Mindfulness Meditation 3

School-based yoga can help children better manage stress and anxiety

Researchers worked with a public school to add yoga and mindfulness activities to help third-graders screened for anxiety at the beginning of the school year

April 10, 2018

Science Daily/Tulane University

Participating in yoga and mindfulness activities at school helps third-graders exhibiting anxiety improve their wellbeing and emotional health, according to a new Tulane University study published in the journal Psychology Research and Behavior Management.

 

Researchers worked with a public school in New Orleans to add mindfulness and yoga to the school's existing empathy-based programming for students needing supplementary support. Third graders who were screened for symptoms of anxiety at the beginning of the school year were randomly assigned to two groups. A control group of 32 students received care as usual, which included counseling and other activities led by a school social worker.

 

The intervention group of 20 students participated in small group yoga/mindfulness activities for eight weeks using a Yoga Ed curriculum. Students attended the small group activities at the beginning of the school day. The sessions included breathing exercises, guided relaxation and several traditional yoga poses appropriate for children.

 

Researchers evaluated each group's health related quality of life before and after the intervention, using two widely recognized research tools. The Brief Multidimensional Students' Life Satisfaction Scale-Peabody Treatment Progress Battery version was used to assess life satisfaction, and the Pediatric Quality of Life Inventory was used to assess psychosocial conditions and emotional well-being at the beginning, middle and end of the study.

 

"The intervention improved psychosocial and emotional quality of life scores for students, as compared to their peers who received standard care," said principal author Alessandra Bazzano, associate professor of Global Community Health and Behavioral Sciences at Tulane University School of Public Health. "We also heard from teachers about the benefits of using yoga in the classroom, and they reported using yoga more often each week, and throughout each day in class, following the professional development component of intervention."

 

Researchers targeted third grade because it is a crucial time of transition for elementary students, when academic expectations increase.

 

"Our initial work found that many kids expressed anxious feelings in third grade as the classroom work becomes more developmentally complex," Bazzano said. "Even younger children are experiencing a lot of stress and anxiety, especially around test time."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180410100919.htm

Mindful yoga can reduce risky behaviors in troubled youth

December 7, 2017

Science Daily/University of Cincinnati

Study shows a marked reduction in risky sex and substance abuse in troubled 18- to 24-year-olds after several months of participating in mindful yoga and positive coping strategies.

 

For some young people, dealing with life stressors like exposure to violence and family disruption often means turning to negative, risky behaviors -- yet little is known about what can intervene to stop this cycle.

 

But one long-term study by the University of Cincinnati looks at the link between stressful life events and an increase in substance abuse, risky sexual behaviors and delinquency in a diverse population of 18- to 24-year-old youths. The research also sheds light on distinct coping strategies that can lead to more positive outcomes.

 

As part of a 10-year study looking at risk-taking and decision-making -- or the lack thereof -- Jacinda Dariotis, UC public health researcher, spent 12 months focusing on early life stressors as a predictor of risky sexual behavior, substance abuse and delinquency for more than 125 at-risk youths. Surprisingly, she found a small number of the youths were already engaging in constructive coping behaviors on their own that will have positive outcomes later in life.

 

But what about the majority of troubled youth who cope by engaging in negative, risky and dangerous behaviors?

 

Results from the most recent segment of Dariotis' study were presented at the American Public Health Association conference in Atlanta, under the title,"Stress coping strategies as mediators: Toward a better understanding of sexual, substance and delinquency-related risk-taking among transition-aged youth."

 

The study revealed that in spite of early life stressors, positive coping behaviors, either learned or self-generated, can actually have a protective effect.

 

"We found that many of these youths who had endured stressful life events and otherwise would have fallen into the risky behavior trap could actually have positive outcomes later in life because they chose to join in prosocial physical activities, yoga or mindfulness meditation," says Dariotis.

 

Risky outlets

 

During the study, Dariotis looked at the disconnect between the youths who had intended to have positive influences in their lives but continually found themselves engaged in behaviors that had negative outcomes. She found a link between stressful life events and increased risky unprotected sex, violence and substance abuse.

 

"We took a holistic approach, looking at these issues from a social and biological perspective," says Dariotis, also director of UC's College of Education, Criminal Justice and Human Services Evaluation Services Center. "In addition to question-and-answer information, we collected urine samples for drug use confirmation and testosterone levels early in the study to see how hormones played out in negative behaviors."

 

According to Dariotis, testosterone can be influential in dominance and aggressive behaviors, but if directed through prosocial behaviors like sports, yoga or healthy competition it can have very positive outcomes.

 

"If you are the star on your sports team you are succeeding," says Dariotis. "You can also be competitive academically where you succeed by competing with your peers."

 

It's not that testosterone itself is all bad but it depends on how it is channeled, she adds.

 

The right track

 

Before joining UC as an associate professor of research, Dariotis spent the last decade at Johns Hopkins University gathering most of the data that includes neuroimaging and weekly questioning for hundreds of youth from all walks of life.

 

"I'm particularly interested in teaching at-risk youths to regulate their thoughts, processes and emotions," says Dariotis. "The neuroimaging allows us to see what's activated in one's brain while at rest or performing tasks to help us understand the intersection between hormones, brain structure and activity."

 

Dariotis found that at-risk youth who voluntarily spend their time reading books, playing sports or engaged in avoidance coping behaviors were twice as likely to avoid risky sexual behaviors or substance abuse. An example of avoidance coping behaviors, she says, is not thinking about a bad event that had occurred and instead, thinking about what could be better.

 

Dariotis found youths who were unable to develop positive coping strategies were much more likely to turn to greater risk-taking behaviors that included unprotected sex or sex for money, substance abuse, violence and crime.

 

Saving time, money and lives

 

Participating in weekly mindful yoga intervention programs as part of the current study taught the youths how to take control of their breathing and their emotions and helped them develop healthier long-term coping skills.

 

"These findings highlight the importance of implementing positive coping strategies for at-risk youth particularly for reducing illicit drug use and risky sexual behavior," says Dariotis. "Mindfulness-based yoga programs designed to improve the ability to cope are needed at earlier ages in schools to help vulnerable youths channel their skills more effectively."

 

Given the relative low cost of such programs and easy adaptations to different populations and settings, Dariotis says the return on investment may be substantial especially if they can reduce arrests, repeat offenses and other negative outcomes for risk-taking youth.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/12/171207182527.htm

Mindfulness at work: Study first to uncover positive benefits for teams

May 3, 2018

Science Daily/University of British Columbia

Challenges and differences in opinion are inevitable when working in a team. But new research suggests some of these conflicts can be reduced, or even avoided, through team mindfulness

 

Team mindfulness refers to a shared belief within a team of focusing on the present moment and ensuring team members interact with one another without judgment. While individual mindfulness has gained traction around the world, research has yet to properly delve into the benefits of mindfulness in a group setting, which the researchers say could be achieved through activities such as meditation or yoga practiced as a team.

 

The study is the first to challenge the common belief that mindfulness is a solitary activity, and explores how team mindfulness can be beneficial to teams.

 

"Mindfulness has been proven to increase job satisfaction and psychological well-being and decrease stress in employees, so we wondered how these benefits may or may not transfer to a team environment," said Lingtao Yu, the study's lead author and assistant professor at Sauder. "We found that when teams are more mindful, this reduces interpersonal conflicts and helps teams better focus on the task at hand."

 

For the study, the researchers conducted two field studies with a total of 394 students in Masters of Business Administration programs in the United States to develop a scale of team mindfulness and to test the benefits of team mindfulness in reducing conflict. A third field study tested the benefits of team mindfulness within a different work culture using 292 health care workers in China.

 

The researchers found that, when teams are more mindful, the degree of interpersonal conflict decreased. Team members were also less likely to transform their frustration with a particular task into a personal conflict with their colleagues. This helped the team members detach from the task and eliminated strong emotions and feelings of prejudgment.

 

"Our research shows that interpersonal conflict can further spill over into interpersonal social undermining behaviours, harming teamwork as a whole," said study co-author Mary Zellmer-Bruhn of the University of Minnesota. "Team mindfulness can act as a safeguard against this and ensures that the task, rather than the person, remains the focus of reactions. It can also limit the intensity of one's opposition and negative emotions, thereby limiting escalation."

 

The researchers argue that more companies should consider making a concerted effort to be mindful -- not only for individual employees, but as a team. Organizations such as Google, Target, General Mills and UBC have been early adopters of individual mindfulness practices and recognize the benefits of it. For example, companies could benefit from bringing a meditation expert to carry out meditation sessions for teams.

 

"Given that more companies are employing a team-based organizational structure, where team interactions are critical and stress levels are high, we hope to design an evidence-based team mindfulness program that organizations can offer," said Yu. "We believe teams may benefit from doing meditation or yoga together, and setting aside time to share experiences so that team as a whole becomes more mindful."

 

The study was recently published in the Academy of Management Journal.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/05/180503142625.htm

Mozart, meditation and a yoga mat: Oncologists welcome integrative therapies for breast cancer

June 12, 2018

Science Daily/Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

A breast cancer patient dealing with anxiety, depression or mood swings could soon be encouraged by her oncologist to learn meditation techniques, join a yoga class or put music to therapeutic use.

 

The SIO guidelines were reviewed by an ASCO expert panel co-chaired by Dr. Gary H. Lyman, an oncologist with Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, and Dr. Lorenzo Cohen of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

 

The full guidelines appear online in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. Some of the key recommendations include:

 

·     Music therapy, meditation, stress management, and yoga are recommended for anxiety/stress reduction.

·     Meditation, relaxation, yoga, massage, and music therapy are recommended for depression/mood disorders.

·     Meditation and yoga are recommended to improve quality of life.

·     Acupressure and acupuncture in addition to anti-nausea medications are recommended for reducing chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.

·     Glutamine is not recommended for improving nausea and vomiting during chemotherapy.

·     Acetyl-L-carnitine is not recommended to prevent chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy because of a possibility of harm.

·     No strong evidence supports the use of ingested dietary supplements to manage breast cancer treatment-related adverse effects.

 

"Patients undergoing and surviving breast cancer treatment naturally want to use every tool available to them to enhance the effectiveness of treatment and improve their quality of life," Lyman said. "Our goal is to help cancer care specialists and their patients make appropriate individualized treatment decisions -- evaluating the current medical literature on complementary therapies to determine what works, what doesn't work and what might actually be harmful instead of helpful. The guidelines should be seen only as that -- guidelines -- because each patient's case is unique, and there's nothing more important than the judgment of an independent, caring professional. There is a considerable lack of information on the benefits and harms of many integrative therapies in oncology and further rigorous research of such methods is greatly needed."

 

ASCO's expert panel said recommendations may be subject to change as additional scientific evidence is compiled, and although ASCO generally endorsed the SIO recommendations, the panel brought attention to several areas of discussion, including safety concerns about mistletoe, sometimes taken to improve quality of life, and ginseng, sometimes taken to counter fatigue. Certain forms of ginseng could have estrogenic properties, but more research is needed to evaluate risk in patients with estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/06/180612092128.htm

Motivation to move may start with being mindful

May 14, 2018

Science Daily/Iowa State University

A meditation and stress reduction program may be as effective at getting people to move more as structured exercise programs, according to a new study. This is part of another study that found resistance training reduces symptoms of depression.

 

The study compared two intervention programs -- mindfulness-based stress reduction and aerobic exercise training -- with a control group and measured changes in exercise, general physical activity and sedentary time. Jacob Meyer, an ISU assistant professor of kinesiology, says people assigned to the two interventions were more active than those in the control group, logging roughly an extra 75 minutes a week of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity following the eight-week interventions. The results are published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

 

Meyer and his colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of Mississippi Medical Center say helping sedentary adults get those 75 minutes of exercise can extend life expectancy by nearly two years. Researchers expected the exercise intervention to increase physical activity more than the meditation training. Meyer says to see similar results from the mindfulness intervention was somewhat surprising.

 

"Structured exercise training is something as a field we have used for decades to improve physical activity and physical health," Meyer said. "To see a similar effect on physical activity from an intervention that focuses on the way someone thinks or perceives the world, was completely unexpected."

 

The researchers used a mindfulness-based stress reduction program developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, which aims to reduce stress through meditation, self-awareness and being present in the moment, Meyer said. People in the mindfulness intervention spent 2 1/2 hours a week in class learning how to be mindful. They practiced mindful stretching and movement as well as breathing exercises to incorporate into their daily activities.

 

Similarly, those in the exercise group attended 2 1/2 hour weekly sessions learning various exercise techniques and discussing strategies to change behavior. An hour of each class was dedicated to a group activity such as walking or jogging. Meyer says both groups were encouraged to do the intervention at home for 20 to 45 minutes each day.

 

Shifting from structured exercise to overall movement

 

While the interventions did not significantly increase time spent exercising or decrease sedentary time, participants generally maintained activity levels. Meyer says this is important given the timeframe for the study. Researchers collected data during the fall and early winter months as part of a larger study focused on the cold and flu season. Seasonal variation in weather likely contributed to the sharp decline in activity for the control group, Meyer said, but the intervention groups did not experience the same drop-off.

 

The study focused on exercise in bouts that lasted at least 10 minutes, but also tracked general physical activity, such as walking from the parking lot to the office or working in the yard. Meyer says both intervention groups saw smaller drop-offs in general activity levels than the control group, which is encouraging given the forthcoming changes to federal physical activity recommendations.

 

Researchers used the 10-minute threshold to be consistent with federal guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise weekly, in bouts of at least 10 minutes, Meyer said. However, the recommendations only focus on a small percentage (1.5 percent) of minutes in the week. That is one reason why the updated guidelines, expected later this year, emphasize overall activity, regardless of length of time.

 

"There are clinical and cardiovascular health benefits to exercise training, but there are also important general health benefits from a more active lifestyle," Meyer said. "Shifting from thinking we need to be in a gym for an hour at a time to thinking about being more active throughout the day helps people understand how physical activity could play a role in helping improve their health."

 

Resistance training and depression

 

A primary focus of Meyer's research examines the benefits of exercise for people with depression. As part of a separate study, Meyer worked with researchers at the University of Limerick in Ireland, and Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, to test the effects of resistance training on symptoms of depression. The results, published in JAMA Psychiatry, found weightlifting and muscle-strengthening exercises significantly reduced depressive symptoms.

 

The meta-analysis, led by Brett Gordon at the University of Limerick, included 33 randomized controlled trials with more than 1,800 participants. Resistance training reduced symptoms for adults regardless of health status, the volume of training and whether or not strength improved, Meyer said. The results appear similar to the benefits from aerobic exercise found in other studies.

 

Depression affects more than 300 million people, according to the World Health Organization. Meyer says resistance training could provide a treatment option with benefits that extend beyond mental health. In the paper, researchers explain the economic costs as well as other health risks associated with depression. Meyer says resistance training also gives patients an alternative to medication.

 

"For general feelings of depression and the beginning phases of major depression, antidepressants and medications may not be very effective. There also is a shift toward finding options that do not require someone to start a drug regimen they may be on for the rest of their lives," Meyer said. "Understanding that resistance training appears to have similar benefits to aerobic exercise may help those wading through daunting traditional medication treatment options."

 

Meyer says future research is needed to know if aerobic exercise and resistance training work through similar channels to reduce depressive symptoms or work independently.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/05/180514122420.htm

Even a single mindfulness meditation session can reduce anxiety

People with anxiety show reduced stress on the arteries after 1-hour introductory session

April 23, 2018

Science Daily/Experimental Biology 2018

Mindfulness meditation programs have shown promise for the treatment of anxiety, one of the most common mental health disorders in the US. New research suggests people can begin to derive psychological and physiological benefits from the practice after a single introductory session.

 

"Our results show a clear reduction in anxiety in the first hour after the meditation session, and our preliminary results suggest that anxiety was significantly lower one week after the meditation session," said lead study author John J. Durocher, PhD, an assistant professor of physiology in the department of biological sciences at Michigan Technological University. "Participants also had reduced mechanical stress on their arteries an hour after the session. This could help to reduce stress on organs like the brain and kidneys and help prevent conditions such as high blood pressure."

 

Understanding the effects of mindfulness meditation on the body can help improve the design of anti-anxiety therapies, according to Durocher. He will present the research at the American Physiological Society annual meeting during the 2018 Experimental Biology meeting, held April 21-25 in San Diego.

 

Anxiety can be a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Previous studies have indicated that arterial stiffness (a predictor of cardiovascular disease) can be increased by traumatic life events, job strain, depression, temporary anxiety and long-term proneness to anxiety. Cardiovascular changes associated with anxiety can also lead to high blood pressure and long-term damage to various organs.

 

Researchers recruited 14 participants who had normal blood pressure but high levels of anxiety. They measured factors related to cardiovascular functioning -- including heart rate, blood pressure, aortic blood pressure (blood pressure in the aorta, specifically) and arterial stiffness -- before and after a 60-minute guided introductory session of mindfulness meditation. This type of meditation emphasizes focusing on breathing and awareness of one's thoughts.

 

The results demonstrate that even a single, brief intervention can yield measurable improvements in people with anxiety. Researchers said most participants reported continuing to use mindfulness after the initial session and anxiety scores were reduced even further one week later.

 

"This study is different because we examined the effect of a single mindfulness meditation session on anxiety and cardiovascular outcomes, while other studies have examined the effect of several days or weeks of mindfulness meditation," Durocher said. "The results suggest that a single mindfulness meditation session may help to reduce cardiovascular risk in those with moderate anxiety."

 

Durocher and colleagues recently started a new study to assess the effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction in people with moderately elevated blood pressure.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180423135048.htm

Meditation could help anxiety and cardiovascular health

April 20, 2018

Science Daily/Michigan Technological University

In a student-led study, one hour of mindfulness meditation shown to reduce anxiety and some cardiovascular risk markers.

 

It sounds like a late-night commercial: In just one hour you can reduce your anxiety levels and some heart health risk factors. But a recent study with 14 participants shows preliminary data that even a single session of meditation can have cardiovascular and psychological benefits for adults with mild to moderate anxiety.

 

John Durocher, assistant professor of biological sciences, is presenting the work of a team of Michigan Technological University researchers about mindfulness meditation and its ability to reduce anxiety at the 2018 Experimental Biology meeting April 21-25 in San Diego, which is attended by approximately 14,000 people.

 

In "Mindfulness Meditation Reduces Aortic Pulsatile Load and Anxiety in Mild to Moderately Anxious Adults," Durocher, along with fellow researchers Hannah Marti, a recent Michigan Tech graduate, Brigitte Morin, lecturer in biological science, and Travis Wakeham, a graduate student, explains the finding that 60 minutes after meditating the 14 study participants showed lower resting heart rates and reduction in aortic pulsatile load -- the amount of change in blood pressure between diastole and systole of each heartbeat multiplied by heart rate. Additionally, shortly after meditating, and even one week later, the group reported anxiety levels were lower than pre-meditation levels.

 

"Even a single hour of meditation appears to reduce anxiety and some of the markers for cardiovascular risk," Durocher says.

 

While it's well-documented that meditation over the course of several weeks reduces anxiety, there have been few comprehensive research studies on the benefits of a single meditation session. Durocher's team wanted to understand the effect of acute mindfulness on cognition and the cardiovascular system to improve how anti-anxiety therapies and interventions are designed.

 

Studying the physiological effects of mindfulness meditation

 

Durocher said the study hinged on a research design proposed by recent graduate Hannah Marti '17. Marti, who graduated from Michigan Tech with a bachelor's degree in Biomedical Engineering, will begin medical school in July at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

 

Marti designed the mindfulness study to include three sessions:

 

·     An orientation session during which researchers measured anxiety using the Beck Anxiety Inventory (BAI) and conducted cardiovascular testing by measuring heart rate variability, resting blood pressure and pulse wave analysis;

·     A meditation session that included repetition of the cardiovascular testing plus the mindfulness meditation -- 20 minutes introductory meditation, 30 minutes body scan and 10 minutes self-guided meditation -- as well as repeating cardiovascular measurements immediately following meditation and 60 minutes after;

·     A post-meditation anxiety test one week later.

 

During a body scan, the participant is asked to focus intensely on one part of the body at a time, beginning with the toes. By focusing on individual parts of the body, a person can train his or her mind to pivot from detailed attention to a wider awareness from one moment to the next.

 

"The point of a body scan is that if you can focus on one single part of your body, just your big toe, it can make it much easier for you to deal with something stressful in your life. You can learn to focus on one part of it rather than stressing about everything else in your life," Marti says.

 

One participant in the study commented that following the session they were the least stressed they'd been in a decade.

 

Durocher says Marti was capable of designing such a study because of her experiences with research during her undergraduate studies at Michigan Tech and by securing support through two Pavlis Honors College and Portage Health Foundation internships.

 

"She had some experience during the first internship so she could propose her own study for the second one," he says. "I helped to make minor adjustments, but Hannah did much of this project on her own."

 

New avenues of research in the health sciences at Michigan Tech

 

The single session mindfulness meditation study and the NIH-funded study to come (see sidebar), are excellent examples of the emphasis on student participation in research at Michigan's northern-most public university.

 

"In Michigan Tech's health science research programs, I want our students to get hands-on experience that they can carry into their futures, gaining experiences to advance their educational careers or their professional careers," Durocher says. "When they go for an interview, they have something real to talk about, there's substance."

 

Marti says this has been her experience.

 

"I had so much to talk about in my medical school interviews," she says. "I didn't have to say 'I just helped the professor do this,' because with Dr. Durocher's help, I was able to do most of the research myself."

 

Case in point, Durocher notes that nearly 20 former students who participated in laboratory research with him have gone on to physical therapy programs, medical school or to pursue a research doctorate.

 

And just as important, after students move on to the next chapter of their lives, there remains the legacy of their involvement in research: research designs are used in future projects and upcoming students will carry the research forward.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180420122810.htm

Tai Chi improves brain metabolism and muscle energetics in older adults

April 19, 2018

Science Daily/Wiley

A new Journal of Neuroimaging study provides insights into the biochemical mechanisms by which Tai Chi -- a mind-body exercise -- may provide both physical and psychological benefits.

Using magnetic resonance spectroscopy, a non-invasive method of measuring brain and muscle chemistry using MRI machines, tests conducted in 6 older adults enrolled in a 12-week Tai Chi program revealed significant increases in a marker of neuronal health in the brain and significantly improved recovery rates of a metabolite involved in energy production in leg muscles.

"The benefits of Tai Chi have been well known anecdotally; however recent research such as our study can quantify these improvements using objective measures," said senior author Dr. Alexander Lin, of Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180419100204.htm

Seven-year follow-up shows lasting cognitive gains from meditation

April 5, 2018

Science Daily/University of California - Davis

Gains in the ability to sustain attention developed through intensive meditation training are maintained up to seven years later, according to a new study.

 

"This study is the first to offer evidence that intensive and continued meditation practice is associated with enduring improvements in sustained attention and response inhibition, with the potential to alter longitudinal trajectories of cognitive change across a person's life," said first author Anthony Zanesco, postdoctoral researcher at the University of Miami, who began work on the project before starting his Ph.D. program in psychology at UC Davis. The project is led by Clifford Saron, research scientist at the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain, in collaboration with a large group of researchers.

 

The Shamatha Project is the most comprehensive longitudinal study of intensive meditation yet undertaken and has drawn the attention of scientists and Buddhist scholars alike, including the Dalai Lama, who has endorsed the project. It examines the effects of two intensive meditation retreats held in 2007 at the Shambhala Mountain Center in Red Feather Lakes, Colorado. The study followed 60 experienced meditators who attended these three-month meditation retreats and received ongoing instruction in meditation techniques from Buddhist scholar, author and teacher B. Alan Wallace of the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies. They attended group meditation sessions twice a day and engaged in individual practice for about six hours a day.

 

Gains maintained in regular meditators

 

Immediately after the study, participants in the meditation retreat showed improvements in attention as well as in general psychological well-being and ability to cope with stress.

 

Since the retreats, the researchers have followed up with participants at six and 18 months, and most recently at seven years. The 40 participants who remained in the study at this latest follow-up all reported that they continued some form of meditation practice over the seven-year period, equivalent to about an hour a day on average.

 

The new study shows that those gains in attention observed immediately after retreat were partly maintained seven years later, especially for older participants who maintained a more diligent meditation practice over the seven years. Compared to those who practiced less, these participants maintained cognitive gains and did not show typical patterns of age-related decline in sustained attention.

 

The participants' lifestyle or personality might also have contributed to the observations, Zanesco noted. Benefits from meditation appeared to have plateaued after the retreats, even in participants who practiced the most: This could have implications for how much meditation can, in fact, influence human cognition and the workings of the brain, he said.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180405093257.htm

Practicing Tai Chi helps improve respiratory function in patients with COPD

Tai Chi offers a low-cost, easily accessible alternative to pulmonary rehabilitation

April 4, 2018

Science Daily/Elsevier

Currently, pulmonary rehabilitation (PR) is used where available to improve exercise capacity and quality of life, but the treatment requires access to trained staff and specialized facilities. A new study looked at Tai Chi as a lower cost, more easily accessed treatment option. Investigators found that this slow, methodical form of exercise is equivalent to PR for improving respiratory function in patients with COPD.

 

Finding ways to help patients with COPD improve their functional status is an area of interest for pulmonary healthcare providers. Currently, pulmonary rehabilitation (PR) is used where available to improve exercise capacity and quality of life, but the treatment requires access to trained staff and specialized facilities. A new study in the journal CHEST® looked at Tai Chi as a lower cost, more easily accessed treatment option. Investigators found that this slow, methodical form of exercise is equivalent to PR for improving respiratory function in patients with COPD.

 

Tai Chi, an ancient martial art that involves significant levels of physical exertion, is gaining popularity, especially among older people, across the globe. Originating in China, Tai Chi incorporates stretching, breathing, and coordinated movement and requires no special equipment. "Knowing the potential benefits of Tai Chi, we hypothesized that, in patients being treated with medication to manage their COPD symptoms, it could help improve the quality of life when compared to a course of classical western style PR," noted Professor Nan-Shan Zhong, MD, State Key Laboratory of Respiratory Disease, Guangzhou, China.

 

The study tracked 120 patients with COPD in rural China who had never used a bronchodilator. After beginning daily treatment with indacaterol, subjects were randomly assigned to groups receiving traditional PR or Tai Chi. Both the Tai Chi and PR groups showed similar improvements in Saint Georges Respiratory Questionnaire (SGRQ) scores, a standard measure of health status in patients with diseases causing airway obstruction. However, after twelve weeks, a clinically significant difference in SGRQ scores emerged favoring Tai Chi. Similar trends were noted in performance of a six-minute walk test.

 

"Tai Chi is an appropriate substitute for PR," explained lead investigator Professor Yuan-Ming Luo, PhD, also of the State Key Laboratory of Respiratory Disease. "While neither training approach differed from the other by more than the minimal clinically important difference of four SGRQ points at the end of this 12-week study, an additional 12 weeks after discontinuation of formal training, improvements emerged in favor of Tai Chi in SGRQ score, six-minute walk distance, modified Medical Research Council dyspnea score, and quadriceps strength. We conclude that Tai Chi is equivalent to PR and may confer more sustained benefit."

 

Subjects in the Tai Chi group met for formal instruction five hours per week for 12 weeks and were taught the 24 form Yang style. The results of the Tai Chi group were compared to that of another group of subjects who received PR three times a week for 12 weeks. After the initial 12 weeks, participants were encouraged to continue their Tai Chi either alone or with a group in their community; however, no formal assistance was provided to patients during this period. Those in the PR group received verbal encouragement to remain as physically active as possible. Final analysis of all data was conducted 12 weeks after the formal training had concluded.

 

For many patients, reducing the symptoms of COPD can greatly improve their quality of life. While medication continues to play an important role in treating COPD, the cost of those medicines can be a barrier for some patients, especially for treating a chronic illness like COPD.

 

"This study demonstrates that a low-cost exercise intervention is equivalent to formal pulmonary rehabilitation, and this may enable a greater number of patients to be treated," concluded lead author of the study Michael I. Polkey, PhD, NIHR Respiratory Biomedical Research Unit, The Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS Foundation Trust and Imperial College, London, United Kingdom. "Physical activity is key to reducing symptoms in COPD. We do recommend PR, but our study shows that Tai Chi is a viable alternative when there is no local PR service. We encourage pulmonary rehabilitation providers to consider offering Tai Chi as an alternative therapy that patients would then be able to continue unsupervised in their own home."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180404182507.htm

 

Meditate regularly for an improved attention span in old age

Extensive study finds that regular meditation sessions can have a long-lasting effect on a person's attention span and other cognitive abilities

March 28, 2018

Science Daily/Springer

Regular and intensive meditation sessions over the course of a lifetime could help a person remain attentive and focused well into old age. This is according to the most extensive longitudinal study to date examining a group of meditation practitioners. The research evaluates the benefits that people gained after three months of full-time meditation training and whether these benefits are maintained seven years later.

 

This study follows up on previous work by the same group of researchers at the University of California, Davis in 2011, which assessed the cognitive abilities of 30 people who regularly meditated before and after they went on a three-month-long retreat at the Shambhala Mountain meditation center in the US. At the center, they meditated daily using techniques designed to foster calm sustained attention on a chosen object and to generate aspirations such as compassion, loving-kindness, emphatic joy and equanimity among participants, for others and themselves. During this time, another group of 30 people who regularly meditated were also monitored. Other than traveling to the meditation center for a week-long assessment period, they carried on with their lives as normal. After the first group's initial retreat was over, the second group received similar intensive training at the Shambhala Mountain Center.

 

As part of this study, follow-up assessments were conducted six months, eighteen months and seven years after completion of the retreats. During the last appraisal, participants were asked to estimate how much time over the course of seven years they had spent meditating outside of formal retreat settings, such as through daily or non-intensive practice. The forty participants who had remained in the study all reported some form of continued meditation practice: 85 per cent attended at least one meditation retreat, and they practiced amounts on average that were comparable to an hour a day for seven years.

 

The participants again completed assessments designed to measure their reaction time and ability to pay attention to a task. Although these did not improve, the cognitive gains accrued after the 2011 training and assessment were partially maintained many years later. This was especially true for older participants who practiced a lot of meditation over the seven years. Compared to those who practiced less, they maintained cognitive gains and did not show typical patterns of age-related decline in sustained attention.

 

"This study is the first to offer evidence that intensive and continued meditation practice is associated with enduring improvements in sustained attention and response inhibition, with the potential to alter longitudinal trajectories of cognitive change across a person's life," says Zanesco.

 

He is aware that participants' lifestyle or personality might have contributed to the observations. Zanesco therefore calls for further research into meditation as an intervention to improve brain functioning among older people.

 

He says the current findings also provide a sobering appraisal of whether short-term or non-intensive mindfulness interventions are helpful to improve sustained attention in a lasting manner. Participants practiced far more meditation than is feasible for shorter-term programs that might aim to help with cognitive aging, and despite practicing that much meditation, participants did not generally improve over years; these benefits instead plateaued. Zanesco believes this has broad implications for meditation and mindfulness-based approaches to cognitive training and raises important questions regarding how much meditation can, in fact, influence human cognition and the workings of the brain.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/03/180328103708.htm

Meditation has limited role in making you a better person

For decades many people have claimed meditation can change how we behave towards others and make us more compassionate -- but new research suggests this is not the case.

February 5, 2018

Science Daily/Coventry University

For decades many people have claimed meditation can change how we behave towards others and make us more compassionate.

 

But now new research has suggested meditation's role in making individuals better people is limited.

 

The study by scientists at Coventry University in the UK, Massey University in New Zealand, and Radboud University in the Netherlands, reviewed more than 20 studies that investigated the effect of various types of meditation, such as mindfulness and loving-kindness, on pro-social feelings and behaviours.

 

Initial analysis indicated that meditation did have an overall positive impact.

 

The researchers said meditation made people feel moderately more compassionate or empathic, compared to if they had done no other new emotionally-engaging activity.

 

However further analysis revealed that it played no significant role in reducing aggression or prejudice or improving how socially-connected someone was.

 

The most unexpected result of this study, though, was that the more positive results found for compassion had important methodological flaws -- compassion levels in some studies only increased if the meditation teacher was also an author of the published report.

 

Overall, these results suggest that the moderate improvements reported by psychologists in previous studies may be the result of methodological weaknesses and biases, said the researchers.

 

Their research -- published today in Scientific Reports -- only included randomised controlled studies, where meditators were compared to other individuals that did not meditate.

 

All these studies used secular meditation techniques derived from Buddhism, such as mindfulness and loving-kindness meditation, but not other related activities, like yoga or Tai-Chi.

 

Dr Miguel Farias, from Coventry University's Centre for Advances in Behavioural Science, said:

 

"The popularisation of meditation techniques, like mindfulness, despite being taught without religious beliefs, still seem to offer the hope of a better self and a better world to many. We wanted to investigate how powerful these techniques were in affecting one's feelings and behaviours towards others.

 

"Despite the high hopes of practitioners and past studies, our research found that methodological shortcomings greatly influenced the results we found. Most of the initial positive results disappeared when the meditation groups were compared to other groups that engaged in tasks unrelated to meditation. We also found that the beneficial effect of meditation on compassion disappeared if the meditation teacher was an author in the studies. This reveals that the researchers might have unintentionally biased their results.

 

"None of this, of course, invalidates Buddhism or other religions' claims about the moral value and eventually life changing potential of its beliefs and practices. But our research findings are a far cry from many popular claims made by meditators and some psychologists.

 

"To understand the true impact of meditation on people's feelings and behaviour further we first need to address the methodological weaknesses we uncovered -- starting with the high expectations researchers might have about the power of meditation."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/02/180205092902.htm

Researchers 'dismantle' mindfulness intervention to see how each component works

December 4, 2017

Science Daily/Brown University

Because mindfulness-based interventions blend multiple practices, researchers can't always figure out how each one works, so they created a rigorously controlled study to isolate each of them and confirm that they do what is claimed.

 

As health interventions based on mindfulness have grown in popularity, some of the field's leading researchers have become concerned that the evidence base for such practices is not yet robust enough. A new study shows how a rigorous approach to studying mindfulness-based interventions can help ensure that claims are backed by science.

 

One problem is that mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) sometimes blend practices, which makes it difficult to measure how each of those practices affects participants. To address that issue, the researchers took a common intervention for mood disorders -- mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) -- and created a controlled study that isolated, or dismantled, its two main ingredients. Those include open monitoring (OM) -- noticing and acknowledging negative feelings without judgment or an emotional secondary reaction to them; and focused attention (FA) -- maintaining focus on or shifting it toward a neutral sensation, such as breathing, to disengage from negative emotions or distractions.

 

"It has long been hypothesized that focused attention practice improves attentional control while open-monitoring promotes emotional non-reactivity -- two aspects of mindfulness thought to contribute its therapeutic effects," said study lead and corresponding author Willoughby Britton, an assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior in the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. "However, because these two practices are almost always delivered in combination, it is difficult to assess their purported differential effects. By creating separate, validated, single-ingredient training programs for each practice, the current project provides researchers with a tool to test the individual contributions of each component and mechanism to clinical endpoints."

 

In the study, the researchers randomized more than 100 individuals with mild-to-severe depression, anxiety and stress to take one of three eight-week courses: one set of classes provided a standardized MBCT that incorporated the typical blend of OM and FA. The two other classes each provided an intervention that employed only OM or only FA. In every other respect -- time spent in class, time practicing at home, instructor training and skill, participant characteristics, number of handouts -- each class was comparable by design.

 

At the beginning and end of the classes, the researchers asked the volunteers to answer a variety of standardized questionnaires, including scales that measure their self-reported ability to achieve some of the key skills each practice is assumed to improve. If the researchers saw significant differences between the FA group and the OM group on the skills each was supposed to affect, then there would be evidence that the practices uniquely improve those skills as intervention providers often claim.

 

Sure enough, the different practices engaged different skills and mechanisms as predicted. The FA-only group, for example, reported much greater improvement in the ability to willfully shift or focus attention than the OM-only group (but not the MBCT group, which also received FA training). Meanwhile, the OM-only group was significantly more improved than the FA-only group (but not the MBCT group) in the skill of being non-reactive to negative thoughts.

 

"If FA practice promotes attentional control, and OM practice promotes emotional non-reactivity, then end users can alter the amount of each practice to fit their individual needs for each skill," Britton said. "The study created validated single-practice programs that can be used by other researchers or providers for specific populations or conditions. This is the first step to an evidence-based personalized medicine approach to mindfulness."

 

The Science of Behavior Change

 

Along with co-author and epidemiology associate professor Eric Loucks, director of Brown University's Mindfulness Center, Britton is part of the five-university Mindfulness Research Collaborative. The collaborative is one of eight teams in the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health's Science of Behavior Change (SOBC) Research Network.

 

The new research will appear in print inae February 2018 special issue of the journal Behaviour Research and Therapy titled "An experimental medicine approach to behavior change: The NIH Science Of Behavior Change (SOBC)," which takes a mechanism-focused approach to studying behavioral interventions.

 

The Mindfulness Research Collaborative (MRC) consists of 11 mindfulness researchers across five universities, and is one of the eight teams in the SOBC Research Network who are working to advance a mechanism-focused approach to behavioral interventions. The collaborative's SOBC project "Mindfulness Influences on Self-Regulation: Mental and Physical Health Implications" seeks to identify self-regulation intervention targets that are engaged by MBIs, as well as factors that influence target engagement. The current paper describes the "Dismantling Mindfulness" concurrent clinical trial.

 

Britton said the SOBC approach can make mindfulness more effective for people who practice it.

 

"Mindfulness research in general could benefit from employing the SOBC experimental medicine approach," she said. "Little is known about how MBIs work or how they should be modified to maximize effectiveness. The SOBC experimental medicine approach will not only help MBIs become maximally effective, but also provide essential mechanistic information that will help tailor the intervention and instructor training to specific populations and conditions."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/12/171204105332.htm

Mindfulness meditation can offset the worry of waiting

December 4, 2017

Science Daily/University of California - Riverside

Research has shown all the techniques we employ to reduce the stress of worry don't work. Now an expert has found something that can help: 'mindfulness' meditation. That is, focusing on the present using meditation. The research has found that mindfulness is a sort of antidote to the 'curse' of waiting.

 

Popular music and clichés aren't the only evidence that the waiting is the hardest part. Research backs it up as well; waiting for potentially bad news can be at least as difficult as receiving the news.

 

try lots of things to mitigate the suffering that comes with waiting for exam scores, hospital test results, or the outcome of a job interview. They try to distract themselves. They try to stay positive. They brace for the worst.

 

Past research by UC Riverside "worry and waiting" expert Kate Sweeny has studied the effectiveness of those techniques. None of it works, her research has found. Those tactics not only fail to reduce distress -- they can even backfire and make it worse.

 

But now, Sweeny's research finds something that can help: supplementing those ineffective strategies with "mindfulness" meditation. That is, focusing on the present using meditation.

 

In the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, research funded by the National Science Foundation asserts that mindfulness is a sort of antidote to the "curse" of waiting. That curse is a focus on the past or on the future, represented by questions such as "Why did I say that?" and "What if things don't go my way?"

 

"We try to predict our fate and regain a sense of certainty and control over our life," said Sweeny, who is an associate professor of psychology at UCR. "We know from lots of research that rumination (repetitive thoughts about the past) and worry (repetitive thoughts about the future) are quite unpleasant and even harmful to our health and well-being, so it's important to seek solutions to this painful form of mental time-travel."

 

Better to focus on the present, Sweeny said, and accept your thoughts and feelings as they arise rather than engage in tactics to avoid them. It means you'll process your emotions differently and -- Sweeny argues -- more effectively.

 

The study was performed using 150 California law students who had taken the bar exam and were awaiting the exam results. It takes four months after taking the exam before results are posted online. The students completed a series of questionnaires in that four-month waiting period.

 

There are few "waiting" scenarios more stressful than the potentially career-killing bar exam. The magnitude of the distress is represented in several sample statements Sweeny and her team collected. Among them:

 

I had a nightmare where I couldn't determine whether I had passed or failed the bar exam and I spent the entire dream trying to find out my results. I have these sort of bar exam nightmares once every couple weeks.

 

I got sick, like fever flu sick, and I think it's because my anxiety levels have slowly been building up to today!! I was constantly thinking and thinking about the results.

 

During the four-month waiting period, the students were asked to participate in a 15-minute audio-guided meditation session at least once a week.

 

Sweeny found the mindfulness meditation served to postpone the phenomenon of "bracing." Bracing is essentially preparing for the worst. Previous research by Sweeny and others shows bracing can be an effective technique for managing expectations, but its benefits erode when it occurs too early in the waiting process.

 

"Optimism feels good; it just does a poor job of preparing us for the blow of bad news," Sweeny said. "That's where bracing comes in. In a perfect world, we'd be optimistic as long as possible to get all the good feelings we can from assuming the best, and then we'd brace for the worst at the moment of truth to make sure we're prepared for bad news."

 

The benefits of mindfulness meditation have long been asserted, but Sweeny said this is the first research to demonstrate its effectiveness coping with waiting.

 

"We know that meditation is a great way to reduce everyday stress, but our study is the first to see if it also makes it easier to wait for personally significant news. This study is also one of the first to identify any strategy that helps people wait better, and it also shows that even brief and infrequent meditation can be helpful," Sweeny said.

 

Best of all, Sweeny said, the mindfulness tactic requires no training, no money, and minimal time and effort.

 

"Meditation isn't for everyone, but our study shows that you don't have to be a master meditater or go to a silent meditation retreat to benefit from mindfulness," she said. "Even 15 minutes once a week, which was the average amount of meditation practiced by our participants, was enough to ease the stress of waiting."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/12/171204095011.htm

 

Mindfulness training and therapy can reverse jail time's negative psychological effects

November 30, 2017

Science Daily/University of Pennsylvania

Just four months in prison can negatively affects a person's cognitive abilities and impulse control, according to new findings. The good news is that a combination of mindfulness training and cognitive behavioral therapy can help undo some of jail time's undesirable consequences.

 

"We have known for decades that poor cognitive functioning is a risk factor for crime and delinquency," says Raine, the Richard Perry University Professor of Criminology, Psychiatry, and Psychology. "The big thing for society here is that imprisonment is making worse a risk factor that sends people to prison to begin with."

 

The study, led by Umbach, a fourth-year criminology graduate student, analyzed data collected by New York University researcher Noelle R. Leonard. Incarcerated 16- to 18-year-old males at Rikers Island Prison were randomly assigned to three months of either a control group that attended weekly sessions focused on substance use, violence, and sexual health risk-reduction or an experimental group that participated in CBT and mindfulness exercises.

 

"This was a specific kind of mindfulness," Umbach says. "Participants learned breathing exercises and went through varying degrees of CBT. The idea was that the CBT would make you more willing to open up to the positive effects of mindfulness. They were also encouraged to meditate and do breathing exercises on their own."

 

Everyone in the study completed what's called the "Emotional Go/No Go" test at intake, then again after four months. Inmates viewed faces on a computer screen expressing one of four emotions -- fear, happiness, sadness, or anger -- or a neutral face. For each of eight rounds, one of these or a neutral face became the focus. For the fear-focused round, for example, participants were to press the button when a fearful face appeared and avoid pressing it for a neutral one.

 

The Penn team confirmed what's been hypothesized, that spending time in prison has negative psychological consequences for cognitive control, emotion regulation, and emotion recognition. They also found that while performance of both groups decreased significantly over time, the CBT/mindfulness appeared to mitigate the decline for impulse control and emotion regulation.

 

"Perhaps we should be paying a little more attention to cognitive behavior therapy and mindfulness when we have young offenders. These kids are 16 to 18, they're teenagers," Raine says. "Maybe we should be doing a little more to help them with their impulse control."

 

Though this work doesn't prove that such an intervention can work for older offenders who have been in prison longer, Raine says it's proof of concept for a methodology that could apply to future research.

 

In that vein, Umbach says she hopes to replicate the results, and has plans to assess other tasks in the dataset Leonard originally collected. She feels strongly about the implications of these and future findings on those who end up in prison.

 

"Most people who are incarcerated go back out into the world," she says. "Are there efforts we can make to keep them at a level of cognitive functioning that's as close to normal as possible?"

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171130150421.htm

Visiting the doctor for low back pain? Expect something different now

November 15, 2017

Science Daily/University of Sydney

If you visit your family doctor with low back pain (LBP), you may be surprised at the treatment options they suggest now. Recent changes to major international guidelines for the management of LBP mean that general practitioners (GP) are now unlikely to recommend pain medicines which were previously the go-to treatment. Instead of pain medicines, GPs might suggest non-medicinal approaches including yoga, mindfulness and various types of physiotherapy and psychological therapies.

 

Low back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide. It is the second most common reason for seeking care from a family doctor. In Australia, low back pain is the number one cause of early retirement and income poverty.

 

The new guidelines -- the UK National Institute for Health and Care Excellence clinical guideline for low-back pain and sciatica, and a clinical practice guideline from the American College of Physicians -- encourage a shift in thinking about the primary care management of low-back pain.

 

In response to an escalating prescription opioid crisis, and an overwhelming amount of research showing most pain medicines have little to no effect compared to placebo for people with LBP, the guidelines have radically changed their stance on the medicines.

 

Instead of pain medicines, GPs might suggest non-medicinal approaches including yoga, mindfulness and various types of physiotherapy and psychological therapies.

 

The results of a University of Sydney review to investigate the current approach and changes to diagnosis and management of LBP were published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

 

"Until now, the recommended approach to help LBP in general practice was to prescribe simple pain medicines such as paracetamol or anti-inflammatories," said lead author Dr Adrian Traeger, researcher from the Musculoskeletal Health Group at the University's School of Public Health.

 

"These new guidelines suggest avoiding pain medicines initially and discouraging other invasive treatments such as injections and surgery. The recent changes to these guidelines are important and represent a substantial change in thinking on how best to manage LBP -- the previous recommendations were in place for decades.

 

"If you have an uncomplicated case of recent-onset LBP, your doctor may now simply provide advice on how to remain active and non-drug methods for pain relief such as heat and massage, and arrange to see you in two weeks to make sure the pain has settled.

 

"If your pain started a long time ago, they might suggest treatments such as yoga, exercise or mindfulness as treatment. Other effective options could include spinal manipulation, acupuncture, or multi-disciplinary rehabilitation programs.

 

"These revisions to major international guidelines should see changes to practice worldwide.

 

However Dr Traeger is concerned that without support from Medicare the suggested reforms could place additional financial strain on those suffering from low back pain.

 

"There will be challenges to providing this type of care. It's currently much easier and cheaper to provide a prescription for an opioid pain medicine (which is not a long-term solution to chronic pain and carries a risk of substantial harm) than a course of treatment with a physiotherapist or psychologist.

 

"Health systems in most industrialised countries, including Australian Medicare, are simply not set up to fund the care that is considered the most appropriate for low back pain right now.

 

"Without policy changes, it will be difficult for GPs to follow current best practice. However, if Medicare were to make simple changes to improve affordability of alternatives to pain medicines, not only would it make a GPs job easier, it could result a major impact on the lives of many living with low back pain, including those who rely on opioids. This needs the attention of the Federal Government."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171115091753.htm

 

Relaxation response may reduce blood pressure by altering expression of a set of genes

of genes

Researchers identified genes and biological pathways linked to immune regulation, metabolism, and circadian rhythm in people who reduced their hypertension after eight-week relaxation response training

April 4, 2018

Science Daily/Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

A new study has identified genes associated with the body's response to relaxation techniques and sheds light on the molecular mechanisms by which certain interventions may work to lower blood pressure.

 

High blood pressure -- or hypertension -- is a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke that affects as many as 100 million Americans and 1 billion people worldwide. Decades of research have demonstrated that the relaxation response -- the physiological and psychological opposite of the well-known fight-or-flight stress response that can be achieved through relaxation techniques like yoga or mediation -- can reduce blood pressure in people with hypertension. Exactly how these interventions act on the body to lower blood pressure remains unclear.

 

A new study led by investigators at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), and the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at MGH identified genes associated with the body's response to relaxation techniques and sheds light on the molecular mechanisms by which these interventions may work to lower blood pressure. The findings were published today in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.

 

"Traditionally, hypertension is treated with pharmacologic therapy, but not all patients respond to drug therapy, and many experience treatment-limiting side effects," said co-senior author Randall Zusman, MD, Director of the Division of Hypertension at MGH's Corrigan Minehan Heart Center. "In these patients, alternative strategies are invaluable. In this study, we found that the relaxation response can successfully help reduce blood pressure in hypertensive patients who are not taking medication."

 

Towia Libermann, PhD, Director of the Genomics, Proteomics, Bioinformatics, and Systems Biology Center at BIDMC said, "To our knowledge, this is the first study to test such a mind-body intervention for a population of unmedicated adults with carefully documented, persistent hypertension, and this is the first study to identify gene expression changes specifically associated with the impact of a mind-body intervention on hypertension. Our results provide new insights into how integrative medicine -- especially mind-body approaches -- influences blood pressure control at the molecular level."

 

First described more than four decades ago by Herbert Benson, MD, Director Emeritus of the Benson Henry Institute and a co-author of the current study, the relaxation response is characterized by a set of measurable changes to the body, including decreased respiration rate and heart rate, all of which can be induced by mind-body techniques including meditation and yoga. Long-term relaxation response practice has been associated with increased brain cortical thickness and specific changes in gene expression.

 

In this study, Libermann, Zusman and colleagues enrolled 58 people with Stage 1 essential hypertension -- defined as having a systolic (top number) blood pressure between 140-159mm Hg and diastolic (bottom number) between 90-104mm Hg. Participants were either not taking medications to control their blood pressure or had tapered off them for five weeks prior to the outset of the study. Participants also filled out standardized questionnaires about stress, depression and anxiety.

 

Over the next eight weeks, participants attended eight weekly training sessions at which they were guided through mind-body interventions designed to elicit the relaxation response -- including diaphragmatic breathing, mantra repetition and mindfulness meditation -while passively ignoring intrusive thoughts. Participants were also given an audio CD that guided them through the same sequence for use at home once a day.

 

After the eight weeks of training, patients filled out the same stress, depression and anxiety questionnaires and had blood drawn for gene expression testing along with blood pressure measurement. Overall, 13 of the 24 participants who completed the eight-week intervention experienced a clinically relevant drop in blood pressure -- that is, specific reductions in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure readings that moved participants below 140/90 mm Hg, the clinical definition of stage 1 hypertension.

 

Patients who demonstrated significant reductions in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure -- enough so that their blood pressure was below the definition of Stage I essential hypertension -- were classified as "responders." Those whose blood pressure still fell within the definition of Stage I hypertension -- and those who did not see reduction in both numbers -- were classified as "non-responders."

 

When Libermann and colleagues ran gene expression analyses comparing blood samples from the two groups, they found that specific gene expression changes had occurred in the responders over the course of the eight-week relaxation response intervention that were not observed in the non-responders. Specifically, among responders the expression of 1,771 genes differed between the baseline blood tests and those taken after the eight weeks of relaxation response practice. Further, Libermann and colleagues determined that the reduction in blood pressure was correlated with genes linked to immune regulatory pathways, metabolism and glucose metabolism, cardiovascular system development and circadian rhythm.

 

"Interactive network analysis of the gene signature identified several molecules, particularly immune system-linked genes, as critical molecules for blood pressure reduction," said first author Manoj Bhasin, PhD, Co-Director of the Genomics, Proteomics, Bioinformatics, and Systems Biology Center at BIDMC.

 

"Our results suggest that the relaxation response reduced blood pressure -- at least in part -- by altering expression of genes in a select set of biological pathways," co-first author John Denninger, MD, PhD, Director of Research at the Benson-Henry Institute, noted. "Importantly, the changes in gene expression associated with this drop in blood pressure are consistent with the physical changes in blood pressure and inflammatory markers that one would anticipate and hope to observe in patients successfully treated for hypertension."

 

In addition to Zusman and Libermann, investigators included co-first author Manoj Bhasin and Marie Joseph of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center; co-first author John Denninger, Jeffrey Huffman, Halsey Niles, Emma Chad-Friedman, Roberta Goldman, Beverly Buczynski Kelley, Barbara Mahoney, Gregory Fricchione and Herbert Benson of Massachusetts General Hospital and Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at MGH; and Jeffery Dusek of Abbott Northwestern Hospital, Institute for Health and Healing.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180404093929.htm

Brain changes seen in veterans with PTSD after mindfulness training

Surprising findings suggest promise of mind-body techniques; more study needed

April 1, 2016

Science Daily/University of Michigan Health System

Like an endlessly repeating video loop, horrible memories plague people with post-traumatic stress disorder. But a new study in veterans shows the promise of mindfulness training for enhancing the ability to manage those thoughts if they come up, and not get 'stuck'. It also shows the veterans' brains changed in ways that may help them find their own off switch for that endless loop.

 

But a new study in veterans with PTSD shows the promise of mindfulness training for enhancing the ability to manage those thoughts if they come up, and not get "stuck." Even more surprising, it actually shows the veterans' brains changed -- in ways that may help them find their own off switch for that endless loop.

 

The findings, published in Depression and Anxiety by a team from the University of Michigan Medical School and VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System, come from a study of 23 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. All of them got some form of group therapy. After four months of weekly sessions, many reported that their PTSD symptoms eased up.

 

But only in those who got mindfulness training -- a mind-body technique that focuses on in-the-moment attention and awareness -- did the researchers see the brain changes that surprised even them.

 

Shifting brain connections

 

The changes showed up on functional MRI, or fMRI, brain scans that can visualize brain activity as different areas of the brain "talk" to one another through networks of connections between brain cells.

 

Before the mindfulness training, when the veterans were resting quietly, their brains had extra activity in regions involved in responding to threats or other outside problems. This is a sign of that endless loop of hypervigilance often seen in PTSD.

 

But after learning mindfulness, they developed stronger connections between two other brain networks: the one involved in our inner, sometimes meandering, thoughts, and the one involved in shifting and directing attention.

 

"The brain findings suggest that mindfulness training may have helped the veterans develop more capacity to shift their attention and get themselves out of being "stuck" in painful cycles of thoughts," says Anthony King, Ph.D., a U-M Department of Psychiatry researcher who led the new study in collaboration with VA psychologists.

 

"We're hopeful that this brain signature shows the potential of mindfulness to be helpful for managing PTSD for people who might initially decline therapy involving trauma processing," he adds. "We hope it may provide emotional regulation skills to help bring them to a place where they feel better able to process their traumas."

 

King, who has experience providing individual and group therapy for veterans from many conflicts, worked with a team of brain-imaging experts and PTSD specialists including senior author Israel Liberzon, M.D. They used an fMRI scanner at the VA Ann Arbor that's dedicated to research.

 

In all, 14 of the veterans finished the mindfulness sessions and completed follow-up fMRI scans, and 9 finished the comparison sessions and had scans. The small size of the group means the new results are only the start of an exploration of this issue, King says.

 

A palatable option

 

Before they launched the study, the researchers weren't sure that they could find enough veterans to try mindfulness-based training. After all, it has a reputation as an "alternative" approach and has a relationship to traditionally East and South Asian practices like meditation and yoga.

 

But in fact, more of the initial group of veterans stuck with mindfulness-based therapy sessions -- held each week for two hours with a trained mindfulness teacher and psychotherapist -- than made it all the way through the comparison psychotherapy group that didn't get mindfulness training.

 

"Once we explained the rationale behind mindfulness, which aims to ground and calm a person while also addressing mental phenomena, they were very interested and engaged -- more than we expected," says King. "The approach we took included standard elements of exposure therapy as well as mindfulness, to help lead veterans to be able to process the trauma itself."

 

The comparison group received a VA-developed intervention that was designed for "control group" use. It included problem-solving and group support but not mindfulness or exposure therapy.

 

The mindfulness group saw improvement in PTSD symptoms, in the form of decreased scores on a standard scale of PTSD severity, that was statistically significant and considered clinically meaningful, whereas the control group did not. However, the between-group effects in this small study were not considered statistically significant, and therefore King wants to explore the trend further in larger groups, and in civilians.

 

He emphasizes that people with PTSD should not see mindfulness alone as a potential solution for their symptoms, and that they should seek out providers trained specifically in PTSD care.

 

That's because mindfulness sessions can sometimes actually trigger symptoms such as intrusive thoughts to flare up. So, it is very important for people with PTSD to have help from a trained counselor to use mindfulness as part of their therapy for PTSD.

 

"Mindfulness can help people cope with and manage their trauma memories, explore their patterns of avoidance when confronting reminders of their trauma, and better understand their reactions to their symptoms," says King. "It helps them feel more grounded, and to notice that even very painful memories have a beginning, a middle and an end -- that they can become manageable and feel safer. It's hard work, but it can pay off."

 

Network shifts

 

At the start of the study, and in previous U-M/VA work, the fMRI scans of veterans with PTSD showed unusual activity. Even when they were asked to rest quietly and let their minds wander freely, they had high levels of activity in brain networks that govern reactions to salient, or meaningful, external signals such as threats or dangers. Meanwhile, the default mode network, involved in inwardly focused thinking and when the mind is wandering, was not as active in them.

 

But at the end of the mindfulness course, the default mode area was more active -- and showed increased connections to areas of the brain known as the executive network. This area gets involved in what scientists call volitional attentional shifting -- purposefully moving your attention to think about or act upon something.

 

Those with the greatest easing of symptoms had the largest increases in connections.

 

"We were surprised by the findings, because there is thinking that segregation between the default mode network and the salience network is good," says King. "But now we are hopeful that this brain signature of increased connection to areas associated with volitional attention shifting at rest may be helpful for managing PTSD, and may help patients have more capacity to help themselves get out of being stuck in painful ruts of trauma memories and rumination."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160401073703.htm

 

Can yoga help those experiencing depression, anxiety or PTSD?

Potential benefits of yoga for people who experience mental health problems related to trauma

March 9, 2016

Science Daily/University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Across the country, health and human service providers have shown a growing interest in using yoga as an option for treating people who experience mental health problems. But a recent study has found that while there are some promising benefits to using yoga, there isn't yet enough evidence to support the practice as a standalone solution for improving mental health and well-being.

 

"I really wanted to know if yoga is something we should be suggesting to people who have post-traumatic stress disorder, or depression, or anxiety or various traumas. What does the evidence really say?," said Rebecca Macy, a researcher who works with violence and trauma survivors who headed up the study at the UNC School of Social Work.

 

For their study, Macy and her colleagues analyzed 13 literature reviews to conduct a meta-review of 185 articles published between 2000 and 2013. Overall, the researchers found that yoga holds potential promise for helping improve anxiety, depression, PTSD and/or the psychological consequences of trauma at least in the short term.

 

The study, published recently in the journal Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, also suggested that clinicians and service providers consider recommending yoga as an intervention in addition to other "evidence-based and well-established treatments," including psychotherapy and medication.

 

"Even though I do think yoga is, in general, incredibly beneficial, I also think there needs to be a whole lot more education about how to use yoga specifically to treat survivors of trauma in order to be the most effective and helpful," said Leslie Roach, a certified yoga instructor and massage therapist who co-authored the study. "So as a standalone treatment right now, it's just not viable. However, I think with more education, more research, and more experienced instructors, it will be."

 

Macy and Roach are considering several possible future studies, including one that would examine the use of yoga within a rape crisis center or domestic violence shelter. However, because yoga is a holistic practice, researchers must be careful not to "undermine yoga's approach," Macy added.

 

"One of our recommendations was that researchers and yoga instructors partner together so that we use holistic methods in future research," Macy said. "We need to ask ourselves if we're taking these Western research methods and trying too hard to fit a round peg in a square hole. As a researcher, I don't want to undo the potential benefits of yoga by making the practice unnecessarily standard and systematic."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/03/160309140042.htm

Mindfulness may help mothers cope with stress when their babies have a heart condition

Working with mothers, nurse researchers form CHOP and Penn Nursing analyze coping techniques, including positive focus on here and now

November 2, 2017

Science Daily/Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

Mindfulness may offer an active coping mechanism for mothers faced with the stress of having a newborn diagnosed with congenital heart disease (CHD). Mindfulness, which aims to increase a person's awareness and acceptance of daily experiences, is currently used in a variety of healthcare settings as a potentially effective skill for stress reduction, emotion, affect and attention regulation.

 

A team of nurse-researchers from Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing (Penn Nursing) published a study in the Journal of Pediatric Nursing in which they gathered perspectives on coping mechanisms from focus groups with 14 mothers of critically ill infants, and explored the feasibility of mindfulness as a stress-reduction technique.

 

"Mothers of infants with complex congenital heart disease are exposed to increased stress, which has been associated with numerous adverse outcomes," said Barbara Medoff-Cooper, PhD, RN FAAN, principal investigator and nurse scientist in the Cardiac Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and at Penn Nursing. "The coping mechanisms these mothers use critically impacts the family's adaptation to the illness, and most likely infant outcomes as well."

 

"Thus far, parental interventions in the CICU generally are informative or educational, aiming to increase parental abilities to actively manage the caretaking demands of an infant with CHD," said Nadya Golfenshtein, PhD, RN, lead author of the study and a researcher at Penn Nursing. "Mindfulness can be a helpful tool that assists mothers during an incredibly stressful time for them, and for their family by allowing them to pause and be present in the moment rather than wishing something different was happening or worrying about tomorrow."

 

The researchers collected data during focus groups between July 2015 and March 2016. The sessions included a short introduction to mindfulness as a stress reduction intervention, led by a moderator who is a psychotherapist experienced in group formats.

 

"In the study, mothers described the post-diagnostic period, surgery and the cardiac intensive care unit stay as extremely stressful," said Amy J. Lisanti, PhD, RN, CCNS, CCRN-K, nurse researcher at CHOP and NRSA postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. "Many expressed concerns regarding the post-discharge period when they would need to independently handle their infant's condition. Their increased stress often led them to feel out of control, lethargic and not like themselves. They acknowledged the importance of stress reduction, recognizing that relief from stress could help them sleep better, recharge energy, focus and think clearly."

 

After experiencing a brief guided session of mindfulness in a focus group, one mother said, "Most meditation is about clear your mind and lose focus, but this is to focus on now. I think it works for me, I was never able to do the clear mind thing. This is more accessible to me." Another noted, "This is something I'm doing for myself, remembering I'm part of this too. Sometimes you are on autopilot, making sure everyone else is ok. Yes, this is a moment when I'm doing something for myself."

 

The mothers agreed that mindfulness should start early, preferably immediately after the prenatal CHD diagnosis. That way, they felt, that they would have time to learn and practice the skill by the time the baby is born. There was also a general agreement that the worst time to begin the practice is around surgery, as that is an overwhelming time and mothers are too busy to learn a new skill. The mothers preferred engaging in mindfulness in a private, quiet room as the sounds of the CICU stress them and may prevent them from relaxing.

 

"We hope to design a program that draws from these findings and more research on mindfulness meditation is needed in a larger cohort of mothers," added Golfenshtein.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171102124912.htm

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