–accumulation in hair)–and found that after 6 months, the amount of cortisol in participants’ hair dropped 25%. The study also provides evidence that the typical 8-week training period of Western mindfulness-based stress reduction programs need to be longer.  
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  • “Spiritual Fitness” Reduces Alzheimer’s Risk

    A 2021 review of studies in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that “spiritual fitness,” a new concept in medicine interweaving psychological and spiritual wellbeing, reduces multiple risk factors for Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). Individuals with high scores on a “purpose in life” (PIL) were 2.4 times more likely to remain free of AD than individuals with low PIL—and Kirtan Kriya, a 12-minute meditative practice, has great potential in reducing AD risk factors.
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  • With Meditation, the Instructor and Group Outweigh Amount or Type Practiced

    An interesting new study from Brown University dispels any myth that positive outcomes from mindfulness-based meditation come exclusively from the practice because the more active ingredient seems to be the social factor of the instructor and the group. It’s one of the first studies to look at the role of relationships in meditation programs, and the person-to-person factors led to a more positive impact on depression and anxiety than the amount or type of meditation practiced. The researchers noted that it leads to questions about meditation programs offered via apps.
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  • Meditation Associated with Powerful Heart Benefits
    A large, 2020 observational study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that meditating was associated with a 35% lower risk of high cholesterol, a 14% lower risk of high blood pressure, a 30% lower risk of diabetes, a 24% lower risk of stroke, and a 49% lower risk of coronary artery disease.
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  • Daily Meditation Reduces Anxiety & Boosts Cognitive Function in 8 Weeks
    A 2020 study from NYU split people who hadn’t meditated before into two groups: One did 13 minutes of daily guided meditation, and the other listened to a 13-minute podcast. At four weeks, there was no significant difference between the groups, but eight weeks was a different story: The meditators saw significantly decreased anxiety, negative mood and fatigue—and improved memory and attention. 
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  • Mind-Body Interventions, Including Meditation, Reduce Pain & Opioid Doses
    A large 2019 meta-review of 60 clinical trials (6,400 participants) showed that mind-body approaches, such as meditation, guided imagery, hypnosis and cognitive behavioral therapy, improved pain in people who have been taking prescription opioids and led to reductions in drug dosage. 
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  • 15 Minutes of Meditation Showed Similar Effects as a Day of Vacation
    Meditation and vacations appear to have overlapping effects. A small study from the University of Groningen (Netherlands) found that 15 minutes of meditation led to similar emotional states as a day of vacation: low levels of negative emotions like irritation and high levels of positive emotions like gratitude.
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  • The Biologic & Genetic impact of a Meditation Retreat vs. a Resort Vacation
    A small study (2016) from Mount Sinai, the University of California, San Francisco, and Harvard Medical School measured the “resort vacation effect” compared with the “meditation effect.” Studying female participants over a 6-day stay at the Chopra Center for Wellbeing, half experienced a regular resort vacation there, while half also did a daily meditation program. Findings: both groups showed significant, immediate changes in genetic expression associated with stress and immune pathways – while the meditation retreat, for those who already meditated regularly, was also associated with antiviral activity. And the molecular signature of long-term meditators was distinct from the non-meditating vacationers. 
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  • Meditation Program Lowered Anxiety, Stress & Cortisol Levels in Elementary School Children 
    A small South Korean study (2016) showed that 8 weeks of a school-based meditation program (using mind subtraction meditation) led to significantly lower depression, social anxiety, stress and salivary cortisol levels in elementary school children. 
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  • Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy Powerful at Reducing Relapses of Depression 
    An Oxford University meta-analysis of nine randomized trials in Europe and North America (2016) found that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MCBT) was more effective at reducing relapses of depression (over a 60-week follow-up period) than maintenance antidepressant medication. Also, mindfulness therapy was found to be especially effective for people with more severe depressive symptoms. Access this study on mindfulness
  • Mindfulness Outperformed Usual Care/Painkillers for Chronic Lower Back Pain
    A randomized clinical trial (year 2016 – 342 adults) from University of Washington, Seattle researchers found that Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (8 weeks of once-a-week training in mindfulness meditation and yoga) resulted in significantly greater improvement in back pain and functional limitations at 26 weeks than usual care (prescription opioids, etc.). 44% of participants doing the meditation/yoga training reported meaningful pain reduction vs. 27% of those undergoing usual care/prescription painkillers, etc. Access this study on meditation & mindfulness
  • Mindfulness Meditation Changes Both Brain and Body
    For the first time, a study (from Carnegie Mellon University, 2016) showed that mindfulness meditation, unlike a placebo, changes both the brains and bodies of regular people (not just long-time meditators). The study indicated that a few days of meditation increased activity in the parts of the brain that process stress-related reactions and other areas related to focus and calm. And the trial meditators also saw much lower levels of unhealthy inflammation markers in their blood – even months later.
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  • Johns Hopkins Meta-Review: Meditation Can Lead to Moderate Reduction in Anxiety, Deprression
    A 2014 Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine meta-review (47 clinical trials, 3,515 subjects) found that an eight-week mindfulness meditation program led to a moderate improvement in anxiety, depression and pain for participants – and in studies that tracked people for six months, improvements continued. But they discovered low evidence of improvement in stress and quality of life, and argued there was too little clinical info to determine meditation’s impact on insomnia, substance use, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. 
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  • Harvard: Meditation May Have Important Health Implications
    A Harvard Medical School study (2013, 52 subjects) used advanced genomic testing to analyze transcriptional changes that happened during Relaxation Response (RR) practice (including mindfulness meditation) – for both RR veterans and novices. The complex findings include that just one session of RR/mindfulness meditation caused rapid, enhanced expression of genes associated with energy metabolism, mitochondrial function, insulin secretion and telomere maintenance, and reduced expression of genes linked to inflammatory response and stress-related pathways. The researchers concluded that RR/mindfulness practice, by promoting “mitochondrial resiliency,” may have diverse, important health implications. 
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