A new study adds to a growing body of evidence that mindfulness meditation could be the elixir to the ailments of modern life. The latest study finds that focusing on the present -- or being mindful -- can lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
"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 University of California Davis Center for Mind and Brain. Findings were published this week online in the journal Health Psychology.
The new study is the latest to come from the Shamatha Project, a comprehensive controlled study of the effects of meditation training on mind and body. The project has drawn the attention of both scientists and Buddhist scholars including the Dalai Lama, who has endorsed the project.
In the new study, the team used a questionnaire to measure aspects of mindfulness among a group of 57 volunteers before and after an intensive, three-month meditation retreat. They also measured cortisol levels in the volunteers' saliva.
At the retreat, the participants learned mindfulness skills such as breathing techniques and "observing the nature of consciousness," the researchers explained. Individuals who scored high on the mindfulness questionnaire also had low levels in cortisol, both before and after the retreat. Subjects whose mindfulness score increased after the retreat also showed a decrease in cortisol.
Another recent study published in the journal Brain, Behavior & Immunity in 2012 finds that mindfulness meditation can help older adults battle feelings of loneliness while also boosting health. A prior study also found that mindfulness meditation, along with moderate exercise, was linked to a reduction in the severity of colds and flu during winter.
Access the study: http://psycnet.apa.org/index.cfm?fa=buy.optionToBuy&id=2013-09641-001