Just a single one-hour session of mindfulness meditation can offer psychological and cardiovascular benefits to adults with mild to moderate anxiety, according to a new study by researchers at Michigan Technological University.
Although there is growing scientific evidence that meditation over the course of several weeks reduces anxiety, there has been little comprehensive research on the benefits of a single meditation session.
In the new study, the researchers wanted to investigate the effects of acute mindfulness on cognition and the cardiovascular system in 14 study participants. Their findings, presented at the 2018 Experimental Biology Meeting in San Diego, may help improve how anti-anxiety therapies and interventions are designed.
The research team found that 60 minutes after meditating, the participants showed lower resting heart rates and reduction in aortic pulsatile load, the amount of change in blood pressure between diastole and systole of each heartbeat multiplied by heart rate.
In addition, shortly after meditating, and even one week later, the participants reported that their anxiety levels were lower than pre-meditation levels.
“Even a single hour of meditation appears to reduce anxiety and some of the markers for cardiovascular risk,” said Dr. John Durocher, assistant professor of biological sciences at Michigan Technological University.
Durocher said the study hinged on a research design proposed by recent graduate Hannah Marti.
At an orientation session, the participants’ anxiety levels were measured using the Beck Anxiety Inventory (BAI). They also underwent cardiovascular testing which included heart rate variability, resting blood pressure and pulse wave analysis.
Next, they attended a meditation session which included repetition of the cardiovascular testing plus the mindfulness meditation: 20 minutes introductory meditation, 30 minutes body scan and 10 minutes self-guided meditation.
They repeated the cardiovascular measurements immediately following meditation and 60 minutes after. They underwent a post-meditation anxiety test one week later.
During a body scan, the participant is asked to focus intensely on one part of the body at a time, beginning with the toes. By focusing on individual parts of the body, a person can train his or her mind to pivot from detailed attention to a wider awareness from one moment to the next.
“The point of a body scan is that if you can focus on one single part of your body, just your big toe, it can make it much easier for you to deal with something stressful in your life. You can learn to focus on one part of it rather than stressing about everything else in your life,” Marti said.
One participant in the study commented that following the session they were the least stressed they’d been in a decade.
Durocher and Marti conducted the study with Brigitte Morin, a lecturer in biological science, and graduate student Travis Wakeham.