The historical use of meditation can be traced back to more than three thousand years ago. Even though different experts have taught numerous variations on the theme of meditation, we can break this technique into two main categories – mindfulness and concentration.
While the concept of mindfulness is not new, and its values have been discussed for centuries in various traditions, only recently has the scientific world captured the health-promoting potential of mindfulness. In the 1942 textbook Fundamentals of Medical Dermatology, many pages are devoted to mindfulness as it relates to sleep and mental rest. The advice cuts to the very heart of the mindfulness-based instructions in every pop self-help book over the past two decades. It is humorous to think that some of the folks who cuddle up with Oprah et al. on talk shows actually think they invented this stuff!
For healthy skin, the textbook advises:
– “Systematic practice at living in the moment and viewing life with serene detachment.”
– “Live in the present from one day to the next.”
– “Refuse to think of the past, stop speculating, planning, and foreboding for the future.”
– “Practice getting outside yourself, viewing your world with detachment, as if looking at it as a parade going by.. .as a spectator, not a marcher.”
– “And one must focus the attention on things that take him (the patient) outside himself. Hence walking out of doors… watching the wind, the clouds, the grass and trees, or if in the city, the life about one, is the proper method.”
Remember, this textbook was the basis for what was being taught to young doctors and future dermatologists! This type of wisdom was forgotten when pharmaceutics showed up.
In recent years, mindfulness has been shown to improve inflammatory skin conditions, including dermatitis and psoriasis. Mindfulness almost certainly reduces inflammation by stress-reducing mechanisms. Here are the facts:
– New Japanese research indicates that mindfulness can increase levels of the feel-good chemical serotonin.
– A 2008 study of patients with chronic anxiety shows that instructions on becoming more mindful decreased worry and symptoms of anxiety, which in turn improved sleep quality and daytime energy and mental focus.
– A study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (2003) shows that greater awareness and being mindful in life from day to day is correlated with enhanced well-being—improved mood, optimism, life satisfaction, and willingness to attempt new experiences.
Mindfulness of individuals is assessed by inquiring about their focus in the present and preoccupation with past and future. Common questions include, “Do you snack without being aware that you are eating?” or “Do you forget someone’s name almost immediately after he or she has told you?”
One study in Psychosomatic Medicine (2003) exemplifies the value of MBSR. Researchers showed that an eight-week mindfulness course was associated with greater activation of areas of the brain that govern positive emotions. It is important to note that the beneficial results on mood and the immune system were not recorded on the day the eight-week program ended. Instead, the changes were documented four months after the program’s completion.