Mindfulness Meditation

Transcendental Meditation may reduce PTSD symptoms, medication use in active-duty personnel

January 11, 2016

Science Daily/Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University

Regular practice of Transcendental Meditation enables some active duty service members battling post-traumatic stress disorder to reduce or even eliminate their psychotropic medication and get better control of their often-debilitating symptoms, researchers report.

 

The study looked at 74 active-duty service members with PTSD or anxiety disorder, often resulting from multiple deployments over multiple years, who were seeking treatment at Dwight David Eisenhower Army Medical Center's Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic at Fort Gordon, Georgia.

 

Half the service members voluntarily practiced Transcendental Meditation regularly in addition to their other therapy; half did not. At one month, 83.7 percent of the meditators had stabilized, reduced or stopped their use of psychotropic drugs to treat their conditions while 10.9 percent had increased their medication dosage.

 

Of those who did not meditate, 59.4 percent had stabilized, reduced or stopped taking psychotropic drugs while 40.5 percent were taking more medication. Similar percentages held up in the following months and by six months, non-meditators had experienced about a 20 percent increase in their symptoms compared with those using the meditation practice.

 

Headaches, memory, sleep and mood issues are the big four symptoms following a concussion, and these patients had multiple concussions that occurred in the heat of war, said Dr. John L. Rigg, physiatrist at Eisenhower and the study's senior author. Rigg is program director of the military hospital's TBI Clinic, one of the largest of its kind in the nation, which offers an intensive outpatient approach where service members with mild brain injuries learn skills to help with their PTSD.

 

"Concussions heal, but this is a unique concussion because it happened when somebody was trying to kill them," Rigg said. "It's not like you or I were riding bikes on the weekend and fell down and hit our head. There is significant emotional trauma, hyperarousal of basic instincts of survival. They are having a normal reaction to an abnormal situation, which is being in an environment where somebody is trying to kill them on a daily basis."

 

"Regular practice of Transcendental Meditation provides a habit of calming down and healing the brain," said Dr. Vernon A. Barnes, physiologist at the Georgia Prevention Institute at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University. Barnes, the study's lead author, teaches Eisenhower's TBI Clinic patients the practice, which he recommends be done twice daily for 20 minutes.

 

Transcendental Meditation takes users from a level of active thinking to a state of inner quietness that reduces levels of stress hormones and activation of the sympathetic nervous system, which drives the so-called fight-or-flight response by increasing heart rate and blood pressure, Barnes said.

 

When soldiers come home, that hyperactive state can come with them, leaving them on edge, irritable, anxious, prone to overreacting, and more. Memory problems can continue because they have trouble concentrating on anything beyond potential dangers.

 

"Even going to a crowded restaurant for dinner can be problematic," said Rigg with the echo of the 24-hour warzone mantra "strangers are dangers" replaying in their head. In this hypervigilant state of mind, a soldier might be inclined to get a table where he can sit with his back to the wall and monitor other patrons' comings and goings rather than the conversation his partner is trying to have with him.

 

Eisenhower Army Medical Center is among the first to use Transcendental Meditation in active duty personnel, although the practice has been more widely used with veterans. Rigg, who has worked at Eisenhower since 2008, quickly realized that medication, such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs, often are not sufficient to help active duty personnel struggling with PTSD. In the pursuit of non-pharmacologic options, his friend, former Kansas City Royals shortstop Buddy Biancalana, told him about the work of the David Lynch Foundation's Operation Warrior Wellness, which teaches Transcendental Meditation to veterans. David Lynch Foundation Director of Research Dr. Sarina Grosswald put Rigg in touch with Barnes, whose years of work with Transcendental Meditation includes demonstrating its ability to lower blood pressure in black adolescents with above-normal blood pressures.

 

In addition to using evidence-based therapies, such as cognitive processing therapy, where service members learn ways to better handle their distressing thoughts, the Eisenhower clinic staff wanted better ways to help restore a more regular state of awareness in these hyperaroused individuals, said Jennifer J. Williams, social worker and primary behavioral health therapist at the TBI Clinic. After regularly practicing Transcendental Meditation, soldiers began to report that they felt less irritable, slept better, and their relationships were improving, said Williams, a study co-author.

 

While there was some skepticism among service members when they added Transcendental Meditation to the skill list in early 2012, the clinic now has a waiting list for the course where Barnes first introduces the technique's origin and benefits before teaching the technique. Other mind-body techniques used in the clinic, such as yoga, helped pave the way for Transcendental Meditation, which is still not considered a frontline treatment, Rigg said.

 

The researchers note that health care providers may be hesitant to reduce medication dosage in these patients because they are not certain whether the stabilization is due to meditation or medication. Previous studies, including a 1985 study in Vietnam Veterans, showed that soldiers who practiced Transcendental Meditation instead of taking medication experienced significantly reduced PTSD symptoms.

 

Response rates to psychotropic medication -- such as the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors also used for depression -- for PTSD and anxiety disorders is only about 30 percent, the researchers report. Treatment success can be further complicated by brain injury, drug abuse, and sleep and mood disorders. PTSD medications have a host of potential side effects including exacerbating memory loss and depression. Transcendental Meditation has no known adverse side effects.

 

PTSD affects about 13 percent of service members deployed to Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom. Finding the optimal therapy remains in debate as these prolonged wars have large numbers of active duty and veteran personnel struggling with the emotional aftershock, the researchers write.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/01/160111121344.htm

The Importance of Sleep Hygiene in Recovering Mental Health and Addiction

February 15, 2015

By Anne Foy, Guest Contributor

Hygiene is a highly emphasized feature in our everyday life. We are always encouraged to practice the highest level when preparing, cleaning our homes, being out in public, and taking care of ourselves and our loved ones, particularly children and the elderly. In this day and age, it is difficult to walk into a hospital without a hand sanitizer advocating the importance of clean hands, or public washrooms, restaurants, and other facilities demonstrating the same. Yet when it comes to “sleep hygiene”, our attitude is often lax, despite the sheer number of studies which stress just how vital sleep is for basic functioning. How strange it is, then, that we strive to not cut corners by any means when it comes to factors like work, diet, and fitness, but our sleep is valued as dispensable, often leading to problematic and even serious consequences for the body. 

Vulnerable Minds at Risk without Sleep

The role which sleep plays on our mental health is profound. We see this on a day to day level when we have missed a few hours of sleep and find ourselves struggling to function normally, often requiring a kick from a stimulant like caffeine to get us back into gear. On a long-term basis, we begin to see how a lack of sleep takes its toll on the body; new parents and hard-working students, as well as those managing demanding jobs and working irregular shifts will start to experience fatigue and other effects. Many people who are in this situation do not choose to practice poor sleep hygiene – their schedule may not allow the required number of hours of sleep as well as a healthy routine. The body will naturally acclimatize and adapt to these irregularities, but on an even more long-term basis, bad sleep hygiene will have a negative impact.[i]

That is why establishing a stable sleep schedule is essential for everyone, and especially for those who are vulnerable.[ii] Sleep is the natural healer, the body’s most effective “time out” button where it can do some serious repair work. This is a vital function for everyone, but especially for those suffering from depression or recovering from substance abuse. For many people, insomnia can lead to the start of depression or perpetuate an already present condition, and in addicts, sleep is often completely dysfunctional where circadian dissonance occurs. This is partly because of the biological effects which certain substances have on the brain – drugs which initiate a huge comedown will plunge the body into a deep sleep, while other drugs will pump up the adrenaline and keep the body awake and active for several hours. Those who use drugs for this reason – whether it’s to perform longer at work or engage in a high party lifestyle – will subject their body to an abnormal schedule, and those who already engage in such a lifestyle, especially teens, are already at risk for potentially developing addiction problems.[iii]

Healing through Sleeping

Establishing a healthy sleeping schedule may seem like a fairly obvious, commonplace task, but especially for addicts, it’s anything but straightforward. Lifestyle habits and withdrawal symptoms can hinder this task considerably. Yet it is a vital step towards recovery. As well as giving the body the appropriate time needed to recover and restore, it is also about establishing a lifestyle which reflects a normal schedule, as well as empowering the individual during waking hours to adjust to a certain routine. This can be a challenging – and often discouraging – change to undertake; insomnia is a common side-effect of withdrawal and re-adjusting to a healthy sleep schedule can take months to achieve. However, with the right program in place and with support from friends, family, mentors and professionals, individuals can gradually ease themselves into a lifestyle where they are the ones conditioning their environment, not the other way around. 12 step programs are particularly effective in this instance, because they make lifestyle changes on a consistent and gradual, rather than drastic, basis which allows the individual to adapt slowly but surely. This means that reintroducing and reintegrating healthy sleep forms a valuable and effective component of this part of the process.

Using one or more therapeutic techniques to restore the body and help it recover from addiction can involve holistic practices as well as safe methods like those used with the MindSpa. While on their own they may not be the sole answer, they can certainly contribute to helping specific processes, like circadian rhythms, gain some regularity, which will in turn have a strongly beneficial impact on the overall health of the individual. This is preferable to using sleeping medication which can have a negative effect and which is addictive in nature along with other habits[iv] – instead, it is using a safer approach to conditioning the body to naturally adjust itself to a healthier pattern.

Once a regular schedule of sleep is established, then each day can be that day which many people in recovery hail as a fresh start.

 

[i] HealthLine.com. “The Effects of Sleep Deprivation on the Body”. Accessed February 20, 2015.

http://www.healthline.com/health/sleep-deprivation/effects-on-body

 

[ii] DBSAlliance.org. “Why Is Sleep So Important?”. Accessed February 20. 2015.

http://www.dbsalliance.org/site/PageServer?pagename=about_sleep_why

 

[iii] DailyScienceJournal.com. “Poor Sleep in Teens May Lead to Alcohol and Drug Addiction”. Accessed February 20, 2015.

http://dailysciencejournal.com/poor-sleep-teens-may-lead-alcohol-drug-addiction/2796/

 

[iv] DrFrankLipman.com. “Sleep Tips: Top 10 Sleep Mistakes And Their Solutions”. Accessed February 20, 2015.

http://www.drfranklipman.com/sleep-tips-top-10-sleep-mistakes-and-their-solutions/

How Mindfulness Can Help Reduce Your Stress Levels

February 26, 2015

By Anne Foy, Guest Contributor

Many people dismiss mindfulness as being the ‘fluffy’ part of meditation: as something adopted by those who lead certain relaxed and laidback lifestyles and enjoy too much yoga. But actually, mindfulness can be adopted as part of a scientifically valid and proven way of helping to reduce anxiety and alleviate stress levels. [1] So what exactly is mindfulness and how can it play a part in helping you to relax?

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the act of being aware of your thoughts, your feelings and the sensations within your body at all times, and also of being aware of your environment: of both the effect you are having on the world around you, and the effect your environment is having on you. [2] This high level of self-awareness has many wonderful effects on both your physical and mental health: being aware of your body can help you to regulate your breathing patterns, and control and understand your emotions in a better and more constructive way.  Mindfulness also encourages you to regulate your attention: improving your focus and preventing you from being distracted by unimportant things when you are trying to focus and concentrate on something significant. Finally, mindfulness can also help you to change your self-perception: by having a fluid and changeable idea about who you are, you are left in a better position to make positive changes in your life without feeling that you are sacrificing your sense of self.

There are many benefits of adopting mindfulness in these ways. It can encourage you to make healthy lifestyle choices, such as avoiding drinking alcohol or eating the wrong foods: ideal if you’re looking to make positive lifestyle changes and lose weight or simply focus on becoming more healthy. Brain scans conducted on mindful individuals has also shown that mindfulness can improve your memory, improve your ability to learn, and increase your levels of concentration. Mindfulness can also have a positive effect on your relationship with others, and the way you interact with people (both strangers and those close to you). It does this by encouraging you to be compassionate, to show altruism, and to put yourself in the place of others so you better understand what they are going through. Finally, of course, mindfulness can be used to help alleviate stress and anxiety. [3]

Mindful Based Stress Reduction

The technical name for using mindfulness to alleviate your stress levels is Mindful Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). [4] Long term stress can have a massively detrimental effect on your overall health and wellbeing. However mindfulness can help you to take back control of what is happening in your life and let go of the feelings of pressure, helplessness and lack of control that are all too often signs of stress. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) incorporates several different techniques such as meditation, gentle yoga and mind-body exercises into your daily routine in order to help you cope with stress and alleviate anxiety. Stress is now considered to be a national epidemic. Over 73% of the American workforce has admitted to experiencing regular stress that causes them either psychological or physical symptoms, or a combination of both. Of those Americans surveyed, 48% felt that their stress levels had gone up over the last 5 years. [5] It is clear then that stress is a problem that needs dealing with, particularly within the workforce. The best thing about mindfulness is that it is something that you can practice anywhere, either at home or at your desk, and that it doesn’t have to take up a substantial amount of your day. When you wake up every morning take a minute or two to center yourself; listen to your body and breath deeply. Practice the same focus and deep breathing exercises when stress arises throughout the day. You’ll quickly find yourself more able to process and assimilate stressful situations, and your capacity to handle stress will gradually increase.

Additional Reading

[1] “Mindfulness meditation may ease anxiety, mental stress”, Harvard Health Publications, Harvard Medical Schoolhttp://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/mindfulness-meditation-may-ease-anxiety-mental-stress-201401086967

[2] Mindfulness: more than simply meditation”, Kwik Medhttp://www.kwikmed.org/mindfulness-simply-meditation/

[3] “Mindfulness reduces stress, promotes resilience, University of California, Los Angeleshttp://newsroom.ucla.edu/stories/using-mindfulness-to-reduce-stress-96966

[4] “MBSR Stress relief”, Be Mindfulhttp://bemindful.co.uk/mbsr/about-mbsr/

[5] “How to reduce stress with mindfulness”, Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, http://siyli.org/how-to-reduce-stress-with-mindfulness-2/

 

Yoga may have health benefits for people with asthma

April 26, 2016
Science Daily/Wiley
A new review suggests that yoga may have a beneficial effect on symptoms and quality of life in people with asthma, but effects on lung function and medication use are uncertain.

Asthma is a common chronic disease affecting about 300 million people worldwide. The many typical symptoms of asthma include wheezing, coughing, chest tightness and shortness of breath.

Yoga has gained global popularity as a form of exercise with general life-style benefits, and recent studies have investigated the potential of yoga to relieve asthma-related problems.

A new Cochrane Review summarizes the results of randomised trials and has found evidence that practicing yoga might be able to improve asthma quality of life and symptoms to some extent. However, researchers also warned that higher-quality studies with more participants would be needed to draw any firm conclusions about the effects of yoga.

The team of Cochrane researchers wanted to find out the effects of yoga in people with asthma.

They found 15 randomised controlled trials which involved 1,048 men and women. Most of the trials were conducted in India, followed by Europe and the United States. The majority of participants had mild to moderate asthma for six months to more than 23 years. Six studies looked into the effects of breathing alone during yoga exercise, whilst the other studies assessed the effects of yoga that included breathing, posture and meditation.

Most people continued to take their usual asthma medication while participating in the studies. The studies were conducted over a time period of two weeks to over four years.

The researchers found some moderate quality evidence from five studies that yoga exercise reduces the impact of asthma on people's quality of life. However, evidence about yoga's impact on the participants' lung function is more uncertain because the results varied. The effects of yoga on medication use and any side-effects of yoga are also uncertain, because only a few very small studies reported these outcomes.

Lead author, Dr Zuyao Yang from the Jockey Club School of Public Health and Primary Care, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong commented, "Our findings suggest that yoga exercise may lead to small improvements in asthma quality of life and symptoms. However, it is unclear whether yoga has a consistent impact on lung function and we don't yet know if yoga can reduce people's medication usage, or if there are any side-effects of yoga for people with asthma."

Deputy Co-ordinating Editor of the Cochrane Airways Group, Rebecca Normansell, added, "At present, we just don't have enough high quality evidence to determine the effects of yoga as a type of exercise for helping people manage their asthma. Because there is uncertainty about the effects of yoga on lung function and use of asthma medication, it's important that people with asthma continue to take their medication, as prescribed. The findings of this Cochrane Review will help people make more informed choices about their future treatment options."

Science Daily/SOURCE : https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160426215441.htm

Mindfulness meditation provides opioid-free pain relief

March 15, 2016

Science Daily/Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center
Everyone knows that stubbing your toe hurts. What makes it stop hurting is the body's main pain-blocking process -- the natural production of opioids.

Cognitive-based approaches found to reduce pain, such as hypnosis, acupuncture, distraction and even the placebo response, have been shown to work through this system. But does meditation also use opioids to reduce pain?

In a study published in the current issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, a team led by Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D., assistant professor of neurobiology and anatomy at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, reports that mindfulness meditation does not employ the endogenous opioid system to reduce pain.

"Our finding was surprising and could be important for the millions of chronic pain sufferers who are seeking a fast-acting, non-opiate-based therapy to alleviate their pain," Zeidan said.

The Institute of Medicine estimates that approximately 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain at a cost of more than $600 billion annually for treatment. And due to the increase in the number of people addicted to opiate drugs, from prescription medications to heroin, the Centers for Disease Control has labeled the problem an epidemic.

To determine if meditation uses the body's opioids to reduce pain, the Wake Forest Baptist researchers injected study participants with either a drug called naloxone, which blocks the pain-reducing effects of opioids, or a saline placebo.

In this randomized, double-blinded study, 78 healthy, pain-free volunteers were divided into four groups for the four-day (20 minutes per day) trial. The groups consisted of: meditation plus naloxone; non-meditation control plus naloxone; meditation plus saline placebo; or non-meditation control plus saline placebo.

Pain was induced by using a thermal probe to heat a small area of the participants' skin to 49 degrees Centigrade (120.2 degrees Fahrenheit), a level of heat most people find very painful. Study participants rated their pain using a sliding scale.

Zeidan found that the participants' pain ratings were reduced by 24 percent from the baseline measurement in the meditation group that received the naloxone. This is important because it showed that even when the body's opioid receptors were chemically blocked, meditation still was able to significantly reduce pain by using a different pathway, he said. Pain ratings also were reduced by 21 percent in the meditation group that received the placebo-saline injection.

By comparison, the non-meditation control groups reported increases in pain regardless of whether they got the naloxone or placebo-saline injection.

"Our team has demonstrated across four separate studies that meditation, after a short training period, can reduce experimentally induced pain," Zeidan said. "And now this study shows that meditation doesn't work through the body's opioid system.

"This study adds to the growing body of evidence that something unique is happening with how meditation reduces pain. These findings are especially significant to those who have built up a tolerance to opiate-based drugs and are looking for a non-addictive way to reduce their pain."

The next step for Zeidan's team is to determine if and how mindfulness meditation can affect a spectrum of chronic pain conditions.

"At the very least, we believe that meditation could be used in conjunction with other traditional drug therapies to enhance pain relief without it producing the addictive side effects and other consequences that may arise from opiate drugs," he said.

Science Daily/SOURCE :https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/03/160315182706.htm

Use of mindfulness-based stress reduction for chronic low back pain

March 22, 2016
Science Daily/The JAMA Network Journals
Among adults with chronic low back pain, both mindfulness-based stress reduction and cognitive behavioral therapy resulted in greater improvement in back pain and functional limitations when compared with usual care, according to a study.

Low back pain is a leading cause of disability in the United States. There is need for treatments with demonstrated effectiveness that are low risk and have potential for widespread availability. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) focuses on increasing awareness and acceptance of moment-to-moment experiences including physical discomfort and difficult emotions. Only 1 large randomized clinical trial has evaluated MBSR for chronic low back pain, and that trial was limited to older adults.

Daniel C. Cherkin, Ph.D., of Group Health Research Institute, Seattle, and colleagues randomly assigned 342 adults age 20 to 70 years with chronic low back pain to receive MBSR (n = 116), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT; n = 113), or usual care (n = 113). CBT (training to change pain-related thoughts and behaviors) and MBSR (training in mindfulness meditation and yoga) were delivered in 8 weekly 2-hour groups. Usual care included whatever other treatment, if any, the participants received. The average age of the participants was 49 years; the average duration of back pain was 7.3 years.

The researchers found that at 26 weeks, the percentage of participants with clinically meaningful improvement on a measure of functional limitations was higher for those who received MBSR (61 percent) and CBT (58 percent) than for usual care (44 percent). The percentage of participants with clinically meaningful improvement in pain bothersomeness at 26 weeks was 44 percent in the MBSR group and 45 percent in the CBT group, vs 27 percent in the usual care group. Findings for MBSR persisted with little change at 52 weeks for both primary outcomes.

"The effects were moderate in size, which has been typical of evidence-based treatments recommended for chronic low back pain. These benefits are remarkable given that only 51 percent of those randomized to receive MBSR and 57 percent of those randomized to receive CBT attended at least 6 of the 8 sessions," the authors write.

"These findings suggest that MBSR may be an effective treatment option for patients with chronic low back pain."

Editorial: Is It Time to Make Mind-Body Approaches Available for Chronic Low Back Pain?

 

"Although understanding the specificity of treatment effects, mechanisms of action, and role of mediators are important issues for researchers, they are merely academic for many clinicians and their patients. For patients with chronic painful conditions, options are needed to help them live with less pain and disability now," write Madhav Goyal, M.D., M.P.H., and Jennifer A. Haythornthwaite, Ph.D., of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore.

"The challenge is how to ensure that these mind-body interventions are available, given the existing evidence demonstrating they may work for some patients with chronic low back pain. Most physicians encounter numerous obstacles finding appropriate referrals for mind-body therapies that their patients can access and afford. High-quality studies such as the clinical trial by Cherkin et al create a compelling argument for ensuring that an evidence-based health care system should provide access to affordable mind-body therapies."
Science Daily/SOURCE :https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/03/160322120023.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."

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

Have trouble media multitasking? Mindfulness intervention helps sharpen focus

April 19, 2016

Science Daily/University of Wisconsin-Madison
People who often mix their media consumption -- texting while watching TV, or listening to music while reading -- are not known for being able to hold their attention on one task. But sharpening their focus may be as simple as breathing.
https://images.sciencedaily.com/2016/04/160419081758_1_540x360.jpg

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have shown that heavy media multitaskers benefited from a short meditation exercise in which they sat quietly counting their breaths.

"In general, people perform better after this mindfulness task," says Thomas Gorman, first author of the study, which was published April 18 by the journal Scientific Reports. "But we found a significant difference for heavy media multitaskers. They improved even more on tests of their attention."

Juggling the demands of competing media sources has grown increasingly common as music, video, news and messaging creep onto more devices and into more day-to-day activities.

"Many people have had the experience where they've felt a phantom phone ring or vibration in their pocket," says C. Shawn Green, UW-Madison psychology professor and senior author of the study. "That means part of your attention is actively monitoring your leg, even while you're trying to do other things."

The effect may be similar when working or studying on a computer also involves checking for incoming email or chat messages.

"Most of us who study media multitasking think that monitoring lots of sources constantly -- instead of devoting yourself to one thing --induces a more distributed attentional state," Green says.

Studies have shown that people who most often let several types of media overlap can be distracted in the moment, but also score poorly on tests that assess attention even when the media sources are absent. That's bad news for performance at school or work, for maintaining relationships and for general well-being.

Previous work by Daniel Levinson and his mentor Richard Davidson at UW-Madison's Center for Healthy Minds has shown that a number of benefits arise from a simple, guided online mindfulness meditation exercise in which participants repeatedly count groups of breaths -- nine inhales and exhales.

"We thought this mindfulness task might be particularly useful to media multitaskers because it is, conceptually, somewhat the opposite of media multitasking," Green says. "It's deep focus on a single thing, and that single thing is not actually very demanding of your attention."

Minds are bound to wander during the exercise, according to Gorman, and as such it requires active practice in adjusting and refocusing attention.

"No one can stay focused on it indefinitely," he says. "When you notice your attention slipping away, you bring it back over and over. You're practicing that skill, refocusing your attention."

Study participants -- comprising people who reported frequent media multitasking and those who rarely combine media -- spent parts of two days taking standard tests that measure their attention. On one day the attention tests were interspersed with Web browsing. On the other, each test was preceded by 10 minutes of the breath-counting exercise.

Heavy media multitaskers scored worse than light media multitaskers all around and both groups posted better attention scores right after counting breaths. Most critically, though, heavy multitaskers made greater strides than their low multitasker counterparts after breath counting.

"We know that the beneficial effects aren't long lasting in this case, as they didn't carry over across days," says Green. "However, one thing the presence of the short-term effects suggests is that the attentional system in heavy media multitaskers isn't intractably affected. It is possible for heavy media multitaskers to adopt a more focused attentional state."

Green and Gorman believe the results indicate the value of further exploring whether the approach can be modified to induce lasting improvements.

Science Daily/SOURCE :https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160419081758.htm

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy linked to reduced depressive relapse risk

Those who received MBCT, and in many cases tapered or discontinued antidepressant medication, were 23% less likely to relapse to major depression

April 27, 2016
Science Daily/University of Oxford
The largest meta-analysis so far of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) for recurrent depression has found that MBCT is an effective treatment option that can help prevent the recurrence of major depression. The study used anonymised individual patient data from nine randomized trials of MBCT.

Major depression is a significant public health problem. Without ongoing treatment, as many as four out of five people with depression relapse at some point. MBCT is a group-based psychological treatment that helps people change the way they think and feel about their experiences and learn skills that reduce the likelihood of further episodes of depression. This meta-analysis, included data from trials that compared MBCT to usual care as well as to other active treatments such as maintenance antidepressants -- the current mainstay approach to prevention of depressive relapse.

Across the nine trials, 38% of those who received MBCT had a depressive relapse within 60 weeks' follow-up, in contrast to 49% of those who did not receive MBCT. Taking the time to relapse into account, people who received MBCT were 31% less likely to relapse during the 60-week follow-up compared with those who did not receive MBCT.

The inclusion of individual patient data made it possible to demonstrate that a person's age, sex, level of education and the age at which they first became depressed did not significantly influence the effectiveness of MBCT, suggesting that this approach is useful for a broad range of people. Those people who experienced more symptoms of depression when they entered treatment tended to show greater benefits from MBCT compared with other treatments. Clinical trials systematically record the occurrence of adverse events and negative outcomes such as death or hospitalisation for any cause. The study found no evidence of adverse events associated with MBCT when delivered by well-trained teachers in a clinical context.

Four of the trials that contributed to the meta-analysis compared MBCT combined with continuation, tapering, or discontinuation of antidepressants to continued maintenance antidepressant treatment alone. Data from these trials showed that those who received MBCT, and in many cases tapered or discontinued antidepressant medication, were 23% less likely to relapse to major depression than those who continued on antidepressants and did not receive MBCT.

Reflecting on the findings, Richard Byng, Professor of Primary Care, University of Plymouth and one of the co-authors said

"While the evidence is from a relatively small number of trials, it is encouraging for patients and clinicians to have another option. There was insufficient data to examine which types of patient or context predict who would benefit most. This, along with varied individual study and wide combined study confidence intervals, means that clinicians need to be cautiously optimistic when tapering off antidepressant medication, and treat each patient as an individual who may or may not benefit from both MBCT and other effective treatments."

Lead author, Willem Kuyken, Professor of Clinical Psychology at the Oxford Mindfulness Centre said, "This new evidence for Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy, collated from individual patient data across nine randomised trials is very heartening. While MBCT is not a panacea, it does clearly offer those with a substantial history of depression a new approach to learning skills to stay well in the long-term. It offers people a safe and empowering treatment choice alongside other mainstay approaches such as cognitive-behavioural therapy and maintenance antidepressants. We need to do more research, however, to get recovery rates closer to 100% and to help prevent the first onset of depression, earlier in life. These are programmes of work we are pursuing at the University of Oxford and with our collaborators around the world."

Background Information

MBCT is a treatment developed to help people who have experienced repeated bouts of depression by teaching them the skills to recognise and to respond constructively to the thoughts and feelings associated with relapse, thereby preventing a downward spiral into depression. The MBCT course consists of guided mindfulness practices, group discussion and other cognitive behavioural exercises. Participants receiving MBCT typically attended eight 2-2.5 hour group sessions alongside daily home practice.

The nine trials contributing to the current study were conducted in the UK, Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands and Switzerland. The current analysis involved data from 1258 participants from these trials. In all the trials, MBCT was delivered according to the published treatment manual and all trials included people with a history of recurrent depression who were currently in full or partial remission from depression. In each trial, MBCT was compared to either usual care or a non-MBCT approach, typically maintenance anti-depressants. Only one trial compared MBCT to another psychological treatment.

An online blog " Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for recurrent depression: 'What do we know? What does it mean? Where to next?'" provides more detailed context and interpretation of this study and can be found at http://oxfordmindfulness.org. The blog provides more detail and interpretation of the key studies bearing on the question of MBCT's effectiveness, especially compared with the mainstay current approach -- maintenance anti-depressant treatment.
Science Daily/SOURCE :https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160427150316.htm

Yoga, aquatic exercise can help combat MS symptoms

May 3, 2016
Science Daily/Universität Basel
Exercise can have a positive influence on certain symptoms of multiple sclerosis, say researchers. Patients who do yoga and aquatic exercise suffer less from fatigue, depression and paresthesia, as reported by researchers.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic progressive auto-immune disease in which the body's own immune system attacks the nervous tissue, potentially resulting in movement disorders. Other typical symptoms of MS include physical and mental fatigue as well as faintness, depression and paresthesia such as pins and needles, itchiness and numbness.

Increased risk of depression

In a random trial, researchers from Basel and Kermanshah (Iran) have now shown that these symptoms significantly improved after an eight-week program of yoga and aquatic exercise. In comparison to the control group, fatigue, depression and paresthesia were significantly reduced in patients who took part in a three-times weekly training program. In the non-exercising group, the likelihood of moderate to severe depression was 35-fold higher than in the groups who had done yoga or aquatic exercise.

Fifty-four women with MS and an average age of 34 were assigned to one of three groups: yoga, aquatic exercise or no exercise. Before and after the trial, patients were asked to complete a questionnaire about their symptoms. All patients continued with their existing treatment, including any medication taken to regulate the immune system.

Exercise as a complementary therapy

"Exercise training programs should be considered in the future as possible complements to standard MS treatments," write the researchers. Researchers from the Kermanshah University of Medical Sciences in Iran, the Psychiatric University Clinics (UPK Basel, Center for Affective, Stress and Sleep Disorders) and the University of Basel's Department of Sport, Exercise and Health took part in the study.

Science Daily/SOURCE :https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/05/160503072414.htm

Body-mind meditation can boost attention and health, lower stress

July 18, 2016

Science Daily/Texas Tech University
Meditation has long been promoted as a way to feel more at peace. But research shows it can significantly improve attention, working memory, creativity, immune function, emotional regulation, self-control, cognitive and school performance and healthy habits while reducing stress.

Yi-Yuan Tang, the presidential endowed chair in neuroscience and a professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences, has developed a novel method of mindfulness meditation called Integrative Body-Mind Training (IBMT).

"Meditation encompasses a family of complex practices that includes mindfulness meditation, mantra meditation, yoga, tai chi and chi gong," Tang said. "Of these practices, mindfulness meditation -- often described as nonjudgmental attention to present-moment experiences -- has received most attention in neuroscience research over the past two decades. For example, when we observe our thoughts or emotions in the mind, we are often involved in them. With IBMT practice, you distance your thoughts or emotions and realize they are not you, then you see the reality in an insightful and different way. Mindfulness helps you be aware of these mental processes at the present, and you just observe without judgment of these activities."

IBMT avoids struggles to control thought, relying instead on a state of restful alertness that allows for a high degree of body-mind awareness while receiving instructions from a qualified coach, who provides body-adjustment guidance, mental imagery and other techniques while soothing music plays in the background. Thought control is achieved gradually through posture, relaxation, body-mind harmony and balance.

"IBMT works by brain (central nervous system) and body (autonomic nervous system) interaction -- IBMT coaches help participants to change both body and mind states to achieve a meditative state; this is why participating in just five 20-minute sessions of IBMT has shown increased attention, relaxation, calmness, body-mind awareness and brain activity," Tang said. "Most participants notice a significant decrease in daily stress, anxiety, depression, anger and fatigue. Additionally, IBMT participants show an overall improvement in emotional and cognitive performance as well as improved social behavior."

Tang says the specific parts of the brain most affected by IBMT -- the anterior cingulate cortex and adjacent medial prefrontal cortex -- are mainly involved in self-control ability.

"Deficits in self-control have been shown in mental disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, addictions, mood disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder," Tang said. "Since IBMT could improve self-control effectively, it may help prevent and treat mental disorders. In the education field, since IBMT improves attention, cognitive performance and self-control, it could help those with ADHD or learning difficulties to improve academic performance and school behavior."

The next step in Tang's research will be to conduct large-scale longitudinal studies to more fully understand brain-body mechanisms of mindfulness and their applications.

Science Daily/SOURCE :https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/07/160718112531.htm

Mindfulness combats depression for disadvantaged black women

Participants learn to handle daily stresses and gain more control through yoga, breathing, body scans

August 15, 2016

Science Daily/Northwestern University
Eight weeks of mindfulness training helped alleviate depressive symptoms and reduce stress in African-American women with lower socio-economic status, providing an effective alternative to more conventional treatment, report scientists.

African-American women with lower socio-economic status have an increased risk of depressive disorders, yet they rarely seek out antidepressants or psychotherapy because of negative attitudes and stigma associated with conventional mental health treatments.

A new pilot Northwestern Medicine study showed that eight weeks of mindfulness training helped alleviate their depressive symptoms and reduce stress, providing an effective alternative to more conventional treatment.

"Many women are in need of help with their depression and coping with daily life, but they don't seek it out because of limited access to high-quality mental health services and the stigma within their families and communities," said the study's principal investigator Inger Burnett-Zeigler, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. "Our study shows that there are alternatives to traditional mental health treatment, such as mind-body approaches, that effectively alleviate symptoms and can be done autonomously in the comfort of their own home."

Over the course of the 16-week study, the average depressive symptoms and stress scores decreased across the 31 participants. They also reported an increase in well-being and were able to recognize stressful triggers in their lives, notice how their bodies react to triggers and learn how to gain more control over their physiological responses to stress.

"It felt good to be in control of my emotions for the first time in my life," one participant said. Another said, "We are always superwomen [and] we have to be able to do everything, and that brings out a lot of stress. ...This helped me to reorganize and put [these stressful events] in the proper perspective and understand I have an opportunity to learn how to calm myself down and recognize what is going on."

The study, which was published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice Aug. 13, is the first to examine the effectiveness of mindfulness-based interventions to combat depression among disadvantaged women in a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC), which provides comprehensive community-based medical care to low-income individuals.

Burnett-Zeigler and her co-authors recruited women from the Komed Holman Health Center, an FQHC on Chicago's South Side. At the time of recruitment, 91 percent of the women at the center were eligible for the study, which demonstrates the high level of mental health need among adult women in the FQHC. Thirty-one women ended up participating in the study.

Burnett-Zeigler said there is great potential to expand mindfulness-based interventions nationally based on this growing need to provide low-cost, effective mental health services in community-based settings. Her future studies aim to examine the feasibility of national implementation and dissemination.

The mindfulness techniques Burnett-Zeigler teaches include sitting meditation, yoga, mental body scans and taking a mindful pause to be in the moment. Patients are encouraged to increase their awareness of everyday activities, such as taking a shower or drinking a cup of coffee.

"These practices help them take a step back and live in the moment versus worrying about what's already happened or what's to come," Burnett-Zeigler said. "People who are depressed or who have depressive symptoms often have tunnel vision, whereby they're only seeing information in the environment that supports their negative beliefs."

Study participants also were encouraged to engage in daily practice at home, in addition to the guided sessions in the clinic. On average, participants practiced meditation, yoga and mental body scans four days per week and spent an average of 2.5 hours practicing a week.

Before participating in the study, 45 percent of the women reported no prior experience with meditation, and 71 percent reported no past experience with yoga. All of the women who participated in the study reported symptoms of depression, however 87 percent had not received any mental health treatment in the past year.

Science Daily/SOURCE :https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/08/160815185922.htm

Spiritual meditation plus medication: Best medicine for migraines ?

September 2, 2016

Science Daily/Taylor & Francis
"Effect of Different Meditation Types on Migraine Headache Medication Use," an article recently published in Behavioral Medicine, examines whether or not, and to what extent, a combination of spiritual meditation and migraine medication affects analgesic medication usage.

A wide variety of pharmacological interventions such as opiates, benzodiazepines, and prophylactic medications have been described that offer partial relief to migraine sufferers. Reviews have also described a variety of empirically supported non-pharmacological approaches to preventing or stopping headaches. Recent randomized controlled trials have demonstrated the efficacy of meditation-based interventions as a treatment for headache pain. 

Though spiritual meditation has been found to reduce the frequency of migraines and physiological reactivity to stress, little is known about how introducing a spirituality component into a meditation intervention impacts use of analgesic medicine. The results from the study support previous research suggesting that spiritual meditation may be more effective for pain tolerance and migraine coping than non-spiritual meditation alternatives.

In this study, 92 meditation-naïve participants with frequent migraines (>2 per month) were randomly assigned to one of four groups that used a meditation phrase or technique: (1) Spiritual Meditation (exp. "God is love"), (2) Internally Focused Secular Meditation (exp. "I am content"), (3) Externally Focused Secular Meditation (exp. "Sand is soft,"), or (4) Progressive Muscle Relaxation (technique). Then, the participants practiced their assigned meditation technique for 20 minutes per day over 30 days while completing daily headache diaries. 

Headache frequency, headache severity, and pain medication use were recorded and assessed. Migraine frequency decreased significantly in the Spiritual Meditation group compared to other groups. Headache severity ratings did not differ across groups. All four groups showed decreased analgesic medication use over time -- however, medication usage for migraine headaches had a sharper decline in the Spiritual Meditation group compared to other groups.

Science Daily/SOURCE :https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/09/160902125336.htm

Got mindfulness? Seven key steps for purposeful daily living

October 13, 2016

Science Daily/New York Institute of Technology
An expert offers tips for living a purposeful life in a new article. The piece reflects on the practices of meditation, movement, management, maximization, meaningfulness and mentoring.

It's one of the seven key steps to purposeful daily living, says occupational therapist Dr. Melanie Austin-McCain.

"Be present, smile, humble yourself, and acknowledge others," says Austin-McCain, an assistant professor at New York Institute of Technology School of Health Professions, describing how to be mindful in a world where we often spend more time looking at our phones than those around us. "With mindfulness, you're really in the present and focusing on your senses and your experiences -- what you are feeling, thinking, and doing."

Austin-McCain, who also serves an associate with NYIT's Center for Sports Medicine, says research shows that having healthy daily routines and a purpose in life (beyond short-term goals like finishing school or completing a project) contribute to wellness and may help you live a longer, more positive life.

"Evidence shows that having a purpose in life is helpful in promoting health and preventing chronic disease," says Austin-McCain. "It's about finding out about who you are, the things you like do and that are meaningful for you and setting goals that align with those things."

Austin-McCain, who has presented community workshops on the topic, offers other purposeful living steps and ways to incorporate them in your life:

Meditation -- Don't set a goal of 30 minutes to meditate, McCain advises. Instead, aim for short periods of stillness, where you can visualize goals and set daily intentions

Movement -- Stretch your mind and body, says McCain. Find ways to stay active, engaged, and moving. Commit yourself to thinking things through, exploring new ideas, coming up with different strategies to approach challenges, and trying new things.

Management -- McCain advises people adopt a personal management role. "Be the CEO of your life," she says. That might mean performing a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis of your life, decluttering your desk and living space, or meal planning that makes it easier to choose healthy foods.

Maximization -- Adopt a "future is mine" mindset, where challenges are opportunities and you see your potential as well as the potential in others.

Meaningfulness -- Acknowledge those who support you and seek joy and happiness in the things you choose to do. "Meaningfulness is more like gratitude -- awareness and appreciation of the things around you."

Mentoring -- McCain says mentoring goes both ways: it's best to seek mentors for various aspects of your life (professional, personal) and to serve as a mentor to others, providing support and wisdom.

Science Daily/SOURCE :https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/10/161013103124.htm

Meditation and music may help reverse early memory loss in adults at risk for Alzheimer’s Disease

January 21, 2017


Science Daily/IOS Press
In a recent study of adults with early memory loss, scientists found that practice of a simple meditation or music listening program may have multiple benefits for older adults with preclinical memory loss.

In this randomized controlled trial, 60 older adults with subjective cognitive decline (SCD), a condition that may represent a preclinical stage of Alzheimer's disease, were assigned to either a beginner meditation (Kirtan Kriya) or music listening program and asked to practice 12 minutes/day for 12 weeks. As detailed in a paper recently published by the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, both the meditation and music groups showed marked and significant improvements in subjective memory function and objective cognitive performance at 3 months. These included domains of cognitive functioning most likely to be affected in preclinical and early stages of dementia (e.g., attention, executive function, processing speed, and subjective memory function). The substantial gains observed in memory and cognition were maintained or further increased at 6 months (3 months post-intervention).

As explained in the research team's previous paper (J Alzheimer's Dis. 52 (4): 1277-1298), both intervention groups also showed improvements in sleep, mood, stress, well-being and quality of life, with gains that were that were particularly pronounced in the meditation group; again, all benefits were sustained or further enhanced at 3 months post-intervention.

The findings of this trial suggest that two simple mind-body practices, Kirtan Kriya meditation and music listening, may not only improve mood, sleep, and quality of life, but also boost cognition and help reverse perceived memory loss in older adults with SCD.

Science Daily/SOURCE :https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/01/170121190807.htm

Mindfulness meditation training lowers biomarkers of stress response in anxiety disorder

Hormonal, inflammatory reactions to stress were reduced after meditation training, in rigorous NIH-sponsored trial

January 24, 2017

Science Daily/Georgetown University Medical Center
Mindfulness meditation is an increasingly popular treatment for anxiety, but testing its effectiveness in a convincing way has been difficult. Now a rigorously designed, clinical trial has found objective physiological evidence that mindfulness meditation combats anxiety.
"Mindfulness meditation training is a relatively inexpensive and low-stigma treatment approach, and these findings strengthen the case that it can improve resilience to stress," said lead author Elizabeth A. Hoge, MD, associate professor in Georgetown University Medical Center's Department of Psychiatry.

The study, published January 24 in Psychiatry Research, included 89 patients with generalized anxiety disorder, a condition of chronic and excessive worrying. The disorder is estimated to affect nearly 7 million Americans during any one year.

Hoge and her colleagues randomly divided the patients into two groups: One took an eight-week mindfulness based stress reduction course, the other -- the control group -- took an eight-week Stress Management Education course, which included general tips on the importance of good nutrition, sleep habits and other wellness topics. Both courses had similar formats but only the former included training in meditative techniques.

Many prior tests of meditation-based therapies have compared a meditation group to an untreated control group. Because participants in such studies are not "blinded" -- they know if they are getting treatment or not -- they are likely to be influenced by the placebo effect and other forms of expectancy bias. "The FDA would never approve a drug based on such a clinical trial design," said Hoge.

In this study, she added, participants would have had little or no expectancy bias, because they were all assigned to a treatment, and were not told which was the treatment of interest to the researchers.

Before and after the training course, participants underwent the Trier Social Stress Test, a standard experimental technique for inducing a stress response, in which the participants are asked at short notice to give a speech before an audience, and are given other anxiety-inducing instructions.

"We were testing the patients' resilience," Hoge said, "because that's really the ultimate question -- can we make people handle stress better?"

For the stress test, the team monitored blood-based markers of subjects' stress responses, namely levels of the stress hormone ACTH and the inflammatory proteins IL-6 and TNF-α. The control group showed modest rises on the second test compared to the first, suggesting a worsening of their anxiety from having to endure the test again. By contrast, the meditation group showed big drops in these markers on the second test, suggesting that the meditation training had helped them cope.

Hoge and colleagues also found -- as they reported in an earlier paper on this study -- that the meditation group patients, compared to controls, experienced significantly greater reductions in self-reported measures of stress after their course. The study adds to evidence for the effectiveness of mindfulness meditation in treating anxiety, Hoge said. She noted too that with its rigorous "active control" design, it provides a good paradigm for the future study of interventions such as meditation, to which patients cannot be blinded.

Hoge hopes ultimately to expand the study of mindfulness-related treatments to other psychiatric conditions, and to compare such treatments to standard psychiatric drug therapies.

Science Daily/SOURCE :https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/01/170124111354.htm

Mindfulness motivates people to make healthier choices

January 30, 2017

Science Daily/University of Pennsylvania
People who are more mindful -- aware of the present moment -- are less likely to feel shame when confronted with health advice and are thus more motivated to make positive behavior changes, according to new research.

"Smoking causes wrinkles that age you prematurely. What are cigarettes costing you?"

"150 minutes of exercise a week reduces the risk of cancer."

"2,000 calories a day is all most adults should eat."

We hear so many well-meaning and well-researched messages about how to be healthier, and for many, they prompt real change, like quitting smoking, exercising more and eating better. But for some people, these messages prompt only a defensive and resentful reaction: "Stop nagging and leave me alone."

Why do some people hear these messages so differently, and how can researchers help them be more effective? In looking at this problem, a new study by researchers at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania found that people who are more mindful are more receptive to health messaging and more likely to be motivated to change.

The study, "Dispositional Mindfulness Predicts Adaptive Affective Responses to Health Messages and Increased Exercise Motivation," which will be published in the journal Mindfulness, examines the role of mindfulness in health communication.

According to lead author Yoona Kang, a postdoctoral fellow at the Annenberg School, "mindfulness is usually defined as having awareness of the present moment" and has been shown in previous studies to reduce negative reactions to emotionally charged situations.

"Health messaging often causes people to react emotionally in negative ways, so we investigated factors, including mindfulness, that could potentially influence people to be more receptive to health messages and more motivated to change their behavior," said senior author Emily Falk, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Communication at the Annenberg School.

The study assembled a group of people who achieve only low levels of weekly exercise and exposed them to a variety of health messages. The researchers observed the reactions of the participants to the health messages, recorded their motivation (or lack thereof) to change their behavior, and later inquired as to whether the participants had actually changed their behavior.

To gauge how mindful each person was in day-to-day life, the researchers asked each participant to complete the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS). The MAAS is composed of 15 scenarios, including "I forget a person's name almost as soon as I've been told it for the first time" and "I tend to walk quickly to get where I'm going without paying attention to what I experience along the way," that are answered on a scale of 1 to 6, ranging from "almost always" to "almost never." The higher a person's total score, the more mindful that person is considered to be.

The study showed that less mindful people were also less likely to make a positive change in behavior as a response to health messaging.

"Some people, when confronted with health messages, felt really bad about themselves," said Falk, "and that didn't help them change their behavior. And in the long run, it doesn't help us have a healthier, happier population."

People who are more mindful, however, reacted less negatively to health messages and were less likely to feel ashamed by them. These people, in turn, were also more likely to change their behavior to be healthier.

The researchers' findings add to the growing literature on the health benefits of mindfulness, and they believe this has important implications. "Individuals may benefit from cultivating mindful attention when processing potentially threatening yet beneficial health information," said Kang. "It's possible that incorporating mindfulness cultivation into existing intervention strategies can promote more widespread positive health behavior."

Science Daily/SOURCE :https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/01/170130111020.htm

Twice weekly yoga classes plus home practice effective in reducing symptoms of depression

March 3, 2017


Science Daily/Boston University Medical Center
People who suffer from depression should participate in yoga and deep (coherent) breathing classes at least twice weekly plus practice at home to receive a significant reduction in their symptoms.

The findings, which appear in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, provide preliminary support for the use of yoga-based interventions as an alternative or supplement to pharmacologic treatments for depression.

Major depressive disorder (MDD) is common, recurrent, chronic and disabling. Due in part to its prevalence, depression is globally responsible for more years lost to disability than any other disease. Up to 40 percent of individuals treated with antidepressant medications for MDD do not achieve full remission. This study used lyengar yoga that has an emphasis on detail, precision and alignment in the performance of posture and breath control.

Individuals with MDD were randomized to the high dose group, three 90-minute classes a week along with home practice, or the low dose group, two 90-minute classes a week, plus home practice. Both groups had significant decreases in their depressive symptoms and no significant differences in compliance. Although a greater number of subjects in the high dose group had less depressive symptoms, the researchers believe attending twice weekly classes (plus home practice) may constitute a less burdensome but still effective way to gain the mood benefits from the intervention.

"This study supports the use of a yoga and coherent breathing intervention in major depressive disorder in people who are not on antidepressants and in those who have been on a stable dose of antidepressants and have not achieved a resolution of their symptoms," explained corresponding author Chris Streeter, MD, associate professor of psychiatry and neurology at Boston University School of Medicine and a psychiatrist at Boston Medical Center.

According to Streeter compared with mood altering medications, this intervention has the advantages of avoiding additional drug side effects and drug interactions. "While most pharmacologic treatment for depression target monoamine systems, such as serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, this intervention targets the parasympathetic and gamma aminobutyric acid system and provides a new avenue for treatment."

Science Daily/SOURCE :https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170303131017.htm

Mindfulness just as effective as CBT for a broad range of psychiatric symptoms

April 14, 2017

Science Daily/Lund University
Mindfulness group therapy has an equally positive effect as individual CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) for the treatment of a wide range of psychiatric symptoms in patients with depression, anxiety and stress-related disorders.

The need for psychotherapy in primary healthcare is on the increase for patients who are suffering with a variety of mental health problems. However, individual therapy is costly and the supply does not meet the demand. Group therapy with mindfulness can be a viable alternative treatment, which at the same will free up resources in healthcare to be used more efficiently.

"Our new research shows that mindfulness group therapy has the equivalent effect as individual CBT for a wide range of psychiatric symptoms that are common among this patient group," says Professor Jan Sundquist, who led the research group in the study which has been published in European Psychiatry.

He adds, "We have shown in a previous study that mindfulness group therapy is just as effective as individual CBT for the treatment of typical depression and anxiety symptoms; something we also observed in the new study."

The study group included 215 patients with depression, anxiety and stress-related disorders. Patients were recruited from 16 different healthcare centres across Scania in southern Sweden for the eight-week randomised controlled trial. Researchers studied a broad range of psychiatric symptoms (measured by several types of questionnaires, e.g. Symptom Checklist-90, SCL-90) and how these symptoms changed during the treatment, either with mindfulness in group therapy or individual CBT.

The results showed that the average score for all 15 different subscales/indexes in the various questionnaires decreased significantly in both scales. The various scales measured, among others, symptoms of depression, general anxiety, stress and somatization, obsessive-compulsive disorder, interpersonal sensitivity, aggression, phobic anxiety, paranoid ideation and psychoticism. There was no difference in treatment effect between the two groups.

"As mental illnesses are increasing at a very fast rate it is absolutely essential to expand the treatment alternatives for this patient group in primary healthcare. Our view is that the scarce resources should be partly reallocated to mindfulness group therapy so that the limited availability of individual psychotherapy can be utilised in an optimal fashion," concludes Professor Sundquist.

Science Daily/SOURCE :https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/04/170414105801.htm

Mindfulness class helped women, but not men, overcome 'negative affect'

April 20, 2017

Science Daily/Brown University
Few studies have looked at whether mindfulness meditation is equally effective among men and women in addressing mood, but a new study in a college setting found a substantial difference.

In a new study of a Brown University scholarly course on mindfulness that also included meditation labs, researchers found that the practice on average significantly helped women overcome "negative affect" -- a downcast mood -- but did not help men. The finding, the authors said, should call more attention to considering gender as a potential factor in assessing mindfulness efficacy.

More women than men engage in mindfulness meditation, the practice of intentionally and non-judgmentally directing one's attention to present sensations and feelings, said Willoughby Britton, assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior and of behavioral and social sciences at Brown. There hasn't been a prevailing notion in the research literature that the practice affects men and women differently. Yet the data Britton and her co-authors present in a new paper in Frontiers in Psychology shows a clear gender difference in outcomes for mood.

"That was the surprising part," Britton said. Since this study, though, she has found the same pattern in two other studies under review for future publication. "I wouldn't be surprised if this is a widespread phenomenon that researchers hadn't bothered to investigate."

On the other hand, Britton added, it was encouraging to see a clear benefit for women, who are generally more vulnerable to negative affect and depression, she noted.

"Emotional disorders like depression in early adulthood are linked to a litany of negative trajectories that further disadvantage women, such as poor academic performance, school drop-out, early pregnancy and substance abuse," she said. "The fact that a college course could teach women skills to better manage negative affect at this early age could have potentially far-reaching effects on women's lives."

Co-lead author Rahil Rojiani, a Brown graduate and now a medical student at Yale, said he hopes the study will narrow disparities in mental health care.

"The gender gap in mental health has been inadequately targeted and often only within the standard medical arsenal of pharmacological treatment," Rojiani said. "Our study is one of the first to explore the effects of mindfulness across gender."

Studying a class

The study measured changes in affect, mindfulness and self-compassion among 41 male and 36 female students over the course of a full, 12-week academic class on mindfulness traditions with papers, tests and presentations that also included an experiential component of three hour-long meditation labs a week. Co-author Harold Roth, professor of religious studies, taught the labs, which included about 30 minutes per session of specific contemplative practice from Buddhist or Daoist traditions.

Mindfulness has become popular on college campuses, Britton said, as students and administrators look to it as a potential way of helping students manage stress or depression. For this study, students filled out questionnaires at the beginning and the end of the class. Over that time the average student had engaged in more than 41 hours of meditation in class and outside. There was no statistically significant difference in the amount of meditation practice by gender. Men and women also entered the class with no difference in their degree of negative affect.

As a group, the 77 students also did not leave the class showing a significant difference in negative affect. That's because while women showed a significant 11.6 percent decline on the survey's standardized score (which is a positive psychological outcome), men showed a non-significant 3.7 percent increase in their scores.

Alongside those changes in affect, each gender showed progress in skills taught as part of meditation. Both genders gained in several specific mindfulness and self-compassion skills and their overall scores increased significantly. That finding shows that the classes were effective in teaching the techniques, though women made greater gains than men on four of five areas of mindfulness.

When the researchers dug further into the data, they saw that in women several of the gains they made in specific skills correlated with improvements in negative affect.

"Improved affect in women was related to improved mindfulness and self-compassion skills, which involved specific subscales for approaching experience and emotions with non-reactivity, being less self-critical and more kind with themselves, and over-identifying less with emotions," the authors wrote.

Meanwhile, among men, only one of the specific skills was associated with better affect.

"To the extent that affect improved, changes were correlated with an improved dimension of mindfulness involving the ability to identify, describe and differentiate one's emotions," they wrote.

Does mindfulness work better for women?

Britton said the results suggest a new hypothesis, which is that mindfulness regimens, at least as they are often structured, may be better attuned to addressing the ways that women typically process emotions than the ways that men often do. Mindfulness guides practitioners to focus on and acknowledge feelings but to do so in a non-judgmental and non-self-critical way.

"The mechanisms are highly speculative at this point, but stereotypically, women ruminate and men distract," Britton said. "So for people that tend to be willing to confront or expose themselves or turn toward the difficult, mindfulness is made for [improving] that. For people who have been largely turning their attention away from the difficult, to suddenly bring all their attention to their difficulties can be somewhat counterproductive. While facing one's difficulties and feeling one's emotions may seem to be universally beneficial, it does not take into account that there may be different cultural expectations for men and women around emotionality."

If that hypothesis is supported in further research, the findings may yield an important strategy for the designers of mindfulness curricula. For women, the message may be to stay the course, but for men the best idea may be to tailor mindfulness differently.

"Mindfulness is a little bit like a drug cocktail -- there are a lot of ingredients and we're not sure which ingredients are doing what," Britton said. "But I think a strategy of isolating potential 'active ingredients' and using slightly more innovative designs to tailor to the needs of different populations is what's called for."

For fellow mindfulness researchers, Britton said, the study emphasizes a benefit to accounting for gender. Had she not done so in this study, she would have reported a null effect on affect when in fact women benefitted significantly. At the same time, if the study population had been heavily skewed toward women rather than more balanced, she might have measured a stronger benefit that would have been improperly extrapolated to men.

Science Daily/SOURCE :https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/04/170420113801.htm

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