Mindfulness Meditation

A mental practice that involves being fully aware of one’s surroundings, one’s breath, and all of the sensations within one’s body. Whereas many of us have a tendency to live our lives on “autopilot,” mindfulness meditation involves experiencing life from moment to moment, without judgment or preconceived ideas. Research suggests that mindfulness meditation practices can help people manage stress and reduce anxiety, depression, blood pressure, symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, and insomnia.

Some studies also suggest that mindfulness meditation can help alleviate back pain and other forms of chronic pain. In one study, researchers evaluated and performed magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans on 15 healthy volunteers while inducing pain. For four days afterward, a certified instructor taught them mindfulness meditation in which they were taught to focus on a sensation, such as breath, while accepting transient thoughts. On the fifth day, the researchers scanned the volunteers again, both while meditating and not meditating, while inducing pain. The study showed a nearly 40 percent reduction in pain intensity during meditation compared with the periods of non-meditation. The MRIs suggested that the meditation activated areas of the brain involved in pain processing.

Want to learn more about ways to reduce stress? Read “Relax: Three Stress-Busting Methods” and “Managing Stress Before It Manages You.”

Robert S. Dinsmoor is a medical writer and editor based in Massachusetts.

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