A new review provides convincing evidence that specific types of “mindfulness practices” have benefits for patients with certain physical and mental health problems.
Dr William R. Marchand of the George E. Wahlen Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the University of Utah in Salt Lake City reviewed published studies and evaluated the health benefits of mindfulness-based practices.
“An extensive review of therapies that include meditation as a key component — referred to as mindfulness-based practices — shows convincing evidence that such interventions are effective in the treatment of psychiatric symptoms and pain, when used in combination with more conventional therapies,” says Marchand.
His study is published in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice.
As part of the research, Marchand reviewed published studies evaluating the health benefits of mindfulness-based practices.
Mindfulness has been described as “the practice of learning to focus attention on moment-by-moment experience with an attitude of curiosity, openness, and acceptance.”
Experts often say that “Practicing mindfulness is simply experiencing the present moment, without trying to change anything.”
Researchers assessed three popular techniques:
- Zen meditation, a Buddhist spiritual practice that involves the practice of developing mindfulness by meditation, typically focusing on awareness of breathing patterns.
- Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), a secular method of using Buddhist mindfulness, combining meditation with elements of yoga and education about stress and coping strategies.
- Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), which combines MBSR with principles of cognitive therapy (for example, recognizing and disengaging from negative thoughts) to prevent relapse of depression.
Investigators discovered evidence that MBSR and MBCT can help to relieve general psychological distress and mitigate depression and anxiety. Specifically, an evidence based assessment approach “strongly recommends” MBCT as an addition to conventional treatments (adjunctive treatment) for unipolar depression.
Researchers also discovered that both MBSR and MBCT are effective adjunctive treatments for anxiety.
Investigators say the findings also support the effectiveness of MBSR to help reduce stress and promote general psychological health in patients with various medical or psychiatric illnesses.
On its own, MBSR was helpful in managing stress and promoting general psychological health in healthy people. There was also evidence that Zen meditation and MBSR were useful adjunctive treatments for pain management.
Although the precise methods by which the mindfulness techniques help physical and mental health are currently unknown, researchers believe brains scans and emerging technology will provide evidence in the near future.
“These mindfulness practices show considerable promise and the available evidence indicates their use is currently warranted in a variety of clinical situations,” says Marchand.
Although there is currently little evidence on which patients would be most likely to benefit from the technique, Marchand suggests that patient preferences and enthusiasm are a good guide.
He comments, “The most important considerations may be desire to try a mindfulness-based practice and willingness to engage in the regular practice of seated meditation.”
Source: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins