Mindfulness Meditation 6

Mitigating stress, PTSD risk in warfighters

September 27, 2018

Science Daily/U.S. Army Research Laboratory

Researchers have developed a technique that has the potential to provide measures that facilitate the development of procedures to mitigate stress and the onset of conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder in warfighters.

 

A U.S. Army Research Laboratory scientist has collaborated with a team of researchers from the University of North Texas to develop a new data processing technique that uses electroencephalogram, or EEG, time series variability as a measure of the state of the brain.

 

The researchers say such a technique has the potential to provide measures that facilitate the development of procedures to mitigate stress and the onset of conditions such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in warfighters.

 

"The human brain is considered by many to be the most complex organ in existence, with over a billion neurons and having in excess of a trillion interconnections," said Dr. Bruce West, senior scientist of mathematics and information science at the U.S. Army Research Office and ARL Fellow.

 

According to West, it is the operation of this extraordinary complex network of neurons that hosts human thinking, and through the central nervous system, enables the functioning of most, if not all, of the physiologic networks, such as the respiratory, motor control and cardiovascular.

 

However, according to the researchers, even with this central role the brain plays in enabling our existence, remarkably little is known about how it does what it does.

 

Consequently, measures for how well the brain carries out its various functions are critical surrogates for understanding, particularly for maintaining the health and wellbeing of military personnel.

 

A small but measureable electrical signal generated by the mammalian brain was captured in the electrocardiogram of small animals by Caton in 1875 and in human brains by Berger in 1925.

 

Norbert Wiener, a half century later, provided the mathematical tools believed necessary to penetrate the mysterious relations between the brain waves in EEG time series and the functioning of the brain.

 

According to West, progress along this path has been slow, and after over a century of data collection and analysis, there is no taxonomy of EEG patterns that delineates the correspondence between those patterns and brain activity....until now!

 

The technique developed by West and his academic partners generalizes Evolutionary Game Theory, a mathematical technique historically used in the formulation of decision making in war gaming.

 

Their findings are reported in a paper published in the August edition of Frontiers in Physiology.

 

In the paper, titled "Bridging Waves and Crucial Events in the Dynamics of the Brain," West, along with Gyanendra Bohara and Paolo Grigolini of the University of North Texas, propose and successfully test a new model for the collective behavior within the brain, which bridges the gap between waves and random fluctuations in EEG data.

 

"The work horse of decision making within the military has historically been Game Theory, in which players cooperate or defect, and with pairwise interactions receive various payoffs so that under given conditions certain strategies always win," West said. "When the game is extended to groups in which individual strategy choices are made sequentially and can change over time, the situation evolves offering a richer variety of outcomes including the formation of collective states in which everyone is a cooperator or a defector, resulting in a collective state."

 

It turns out, West said, that the technique developed to process EEG data, the self-organized time criticality method, or SOTC method, incorporates a strategy that is an extension of Evolutionary Game Theory directly into the modeling of the brain's dynamics.

 

"The collective, or critical, state of the neural network is reached spontaneously by the internal dynamics of the brain and as with all critical phenomena its emergent properties are determined by the macroscale independently of the microscale dynamics," West said.

 

This macroscale can be directly accessed by the EEG spectrum.

 

The EEG spectrum, obtained by the SOTC method, decays like Brownian motion at high frequencies, has a peak at an intermediate frequency (alpha wave) and at low frequencies has an inverse power law.

 

In the case of the brain, the inverse power law has revealed that there is a broad range of time scales over which the brain is able to respond to the demands placed on it.

 

This spectrum suggests a flexibility in response, reflecting a potential range from concentrating on a single task for hours to rapidly countering a physical assault.

 

"This means that in the foreseeable future the physical training of warriors, along with the necessary monitoring of progress associated with that training, will be expanded to include the brain," West said. "The reliable processing of brain activity, along with the interpretation of the processed EEG signal, will guide the development of reliable techniques to reduce stress, enhance situational awareness and increase the ability to deal with uncertainty, both on and off the battlefield."

 

West said that the research team even speculates that such understanding of brain dynamics may provide the insight necessary to mitigate the onset of PTSD by early detection and intervention, as is routinely done for more obvious maladies.

 

According to West, going forward with this research can proceed in at least two ways.

 

"One way is to apply these promising results to data sets of interest to the Army," West said. "For example, quantify how the EEG records of warriors with PTSD differ from a control group of warriors and how this measure changes under different therapy and medication protocols. The other way is to refine the technique, for example, locate where on the scalp it is the most robust, while retaining sensitivity."

 

However this research proceeds, these Army scientists are focused on bringing the technology to fruition to help the Soldier of the future succeed in an ever-changing world and battlefield.

 

Earlier this year, the research team published on work that look at the processing heart rate data and how heart rate was indirectly influenced by meditation through the dynamics of the brain. That work examined how the brain influences the operation of the body by directly measuring how the physiologic system (cardiovascular in this case) responds to changes in the brain (by means of meditation).

 

This current work focuses on processing EEG data and directly interpreting the dynamics of the brain; it examines how the rhythmic behavior of brain waves (alpha, beta, gamma, etc. waves) can be understood to be compatible with the fluctuations in brain wave data.

 

Both papers are part of an ongoing ARL-University of North Texas study to determine if the fluctuations in all the physiological systems are produced by a previously unidentified mechanism that we call crucial events.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/09/180927091010.htm

Brain wave device enhances memory function

October 22, 2018

Science Daily/University of California - Davis

The entrainment of theta brain waves with a commercially available device not only enhances theta wave activity, but also boosts memory performance, according to new research.

 

Electrical activity in the brain causes different types of brain waves that can be measured on the outside of the head. Theta waves occur at about five to six cycles per second, often associated with a brain that is actively monitoring something -- such as the brain of a rat navigating a maze.

 

In an earlier study, Charan Ranganath, professor of psychology, and colleagues at the Center for Neuroscience found that high levels of theta wave activity immediately before a memory task predicted better performance.

 

"Entrainment" devices use a combination of sound and lights to stimulate brain wave activity. The idea is that oscillating patterns in sensory inputs will be reflected in brain activity. The devices are marketed to address a range of problems such as anxiety, sleep issues, "low mood" and learning. However, there is very little published scientific evidence to support these claims.

 

Brooke Roberts, a postdoctoral researcher in Ranganath's lab, obtained a theta wave entrainment device and decided to test it. She had 50 volunteers either use the device for 36 minutes, or listen to 36 minutes of white noise, then do a simple memory test.

 

Improved memory performance

 

The subjects who had used the device showed both improved memory performance and enhanced theta wave activity, she found.

 

Roberts showed her results to Ranganath, who was intrigued but cautious and suggested new controls. They repeated the experiment with another 40 volunteers, but this time the control group received beta wave stimulations. Beta waves are a different type of brain wave pattern, occurring at about 12 to 30 cycles per second, associated with normal waking consciousness.

 

Once again, theta wave entrainment enhanced theta wave activity and memory performance.

 

Ranganath's lab also conducted a separate study using electrical stimulation to enhance theta waves. However, this actually had the opposite effect, disrupting theta wave activity, and temporarily weakened memory function.

 

Ranganath said he's surprised the devices work as well as they appear to do.

 

"What's surprising is that the device had a lasting effect on theta activity and memory performance for over half an hour after it was switched off," he said.

 

There is debate among neuroscientists over the function and role of these brain waves. Some researchers argue that they are simply a product of normal brain function with no particular role. Ranganath, however, thinks that they may play a role in coordinating brain regions.

 

"The neurons are more excitable at the peak of the wave, so when the waves of two brain regions are in sync with each other, they can talk to each other," he said.

 

Other authors on the paper are Alex Clarke, now at the University of Cambridge and Anglia Ruskin University, U.K.; and Richard Addante, now at California State University San Bernardino. Roberts is now a research scientist at QUASAR Inc., San Diego. The work was supported by a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Vannevar Bush Fellowship from the Office of Naval Research.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/10/181022172959.htm

 

Yoga helps back pain among veterans

Trial among first to show effectiveness of yoga specifically in military veterans

July 25, 2017

Science Daily/Veterans Affairs Research Communications

Those who completed a 12-week yoga program had better scores on a disability questionnaire, improved pain intensity scores, and a decline in opioid use, a study that included 150 veterans with chronic low back pain found. The findings jibe with those from two past clinical trials involving non-veterans.

In a study including 150 military veterans with chronic low back pain, researcher Dr. Erik J. Groessl and his team from the VA San Diego Healthcare System found that veterans who completed a 12-week yoga program had better scores on a disability questionnaire, improved pain intensity scores, and a decline in opioid use.

 

Groessl is a researcher with the VA San Diego Healthcare System and the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine. The study was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine on July 20, 2017.

 

The study shows promise for non-drug treatment of chronic low back pain, said Groessl.

 

"To be able to reduce the reliance upon opioids and other medications with side effects, it is crucial to establish evidence showing mind-body practices like yoga provide benefit in both veterans and non-veterans with chronic pain," he said.

 

Veterans in the study who were randomized to the yoga group attended a 12-week yoga program immediately after randomization. Comparison participants were invited to attend the yoga intervention only after six months.

 

The 12-week yoga intervention consisted of two 60-minute instructor-led yoga sessions per week, with home practice sessions encouraged. The intervention was based on hatha yoga, which involves yoga postures and movement sequences, along with regulated breathing and mindfulness meditation.

 

Outcomes were assessed at the baseline, six weeks, 12 weeks and six months.

 

Both study groups had reductions in disability scores after 12 weeks. However, notable differences emerged at the six-month assessment, with scores continuing to drop in the yoga group but increasing in the delayed-treatment group.

 

Along with those improvements, pain intensity decreased in the yoga group at all three time periods, while the delayed-treatment group had negligible changes.

 

There was also a 20 percent drop in opioid pain medication use at 12 weeks in both groups as determined through self-report questionnaires and a review of medical records.

 

Notably, reductions in disability and pain intensity were found despite the reductions in opioid use and other medical and self-help pain treatments at six months.

 

The trial confirms the findings of two prior randomized controlled trials with non-veterans showing that yoga is safe and can reduce pain and disability among adults with chronic low back pain.

 

The study is one of the first to demonstrate the effectiveness of yoga specifically in military veterans, a population that faces more health challenges and may be harder to treat than non-VA populations, say the researchers. They point out that as with other non-drug treatments for chronic low back pain, yoga may not help everyone or may not completely eliminate chronic low back pain, but reduced pain and disability can often maintained long-term with ongoing yoga home practice.

 

Military veterans and active duty military personnel have higher rates of chronic pain than the general U.S. population, and the back is the area of the body that is most commonly affected. In addition to pain, those with the condition also report increased disability, psychological symptoms, and reduced quality of life. In the U.S., chronic low back pain is the leading cause of lost productivity and the second most common cause for physician visits. Billions of dollars are spent each year in the U.S. on health care related to back pain.

 

The team says that given the results of their study, VA facilities nationwide may want to consider developing and expanding formal yoga programs to help veterans with back pain. Many VA facilities already do offer yoga classes, along with other complementary and integrative health programs.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/07/170725154211.htm

The Yogi masters were right -- meditation and breathing exercises can sharpen your mind

New research explains link between breath-focused meditation and attention and brain health

May 10, 2018

Science Daily/Trinity College Dublin

It has long been claimed by Yogis and Buddhists that meditation and ancient breath-focused practices, such as pranayama, strengthen our ability to focus on tasks. A new study explains for the first time the neurophysiological link between breathing and attention.

 

Breath-focused meditation and yogic breathing practices have numerous known cognitive benefits, including increased ability to focus, decreased mind wandering, improved arousal levels, more positive emotions, decreased emotional reactivity, along with many others. To date, however, no direct neurophysiological link between respiration and cognition has been suggested.

 

The research shows for the first time that breathing -- a key element of meditation and mindfulness practices -- directly affects the levels of a natural chemical messenger in the brain called noradrenaline. This chemical messenger is released when we are challenged, curious, exercised, focused or emotionally aroused, and, if produced at the right levels, helps the brain grow new connections, like a brain fertiliser. The way we breathe, in other words, directly affects the chemistry of our brains in a way that can enhance our attention and improve our brain health.

 

The study, carried out by researchers at Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience and the Global Brain Health Institute at Trinity, found that participants who focused well while undertaking a task that demanded a lot of attention had greater synchronisation between their breathing patterns and their attention, than those who had poor focus. The authors believe that it may be possible to use breath-control practices to stabilise attention and boost brain health.

 

Michael Melnychuk, PhD candidate at the Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience, Trinity, and lead author of the study, explained: "Practitioners of yoga have claimed for some 2,500 years, that respiration influences the mind. In our study we looked for a neurophysiological link that could help explain these claims by measuring breathing, reaction time, and brain activity in a small area in the brainstem called the locus coeruleus, where noradrenaline is made. Noradrenaline is an all-purpose action system in the brain. When we are stressed we produce too much noradrenaline and we can't focus. When we feel sluggish, we produce too little and again, we can't focus. There is a sweet spot of noradrenaline in which our emotions, thinking and memory are much clearer."

 

"This study has shown that as you breathe in locus coeruleus activity is increasing slightly, and as you breathe out it decreases. Put simply this means that our attention is influenced by our breath and that it rises and falls with the cycle of respiration. It is possible that by focusing on and regulating your breathing you can optimise your attention level and likewise, by focusing on your attention level, your breathing becomes more synchronised."

 

The research provides deeper scientific understanding of the neurophysiological mechanisms which underlie ancient meditation practices. The findings were recently published in a paper entitled 'Coupling of respiration and attention via the locus coeruleus: Effects of meditation and pranayama' in the journal Psychophysiology. Further research could help with the development of non-pharmacological therapies for people with attention compromised conditions such as ADHD and traumatic brain injury and in supporting cognition in older people.

 

There are traditionally two types of breath-focused practices -- those that emphasise focus on breathing (mindfulness), and those that require breathing to be controlled (deep breathing practices such as pranayama). In cases when a person's attention is compromised, practices which emphasise concentration and focus, such as mindfulness, where the individual focuses on feeling the sensations of respiration but make no effort to control them, could possibly be most beneficial. In cases where a person's level of arousal is the cause of poor attention, for example drowsiness while driving, a pounding heart during an exam, or during a panic attack, it should be possible to alter the level of arousal in the body by controlling breathing. Both of these techniques have been shown to be effective in both the short and the long term.

 

Ian Robertson, Co-Director of the Global Brain Health Institute at Trinity and Principal Investigator of the study added: "Yogis and Buddhist practitioners have long considered the breath an especially suitable object for meditation. It is believed that by observing the breath, and regulating it in precise ways -- a practice known as pranayama -- changes in arousal, attention, and emotional control that can be of great benefit to the meditator are realised. Our research finds that there is evidence to support the view that there is a strong connection between breath-centred practices and a steadiness of mind."

 

"Our findings could have particular implications for research into brain ageing. Brains typically lose mass as they age, but less so in the brains of long term meditators. More 'youthful' brains have a reduced risk of dementia and mindfulness meditation techniques actually strengthen brain networks. Our research offers one possible reason for this -- using our breath to control one of the brain's natural chemical messengers, noradrenaline, which in the right 'dose' helps the brain grow new connections between cells. This study provides one more reason for everyone to boost the health of their brain using a whole range of activities ranging from aerobic exercise to mindfulness meditation."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/05/180510101254.htm

'Mindful people' feel less pain; MRI imaging pinpoints supporting brain activity

September 7, 2018

Science Daily/Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center

Ever wonder why some people seem to feel less pain than others? A study conducted at Wake Forest School of Medicine may have found one of the answers -- mindfulness. "Mindfulness is related to being aware of the present moment without too much emotional reaction or judgment," said the study's lead author, Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D., assistant professor of neurobiology and anatomy at the medical school, part of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. "We now know that some people are more mindful than others, and those people seemingly feel less pain."

 

The study is an article in press, published ahead-of-print in the journal PAIN.

 

The researchers analyzed data obtained from a study published in 2015 that compared mindfulness meditation to placebo analgesia. In this follow-up study, Zeidan sought to determine if dispositional mindfulness, an individual's innate or natural level of mindfulness, was associated with lower pain sensitivity, and to identify what brain mechanisms were involved.

 

In the study, 76 healthy volunteers who had never meditated first completed the Freiburg Mindfulness Inventory, a reliable clinical measurement of mindfulness, to determine their baseline levels. Then, while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging, they were administered painful heat stimulation (120°F).

 

Whole brain analyses revealed that higher dispositional mindfulness during painful heat was associated with greater deactivation of a brain region called the posterior cingulate cortex, a central neural node of the default mode network. Further, in those that reported higher pain, there was greater activation of this critically important brain region.

 

The default mode network extends from the posterior cingulate cortex to the medial prefrontal cortex of the brain. These two brain regions continuously feed information back and forth. This network is associated with processing feelings of self and mind wandering, Zeidan said.

 

"As soon as you start performing a task, the connection between these two brain regions in the default mode network disengages and the brain allocates information and processes to other neural areas," he said.

 

"Default mode deactivates whenever you are performing any kind of task, such as reading or writing. Default mode network is reactivated whenever the individual stops performing a task and reverts to self-related thoughts, feelings and emotions. The results from our study showed that mindful individuals are seemingly less caught up in the experience of pain, which was associated with lower pain reports."

 

The study provided novel neurobiological information that showed people with higher mindfulness ratings had less activation in the central nodes (posterior cingulate cortex) of the default network and experienced less pain. Those with lower mindfulness ratings had greater activation of this part of the brain and also felt more pain, Zeidan said.

 

"Now we have some new ammunition to target this brain region in the development of effective pain therapies. Importantly this work shows that we should consider one's level of mindfulness when calculating why and how one feels less or more pain," Zeidan said. "Based on our earlier research, we know we can increase mindfulness through relatively short periods of mindfulness meditation training, so this may prove to be an effective way to provide pain relief for the millions of people suffering from chronic pain."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/09/180907110425.htm

Listening to yoga music at bedtime is good for the heart

August 27, 2018

Science Daily/European Society of Cardiology

Listening to yoga music at bedtime is good for the heart, according to new research.

 

Dr Naresh Sen, study author, Consultant Cardiologist at HG SMS Hospital, Jaipur, India, said: "We use music therapy in our hospital and in this study we showed that yoga music has a beneficial impact on heart rate variability before sleeping."

 

Previous research has shown that music can reduce anxiety in patients with heart disease. However, studies on the effects of music on the heart in patients and healthy individuals have produced inconsistent results, partly they did not state what style of music was used.

 

The body's heart rate changes as a normal response to being in "fight or flight" or "rest and digest" mode. These states are regulated by the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, respectively, and together comprise the autonomic nervous system. High heart rate variability shows that the heart is able to adapt to these changes. Conversely, low heart rate variability indicates a less adaptive autonomic nervous system.

 

Low heart rate variability is associated with a 32-45% higher risk of a first cardiovascular event. Following a cardiovascular event, people with low heart rate variability have a raised risk of subsequent events and death. Failure of the autonomic nervous system to adapt may trigger inflammation, which is linked to cardiovascular disease. Another possibility is that people with low heart rate variability already have subclinical cardiovascular disease.

 

This study investigated the impact of listening to yoga music, which is a type of soothing or meditative music, before bedtime on heart rate variability. The study included 149 healthy people who participated in three sessions on separate nights: (1) yoga music before sleep at night; (2) pop music with steady beats before sleep at night; and (3) no music or silence before sleep at night.

 

At each session, heart rate variability was measured4 for five minutes before the music or silence started, for ten minutes during the music/silence, and five minutes after it had stopped. In addition, anxiety levels were assessed before and after each session using the Goldberg Anxiety Scale. The level of positive feeling was subjectively measured after each session using a visual analogue scale.

 

The average age of participants was 26 years. The researchers found that heart rate variability increased during the yoga music, decreased during the pop music, and did not significantly change during the silence.

 

Anxiety levels fell significantly after the yoga music, rose significantly post the pop music, and increased after the no music session. Participants felt significantly more positive after the yoga music than they did after the pop music.

 

Dr Sen noted that holistic therapies such as music cannot replace evidence-based drugs and interventions, and should only be used as an add-on.

 

He said: "Science may have not always agreed, but Indians have long believed in the power of various therapies other than medicines as a mode of treatment for ailments. This is a small study, and more research is needed on the cardiovascular effects of music interventions offered by a trained music therapist. But listening to soothing music before bedtime is a cheap and easy to implement therapy that cannot cause harm."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/08/180827080852.htm

Mindfulness is key to tinnitus relief

July 2, 2018

Science Daily/University of Bath

New studies suggest mindfulness-based CBT could significantly help tinnitus sufferers.

 

Published in the journals Ear and Hearing and Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, the research led by Dr Laurence McKenna from University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (UCLH) and Dr Liz Marks, from Department of Psychology at the University of Bath, found that Mindfulness based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) helps to significantly reduce the severity of tinnitus compared to relaxation-based treatments, an approach recommended by many tinnitus clinics.

 

Tinnitus, described as a sensation or awareness of sound that is not caused by an external sound source, affects approximately six million people in the UK -- 10 percent of the UK's population. Approximately 1 in 100 people are very distressed or disabled by it and as many as 1 in 20 people are at least moderately distressed by it. Tinnitus is associated with complaints of emotional stress, insomnia, auditory perceptual problems and concentration problems.

 

As yet there is no treatment to stop the tinnitus noise but this research, funded by the British Tinnitus Association (BTA), shows clearly that treatment can make it less severe, intrusive and bothersome.

 

Dr Liz Marks, from the Department of Psychology at the University of Bath, will explore the report's findings in more detail at the BTA's annual conference in Birmingham in September. She said: "We compared MBCT to relaxation therapy, a traditional treatment for people with chronic tinnitus, to determine if MBCT was a better option than the current recommended practice.

 

"In total 75 patients took part in the trial at UCLH's Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital receiving either MBCT or relaxation therapy. The study found that both treatments led to a reduction in tinnitus severity, psychological distress, anxiety and depression for patients.

 

"However, the MBCT treatment led to significantly greater reductions in tinnitus severity than the relaxation treatment, and this improvement lasted for longer. In addition, 182 patients who completed MBCT routinely in our clinic showed a similar level of improvement."

 

Relaxation therapy provides patients with specific skills to reduce stress arousal levels. In contrast, MBCT, taught by highly-trained clinical psychologists, teaches patients to pay purposeful, present-moment attention to experiences, rather than trying to supress those experiences. Practicing mindfulness meditation in this way can cultivate a more helpful way of responding to tinnitus. People learn how to 'allow' and 'accept' tinnitus, rather than having to 'fight it' or 'push it away'. Mindfulness does not aim to change the nature or sound of the tinnitus, but the therapy can lead to tinnitus becoming less intrusive, to a point where it is no longer a problem for people.

 

Dr Marks added: "MBCT turns traditional tinnitus treatment on its head -- so rather than trying to avoid or mask the noise, it teaches people to stop the battle with tinnitus.

 

"The mindfulness approach is radically different from what most tinnitus sufferers have tried before, and it may not be right for everyone. We are confident, however, that the growing research base has demonstrated how it can offer an exciting new treatment to people who may have found that traditional treatment has not been able to help them yet. We hope the results of our research will be one of the first steps to MBCT becoming more widely adopted."

 

David Stockdale, chief executive of the British Tinnitus Association, said: "The results of this research are extremely encouraging particularly for people with chronic tinnitus who find that current treatments are not working for them. We really hope that more people will be able to benefit from this approach moving forward."

 

"Funding this kind of innovative research is a major part of what we do here at the BTA but as a charity, we rely heavily on the donations made to us. We hope more people will support us as we work tirelessly to grow the understanding and knowledge around tinnitus in order to help people with the condition to manage."

 

Dr McKenna and Dr Marks are now continuing their research in tinnitus looking at how Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can be used to treat tinnitus related insomnia.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/07/180702094054.htm

Mindfulness helps injured athletes improve pain tolerance and awareness

June 26, 2018

Science Daily/University of Kent

A new study of injured athletes found they can benefit from using mindfulness as part of the sport rehabilitation process to improve their pain tolerance and awareness.

 

The research, carried out by Dr Warhel Asim Mohammed and Dr Athanasios Pappous (School of Sport and Exercise Sciences) and Dr Dinkar Sharma (School of Psychology) could have major implications in the treatment of sporting injuries at all levels.

 

Every year there are 29.7 million injuries among athletes in the UK. These have both psychological and physiological effects on athletes and for some it may mean the end of a career in sport.

 

To understand if mindfulness could play a part in the rehabilitation process of injuries, the researchers conducted tests on 20 athletes (14 male, six female), aged from 21-36 years who had severe injuries, preventing their participation in sport for more than three months.

 

Both groups followed their normal physiotherapy treatment but, in addition, the intervention group practised mindfulness meditation in one 90-min session per week for eight weeks.

 

A Cold Pressor Test (CPT) was used to assess pain tolerance. In contrast, the perception of pain was measured using a Visual Analogue Scale. Other measurements used were the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS), Depression Anxiety and Stress Scale (DASS), and Profile of Mood States (POMS).

 

Results demonstrated an increase in pain tolerance for the intervention group and an increase in mindful awareness for injured athletes. Moreover, there was a promising change in positive mood for both groups. Regarding the Stress/Anxiety scores, findings showed a notable decrease across sessions.

 

The study used a common meditation technique, based on Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), as an intervention for utilisation during the recovery period of injured athletes -- this is the first study using MBSR as an intervention for this purpose.

 

The aim of this research was to investigate the role of MBSR practise in reducing the perception of pain and anxiety/stress and increasing pain tolerance and mindfulness. Additionally, the aim was to increase positive mood and decrease negative mood in injured athletes.

 

Sport injuries are a considerable public health concern. The impact of the injured athlete extends beyond the individual. Although it may impact on their seasonal and potential career performance, it additionally impacts upon the clubs and organisations for whom they perform. Furthermore, it leads to a greater general burden on the health service.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/06/180626113350.htm

Mindful movement may help lower stress, anxiety

June 21, 2018

Science Daily/Penn State

Taking a walk may be a good opportunity to mentally review your to-do list, but using the time to instead be more mindful of your breathing and surroundings may help boost your wellbeing, according to researchers who found that while students reported being less stressed while they were on their feet and moving, they received an even greater benefit when they reported also being more mindful.

 

The researchers found that while students reported being less stressed while they were on their feet and moving, they received an even greater benefit when they reported also being more mindful.

 

Chih-Hsiang "Jason" Yang, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Southern California who led the study while earning his doctorate at Penn State, said the results suggest a simple way for people to boost their wellbeing throughout the day.

 

"It can be difficult to ask people to spend a lot of time doing moderate or vigorous activity by going to the gym or out for a run, especially if they feel stressed," Yang said. "But if they don't need to change their everyday behavior, and can instead try to change their state of mind by becoming more mindful, they can probably see this beneficial effect. You don't need to exert a lot of extra effort in order to improve your wellbeing by being more mindful while you're moving around."

 

David Conroy, professor of kinesiology at Penn State, also said the findings -- recently published in the journal Psychology of Sports and Exercise -- could help people who are not able to engage in strenuous exercise.

 

"If someone is looking for a way to manage these kinds of feelings, it may be worth trying some sort of mindful movement," Conroy said. "This option may be especially beneficial for people who don't enjoy exercise and would prefer a less intense form of physical activity."

 

According to the American College Health Association, more than half of college students experience anxiety, sadness or mental exhaustion at least once a year, suggesting a need for a simple way to reduce these negative states. Because students are often moving throughout their days, as they walk to class and go about other activities, the researchers wanted to see if there was a connection between mindfulness, movement and a reduction in negative states.

 

The researchers recruited 158 Penn State students for the study. For two weeks, a special mobile phone app, called Paco, randomly prompted the participants eight times a day to answer questions about their current activity and states of mind. The prompts included questions about where the participant was, if they were moving, and if they were stressed or anxious, as well as questions designed to assess mindfulness.

 

After analyzing the data, the researchers found that in the moments when participants were more mindful or active than usual, they showed reduced negative affect. They also found a possible synergistic effect when people were both mindful and active.

 

"When people were both more mindful and more active than usual, they seem to have this extra decrease in negative affect," Yang said. "Being more active in a given moment is already going to reduce negative affect, but by also being more mindful than usual at the same time, you can see this amplified affect."

 

Conroy said it was interesting to see patterns emerge within the individual participants, instead of just comparing people who are generally more mindful to people who are generally less mindful.

 

"Most studies in this area have focused on the differences between people who are more versus people who are less mindful, but we saw that college students often slipped in and out of mindful states during the day," Conroy said. "Developing the ability to shift into these states of mindfulness as needed may be valuable for improving self-regulation and well-being."

 

To better explore the causal role of mindfulness on lower negative states of being, Yang completed a second study, in which older adults who participated in an outdoor mindfulness activity then reported on their feelings of stress, anxiety and depression. Yang found that the mindful walking was associated with lower levels of these feelings.

 

The researchers said that in the future, studies that collect more objective data -- like gathering information about physical activity by using accelerometers -- and include more varied populations could be useful.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/06/180621112007.htm

Changes in stress after meditation

June 21, 2018

Science Daily/U.S. Army Research Laboratory

For a thousand years, people have reported feeling better by meditating but there are few systematic studies that quantified stress and how much stress changes as a direct result of meditation, until now.

 

U.S. Army Research Laboratory researchers spent a year collaborating with a team of scientists from the University of North Texas to develop a new data processing technique that uses heart rate variability as a sensor to monitor the state of the brain. Their findings are reported in a paper published in the June edition of Frontiers in Physiology.

 

Healthy heartbeats have irregularities built into them with a slight random variation occurring in the time interval between successive beats. The sinus node, or the heart's natural pacemaker, receives signals from the autonomic or involuntary portion of the nervous system, which has two major branches: the parasympathetic, whose stimulation decreases the firing rate of the sinus node, and the sympathetic, whose stimulation increases the firing rate. These two branches produce a continual tug-of-war that generates fluctuations in the heart rate of healthy individuals.

 

Heart rate variability provides a window through which we can observe the heart's ability to respond to external disturbances, such as stress, said Dr. Bruce West, the Army's senior research scientist for mathematics.

 

He said it turns out that the HRV time series is very sensitive to changes in the physiological state of the brain and the new data processing system, called dynamic subordination technique, can quantify the changes in HRV and relate these directly to brain activity, such as produced by meditation. Thus, the DST has quantified the level of stress reduction produced by meditation and offers the potential to quantify such things as the inability to concentrate and sustain focus, impatience, impulsiveness and other dysfunctional properties that severely limit a soldier's ability to do his job.

 

Stress modulates the autonomic nervous system signals, which in turn disrupts normal HRV and therefore the stress level can be detected by processing HRV time series.

 

Through a new method of processing HRV time series data, the researchers developed a way to measure the change in the level of stress provided by meditation. This measure assigns a number to the level of variability of heartbeat interval time series before and during meditation. This number indicates precisely how much stress is alleviated by control of the heart-brain coupling through meditation.

 

In the article, Rohisha Tuladhar, Gyanendra Bohara, and Paolo Grigolini, all from the University of North Texas and Bruce J. West, Army Research Office, propose and successfully test a new model for the coupling between the heart and brain, along with a measure of the influence of meditation on this network. Traditional models of biofeedback focus on the coherent behavior, assuming a kind of resonance, however the new approach includes both periodicity and complexity.

 

The research team compared two schools of meditation and determined that Yoga, over Chi meditation, is more effective in reducing stress and can show by how much. They also found that the long-term practice of meditation has the effect of making permanent the meditation-induced physiologic changes. Moreover that meditators show a stronger executive control, that is, the ability to carry out goal-oriented behavior, using complex mental processes and cognitive abilities.

 

Many military historians believe battles, even wars, have been won or lost in the warrior's mind, long before any physical conflict is initiated. Learning how to circumvent the debilitating psychological influence of stress requires that we have in hand a way to quantify its influence, in order to gauge the effectiveness of any given procedure to counteract its effects, explained West, who's a Fellow with the American Physical Society, American Association for the Advancement of Science and ARL.

 

Historically, one purpose of meditation has been to reduce stress, however, the Army's long-term goal is to use it to mitigate the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. West said the potential for this to succeed has been dramatically increased with the new ability to quantify the degree of effectiveness in stress reduction using different meditation techniques.

 

From a physiological perspective, meditation constitutes a coupling of the functionalities of the heart and brain. We are only now beginning to understand how to take advantage of the coupling of the two to measure stress reduction by applying the methods of science and data analysis to HRV time series.

 

Our research focus is on changes in physiologic processes, such as stress level. It is the most direct measure of the effectiveness of meditation in reducing stress to date and compliments an existing ARL program on determining the efficacy of mindfulness meditation stress reduction, which quantifies the influence on different task performance measures, such as changes in PTSD symptoms, West said.

 

This early research could guide the design and testing of new interventions for improving warrior readiness and resilience, as well as reducing symptoms of PTSD.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/06/180621111955.htm

Biofeedback relaxation app may help kids during medical procedures

April 19, 2018

Science Daily/Wiley

A new study indicates that biofeedback-assisted relaxation may help manage pain and anxiety in children undergoing medical procedures.

 

BrightHearts is a biofeedback mediation relaxation app designed for mobile phones and tablet computers that responds to changes in heart rate and can be used to teach children biofeedback assisted relaxation.

 

In the study of 30 children aged 7 to 18 years undergoing a medical procedure (peripheral blood collection, botulinum toxin injections, or intravenous cannula insertion), BrightHearts was acceptable to patients, their parents, and their healthcare providers. The pilot study also demonstrated that the use of BrightHearts did not impede the administration of medical procedures and in some cases was perceived to facilitate the procedure. The majority of patients, parents and healthcare providers indicated that they would use BrightHearts again during a procedure.

 

"BrightHearts taps into children's interest in devices like smart phones and tablets," said co-author Dr. Angela Morrow, of The Children's Hospital at Westmead and the University of Sydney, in Australia. "Biofeedback is a modality that we hope will empower children and help them to manage their pain and anxiety without the need for medications."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180419100207.htm

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