In the coming weeks I will be writing quite a lot about mindfulness meditation in this blog. The reason being? A rapidly growing pile of research from prestigious universities, such as Harvard and UCLA, are finding that mindfulness meditation is helpful for treating a variety of problems like anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and eating disorders. Mindfulness meditation has also been shown to improve cognitive functioning in older adults and to slow the natural thinning of the cortex. Not that it is a magic bullet that cures everything. Still, it is no wonder mindfulness meditation is called the “Third Wave” in psychotherapy.
Last July a study came out of Carnegie-Mellon University that caused quite a stir and a good deal of traffic on the Internet. J. David Creswell and his team of researchers presented evidence that mindfulness meditation can reduce loneliness in older adults. Forty healthy adults between the ages of 55 and 85 participated in the study. Half were randomly assigned to an eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program and the other half received no treatment.
Those who were assigned to the mindfulness program attended two-hour weekly meetings during which they learned body awareness techniques (like paying attention to one’s breath) and practiced mindfulness meditation exercises for 30 minutes a day at home. They also participated in a daylong retreat at some point in the program.
The two groups were compared after the eight week program was over. The older adults in the mindfulness meditation program decreased their level of loneliness compared to the control group. Moreover, blood tests showed that the meditation group had “reduced…pro-inflammatory gene expression,” meaning they may have reduced their susceptibility to inflammatory diseases.
Why might mindfulness meditation help older adults to feel less lonely? An older adult (or a younger adult, for that matter) might fall into the trap of ruminating (obsessing) about being alone. Mindfulness meditation is a highly effective way to reduce ruminating by shifting one’s attention away from unproductive thoughts to more pleasant and tranquil here and now sensations like breathing or feeling your bare feet on a cool floor. This seems to be the “secret sauce” in mindfulness meditation practices that provides the most benefit.