Ask meditation devotees and they will tell you with conviction that their meditative practice brings about positive change within them. There is a lot of research that supports these experiences; whether it be a more positive mood after meditating, a more relaxed or focused cognitive state, or increased connection with others, the practice would not have continued for thousands of years if positive outcomes of meditating weren’t commonly experienced. That said, it was not until recently that we could explore the underlying biological mechanisms associated with the emotional and cognitive changes experienced after meditating.
One randomized, controlled study looked at the effects of an 8-week mindfulness meditation program on brain and immune function of healthy adults.They investigated electrical activity in the brain before and immediately after, and then at a follow-up 4 months after completing the meditation training program in both program participants and the non-meditating control group of participants. In addition to measuring brain activation, the researchers also investigated immune function. After the training, subjects in both groups were given an influenza vaccine. The researchers found differences between the meditators and non-meditators in terms of both brain activity and antibody titers to influenza vaccine. There was increases of activity in the left anterior region, which is associated with positive affect. Interestingly, the amount of left‐sided activation increase could predict the amount of antibody titer rise. Thus, science supports what practitioners of meditation have known all along and shows some of what is happening both inside of our brain and our bodies.
This post relates to a previous post featuring more recent neuroimaging studies investigating meditation. As we continue to review studies investigating this, we will update this post or devote new posts to this topic.