LivingMindfulness: what does the science say?

Mindfulness: what does the science say?


There are people who think that “practicing mindfulness”, whatever that is, can completely change the meaning of their life. Of course, there should be some rational thought, logic, or science behind this fundamental change. So it is time to seriously explore this question and analyze what the science says about mindfulness , can it really be beneficial or is it pure quackery?

Introduction to Mindfulness

The literal definition of mindfulness suggests that it is a fundamental human ability to be present in the present moment , to be aware of what is happening, not to overreact, and not be overwhelmed by anything that is happening around you. However, scientists have been researching mindfulness for many years to learn the real science behind it.

Contrary to what many might think, there are some very interesting studies regarding the claims of mindfulness. For example, some studies argue that practicing mindfulness has the ability to reduce clinical depression and anxiety, help manage pain, and ease insomnia. The benefits do not end here, since mindfulness also promises to help us abandon addictions and build healthy habits. There are also studies that suggest it can help lower blood pressure. And all this for the modest price of practicing mindfulness for about 8 weeks. With claims like these, it is understandable that scientists around the world decided to get down to business and study what mindfulness can really do for us.

what is meditation

When designing a study to reach a reliable conclusion that proves or disproves a hypothesis, the terms must be well defined. In this regard, most studies that have defined meditation have done so closer to the idea of a state of attention, rather than the opposite (which is usually related to the concept of “flow”). Thus, a strong connection is established between meditation and mindfulness.

Interestingly, when people meditate, they are more likely to venture positive thoughts, working with their minds, emotions, and sensations. Some studies state that mindfulness meditation gives a human being the ability to observe nature and the environment, observe oneself and live in the moment, which ultimately leads to peaceful thoughts, kindness and warmth. However, there is a lot of controversy among psychologists, neuroscientists, and scientists from other fields about being able to draw a definitive conclusion about mindfulness meditation and its positive effect on well-being.

Fundamental Sciences

In 1982, studies related to mindfulness meditation were coming out of a stress reduction clinic by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn at the UMass Medical Center. More than 25,000 people became part of Mindfulness -Based Stress Reduction, striving to understand the answer to pain, stress, and even chronic illness. Dr. Zinn applied the fundamental rules of mindfulness meditation to patients in a full medical setting to test their effectiveness. He came to know that people with chronic pain find relief from their suffering . This is how he began to progress with research in the field of neuroscience by Richard Davidson. Ultimately, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction achieved a gold standard for research and studies in mindfulness-based interventions.

What does science say?

We need to be clear, there are all kinds of biases in mindfulness studies. Part of the problem is that not all early studies are well designed . Many fail to compare mindfulness interventions with proper controls, making it difficult to distinguish benefits from a placebo effect . Another challenge is that we still don’t have a good scientific definition of what mindfulness really is, or rigorous ways of measuring how mindful people are.

Below we explore the main claims about the benefits of mindfulness practice:

  • Protect aging and stress.
    Brain matter are the regions of the brain that control sensory perception and muscle control. As you may know, this brain matter tends to decrease with age. Earlier findings from 2017 suggest that people ages 55 to 75 can increase breathing, attention, clarity of thought, and brain function by practicing mindfulness meditation for at least 8 weeks. The research shows that after performing a Stroop test, they have observed more activation in the brain area that is associated with attention. This test looks at emotional control and attention while monitoring the brain using electroencephalography. These earlier findings show that mindfulness can reduce stress and improve brain processing and function. It also helps improve attention and reduce cognitive decline.
  • Improves sleep patterns.
    Studies suggest that people with chronic insomnia who learned mindfulness-based stress reduction experienced a positive impact on sleep patterns, sometimes achieving a large reduction in insomnia severity.
  • There is no significant impact on physical health.
    It is true that, be that as it may, and in the absence of better grading the impact , mindfulness seems to be healthy for mental health, by reducing stress and depression . However, it has nothing to do with physical health , as it is not an alternative to other established therapies and disease treatments .

Therefore, there is no significant evidence that physical health is improved through meditation.

On the other hand, it is true that there are some recent meta-analyses, in which data from multiple trials are combined to try to eliminate variations, which conclude that mindfulness meditation has benefits, including small improvements in executive function : the ability to to control and monitor behavior when trying to complete a task, or reach a goal. There was also some evidence of improvements in care. Another analysis of 136 trials including more than 11,000 participants, published in January, found that mindfulness-based interventions are generally helpful for anxiety, distress, and negative mood, with small to moderate effects , but little memory-enhancing effect.

In general, the research consensus is that the effects of mindfulness meditation, while often helpful, are not necessarily greater than those of other proven treatments. We also know that while some people reap considerable benefits, there is a lot of variation in how people respond , for reasons we don’t yet fully understand.

An analysis in 2014 has published that meditation programs help reduce anxiety and depression from a small to moderate level. Also, many findings lack clear evidence that meditation programs have an impact on feelings or mood. This demonstrates the constant debate and discussion about the benefits of mindfulness.

Some authors have stated that meditation programs are not as helpful as other active treatments, including prescription drugs or exercise, in achieving the desired wellness outcome. Many recent findings have investigated that mindfulness-based stress reduction intervention has no significant influence on anxiety and depression levels among adolescents . This demonstrates the need to work and test targeted interventions, especially for the youngest. It is not just a better solution than other treatments or therapies for serious mental conditions, including bipolar disorders. However, many findings suggest that overall health and well-being are much better through mindfulness meditation. People who practice it are more likely to have a calm mind and a less stressful life than those who do not.

If finally the evidence continues to accumulate in favor of the benefits of mindfulness, perhaps the next question is even more interesting: why/how does it work?


Edwards, M. K., & Loprinzi, P. D. (2018). Comparative effects of meditation and exercise on physical and psychosocial health outcomes: a review of randomized controlled trials. Postgraduate medicine, 130(2), 222–228.

Garland, S. N., Zhou, E. S., Gonzalez, B. D., & Rodriguez, N. (2016). The Quest for Mindful Sleep: A Critical Synthesis of the Impact of Mindfulness-Based Interventions for Insomnia. Current sleep medicine reports, 2(3), 142–151.

Grecucci, A., Pappaianni, E., Siugzdaite, R., Theuninck, A., & Job, R. (2015). Mindful Emotion Regulation: Exploring the Neurocognitive Mechanisms behind Mindfulness. BioMed research international, 2015, 670724.

Kabat-Zinn J. (2017). Too Early to Tell: The Potential Impact and Challenges-Ethical and Otherwise-Inherent in the Mainstreaming of Dharma in an Increasingly Dystopian World. Mindfulness, 8(5), 1125–1135.

Marchant, J. (2021). The mindfulness revolution: A clear-headed look at the evidence. New Scientist.

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