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Study Hall: Meditation can curb loneliness

For Study Hall each week, we sort through the deluge of new medical studies and wordy white papers to bring you one that deserves your attention—in plain, healthy English.

Feeling alone in the big city? According to a study published in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity, a few mindful moments in lotus pose may help.

The study: Researchers led by Dr. J. David Creswell, a professor at Carnegie Mellon, set out to determine whether meditation could reduce loneliness and decrease inflammation in the body (which is the precursor of many illnesses).

They recruited 40 people in Los Angeles, aged 55–85, who wanted to learn the practice of mindfulness meditation. Participants were asked about feelings of loneliness and were required to submit a blood sample. Half of the people were put on an eight-week mindfulness meditation regimen, which included “eight weekly 120-min group sessions, a day-long retreat in the sixth or seventh week, and 30-min of daily home mindfulness practice.” The other half were waitlisted.

The results: After eight weeks, participants again answered questions about loneliness and submitted blood samples. Those who practiced mindfulness meditation experienced significant reductions in loneliness, while those waitlisted experienced increased loneliness. Those who meditated also experienced decreased expression of inflammation-related genes.

What it means: Focused alone time may be just what your lonely self needs (especially in a city that makes it hard to forge connections). Maybe skip that second on-demand episode of Girls on a Sunday night, and practice getting comfortable on your zabuton instead.  —Allison Becker