Living our best life requires an investment in our health. It requires a lifelong commitment to practices that keep the mind and body replenished and nourished for the increasing demands of this world. It is of great concern that The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that depression is to become the second leading cause of global disease by 2020.
As a doctor working in psychiatry for 10 years, I became concerned by the widespread medicalization of mental health. I am disheartened by the typical quick-fix treatments often recommended by the mental health system, often by way of prescribing anti-depressants to treat the symptoms. While this methodology can be life-saving, most people are not offered the option to develop their inner resources by understanding the underlying cause of their depression.
This concern led me to explore alternative modalities that could offer a non-pharmaceutical benefit to people experiencing depression and anxiety.
I discovered mindfulness meditation both as a way to better support my own health, but to help my patients flourish as well. The practice had transformative effects on my own life, and the research I discovered compelled me to teach those who came to me with their inner struggles.
Meditation practices were once shrouded in a mystical cloak of spirituality, as religious or New Age-y, but these days, mindfulness has been getting its fair share of attention as a pathway to greater happiness and well-being. It’s understandable that there are skeptics wary of what is starting to seem like more of a trend than a longterm solution, as mindfulness has become more of a buzzword than anything else.
But my work and research has shown that mindfulness not only benefits individuals, supporting greater emotional and physical well-being, but also has an impact on social activism on a global scale.
Here are five compelling scientific reasons why mindfulness is not just a fad, but will continue to revolutionize the wellness industry.
1. Enhanced immune function.
Dr. Richie Davidson, from the Center For Investigating Healthy Minds concluded in a study in 2003 that a short term mindfulness training program resulted in participants developing a stronger immune response when challenged with the flu injection. And a healthy immune system often results in optimal physical health, overall.
2. Parts of the brain correlated to positive emotion are activated.
Research has demonstrated that people who suffer from depression and negative mood states have more electrical brain activity on the right side of the brain, compared with those who have more a positive, resilient attitude in life.
There was a study that demonstrated that with regular mindfulness practices, the electrical brain activity shifted from right to left, “left-sided anterior activation,” indicating a transition to more positive emotional states. Simply put, meditation leads to greater happiness.
3. Growth in higher-functioning regions of the brain.
A study by Dr. Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist at Harvard University, revealed a correlation between regular mindfulness meditation and growth in the thickness of the pre-frontal cortex, a high-functioning area of the brain responsible for functions like focused attention and regulating the emotional responses. This research also suggested that meditation may impact reduce age related decline in brain structure.
4. Protection against age-related DNA damage.
A groundbreaking study by Elizabeth Blackburn, PhD explored the effects of mindfulness meditation on an enzyme in the body called telomerase, which functions to protect DNA from age and stress-related damage. Interestingly enough, telomerase was increased in the group of regular meditators, suggesting that meditation can protect the cells from age-related damage.
5. Overall mental health is improved.
A rigorous study by Teasdale and Segal revealed that mindfulness meditation could reduce the rate of relapse of depression by up to 44% in people who had suffered previous episodes. This effect was comparable with staying on a maintenance dose of anti-depressants.
All of this research points to the fact that mindfulness meditation may be a key tool in helping us to combat the WHO prediction and take back our happiness and well-being.