The interest in broadening the boundaries of consciousness in the 1970s led to a handful of scientific articles on meditation and well-being. By the ‘80s, we see an increase in research focused on the integration of mindfulness with western medicine and psychology, and in the next decade studies were conducted that associated meditation with reducing indicators of physiological processes (e.g., oxygen consumption, carbon dioxide elimination, respiration rate). In large part due to the seminal work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, who was a molecular biologist in New England and a longtime meditator in the Zen Buddhist tradition, researchers began studying more rigorously the impact of mindfulness meditation to enhance psychological well being – now commonly known as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Other principles and practices in clinical psychology emerged including Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).
But, things took off in the early 2000s with an explosion of data published in scientific journals on the application of mindfulness in medicine and healthcare for stress reduction, anxiety disorders, drug dependence, cancer management and other conditions. The emergence of sophisticated brain mapping technology led to breakthrough understandings of the effect of meditation on brain activity. Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, was one of the first scientists to take the anecdotal claims about the benefits of meditation and mindfulness and test them in brain scans. What she found surprised her — that meditating can literally change your brain.
In their book, Altered States, Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson note that there were over 6,800 published scientific articles on meditation with acceleration in recent years. According to Goleman and Davidson, the number was 925 in 2014, and 1,113 publications in 2016.
To learn more about meditation and scientific research, we recommend:
Learn more from these reputable Meditation Research Groups (list from Goleman and Davidson’s book, Altered States):
https://centerhealthyminds.org/science/studies – Center for Healthy Minds at University of Wisconsin, Madison (Richard Davidson’s lab)
http://www.umassmed.edu/cfm/ – Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Healthcare, and Society at University of Massachusetts Medical School (Judson Brewer’s lab)
https://www.resource-project.org/en/home.html – Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences (Tania Singer’s meditation study) – be sure to use the ‘translate’ button
http://www.amishi.com/lab/ – The Jha Lab at University of Miami (Amishi Jha’s lab)
http://saronlab.ucdavis.edu/ – Center for Mind and Brain at University of California, Davis (Clifford Saron’s lab)
https://www.psych.ox.ac.uk/research/mindfulness – Oxford University Mindfulness Centre
http://marc.ucla.edu/ – UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center
Altered Traits: Science Reveal How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body by Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson
Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment by Robert Wright