Meditating for a half an hour each day may ease anxiety and depression, according to a new meta-analysis by researchers at John Hopkins University.
“A lot of people use meditation, but it’s not a practice considered part of mainstream medical therapy for anything,” says Madhav Goyal, M.D., M.P.H., an assistant professor in the Division of General Internal Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Goyal was the leader of a study published online yesterday in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.
“But in our study, meditation appeared to provide as much relief from some anxiety and depression symptoms as what other studies have found from antidepressants,” Goyal continued.
Goyal and his researchers assessed improvement in symptoms of people with a range of medical ailments, including insomnia and fibromyalgia. Only a minority of those analyzed had been diagnosed with a mental illness.
In what is likely a boon to those who prefer alternative medicine, the study indicates that so-called “mindfulness meditation” — which the authors describe as “a form of Buddhist self-awareness designed to focus precise, nonjudgmental attention to the moment at hand” — may be a promising way to alleviate some amount of pain symptoms, while also providing a stress-relief benefit. And, adding more scientific weight to the practice is the discovery that even after controlling for possible placebo effects, study participants were found to feel better.
The researchers focused on 47 clinical trials performed through June 2013 among 3,515 participants.
“A lot of people have this idea that meditation means sitting down and doing nothing,” Goyal says. “But that’s not true. Meditation is an active training of the mind to increase awareness, and different meditation programs approach this in different ways.”
Mindfulness meditation, which emphasizes acceptance of feelings and thoughts without judgment, and which focuses on relaxation of body and mind, is usually practiced for 30 to 40 minutes per day.
Although more research is required to determine if more meditation produces more results, the “meditation programs appear to have an effect above and beyond the placebo,” Goyal says.