The Science of Flow


Thousands of studies have been done to prove the efficacy of meditation in relieving stress and boosting mental and overall wellbeing.





This blog post contains our collection of articles and extracts from studies and reference lines from our entire library of blog articles.



A striking increase in Scientific Studies on Meditation since 2000


From The Science of Meditation: How to change your Brain, Mind and Body by Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson


See the dramatic rise of published scientific studies measured on meditation and its benefits since the 1970s. By 2021, there will be well over 1,500 studies published.


Meditation has become mainstream and is turned to by all kinds of large companies and organisations to relieve stress and boost wellbeing.


Even the American Heart Association is recommending the use of meditation to help prevent heart disease.



Scientific studies behind the efficacy of meditation to boost wellbeing



Meditation has been proven again and again in peer-reviewed scientific studies to be one of the most effective solutions to stress. Meditation is proven to lower the risk for anxiety and depression and help with mental disorders like ADHD and PTSD.


Meditation vs. stress, anxiety and depression


Mindfulness practice improves attentional performance and emotional regulation by increasing the production of a neurotransmitter known as Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) during the process. Research has shown that lower levels of GABA are closely linked to higher levels of anxiety and vice versa.

Mindfulness mediates the physiological markers of stress: Systematic review and meta-analysis 2017, Journal of Psychiatric Research

Forty-five studies were included. All meditation subtypes reduced systolic blood pressure. Focused attention meditations also reduced cortisol and open monitoring meditations also reduced heart rate. When all meditation forms were analysed together, meditation reduced cortisol, C - reactive protein, blood pressure, heart rate, triglycerides and tumour necrosis factor-alpha. Overall, meditation practice leads to decreased physiological markers of stress in a range of populations.


Norepinephrine is one of the stress hormones that are released when we are experiencing stress. The purpose of norepinephrine is to keep us safe from physical danger by raising alertness when we are in potential danger. However, our adrenals will continue to pump out norepinephrine when we are under constant stress.

The levels of norepinephrine in our blood is relative to our level of stress. Higher stress levels mean more norepinephrine is released into our blood. The encouraging news is, research shows that norepinephrine blood levels will eventually reduce through meditation which leads to improvements in our quality of life.



Meditation to sharpen focus and increase productivity



Dispositional Mindfulness Co-Varies with Smaller Amygdala and Caudate Volumes in Community Adults

The amygdala, also known as the lizard brain, controls autonomic responses associated with fear, arousal, and emotional stimulation. When it picks up on environmental stressors surrounding us, the amygdala triggers a fight-or-flight response. We can think of is as our central security alarm circuit.

Meditation has an effect on our amygdala. It will begin to shrink during the process thus weakening the connections between the amygdala. As a result, connections with our prefrontal cortex associated while attention and concentration becomes stronger.



Meditation for increased wellbeing


Harvard scientists have come up with evidence that the mere act of clearing your mind for 15 minutes each day actually alters how your genes operate. A 2013 study indicates that people who meditated over an eight-week period had a striking change in the expression of 172 genes that regulate inflammation, circadian rhythms and glucose metabolism. And that, in turn, was linked to a meaningful decrease in their blood pressure and boost wellbeing.


Increase in production of Dopamine

Dopamine is a “feel-good” neurotransmitter that is often linked to the feelings of love, lust, motivation, attention, learning, and addiction. It is the substance that helps control the reward and pleasure centers of the brain. When we are feeling that sudden surge of motivation to take action towards a certain achievement, it is the works of dopamine. Dopamine levels increase during sustained meditation. In turn, our body enters a state of deep relaxation when our dopamine level rises.


Meditation lowers the risk of burnout


The effects of meditation on teacher perceived occupational stress, state and trait anxiety, and burnout. Teacher stress has been the focus of educational concern and research for decades and has resulted in the development of several teacher stress scales and various strategies to address the negative effects of stress and burnout. Promising results in reducing teacher stress have come from the practice of standardized meditation (SM). The current study employed a pretest-posttest control group design and used the Teacher's Stress Inventory, State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, and the Maslach Burnout Inventory to assess the effect of a 5-week standardized meditation class on the perceived occupational stress of 91 full-time elementary, middle, and high school teachers (aged 22–60 yrs) from suburban districts in three states. Results were consistent with previous studies and offered support for the hypothesis that SM significantly reduces teachers' perceived stress. Teachers perceived a reduction in stress using SM only 2–5 times per week. The use of SM by school psychologists to assist in reducing teacher stress is discussed. (APA PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)

https://psycnet.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2Fh0088995


Meditation improves sleep


Meditation Promotes Better Sleep in Older Adults

Mindfulness meditation improved sleep quality for older adults with moderate sleep disturbance compared with a structured program focused on changing poor sleep habits and establishing a bedtime routine.

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2279708



Today, companies like Headspace have their own health and science division and are proving the efficacy of digital audio guided meditation.


Scientific proof on the benefits of digital meditation


The purpose of the study was to evaluate the effects of a modified mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program on the levels of stress, affect, and resilience among nurses in general hospitals in mainland China. In addition, the study attempted to determine the impact of the program on job satisfaction. A total of 110 nurses were randomly assigned to the intervention versus control groups. The intervention group participated in a modified 8-week MBSR program. All participants were evaluated with questionnaires at baseline, immediately after the intervention, and 3 months later. The intervention group showed decreases in stress and negative affect and increases in positive affect and resilience after the intervention. No improvement in job satisfaction was observed, but the trends of the data were in the hypothesized direction that job satisfaction would improve. The modified MBSR program is an effective approach for nurses to decrease stress and negative affect and improve positive affect and resilience. In addition, the program has the potential to improve job satisfaction.

Learn more: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2165079918801633


There are now hundreds of such studies on the efficacy of mindfulness apps, but what about meditation in virtual reality - or VR?


Scientific proof on the benefits of VR


Turns out that a lot of studies have been done on how virtual reality can boost mental health. From a recent report on VR and Mental Health: A Critical Review of Current Research on ResearchGate, "eHealth interventions are becoming increasingly used in public health, with virtual reality (VR) being one of the most exciting recent developments." The report tables 82 studies where VR devices have been used in their interventions, most commonly and effectively for autism, PTSD, anxiety disorders and pain management.


Recently German researchers combinedVR nature scenes with a breathing exercise while measuring Heart Rate Variability HRV and discovered that "VR-based implementation buffered perceived stress in the subsequent stressor task, increased relaxation self-efficacy more, reduced mind wandering, helped participants focus on the present moment, and helped preserve attentional resources." Front. Psychol., 20 September 2019


Neuroscientist Dr. Walter Greenleaf MD at Stanford University, advisor to the Virtual Human Interaction Lab has been on the forefront of research and design when it comes to virtual reality and mental health. He is a prominent voice for virtual reality in the medical field. As a pioneer active in the development of medical applications of Virtual Reality Technology, Walter's product designs include applications in surgical simulation, 3D medical visualisation, tele-rehabilitation, clinical informatics and decision support, ergonomic evaluation technology, automatic sleep-staging, psychophysiological assessment, as well as simulation-assisted rehabilitation technologies.


In behavioral medicine, Walter has developed and helped bring to market systems for the treatment of PTSD, anxiety disorders, autism spectrum disorders and addictions.



Flow is making an impact in mental wellbeing


Since it's first showing in 2016, the Flow team has proven time and time again with Flow VR that meditation in virtual reality works and is as our users say, "Highly effective."


We have successfully enabled thousands of people to meditate in virtual reality, VR apps, in our corporate wellness programs in busy work offices, on airplanes, in crowded concert halls, like at Sigur Ros' festival at Harpa, and bustling trade shows like TechCrunch and BioHacker Summits.


Now that our world has changed, we have focused on empowering people to access the profound benefits of meditation more from home and on the go, in our Flow at work programs encouraging the use of our mobile apps and web portal.


All of our Flow apps contain the same highly effective content. We have recently received testimonials from users, like "Best meditation app I have found anywhere" from Matt on SideQuest and "Flow is what I have been searching for. It's why I bought the Oculus." from Brigitte on SideQuest.


Don't just believe us, or the words from our users, but examine the growing scientific evidence that relates to Flow.


Learn More - Research links


Meditation and Cardiovascular Risk Reduction: The American Heart Association

Neurophysiological and neuroanatomical studies demonstrate that meditation can have long‐standing effects on the brain, which provide some biological plausibility for beneficial consequences on the physiological basal state and on cardiovascular risk. Overall, studies of meditation suggest a possible benefit on cardiovascular risk, although the overall quality and, in some cases, quantity of study data are modest. Given the low costs and low risks of this intervention, meditation may be considered as an adjunct to guideline‐directed cardiovascular risk reduction by those interested in this lifestyle modification, with the understanding that the benefits of such intervention remain to be better established.

https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/JAHA.117.002218


Harvard Study: Mindfulness Meditation Practice Changes the Brain

Researchers recruited 16 participants from the eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School's Center for Mindfulness. The participants attended weekly 2.5-hour group meetings in which they practiced mindfulness meditation and were given audio recordings of guided meditation exercises and told to practice daily at home. Before the start of the program and after its completion, researchers took MRI images of the meditators' brains as well as the brains of 17 non-meditators, who served as a control group.

https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/mindfulness-meditation-practice-changes-the-brain


Mindfulness on-the-go: Effects of a mindfulness meditation app on work stress and well-being

We investigated whether a mindfulness meditation program delivered via a smartphone application could improve psychological well-being, reduce job strain, and reduce ambulatory blood pressure during the workday. Participants were 238 healthy employees from two large United Kingdom companies that were randomized to a mindfulness meditation practice app or a wait-list control condition. Participants were asked to complete one meditation per day. Psychosocial measures and blood pressure throughout one working day were measured at baseline and eight weeks later; a follow-up survey was also emailed to participants 16 weeks after the intervention start. Usage data showed that during the 8-week intervention period, participants randomized to the intervention completed an average of 17 meditation sessions (range 0-45 sessions). The intervention group reported significant improvement in well-being, distress, job strain, and perceptions of workplace social support compared to the control group. Sustained positive effects in the intervention group were found for well-being and job strain at the 16-week follow-up assessment. This trial suggests that short guided mindfulness meditations delivered via smartphone and practiced multiple times per week can improve outcomes related to work stress and well-being, with potentially lasting effects. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved).

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29723001/



Meditation-related increases in GABAB modulated cortical inhibition

Recent reports suggest meditation practice improves attentional performance and emotional regulation. The process of meditation apparently increases activation in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and stimulates the reticular nucleus of the thalamus, implicating the production and delivery of the inhibitory neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABAergic inhibitory interneurons have a central role in cortical inhibition (CI), modulating cortical excitability and neural plasticity.

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23022436/


Mindfulness mediates the physiological markers of stress: Systematic review and meta-analysis

Meditation is a popular form of stress management, argued to mediate stress reactivity. However, many studies in this field commonly fail to include an active control group. Given the frequency with which people are selecting meditation as a form of self-management, it is important to validate if the practice is effective in mediating stress-reactivity using well-controlled studies. Thus, we aimed to conduct a meta-analysis investigating the neurobiological effects of meditation, including focused attention, open monitoring and automatic self-transcending subtypes, compared to an active control, on markers of stress. In the current meta-analysis and systematic review, we included randomised controlled trials comparing meditation interventions compared to an active control on physiological markers of stress. Studied outcomes include cortisol, blood pressure, heart-rate, lipids and peripheral cytokine expression. Forty-five studies were included. All meditation subtypes reduced systolic blood pressure. Focused attention meditations also reduced cortisol and open monitoring meditations also reduced heart rate. When all meditation forms were analysed together, meditation reduced cortisol, C - reactive protein, blood pressure, heart rate, triglycerides and tumour necrosis factor-alpha. Overall, meditation practice leads to decreased physiological markers of stress in a range of populations.

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28863392/


The effects of meditation on teacher perceived occupational stress, state and trait anxiety, and burnout. Teacher stress has been the focus of educational concern and research for decades, and has resulted in the development of several teacher stress scales and various strategies to address the negative effects of stress and burnout. Promising results in reducing teacher stress have come from the practice of standardized meditation (SM). The current study employed a pretest–posttest control group design and used the Teacher's Stress Inventory, State–Trait Anxiety Inventory, and the Maslach Burnout Inventory to assess the effect of a 5-week standardized meditation class on the perceived occupational stress of 91 full-time elementary, middle, and high school teachers (aged 22–60 yrs) from suburban districts in three states. Results were consistent with previous studies and offered support for the hypothesis that SM significantly reduces teachers' perceived stress. Teachers perceived a reduction in stress using SM only 2–5 times per week. The use of SM by school psychologists to assist in reducing teacher stress is discussed. (APA PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)

https://psycnet.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2Fh0088995


Meditation Promotes Better Sleep in Older Adults

Mindfulness meditation improved sleep quality for older adults with moderate sleep disturbance compared with a structured program focused on changing poor sleep habits and establishing a bedtime routine. The trial randomly assigned 24 individuals 55 years and older (average age, 66 years) to a mindful awareness practices (MAPs) intervention and 25 individuals to sleep hygiene education (SHE); both weekly interventions consisted of 2-hour sessions over 6 weeks. All participants had scores exceeding 5 on the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI), a self-reported questionnaire assessing sleep disturbances, which suggest poor sleep quality associated with adverse health outcomes. Effectiveness of the interventions in improving sleep quality was determined by between-group differences in the PSQI score relative to baseline.

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2279708


A Literature Overview of Virtual Reality (VR) in Treatment of Psychiatric Disorders: Recent Advances and Limitations

In this paper, we conduct a literature survey on various virtual reality (VR) treatments in psychiatry. We collected 36 studies that used VR to provide clinical trials or therapies for patients with psychiatric disorders. In order to gain a better understanding of the management of pain and stress, we first investigate VR applications for patients to alleviate pain and stress during immersive activities in a virtual environment.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6659125/


Heart Rate Variability Biofeedback Based on Slow-Paced Breathing With Immersive Virtual Reality Nature Scenery This study investigated the benefits of using a virtual nature environment to administer immersive heart rate variability biofeedback (HRV-BF) based on slow-paced breathing. We compared the virtual reality (VR)-based HRV-BF with a standard implementation in a randomized controlled experiment with 60 healthy employees. After a cognitive stress induction, the participants performed a single-session of HRV-BF before repeating the cognitive stressor task. VR-based versus standard HRV-BF was comparable in terms of biofeedback performance (cardiac coherence and cardiac vagal tone). However, the VR-based implementation buffered perceived stress in the subsequent stressor task, increased relaxation self-efficacy more, reduced mind wandering, helped participants focus on the present moment, and helped preserve attentional resources. Potential long-term effects and generalizability need to be assessed in future research.

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02172/full



Functions of Dopamine: What is Dopamine and How Does It Affect you? Your Brain.Health If you would like to learn some of the roles dopamine plays in your lifestyle, here is a list of nine different ways this type of neurotransmitter affects your life.

https://yourbrain.health/functions-of-dopamine-serve-you/


Mayo Clinic Article - Meditation a simple, fast way to reduce stress

Meditation can wipe away the day's stress, bringing with it inner peace. See how you can easily learn to practice meditation whenever you need it most.

https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/meditation/in-depth/meditation/art-20045858


Meditation reduces sympathetic activation and improves the quality of life in elderly patients with optimally treated heart failure: a prospective randomized study

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15992231/


Mindfulness based intervention in Parkinson's disease leads to structural brain changes on MRI: a randomized controlled longitudinal trial

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24184066/



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