Written by Angela Silva
Meditation is an age-old practice with too many supposed benefits to count. It is most frequently associated with stress management, but has also been said to help manage symptoms of depression, asthma, pain and even cancer. The most common form of meditation is called mindful meditation, which is a relaxation practice during which the individual clears the mind and focuses on the present. You won’t have to go far to find very strong supporters of meditation or hear miraculous stories of lives changed from the practice. But does meditation really offer all of these benefits that we hear about?
A team of researchers from Johns Hopkins University wanted to find out. They took a close look at 47 different studies on the effects of meditation to see how strong the results were. They found that only 3 percent of those studies were conducted in a way that could even yield valid results. Overall, they concluded that only moderate evidence exists that mindfulness meditation eases pain, anxiety and depression. They did not have enough data from the studies to make any conclusions about the other claims of mindfulness meditation, such as that it improves mood, or to explore other forms of meditation besides mindfulness meditation.
“In our study, meditation appeared to provide as much relief from some anxiety and depression symptoms as what other studies have found from antidepressants,” says Madhav Goyal, M.D., M.P.H., an assistant professor in the Division of General Internal Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and leader of a study.
So what does this tell us about meditation? Millennia of meditation practice suggest there’s something to be gained from it. The results of those studies don’t show that meditation is overrated; they show that it’s underfunded and underinvested. Western medicine is focused on scientifically-proven, cause-and-effect remedies that can stand the test of time. Less attention is given to the mind-body connection and how our own minds and focused efforts can produce actual health benefits.
“A lot of people have this idea that meditation means sitting down and doing nothing,” Goyal said in a press release. “But that’s not true. Meditation is an active training of the mind to increase awareness, and different meditation programs approach this in different ways.”
In response to the results of the mentioned study, professor of medicine at Harvard University Allan Goroll said he hopes that research will start focusing on “therapies both conventional and unconventional so we can find out what works.”
When all is said and done, the purported benefits of meditation should not be ignored. Regardless of what current and future scientific research may say, meditation may be a very good option for those who are looking for alternative methods to manage stress, anxiety, depression, pain, sleep, or even chronic diseases. Or if you are just looking for some silence and peace amidst the constant busyness of life, meditation may be just what you need. Scientifically measurable or not, sometimes a peaceful break from our regular life is just the medicine we need to keep going.
“We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and private: and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.”