So-called “mindful mediation” that focuses on the present rather than letting the mind drift may help to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which has been linked to a variety of physical and mental health problems, a new study suggests.
Researchers with the Shamatha Project at the University of California-Davis, found that a group of volunteers who participated in an intensive, three-month meditation retreat were able to lower their levels of cortisol, measured in samples of the participants’ saliva.
"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 who helped conduct the study, published in the journal Health Psychology.
"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.
High levels of cortisol, a hormone produced by the adrenal gland, are associated with physical or emotional stress. Prolonged release of the hormone can have serious adverse effects on a number of physiological systems, Jacobs noted.
The new findings are the latest to come from the Shamatha Project, a long-term study of the effects of meditation training on mind and body.
According to Jacobs, training the mind to focus on immediate experience may reduce the tendency to ruminate about stress-inducing past experiences or worry about the future.
"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."
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