Over the past few years, for better or for worse, the health and wellness media has been having a feast with mindfulness meditation. This feast has been fueled by Sarah Lazar’s research from Harvard University, stating that “meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness”. These findings, though, were not controlled over time. They were taken at one point in time (re: nonrandomized cross-sectional study), so it would be incorrect to assume that meditation will lead to increased cortical thickness for. Don’t get me wrong though, this study shows a great deal of promise yet the way the media spread it like wildfire, in true media fashion, may have a thing or two to do with the backlash that followed.
In 2015, more “debunkers” started appearing here and there, asking if traditional practices were even necessary to reach greater states of wellbeing. Rather, perhaps simply focusing on your favorite pastimes or hobbies could achieve the same great results as more traditional practices do for some people. Surges in the popularity of mindfulness date as far back as the early 21st century, and were most prominent in the 60s and 70s alongside the transcendental meditation (TM) movement. So, as researchers continue to attempt to prove the efficacy of meditation practices related to well being while the skeptics continue to ask new questions, I consider my stance with meditation for 2016.
For 2016 I plan to ramp up my basic daily 10-minute mindfulness meditation practice from 2015 to a more consistent and measurable Vipassana meditation practice.
Of the large number of biomarkers I was tested on, one biomarker in particular is strongly influenced by a mindfulness meditation practice: cortisol levels. Cortisol is the primary stress hormone that secretes glucose (sugar) once adrenaline elevates heart rate, elevates blood pressure, and increases energy supplies (source: mayoclinic.org). The cortisol hormone also decreases activity in bodily functions that are not necessary in a fight or flight situation. If you constantly find yourself in fight or flight situations or you constantly elicit strong fear responses, your baseline cortisol levels are going to be higher than those of someone who is able to cope well with stressful thoughts and situations. I wanted to test my cortisol levels during the morning, which I did. Ideally around 8:00 AM (for me), when cortisol levels naturally spike due to wakening from a sleep state.