Mind-body Practices Promote Health and Well-being by Changing Gene Expression


We can’t any longer have the conventional understanding of genetics which everybody peddles because it is increasingly obvious that epigenetics – actually things which influence the genome’s function – are much more important than we realised.Robert Winston


There is an accumulating volume of research findings to demonstrate that Mind-body therapies have highly beneficial effects on the health and well-being of humans. These include meditation, yoga, tai chi, qigong, biofeedback, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, hypnosis, and deep breathing exercises. Because of their proven benefits the application of these practices to relieving human suffering has skyrocketed.


It is clear that Mind-body therapies affect the physiology. In other words, the mind can alter the body. In turn, the genes can affect our minds. In fact, the genes have been shown to affect an individual’s inherent level of mindfulness (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/genetics/). These interactions are well documented. The mechanisms by which they occur, however, are not well understood. It has been shown that contemplative practices help create balance in the inflammatory response (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/inflammatory-response/) which is very beneficial for health. But, the mechanism through which contemplative practices affect the immune system is not known.


The genes dictate all of the chemical processes in our bodies including immune and inflammatory responses. So, it would seem reasonable to investigate whether alterations in gene expressions might be the intermediary between mind-body therapies and health. In today’s Research News article “Functional Genomics in the Study of Mind-Body Therapies”



Niles and colleagues review the literature on the effects of mind-body therapies on the functional expression of the genes. Out of the vast number of genomic pathways that can be affected, they found one which appears to be altered by mind-body therapies in general. This was a reduction in activity (downregulation) of the expression of genes that elicit the inflammatory response. In other words mindfulness practices reduce inflammation by reducing the activity of the genes that produce it.


This finding is extremely important as an overactive inflammatory system underlies many chronic diseases. Inflammation is a normal response of the body to outside threats like stress, infection, injury, and toxic chemicals. It is designed to protect the body and ward off these threats. It works quite well for short-term infections and injuries and as such is an important defense mechanism for the body. But when inflammation is protracted and becomes chronic, it can itself become a threat to health. Chronic inflammation can produce autoimmune diseases such as colitis, Chron’s disease, arthritis, heart disease, increased cancer risk, lung disease, sleep disruption, gum disease, decreased bone health, psoriasis, and depression. Needless to say chronic inflammation can create major health problems. Indeed, the presence of chronic inflammation is associated with reduced longevity. So, it is important for health to control the inflammatory response, allowing it to do its job in fighting off infection but then reducing its activity when no external threat is apparent. Mind-body therapies appear to do just that by reducing the expression of the genes that produce inflammation.


Niles and colleagues also found that a number of mind-body therapies increase the activity of telomerase, an enzyme that protects the genes from deterioration, particularly during aging. Hence, mind-body therapies appear to have anti-aging properties by increasing the activity of genes the reduce age related deterioration (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/aging-healthily-yoga-and-cellular-aging/).


All of these results suggest that mind-body therapies promote health and well-being by altering gene expression. This is interesting and important. The next question is what are the mechanisms by which these practices affect gene expressions? It will be up to future research to investigate this link in the causal chain from mind-body therapies to the promotion of health and well-being.


So engage in mind-body practices, change gene expression and promote health and well-being.


Our genes are quite dynamic in their expression and …. the calmness of our mind can actually have a potential influence on their expression.” – Richard Davidson


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies




Ease Caregiver Problems with Mindfulness

“Many of us follow the commandment ‘Love One Another.’ When it relates to caregiving, we must love one another with boundaries. We must acknowledge that we are included in the ‘Love One Another.” ― Peggi Speers


Providing needed care for others, particularly loved ones can be very satisfying and rewarding. It may be an opportunity to provide care for someone who provided care for you. It may be an opportunity to express your love for another in a tangible way. It can be a joyful experience. But, particularly over time, caregiving can wear the caregiver out and the stress and sacrifices required begin to take their toll. As a result caregivers experience high levels of anxiety and depression, sleeplessness, physical exhaustion, weakening of the immune system can occur, opening the caregiver up to diseases, burnout, and feelings of hopelessness. All of which leads to an increase in the mortality rate of caregivers.


Dementia is a progressive loss of mental function produced by degenerative diseases of the brain. Dementia patients require caregiving particularly in the later stages of the disease. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia and accounts for 50 to 70 percent of dementia cases. Other types of dementia include vascular dementia, mixed dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies and frontotemporal dementia. For Alzheimer’s disease alone, in 2008 there were an estimated 9.9 million caregivers providing 8.5 billion hours of care at a value of $94 Billion dollars.


Caring for an individual with dementia can be particularly challenging. Over time dementia will lead to loss of memory, loss of reasoning and judgment, personality and behavioral changes, physical decline, and death.  If this isn’t bad enough, a little appreciated consequence is that few insurance programs cover dementia care outside of the hospital. So, medical expenses can produce extra financial strain on top of the loss of income for the caregiver.


Dementia is particularly difficult for caregivers and can produce higher levels of stress than other forms of caregiving. The memory and personality changes in the patient may take away all those characteristics that make the loved one identifiable, unique, and endearing, producing psychological stress in the caregiver. The feelings of hopelessness can be overwhelming regarding the future of a patient with an irreversible terminal degenerative illness. In addition, caregivers often experience an anticipatory grief associated with a feeling of impending loss of their loved one.


Obviously, there is a need to care for caregivers, for all types of caregiving but particularly for dementia caregivers. They play an essential and often irreplaceable role. So, finding ways to ease the burden is extremely important. Mindfulness practice for caregivers has been shown to help them cope with the physical and psychological demands of caregiving (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/caregiving/). In today’s Research News article “Feasibility of Central Meditation and Imagery Therapy for Dementia Caregivers”



Jain and colleagues provided an 8-week meditation and guided imagery mindfulness program to caregivers for family members with dementia. The practice resulted in significant reductions in the caregiver’s levels of anxiety and depression. It reduced levels of insomnia and increased mindfulness. These improvements were still evident three months later. On a more subtle level the caregivers reported qualitative shifts in their relationships with the dementia patients, including greater understanding and compassion, improved ability to manage their day-to-day caregiving, and reduced arguing.


Mindfulness practice focuses the individual on the present moment. This reduces worries about the future and ruminations about problems in the past. This is very helpful for dementia caregivers making them better able to attend to what is needed now and to spend less time catastrophizing, feeling remorse, or experiencing anticipatory grief. Mindfulness practice is also known to reduce the psychological and physical responses to stress. This would obviously be helpful for the caregiver. Finally, mindfulness practice is known to improve emotion regulation so that the caregiver can allow themselves to feel and experience their emotions but at the same time respond to them in a constructive and productive way. This has to be very helpful in dealing with the sometimes overwhelming emotions consequent upon dementia caregiving.


The Jain and colleagues study was a pilot program and as such had only a small group of participants and no control group. The results are exciting enough that it is certainly justified to launch a major randomized controlled trial of the effectiveness of mindfulness training to ameliorate the negative consequences of dementia caregiving.


So, ease caregiver problems with mindfulness.


“Many caregivers share that they often feel alone, isolated, and unappreciated. Mindfulness can offer renewed hope for finding support and value for your role as a caregiver…It is an approach that everyone can use. It can help slow you down some so you can make the best possible decisions for your care recipient. It also helps bring more balance and ease while navigating the caregiving journey.”  ― Nancy L. Kriseman


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Calm the Police with Yoga

“Yoga has a sly, clever way of short circuiting the mental patterns that cause anxiety.” – Baxter Bell


Policing is a very stressful occupation. Stress in police can result from role conflicts between serving the public, enforcing the law, and upholding ethical standards and personal responsibilities as spouse, parent, and friend. Stress also results from, threats to health and safety, boredom, responsibility for protecting the lives of others, continual exposure to people in pain or distress, the need to control emotions even when provoked, the presence of a gun, even during off-duty hours, and the fragmented nature of police work, with only rare opportunities to follow cases to conclusion or even to obtain feedback or follow-up information.


This stress can have serious consequences for the individual and in turn for society. Police officers have one of the highest suicide rates in the nation, possibly the highest. They have a high divorce rate, about second in the nation. They are problem drinkers about twice as often as the general population. This is a major problem as stress and the resultant complications can impact job performance, which sometimes involve life or death situations.


Given the difficulties with stress and the critical nature of their roles in society, it is imperative that methods be found to not just reduce the stressors of the job but also to assist the officers in stress management. Contemplative practices including yoga practice have been shown to be effective in the management of stress (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/stress/n). They’ve been shown to reduce both the physiological and the psychological responses to stress. Hence, contemplative practice may be an effective method to reduce stress in police.


In today’s Research News article “Evaluation of the benefits of a Kripalu yoga program for police academy trainees: a pilot study”



Jeter and colleagues examined the effectiveness of yoga practice for reducing stress in police academy trainees. They administered six 75-minute classes during the 20-week police academy training and found that there was a significant reduction in perceived stress in the trainees. In addition, they found that the yoga training significantly reduced tension and fatigue.


Yoga practice has been shown previously to reduce not only perceived stress but also the hormonal and cardiovascular responses to stress. Unfortunately, these physiological indicators were not measured in the study by Jeter and colleagues. But, the reduction in the psychological perception of stress is normally linked to changes in the physiological response. So, it is likely that these were also present in the trainees.


The reduction in fatigue is very significant. Fatigue is a major problem with police. Rotating shift work, lack of sleep, financial pressures to take on extra work or second jobs induce fatigue which can, in turn, affect performance. It has been demonstrated that fatigue impairs judgment and eye-hand coordination, increases excessive use of force, severe mood swings, anxiety or depression, substance-abuse, back pain and frequent headaches, PTSD, gastrointestinal problems, and risk of serious health problems. So, the ability of yoga practice to reduce fatigue in the trainees is very important.


These results in trainees need to be reproduced in a more highly controlled trial and the effectiveness of yoga practice to reduce stress in police officers in the field needs to be established. But, these preliminary results certainly justify further research. The problem is too important to be left untreated and yoga practice definitely shows promise.


So, calm the police with yoga.


“Yoga, an ancient but perfect science, deals with the evolution of humanity. This evolution includes all aspects of one’s being, from bodily health to self realization. Yoga means union – the union of body with consciousness and consciousness with the soul. Yoga cultivates the ways of maintaining a balanced attitude in day to day life and endows skill in the performance of one’s actions.” – B.K.S. Iyenga


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Improve Inflammatory Bowel Disease with Mindfulness


MBCT inflammatory bowel disease - Schoultz2

“I don’t think anybody would argue that fact that we know inflammation in the body, which comes from a lot of different sources, is the basis for a lot of chronic health problems, so by controlling that, we would expect to see increased life expectancy … but if we’re not changing those things and just taking ibuprofen, I don’t know if we’re really going to make any headway in that, I feel like there are probably a lot of factors that we could change without medicating with risk.” –  Josie Znidarsic

“Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is a broad term that describes conditions with chronic or recurring immune response and inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. The two most common inflammatory bowel diseases are ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Inflammation affects the entire digestive tract in Crohn’s disease and only the large intestine in ulcerative colitis. Both illnesses are characterized by an abnormal response to the body’s immune system.” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).


Inflammatory Bowel Disease affects about 1 –1.3 million in the United States and its incidence appears to be increasing worldwide. IBD is a relapsing disorder with symptoms appearing, disappearing, and reoccurring repeatedly. It is characterized by diarrhea, fever and fatigue, abdominal pain and cramping, blood in the stool, reduced appetite, and unintended weight loss. IBD sufferers may lose weight and even become malnourished because they cannot properly digest and absorb food. The cause of IBD is unknown, and until we understand more, prevention or a cure will not be possible. It is most frequently treated with drugs, particularly anti-inflammatory drugs and immune system suppressors. These treatments, however, have considerable troubling side effects and patients frequently do not comply with the regimen.


There is a need for effective treatments for IBD that are safe and have few if any side effects. Since contemplative practices have been shown to reduce inflammatory responses (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/inflammatory-response/), and irritable bowel syndrome (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/ibs/) and have very few if any adverse side effects, they would seem to be appropriate potential treatments for IBD.  In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for inflammatory bowel disease patients: findings from an exploratory pilot randomised controlled trial”


Schoultz and colleagues perform a pilot test of the effectiveness of an 8-week Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) program for Inflammatory Bowel Disease compared to a standard care control group. They found that MBCT produced significant reductions in depression and

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1138739702816621/?type=3&theatersizes studied there were trends toward improvements in Chron’s disease and ulcerative colitis activity. All of these effects were sustained at a 6-month follow-up.


This study was a pilot study that had only a small number of patients. This makes it difficult to detect statistically significant results. So, it is impressive that reductions in depression and anxiety were significant and attest to the robustness of these effects. This, however, should not be a surprise as MBCT was developed specifically with the treatment of depression and anxiety in mind and there is an impressive array of scientific studies verifying its effectiveness (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/contemplative-practice/mbct/).


The study is potentially very important in that there were large non-significant trends toward effectiveness in reducing IBD activity in the patients. These possible effects of mindfulness may be due to its ability to reduce inflammation and also to its ability to reduce the physiological and psychological effects of stress (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/stress/) since stress has been shown to be a trigger for flares in IBD symptoms. These results strongly suggest that a much larger controlled study is called for investigating this potentially useful treatment for IBD.


So, improve inflammatory bowel disease with mindfulness.


“All the suffering, stress, and addiction comes from not realizing you already are what you are looking for.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Religion-Spirituality Improve Mental Health

Spirituality Mental Health Goncalves2


“Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude.” – Denis Waitley


Religion and spirituality have been promulgated as solutions to the challenges of life both in a transcendent sense and in a practical sense. On a transcendent level western religions promise a better life in an afterlife while eastern practices promise an escape from suffering and the cycle of birth and death. On a more mundane level western religions promise feelings of self-control, compassion, and fulfillment while eastern practices promise greater happiness and mindfulness.


What evidence is there that these claims are in fact true? The transcendent claims are untestable with the scientific method. But, the practical claims are amenable to scientific analysis. There have been a number of studies of the influence of religiosity and spirituality on the physical and psychological well-being of practitioners (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/spirituality/religiosity/) mostly showing positive benefits. In today’s Research News article “Religious and spiritual interventions in mental health care: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled clinical trials”



Gonçalves and colleagues review the published literature on the effects of randomized controlled trials of religious and spiritual practices on psychological health. In these studies the spiritual practices involved ”themes such as moral values, belief in a ‘high power’, coping and transcendence, and others in the form of therapeutic models, audiovisual resources and meditation. Religious approaches explored the beliefs and specific traditions of Catholics, Jews and Muslims, conducted in pastoral services and therapeutic models.” The studies compared the results of the interventions to the results of secular therapy, disease education, or wait list controls.


They found that religious or spiritual interventions produced significant improvements in psychological health, particularly in anxiety levels. The interventions that included meditation or psychotherapy were especially effective. These results, summarizing the literature on active interventions that were either religious or spiritual in orientation, clearly show that these practices have mental health benefits in comparison to secular interventions. It is important to note that in these studies groups were randomly assigned and active interventions employed. It is thus reasonable to conclude that the religious or spiritual practices were the cause of improved mental health. Hence, scientific analysis was able to confirm some practical psychological benefits of religious and spiritual practices.


So, engage in religious and/or spiritual practices to improve mental health.


“The world sometimes feels like an insane asylum. You can decide whether you want to be an inmate or pick up your visitor’s badge. You can be in the world but not engage in the melodrama of it; you can become a spiritual being having a human experience thoroughly and fully.” – Deepak Chopra


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Improve Physical Well-being with Bikram Yoga

Yoga Bikram Hewett2

“My system works, as long as people let me do my job my way. It is not just the sequence, it is how you do it: the timing, the mirrors, the temperature, the carpet. But if people only do it 99% right, it is 100% wrong. When someone tries to mess with it, the people won’t get the yoga benefits.”Bikram Choudhury


Yoga practice has been shown to improve physical well-being (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/contemplative-practice/yoga-contemplative-practice/). But, there are a large number of different types of yoga practice including Ansura, Ashtanga, Bikram, Hatha, Hot Yoga, Iyengar, Jivamukti, Kripalu, Kundalini, Prenatal, Restorative, Viniypga, Vinyasa, and yin. One problem with the research on yoga effects is that different researchers use different types of yoga. So, it is difficult to compare results. In addition, the studies do not establish the relative effectiveness of each type of yoga.


Bikram Yoga is somewhat unique in that it employs a set sequence of 26 poses (asanas) and two breathing exercises. It is practiced in a heated environment (105°F, 40.6°C, 40% humidity) and there is a unique programmed instructional dialogue. The hot environment is thought to soften the muscles making them more pliable and loosen the joints making them more flexible allowing the practitioner to go deeper into poses. The sweating that occurs is thought to help remove toxins and impurities.


In today’s Research News article “The Effects of Bikram Yoga on Health: Critical Review and Clinical Trial Recommendations”



Hewett and colleagues review the published research on the effectiveness of Bikram Yoga on physical well-being. They report that in terms of physical fitness, Bikram Yoga increases lower body range of motion, balance, isometric dead-lift strength, isometric maximal voluntary contraction, total hip bone density, and balance compared to the control group. It appears to improve cardiovascular fitness, increasing carotid artery compliance and decreasing beta-stiffness, and HDL and total cholesterol. In overweight and obese practitioners Bikram Yoga improved a number of metabolic markers including blood lipids, insulin resistance, and glucose tolerance. Psychologically, this form of yoga appears to reduce perceived stress and increase mindfulness.


These are important findings suggesting that Bikram Yoga is effective in improving fitness, cardiovascular, health, and psychological well-being. The reviewed research studies were limited and did not investigate many other physical and mental parameters and did not investigate Bikram Yoga’s applicability to the treatment of diseases. Unfortunately, the research studies reviewed did not compare Bikram Yoga to other forms of yoga, so it is not known what if any of the reported benefits are specific to Bikram Yoga and which are in common with other practices. This review is an important first step in documenting the effects of Bikram Yoga which are shown to be widely beneficial. It is clear that much more research is warranted comparing the effects of the different forms of practice.


Regardless, the results are clear that you can improve well-being with Bikram Yoga.


“To sweat is to pray, to make an offering of your innermost self. Sweat is holy water, prayer beads, pearls of liquid that release your past. Sweat is an ancient and universal form of self healing, whether done in the gym, the sauna, or the sweat lodge … The more you sweat, the more you pray. The more you pray, the closer you come to ecstasy.”  – Gabrielle Roth
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are available at the Contemplative Studies Blog http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/



Feel Better about Hearing Voices with Mindfulness



“I lie on the floor, washed by nothing and hanging on. I cry at night. I am afraid of hearing voices, or a voice. I have come to the edge, of the land. I could get pushed over.”  ― Margaret Atwood


Hearing voices (auditory hallucinations) is seen as a prime symptom of psychosis andis considered a first rank symptom of schizophrenia. There are actually three main psychiatric categories of patients that hear voices; schizophrenia, affective psychosis, and dissociative disorders. Neuroimaging has demonstrated that the voices that people hear are experienced as if there were a real person talking to them with the same brain areas becoming active during voice hearing as during listening to actual speech. So, it would appear that voice hearers are actually experiencing voices.


Hearing voices, however, is not always indicative of psychosis. Around 2% – 4% of the population reports hearing voices. But, only about a third of voice hearers are considered psychotic. On the other hand, about two thirds of voice hearers are quite healthy and function well. They cope effectively with the voices they’re hearing, do not receive the diagnosis of psychosis, and do not require psychiatric care.


The differences between psychotics and the healthy people who hear voices, is not in the form but the content of the heard speech. Non-psychotic individuals hear voices both inside and outside their head just like the psychotic patients but either the content is positive or the individual feels positive about the voice or that they are in control of it. By contrast the psychotic patients are frightened of the voices, the voices are more malevolent, and they feel less control over them. So what accounts for the differences? One possibility is mindfulness, being focused non-judgmentally in the present moment.


There is recent information linking auditory hallucinations (hearing voices) with dissociation which can be thought of as a detachment from reality rather than a loss of reality. The types of dissociation that have been found to be associated with hearing voices are dissociative amnesia, absorption, and depersonalization. Dissociative amnesia occurs when the individual blocks out certain information, usually associated with a stressful or traumatic event, leaving him or her unable to remember important personal information. Absorption occurs when an individual becomes absorbed in his or her mental imagery, particularly fantasy. Finally, depersonalization occurs when an individual feels disconnected or detached from their own body and thoughts, sometimes feeling like they are observing themselves from outside the body or like being in a dream.


In today’s Research News article “Dissociation and Mindfulness in Patients with Auditory Verbal Hallucinations. J Trauma Dissociation”


Escudero-Pérez and colleagues investigate the relationship between mindfulness, absorption, depersonalization and voice hearing in a group of psychotic patients. They found that the higher the mindfulness, the lower the levels of dissociation, and the lower the level of distress produced by the voices, but not the severity of the voices. They also found that the higher the level of depersonalization the higher the severity of the voices. So, depersonalization appears to be positively related to severity of the voices, while mindfulness is negatively related to the distress caused by them.


It makes sense that the voice hearer finds the voices more severe when they feel like they are outside of themselves. Importantly it appears that mindfulness does not affect the severity of the voices heard. Rather it changes how people feel about the voices reducing how distressful they are to the individual. So, mindful people don’t hear the voices differently. They simply suffer less from the voices they hear.


This may help to understand why some voice hearers are psychotic and others relatively healthy as mindfulness reduces the suffering caused by the voices. The voices bring distress if they are seen as a reflection of the past which is often traumatic in voice hearers or if they’re seen as prognosticators of future problems. Being in the present moment allows the voice hearer to simply hear the voice without associating it with past or future problems making it much less distressful. Being in the present moment is also antithetical to being dissociated from it. One can’t be focused in the present and outside of it at the same time. So, mindfulness may to some extent be an antidote to dissociation. Both of these effects suggest that mindfulness may make the difference between a voice hearer staying healthy rather than becoming psychotic.


So, feel better about hearing voices with mindfulness.


“Belief is a meaningless word. What does it mean? I believe something. Okay, now you have someone who is hearing voices and believes in these voices. It doesn’t mean they have any necessary reality. Your whole concept of your “I” is an illusion. You have to give something called an “I” before you speak of what the “I” believes.” – William S. Burroughs
Read more at: http://www.azquotes.com/quotes/topics/hearing-voices.html

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Improve Mental and Physical Well-being with Yoga


Yoga cognition Nagendra2

“The breathing and meditative exercises aim at calming the mind and body and keeping distracting thoughts away while you focus on your body, posture or breath. Maybe these processes translate beyond yoga practice when you try to perform mental tasks or day-to-day activities.” – Neha Gothe


If we are lucky enough to navigate life’s dangers we are rewarded with the opportunity to experience aging! The aging process involves a progressive deterioration of the body including the brain. It actually begins in the late 20s and continues throughout the lifespan. It’s inevitable. We can’t stop it or reverse it. But, it is becoming more apparent that life-style changes can slow down and to some extent counteract the process and allow us to live longer and healthier lives. This is true for both physical and mental deterioration including degeneration and shrinkage of the nervous system. Aging healthily to a large extent involves strategies to slow down the deterioration.


Contemplative practices including yoga practice (See links below) have been shown to reduce the physical deterioration that occurs with aging (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/aging/). Yoga practice has many physical and mental benefits including protection of brain structures from degeneration with aging (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/age-healthily-protect-the-brain-with-yoga/). These structural changes have been demonstrated by neuroimaging techniques with yoga practitioners. They document change in the size and connectivity of brain structures that result from yoga practice.


Yoga is a mind-body practice that involves both physical and mental exercises. This is accompanied by changes in the activity of virtually every component of the body including general physiology and the peripheral and central nervous systems. So, another potential method to investigate yoga’s effects on the nervous system is to measure the electrical signals emanating from the nervous system.


In today’s Research News article “Cognitive Behavior Evaluation Based on Physiological Parameters among Young Healthy Subjects with Yoga as Intervention”



Nagendra and colleagues trained naive adults in yoga practice for a period of five months for 1.5 hours per day and compared physiological measure to a no-treatment control group. They found that yoga practice produced an increase in parasympathetic (vegetative) and decrease in sympathetic (activation) activity in the peripheral nervous system including a decrease in heart rate and heart rate variability. This indicates a calming and relaxing effect of yoga on the physiology.


Nagendra and colleagues also found significant differences in EEG activity of the central nervous system. The changes were complex and varied. But they are indicators that yoga practice produces alterations of brain activity in ways that are indicative of improved vigilance, alertness, attention, concentration ,memory, visual information processing, sense of wellbeing, responsiveness, emotion process, cognition, and executive function and reduced stress and strain. In other words the changes in the brain activity indicated vast improvements in mental processing produced by yoga practice.


It should be noted that these are indirect measures and the researchers did not directly measure the psychological variables. So, although suggestive they are not conclusive. They are, however, similar to findings of yoga effects in other research with direct measures (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/contemplative-practice/yoga-contemplative-practice/). But, even with this caution, the results suggest that yoga practice has widespread beneficial effects on the mental and physical well-being of the individual.


So, practice yoga and improve mental and physical well-being.


“True yoga is not about the shape of your body, but the shape of your life. Yoga is not to be performed; yoga is to be lived. Yoga doesn’t care about what you have been; yoga cares about the person you are becoming. Yoga is designed for a vast and profound purpose, and for it to be truly called yoga, its essence must be embodied.” — Aadil Palkhivala


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies



Yoga and aging links

Yoga reduces physical degeneration in the elderly http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/age-healthily-yoga/

Yoga reduces cellular aging http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/aging-healthily-yoga-and-cellular-aging/

Yoga practice improves the symptoms of arthritis in the elderly http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/08/14/age-healthily-yoga-for-arthritis/



Stop Being Angry, Anxious, and Depressed over Fibromyalgia with Mindfulness

Mindfulness fibromyalgia Amutio2

“Fibromyalgia is not a cookie-cutter illness. Each of us is different and unique. There is no cure or control over this, hence each day we must continuously adapt to our disease state.” – Dear Fibromyalgia


Fibromyalgia is a mysterious disorder whose causes are unknown. It is very common affecting over 5 million people in the U.S., about 2% of the population with about 7 times more women affected than men. It is characterized by widespread pain, abnormal pain processing, sleep disturbance, and fatigue that lead to psychological distress. Fibromyalgia may also have morning stiffness, tingling or numbness in hands and feet, headaches, including migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, sleep disturbances, thinking and memory problems, and painful menstrual periods. The symptoms are so severe and debilitating that about half the patients are unable to perform routine daily functions and about a third have to stop work. Although it is not itself fatal, suicide rates are higher in fibromyalgia sufferers.


Many studies have linked fibromyalgia with depression. In fact, people with fibromyalgia are up to three times more likely to be depressed at the time of their diagnosis than someone without fibromyalgia. In addition, the stress from pain and fatigue can cause anxiety and social isolation. As a result, many patients experience intense anger regarding their situation. The emotions are understandable, but can act to amplify the pain. Hence, controlling the emotions may reduce the perceived pain.


Mindfulness practices have been shown to be effective in reducing pain from fibromyalgia (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/10/05/reduce-fibromyalgia-pain-with-mindfulness/). This may occur directly or indirectly by reducing emotions or both. Since mindfulness has been shown to improve emotion regulation, it would seem reasonable that this could be a route of effectiveness. In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness training for reducing anger, anxiety, and depression in fibromyalgia patients”



Amutio and colleagues investigate the effects of a 7-week, 2-hour per week mindfulness practice on the heightened emotions that accompany fibromyalgia. Results were compared to those obtained from a wait-list control group. It was found that the mindfulness training significantly reduced anger, anxiety, and depression at the end of training and these improvements were maintained three months later.


These are exciting results and suggest that mindfulness training is effective for the heightened emotions associated with fibromyalgia. It is unfortunate that Amutio and colleagues did not measure levels of pain. So, it is impossible to ascertain whether the emotional reductions also produced pain reductions. But, even if the mindfulness program only affects emotions, that by itself would be a significant contribution to the patients’ well-being.


Mindfulness has been shown to improve emotion regulation (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/emotions/) which allows the individual to experience the emotions fully but to respond to them in a constructive, productive fashion, thus taking away the amplifying effect of the emotions on pain. Mindfulness training also improves the individual’s ability to focus on the present moment and this has been shown to reduce rumination and catastrophizing (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/08/07/pain-is-a-pain-relieve-it-with-meditation/) which can produce anxiety and depression. These would also amplify the pain. Regardless of the mechanism it is clear the mindfulness training can be beneficial in controlling the emotional sequela of fibromyalgia pain.


So, stop being angry, anxious, and depressed over fibromyalgia with mindfulness.

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. Say you’re running and you think, ‘Man, this hurts, I can’t take it anymore. The ‘hurt’ part is an unavoidable reality, but whether or not you can stand anymore is up to the runner himself.” ― Haruki Murakami

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Reduce Depression with Cyber-Mindfulness  

MBCT Depression Internet Beck2


“Our emotional reactions depend on the story we tell ourselves, the running commentary in the mind that interprets the data we receive through our senses.” ― Mark Williams,


Depression is widespread and debilitating. It is the most common mental illness affecting about 4% of the population worldwide. There are a number of treatments for depression the most common of which is antidepressant medication. But the drugs do not always work and can become ineffective over time. They can also have troublesome side effects. So, there is a need to discover safe and effective alternative treatments.


Mindfulness training has been shown to be an effective treatment for depression (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/depression/). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has been shown to be effective for depression by altering the ways people think about and process events that occur in their lives. Mindfulness Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (MBCT) adds mindfulness training to CBT. It was designed specifically to treat depression and has been shown to be effective even with people who do not respond to antidepressant medications (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/dealing-with-major-depression-when-drugs-fail/). MBCT has been so effective that the British Medical Service considers it a treatment of choice for depression.


MBCT can be delivered either individually or in groups. But, it requires that a highly trained therapist lead the process and it can be delivered to only a limited number of people at a time. Hence, it is relatively expensive to deliver. Also, it requires the patients to come to a practitioner’s facility on a regular basis over 8 to 12 weeks. This can be inconvenient for many and impossible for others. In addition, depressed individuals lack energy and motivation and many simply can’t find the strength to attend regular sessions. So, there is a need to develop better ways to deliver therapy. The internet provides a mechanism that could potentially overcome many of these drawbacks to face-to-face delivery of MBCT. It’s low cost and widely available and can be accessed when the patient feels up to it.


In today’s Research News article “PS2-43: Internet Delivered Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy for Reducing Residual Depressive Symptoms: An Open Trial and Quasi-experimental Comparison to Propensity Matched Controls”



Beck and colleagues developed and tested an 8-session MBCT program delivered over the internet to recurrently depressed patients. Compared to treatment as usual for depression internet based MBCT produced a clinically significant decrease in depression with large effect size.


These are very exciting results. The cyber MBCT program is highly scalable and can be delivered to large numbers of depression sufferers at low cost. Because it’s delivered over the internet, it is convenient and available to patients who live in areas without access to clinics. The program needs to be compared to face-to-face MBCT. But, these results suggest that its effectiveness is comparable. Further research is definitely called for.


So, reduce depression with cyber-mindfulness.


“Unhappiness itself is not the problem—it is an inherent and unavoidable part of being alive. Rather, it’s the harshly negative views of ourselves that can be switched on by unhappy moods that entangle us. It is these views that transform passing sadness into persistent unhappiness and depression. Once these harsh, negative views of ourselves are activated, not only do they affect our mind, they also have profound effects on our body—and then the body in turn has profound effects on the mind and emotions.”  ― Mark Williams


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies