Help Cancer Survivor Memory with Yoga


“Up to 75% of cancer patients experience some form of cancer-related cognitive impairment (CRCI) during cancer treatments (eg, chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, hormone therapy), and this impairment persists for months or up to 20 years in 20% to 35% of survivors.” – Janelsins, et al.


Cognitive impairments are a frequent side effect of cancer treatment. This has been dubbed “chemo brain.” Patients often refer to it as a mental cloudiness. The patients report problems including forgetting things, trouble concentrating, trouble remembering details like names and dates, trouble multi-tasking, like answering the phone while cooking, taking longer to finish things, disorganized and slower thinking, and trouble remembering common words. These cognitive impairments generally produce problems with work and even social relationships such that patients tend to isolate themselves. They can also produce treatment problems as the patients often forget to take their medications.


These problems result from the fact that chemotherapy, radiation therapy and many cancer drugs directly affect the nervous system. One of the potential intermediaries is sleep disruption as cancer treatments are known to produce sleep problems and lack of sleep is known to produce cognitive problems like those reported with “chemo brain.” At present there are no known treatments for these treatment induced cognitive impairments. Contemplative practices have been shown to affect memory (see, promote increased sleep quality (see and have positive effects on cancer treatment and recovery (see  So, perhaps contemplative practices may be useful for the alleviation of “chemo brain” symptoms.


Yoga has been shown to improve sleep quality in recovered cancer patients. So, it would seem to be a likely contemplative practice candidate for the treatment of the cognitive effects of cancer treatment. In today’s Research News article “YOCAS©® Yoga Reduces Self-reported Memory Difficulty in Cancer Survivors in a Nationwide Randomized Clinical Trial: Investigating Relationships Between Memory and Sleep”

Janelsins and colleagues conducted a randomized clinical trial of the effect of a yoga practice program on the sleep and cognitive symptoms of recovered cancer patients. They randomly assigned the patients, 2 to 24 months after completing surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation therapy, to either a yoga or a standard care group. The toga practice consisted of twice weekly 75-minute yoga sessions for four weeks. The study found that the yoga practice both reduced memory problems and sleep impairments. In addition, they showed that the sleep improvement was in part responsible for the yoga produced improvement in memory.


These results of this was a well conducted controlled trial are encouraging. Additionally, the yoga practice did not produce any adverse effects. So. the results suggest that yoga practice is a safe and effective treatment for the sleep and memory problems that accompany recovery from cancer. They further suggest that at least in part, the poor sleep quality in recovered cancer patients is responsible for some of the memory impairment and the sleep improvement produced by yoga may in part be responsible for some of the memory improvement seen in these patients.  Since, yoga has many other physical and psychological beneficial effects (see, it would seem to be an almost ideal addition to the usual care that recovered cancer patients receive.


So, help cancer survivor memory with yoga.


“The worst days are when you feel foggy in the head – chemo-brain they call it. It’s awful because you feel boring. As well as bored. And stupid. And resigned.” – Christopher Hitchens


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

Improve High Level Thinking with Mindfulness


“Take the attitude of a student, never be too big to ask questions, never know too much to learn something new.” – Og Mandino


In the modern world education is a key for success. Where a high school education was sufficient in previous generations, a college degree is now required to succeed in the new knowledge based economies. There is a lot of pressure on students to excel so that they can be admitted to the best universities and there is a lot of pressure on university students to excel so that they can get the best jobs after graduation. As a result, parents and students are constantly looking for ways to improve student performance in school.


The primary tactic has been to pressure the student and clear away routine tasks and chores so that the student can focus on their studies. But, this might in fact be counterproductive as the increased pressure can actually lead to stress and anxiety which can impede performance. A better tactic may be the development of mindfulness skills with contemplative practices. These practices and high levels of mindfulness have been shown to be helpful in coping with the school environment and for the performance of both students and teachers (see So, perhaps, mindfulness training may provide the needed edge in school.


In today’s Research News article “Effects of a Mindfulness Meditation Course on Learning and Cognitive Performance among University Students in Taiwan”

Ching and colleagues took advantage of the natural experiment provided in a private university which required a semester long mindfulness course as a core course for all students. The course taught meditation, body scan, and everyday mindfulness skills. They compared students who completed the course in the fall semester to those who were scheduled to take the course in the spring semester. They measured the students with the College Learning Effectiveness Inventory (CLEI) which measures psychosocial factors including thoughts, feelings, or behaviors related to academic outcomes and also measured performance on the cognitive tasks of vigilance, choice reaction times, spatial working memory, and memory scanning.


The study demonstrated that the mindfulness training produced significantly higher scores on the CLEI suggesting improved attitudes and behaviors impacting learning and academic performance. In addition, the mindfulness training produced improved performance on the cognitive tasks, including increased accuracy in the vigilance, choice reaction time, and spatial working memory tasks. These results suggest that mindfulness training can improve cognitive performance in college students and improve their psychosocial attitudes toward and adjustment to college life. Although actual grade performance was not investigated, the improved skills would predict better academic performance.


There are a number of known effects of mindfulness practice that could be responsible for the improved cognitive and psychosocial skills in the college students. Mindfulness training has been shown to directly affect cognitive skills (see, social skills (see, and psychological well-being (see In addition, mindfulness training is known to reduce the physiological and psychological responses to stress (see which may reduce the anxiety produced by the pressures of college. Finally, mindfulness training is known to improve sleep (see which is known to be a problem for college students. So, it appears clear that mindfulness training has many desired effects that promote school performance and thus mindfulness training should be considered for incorporation in school curricula.


So, improve high level thinking with mindfulness.


“Education is that whole system of human training within and without the school house walls, which molds and develops men.” – W. E. B. Du Bois
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

Improve Your Stress Responses with Mindful Awareness

“Researchers estimate that stress contributes to as many as 80 percent of all major illnesses, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, endocrine and metabolic disease, skin disorders, and infectious ailments of all kinds.” – Prescription for Nutritional Healing 4th edition


The mind and body are intimately connected and can never be completely separated. This can be witnessed in how the brain and the hormonal systems interact. The stress response is a case in point. Difficult, challenging, outside situations affect the mind which responds by producing psychological and physiological stress responses. These include the release of stress hormones such as cortisol. This prepares the body to fight off the potentially damaging stressors. This is normally a good thing, but if it persists over a prolonged period the stress response itself becomes damaging and a source of disease. Hence, it is important to not block the stress response but to insure that it doesn’t become a chronic condition.


The stress hormones including cortisol not only affect the peripheral physiology, they also affect the brain. The hippocampus and prefrontal cortex are particularly sensitive to cortisol. These are also sites that are affected by meditation (see In addition, it has been shown that meditation reduces the psychological and physiological responses to stress (see So, it is possible that meditation has its effects on stress responses in part by altering the brain structures that respond to stress hormones, that it changes the brains response to stress hormones.


In today’s Research News article “Can the neural–cortisol association be moderated by experience-induced changes in awareness?”

Lau and colleagues separated meditation naïve adults into two groups, an awareness-based compassion meditation (ABCM) group and a relaxation group. The groups practiced for six weeks for comparable amounts of time. Following practice, they found that the meditation produced a significant increase in mindfulness while the relaxation actually reduced mindfulness. These changes in mindfulness were significantly related to cortisol levels with high mindfulness associated with low cortisol. In addition, they found that both increases in mindfulness and decreases in plasma cortisol levels were associated with increases in the synchronization of spontaneous brain activities of the Hippocampus. In other words, mindfulness moderates the ability of cortisol to affect the hippocampus. Hence, meditation increased mindfulness that in turn decreased both blood levels of the stress hormone cortisol and the ability of cortisol to affect brain function.


These results demonstrate that mindfulness affects the stress response, with higher mindfulness associated with lower levels of stress hormones. But, they also demonstrate another effect of mindfulness on the stress system. High mindfulness was associated with a greater effect of cortisol on the activity of the hippocampus. These results then demonstrate that mindfulness has a direct effect of reducing stress hormone levels and also indirect effects by affecting the influence of the stress hormones on the brain. This is a clear case of mind-body interaction.


The findings of Lau and colleagues demonstrate two physiological mechanisms through which mindfulness practice has powerful effects on reducing psychological and physiological responses to stress. These results further support the use of mindfulness practice to improve stress responding and thereby improve health and well-being. These effects of mindfulness on stress may be a major reason why mindfulness training is so beneficial to a wide array of health conditions.


So, improve your stress responses with mindful awareness.


“Cortisol could be described as “Miss Misunderstood” of hormones. Elevated levels of cortisol is not always bad. Low levels of cortisol is not bad either. Cortisol is there for a reason. The body uses cortisol to deal with stress and pain and it fluctuates according to the body’s demand. The problem arises when the stress is not dealt with for an extended period of time and as a result the body’s stress adaption mechanism breaks down and cortisol levels go crazy. In order to prevent such a fate, stress reduction could definitely offer significant help.” – YawnCentral


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Feel Better Emotionally with Loving-Kindness Meditation

“Metta is the priceless treasure that enlivens us and brings us into intimacy with ourselves and others. It is the force of love that will lead beyond fragmentation, loneliness and fear. The late Hindu guru Neem Karoli Baba often said, “Don’t throw anyone out of your heart.” One of the most powerful healings (and greatest adventures) of our lifetime can come about as we learn to live by this dictum.” – Sharon Salzberg


In the past Psychology focused on negative states and emotions, such as mental illness and depression, anxiety, hate, anger etc. Although this resulted in greater understanding and better treatments for people who were suffering, it also resulted in a neglect of positive states and emotions such as happiness, love, compassion, joy, etc. But, in the last couple of decades it has dawned on the field that perhaps positive states may be important to cultivate. They could serve not only as antidotes and treatments for the negative states and emotions, but also could improve the existence of the mentally healthy. This new movement has been labelled Positive Psychology. It is dedicated to discovering ways to promote and enhance human flourishing; to develop better and happier lives.


An ancient practice of “metta” meditation has been promoted as a possible method to develop positive states and emotions. “Metta” meditation is also known as Loving Kindness Meditation (LKM). It is a deceptively simple practice (see that is aimed at developing kindness and positive regard for the self and others. But, as simple as it may be, it has profound effects (see LKM has been shown to improve positive mood, improve social interactions. and the complex understanding of others. It has also been shown to decrease negative emotions and to be an effective treatment for depression. This suggests that LKM may be an important practice for not only the treatment of negative states and emotions, but also for the promotion of human flourishing and happiness.


In today’s Research News article “The effect of loving-kindness meditation on positive emotions: a meta-analytic review”

Zeng and colleagues review the literature on the effects of Loving Kindness Meditation (LKM) on positive emotions and well-being. The reviewed literature showed that LKM produced significant positive effects on the practitioners’ immediate and overall daily positive emotions with moderate effect sizes. These effects were seen both with short-term and long-tern LKM practice. LKM mainly cultivated peaceful or prosocial positive emotions. Thus, the published literature supports the use of Loving Kindness Meditation for enhancing positive emotional states.


There is a need to investigate the mechanisms by which LKM may be having its effects. One possibility that is supported in the research literature is that LKM improves emotion regulation. This allows the individual to fully experience the emotion yet respond to it adaptively and constructively. Hence, in part LKM may enhance positive states by allowing the individual to better deal with negative emotional states. It has also been shown that LKM reduces the psychological and physiological responses to stress. By feeling less stressed LKM practitioners may experience more positive emotions. Another possibility is that LKM enhances self-regard, allowing the individual to feel good about themselves as well as others. Regardless of the mechanism, it appears clear that Loving Kindness Meditation can be recommended as a practice to enhance positive emotions and states.


So, feel better emotionally with loving-kindness meditation.


For one who mindfully develops
Boundless loving-kindness
Seeing the destruction of clinging,
The fetters are worn away.

  • Buddha

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

If a tree falls

“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” ― George Berkeley


The Philosopher George Berkeley 300 years ago first posed this question for philosophical analysis. It has been discussed ever since. He posed it in a deep philosophical sense to discern if anything actually exists outside of the observer; that is whether anything exists without a perceiver. Buddhism asserts that there is nothing outside of awareness and that each individual is only pure awareness. So, Buddhism would definitely answer Berkeley’s question that there was no sound. On the other hand, materialism asserts that there is nothing but a physical world. So, a materialist would answer Berkeley’s question that the physical sound occurred regardless of whether someone was there to perceive it or not.


In one sense, sound requires a perceiver, as sound is a psychological experience. The tree falling creates pressure waves in the surrounding air, but these are mere vibrations in the atmosphere. It is only when you insert an observer are these oscillations in air pressure translated into something called a sound. Similarly, are leaves green without a perceiver. No, the experience of green is like a sound a psychological experience. Leaves reflect electromagnetic radiation of a particular frequency. It is only when you insert an observer are these light waves translated into something called green.


This answer, though, would probably have been very dissatisfying to Berkeley as it doesn’t address the deeper question that he was posing. Is there anything beyond experience? Are there physical things outside of ourselves that we are able to experience because of our senses or are things simply constructs occurring within experience without anything actually present outside?


Contemplative practices in general work to quiet the mind of internal chatter so that the individual attains a state of pure experience. Even when thoughts occur the practices involve simply letting the thought itself be simply another experience, letting it rise up and fall away like any other sensory experience. In essence when we are successful in a contemplative practice we have become pure real-time experiencers.


As a real-time experiencer, we hear the pure crash of the fallen tree and we see the pure green of the leaf. In truth, these experiences have no real outside analog. The experiences of sound and green are unique unto themselves and there is nothing physical like it. Just try to describe the sound to a person who was deaf from birth or the color to a person blind from birth. You will quickly note that there is no external referent that you can bring to these peoples’ attention that is even vaguely close to the experiences.


I personally, thoroughly enjoy observing wine connoisseurs attempting to describe the experience of drinking their favorite wine. A complex vocabulary has been developed but it is funny to listen to the struggle to transmit an experience that is only an internal experience to another who hasn’t themselves tasted the wine. “It’s insolent and spunky with overtones of smoke and blackberries with a satiny finish.”


So, what your experiencing in a deep contemplative state, or actually at all times, are completely unique to you as an experiencer, cannot be perceived by anyone else, and has no exact replica in a physical world. That would make you a perceiverless perceiver, an experiencer that cannot be itself experienced, a watcher that cannot be watched. It’s in essence the sound with no one there to hear it.


This does not happen without your awareness. There is nothing here except your awareness. It is what is doing the experiencing, perceiving, watching. So without awareness these things do not exist. There is no sound. There is no green. This in essence answers Berkley’s deeper question. There is nothing without awareness.


So, engage in contemplative practice and see what you truly are, pure awareness.


“Two monks were arguing about the temple flag waving in the wind. One said, “The flag moves.” The other said, “The wind moves.” They argued back and forth but could not agree.

The Sixth Ancestor said, “Gentlemen! It is not the wind that moves; it is not the flag that moves; it is your mind that moves.” The two monks were struck with awe.” – The Mumonkan Case 29, translation by Robert Aitken


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

Improve Heart Disease with Mindfulness

“Think about it: Heart disease and diabetes, which account for more deaths in the U.S. and worldwide than everything else combined, are completely preventable by making comprehensive lifestyle changes. Without drugs or surgery.”- Dean Ornish


Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer, claiming more lives than all forms of cancer combined. “Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. About 610,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year–that’s 1 in every 4 deaths. Every year about 735,000 Americans have a heart attack.” – Centers for Disease Control.


A myriad of treatments has been developed for heart disease including a variety of surgical procedures and medications. In addition, lifestyle changes have proved to be effective including quitting smoking, weight reduction, improved diet, physical activity, and reducing stresses. Contemplative practices, such as tai chi and yoga, have also been shown to be helpful for heart health (see In addition, mindfulness practices have also been shown to be helpful for producing the kinds of other lifestyle changes needed such as smoking cessation, weight reduction, and stress reduction.


One problem with the employment of mindfulness treatment programs to treat disease is that they require patients to meet frequently with professional therapists in either individual or group settings. This can be inconvenient, costly, and time consuming. So, it would be very helpful if mindfulness based techniques could be successfully delivered over the internet. In today’s Research News article “Web-Based Mindfulness Intervention in Heart Disease: A Randomized Controlled Trial”

Younge and colleagues test whether a web-based mindfulness training program can be successfully used for the treatment of cardiovascular disease. They compared a randomly assigned group of patients with heart disease undergoing usual medical care plus a 12-week on-line mindfulness training to a group only receiving usual care. The mindfulness training program included different meditations, self-reflection, yoga, and practical assignments and suggestions for using mindfulness in day-to-day life. They found that the mindfulness intervention group had significantly improved exercise capacity, compared to usual treatment, as measured with a 6-minute walking test of cardiovascular function. The improvements included decreased heart rate and blood pressure.


The fact that mindfulness improved exercise capacity is important as it is well known that a well-designed exercise program is fundamental to the treatment of heart disease. This combined with the proven ability of mindfulness training to help with the other lifestyle changes that are helpful for heart disease suggest that mindfulness training should be included in a heart disease treatment program. The fact that the mindfulness training was delivered over the internet is very important. This markedly improves the convenience, affordability, and availability of this treatment to patients.


So, improve heart disease with mindfulness.


“If you knew you could change your lifestyle and diet and avoid heart disease and other things, you should do it.” – Laila Ali


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Improve MS Quality of Life with Mindfulness



“Multiple sclerosis (MS) can be an overwhelming challenge. One day you can feel strong and resilient, but the next day you can feel helpless and isolated. On these days, getting an extra push or boost from others just like you can make all the difference. ‘A positive attitude is the best medicine.’” – MS patient Lorri Lowe Peterson

“Multiple sclerosis (MS) is the most widespread disabling neurological condition of young adults around the world. more than 400,000 people in the United States and about 2.5 million people around the world have MS. About 200 new cases are diagnosed each week in the United States. The most common early symptoms of MS are: fatigue vision problems tingling and numbness vertigo and dizziness muscle weakness and spasms problems with balance and coordination.” – Healthline


MS is most commonly diagnosed in people between the ages of 20 and 50 years with an average age between 30 and 35 years.  There is no cure for multiple sclerosis.  There are a number of approved medications that are used to treat MS but are designed to lessen frequency of relapses and slow the progression of the disease, but they don’t address individual symptoms. MS is not fatal with MS patients having about the same life expectancy as the general population. Hence, most MS sufferers have to live with the disease for many years. So, quality of life becomes a major issue. There is a thus a critical need for safe and effective methods to help relieve the symptoms of MS and improve quality of life.


Quality of life with MS is affected by fatigue, cognitive decrements, physical impairment, depression, and poor sleep quality. But, depressive symptoms are the most problematic with clinically significant depression present in 50% of MS sufferers. Since mindfulness has been previously shown to improve depression (see sleep quality (see, cognitive impairments (see, and emotion regulation (see, it would seem likely that mindfulness would affect the quality of life in MS patients.


In today’s Research News article “Examining trait mindfulness, emotion dysregulation, and quality of life in multiple sclerosis”

Schirda and colleagues investigated the relationship of trait mindfulness with the quality of life and its associated symptoms in MS patients. They found that the higher the levels of trait mindfulness the lower the levels of depression and emotion dysregulation and the higher the quality of life in the patients. They also found that the reduction in emotion dysregulation was partially responsible for the positive relationship between mindfulness and quality of life. In addition, the higher the depression level the larger the impact of mindfulness’ association with emotion dysregulation on quality of life.


So, as predicted, mindfulness played an important role in mitigating the effects of MS on quality of life and its associated symptoms. These relationships in MS patients parallel the effects of mindfulness on healthy individuals and so would seem to be universal regardless of the disease state. That emotion regulation appears to be central is very interesting. Mindfulness is known to allow the individual to fully experience emotions but to respond to them in a positive and constructive way. The results of the study then suggest that this may be the critical effect of mindfulness for the patient to experience a high quality of life


It should be kept in mind that Schirda and colleagues’ study did not manipulate mindfulness, rather simply looking at existing levels of trait mindfulness and their relationships with quality of life. Hence, it can’t be concluded that mindfulness causes quality of life improvements in MS. For example, it could be that people who have a high quality of life with MS become more mindful. It will take future manipulative research to establish mindfulness’ effectiveness in treating MS patients.


But, we can tentatively recommend to improve MS quality of life with mindfulness.


“I want America to know that you can still have a full, exciting and productive life even if you or your loved one is battling a debilitating, chronic disease such as MS.” – Michaele Salahi


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Kill Cancer with Tai Chi


Tai Chi Cancer Liu2

“Tai chi is often described as “meditation in motion,” but it might well be called “medication in motion.” There is growing evidence that this mind-body practice… has value in treating or preventing many health problems.” ~Harvard Women’s Health Watch


Our bodies contain many cancerous cells. They usually don’t develop into a cancer as our bodies defenses keep them under control. Part of that defense are types of peripheral blood mononuclear cells called Natural Killer (NK) cells. These are fast acting white blood cells that can destroy virus containing or tumor cells. So, in fighting off the development of cancerous cells into a deadly cancer, the NK cells are an important early component.


Exercise is known to increase NK cells in cancer survivors. Tai Chi is a gentle exercise that has been practiced for thousands of years with purported benefits for health and longevity. Tai Chi training is designed to enhance function and regulate the functional activities of the body through regulated breathing, mindful concentration, and gentle movements. Only recently though have the effects of Tai Chi practice been scrutinized with empirical research. It has been found to be effective for an array of physical and psychological issues See links below). One of the ways that it acts to have these effects is by strengthening immune system function (see It has also been shown to improve recovery from cancer (see


Lung cancer is the leading cancer killer in both men and women in the U.S. Over 150,000 people a year in the U.S. die from lung cancer. If it is caught early about half of the patients will survive for at least 5 years. But, only about 15% of the cases are diagnosed early. So, overall only about 18% of the patients survive for at least 5 years. Needless to say treatments to improve survival with lung cancer are badly needed.


In today’s Research News article “Effect of Tai Chi on mononuclear cell functions in patients with non-small cell lung cancer”

Liu and colleagues examine the effects of 16 weeks of Tai Chi exercise on peripheral blood mononuclear cells in lung cancer patients who had survived at least 2 years compared to a comparable treatment as usual group. Tai Chi produced a significant increase in the ability of peripheral blood mononuclear kill cancer cells. They found that the Natural Killer cells were the type of peripheral blood mononuclear cell that increased in the Tai Chi group.


These are potentially important results. They suggest that Tai Chi may be helpful in survival from lung cancer by improving the immune system’s ability to kill cancerous cells, particularly by increasing the levels of Natural Killer cells. Further research is needed to determine if this improves long-term survival in these patients.


There are a number of ways that Tai Chi may be improving the immune response to cancer. The simplest explanation is as an exercise. The advantage of Tai Chi, however, over other exercises is that it is very safe and gentle and can be practiced by people of all ages. Another possible explanation is that Tai Chi is known to improve the psychological and physiological response to stress. So, Tai Chi may be effective by improving the patients’ response to the stress of the illness. Regardless, it is clear that Tai Chi improves ability to kill cancer cells.


So, kill cancer with tai chi.


“Of all the exercises, I should say that T’ai Chi is the best. It can ward off disease, banish worry and tension, bring improved physical health and prolong life. It is a good hobby for your whole life, the older you are, the better. It is suitable for everyone – the weak, the sick, the aged, children, the disabled and blind. It is also an economical exercise. As long as one has three square feet of space, one can take a trip to paradise and stay there to enjoy life for thirty minutes without spending a single cent.” ~T.T. Liang


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies



Tai Chi Qigong links

It has been shown to improve cardiac health (see, reduce the risk for strokes (see, reduce the physical and psychological responses to stress (see, improved sleep in people suffering from insomnia (see and, helped with recovery from cancer (see and reduced chronic inflammation (see

Relieve Prenatal Depression with Integrated Yoga

Yoga Prenatal depression Gong2

“I thought I’d never be able to love her. I had dreams in which I imagined I’d be able to give her away, then would wake with a horrible sinking feeling that I couldn’t. We’d planned a third child, and I should have been happy. What kind of mother feels that way about her unborn baby? What was wrong with me?” – Emma


Many women experience depression including pregnant women. Depression is characterized by A low or sad mood, loss of interest in fun activities, changes in eating, sleep, and energy, problems in thinking, concentrating, and making decisions, feelings of worthlessness, shame, or guilt, and thoughts that life is not worth living. It is difficult to deal with under the best of conditions but in combinations with the stresses of pregnancy can turn what could be a joyous experience of creating a human life into a horrible torment.


Depression occurring after delivery of a baby is well known, documented and discussed. Less well known but equally likely is depression during pregnancy. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists suggest that between 14 and 23 percent of women suffer from some form of depression during pregnancy. Without treatment, prenatal depression can pose a serious threat to a mother-to-be, who may stop taking care of herself or, in extreme cases, become suicidal. This can cause a woman to want to terminate her pregnancy. There are no statistics on the matter but it has been speculated that prenatal depression can lead to abortion.


Prenatal depression is often not recognized or diagnosed. When it is, the typical treatment is antidepressant drugs. But these drugs are often ineffective and frequently have troublesome side effects and may not be safe during pregnancy. So, alternative treatments are needed. Yoga practice has been shown to help relieve depression during pregnancy (see This is encouraging as yoga has many benefits including improvement of physical and mental health and if practiced properly is completely safe, even during pregnancy.


There are many types of yoga practice and little is known of what forms are effective and which are not. They can be roughly separated into those that are purely physical and those that are integrated.  Physical-exercise-based yoga include exercises, such as stretching and other yoga postures. Integrated yoga, on the other hand also includes meditation or deep relaxation. In today’s Research News article “Yoga for prenatal depression: a systematic review and meta-analysis.”

Gong and colleagues review and summarize the literature on the effectiveness of physical-exercise-based yoga and integrated yoga on prenatal depression. Overall, yoga practice was found to be effective for prenatal depression. But, interestingly, they found that only with the integrated yoga practice was depression significantly reduced.


This is an important finding. Since integrated yoga is a combination of exercise-based yoga with meditation or deep relaxation and exercise-based yoga alone did not significantly reduce depression, these results suggest that the meditation or deep relaxation is critical for the anti-depressive effects. Mindfulness practices alone are known to be effective for depression (see and So, it is possible that the effectiveness of yoga for prenatal depression is due to its mindfulness components. But future work will be required to determine whether it is the mindfulness components alone or the combination of exercise with mindfulness is important for the anti-depressive effects.


Regardless, it is clear that integrated yoga is a safe and effective treatment for prenatal depression. So, relieve prenatal depression with integrated yoga.


“prenatal depression is hard to talk about or diagnose. Pregnancy symptoms can mimic depression signs, so it can be difficult to tell what’s really going on. Plus, everyone expects pregnant women to be blissfully happy, right? Just so overjoyed at the miracle of it all, too filled with excited anticipation to feel such humanly concerns as fear or discontentment.” – Linda Sharps


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Observe Mindfully and be Less Stressed

MBCT Depression Internet Beck2

I wanted to share the experience of how yoga and meditation have transformed my life, how they have enabled me to observe who I am, first in my body, and then emotionally, and on to a kind of spiritual path.” – Mariel Hemingway


Stress is universal. We are constantly under some form of stress. In fact, if we don’t have enough stress, we seek out more. There appears to be an optimum level of stress for which we strive. If our stress level is too low, we feel bored and do things to increase it, such as riding a roller coaster, going out to an action movie, thrill seeking, engaging socially etc. On the other hand, if your stress level is too high, we feel tense and do things to decrease it, such as resting, taking depressant drugs like alcohol, withdrawing from social interactions, taking vacations etc.


Stress actually can strengthen us. Muscles don’t grow and strengthen unless they are moderately stressed in exercise. Moderate mental stress can actually increase the size and connectivity of brain areas devoted to the activity. Moderate social stress can help us become more adept in social interactions. Moderate work stress can help us be more productive and improve as an employee, etc. So, stress can be a good thing promoting growth and flourishing. The key word here is moderate or what we called the optimum level of stress. Too little or too much stress can be damaging.


Unfortunately for many of us living in a competitive modern environment stress is all too often higher than desirable. In addition, many of the normal mechanisms for dealing with stress have been eliminated. The business of modern life removes opportunities for rest, working extra hours, and limiting or passing up entirely vacations to stay competitive. Persistently high levels of stress are damaging and can directly produce disease or debilitation increasing susceptibility to other diseases. Chronic stress can produce a condition called distress which can lead to headaches, upset stomach, elevated blood pressure, chest pain, and problems sleeping and can make other diseases worse.


Stress is epidemic worldwide, but particularly in the United States. It has been found that over two thirds of Americans experienced symptoms of stress such as fatigue, irritability or anger, or changes in sleeping habits. Forty-three percent of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress and 75% to 90% of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.


It is beyond the ability of the individual to change the environment to reduce stress, so it is important that methods be found to reduce the individual’s responses to stress and thereby reduce the conversion of stress to distress, reducing the damaging effects of chronic stress. Contemplative practices have been shown to reduce the psychological and physiological responses to stress (see Because of their ability to relieve stress, mindfulness trainings are increasingly being practiced by individuals and are even being encouraged in some workplaces.


Exactly what aspects of mindfulness are effective for stress are not known. There have been identified five facets of mindfulness; observing, describing, non-judging of inner experience, non-reactivity to inner experience, and acting with awareness. In today’s Research News article “The “Observing” Facet of Mindfulness Moderates Stress/Symptom Relations Only Among Meditators.”

Neale-Lorello and colleagues investigate the relationship of these five facets of mindfulness with perceived levels of stress and physical symptoms of distress. They further separated their participants into experienced meditators and non-meditators. They found that meditators were higher in mindfulness, lower in perceived stress and had fewer physical symptoms than non-meditators demonstrating the efficacy of meditation for stress relief.


They further found marked differences between the groups in the relationships of the facets of mindfulness with stress and physical symptoms. In the non-meditators all of the facet except observing were negatively associated with both perceived stress and physical symptoms while for meditators none of the facets were associated with perceived stress while only non-judging and acting with awareness were negatively associated with physical symptoms. To some extent the lack of significant findings for the meditators may be the result of the fact that the meditators were already low in perceived stress and physical symptoms.


In a more complex analysis they found, not surprisingly, that life stress was positively associated with physical symptoms. But, this was not true for the meditators who were also high in the observing facet of mindfulness. “This result implies that mindfulness meditation training may allow people who attend closely to their experience to separate out the objective contents of what is observed from their cognitive and/or emotional reactions to them. Such a parsing would free up resources that might otherwise be expended on negative emotional responses … leaving the more mindful individual better able to deploy effective actions in response to stressors.” (Neale-Lorello).


These findings indicate that meditation increases mindfulness reducing the impact of stress on distress; physical symptoms. It does so, in part by increasing the observation of experience which appears to buffer the meditator from the negative physical effects of stress. So, meditation increases mindfulness, reduces perceived stress and physical symptoms and buffers the individual from the ability of stress to produce distress.


So, observe mindfully and be less stressed.


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


“You begin by letting thoughts flow and watching them. The very observation slows down the mind till it stops altogether. Once the mind is quiet, keep it quiet. Don’t get bored with peace, be in it, go deeper into it.” – Nisargadatta Maharaj