Findings from a short program in mindful meditation note demonstrable effects on brain and immune function from meditation. Results of a small study published in Psychosomatic Medicine (2003; 65, 564–70) showed that participants in an 8-week mindfulness meditation program had significant increases in left-frontal brain activation, a pattern associated with a positive mood state, compared with nonmeditators. Former research in meditation has focused primarily on the period during meditation; this study examined the potential for more lasting changes from regular practice of meditation over time.
Researchers measured brain electrical activity before and immediately after, and then 4 months after, an 8-week training program in mindfulness meditation delivered by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD. The program was modeled on the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction intervention developed at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. Twenty-five subjects participated in the meditation group; 16 people participated as control subjects. At the end of the first 8 weeks, researchers vaccinated all subjects with influenza vaccine. All meditation subjects showed significant increases in left-frontal brain activation. In addition, all meditation subjects had significantly more antibody titers to influenza than the control group. Furthermore, the size of the increase in left-sided brain activation predicted the magnitude of the increase in antibodies from the vaccine.
The purpose of this research was to improve understanding of the connection between meditation training and changes in brain and immune function, not only in the immediate instance of meditation, but also in the context of cultivating a more regular practice. These findings raise the possibility that training the mind-body connection through meditation practice over time can have strong positive impact. The researchers noted the study’s inherent limitations and highlighted the need for additional studies.