Specific types of "mindfulness practices" including Zen meditation have research-proven benefits for patients with certain physical and mental health problems, according to a report in the July Journal of Psychiatric Practice.
"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," according to Dr William R. Marchand of the George E. Wahlen Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.
Mindfulness Techniques Show Health Benefits
Dr 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." Put another way, "Practicing mindfulness is simply experiencing the present moment, without trying to change anything."
The review focused on three 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.
Dr Marchand found evidence that MBSR and MBCT have "broad-spectrum" effects against depression and anxiety and can also decrease general psychological distress. Based on the evidence, MBCT can be "strongly recommended" as an addition to conventional treatments (adjunctive treatment) for unipolar depression. Both MBSR and MBCT were effective adjunctive treatments for anxiety.
Research data also supported the effectiveness of MBSR to help reduce stress and promote general psychological health in patients with various medical and/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.
How do these practices work to affect mental and physical health? Dr Marchand discusses recent research showing the impact of mindfulness practices on brain function and structure, which may in part account for their psychological benefits. "These mindfulness practices show considerable promise and the available evidence indicates their use is currently warranted in a variety of clinical situations," he concludes.
The article includes some proposed evidence-based guidelines for incorporating mindfulness-based practices into health care. So far there's little evidence on which patients are most likely to benefit, but Dr 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."