Mindfulness, the Immune System and Antibodies (and Jacuzzis and Music)

by Dr. Stephen Parker (Article selection and Commentary) on October 16, 2010

snow monkeys in Japan Mindfulness, the immune system and antibodies (and jacuzzis and music)

One of the earlier and frequently cited studies on mind-body interactions is a 2003 article in psychosomatic medicine:

Psychosomatic Medicine
65:564-570 (2003)
© 2003 American Psychosomatic Society

Alterations in Brain and Immune Function Produced by Mindfulness Meditation
Richard J. Davidson, PhD, Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, Jessica Schumacher, MS, Melissa Rosenkranz, BA, Daniel Muller, MD, PhD, Saki F. Santorelli, EdD, Ferris Urbanowski, MA, Anne Harrington, PhD, Katherine Bonus, MA and John F. Sheridan, PhD

OBJECTIVE: The underlying changes in biological processes that are associated with reported changes in mental and physical health in response to meditation have not been systematically explored. We performed a randomized, controlled study on the effects on brain and immune function of a well-known and widely used 8-week clinical training program in mindfulness meditation applied in a work environment with healthy employees.

METHODS: We measured brain electrical activity before and immediately after, and then 4 months after an 8-week training program in mindfulness meditation. Twenty-five subjects were tested in the meditation group. A wait-list control group (N = 16) was tested at the same points in time as the meditators. At the end of the 8-week period, subjects in both groups were vaccinated with influenza vaccine.

RESULTS: We report for the first time significant increases in left-sided anterior activation, a pattern previously associated with positive affect, in the meditators compared with the nonmeditators. We also found significant increases in antibody titers to influenza vaccine among subjects in the meditation compared with those in the wait-list control group. Finally, the magnitude of increase in left-sided activation predicted the magnitude of antibody titer rise to the vaccine.

CONCLUSIONS: These findings demonstrate that a short program in mindfulness meditation produces demonstrable effects on brain and immune function. These findings suggest that meditation may change brain and immune function in positive ways and underscore the need for additional research.

This article provoked a number of responses, including one by Jonathan Smith, Ph.D:

Psychosomatic Medicine 66:148-152 (2004)

Few, if any, studies have cautioned that the Kabat-Zinn system is not pure mindfulness, but an amalgam of mindfulness meditation, concentrative meditation, passive breathing exercises, yoga stretching, and even a bit of imagery, autogenic training, and Buddhist psychology…

It is clear that positive states can be evoked by many activities, including sitting in a Jacuzzi, listening to music, taking nature walks, petting pets and so on...

We have found at least 15 positive factor states associated with the practice of relaxation, meditation, and mindfulness. In addition to Happiness, this comprehensive list includes: Sleepiness, Disengagement, Rested/Refreshed, Energized, Physical Relaxation, At Ease/Peace, Mental Quiet, Childlike Innocence, Love/Thankfulness, Mystery, Awe/Wonder, Prayerfulness, and Timeless/Boundless/Infinite/At One. Furthermore, whenever we have compared techniques (including mindfulness), we have found that different approaches evoke different positive states, even though they evoke the same degree of happiness. It remains for researchers to look beyond happiness for what may well be the true uniqueness of mindfulness.

Why not meditate and go for a walk in nature with your dog and then sit in Jacuzzi listening to music?

(Or, if you are a snow monkey in Japan, join your friends in a hot springs)

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