Mindfulness & Functional Medicine

In Functional Medicine, mental, emotional, and spiritual balance form the center of the matrix and influence the other biological systems. It is suggested that mindfulness meditation reduces stress, anxiety, and burnout, and enhances resilience.

What is mindfulness? It’s simply taking a few moments to focus on yourself. Paying close attention to what’s happening in the moment. It’s about being present, noting what’s happening in your body and in your mind. Just noticing without judgement. When you are mindful you are aware of what’s happening around you. ( I am breathing; my stomach hurts when I am working long hours, etc.)

The key to mindfulness is to notice without labeling what’s happening. Your feelings are not good or bad. They just are. 

Mindfulness is about observing and noticing your life from a little distance instead of reacting emotionally or irrationally. The opposite of mindfulness is being on autopilot and reacting or doing something without a thought or consideration.

When you are mindful you focus on the present moment. You can do this anywhere, anytime: at home, at work, standing in line, etc. Even eating an apple can be mindful. You can focus on our apple. What do you see? Check how it smells and tastes. Don’t label these sensations, just notice them. Let them go.

Next narrow your focus. Scan over your body, start with your forehead noticing subtle sensations. Continue to scan each part of your body paying attention to the sensations without judgement. Just notice them.

Then focus on your breath. Paying attention to your in breath and out breath. How does it feel? Notice “how am I in this moment?”. Spend a few moments on our emotions and thoughts, acknowledge them. Allow them to be present without judgement. Be with them just the way they are. And if your mind wanders telling stories (and it will) just return to your breath. No reason to criticize yourself for losing focus.

Mindfulness is like a mirror and accurately reflects what is happening now. Through this process our understanding of ourselves deepens and this leads to making different choices and wiser responses from moment to moment. Practicing mindfulness is paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment without judgement opening possibilities and great benefits.

Modern researchers evaluated extensively the cognitive and physical benefits of mindful meditation. It’s now used in several clinical interventions and therapeutic programs to overcome depression, stress, eating disorders, and other chronic health conditions. In addition, mindful meditation contributes to longevity. Practicing mindfulness can be an effective path toward enhanced well-being.

Enhance Cognitive Abilities 

Mindful meditation may improve brain function through brain plasticity, the brain’s ability to change over time. Research indicates that meditation increases activity in the left anterior part of the brain. This region reacts toward negative or stressful events. The researchers suggest it may lower the cognitive effects of stress (1). 

Other studies noted that meditation increases the thickness of the cerebral cortex responsible for processing visual and auditory information (2). In addition, the cortex also plays a role in present-moment awareness and regulates emotions, therefore, meditation enhances attention and self-control (3). Another study found that neuroplasticity changes are possible after just a few hours of mindful meditation practice (4).

Beyond the brain, meditation has been found to influence physiological variables like heart rate, respiratory rate, systolic blood pressure, and diastolic blood pressure (5).

Reduce Symptoms of Depression

The Journal of Counseling and Clinical Psychology in 2000 and 2004 showed that mindful based cognitive therapy reduces episodes of depression by almost 50% in their patients (7,8). Overall, patients had decreased negative and ruminative thoughts. 

Two common types of meditation include focused attention (FA), including Himalayan yoga, mantra, and metta, and open-monitoring (OM) meditation, including zen, Isha yoga, shoonya yoga, and vipassana. Both types have been shown to enhance attention control, emotion regulation, and self-awareness, and improve cognitive control of conflict (6).

Enhances the Immune System

Meditation boosts the activity in the immune system by increasing antibody production. Antibodies are responsible for destroying viruses, bacteria and other harmful substances. Stressful events can decrease the antibody production activity. A study in 2003 suggest that mindful meditators are less vulnerable to the effects of stress on the Immune system (9). A strong immune system protects us against a variety of serious illness and diseases.

Alleviates Eating Disorders

Studies reveal that mindful meditation improve emotional eating and reduce external eating frequency. Meditators develop a better ability to recognize satiety cues which leads to effective weight loss and weight maintenance. 

Prevents Cellular Aging

Telomerase is an enzyme that slows or hinders age-related loss of genetic material steering to enhanced cellular longevity. Naturally, this enzyme activity slows with age and age-related diseases follow. However, meditation can actually increase its activity and reduce age-related ailments (10).

Research on Mindful Meditation

Over the past decades the research on mindful meditation has rapidly increased, revealing significant and continual interest in this topic within the scientific community. Today mindful mediation is considered effective in addressing a wide range of health issues. Hopefully, the researchers continue to examine mindful meditation and conscious living for better health outcomes. 

References: 

  1. Davidson, RJ, et al. Alterations in Brain and Immune Function Produced by Mindfulness Meditation. Psychosomatic Medicine. 2003; 65(4): 564-570.
  2. Lazar, SW, et al. Meditation Experience Is Correlated with Increased Cortical Thickness. Neuroreport. 2005; 16(17): 1893–1897.
  3. Epel, E, et al. Can Meditation Slow Rate of Cellular Aging? Cognitive Stress, Mindfulness, and Telomeres. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 2009; 1172: 34–53.
  4. Fox, KCR, et al. Is Meditation Associated with Altered Brain Structure? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Morphometric Neuroimaging in Meditation Practitioners. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews. 2014; 43: 48-73.
  5. Sukhoshadle ND, Phatak MS. Effect of short-term and long-term Brahmakumaris Raja yoga meditation on physiological variables. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol. 2012;56(4):388-392.
  6. Lee DJ, Kulubya E, Goldin P, Goodarzi A, Girgis F. Review of the neural oscillations underlying meditation. Front Neurosci. 2018;12:178. doi:10.3389/fnins.2018.00178.
  7. Teasdale, JD, et al. Prevention of Relapse/Recurrence in Major Depression by Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 2000; 68(4): 615-623.
  8. Ma, SH, et al. Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression: Replication and Exploration of Differential Relapse Prevention Effects. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 2004; 72(1): 31-40.
  9. Davidson, RJ, et al. Alterations in Brain and Immune Function Produced by Mindfulness Meditation. Psychosomatic Medicine. 2003; 65(4): 564-570.
  10.  Epel, E, et al. Can Meditation Slow Rate of Cellular Aging? Cognitive Stress, Mindfulness, and Telomeres. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 2009; 1172: 34–53.
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