The case for treating meditation more like medicineTo be fair, I’m not sure how I would have responded had my surgeon suggested I meditate before or after surgery to ease my anxiety or post-operative pain. My guess is, like many women, I would have been skeptical: what exactly did sitting in half-lotus pose or breathing deeply have to do with the tumor in my right breast? And why was a doctor— whose job and training and every measure of success is rooted in science and clinical outcomes— prescribing a spiritual or religious method of therapy?
But a new review study, published last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine, suggests that the ancient Eastern practice of mindful meditation can offer real help for patients with depression, anxiety, and pain. And researchers are increasingly demonstrating the measurable influence of meditation on the brain, proving that mindfulness programs can make us feel happier, have greater emotional resilience and take fewer sick days.
The problem? Many of us conflate meditation with yoga or other types of complimentary medicine, overestimate the time it takes to meditate effectively, and discount the neurological evidence that mindful focus improves brain functioning.
Dr. Madhav Goyal is a professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins, whose research focuses on the effects of meditation on chronic pain and stress, as well as low-cost means to improve health in rural India. As the lead author of the recent JAMA study, he reviewed 47 clinical trials involving more than 3500 participants with mild anxiety or depression, and found that those who practiced mindful mediation saw a 5-10% improvement in anxiety symptoms and a 10-20% reduction in depressive symptoms compared to placebo groups—on par with the effects other studies have shown for anti-depressants in similar populations. (MORE)