Woman meditatingMany people use meditation to support well-being, but relatively few studies have examined what benefits meditation may provide. According to new research, there are concrete benefits to meditation. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University investigated how a short course of mindfulness meditation—just 25 minutes for three days—affected stress. They found that people who mediated feel less stressed during demanding situations.

The study was a three-day experiment involving 66 healthy adults aged 18 to 30 years. Some of the adults participated in mindfulness meditation, using breathing exercises and focusing on the present moment in 25-minute sessions for three consecutive days. The researchers directed the study’s control group to critically analyze poetry instead of practicing meditation. After the final session, the participants gave speeches and completed math tasks in front of some not-so-friendly judges. The individuals reported on their stress levels and the researchers took saliva samples to measure the participants’ cortisol levels, which allowed them to determine how well the participants’ bodies managed the stress.

The participants who practiced mindfulness meditation reported feeling less stressed during the speech and the math tasks than their peers who had analyzed poetry. Although the meditators felt less stressed, they actually had greater cortisol reactivity. This indicates that while the meditators felt calmer, their bodies still experienced a high level of stress.

“When you initially learn mindfulness meditation practices, you have to cognitively work at it—especially during a stressful task. And, these active cognitive efforts may result in the task feeling less stressful, but they may also have physiological costs with higher cortisol production,” explained lead author J. David Creswell, associate professor of psychology in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Sciences.

This research is published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.

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