Meditation is not a philosophy but a daily practice that has a profound effect on the body and mind. Increasingly popular in settings ranging from progressive workplaces to innovative gyms, due to its beneficial influence on the capacity to learn and on behavioral development in children and adolescents, it has recently also been integrated in educational contexts.

Science has long demonstrated its many physical and psychological advantages, and surprising new findings are continually emerging on the mechanisms and beneficial results that meditation brings.

Meditation opens the doors to a dimension of totality of being, intimately internal, and yet profoundly connected to the reality we experience in our daily lives.

General consensus seems to be lacking when it comes to the definition of meditation; it has been referred to as “an altered state” (Bear 2007) or “a natural state” (Montecucco 2010) of consciousness. One thing, though, is clear: in the course of the last forty years, meditative practices have been playing an increasingly central role in psychotherapeutic programs on account of their multiple benefits (Baer, 2003; Grossman, 2004).

Concurrently, studies conducted by independent research groups working in various countries and on a global scale have yielded an abundance of scientific evidence on the effect of meditation on both a mental and somatic level. These effects include:

Reduced skin conductance, respiratory rate, and blood pressure (Ospina et al. 2007; Travis and Wallace 1999; Schneider et al. 1995; Schmidt et al. 1997; Wenneberg et al. 1997; Jerving et al. 1992)

Improved immune response (Fang et al. 2010; Justo 2009; Olivo 2009; Carlson and Speca 2007; Davidson et al. 2003)

Increased levels of dopamine and reduction of adrenaline (Kang et al. 2010; Vandana et al. 2010; Vandana et al. 2011; Kjaer et al.2002; Infante et al. 2001)

Increased release of beta-endorphins and opioids, which reduces the sense of pain and fear and enhances the sense of joy and euphoria (Newberg and Iverson 2003; Infante et al. 1998; Harte et al. 1994)

Increased level of melatonin, accompanied by a profound sense of well-being (Harinath et al. 2004; Solberg et al. 2004)

Reduced release of CRH, ACTH, and cortisol, the hormones responsible for the body’s systemic response to prolonged stress (Newberg and Iverson 2003; Infante et al. 1998; Watson et al.1995; Harte et al. 1994; Sudsuang et al. 1991)

Improved memory and learning capacity, reduced sense of fatigue (Wagstaff 2004; Newberg and Iverson, 2003; Elias and Wilson, 1994)

Increased emotional stability (Y.H. Yung et al. 2010, Newberg and Iverson 2003)

Increased cognitive function and flexibility (Zeidan et al. 2010; Justo 2009)

Even more intriguing is the emerging scientific evidence that the practice of meditation is capable of inducing real changes at the level of the central nervous system. A recent article published by Scientific American ( presented research on how the brain of seasoned meditators exhibits an increased volume of the insula and the prefrontal cortex – specifically Brodmann’s areas 9 and 10, responsible for the coordination of memory and complex activities – probably a result the reinforcement of the implicated neural connections. By contrast, the amygdala – the region involved in processing emotions connected to fear – appears reduced in thickness. All the zones of cerebral activity correlated to the meditative practice of bringing the attention to the breath have been mapped as well: distraction (posterior cingulate cortex); awareness of the state of distraction (anterior insula and anterior cingulate cortex); reorientation of awareness (prefrontal dorsolateral cortex and inferior parietal lobe); and sustained attention on the breath (prefrontal dorsolateral cortex).

In a clinical setting, this implies that if pursued consistently such a practice should facilitate an improved capacity to manage chronic pain and also reduce symptoms such as anxiety (Murata et al. 2004) and depression while additionally contributing to a significant decline in rumination (the habitual tendency to continuously think and rethink about the same problem in an attempt to find a solution). In 2000, clinical psychologists John Teasdale (Cambridge University) and Zinden Segal (University of Toronto) had patients with at least three prior episodes of depression engage in six months of mindfulness meditation associated with cognitive therapy, demonstrating a 40% reduction in the risk of relapse compared to the control group. Contemplative practice, then, provides a type of protection from the likelihood of new depressive episodes.

Paying more attention to one’s inner life and cultivating increased self-awareness are reflected in peculiar differences in EEG traces: a state of EEG coherence, in particular at an alpha level (Yamamoto et al. 2008); an increase in fast theta waves and slow alpha waves in the frontal cerebral area; a rise in parasympathetic indicators; and a decline in sympathetic indicators (Takahashi et al. 2005; Davidson et al. 2003). The changes induced by meditation offer significant opportunities to protect the brain from degenerative damages as age advances. Moreover, they favor the performance of mnemonic tasks, especially in the short-term range, and improve free recall of events.

In light of this and similar evidence, meditation is gradually beginning to find its way into clinical settings as well. In that sense, in fact, it not only offers a possibility to reduce symptoms and pain, but also represents a way to reinforce patients’ self-esteem, enhancing the awareness of the present moment with a compassionate, nonjudgmental attitude (Kabat-Zinn 1990).

Kabat-Zinn was one of the first researchers to introduce meditation in a clinical setting in the 1990s. But scientific research conducted since then on the modalities of action and on the efficacy of meditation remains quite complex, among other things because it is often difficult to plan and realize accurate experimental situations with control groups and sufficiently large numbers of participants (Caspi and Burleson 2005). What follows is a listing of some of the clinical benefits correlated to meditative practices, all of them scientifically demonstrated albeit with the limitations cited above:

• Reduction in cardiovascular death (Barclay 2005), cardiac risks (King et al. 2002) and chronic disturbances such as arterial hypertension (Barnes et al. 2004), dependence on tobacco, psychological stress, hormonal stress, hypercholesterolemia, atherosclerosis, and renal and cardiac insufficiency (Christensen et al. 1996 and Baas et al. 2004, respectively). Other than a primary and secondary effects on cardiovascular disturbances, meditation also has a preventative effect, and so has a positive impact on the reduction of medical expenses, including the cost of pharmaceuticals and hospitalization.

• Reduction of fear in terminal illnesses in oncological settings, with a decrease in anxiety, depression, stress, and mood disorders (Shannahoff-Khalsa 2005). In particular among women, it helps combat mental fatigue and the sensation of physical exhaustion (Carlson et al. 2007; Carlson et al. 2001).

• Reduction of chronic pain (Merkes 2010; Burns 2006).

• Improvement in symptoms in patients affected by fibromyalgia (Astin et al. 2003).

• Short-term and long-term reduction of disturbances connected to irritable bowel syndrome (Eriksson et al. 2007; Keefer and Blanchard 2001), such as flatulence, belching, sense of bloating, diarrhea, and constipation.

• Improvement in the control of acute headache crises (Sun et al. 2002).

• Relaxation in epileptic patients, also evident in changes in EEG traces (Yardi 2001; Panjwani et al. 2000).

• Reduction in cortisol levels in the urine of postmenopausal women, associated with an improvement of endocrine regulation in general (Walton et al. 2004).

• Improvement in the quality of life of individuals in a fragile state of health (Fernros et al 2008). These benefits are probably a result of the awareness and acceptance of emotionally charged events (Lutz et al. 2008), the activation of specific cerebral areas engaged in those functions (Xu et al. 2014), the reduction of cortisol levels, proinflammatory cytokines, and blood pressure (Carlson et al. 2007), and the normalization of the awareness of one’s own body and self-image (Mehling et al. 2009).

• Meditation seems to also be useful as a support for psychotherapeutic approaches, in particular for patients who have attempted or are at risk of suicide (Birnbaum and Birnbaum 2004). A study even demonstrated its capacity to reduce juvenile delinquency (Witoonchart and Bartlet 2002). At the end of the program, the boys proved to be less impulsive, more concentrated, and more aware of themselves and their condition.

In conclusion, we can say that research on meditation provides new insight on how it can improve the health and wellness of human beings.

We welcome the growing support of meditation with all its marvelous gifts…

Let’s meditate!

Dr. Paolo Tozzi, Msc Ost, DO, FT

Osteopath, physiotherapist, posturologist, Reiki master

Speaker at national and international congresses

Author of numerous scientific texts and articles on osteopathy

Professor for the Integrated Clinical Posturology and Natural Medicine masters programs at Tor Vergata University of Rome from 2010 to 2015

Instructor of various courses on Osteopathy and Posturology both on an undergraduate and postgraduate level in Italy, Europe, South America, and Japan