Life nowadays can be stressing.  But scientists are discovering that a simple form of ancient practice can relieve a long list of modern illnesses.

Mindfulness to reduce stress

It’s called the Serenity Study.

Kent State University psychology professor David Fresco is the project leader.

“At a neurobehavioral level,” he says, meditation transforms , “the way your attention circuits work in the brain so that you are better able to focus on what’s important, you’re better able to let go of the things that might be troubling, or you can bring your attention to bear on the things that require your immediate attention.”

Fresco says individuals chosen for the Serenity Study are just one doctor’s visit away from being put on high blood pressure medication, so first, he puts them on a healthy diet.  Then, they are given a option of getting health coaching, or a program of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.

The federally funded research is on-going, so Fresco does not have outcomes yet, other than the statement that doctors in Ohio are pretty hostile in recommending anti-hypertension drugs.

Fresco has concluded other studies using meditation to cure ailments like depression and anxiety, and he says the  outcomes are promising.

He’s using a program he established called Emotion Regulation Therapy to educate patients to detach themselves from their thoughts and emotions – to simply observe them, and let them go.

He says it’s a simple practice, but not easy.

Meditation and the brain’s wiring

Fresco says meditating is like going to the fitness center.

Well, it’s not really developing muscles, according to David Creswell, director of the Health and Human Performance Laboratory at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, but meditation can modify the makeup of the brain.

He says individuals who meditate often can develop tissue in the frontal cortex, the brain’s executive center, and shrink the hot-button emotional center, the amygdala, and alters how it’s wired.

“Mindfulness meditation training turns down how the amygdala talks with other brain regions that are central in driving this fight or flight response in the brain,” says Creswell.

Creswell says meditation has been effectively used to cure psoriasis, HIV symptoms, and chronic pain by restraining stress hormones and the chemicals that cause inflammation.

A stronger mind

Clinical psychologist David Fresco says like any other exercise routine, developing a healthy mind requires dedication , but has major payoffs.

Stress is a common part of life. But researchers like Fresco say we can control our physical response to stress by learning mindfulness. And by using the mind to pay attention to the present moment, he says, we actually shape a healthier brain.