Forget, if you want, the thousands of years of history, and the millions of devotees, that mediation has to its credit. That’s convincing evidence in itself, but for those who are more skeptical, the scientific literature may speak more loudly. And there’s certainly a lot coming in these days. Studies over the last few decades, and particularly in the last five years, have shown the myriad changes in the brain that meditation can bring about, from increases in grey matter volume to proliferations in white matter connections between regions. And the psychological effects are clear as well, from reduced anxiety and depression to increased well-being and attention. Mindfulness training even appears to be at least as helpful for treating certain addictions, like smoking, as the gold standard, cognitive behavioral therapy.

Last week, a new study from Carnegie Mellon showed that meditation helped reduce the stress levels of people who were looking for jobs (and fairly stressed out to begin with). The study also found that this change seemed to be the result of the strengthened neural connections between areas that govern decision-making and attention (the executive control network) and the areas that are active when our minds are wandering (the default mode network).

In plain English, this means that when there’s more control from the executive areas, our minds are less likely to wander and ruminate about stressful events in our lives. The connection is thought to be why people who meditate report less stress, depression and the famous “monkey mind”–the tendency for self-centered “me” thoughts that can often rule our lives, or at least our internal worlds. The same study found that the participants’ inflammatory markers were reduced after they learned meditation.

Another study, from Rutgers University this week, found that meditation and physical exercise together significantly reduced depression symptoms in women with severe depression. Each practice had previously been shown to reduce depression, and to increase the volume in certain brain regions. In fact, meditation has been shown to rival antidepressants in efficacy. But both exercise and meditation together may be more effective. And, in the new study, corresponding changes in the electrical activity in the brain seemed to underlie the psychological changes.

These are just a couple of the very recent studies showing the psychological and neurological benefits that came come from meditation training.

There are others that have chronicled the growing interest in meditation in the U.S., and people’s own reports of how it affects them. Last year, for instance, an NIH study looking at various alternative methods found that 18 million U.S. adults, and almost a million children, meditate regularly. More and more schools are using mediation and/or yoga in their classrooms to help kids calm their minds, particularly in places where kids are more likely to be dealing with trauma outside of school.


The CDC carried out another survey on the effects of various alternative methods, and found that people who did yoga that specifically included “deep breathing or meditation” reported greater levels of well-being. This was particularly true in the area of stress reduction, sleep quality and emotional health. 

So if meditation is become a more regular practice in the U.S., and it seems to be, what regions around the country are people meditating the most? Here are the U.S. cities that are embracing meditation most enthusiastically, according to Google Trends.

1.       Portland

2.       San Francisco

3.       Seattle

4.       San Diego

5.       New York

6.       Denver

7.       Los Angeles

8.       Boston

9.       Austin


You need to be a member of ContemplativeLife to add comments!

Join ContemplativeLife