“Given the widespread belief that meditation practice is scientifically certified to be good for just about everything, the results of a recent major analysis of the research might come as some surprise…
(Question) As a scientist and as a Buddhist, what do you make of the AHRQ report? (Answer) The report sounds pretty fair. This review—and pretty much every one before it—has found that meditation isn’t any better than any other kind of therapy.
The important thing to understand about the report is that they were looking for active control groups, and they found that only 47 out of over 18,000 studies had them, which is pretty telling: it suggests that there are fewer than 50 high-quality studies on meditation.
(Question) Is the data better for some applications of meditation than others? (Answer) I have done very careful reviews of the efficacy of meditation in two areas in which there are high levels of popular misconception about how much data we have: sleep and education. The data for sleep, for example, is really not that strong. And the AHRQ article concurs: it judges the level of evidence for meditation’s ability to improve sleep as “insufficient.”
What I found from my study was that meditation made people’s brains more awake. From a very basic brain point of view, what happens in your brain when you fall asleep? The frontal cortex deactivates. Nobody agrees what meditation does to the brain, but across the board, one of the most common findings is that meditation increases blood flow and activity in the prefrontal cortex. So how is that going to improve sleep? It doesn’t make any sense. It is completely incompatible with sleeping if you are doing it right…This is a very interesting example of the confusion that arises in the confluence between modern secular and traditional Buddhist contexts. In the buddhadharma, meditation is never used to promote sleep. It is for waking up.
(Question) What would you say is the way forward for scientific research on meditation? What would you like to see happen? (Answer) … There needs to be more dialogue and collaboration between Buddhists and dharma teachers and the medical community—clinicians, people with training in all psychiatric problems, but particularly in trauma, which is something not really addressed in traditional Buddhist frameworks. One of the statistics that blows my mind is that the main delivery system for Buddhist meditation in the modern West isn’t Buddhism; it is science, medicine, and schools. There is a tidal wave behind this movement. MBSR practitioners already account for the majority of new meditators and soon they are going to be the vast majority. If Buddhists want to have any say, they better stop criticizing and start collaborating, working with instead of just against. Otherwise, they might get left in the dust of the “McMindfulness” movement.”
–> Keep reading the great, in-depth interview Here.
Study: Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-being: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis (JAMA Internal Medicine)
- Importance: Many people meditate to reduce psychological stress and stress-related health problems. To counsel people appropriately, clinicians need to know what the evidence says about the health benefits of meditation.
- Objective: To determine the efficacy of meditation programs in improving stress-related outcomes (anxiety, depression, stress/distress, positive mood, mental health–related quality of life, attention, substance use, eating habits, sleep, pain, and weight) in diverse adult clinical populations.
- Findings: After reviewing 18 753 citations, we included 47 trials with 3515 participants. Mindfulness meditation programs had moderate evidence of improved anxiety, depression, and pain, and low evidence of improved stress/distress and mental health–related quality of life. We found low evidence of no effect or insufficient evidence of any effect of meditation programs on positive mood, attention, substance use, eating habits, sleep, and weight. We found no evidence that meditation programs were better than any active treatment (ie, drugs, exercise, and other behavioral therapies).
- Conclusions and Relevance: Clinicians should be aware that meditation programs can result in small to moderate reductions of multiple negative dimensions of psychological stress. Thus, clinicians should be prepared to talk with their patients about the role that a meditation program could have in addressing psychological stress. Stronger study designs are needed to determine the effects of meditation programs in improving the positive dimensions of mental health and stress-related behavior.