8 Things to Know About Meditation and Mindfulness
Meditation has a history that goes back thousands of years, and many meditative techniques began in Eastern traditions. Some types of meditation involve keeping mental focus on a particular sensation or a repeated word or phrase. Others include the practice of mindfulness, which involves keeping attention or awareness on the present moment without making judgments.
Here are 8 things to know about what the science says about meditation and mindfulness for health:
Mindfulness-based practices may be helpful for anxiety and depression. They are better than no treatment at all, and they may work as well as established evidence-based therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy.
Studies that looked at the effects of meditation or mindfulness on pain have had mixed results. The evidence for a beneficial effect on chronic pain is better than the evidence for an effect on acute pain.
Mindfulness meditation practices may reduce insomnia and improve sleep quality. Their effects are comparable to those of cognitive behavioral therapy or exercise.
Meditation and mindfulness may reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In one study in veterans, meditation was as helpful as prolonged exposure therapy, a widely accepted treatment for PTSD.
Mindfulness-based practices may help people recover from substance use disorders. These practices have been used to help people increase their awareness of the thoughts and feelings that trigger cravings and learn ways to reduce their automatic reactions to cravings.
Mindfulness-based approaches may improve mental health in people with cancer. Most of the people studied have been women with breast cancer; effects might be different in other groups of people.
Studies have suggested possible benefits of meditation and mindfulness programs for losing weight and managing eating behaviors. Programs that combine formal meditation and mindfulness practices with informal mindfulness exercises seem especially promising.
Meditation and mindfulness practices are usually considered to have few risks, but some people do have negative experiences with these practices. In an analysis of studies on more than 6,000 people, about 8 percent of participants reported negative effects—most commonly, anxiety or depression—which is similar to the percentage reported for psychological therapies.