Self-reported mindfulness and cortisol during a Shamatha meditation retreat

Health Psychol. 2013 Oct;32(10):1104-9. doi: 10.1037/a0031362. Epub 2013 Mar 25.


Objective: Cognitive perseverations that include worry and rumination over past or future events may prolong cortisol release, which in turn may contribute to predisease pathways and adversely affect physical health. Meditation training may increase self-reported mindfulness, which has been linked to reductions in cognitive perseverations. However, there are no reports that directly link self-reported mindfulness and resting cortisol output. Here, the authors investigate this link.

Methods: In an observational study, we measured self-reported mindfulness and p.m. cortisol near the beginning and end of a 3-month meditation retreat (N = 57).

Results: Mindfulness increased from pre- to post-retreat, F(1, 56) = 36.20, p < .001. Cortisol did not significantly change. However, mindfulness was inversely related to p.m. cortisol at pre-retreat, r(53) = -.31, p < .05, and post-retreat, r(53) = -.30, p < .05, controlling for age and body mass index. Pre to postchange in mindfulness was associated with pre to postchange in p.m. cortisol, β = -.37, t(49) = 2.30, p < .05: Larger increases in mindfulness were associated with decreases in p.m. cortisol, whereas smaller increases (or slight decreases) in mindfulness were associated with an increase in p.m. cortisol.

Conclusions: These data suggest a relation between self-reported mindfulness and resting output of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal system. Future work should aim to replicate this finding in a larger cohort and determine stronger inference about causality by using experimental designs that include control-group conditions.

Publication types

  • Observational Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anxiety
  • Body Mass Index
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Meditation*
  • Middle Aged
  • Mind-Body Relations, Metaphysical*
  • Mindfulness*
  • Regression Analysis
  • Saliva / metabolism
  • Self Report
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism
  • Stress, Psychological / therapy*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Thinking
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Young Adult


  • Hydrocortisone