MADISON, Wisc.—People suffering from chronic inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and asthma—in which psychological stress plays a major role—may benefit from mindfulness meditation techniques, according to a study by University of Wisconsin-Madison neuroscientists with the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center.
Mindfulness-based stress reduction, originally designed for patients with chronic pain, consists of continuously focusing attention on the breath, bodily sensations and mental content while seated, walking or practicing yoga.
While interest in meditation as a means of reducing stress has grown over the years, there has been little evidence to support benefits specific to mindfulness meditation practice. This was the first study designed to control for other therapeutic mechanisms, such as supportive social interaction, expert instruction, or learning new skills.
A class in stress reduction can be beneficial in many ways, some of which have little to do with mindfulness, according to Melissa Rosenkranz, assistant scientist at the center and lead author on the paper, which was published recently in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity. For example, learning to manage stress by engaging in regular physical activity may be therapeutic.
“We wanted to develop an intervention that was meant to produce positive change and compare the mindfulness approach to an intervention that was structurally equivalent," Rosenkranz said.
The study compared two methods of reducing stress: a mindfulness meditation-based approach, and a program designed to enhance health in ways unrelated to mindfulness.