I’ve heard the meditation practices of Buddhism described as a sort of toolkit for improving the quality of life, and in the past few years I’ve blogged a few stories about the mental benefits of meditation. Those were mostly about forms of meditation that emphasize calm concentration, which may improve the ability to focus the attention and block out distractions.
A recent study examined the physiological effects of another form of meditation, compassion meditation, which aims to bring gentle awareness to our interactions with others and encourage feelings of benevolence for other people. Sixty-one college students participated in the study. It appears that the amount of time spent engaged in compassion meditation may affect how well the body handles psychosocial stress. Those who spent more time meditating responded to a stress test with less emotional discomfort, and also with lower blood concentrations of two stress hormones. The latter effect, if borne out by later studies, could mean that this form of meditation is a useful tool in fighting stress- and inflammation-related diseases. (Because I don’t want to speak of fostering compassion solely in terms of what it can do for your immune system, useful as that may be, it’s also worth noting that if you’re curious about how compassion meditation affects the quality of your own mental health, you can visit the Lovingkindness Meditation page on the Wildmind Buddhist Meditation site.)
This press release on EurekAlert has an overview. The paper, Effect of compassion meditation on neuroendocrine, innate immune and behavioral responses to psychosocial stress, by Thaddeus W.W. Pace, Lobsang Tenzin Negi, Daniel D. Adame, Steven P. Cole, Teresa I. Sivilli, Timothy D. Brown, Michael J. Issa, and Charles L. Raison, is in press in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.