Reduce Pelvic Pain in Women with Yoga

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By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“women need to start a relationship with their pelvis, looking at the outside of it, touching the inside of it, talking and listening to it, and loving it. If you are having problems with your pelvic floor, it’s telling you, “Hey, I am here and you’ve been ignoring me and something has to change.” – Leslie Howard


Chronic pelvic pain (CPP) is focused in the area below the naval and between the hips and lasts six months or longer. CPP can have multiple causes; a symptom of another disease, or it can be a condition in its own right. Millions of men and women suffer from pelvic floor dysfunction every year. In fact, over 4 million American women under the age of 40 are diagnosed with pelvic pain or incontinence. Despite this staggering figure, people often feel alone, ashamed, and frustrated with the process of being properly diagnosed and treated. There are two strategies to treating chronic pelvic pain (CPP), either treating the symptoms or the underlying cause. Typically, it is treated with drugs and/or hormones, including pain relievers, antibiotics, antidepressants, and birth control pills, with physical or psychological therapy, or even with surgery.


Yoga practice has been shown to have a myriad of health benefits. These include relief of chronic pain. So, it makes sense to explore the effectiveness of yoga therapy for CPP in combination with treatment as usual. In today’s Research News article “Effects of yogic intervention on pain scores and quality of life in females with chronic pelvic pain.” See:

or see summary below or view the full text of the study at:;year=2017;volume=10;issue=1;spage=9;epage=15;aulast=Saxena

Saxena and colleagues recruited patients with chronic pelvic pain (CPP) and randomly assigned them to receive either treatment as usual or treatment as usual in combination with yoga therapy. The women were measured for pain levels and quality of life both before and after the 8-weeks of treatment. Yoga therapy occurred 5 times per week for 8 weeks and included deep breathing, chanting, postures, regulated breathing and relaxation, etc.


They found that the two groups had equivalent levels of pain before treatment, but after treatment the pain levels of the yoga therapy group were reduced virtually in half while the treatment as usual group was unchanged. In addition, yoga therapy produced significant improvements in the quality of life by about a third for the patients, with increases in the physical, psychological, and social domains of quality of life, and a significant but smaller increase in the environmental domain.


These are excellent results that indicate that yoga therapy can produce clinically significant improvements in pain levels and quality of life in patients with chronic pelvic pain (CPP). Since yoga practice is known to strengthen the abdominal muscles, this may be the reason for the improvements. In addition, the contemplative components of yoga therapy are known to improve the individual’s ability to cope with chronic pain and this may also be responsible for the improvements. Regardless, it is clear that yoga therapy is a safe and effective treatment that complements treatment as usual and produces clinically significant improvements in CPP.


So, reduce pelvic pain in women with yoga.


“The physical postures of yoga can help relieve pain in a number of ways. The most obvious is the ability of a well-rounded yoga practice to lower stress levels. Stress makes muscles more likely to go into spasm, and muscle spasms are an underappreciated contributor to both acute and chronic pain. . . The practice of asana, beyond its ability to induce relaxation, can be an effective way to relieve muscle tightness. In contrast to many other forms of exercise, yoga promotes both strength and flexibility in muscles.” – Timothy McCall


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


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Study Summary

Saxena R, Gupta M, Shankar N, Jain S, Saxena A. Effects of yogic intervention on pain scores and quality of life in females with chronic pelvic pain. Int J Yoga [serial online] 2017 [cited 2016 Nov 23];10:9-15. Available from:



Context: Chronic pelvic pain (CPP) is a common condition of women of the reproductive age group. It has a negative impact on a woman’s personal health and quality of life (QOL). Practicing yoga has shown numerous benefits in various chronic painful conditions.
Aim: To study the effects of yogic intervention on pain scores and quality of life in females of reproductive age group with CPP, on conventional therapy.
Settings and Design: It is a follow-up, randomized case-control study done in a tertiary care hospital.
Subjects and Methods: Sixty female patients of CPP in the age group of 18-45 years were randomly divided into Group I (n = 30) and Group II (n = 30). Group I received only conventional therapy in the form of NSAIDS and Group II received yoga therapy in the form of asanas, pranayama, and relaxation along with the conventional therapy for 8 weeks. They were assessed twice (pre- and post-treatment) for pain scores through visual analog scale (VAS) score and QOL by the World Health Organization quality of life-BREF (WHOQOL-BREF) questionnaire.
Statistical Analysis Used: Repeated measure ANOVA followed by Tukey’s test. P < 0.05 was considered significant.
Results: After 8 weeks of yogic intervention, Group II patients showed a significant decrease in intensity of pain seen by a decrease in VAS score (P < 0.001) and improvement in the quality of life with a significant increase (P < 0.001) in physical, psychological, social, and environmental domain scores of WHOQOL-BREF.
Conclusions: The practice of yoga causes a reduction in the pain intensity and improves the quality of life in patients with chronic pelvic pain.;year=2017;volume=10;issue=1;spage=9;epage=15;aulast=Saxena


Writing About Trauma or Daily Activities does not Improve Mindfulness

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By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“The very act of putting [words] down—getting them out of the beehive of the head and onto the objective reality of paper—is a form of clarification.” — Pico Iyer


People have used writing as therapy for psychological issues spontaneously throughout history. They’ve used logs, journals, diaries, essays, etc. to help cope with stresses and traumas. Research has verified the benefits of expressive writing, demonstrating that writing has beneficial psychological and even physical effects from improving mood, to relieving stress, to strengthening the immune system, to decreasing depression. It appears that the nature of the writing makes a difference, with writing about problems and traumatic events having greater benefits than simply writing about everyday events.


It is not known exactly how writing has such beneficial effects. It has been pointed out that writing about one’s problems or traumatic events is very similar to the process of psychotherapy. In addition, it’s been noted that expressive writing is a focused attention task much like mindfulness training. Indeed, mindfulness training has similar beneficial effects as expressive writing; improving emotion regulation, lowering depression, strengthening the immune system, and relieving stress. Hence, the beneficial effects of expressive writing may occur, in part, by improving mindfulness.


Although there have been a number of studies of the effects of mindfulness on writing, there have been none on the effects of writing on mindfulness. In today’s Research News article “Linguistic Predictors of Mindfulness in Written Self-Disclosure Narratives.” See:

or see summary below or view the full text of the study at:

Moore and Brody examine the effects of writing on mindfulness. They recruited college students and randomly assigned them to write essays on either traumatic events in their lives or about how they spent their day and planned to spend the rest of the day. The students wrote for 20 minutes on three consecutive days. The students’ writings were analyzed for linguistic characteristics including positive emotions, negative emotions, cognitive processing words, self-references, and temporal categories of past present and future. Before writing and 4 and 8 weeks later, the students’ mindfulness was measured.


They found that mindfulness overall was not increased in either the traumatic events or daily activities writing conditions. They found that the linguistic content made a small difference, with high levels of use of cognitive processing words or present tense words associated with high levels of overall mindfulness and mindfulness subcomponents of nonjudgmental awareness and describing. They also found that high use of self-reference words was associated with low levels of the mindfulness component of observing internal and external stimuli.


These results indicate that writing in general regardless of whether it was about traumatic events or everyday occurrences did not affect overall mindfulness. This suggests that mindfulness is not the intermediary between writing and improved psychological and physical health. The results further suggest that writing thoughtfully especially about the present may slightly improve mindfulness. This makes sense as mindfulness is present moment awareness. Finally, the results suggest that writing a lot about the self tends to slightly interfere with being observant of the contents of the present moment. This again makes sense as thinking about the self involves past and future and not present experiences.


The results to some extent are disappointing as they did not clarify the mechanism by which writing improves mental and physical health. But, they do help to clarify how focusing thinking on the present and not the self affects components of mindfulness. Given that writing and mindfulness both have positive psychological and physical effects and appear to do so independently, it is possible that combining mindfulness training with expressive writing may have greater benefits than either alone.


“Poet Robert Bly once said, “If we want to create art we have to stitch together the inner world and the outer world.” Mindfulness, which is defined as paying attention to our moment-to-moment experience with nonjudgmental awareness, can do just that.” – Omega Institute


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+


Study Summary

Moore, S. D., & Brody, L. R. (2009). Linguistic Predictors of Mindfulness in Written Self-Disclosure Narratives. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 28(3), 281–296.



This study investigated whether relative changes in cognitive, emotion, temporal, and self-reference word frequencies in repeated narratives predicted improvements in mindfulness skills (i.e., nonjudgmental acceptance of present-moment experiences, observing and describing present stimuli, and acting with awareness) subsequent to narrative self-disclosure. Participants wrote repeated narratives of traumatic or daily events over 3 days. Mindfulness was assessed at baseline and 4 to 8 weeks posttask. Results indicated that relative increases in cognitive processing words (among traumatic events participants and women in both conditions) and present tense words (among all participants) significantly predicted increases in nonjudgmental acceptance, describing, or overall mindfulness. Increases in present tense words appeared to partially mediate the higher mindfulness outcomes of participants writing about daily events when compared with those writing about trauma. The findings suggest that linguistic changes in self-disclosure narratives are associated with improvements in specific mindfulness skills.


Lower Blood Fat with Tai Chi

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By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“Tai Chi is a gentle, graceful, inspiring exercise that has been found to reduce blood pressure, improve balance and reduce falls. It also increases overall toning, improves posture and circulation, increases flexibility and strength.” – Nabi Su


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). High blood fat levels are an important risk factor for cardiovascular disease. They increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke three-fold. The good news is that in general, diet, exercise, and weight loss can reduce the levels of fat circulating in the blood.


Contemplative practices have also been shown to be helpful for heart health particularly those that are also exercises such as tai chi and yoga. Tai chi is an ancient contemplative practice involving slow motion smooth mindful movement. The reason that it has continued to be practiced by millions for centuries is that it has major mental and physical benefits. Modern research is verifying these benefits. Mindful movement practice has been shown to improve balance, self-concept, and attention span, reduce falls, boost the immune system and helps to relieve symptoms of arthritis, asthma, Parkinson’s disease, insomnia, even improve cancer recovery, and improve recovery from heart failure. So, it makes sense to further explore the effectiveness of Tai Chi practice for the control of blood fat levels.


In today’s Research News article “Effect of Tai Chi exercise on blood lipid profiles: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.” See:

or see summary below or view the full text of the study at:

Pan and colleagues summarized the published research literature on the effects of tai chi practice on the levels of fats in the blood of Chinese adults. They found six randomized controlled trials, containing a control condition. Tai chi training ranged from 12 weeks to 12 months, with most between 12-14 weeks of practice. They reported that the literature found that tai chi practice produced a statistically significant decrease in blood fat levels overall and a trend toward a significant reduction in total blood cholesterol levels. But, there were no significant differences for either low-density or high-density lipoproteins.


These are promising results. It should be noted, however, that the majority of studies employed a wait-list control condition that did not contain a systematic exercise program. So, it cannot be determined if the effects on blood fat levels were due to tai chi practice specifically or would have been produced by any exercise program. But, since tai chi is a very gentle practice, it is safe for a wide range of individuals, including the elderly and patients compromised by other illnesses. So, tai chi is an excellent light exercise program that can improve blood fat levels and potentially reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.


So, lower blood fat with tai chi.


“So, it’s unclear what mechanism of action is responsible for the reduction in blood pressure, cholesterol and depressive symptoms among these folks, but it’s unlikely to be from Chinese exercise alone.  A more probable explanation is that these patients adopted other health enhancing behaviors in addition to Chinese exercise such as improving their diet and/or engaging in physical exercises with a comparatively higher cardiac demand.”American Council on Science and Health


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+


Study Summary

Pan, X., Mahemuti, A., Zhang, X., Wang, Y., Hu, P., Jiang, J., … Wang, J. (2016). Effect of Tai Chi exercise on blood lipid profiles: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Zhejiang University. Science. B, 17(8), 640–648.



Objective: Studies have demonstrated that Tai Chi exercise improves blood lipid level with inconsistent results. A meta-analysis was conducted to quantify the effects of Tai Chi on blood lipid profiles in humans. Methods: We screened the databases of PubMed, EMBASE, Cochrane Library (Central), Web of Science, China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI), Wanfang data, and for randomized controlled trials with Physiotherapy Evidence Database (PEDro) score more than 3 points up to June 2015. Six studies involving 445 subjects were included. Most trials applied 12-week Tai Chi intervention courses. Results: In comparison with the control group, blood triglyceride (TG) level difference between follow-up and baseline was statistically significantly lower in the Tai Chi practicing group (weighted mean difference (WMD) −16.81 mg/dl; 95% confidence intervals (CI) −31.27 to −2.35 mg/dl; P=0.02). A trend to improving total cholesterol (TC) reduction was found with Tai Chi (WMD −7.96 mg/dl; 95% CI −17.30 to 1.39 mg/dl; P=0.10). However, no difference was found in blood low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) or high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C). Conclusions: Tai Chi exercise lowered blood TG level with a trend to decrease blood TC level. Our data suggest that Tai Chi has the potential to implement meaningful blood lipid modification and serve as an adjunctive exercise modality. The relationship between Tai Chi exercise regimen and lipid profile change might have a scientific priority for future investigation.


Improve PTSD with Mindfulness and Self-Compassion

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By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“Mindful self-compassion is the foundation of emotional healing—being aware in the present moment when we’re struggling with feelings of inadequacy, despair, confusion, and other forms of stress. Mindful self-compassion also means holding difficult emotions—fear, anger, sadness, shame and self-doubt—and ourselves, in loving awareness, leading to greater ease and well-being in our daily lives.” – David Germer


Experiencing trauma is quite common. It has been estimated that 60% of men and 50% of women will experience a significant traumatic event during their lifetime. But, only a fraction will develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). But this still results in a frightening number of people with 7%-8% of the population developing PTSD at some point in their life. For military personnel, it’s much more likely for PTSD to develop with about 11%-20% of those who have served in a war zone developing PTSD.


PTSD involves a number of troubling symptoms including reliving the event with the same fear and horror in nightmares or with a flashback. PTSD sufferers avoid situations that remind them of the event this may include crowds, driving, movies, etc. and may avoid seeking help because it keeps them from having to think or talk about the event. They often experience negative changes in beliefs and feelings including difficulty experiencing positive or loving feelings toward other people, avoiding relationships, memory difficulties, or see the world as dangerous and no one can be trusted. Sufferers may feel hyperarousal, feeling keyed up and jittery, or always alert and on the lookout for danger. They may experience sudden anger or irritability, may have a hard time sleeping or concentrating, may be startled by a loud noise or surprise.


Obviously, these are troubling symptoms that need to be addressed. There are a number of therapies that have been developed to treat PTSD. One of which, mindfulness training has been found to be particularly effective. Another potential contributor to successful treatment of PTSD is self-compassion. It “refers to how one relates to oneself when the present moment is painful. . . Self-compassion involves acknowledging the difficulty of the experience, responding inward with kindness and support, and remembering that suffering is part of the shared human experience.” (Dahm et al., 2016). Obviously, having self-compassion would tend to assist a PTSD sufferer in coping with the aftermath of their traumatic experiences.


In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness, Self-Compassion, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms, and Functional Disability in U.S. Iraq and Afghanistan War Veterans.” See:

or see summary below or view the full text of the study at:

Dahm and colleagues study the relationships of mindfulness and self-compassion in coping with the symptoms of PTSD. They recruited war veterans who had experienced one or more traumatic events during their military service. The veterans then completed measures of PTSD symptom severity, functional disability, mindfulness, and self-compassion. They found strong negative relationships between mindfulness and self-compassion and the severity of PTSD symptoms and the amount of functional disability they produced, such that when either or both mindfulness and self-compassion were high PTSD symptom severity and functional disability were low.


These results suggest that the impact of traumatic events on the individual may be mitigated by both mindfulness and self-compassion. It appears that being able to view these events mindfully markedly reduces the emotional reactions to the experiences. Indeed, mindfulness if known to improve the individual’s ability to regulate emotions, to lower anger, anxiety, worry, and depression, and to decrease the individual’s physical and psychological responses to stress. In addition, being able to have compassion for oneself appear to produce an additional, additive, reduction in PTSD symptoms and disability. Being able to have kindness and understanding toward oneself appears to be also important in dealing with the aftermath of intense trauma.


So, improve PTSD with mindfulness and self-compassion.


“treating ourselves kindly can be quite a foreign concept. Giving ourselves some slack can be viewed as making excuses for ourselves, or encouraging self pity. Our critical thoughts judge our weaknesses and struggles in ways that we would never express toward a friend. We say things to ourselves that are quite shocking. Self hostility, just like abuse from others, impacts our ability to manage stress and is associated with a host of mental health problem.” – Kristin Neff


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+


Study Summary

Dahm, K., Meyer, E. C., Neff, K., Kimbrel, N. A., Gulliver, S. B., & Morissette, S. B. (2015). Mindfulness, Self-Compassion, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms, and Functional Disability in U.S. Iraq and Afghanistan War Veterans. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 28(5), 460–464.



Mindfulness and self-compassion are overlapping but distinct constructs that characterize how people relate to emotional distress. Both are associated with PTSD and may be related to functional disability. While self-compassion includes mindful awareness of emotional distress, it is a broader construct that also includes being kind and supportive to oneself and viewing suffering as part of the shared human experience – a powerful way of dealing with distressing situations. We examined the associations of mindfulness and self-compassion with PTSD symptom severity and functional disability in 115 trauma-exposed Iraq/Afghanistan war veterans. Mindfulness and self-compassion were each uniquely, negatively associated with PTSD symptom severity. After accounting for mindfulness, self-compassion accounted for unique variance in PTSD symptom severity (f2 = .25; medium ES). After accounting for PTSD symptom severity, mindfulness and self-compassion were each uniquely negatively associated with functional disability. The combined association of mindfulness and self-compassion with disability over and above PTSD was large (f2 = .41). After accounting for mindfulness, self-compassion accounted for unique variance in disability (f2 = .13; small ES). These findings suggest that interventions aimed at increasing mindfulness and self-compassion could potentially decrease functional disability in returning veterans with PTSD symptoms.


Lessen Cognitive Problems Following Breast Cancer with Yoga

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By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


““If you or your relatives are trying to improve your memory or offset the risk for developing memory loss or dementia, a regular practice of yoga and meditation could be a simple, safe and low-cost solution to improving your brain fitness,” – Helen Lavretsky


About 12.5% of women in the U.S. develop invasive breast cancer over their lifetimes and every year about 40,000 women die. Indeed, more women in the U.S. die from breast cancer than from any other cancer, besides lung cancer. Breast cancer diagnosis, however, is not a death sentence. It is encouraging that the death rates have been decreasing for decades from improved detection and treatment of breast cancer. Five-year survival rates are now at around 95%.


Unfortunately, even after successful treatment residual physical, psychological, and cognitive problems still persist and most of these residual problems go untreated. So, safe and effective treatments for these residual symptoms in breast cancer survivors are needed. Mindfulness training in general has been shown to help with cancer recovery and help to alleviate many of the residual psychological symptoms and improve cognitive function. The mindfulness practice of Yoga has also been shown to be helpful with the residual symptoms. In today’s Research News article Yoga and Self-Reported Cognitive Problems in Breast Cancer Survivors: A Randomized Controlled Trial “.” See:

or see summary below or view the full text of the study at:

Derry and colleagues investigate the effectiveness of yoga practice on relieving the residual cognitive symptoms of breast cancer survivors.


They recruited women who had completed breast cancer treatment from 2-months to 3 years previously and randomly assigned them to either a wait-list control condition or to receive a 12-week Hatha yoga training. They received training twice a week for 90 minutes. Yoga participants were encouraged to continue yoga practice after training but no further classes or instruction were provided. The participants were measured before and after the 12-week treatment and 3 months later for cognitive symptoms (forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating, and being easily distracted), depression, anxiety, sleep quality, fatigue, inflammation, and general activity.


They found that the yoga treatment produced a significant decrease in anxiety, depression, fatigue and inflammation and improved sleep quality. Importantly, they found that the yoga practice produced a significant reduction in cognitive complaints (forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating, and being easily distracted), in comparison to the wait-list group, 3 months after completion of training but not immediately after training. This improvement was still present and significant even after taking into consideration the improvements in psychological distress, fatigue, and sleep quality. Hence, Yoga practice improved the physical, psychological, and cognitive residual symptoms in breast cancer survivors.


These results are interesting and important. They suggest that yoga practice is a safe and effective treatment for the residual symptoms that remain after successful treatment for breast cancer. Yoga practice has been shown to have a wide array of positive benefits for healthy and unhealthy practitioners. The present study adds to the list of patients who are helped by practicing yoga. It should be noted that yoga is a gentle exercise and there was no comparison to other exercises. So, it cannot be determined if it was the exercise in general or yoga in particular that produces the benefits.


So, lessen cognitive problems following breast cancer with yoga.


“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. . . meditation and breathing exercises are known to reduce anxiety and stress, which in turn can improve scores on some cognitive tests,” – Neha Gothe.


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+


Study Summary

Derry, H. M., Jaremka, L. M., Bennett, J. M., Peng, J., Andridge, R., Shapiro, C., … Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K. (2015). Yoga and Self-Reported Cognitive Problems in Breast Cancer Survivors: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Psycho-Oncology, 24(8), 958–966.



Objectives: Cancer survivors often report cognitive problems. Furthermore, decreases in physical activity typically occur over the course of cancer treatment. Although physical activity benefits cognitive function in non-cancer populations, evidence linking physical activity to cognitive function in cancer survivors is limited. In our recent randomized controlled trial, breast cancer survivors who received a yoga intervention had lower fatigue and inflammation following the trial compared to a wait-list control group. This secondary analysis of the parent trial addressed yoga’s impact on cognitive complaints.

Methods: Post-treatment stage 0 – IIIA breast cancer survivors (N = 200) were randomized to a 12-week twice-weekly Hatha yoga intervention or a wait-list control group. Participants reported cognitive complaints using the Breast Cancer Prevention Trial (BCPT) Cognitive Problems scale at baseline, immediately post-intervention, and 3-month follow-up.

Results: Cognitive complaints did not differ significantly between groups immediately post-intervention (p = .250). However, at the 3-month follow-up, yoga participants’ BCPT Cognitive Problems scores were an average of 23% lower than wait-list participants’ scores (p = .003). These group differences in cognitive complaints remained after controlling for psychological distress, fatigue, and sleep quality. Consistent with the primary results, those who practiced yoga more frequently reported significantly fewer cognitive problems at the 3-month follow-up than those who practiced less frequently (p < 0.001).

Conclusions: These findings suggest that yoga can effectively reduce breast cancer survivors’ cognitive complaints, and prompt further research on mind-body and physical activity interventions for improving cancer-related cognitive problems.


Pay Attention with Mindfulness

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By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“The quality of your attention determines whether you are present and alert, or mentally and/or emotionally distracted. The good news is that it’s possible to train your attention and gain the associated benefits, and practicing mindfulness offers one of the most accessible and effective approaches.” – Deborah David


One of the primary effects of mindfulness training is an improvement in the ability to pay attention to the task at hand and ignore interfering stimuli. This is an important consequence of mindfulness training and produces improvements in thinking, reasoning, and creativity. The importance of heightened attentional ability to the individual’s ability to navigate the demands of complex modern life cannot be overstated. It helps at work, in relationships, or simply driving a car. Being effective socially demands accurately assessing the emotional states of other people. This requires attention to the non-verbal subtle signals of facial expression, body posture, and gestures. In this context, attention to these subtleties is a prerequisite for appropriate interactions. As a result, mindfulness improves social interactions.


There is evidence that mindfulness training improves attention by altering the brain. It appears That mindfulness training increases the size, connectivity, and activity of areas of the brain that are involved in paying attention. A common method to study the activity of the nervous system is to measure the electrical signal at the scalp above brain regions. Changes in this activity are measurable with mindfulness training. One method to observe information processing in the brain is to measure the changes in the electrical activity that occur in response to specific stimuli. These are called evoked potentials or ERPs. The signal following a stimulus changes over time. The fluctuations of the signal after specific periods of time are thought to measure different aspects of the nervous system’s processing of the stimulus.


The N100 response in the evoked potential (ERP) is a negative going response occurring around a tenth of a second following a visual stimulus presentation. The N100 response has been associated with the engagement of visual attention. So, the N100 response is often used as a measure of brain attentional engagement with the larger the negative change the greater the attentional focus. The N200 response in the evoked potential (ERP) generally follows shortly after the N100 response. It is a negative change that is maximally measured over the frontal lobe. The N200 response has been associated with the resolution of conflicting response expectations. The P300 response occurs around a quarter of a second following the stimulus presentation. It is a positive change that is maximally measured over the central frontal lobe. The P300 response has been associated with holding back expected actions (response inhibition).


The relationship of mindfulness to the brain’s processing of social/emotional stimuli was investigated in today’s Research News article “Trait Mindfulness Predicts Efficient Top-Down Attention to and Discrimination of Facial Expressions.” See:

or see summary below. Quaglia and colleagues recruited college students and measured their levels of mindfulness, social anxiety, and attentional control. The participants’ EEG was measured while performing a go/no-go task in which they were asked to press a button to a picture of a face if it expressed a target emotion (happy, neutral, or fearful) and refrain from responding if a different emotion was being portrayed.


They found that the higher the levels of the students’ mindfulness the faster they responded to the faces. In addition, they found that the higher the levels of mindfulness the larger the N100 and N200 responses. With the P300 response, high levels of mindfulness were only found to be associated with larger responses on no-go trials, when they withheld a response to a non-target emotion. There was no difference in the P300 response to go trials.


These results suggest that mindfulness improves attention to emotionally significant stimuli and does so by heightening the brain’s response to these stimuli.. This is supported by the faster response times by highly mindful participants. In, addition, the neural responses indicate better processing with the heightened N100 and N200 responses indicating greater attention and better decision processes while the heightened P300 response indicating better ability to withhold responses to stimuli when appropriate. Hence, the results suggest that attention to and responding to emotionally significant stimuli is improved with mindfulness. This may be one of the mechanisms by which mindfulness improves emotion regulation in general.


So, pay attention with mindfulness.


“Mindfulness refines our attention so that we can connect more fully and directly with whatever life brings. So many times our perception of what is happening is distorted by bias, habits, fears, or desires. Mindfulness helps us see through these and be much more aware of what actually is.” – Sharon Salzberg


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+


Study Summary

Jordan T. Quaglia, Robert J. Goodman, Kirk Warren Brown. Trait Mindfulness Predicts Efficient Top-Down Attention to and Discrimination of Facial Expressions. J. Pers. Volume 84, Issue 3, June 2016, Pages 393–404



In social situations, skillful regulation of emotion and behavior depends on efficiently discerning others’ emotions. Identifying factors that promote timely and accurate discernment of facial expressions can therefore advance understanding of social emotion regulation and behavior. The present research examined whether trait mindfulness predicts neural and behavioral markers of early top-down attention to, and efficient discrimination of, socioemotional stimuli. Attention-based event-related potentials (ERPs) and behavioral responses were recorded while participants (N = 62; White; 67% female; Mage= 19.09 years, SD = 2.14 years) completed an emotional go/no-go task involving happy, neutral, and fearful facial expressions. Mindfulness predicted larger (more negative) N100 and N200 ERP amplitudes to both go and no-go stimuli. Mindfulness also predicted faster response time that was not attributable to a speed-accuracy trade-off. Significant relations held after accounting for attentional control or social anxiety. This study adds neurophysiological support for foundational accounts that mindfulness entails moment-to-moment attention with lower tendencies toward habitual patterns of responding. Mindfulness may enhance the quality of social behavior in socioemotional contexts by promoting efficient top-down attention to and discrimination of others’ emotions, alongside greater monitoring and inhibition of automatic response tendencies.



Mindfully Politically Correct During the Holidays

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By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


po·lit·i·cal cor·rect·ness


  1. the avoidance, often considered as taken to extremes, of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against.”


In the U.S. there are a large number of people, including the President Elect, who assert that there’s currently a war on Christmas. This has been brought about by a movement to use faith neutral terms for greetings and well wishes during the end of December season. So, rather than say “Merry Christmas” they say “Happy Holidays.” The accusation is that this is political correctness gone removes the meaning from Christmas and is an assault on religious freedom. In a broader sense, it’s an accusation that political correctness in general is distasteful and demeans the culture and damages freedom of speech and religion.


There is a meme used on the internet and on bumper stickers that “Jesus, is the reason for the season. But that is only true for Christians. In fact, the season’s celebration has a long history. The end of December is the time of the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, transitioning from shortening days to lengthening days. Since the beginning of recorded history, the solstice has been a time of celebration and merriment. For most of that time it was an extremely popular pagan celebration. The Christians tried to suppress it but, because of its popularity, were unsuccessful. So, instead they coopted it, turning it into a celebration of Jesus’ birth. There are no records of the actual date of Jesus’ birth, so any day could be chosen, and the time of the pagan solstice celebration was perfect. The so called Christmas celebration actually maintains many remnants of the pagan celebration, including the tree, wreaths, mistletoe, holly, the name yule, the yule log, and even the use of the word “jolly”.


So, what is the correct designation for the time of year. That depends upon your perspective. If you’re Christian, then Christmas is the appropriate term; if you’re pagan, then Yule is it; if you’re Jewish then it’s Hanukkah; if you’re Buddhist then it’s Bodhi Day; if your Muslim it’s Id al-Adha (the Day of Sacrifice); if you’re Native American it’s Soyal; if you’re Japanese it’s Omisoka; and if you’re African it’s Kwanza. So, what is the correct term. Well, obviously, it depends on who you’re talking to. But in every case late December is a time for a holiday. So, wishing someone “Happy Holidays” will almost inevitably get it right no matter who you’re addressing. But, if you know the individual’s holiday of choice then the specific wish is appropriate. If they’re Christian then a “Merry Christmas” is called; if Jewish “Happy Hanukkah”; etc.


Applying mindfulness to this discussion we can look to the fundamental teaching of the Buddha of “Right Action.” He taught that an action, of itself, is neither good nor bad, rather that the rightness or the wrongness of an action is determined by its effects. If the action produces greater harmony, happiness, wisdom, and well-being, and relieves suffering then it is considered good. If, on the other hand, it produces disharmony, unhappiness, confusion, unhealthfulness, and creates suffering then it’s considered bad. That is the sole test, the effects of the action.


We can put this test to being politically correct. If we carefully and mindfully observe the effects of saying “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hanukkah,” etc. we’ll likely observe a positive response from most people. But, there will be a few people who will be upset and show a negative response. So, for the most part greeting someone with “Happy Holidays” will increase harmony and happiness for the largest proportion of people. But, we can do better if we apply mindfulness to this situation and discern the nature of the individual before making the statement. This requires deep listening; a skill that is generally weak. In a conversation, most people are not really paying close attention to what the other people are saying. Rather, they are thinking about what they will say next and listening for a point where they can jump in and say it. But to discern the nature of the individual, it is necessary that they be listened deeply with full attention.


If mindfulness and deep listening reveals that the individual is Christian or Jewish, etc., then a statement of “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hanukkah,” etc. would be good and increase harmony and happiness. It doesn’t demean your religious preference by recognizing the holiday celebrated by the other. It simply extends a wish for them to enjoy the holiday they celebrate. It would be bad to be stubborn and mindlessly stick to political correctness when it is clear that this would not be appropriate for the individual being greeted. It’s not always easy to correctly judge the individual and lacking a clear discernment it would be best to simply use “Happy Holidays.” In fact, not knowing who will be reading this essay, I’d be best advised to only use “Happy Holidays.” Keep in mind that perfection is not necessary, only that “Right Effort” is applied and the individual tries to do the best they can.


This argument applies also to political correctness in general. It requires mindfulness. It requires non-judgmental awareness of the circumstances, exactly who is present, and what are their characteristics. In fact, we do this all the time in social interactions. As a simple example, we discern the gender of the person in order to use the appropriate pronouns in conversation. But the sensitivity of some people to political correctness requires greater sensitivity and discernment than usual.


It needs to be kept in mind that conversations are not contests, with winners and losers. The goal is not to convince the other of your point of view, dominate the other, or win the discussion. There isn’t a war on anything. The mindful perspective is that the ultimate purpose is to increase harmony, happiness, wisdom, and well-being, and relieve suffering. Let this simple test guide the conversation, mindfully pay attention looking at the effects of the language being used, and in a very small way make the world a better place.


Happy Holidays!


“I had to live through controversies like the notion that I was trying to kill Christmas. Well, where’d that come from? Well, I bet he said happy holidays instead of merry Christmas. So, that must be evidence of him either not being a Christian or not caring about Christmas. . . . my advice to all of us as citizens is to be able to distinguish between being courteous and being thoughtful and thinking about how words affect other people and not demonizing others versus having legitimate political debates and disagreements.” – Barak Obama


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


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Improve Borderline Personality Disorder Therapy with Virtual Reality

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By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“Through virtual reality, the brain can succumb to compelling evidence that you are actually somewhere else. . . not only putting users in a relaxing location, but also completing the exercises, can shift your mood and teach you to live a more mindful life — overcoming the stresses encountered in everyday life.” – Naomi Cornman


Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is a very serious mental illness that is estimated to affect 1.6% of the U.S. population. It involves unstable moods, behavior, and relationships, problems with regulating emotions and thoughts, impulsive and reckless behavior, and unstable relationships. BPD is associated with high rates of co-occurring depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, eating disorders, self-harm, suicidal behaviors, and completed suicides. Needless to say, it is widespread and debilitating.


One of the few treatments that appears to be effective for Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). It is targeted at changing the problem behaviors characteristic of BPD including self-injury. Behavior change is accomplished through focusing on changing the thoughts and emotions that precede problem behaviors, as well as by solving the problems faced by individuals that contribute to problematic thoughts, feelings and behaviors. In DPT five core skills are practiced; mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, the middle path, and interpersonal effectiveness.


Technology is recently becoming applied to training in mindfulness. Indeed, mindfulness training carried out completely on-line has been shown to be effective for as number of conditions. But, now virtual reality (VR) devices are improving and becoming readily available. Previously it has been shown the virtual reality (VR) can be helpful in treating phobias. It is not known, however, if VR can be used in mindfulness training and in the treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).


In today’s Research News article “The Use of Virtual Reality to Facilitate Mindfulness Skills Training in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy for Borderline Personality Disorder: A Case Study.” See:

or see summary below or view the full text of the study at:

Nararro-Haro and colleagues performed a single subject case study of the use of VR to potentiate the effects of the mindfulness training used in Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). The participant was a 32-year old woman who was diagnosed with BPD. She was being treated with Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) but was having difficulty with the mindfulness component of DBT. In addition to the standard DBT virtual reality (VR) of floating down a gentle river was used along with the DBT mindfulness audio tracks. The participant was measured during and after training for mindfulness, mood, urges and dysfunctional behaviors.


After treatment, the participant had marked reductions in urges to commit suicide, harm herself, quit therapy, and substance abuse. In addition, she had markedly reduced negative emotions. These results are encouraging but there was only a single subject, there was no control condition, and there was no follow-up. So, no firm conclusions about effectiveness can be reached. But the results demonstrate that virtual reality can be employed to help potentiate the effectiveness of therapy of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) for Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).


So, improve borderline personality disorder therapy with virtual reality


“Traditional exposure therapy is easier to do when the phobia is of something common and easily accessible. A person afraid of dogs can visit a neighbor’s dog. An agoraphobic can slowly venture outside for short periods of time. But treating phobias like fear of flying or fear of sharks with traditional exposure therapy may be expensive or impractical in real life. That’s where VR has a major advantage. Treating PTSD with VR works similarly, exposing patients to a simulation of a feared situation (a battle in Iraq, for example), and appears to be just as effective.” –  Emily Matchar

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+


Study Summary

Nararro-Haro MV, Hoffman HG, Garcia-Palacios A, Sampaio M, Alhalabi W, Hall K and Linehan M (2016) The Use of Virtual Reality to Facilitate Mindfulness Skills Training in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy for Borderline Personality Disorder: A Case Study. Front. Psychol. 7:1573. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01573


Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a severe mental disorder characterized by a dysfunctional pattern of affective instability, impulsivity, and disturbed interpersonal relationships. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT®) is the most effective treatment for Borderline Personality Disorder, but demand for DBT® far exceeds existing clinical resources. Most patients with BPD never receive DBT®. Incorporating computer technology into the DBT® could help increase dissemination. Immersive Virtual Reality technology (VR) is becoming widely available to mainstream consumers. This case study explored the feasibility/clinical potential of using immersive virtual reality technology to enhance DBT® mindfulness skills training of a 32 year old female diagnosed with BPD. Prior to using VR, the patient experienced difficulty practicing DBT® mindfulness due to her emotional reactivity, and difficulty concentrating. To help the patient focus her attention, and to facilitate DBT® mindfulness skills learning, the patient looked into virtual reality goggles, and had the illusion of slowly “floating down” a 3D computer-generated river while listening to DBT® mindfulness training audios. Urges to commit suicide, urges to self harm, urges to quit therapy, urges to use substances, and negative emotions were all reduced after each VR mindfulness session and VR mindfulness was well accepted/liked by the patient. Although case studies are scientifically inconclusive by nature, results from this feasibility study were encouraging. Future controlled studies are needed to quantify whether VR-enhanced mindfulness training has long term benefits e.g., increasing patient acceptance and/or improving therapeutic outcome. Computerizing some of the DBT® skills treatment modules would reduce cost and increase dissemination.


Consolidate Motor Memories with Mindfulness

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By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“Meditation provides an atmosphere of deep relaxation beneficial to the mind and body, offering myriad physiological effects such as lower blood pressure and a slower heart rate. When the body is extremely relaxed, the mind, nerves and muscles work at an optimum level, allowing for the enhancement of a variety of motor performance skills.” – EOC Institute


When most people think of memory they think of verbal memory or episodic memory. They rarely think about motor memory. But, this is a very import facet of human behavior. If they do think of motor memory they usually think of athletic performance. This is indeed a motor memory but is the tip of the proverbial iceberg. In fact, the bulk of our behavior from walking to talking involves motor memory. The memories there are so deep that we are generally not aware of them. But pay attention for a moment to the movements involved when you’re walking and you’ll see just how automatized it is, just how much it’s a learned behavior that is stored in motor memory.


The process by which what we have learned motorically is transferred to a long-term storage is called consolidation. This process is poorly understood. But, it is known that consolidation works best when there are no competing memories produced shortly after the primary memory. So, rest and even sleep, appear to promote the consolidation of motor memory. Mindfulness training has been shown to improve verbal memory ability. But, little is known regarding the effects of mindfulness practice on motor memory or motor memory consolidation.


The ability of meditation to influence the consolidation of motor memory was explored in today’s Research News article “Post-training Meditation Promotes Motor Memory Consolidation.” See:

or see summary below or view the full text of the study at:

Immink recruited practiced meditators (between 2 to 25 years of practice, mean = 9 years) and had them learn to press a set of six keys in three unique sequences. Repeated over 120 trials. This was completed at 8:00 in the morning. The participants were then randomly assigned to either a 30-minute yoga nidra meditation condition or a light work (chores) condition that was conducted at noon. At 5:00 in the afternoon participants were tested for performance of the three learned sequences and two new sequence that they had not been previously trained on. They were measured for errors, reaction time to start the sequence and time to complete it.


During motor training the two groups did not differ in the number of errors committed, reaction time, and time to complete the sequence. During later testing, the participants who meditated at noon were significantly faster in reacting to and performing the previously learned sequences than the control group but did not differ with the new (untrained) sequences. Hence, meditation appeared to specifically help preserve the previous motor learning, while not affecting new learning. In fact, the meditation group did not lose any speed between training and testing while the control group was 35% slower.


These are clear and interesting results. They suggest that meditation promotes the consolidation of motor memories, that is, it tended to protect the memories from deterioration over time. So, mindfulness training appears to promote both verbal and motor memory. This might suggest that meditation might be helpful in preserving all kinds of other motor memories including athletic performance and perhaps physical therapy. It will require further research to examine these speculations.


So, consolidate motor memories with mindfulness.


“Meditation in sport is not only helpful for performance, but can also aid athletes who experience anxiety, depression, and other mental health illnesses. The practice can help athletes through injury, as well as overcome challenges such as the transition back into sport or out of sport (e.g., retirement).” – Kristin Keim


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+


Study Summary

Immink MA (2016) Post-training Meditation Promotes Motor Memory Consolidation. Front. Psychol. 7:1698. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01698


Following training, motor memory consolidation is thought to involve either memory stabilization or off-line learning processes. The extent to which memory stabilization or off-line learning relies on post-training wakeful periods or sleep is not clear and thus, novel research approaches are needed to further explore the conditions that promote motor memory consolidation. The present experiment represents the first empirical test of meditation as potential facilitator of motor memory consolidation. Twelve adult residents of a yoga center with a mean of 9 years meditation experience were trained on a sequence key pressing task. Three hours after training, the meditation group completed a 30 min session of yoga nidra meditation while a control group completed 30 min of light work duties. A wakeful period of 4.5 h followed meditation after which participants completed a test involving both trained and untrained sequences. Training performance did not significantly differ between groups. Comparison of group performance at test, revealed a performance benefit of post-training meditation but this was limited to trained sequences only. That the post-training meditation performance benefit was specific to trained sequences is consistent with the notion of meditation promoting motor memory consolidation as opposed to general motor task performance benefits from meditation. Further, post-training meditation appears to have promoted motor memory stabilization as opposed to off-line learning. These findings represent the first demonstration of meditation related motor memory consolidation and are consistent with a growing body of literature demonstrating the benefits of meditation for cognitive function, including memory.


Reduce the Pain of Knee Osteoarthritis with Tai Chi

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By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“tai chi provides benefit by improving muscle strength and coordination, which leads to better joint stability. In addition, the mind-body aspects and breath control promote mental calmness, which may help to break the cycle of arthritis pain.” – Harvard Health


Osteoarthritis is a chronic degenerative joint disease that is the most common form of arthritis. It produces pain, swelling, and stiffness of the joints. It is the leading cause of disability in the U.S., with about 43% of arthritis sufferers limited in mobility and about a third having limitations that affect their ability to perform their work. In the U.S., osteoarthritis affects 14% of adults over 25 years of age and 34% of those over 65.


Knee osteoarthritis effects 5% of adults over 25 years of age and 12% of those over 65. It involves the whole joint, including articular cartilage, meniscus, ligament, and peri-articular muscle. It is painful and disabling. Its causes are varied including, hereditary, injury including sports injuries, repetitive stress injuries, infection, or from being overweight.  There are no cures for knee osteoarthritis. Treatments are primarily symptomatic, including weight loss, exercise, braces, pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroids, arthroscopic knee surgery, or even knee replacement.


Gentle movements of the joints with exercise appears to be helpful in the treatment of knee osteoarthritis. This suggests that alternative and complementary practices that involve gentle knee movements may be useful in for treatment. Indeed, yoga practice has been shown to be effective in treating arthritis and mind-body practices in general have been shown to reduce the gene expressions that underlie the inflammatory response which contribute to arthritis. Tai Chi would seem on the surface to be perfect treatment as it involves slow gentle movement of the limbs and mindfulness and has been shown to be beneficial for a wide range of conditions. Indeed, it has been shown to reduce the physical symptoms of knee osteoarthritis. So, it would seem reasonable to look further into the effectiveness of Tai Chi, in treating knee osteoarthritis.


In today’s Research News article “A Supplemental Report to a Randomized Cluster Trial of a 20-Week Sun-Style Tai Chi for Osteoarthritic Knee Pain in Elders with Cognitive Impairment.” See:

or see summary below or view the full text of the study at:

Tsai and colleagues performed a multicenter randomized controlled trial of the effectiveness of Tai Chi for the treatment of the pain from knee osteoarthritis. They recruited elderly (aged 60 and over) patients with knee osteoarthritis who also had cognitive impairment and randomly assigned them to either practice Tai Chi for 3 40-minute sessions per week for 20 weeks or a control condition that received attention control education on an identical schedule. Before and after training and four times during training the patients were measured for pain, pain behaviors, and analgesic intake.


They found over training Tai Chi practice produced a significant reduction in pain and analgesic intake that increased in magnitude over time. There was also a significant reduction in pain behaviors. The effects were not affected by the degree of cognitive impairment. Unfortunately, there was no follow-up evaluation to determine if the effects last beyond the times of active practice. They also did not have another exercise for comparison. So, it can’t be determined if the gentle exercise or the mindfulness properties of Tai Chi were effective.


These are interesting results that extend the findings that Tai Chi is an effective treatment for the pain of knee osteoarthritis. They also demonstrated that Tai Chi was effective regardless of cognitive impairment. Since, the ancient gentle practice of Tai Chi is completely safe, can be used with the elderly and sickly, and is inexpensive to administer, it would appear to be an excellent treatment for knee osteoarthritis sufferers.


So, reduce the pain of knee osteoarthritis with tai chi.


“Tai chi helps patients preserve and improve function by increasing strength, flexibility and coordination while avoiding aggravation of arthritic pain and inflammation. Tai chi is a particularly appealing form of exercise, as it is very low impact and emphasizes balance, coordination and strength. Tai chi is safe and has been shown to reduce falls in the elderly.” – Matthew Hepinstall



CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+


Study Summary

Tsai, P.-F., Chang, J. Y., Beck, C., Kuo, Y.-F., Keefe, F. J., & Rosengren, K. (2015). A Supplemental Report to a Randomized Cluster Trial of a 20-Week Sun-Style Tai Chi for Osteoarthritic Knee Pain in Elders with Cognitive Impairment. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 23(4), 570–576.



Objective: This was a secondary data analysis of a cluster-randomized clinical trial that tested the efficacy of a 20-week Sun-style Tai Chi (TC) program in reducing pain in community-dwelling elders with cognitive impairment and knee osteoarthritis (OA). The study also examined whether elders’ level of cognitive function was related to the outcomes of the TC program.

Method: Elders (N=55) were recruited from 8 study sites. Each site was randomly assigned to participate in either a 20-week TC or an education program. Verbal report of pain was measured by a Verbal Descriptor Scale (VDS) at Weeks 1, 5, 9, 13, 17 and 21 (designated as Times 1-6). Pain behaviors and analgesic intake were also recorded at Times 1-6.

Results: At post-test, scores on the VDS and observed pain behaviors were significantly better in the TC group than in the control group (p=.008-.048). The beneficial effects of TC were not associated with cognitive ability.

Conclusion: These results suggest that TC can be used as an adjunct to pharmacological intervention to relieve OA pain in elders with cognitive impairment.