Even a single mindfulness meditation session can significantly reduce anxiety and lower heart rates, Michigan Technological University research shows. Fourteen people with mild to moderate anxiety participated in a 20-minute introductory meditation, a 30-minute mindful scan of each body part seeking areas of stress, and a 10-minute self-guided meditation. An hour later, the meditators showed both lower resting heart rates and anxiety levels. A week later, they continued to report less anxiety.
Another study at Trinity College Dublin, in Ireland, uncovered an anatomical reason why breath-based meditation practices can enhance mental clarity and focus, as yogis have long claimed. The research focused on a small area in the brain called the locus coeruleus, which is responsible for producing an action hormone and neurotransmitter called noradrenaline. They found that this part of the brain is affected by our inhaling and exhaling patterns.
“Put simply, this means that our attention is influenced by our breath, and that it rises and falls with the cycle of respiration,” says lead author Michael Melnychuk. “It is possible that by focusing on and regulating your breathing, you can optimize your attention level.”