Mindfulness Meditation 6

Digital games may beat mindfulness apps at relieving stress

August 1, 2019

Science Daily/University of Bath

Digital games, typical of those used on smartphones, may relieve stress after a day's work more effectively than mindfulness apps, according to a study by UCL in London and the University of Bath.

 

In the study, published in JMIR Mental Health, participants were given a 15-minute maths test and then asked to either play a shape-fitting game or use a mindfulness app. Those in a control group were given a fidget-spinner toy.

 

Participants who played the shape-fitting game ("Block! Hexa Puzzle") reported feeling more energised and less tired afterwards, while those in the mindfulness and fidget-spinner groups reported the opposite: their level of "energetic arousal" appeared to decline.

 

In a second part of the study, participants who played a shape-fitting game after arriving home from work for five days reported feeling more relaxed by the end of the week than those who were asked to use a mindfulness app.

 

Study co-author Professor Anna Cox (UCL Interaction Centre) said: "Far from feeling guilty about being absorbed by their phone, people who play such games after a stressful day at work should know they are likely to be gaining a real benefit."

 

Lead author Dr Emily Collins, of the University of Bath, who started the research while at UCL, said: "To protect our long-term health and well-being, we need to be able to unwind and recuperate after work. Our study suggests playing digital games can be an effective way to do this."

 

The authors noted that digital games appear to fulfil four criteria necessary for post-work recovery: they tend to be relaxing, they provide opportunities for mastering a new skill, they are highly immersive and distracting, and they allow people to feel in control.

 

While previous research has found an association between playing games and improved recovery after work, the authors attempted to establish a causal connection.

 

The first part of the study was a lab experiment in which 45 students aged between 19 and 36 were given a series of maths questions to induce a sense of work strain and then spent ten minutes either on the digital game, fidget spinner or the Headspace mindfulness app.

 

In a survey before and after using the game, app or toy, they rated on a four-point scale how tired and energetic they felt.

 

In the second part of the study, a different group of 20 participants were asked either to play the shape-fitting game or use a mindfulness app after arriving home from work for five days in a row. The game and app were installed on participants' phones. After completing the activities, the participants were asked to fill in an online survey.

 

While no differences were found between the two groups in terms of how energised participants felt, the shape-fitting game appeared to offer increasing benefits throughout the week in terms of "recovery experience" -- that is, to what degree participants felt relaxed, detached, in control and able to improve their skills.

 

This was measured by asking participants to what extent they agreed with statements such as "During the activity, I forgot about work."

 

Surprisingly, participants who followed a beginners' course on the Headspace mindfulness app scored progressively less well on this measure throughout the five days.

 

The authors also noted that the level of enjoyment of the digital game was correlated with the amount of benefit it offered in terms of post-work recovery.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/08/190801104030.htm

Smartphone relaxation app helps some manage migraine

June 4, 2019

Science Daily/NYU Langone Health / NYU School of Medicine

Migraine sufferers who used a smartphone-based relaxation technique at least twice a week experienced on average four fewer headache days per month, a new study shows.

 

Developed in part by researchers at NYU School of Medicine, the app, called RELAXaHEAD, guides patients through progressive muscle relaxation, or PMR. In this form of behavioral therapy, patients alternately relax and tense different muscle groups to reduce stress.

 

The study authors say their work, publishing in the journal Nature Digital Medicine online June 4, is the first to evaluate the clinical effectiveness of an app for treating migraine, and adding an app to standard therapies (such as oral medications) under the supervision of a doctor.

 

"Our study offers evidence that patients may pursue behavioral therapy if it is easily accessible, they can do it on their own time, and it is affordable," says study senior investigator and neurologist Mia Minen, MD, MPH. "Clinicians need to rethink their treatment approach to migraine because many of the accepted therapies, although proven to be the current, best course of treatment, aren't working for all lifestyles."

 

Migraine affects over 36 million people in the United States. Primary symptoms include moderate to severe head pain that is often accompanied by nausea and sensitivity to light and sound. Patients are often prescribed drug treatments and behavioral therapy, but do not pursue the therapy even after a doctor's recommendation because of the expense and inconvenience, says Minen, an assistant professor of population health and chief of headache research at NYU Langone Health. "Oftentimes they end up only taking medications," she says.

 

To see if an app might increase compliance, the research team analyzed app use by 51 confirmed migraine patients at NYU Langone Health, all of whom owned smartphones. Participants were asked to use the app for 90 days and to keep a daily record of the frequency and severity of their headaches, while the app kept track of how long and often patients used PMR.

 

Study participants, on average, had 13 headache days per month, ranging between four and 31. Thirty-nine percent of patients in the study also reported having anxiety, and 30 percent had depression.

 

PMR therapy utilizing the RELAXaHEAD app dropped to 51 percent after six weeks, and to 29 percent after three months. The study authors, who anticipated a gradual decrease in the use of the app, next plan to identify potential ways to encourage more frequent sessions. They also plan to study the best ways to introduce the app into their clinical practices.

 

Minen says that taken as a whole, the study results suggest that accessible smartphone technologies "can effectively teach patients lifelong skills needed to manage their migraines."

 

Minen was part of the team that partnered with Boston-based Irody Inc. to design and develop RELAXaHEAD, in which NYU Langone holds a financial interest. However, the app is not yet publically available.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/06/190604084850.htm

Meditation goes digital in new clinical trial

Individualized program improves attention and memory in healthy young adults

June 3, 2019

Science Daily/University of California - San Francisco

Scientists at UC San Francisco have developed a personalized digital meditation training program that significantly improved attention and memory in healthy young adults -- a group already at the peak of brain health -- in just six weeks.

 

The intervention, called MediTrain, utilizes a closed-loop algorithm that tailors the length of the meditation sessions to the abilities of the participants, so they are not discouraged by their initial attempts to focus attention on their breath, a time-honored meditation technique.

 

Scientists tested the program in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial at UCSF with 59 participants between 18 and 35 years old. The results were published Monday, June 3, 2019, in Nature Human Behaviour.

 

The magnitude of the effects on attention and memory, which were unexpected for healthy young adults, were similar to what has been seen in previous studies of middle-aged adults after months of in-person training or intensive meditation retreats.

 

The app-based program, however, required just 20 to 30 minutes of cumulative practice each day, composed of many very short meditation periods. In the beginning, participants were prompted to pay attention to their breath for just 10 to 15 seconds at a time. As they improved over the six weeks, the application challenged them to increase the amount of time they could maintain focus, which averaged several minutes after six weeks.

 

"This is not like any meditation practice that exists, as far as we are aware," said senior author Adam Gazzaley, MD, PhD, professor of neurology, physiology and psychiatry and executive director of Neuroscape at UCSF. "We took an ancient experiential treatment of focused meditation, reformulated it and delivered it through a digital technology, and improved attention span in millennials, an age group that is intimately familiar with the digital world, but also faces multiple challenges to sustained attention."

 

MediTrain made some concessions to tradition. Before they began, participants listened to recorded meditation instructions from Jack Kornfield, PhD, a meditation teacher who co-founded Spirit Rock Meditation Center north of San Francisco, and an author on the study. Then, they used the techniques on their own, without spoken instruction and with their eyes closed.

 

But MediTrain had other digital features that aren't present in the traditional practice of breath meditation and that may have been the reason why it achieved such strong results over such a short period and with such a healthy population.

 

For one thing, it underscored the need to pay attention by requiring participants to regularly check in on how they were doing.

 

At the end of each brief meditation segment, participants were asked to indicate whether they had been able to pay continuous attention for the allotted time, pressing a button on the left side of an iPad screen if the answer was no, and a button on the right if the answer was yes. For those who said yes, the application adapted to a slightly longer meditation period; for those who said no, the period was shortened.

 

The researchers believe the participatory nature of the design was important.

 

"Not only do you learn how to maintain focus on your breath, but you are also required to introspect on how well you're able to do that," Gazzaley said, "We believe that's part of the active ingredient of this treatment."

 

MediTrain also gave everyone regular feedback, with progress reports during the training sessions, at the end of each day of training and at the end of each week.

 

The results were impressive. On their first day, participants could stay focused on their breath for an average of only 20 seconds. After 30 days of training, that rose to an average of six minutes.

 

This improvement, in turn, conferred better performance on other, much more complicated tasks that scientists use to assess sustained attention and working memory. Not only did the MediTrain participants perform more consistently on attention tests than the placebo group, the scientists also found a correlation between how long participants were able to focus on their breath and how consistently they performed on these tests. The MediTrain group also performed better than the placebo group on a test of working memory, measured after the intervention.

 

"We thought it was a long shot to see these types of improvements in a group this young and healthy," said David Ziegler, PhD, director of multimodal biosensing in the technology division at UCSF's Neuroscape, and the first author of the paper. "But it speaks to the power of the method."

 

Using electroencephalography (EEG) to record brain activity in a subset of the participants in each group, the researchers identified parts of the brain, particularly in the front, that altered their activity as participants learned to stabilize their attention with meditation training.

 

According to Ziegler, "These frontal brain areas, which are important for controlling attention, showed greater moment-to-moment consistency in their activity after the meditation training." They are also known to strengthen their activity when other areas of the brain called the "default mode network," that are associated with distracted thinking and self-preoccupation, get weaker. Deactivation in the default mode network is also associated with better performance on tasks that require focused attention.

 

The researchers said that MediTrain, which has been patented by the University of California, holds promise for a younger generation that is accustomed to digital devices but faces multiple challenges to sustained attention from heavy use of media and technology.

 

The breath meditation -- a seemingly simple, yet quite demanding task -- worked as well in cultivating sustained attention as other more intellectually and physically challenging training programs that have been developed at Neuroscape, a translational neuroscience center at UCSF engaged in technology creation and scientific research to better assess and optimize brain function for all people.

 

Its very simplicity may fill a particular need created by the frenetic pace of today's world.

 

"Many of us struggle with challenges to our attention, which seem to be exacerbated by modern technology," Gazzaley said. "What we've done here is flip this story around by creating and studying a digital delivery system that makes cognitive benefits of traditional focused attention meditation more personalized, accessible and deliverable."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/06/190603124705.htm

Stressed at school? Art therapy reduces teenage girls' headaches

July 30, 2019

Science Daily/University of Washington

In a pilot study, researchers explored art-based mindfulness activities that schools could use to reduce headaches, a common side effect of stress in adolescent girls. After three weeks of twice-weekly mindfulness and art therapy sessions, 8 teenage girls reported experiencing significantly fewer headaches.

 

Teenagers report higher levels of stress than adults, and cite school as the highest contributing factor, according to the American Psychological Association's annual report. A summary from 2013 concluded that while stress among Americans was not new, "what's troubling is the stress outlook for teens in the United States."

 

In response, recently some schools have turned to mindfulness-based programs as a way to alleviate stress among their students. These programs could benefit from more research into what activities students find most useful.

 

In a pilot study led by the University of Washington, researchers explored art-based mindfulness activities that schools could use to reduce headaches, a common side effect of stress in adolescent girls. The test group of eight teenage girls gave feedback on which activities they preferred.

 

After three weeks of twice-weekly mindfulness and art therapy sessions, the girls reported experiencing significantly fewer headaches. At the beginning of the study, the girls reported 7.38 headaches, on average, within the previous two-week period. At the end of the study, that number had dropped to 4.63 -- almost a 40% decrease. This drop remained even seven weeks after the study had ended. The researchers published their findings May 22 in the journal Art Therapy.

 

"This study highlights one of my main research missions: We should be making interventions in cooperation with teenagers if we want these strategies to work," said corresponding author Elin Björling, a senior research scientist in the UW's human centered design and engineering department. "There's something powerful about saying 'I'm inviting you to start thinking about how you could get better. Come have a conversation with me about how we could do this.' I think that's why we saw such a strong response even in this tiny study."

 

The team recruited eight girls between the ages of 14 to 17 from a high school in Seattle. All of the participants reported experiencing three or more headaches not related to an injury within a two-week period, and five of the eight mentioned tension or stress as the main reason for headaches.

 

During the program, the students met twice a week for a 50-minute session with the research team. Each session began with an activity in which students would map where they were feeling stressed on a drawing of a body. Then the teens would participate in mindfulness and art activities before closing the session with another body map.

 

"After the study, we looked at all the before and after body maps side by side. It was so clear that something significant was going on," Björling said. "In the beginning everything was in pieces, and in the end everything was flowing through the whole body."

 

The teens tried different mindfulness techniques in each session so they could find which ones worked the best for them.

 

What teens liked: square breathing, a technique that encourages people to take slow breaths by concentrating and counting.

 

"I thought: 'No teen ever wants to do counted breathing, and they're never going to do it,'" Björling said. "But a few of them said 'That's my favorite. I do it all the time now.'"

 

What teens didn't like: mindful eating, a technique that asks people to focus on what and how they're eating.

 

"They hated it," Björling said. "This was a technique straight out of a lot of mindfulness programs for teens, but it didn't connect with them. It just annoyed them. It goes to show I need them to be experts in their own lives."

 

The researchers also asked the students to participate in different mindful art activities. During each session, the students tried a new art medium -- they particularly liked using oil pastels -- and different types of art therapy projects, including one where they worked together to create mandalas before and after a meditation exercise.

 

While the teens experienced fewer headaches after the study ended, their overall stress levels didn't change much. But the students reported feeling better in the moment, saying that they felt like they could handle whatever happened for the rest of the day.

 

The team was surprised to see any differences, given the small size of the group.

 

"It's not just about this study," Björling said. "This problem of teen mental health and headaches is so big that I'm worried about what happens if we don't take it on. Somistine Stevens, a nursing professor at UW Tacoma, and Narayan Singh, a psychology doctoral student at Seattle Pacific University, are also co-authors on this paper.e teens will want nothing to do with art mindfulness. So we need to come at this in lots of different ways. We're going to need an army of people and a cornucopia of options."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/07/190730092626.htm

Visualization strategies may backfire on consumers pursuing health goals

April 4, 2019

Science Daily/Oregon State University

Using visualization as motivation is a common technique for achieving goals, but consumers who are pursuing health goals such as eating healthy or losing weight should use caution when using perspective-based visualizations, a new study has found.

 

Adopting a third-person perspective, by viewing one's self through an observer's eyes, may backfire when the goal is not a core part of the person's identity, said Jason Stornelli, an assistant professor of marketing in the College of Business at Oregon State University and one of the study's authors.

 

"Third-person perspectives may be harmful, because they can discourage goal-consistent intentions and behavior when the goal is not a major part of how a person thinks about themselves," Stornelli said.

 

The findings contrast with past research that indicated that people who used third-person perspectives were more likely to succeed in achieving goals, suggesting the use of third-person perspectives for goal achievement is nuanced.

 

The results were published recently in the Journal of Consumer Psychology. Co-authors are Beatriz Pereira of Iowa State University and Richard J. Vann of Penn State Behrend.

 

Stornelli's research interests include the role of self-regulation in consumer decision-making. In particular, he investigates how consumers pursue goals and how emotions influence decision-making.

 

"Companies and organizations are invested in helping people to achieve their goals. For example, consider a company that sells weight loss programs or stakeholders such as insurers, employers and governments," Stornelli said. "All may benefit when consumers make healthier choices. There are a lot of opportunities for organizations and consumers to achieve win-win outcomes with regard to helping people achieve goals."

 

Stornelli and his colleagues' objective for this study was to better understand the best ways to use visualization as a tool for goal-setting and achievement.

 

The researchers conducted three experiments investigating how health goals are influenced by the use of first- and third-person perspectives and by goal centrality -- how closely aligned a goal is to a person's core identity.

 

They found that when health goals are peripheral to a person's self-concept, using a third-person perspective undermines goal-consistent choices and negatively influences goal intentions.

 

In one experiment, participants considered the goal of reducing sugar in their diet and imagined buying snacks from a first-person or third-person perspective. People who considered the goal to be a relatively minor part of their identity were later more likely to choose a higher-sugar snack to take home if they adopted a third-person perspective.

 

In another experiment, the researchers found that taking a third-person perspective reduced the likelihood that people adopted an implemental mindset. In other words, they thought less about the steps and plans needed to reach the goal, which encouraged more negative self-conscious emotions and negatively influenced future intentions to pursue the goal when it played a relatively peripheral role in defining their identity.

 

Using third-person visualization has worked well in past research for objectives like voting in an upcoming election or reaching an academic goal, where there are concrete steps to take and a clear completion point. Health goals often require more involved behavioral change and people must continually maintain their effort. Future research might explore the effectiveness of visualization strategies for a range of goal types.

 

"It seems important to think about whether the tool is appropriate for the context of the goal at hand," Stornelli said.

 

The researchers suggested that the way a person implements a third-person perspective may also help them derive greater benefits and avoid pitfalls. Encouraging connections between the goal and the person's self-concept seems likely to minimize negative effects, Stornelli said. Breaking large health goals down into simpler, smaller goals with clear endpoints may also help.

 

"We need to look more closely at the features of different kinds of goals and how the context for those goals differs," Stornelli said.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190404124805.htm

Mindfulness found to improve mental health of students

March 11, 2019

Science Daily/University of Bristol

Mental health among university students could be improved by introducing mindfulness training. These are the findings from the first UK study to measure the efficacy of mindfulness based cognitive therapy (MBCT) on students.

 

Recent evidence suggests that university students are more likely to develop mental health problems when compared with the general population. The University of Bristol-led study aimed to establish whether mindfulness could be effective at improving mental health and wellbeing in medical students who are considered more at risk of developing a stress-related illness.

 

Researchers recruited 57 medical students, who had been referred to a mindfulness group either by their GP or student advisor, to take part in an eight-week mindfulness programme.

 

Students were required to attend the training for two hours each week and commit to 30-minute daily home practice in between sessions. The training, which took place between Autumn 2011 and Spring 2015, taught participants how the mind works, how stress impacts one's life, an awareness of stress triggers and signs of stress symptoms, coping techniques, meditation practice, and the importance of self-care.

 

At the end of each programme students completed a survey that included a free text response. The researchers also conducted six qualitative interviews lasting between 60 and 90 minutes.

 

The students reported mindfulness training went further than learning a set of tools for coping with emotional difficulty. Students described improved empathy and communication skills when with patients through their newly learnt ability to notice their own thoughts and feelings. Students reported an improved ability to manage their workload better as well as a new ability to notice automatic judgmental thinking (such as not being good enough) without identifying with these thoughts. Students described how mindfulness had helped enhance their relationship to learning by using the mindfulness practices to refresh and regain concentration during long days of study as well as using the mindfulness practices to steady themselves during stressful situations in clinic or during exams.

 

The researchers concluded that more research is needed but these initial findings suggest that mindfulness training had helped students at Bristol reduce anxiety, excessive worry, negative thought patterns and improve resiliency to stress as well as improve emotional wellbeing and professional development.

 

Dr Alice Malpass, Research Fellow in the Bristol Medical School: Population Health Sciences (PHS) and co-author, said: "At Bristol, we are continuing to increase efforts to find solutions to improve mental health among the student population. Out aim is to find effective new ways of supporting students who may be suffering from stress and anxiety.

 

"This study has shown how mindfulness can help students who might be struggling, in particular medical students, find new ways of relating to the difficulties that arise in their clinical work, studying and wellbeing.

 

"We have developed a theoretical model of the medical student 'stress signature', mapping how mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) can break the cycle of specific vulnerability through the development of new coping strategies."

 

In Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA, mindfulness training is part of the medical curriculum but has yet to be implemented in the UK. Policy recommendations from the General Medical Council (GMC), the body responsible for improving medical education in the UK, recommend the use of mindfulness training to increase wellbeing and resilience to stress.

 

The researchers suggest a UK wide survey should be carried out to find out how other medical schools in the UK are implementing GMC mindfulness training guidelines and how this compares to what medical schools are delivering in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190311125213.htm

Mindfulness may help decrease stress in caregivers of veterans

April 29, 2019

Science Daily/University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, News Bureau

Mindfulness therapy may be an effective way of mitigating the stress experienced by spouses and other informal caregivers for military veterans, a new study by researchers at the University of Illinois suggests.

 

Kinesiology and community health professor Sandraluz Lara-Cinisomo led a pilot study that taught caregivers of veterans in central Illinois mindfulness-based cognitive therapy skills. The caregivers in the treatment group -- mostly women caring for their spouses -- reported significant decreases in their perceived levels of stress, anxiety and worry.

 

By contrast, the researchers found no significant changes in any of these symptoms among the participants assigned to the waitlist control group.

 

"This not only shows the feasibility but also the promise that mindfulness has for improving mental health outcomes in this vulnerable, hard-to-reach population," Lara-Cinisomo said. "Although the study population was small, it shows that there's interest in this type of programming."

 

The researchers reported their findings in a paper published in the journal Mindfulness and examined the feasibility of the intervention in another paper published in the Journal of Holistic Nursing.

 

About 5.5 million informal caregivers, usually family members, provide daily care and support for U.S. military veterans. While recent federal legislation sought to bolster the financial support and assistance provided to these caregivers by offering programs such as mentoring, support groups, respite care and sometimes stipends, these services may be limited to those caring for veterans with specific diagnoses or types of injuries.

 

Moreover, some programs are designed primarily to serve the care needs of the veterans and only incidentally address the caregivers' needs, the researchers wrote.

 

"While the Veterans Administration, the Dole Foundation and other organizations are providing services, there's research to suggest that some services often don't match caregivers' needs," Lara-Cinisomo said. "Furthermore, there's been little research that has evaluated the effectiveness of current caregiver services."

 

Lara-Cinisomo said that compared with caregivers in the general population, those caring for veterans experience higher levels of psychological distress, poorer overall health and increased "caregiver burden" -- which refers to the overall emotional, physical and financial strain associated with providing multiple forms of care.

 

Additionally, caregivers of veterans engage in twice as much highly stressful or physically demanding care, compared with other caregivers, according to the study.

 

The majority of caregivers in the study had been providing care for more than nine years and spent 21-30 hours solely attending to the veterans' needs, in addition to other family obligations, Lara-Cinisomo said.

 

A large proportion of the veterans they were caring for had combat-related injuries along with a wide variety of other health issues, including mental illness and post-traumatic stress disorder, diabetes, cancer, traumatic brain injury and Parkinson's disease, Lara-Cinisomo said.

 

To be eligible to participate in the eight-week intervention, caregivers had to be providing informal/unpaid care to a veteran, be at least 18 years old, able to walk or sit to perform the mindfulness activities and not have any mental health problems other than anxiety or depression.

 

Of the caregivers who met the screening criteria and enrolled in the study, 11 were randomly assigned to the mindfulness intervention and 12 to the waitlist control group. All of the participants completed the study, and those on the waitlist were offered the opportunity to go through the mindfulness training after the wait period.

 

Participants in the mindfulness intervention met weekly for two hours of instruction on the skills and how to apply them in stressful situations. These skills include focusing on body sensations to eliminate and reduce emotional activity, and concentrating on the present, as opposed to ruminating about their worries.

 

They were encouraged to practice these exercises at home for 30-40 minutes daily with the help of an audio CD. Participants reported that they spent an average of 19 minutes weekly engaging in the activities at home.

 

"Despite our small numbers, we were able to show that mindfulness helps and that it should be pursued not only by researchers, but by practitioners and those providing services to this population," said Lara-Cinisomo, who is currently working with colleagues at the RAND Corporation and Loyola University to build on these findings. "There also might be some additional benefits for the caregiver and the veteran, as well, that we should explore in future studies, such as improved sleep."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190429154532.htm

Mindful body awareness training during treatment for drug addiction helps prevent relapse

April 16, 2019

Science Daily/University of Washington

A novel type of body awareness training helps women recover from drug addiction, according to new research from the University of Washington. People in the study made marked improvement, and many improvements lasted for a year.

 

It's the first time the mindfulness approach has been studied in a large randomized trial as an adjunct treatment. The training helps people better understand the physical and emotional signals in their body and how they can respond to these to help them better regulate and engage in self-care.

 

"We could teach this intervention successfully in eight weeks to a very distressed population, and participants not only really learned these skills, they maintained increases in body awareness and regulation over the yearlong study period," said Cynthia J. Price, a research associate professor in the UW School of Nursing and lead author of the study. "The majority of participants also reported consistent use of MABT skills, on a weekly basis, over the duration of the study."

 

And likely due to using the skills learned in the intervention, the women showed less relapse to drug and alcohol use compared to those who didn't receive the intervention, Price said. The findings were published in March in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

 

The training included one-on-one coaching in an outpatient setting, in addition to the substance use disorder treatment the women were already receiving. The intervention is called Mindful Awareness in Body-oriented Therapy (MABT) and combines manual, mindfulness and psycho-educational approaches to teach interoceptive awareness and related self-care skills. Interoceptive awareness is the ability to access and process sensory information from the body.

 

Researchers studied 187 women at three Seattle-area locations. The cohort, all women in treatment for substance use disorder (SUD), was split into three relatively equal groups. Every group continued with their regular SUD treatment. One group received SUD treatment only, another group was taught the mindfulness technique in addition to treatment, and the third group received a women's education curriculum in addition to treatment in order to test whether the additional time and attention explained any positive study outcomes.

 

Women were tested at the beginning, and at three, six and 12 months on a number of factors including substance use, distress craving, emotion regulation (self-report and psychophysiology), mindfulness skills and interoceptive awareness. There were lasting improvements in these areas for those who received the MABT intervention, but not for the other two study groups.

 

"Those who received MABT relapsed less," Price said. "By learning to attend to their bodies, they learned important skills for better self-care."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190416141909.htm

For busy medical students, two-hour meditation study may be as beneficial as longer course

Two-hour intro class on mindfulness is as relaxing as an eight-week immersive course

April 15, 2019

Science Daily/Rutgers University

For time-crunched medical students, taking a two-hour introductory class on mindfulness may be just as beneficial for reducing stress and depression as taking an eight-week meditation course, a Rutgers study finds.

 

The study, conducted by researchers at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, is published in the journal Medical Science Educator. The researchers say many medical students would like to use meditation to avoid burnout and provide better medical care, but are daunted by the prospect of making time for a daily meditation routine.

 

"What we found should encourage even the busiest medical students and physicians," said lead author Periel Shapiro, an MD candidate at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. "There are shorter, sustainable ways to bring meditation into your life, and they can help you reduce stress and depression and improve your medical study and practice."

 

Mindfulness is defined as maintaining nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment, and continuously returning to that awareness when pulled away by distraction. Mindfulness practices are believed to have physiological and psychological benefits resulting in reducing the mind's negative focus on feelings of distress and increasing the body's ability to relax.

 

Studies have shown that medical students are at disproportionately high risk for depression and anxiety, and that mindfulness can help them develop coping mechanisms to reduce these feelings. Previous studies have also shown, however, that medical students often drop out of meditation courses because of a perceived lack of time and other support.

 

The Rutgers practitioners found that there has been a lack of research into identifying meditation methods that may be most accessible to busy medical students and physicians. For their study, they assigned random groups of medical students to a two-hour introductory course or a full eight-week course on mediation. Those who took the eight-week course became more familiar with mindfulness techniques and felt more comfortable recommending mindfulness to patients.

 

Both groups described benefits in reducing their feelings of stress and depression -- and many students viewed mindfulness as a safe alternative to treating those feelings with medication. Many students also described mindfulness as providing a deeper sense of happiness and fulfillment.

 

The findings suggest that the full eight-week course is helpful in promoting greater awareness of how to practice mindfulness in everyday life and that the brief introductory course is an effective and efficient way to help students begin practicing mindfulness and experiencing its benefits. The authors said the study can help guide medical schools to introduce mindfulness courses or fine-tune them in ways that will benefit students.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190415154705.htm

Mindfulness in the workplace improves employee focus, attention, behavior

March 10, 2016

Science Daily/Case Western Reserve University

Mindfulness is often viewed as either a touchy-feely fad or valuable management tool that can lift an entire workplace. A new comprehensive analysis of mindfulness research suggests the latter—that injecting a corporate culture of mindfulness not only improves focus, but the ability to manage stress and how employees work together.

 

A new comprehensive analysis of mindfulness research, co-directed by a management scientist at Case Western Reserve University, suggests the latter -- that injecting a corporate culture of mindfulness not only improves focus, but the ability to manage stress and how employees work together.

 

"Historically, companies have been reticent to offer mindfulness training because it was seen as something fluffy, esoteric and spiritual," said Christopher Lyddy, an organizational behavior doctoral candidate at Case Western Reserve's Weatherhead School of Management. "But that's changing."

 

Mindfulness, defined as present-centered attention and awareness, emerged from Buddhist philosophy and has been cultivated for millennia through meditation practices. Organizations such as Google, Aetna, Mayo Clinic and the United States Marine Corps use mindfulness training to improve workplace functioning. The results of this latest research indicate the approach can improve a range of workplace functions.

 

"When you are mindful, you can have a greater consciousness in the present," Lyddy said. "That's vital for any executive or manager, who, at any given moment, may be barraged with various problems that call for decisions under stress."

 

Lyddy is co-lead author of the research with Darren Good, who earned his doctorate at the Weatherhead School and is now an assistant professor at Pepperdine University's Graziadio School of Business and Management. They headed an unusually interdisciplinary team that included experts in both management and mindfulness, as well as psychologists and neuroscientists.

 

The researchers considered 4,000 scientific papers on various aspects of mindfulness, distilling the information into an accessible guide documenting the impact mindfulness has on how people think, feel, act, relate and perform at work.

 

Their findings, Contemplating Mindfulness at Work (An Integrative Review), are recently published in the Journal of Management.

 

"Remarkably, scientists have found the effects of mindfulness consistently benign," Lyddy said. "Of the thousands of empirical studies we read, only two reported any downside to mindfulness."

 

A small but growing body of work in the management area suggests mindfulness is linked to better workplace functioning.

 

Among the new study's conclusions:

 

• Mindfulness appears to positively impact human functioning overall. Research in such disciplines as psychology, neuroscience and medicine provide a wealth of evidence that mindfulness improves attention, cognition, emotions, behavior and physiology.

 

• Specifically, mindfulness has been shown to improve three qualities of attention -- stability, control and efficiency. The human mind is estimated to wander roughly half of our waking hours, but mindfulness can stabilize attention in the present. Individuals who completed mindfulness training were shown to remain vigilant longer on both visual and listening tasks.

 

• Although mindfulness is an individual quality, initial evidence suggests that it affects interpersonal behavior and workgroup relationships.

 

• Mindfulness may improve relationships through greater empathy and compassion -- suggesting mindfulness training could enhance workplace processes that rely on effective leadership and teamwork.

 

Lyddy said the research indicating significant and diverse benefits of mindfulness coincides with growing practical interest in mindfulness training nationally and worldwide. For example, British Parliament has recently launched a mindfulness initiative called "Mindful Nation UK" that leverages mindfulness to benefit diverse sectors and improve national health, productivity and flourishing.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/03/160310141455.htm

Mindfulness could promote positive body image

Awareness of internal body signals can affect the way we see ourselves -- new study

February 28, 2019

Science Daily/Anglia Ruskin University

Making people more aware of their own internal body signals, such as heartbeat or breathing rate, could promote positive body image, according to new research.

 

Researchers from Anglia Ruskin University recruited a sample of 646 adults and found that there were statistically significant relationships between people's interoceptive awareness -- the extent to which people are aware of internal signals given out by the body such as heartbeat or feelings of discomfort or hunger -- and body image.

 

While previous studies on the subject have tended to recruit small groups of young women, this study included both men and women, aged between 18 and 76.

 

The study found that people who can sustain attention towards their internal body signals tended to report higher levels of positive body image. It was also found that people who trust their internal body signals are more likely to hold a positive view of their own body, and be less preoccupied with being overweight.

 

Lead author Jenny Todd said: "Unfortunately, experiences of negative body image are extremely common, to the extent that some academics consider this a 'normal' experience for women in Western society.

 

"Our research finds associations between the awareness of internal body signals and measures of body image. This could have implications for promoting positive body image, for example modifying interoceptive awareness through mindfulness-based practices.

 

"However the research, which was conducted with exclusively British participants, also demonstrates that the relationship between interoceptive awareness and body image is complex and requires further investigation."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/02/190228093638.htm

Yoga regimen reduces severity of rheumatoid arthritis symptoms

New research supports adding yoga as an adjunctive therapy to treat this chronic inflammatory disease

February 5, 2019

Science Daily/IOS Press

According to a new study, eight weeks of intensive yoga practice significantly decreases the severity of physical and psychological symptoms in patients with active rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a debilitating chronic auto-immune inflammatory disease. Marked improvements were seen in the levels of certain inflammatory biomarkers and assessments of functional status and disease activity in patients studied, demonstrating yoga's promotive, preventive, curative, and rehabilitative potential for achieving optimal health.

 

"Our findings show measurable improvements for the patients in the test group, suggesting an immune-regulatory role of yoga practice in the treatment of RA. An intensive yoga regimen concurrent with routine drug therapy induced molecular remission and re-established immunological tolerance. In addition, it reduced the severity of depression by promoting neuroplasticity," explained lead investigator, Rima Dada, MD, PhD, Professor, Department of Anatomy, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, India. She noted that high disease activity and underlying depression are associated with increased disability, reduced quality of life, and minimized rates of clinical remission and treatment response.

 

The study was a mind-body intervention (MBI) randomized trial (with parallel active and control groups) to analyze the effects of practicing 120 minutes of yoga, five days a week for eight weeks on 72 RA patients. Both the test and control groups were simultaneously undergoing routine drug therapies (DMARDs). The findings show significant improvement in systemic biomarkers of neuroplasticity, inflammation, immune-modulation, cellular health integrity, and aging in association with the positive clinical outcome of reduction in depression severity, disease activity, and disability quotient in RA patients following the intensive yoga based MBI.

 

Existing research has evaluated the role of yoga as an effective intervention to assist the management of RA with respect to clinical symptoms, quality of life, psychosocial outcomes, and functional ability. This study is one of the first to look at how yoga practice affects the systemic biomarkers of inflammation, cellular aging, and oxidative stress, especially in RA. "Our results provide evidence that yoga positively modifies the pathobiology of autoimmunity at cellular and molecular levels by targeting mind-body communications. Further research is needed for the exploration of possible mechanisms underlying the cumulative effect of yoga on multiple pathways at a cellular level," added Dr. Dada. "Yoga facilitates the mind's capacity to affect bodily function and symptoms mediated though a variety of downstream pathways and bring about natural immunological tolerance."

 

RA is a heterogeneous autoimmune disease that results from the interplay of genetic and environmental factors and causes extensive systemic inflammation, cartilage damage, and synovial hyperplasia that cause physical disability and psychiatric comorbidity. The co-existence of depression and RA in individuals poses a significant healthcare burden on the patients, their caregivers, healthcare systems, and society as a whole. Existing medical therapies have a limited scope and fail to cure the psychological component of the disease and have numerous side effects. Depression seems to decrease patients' compliance and adherence to medical treatment and results in worse health outcomes and increases disease severity. Improvement in psychological health and reductions in severity made the yoga group more compliant and able to perform more daily chores without much difficulty.

 

Dr. Dada concluded, "This study offers a new option. Pharmacological treatments can be supplemented with alternative and complementary interventions like yoga to alleviate the symptoms at both physical and psychosomatic levels." With yoga based MBI providing a holistic treatment dimension, reaching a state of remission is becoming a more achievable treatment goal. As a majority of diseases have a psychosomatic component, this approach may be widely applicable.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/02/190205115301.htm

Mindfulness and sleep can reduce exhaustion in entrepreneurs

February 4, 2019

Science Daily/Oregon State University

When entrepreneurs are feeling exhausted but can't afford the time for adequate sleep, they may be able to replenish their energy with mindfulness exercises such as meditation.

 

"You can't replace sleep with mindfulness exercises, but they might help compensate and provide a degree of relief," said Charles Murnieks, an assistant professor of strategy and entrepreneurship in OSU's College of Business and the study's lead author. "As little as 70 minutes a week, or 10 minutes a day, of mindfulness practice may have the same benefits as an extra 44 minutes of sleep a night."

 

The findings were published recently in the Journal of Business Venturing. Co-authors include Jonathan Arthurs, Nusrat Farah and Jason Stornelli of OSU; Melissa Cardon of the University of Tennessee; and J. Michael Haynie of Syracuse University.

 

Entrepreneurs are generally defined as people involved in the discovery, evaluation and exploitation of new business opportunities, often with a stake in the ownership of new ventures. Entrepreneurship can be exhilarating, but it also can be difficult, stressful and tiring work. "You can only work so hard for so long," Murnieks said.

 

Generally, when people are feeling exhausted, their drive to achieve goals is lowered, they have less desire to complete work tasks and they may find it harder to rise to and address challenges, all of which are important processes of entrepreneurship.

 

Exhaustion is a pervasive problem for entrepreneurs working on new ventures, but there is little existing research exploring the levels of exhaustion experienced by this group or how they handle it. In their research, Murnieks and his co-authors sought to explore ways entrepreneurs deal with the exhaustion that comes with the work.

 

In a study of 105 entrepreneurs from around the U.S., the researchers asked participants about their exhaustion levels; whether they engaged in mindfulness practices and if so, how often and for how long; and how many hours they slept each night.

 

More than 40 percent of the participants reported working 50 hours per week or more, on average, and sleeping less than 6 hours a night. The researchers found that the entrepreneurs who slept more, or who engaged in the highest levels of mindfulness exercises, reported lower levels of exhaustion.

 

In a second study of 329 entrepreneurs, the researchers again asked about mindfulness practice, perceived exhaustion and sleep. The study confirmed the findings of the initial study, that mindfulness can combat feelings of exhaustion.

 

However, in both studies, Murnieks and his colleagues also found that mindfulness exercises are less helpful if you're getting adequate sleep but still feeling exhausted. When someone is experiencing perceived exhaustion, they are typically feeling a lack of energy at work and as though their resources are depleted.

 

"If you're feeling stressed and not sleeping, you can compensate with mindfulness exercises to a point," Murnieks said. "But when you're not low on sleep, mindfulness doesn't improve those feelings of exhaustion."

 

Mindfulness exercises and sleep are thought to work differently to reduce exhaustion. Mindfulness works to modify and reduce stressors before they lead to exhaustion, while sleep works to replenish energy and self-control after the depletion has occurred, but before exhaustion is felt.

 

More research is needed to better understand how mindfulness exercises may help weary entrepreneurs and the limits of those beneficial effects, Murnieks said, but there is indication mindfulness can provide a boost.

 

"There are times when you're launching a new venture that you're going to have to surge," he said. "Mindfulness exercises may be one way to provide some relief during those tough stretches."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/02/190204172227.htm

Listening to Your Five Senses to Find More Peace

Paige A. Mitchell

We all live busy lives. Rushing to and from work, participating in extracurricular activities, caring for children and loved ones, all of which can lead to stressand make us feel frazzled by the end of the day. 

 

Our homes should be our sanctuaries, a place of comfort and peace that we can relax and recharge our batteries each night. There are many ways we can help make our house more peaceful, but the best place to start is with the basics. Paying attention to our five senses and responses from them can help create that calming space you have been searching for. 

Sight

Many of us stare at computer screens all day for work. Even if you don’t have a technological aspect to your job, your office might have harsh fluorescent lighting. Taking a few minutes each day when you are home to shift your focus can help calm your mind and rest your eyes.

●     Put down your phone and turn off the TV. Give your eyes a break from blue lightand pick up a good book instead. No Kindles or tablets either! Just a good, old fashioned book.

●     Hang photographs from vacations and happy family memories around the house. Take time every day to focus and reflect on the moments.

●     Declutter living spaces starting with the foyer. Your home can feel immediately stressful if the place where you first walk in the door is a mess. Develop a landing area to put away bags, mail and other items that can pile up and cause feelings of stress and anxiety. 

●     Refresh the paint in your bedroom or other main living area with a calm, soothing color.

Smell

Psychology Today reportsthat our sense of smell is closely tied to our memory. Fill your home with scents that bring back familiar memories, like following grandma’s apple pie recipe that smells—and tastes—exactly like hers. Add some new scents too. Ones that you will associate with your present life and peaceful home.

●     Find the recipe for your favorite dinner that your mother made for you as a child, and make it tonight to be transported back to that time.

●     Light a subtly scented candle to fill your home with a calming scent. Lavender and jasmine are good options to consider.

●     Troubleshoot unpleasant odors in your house. Food that spoils before its expiration date may indicate your refrigerator isn’t operating correctly while a mildew-like smell coming for your ducts may signal a problem with your heating and cooling unit. Fortunately, both of these items are typically covered under home warranties, according to House Method, and they can be fixed by a professional for a discounted price without adding unnecessary stress to your life.

●      Cut some fresh flowers and put them on display in your kitchen, then literally take time to  stop and smell the roses.

Sound

Sounds can affect and lift our mood almost instantaneously. After a long day being bombarded with outside noise it is important to select the right sounds at home to set a calming, peaceful space. 

●     Incorporate musicinto your everyday life at home. There are so many options for streaming background music with smart technologies, allowing you to build a custom playlist.

●     Find soothing background noise when you sleep, such as a white noise machines or a box fan. 

●     If you live in a noisy area or shared apartment building, add insulation or lay area rugs to soundproof your home, helping to cancel out distracting noise.

Touch

Many of us don’t experience much touch throughout the day thanks to desk jobs and computer screens. On the other hand, caregivers and full-time parents may be totally “touched out” by the end of the day.

●     Have a pair of comfortable clothes to slip into once you get home from work. Soft, comfortable fabrics and fuzzy cozy slippers will help you relax immediately. 

●      Soft, weighted blanketsrelieve stress and anxiety while you unwind and read a book.

●     Draw a hot bath and sink into it. Add some bath bombs for added, relaxing scent. 

●     Pet your cat or dog. Take time to feel the softness of their fur, and their purr in response to your touch.

●     Pay close attention to seemingly small sensations. There can be something really refreshing about walking barefoot through the grass on your way to the mailbox or feeling the warmth of the sunshine on your lunch break.

Taste

In busy lives we often grab breakfast on the way out the door, eat lunch at our desks, and utilize the drive through at fast food restaurants. Some of us skip full meals in order to get more work done. This takes a toll on our health and our mood.

●     Plan for at least one meal at home a week. Sit down, turn off phones and television and really enjoy the meal you prepared.

●     Try one new recipe a week. Or find a favorite and stick with it, knowing you will have it to look forward to every week. 

●      Chocolate. Need I say more?

There are many ways you can make your home more relaxing as a space to decompress at the end of a busy day. Tune into your five senses to help make your home a sanctuary that helps you decompress at the end of the day, and allows you to jumpstart your mornings energized and ready to tackle the future. 

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

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