Background: Recent research suggests that the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program has positive effects on health, but little is known about the immediate physiological effects of different components of the program.
Purpose: To examine the short-term autonomic and cardiovascular effects of one of the techniques employed in mindfulness meditation training, a basic body scan meditation.
Methods: In Study 1, 32 healthy young adults (23 women, 9 men) were assigned randomly to either a meditation, progressive muscular relaxation or wait-list control group. Each participated in two laboratory sessions 4 weeks apart in which they practiced their assigned technique. In Study 2, using a within-subjects design, 30 healthy young adults (15 women, 15 men) participated in two laboratory sessions in which they practiced meditation or listened to an audiotape of a popular novel in counterbalanced order. Heart rate, cardiac respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), and blood pressure were measured in both studies. Additional measures derived from impedance cardiography were obtained in Study 2.
Results: In both studies, participants displayed significantly greater increases in RSA while meditating than while engaging in other relaxing activities. A significant decrease in cardiac pre-ejection period was observed while participants meditated in Study 2. This suggests that simultaneous increases in cardiac parasympathetic and sympathetic activity may explain the lack of an effect on heart rate. Female participants in Study 2 exhibited a significantly larger decrease in diastolic blood pressure during meditation than the novel, whereas men had greater increases in cardiac output during meditation compared to the novel.
Conclusions: The results indicate both similarities and differences in the physiological responses to body scan meditation and other relaxing activities.