Mindfulness is not a religious practice but a training process whereby a person switches off their mental auto-pilot and becomes fully conscious of the present moment, with a heightened awareness of sensory stimuli and bodily sensations in a way that allows them to not be stuck in the past or be worrying about potential future events.
There has been research and reports on the changes to mindfulness practitioners physical and emotional wellbeing, however research examining any biological changes in the brain have not been extensively explored.
Researchers in the neurological department at the University of Wisconsin have conducted a randomised control study examining the effects of a mindfulness meditation course on immune function and brain processes.
25 healthy participants completed an 8-week mindfulness training program; their brain activity was measured before the training, immediately after and at 4 months following the end of the program. Their brain functioning was compared to 16 wait-list control participants who underwent the brain analysis at the same points in time as the meditators. At the end of the 8-week training, participants in both groups were vaccinated with an influenza vaccine to establish immune strength.
The results of the study concluded that there were significant changes in parts of the brain associated with positive mood and wellbeing. Additionally, there was an increased level of antibodies in response to the influenza vaccine in meditators compared to controls indicating a stronger immune response to the virus.
The findings of this study highlight how even just a short mindfulness meditation program can have significant physical changes to wellbeing and immunity.