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 in America and leader of the study, said: “A lot of people use meditation, but it’s not a practice considered part of mainstream medical therapy for anything.
“But in our study, meditation appeared to provide as much relief from some anxiety and depression symptoms as what other studies have found from antidepressants” The researchers evaluated the degree to which symptoms changed in people who had a variety of medical conditions, such as insomnia or fibromyalgia, although only a minority had been diagnosed with a mental illness.
Goyal and his colleagues found that so-called “mindfulness meditation” — a form of Buddhist self-awareness designed to focus precise, nonjudgmental attention to the moment at hand — also showed promise in alleviating some pain symptoms as well as stress. The findings held even as the researchers controlled for the possibility of the placebo effect.
To conduct their review, the investigators focused on 47 clinical trials performed through June 2013 among 3,515 participants that involved meditation and various mental and physical health issues, including depression, anxiety, stress, insomnia, substance use, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and chronic pain. They found moderate evidence of improvement in symptoms of anxiety, depression and pain after participants underwent what was typically an eight-week training program in mindfulness meditation.
They discovered low evidence of improvement in stress and quality of life. There was not enough information to determine whether other areas could be improved by meditation. In the studies that followed participants for six months, the improvements typically continued. Goya said: “A lot of people have this idea that meditation means sitting down and doing nothing 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.” Mindfulness meditation, the type that showed the most promise, is typically practiced for 30 to 40 minutes a day. It emphasises acceptance of feelings and thoughts without judgment and relaxation of body and mind. The research was supported by a contract from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.