Reduce Blood Pressure with Tai Chi

Reduce Blood Pressure with Tai Chi

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

As is true for meditation and deep breathing exercises, tai chi may help lower blood pressure. . .  It’s not as much as you’d see from taking medication, but it’s similar in magnitude to other lifestyle interventions, such as doing modest amounts of exercise and consuming less sodium.” – Harvard Health

 

High Blood Pressure (Hypertension) is an insidious disease because there are no overt symptoms. The individual feels fine. But it can be deadly as more than 360,000 American deaths, roughly 1,000 deaths each day, had high blood pressure as a primary or contributing cause. In addition, hypertension markedly increases the risk heart attack, stroke, heart failure, and kidney disease.  It is also a very common disorder with about 70 million American adults (29%) having high blood pressure and only about half (52%) of people with high blood pressure have their condition under control. Treatment frequently includes antihypertensive drugs. But these medications often have adverse side effects. So, patients feel lousy when taking the drugs, but fine when they’re not. So, compliance is a major issue with many patients not taking the drugs regularly or stopping entirely.

 

Obviously, there is a need for alternatives to drugs for reducing blood pressure. Mindfulness practices have been shown to aid in controlling hypertension. Tai Chi is ancient mindfulness practice involving slow prescribed movements. Since Tai Chi is both a mindfulness practice and an exercise, it is particularly acceptable and effective methods to improve cardiovascular health. The research has been accumulating. So, it makes sense to step back and summarize what has been learned.

 

In today’s Research News article “Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials of the Effects of Tai Chi on Blood Pressure.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7563036/ ) Dong and colleagues review, summarize, and perform a meta-analysis of the ability of Tai Chi practice to reduce blood pressure in both normal and hypertensive patients. They identified 24 published controlled trials.

 

They report that the published research studies found that Tai Chi practice significantly reduced both systolic and diastolic blood pressure in both hypertensive and normal blood pressure participants. But the improvements observed with Tai Chi practice were no greater than those found with other aerobic exercises. The published research studies then demonstrate that Tai Chi practice reduces blood pressure in both normal and hypertensive patients. But is no better than other aerobic exercises.

 

Thus, exercise in general including Tai Chi practice is good for cardiovascular health. Tai Chi practice, though, has a number of advantages. It is gentle and completely safe, can be used with the elderly and sickly, is inexpensive to administer, can be performed in groups or alone, at home or in a facility or even public park, and can be quickly learned. In addition, it can also be practiced in social groups without professional supervision. This can make it fun, improving the likelihood of long-term engagement in the practice. Hence, Tai Chi practice may be better for cardiovascular health than other exercises because it is more likely to be engaged in and maintained.

 

So, reduce blood pressure with Tai Chi.

 

Tai chi may be just as effective as popular methods for lowering blood pressure, such as weight loss and lowered sodium intake.” – Abbott

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Dong, X., Ding, M., & Yi, X. (2020). Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials of the Effects of Tai Chi on Blood Pressure. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM, 2020, 8503047. https://doi.org/10.1155/2020/8503047

 

Abstract

Objectives

The purpose of this study was to investigate the influences of Tai Chi on blood pressure (BP) using the meta-analysis.

Methods

This paper used 6 e-resource databases, and randomized controlled trials on the role of Tai Chi on blood pressure were retrieved. Besides, the meta-analysis was conducted according to the guidelines of the Moose-recommendations and applied with Review Manager 5.3, and the risk of bias assessment was performed with the Cochrane Collaboration’s tool. The inclusion, data extraction, and risk of bias assessment were independently finished by two researchers.

Results

There are 24 trials meeting the criteria of inclusion and the results were reviewed. The meta-analysis indicates that, compared with no exercise, Tai Chi had the influence of lowering systolic blood pressure (mean difference = −6.07, 95%CI (−8.75, −3.39), P < 0.00001) and diastolic blood pressure (mean difference MD = −3.83, 95%CI (−4.97, −2.69), P < 0.00001). No significant discrepancies in all outcomes between Tai Chi and other aerobic exercises were discovered.

Conclusion

Tai Chi can significantly reduce systolic and diastolic pressure than inactivity. However, Tai Chi does not show advantages in reducing blood pressure compared to other aerobic exercises.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7563036/

 

Improve Mindfulness’ Benefits for Cancer Survivors with Smart-Messaging

Improve Mindfulness’ Benefits for Cancer Survivors with Smart-Messaging

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Cancer is a traumatic event that changes a person’s life. Utilizing mindfulness tools can provide peace and hope. Practicing mindfulness on a daily basis can assist with long term effects of happiness and positivity.” – Erin Murphy-Wilczek

 

Receiving a diagnosis of cancer has a huge impact on most people. Feelings of depression, anxiety, and fear are very common and are normal responses to this life-changing and potentially life-ending experience. But cancer diagnosis is not necessarily a death sentence. Over half of the people diagnosed with cancer are still alive 10 years later and this number is rapidly increasing. But, surviving cancer carries with it a number of problems. Anxiety, depression, fatigue and insomnia are common symptoms in the aftermath of surviving breast cancer. These symptoms markedly reduce the quality of life of the patients.

 

Mindfulness training has been shown to help with cancer recovery and help to alleviate many of the residual physical and psychological symptoms, including stress,  sleep disturbance, and anxiety and depressionMindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) consists of mindfulness training and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). During therapy the patient is trained to investigate and alter aberrant thought patterns underlying their reactions to cancer. MBCT has been found to help relieve the symptoms of cancer survivors. It makes sense to explore ways to improve the effectiveness of MBCT for cancer patients.

 

In today’s Research News article “Using smart-messaging to enhance mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for cancer patients: A mixed methods proof of concept evaluation.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7004102/ ) Wells and colleagues evaluated whether providing text message reminders could enhance the effectiveness of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) for the relief of anxiety and depression in cancer patients. They recruited adult cancer patients with mild to moderate anxiety and/or depression and provided them with 8 weekly sessions of MBCT along with 40 minutes daily home practice. The patients could refuse messaging or opt to receive text messages 3 times per week reminding them of their home practice and could request up to 9 more messages per week. They were measured before and after each session and 1 month after the completion of the training for depression, anxiety, and general mental health.

 

They found that 87% of the patients receiving smart messaging completed the 8-week Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) program while only 38% of the non-messaging patients completed the MBCT program. Both groups had significant reductions in anxiety and depression that were maintained 1 month after treatment. But the smart messaging group had significantly greater reductions in depression.

 

This is a proof of concept study which demonstrated that smart messaging could be effectively used in conjunction with Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). The results, though, need to be interpreted with great caution. The patients decided whether to receive the messages or not and very different patients might have opted in compared those that refused the messaging. These differences in the groups could account for the observed differences in participation and depression. But this study establishes that this smart messaging method is feasible with cancer patients with suggestions of improved impact of the therapy. A randomized controlled trial is now needed.

 

So, improve mindfulness’ benefits for cancer survivors with smart-messaging.

 

It turns out that some of the most difficult elements of the cancer experience are very well-suited to a mindfulness practice.” – Linda Carlson

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Wells, C., Malins, S., Clarke, S., Skorodzien, I., Biswas, S., Sweeney, T., Moghaddam, N., & Levene, J. (2020). Using smart-messaging to enhance mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for cancer patients: A mixed methods proof of concept evaluation. Psycho-oncology, 29(1), 212–219. https://doi.org/10.1002/pon.5256

 

Abstract

Objective

Depression and anxiety lead to reduced treatment adherence, poorer quality of life, and increased care costs amongst cancer patients. Mindfulness‐based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is an effective treatment, but dropout reduces potential benefits. Smart‐message reminders can prevent dropout and improve effectiveness. However, smart‐messaging is untested for MBCT in cancer. This study evaluates smart‐messaging to reduce dropout and improve effectiveness in MBCT for cancer patients with depression or anxiety.

Methods

Fifty‐one cancer patients attending MBCT in a psycho‐oncology service were offered a smart‐messaging intervention, which reminded them of prescribed between‐session activities. Thirty patients accepted smart‐messaging and 21 did not. Assessments of depression and anxiety were taken at baseline, session‐by‐session, and one‐month follow‐up. Logistic regression and multilevel modelling compared the groups on treatment completion and clinical effectiveness. Fifteen post‐treatment patient interviews explored smart‐messaging use.

Results

The odds of programme completion were eight times greater for patients using smart‐messaging compared with non‐users, controlling for age, gender, baseline depression, and baseline anxiety (OR = 7.79, 95% CI 1.75 to 34.58, p = .007). Smart‐messaging users also reported greater improvement in depression over the programme (B = ‐2.33, SEB = .78, p = .004) when controlling for baseline severity, change over time, age, and number of sessions attended. There was no difference between groups in anxiety improvement (B = ‐1.46, SEB = .86, p = .097). In interviews, smart‐messaging was described as a motivating reminder and source of personal connection.

Conclusions

Smart‐messaging may be an easily integrated telehealth intervention to improve MBCT for cancer patients.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7004102/

 

Change the Brain to Reduce Anxiety with Mindfulness

Change the Brain to Reduce Anxiety with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

Mindfulness can enhance our ability to remember this new, less-fearful reaction, and break the anxiety habit.” It’s a tool that interrupts those old, fear-inducing memories, and creates new, less threatening associations in the mind.” – Nate Klemp

 

Meditation training has been shown to improve health and well-being. It has also been found to be effective for a large array of medical and psychiatric conditions, either stand-alone or in combination with more traditional therapies. There are a number of ways that meditation practices produce these benefits, including changes to the brain and physiology.  The nervous system is a dynamic entity, constantly changing and adapting to the environment. It will change size, activity, and connectivity in response to experience. These changes in the brain are called neuroplasticity. Over the last decade neuroscience has been studying the effects of contemplative practices on the brain and has identified neuroplastic changes in widespread areas. In other words, meditation practice appears to mold and change the brain, producing psychological, physical, and spiritual benefits.

 

In today’s Research News article “). Hippocampal circuits underlie improvements in self-reported anxiety following mindfulness training.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7507558/ ) Sevinc and colleagues recruited healthy adults and randomly assigned them to receive weekly 2-hour sessions of either stress management education or Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) along with 40-minutes of daily home practice. The stress management education consisted of discussion of sources of stress and light exercise. MBSR consisted of discussion, meditation, body scan, and yoga practices. They were measured before and after training for perceived stress, mindfulness, and anxiety.

 

All participants underwent classical fear conditioning with 2 different light colors presented just prior to an irritating shock to the finger and a third color light not followed by shock. The conditioning was then extinguished for one light color but not the other by repeated presentations of the light without shock. After training the participants underwent brain scanning focused on the subfields of the hippocampus with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). The size of the hippocampal subfields was measured along with the connectivity between the hippocampus and other brain areas while the participants were shown the different colored lights used in the fear conditioning.

 

They found that after Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) there was an increase in the volume of the hippocampal subfield of the subiculum. They also found a decrease in the connectivity of the hippocampus with the occipital cortex during presentation of the extinguished fear conditioning lights. In addition, they found that the greater the increase in volume of the subiculum, the greater the decrease in anxiety levels after MBSR.

 

The subiculum has been implicated in memory consolidation and retrieval. So, the increased volume detected after Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) suggests that MBSR improves the memory process. Indeed, mindfulness training has previously been shown to improve memory processes.  The decrease in hippocampal connectivity during extinction recall after MBSR training suggests that the individual may be better able to ignore previously associated fear stimuli. This could well underlie a reduction in anxiety by not responding to fear stimuli that are no longer associated with frightening circumstances. This may be a mechanism that, at least in part, underlies the ability of mindfulness training to improve post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Regardless, the results suggest that mindfulness training alters the brain in such a way to reduce anxiety.

 

So, change the brain to reduce anxiety with mindfulness.

 

“In mindfulness practice . . . you have an opportunity—the mental time and space, if you will—to see more elements of the story, a richer picture. “You may see more clearly as you anticipate a difficult encounter what the underlying emotion is that’s triggered and how it’s showing up in your body.” – Barry Boyce

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Sevinc, G., Greenberg, J., Hölzel, B. K., Gard, T., Calahan, T., Brunsch, V., Hashmi, J. A., Vangel, M., Orr, S. P., Milad, M. R., & Lazar, S. W. (2020). Hippocampal circuits underlie improvements in self-reported anxiety following mindfulness training. Brain and behavior, 10(9), e01766. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1002/brb3.1766

 

Abstract

Introduction

Mindfulness meditation has successfully been applied to cultivate skills in self‐regulation of emotion, as it employs the unbiased present moment awareness of experience. This heightened attention to and awareness of sensory experience has been postulated to create an optimal therapeutic exposure condition and thereby improve extinction learning. We recently demonstrated increased connectivity in hippocampal circuits during the contextual retrieval of extinction memory following mindfulness training.

Methods

Here, we examine the role of structural changes in hippocampal subfields following mindfulness training in a randomized controlled longitudinal study using a two‐day fear‐conditioning and extinction protocol.

Results

We demonstrate an association between mindfulness training‐related increases in subiculum and decreased hippocampal connectivity to lateral occipital regions during contextual retrieval of extinguished fear. Further, we demonstrate an association between decreased connectivity and decreases in self‐reported anxiety following mindfulness training.

Conclusions

The results highlight the role of the subiculum in gating interactions with contextual stimuli during memory retrieval and, also, the mechanisms through which mindfulness training may foster resilience.

Abstract

Mindfulness meditation has successfully been applied to cultivate skills in self‐regulation of emotion, as it employs the unbiased present moment awareness of experience. This heightened attention to and awareness of sensory experience has been postulated to create an optimal therapeutic exposure condition and thereby improve extinction learning. Here, we examine the role of structural changes in hippocampal subfields and further demonstrate an association between mindfulness training‐related increases in subiculum and decreased hippocampal connectivity to lateral occipital regions during contextual retrieval of extinguished fear. Further, we demonstrate an association between decreased connectivity and decreases in self‐reported anxiety following mindfulness training. These results highlight the role of the subiculum in gating interactions with contextual stimuli during memory retrieval and, also, the mechanisms through which mindfulness training fosters resilience.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7507558/

 

Mindfulness-Based Forest Therapy Programs Promote Well-Being in Middle-Aged Women

Mindfulness-Based Forest Therapy Programs Promote Well-Being in Middle-Aged Women

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home. Wilderness is a necessity.” John Muir

 

Modern living is stressful, perhaps, in part because it has divorced us from the natural world that our species was immersed in throughout its evolutionary history. Modern environments may be damaging to our health and well-being simply because the species did not evolve to cope with them. This suggests that returning to nature, at least occasionally, may be beneficial. Indeed, researchers are beginning to study nature walks or what the Japanese call “Forest Bathing” and their effects on our mental and physical health.

 

Mindfulness practices have been found routinely to reduce the psychological and physiological responses to stress. People have long reported that walking in nature elevates their mood. It appears intuitively obvious that if it occurred in a beautiful natural place, it would greatly lift the spirits. But there is little systematic research regarding these effects. It’s possible that being in nature might improve mental and physical well-being.

 

In today’s Research News article “Effects of Forest Therapy on Health Promotion among Middle-Aged Women: Focusing on Physiological Indicators.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7344639/ ) Park and colleagues recruited middle aged women (40-64 years) and provided them with a 3-day program of  meditation, yoga, body scan, and walking in the environment. The participants experienced the program twice, once in a forested environment and once in a city environment in counterbalanced order.

 

Before and after each program blood was drawn and assayed for serotonin and vitamin D levels. They found that after the forest program but not the urban program there was a significant increase in serotonin levels in the blood while after the urban program but not the forest program there was a significant decrease in vitamin D levels.

 

Low serotonin levels are associated with negative mental health including depression and anxiety, while high serotonin levels are associated with positive mental health and happiness. Hence the results suggest that participating in mindfulness training in a forested environment improves mental health in middle aged women while participating in the same program in an urban setting does not. On the other hand, vitamin D levels are associated with immune function which when low makes the individual more susceptible to disease. Hence, lower vitamin D levels may be considered an indicator of poorer physical health. Participating in mindfulness training in an urban environment was associated with lower vitamin D levels while participating in the forest environment was not.

 

These results suggest that forested environments are conducive to better mental health while urban environments make the individua more susceptible to disease. It has been previously established that natural environments improve mental health, including improvements in psychological, social, and physical well-being. The current findings add to this developing body of research suggesting that “Forest Bathing” improves well-being.

 

So, mindfulness-based forest therapy programs promote well-being in middle-aged women.

 

There is a robust body of scientific literature on the health benefits of investing time under the canopy of a living forest.” – Ian Barnyard

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Park, B. J., Shin, C. S., Shin, W. S., Chung, C. Y., Lee, S. H., Kim, D. J., Kim, Y. H., & Park, C. E. (2020). Effects of Forest Therapy on Health Promotion among Middle-Aged Women: Focusing on Physiological Indicators. International journal of environmental research and public health, 17(12), 4348. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17124348

 

Abstract

Women experience more stress in middle age than in other life stages, and health in middle age is vital, because it influences the quality of life in old age. In this study, the effects of a forest therapy program on physiological changes in 53 middle-aged women (divided into two groups) who lived in the city were examined. One group participated in a three-day program in the forest, followed by three days in the city; the other group participated in a three-day program in the city, followed by three days in the forest. Forest experiments were conducted in a “healing forest,” and urban experiments were conducted near a university campus. Blood tests were performed to evaluate the physiological effects of forest therapy. Differences in serotonin levels and vitamin D levels were verified before and after the forest (experimental group) and urban (control group) programs through paired t-tests. Statistically significant increases in serotonin levels were noted for participants in the forest program; vitamin D levels also increased, but not by statistically significant values. The findings of this study verify that forest therapy programs promote health among middle-aged women, and may prevent disease and improve quality of life.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7344639/

 

Mindfulness Improves Breast Cancer Symptoms in Women with Particular Genetic Polymorphisms

Mindfulness Improves Breast Cancer Symptoms in Women with Particular Genetic Polymorphisms

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“mindfulness-based stress reduction can be effective in alleviating anxiety and depression, decreasing long-term emotional and physical side effects of treatments and improving the quality of sleep in breast cancer patients.” – BCRF

 

Receiving a diagnosis of cancer has a huge impact on most people. Feelings of depression, anxiety, and fear are very common and are normal responses to this life-changing and potentially life-ending experience. But cancer diagnosis is not necessarily a death sentence. Over half of the people diagnosed with cancer are still alive 10 years later and this number is rapidly increasing. But, surviving cancer carries with it a number of problems. Anxiety, depression, fatigue and insomnia are common symptoms in the aftermath of surviving breast cancer. These symptoms markedly reduce the quality of life of the patients.

 

Mindfulness training has been shown to help with cancer recovery and help to relieve chronic pain. It can also help treat the residual physical and psychological symptoms, including stresssleep disturbancefear of reoccurrence, and anxiety and depression. The genes are known to be highly involved in the development of cancer and mindfulness training has been shown to alter the genes. The genes differ considerably between different individuals. It is possible that mindfulness training may improve cancer symptoms in patients with particular genetic polymorphisms. Identifying these polymorphisms could then help in identifying patients who would respond best to mindfulness training.

 

In today’s Research News article “Translational genomic research: the role of genetic polymorphisms in MBSR program among breast cancer survivors (MBSR[BC]).” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7184864/ ) Park and colleagues recruited adult women who were at least 2 weeks since the end of treatment for breast cancer and randomly assigned them to a usual care wait-list control condition or to receive 6 weekly 2-hour sessions of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. The program consists of discussion, meditation practice, body scan, and yoga along with daily home practice. They were measured before and after training and 6 weeks later for anxiety, depression, perceived stress, fatigue, pain, and quality of life.

 

At baseline blood was drawn for genetic analysis. They assayed the blood for 10 single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) that had been shown in the past to be associated with the symptoms of women recovering from breast cancer. They found that 3 SNPs, rs4680 in COMT, rs6314 in HTR2A, and rs429358 in APOE were associated with improvements in symptoms produced by the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. The symptom improvements associated with these SNPs were depression, fatigue, pain, and quality of life.

 

Mindfulness training has been shown to improve the residual symptoms present in women recovering from breast cancer. The present results suggest that the effectiveness of mindfulness training in improving these symptoms is different for women with different genetic profiles. These findings may prove useful in tailoring treatment for the women to maximize its impact. Women with single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), rs4680 in COMT, rs6314 in HTR2A, and rs429358 in APOE would be good candidates for treatment with Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Women without these SNPs may be better treated with other treatments.

 

So, mindfulness improves breast cancer symptoms in women with particular genetic polymorphisms.

 

When used in a cancer setting, mindfulness can help patients cope with their disease and its treatment.” – Carrie Ernhout

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Park, J. Y., Lengacher, C. A., Reich, R. R., Alinat, C. B., Ramesar, S., Le, A., Paterson, C. L., Pleasant, M. L., Park, H. Y., Kiluk, J., Han, H., Ismail-Khan, R., & Kip, K. E. (2019). Translational genomic research: the role of genetic polymorphisms in MBSR program among breast cancer survivors (MBSR[BC]). Translational behavioral medicine, 9(4), 693–702. https://doi.org/10.1093/tbm/iby061

 

Abstract

Genetic variations of breast cancer survivors (BCS) may contribute to level of residual symptoms, such as depression, stress, fatigue, and cognitive impairment. The objective of this study was to investigate whether particular single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) moderated symptom improvement resulting from the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Breast Cancer (MBSR[BC]) program. An overarching goal of personalized medicine is to identify individuals as risk for disease and tailor interventions based on genetic profiles of patients with diseases including cancer. BCS were recruited from Moffitt Cancer Center and University of South Florida’s Breast Health Program and were randomized to either the 6-week MBSR(BC) program (n = 92) or Usual Care (n = 93). Measures of symptoms, demographic, and clinical history data were attained at baseline, 6 weeks, and 12 weeks. A total of 10 SNPs from eight genes known to be related to these symptoms were studied using genomic DNA extracted from blood. Our results were examined for effect sizes, consistency, and statistical significance (p < .05). Three SNPs (rs4680 in COMT, rs6314 in HTR2A, and rs429358 in APOE) emerged as having the strongest (though relatively weak) and most consistent effects in moderating the impact of the MBSR program on symptom outcomes. Although effects were generally weak, with only one effect withstanding multiple comparisons correction for statistical significance, this translational behavioral research may help start the identification of genetic profiles that moderate the impact of MBSR(BC). The ultimate goal of this study is the development of personalized treatment programs tailored to the genetic profile of each patient.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7184864/

Improve the Health and Well-Being of Patients with Functional Dyspepsia with Mindfulness

Improve the Health and Well-Being of Patients with Functional Dyspepsia with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“mindfulness-based cognitive therapy reduces symptoms of functional dyspepsia and increases quality of life of the patients.” – Sobhan Pur Nik Dast

 

Functional Dyspepsia involves abdominal pain. Bloating, and nausea without a clear physical cause. It is often accompanied with anxiety. It is one of the most common digestive problems and affects 10% to 20% of the population. There is no cure. The symptoms are most frequently treated with over-the-counter medications such as antacids or anti-gas medications or even antidepressants. Stress is known to exacerbate dyspepsia. So, lifestyle changes are often recommended to reduce stress.

 

Mindfulness trainings have been shown to improve the physiological and psychological responses to stress and to reduce anxiety. They have also been shown to improve other digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). So, it is reasonable to investigate whether mindfulness training might be effective for functional dyspepsia.  Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a mindfulness-based therapy that focuses 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 DBT five core skills are practiced; mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, the middle path, and interpersonal effectiveness. It is not known if functional dyspepsia can be effectively treated with DBT.

 

In today’s Research News article “Comparison of dialectical behavior therapy and anti-anxiety medication on anxiety and digestive symptoms in patients with functional dyspepsia.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7554546/ ) Tavakoli and colleagues recruited adults diagnosed with functional dyspepsia and continued them on antacid medication (pantoprazole ) and randomly assigned them to one of three groups, receiving either 8 weekly 2.5 hour sessions of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), an antianxiety medication (sertraline), or no further treatment. They were measured before and after treatment for dyspepsia symptom severity and anxiety.

 

They found that after treatment the group that received Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) had the greatest significant reduction is dyspepsia symptom severity with the anti-anxiety medication group second and no significant improvement in the no-treatment group. They also found that after treatment the group that received anti-anxiety medication had the greatest significant reduction is dyspepsia symptom severity with the DBT group second and no significant improvement in the no-treatment group.

 

These are interesting results that suggest that Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is effective for the treatment of the symptoms of functional dyspepsia including anxiety. But anti-anxiety medication is better at reducing anxiety levels. Since the mindfulness training of DBT does not require drugs with significant side effects, it would appear to be the preferred treatment for functional dyspepsia.

 

The mechanism by which DBT improves functional dyspepsia were not studied. Functional dyspepsia, however, is thought to be produced or exacerbated by stress. Mindfulness training is known to reduce the physiological and psychological responses to stress. So, it is likely that DBT reduces stress effects thereby improving functional dyspepsia.

 

So, improve the health and well-being of patients with functional dyspepsia with mindfulness.

 

Meditation works at all levels to aid the digestive process, making it one of the most effective natural remedies for indigestion.” – Beeja

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Tavakoli, T., Hoseini, M., Tabatabaee, T., Rostami, Z., Mollaei, H., Bahrami, A., Ayati, S., & Bijari, B. (2020). Comparison of dialectical behavior therapy and anti-anxiety medication on anxiety and digestive symptoms in patients with functional dyspepsia. Journal of Research in Medical Sciences : The Official Journal of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, 25, 59. https://doi.org/10.4103/jrms.JRMS_673_19

 

Abstract

Background:

Functional dyspepsia is a common chronic digestive disorder. The purpose of this study was to compare the effectiveness of dialectical behavior therapy and anti-anxiety medication in patients with functional dyspepsia.

Materials and Methods:

The present study was a randomized, controlled clinical trial with sixty patients who were suffering from functional dyspepsia that identified by the ROME III criteria. Patients were divided into three groups by using pre- and posttest design, including Group A (dialectal treatment and pantoprazole), Group B (anxiolytic drug treatment and pantoprazole), and Group C (no intervention, only pantoprazole were used). The Beck Anxiety Inventory and the patient assessment of Gastrointestinal Symptom Severity Index Questionnaire were completed by the patients after receiving the written consent. Finally, the data were analyzed using the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences software version 20.

Results:

There was a significant improvement in the severity of dyspepsia after intervention in all three groups. The greatest decrease in the severity of functional dyspepsia was observed in the dialectical behavioral therapy group as compared to the other groups (Group A: −15.4 ± 6.61, Group B: −3.85 ± 2.77, and Group C: −7.8 ± 4.02; P = 0.001). Furthermore, the Beck Anxiety Inventory scores were statistically significantly improved in all three groups (Group A: −5.75 ± 2.53, Group B: −7.3 ± 3.19, and Group C: −2.60 ± 1.5; P = 0.001). There was a positive correlation between the change in dyspepsia score and change in anxiety score across different intervention groups (r = 0.55; P < 0.001).

Conclusion:

Dialectical behavioral therapy can be effective in reducing anxiety and improving the dyspepsia symptoms in patients with functional dyspepsia compared to anti-anxiety medication or conventional therapy. Therefore, communication between the physicians and psychologists and psychiatrists can have positive effects on the treatment of these patients.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7554546/

 

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is Effective in Treating Substance Use Disorders

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is Effective in Treating Substance Use Disorders

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Mindfulness reminds us that in stillness we find the wisdom to become a human being instead of a human doing. . .  Recovery is a journey, not a destination. Stillness opens our hearts and minds to the vast potential within us as we move through treatment.” – Beverly Conyers

 

Substance abuse is a major health and social problem. There are estimated 22.2 million people in the U.S. with substance dependence. It is estimated that worldwide there are nearly ¼ million deaths yearly as a result of illicit drug use which includes unintentional overdoses, suicides, HIV and AIDS, and trauma. Obviously, there is a need to find effective methods to prevent and treat substance abuse. There are a number of programs that are successful at stopping the drug abuse, including the classic 12-step program emblematic of Alcoholics Anonymous. Unfortunately, the majority of drug and/or alcohol abusers relapse and return to substance abuse.

 

Hence, it is important to find an effective method to treat substance abuse and prevent relapse but an effective treatment has been elusive. Most programs and therapies to treat addictions have poor success rates. Recently, mindfulness training has been found to be effective in treating addictionsAcceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a mindfulness-based psychotherapy technique that is employs many of the techniques of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). ACT focuses on the individual’s thoughts, feelings, and behavior and how they interact to impact their psychological and physical well-being. It then works to change thinking to alter the interaction and produce greater life satisfaction. ACT employs mindfulness practices to increase awareness and develop an attitude of acceptance and compassion in the presence of painful thoughts and feelings. ACT teaches individuals to “just notice”, accept and embrace private experiences and focus on behavioral responses that produce more desirable outcomes.

 

The evidence has been accumulating on the effectiveness of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) for the treatment of substance use disorders. So, it makes sense to step back and summarize what has been learned in the most recent studies. In today’s Research News article “The Use of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in Substance Use Disorders: A Review of Literature.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7524566/ ) Osaji and colleagues review and summarize the published research on the effectiveness of ACT in treating patients with substance use disorders.

 

They identified 22 published research studies and report that the published research found that  Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) was effective for the treatment of substance use disorders. They report that the research demonstrates that ACT is effective when used alone or in combination with other therapies. ACT successfully reduced substance use or produced discontinuation. It has been shown that various forms of mindfulness training are effective in treating addictions. The present findings simply extends this to ACT.

 

So, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is effective in treating substance use disorders.

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

“mindfulness can play a very important role in substance abuse recovery: patients learn how to rethink the nature of stressful situations and stimuli that may otherwise trigger a harmful train of thought that leads to drinking or using. Prior to a mindfulness intervention, patients may have been oblivious to the various factors that start the chain reaction of negative thought and unhealthy behavior. Mindfulness treatment gives them the chance to examine those factors on a level playing field, in a calm, supportive and safe environment. In time, the triggers become less daunting and more manageable.” – Foundations Recovery Network

 

Study Summary

 

Osaji, J., Ojimba, C., & Ahmed, S. (2020). The Use of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in Substance Use Disorders: A Review of Literature. Journal of Clinical Medicine Research, 12(10), 629–633. https://doi.org/10.14740/jocmr4311

 

Abstract

Background

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is a form of behavioral therapy that teaches people to learn to accept rather than avoid challenging situations in their lives. ACT has shown to be an intervention with great success in the reduction of various mental disorders and substance use disorders (SUDs). The core of ACT when used in SUD treatment is guiding people to accept the urges and symptoms associated with substance misuse (acceptance) and use psychological flexibility and value-based interventions to reduce those urges and the symptoms (commitment). The purpose of this study is to review the existing literature to examine the evidence on the use of ACT in the management of SUD.

Methods

A thorough search of four databases (CINAHL, PubMed.gov, PsycINFO and PsycNET) from 2011 to 2020 was conducted using search terms like ACT, ACT and SUD, ACT, and substance misuse. The articles retrieved were critically appraised using the Critically Appraised Topic (CAT) Checklist.

Results

Most of the studies showed that ACT was effective in the management of SUD showing significant evidence of a reduction in substance use or total discontinuation with subsequent abstinence.

Conclusions

The literature review concluded that success has been achieved using ACT either as monotherapy or in combination with other therapy in the treatment of individuals with SUD.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7524566/

 

Reduce College Students Self-Criticism with Mindful Lovingkindness Training

Reduce College Students Self-Criticism with Mindful Lovingkindness Training

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“What’s so amazing about mindfulness practice is we can use mindfulness to be aware when we have those self-critical voices, and we can label that voice as “judging”. We can notice when we have those judging voices because we have a mindfulness practice that allows us to have quite a bit more self-awareness, more ability to regulate emotions, and all of the positive things that come with the mindfulness practice.“ – Diana Winston

 

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 get the best jobs after graduation. This stress might in fact be counterproductive as the increased pressure can actually lead to stress and anxiety which can impede the student’s physical and mental health, well-being, and school performance. This is particularly true in very competitive Asian countries like Korea. This can lead to extreme self-criticism where the individual is never happy with themselves producing great unhappiness and psychological distress.

 

Mindfulness training has been shown through extensive research to be effective in improving physical and psychological reactions to stress and resilience in the face of stress. It has also been found to promote the well-being of college students. Mindfulness has been found to improve self-esteem.  One understudied meditation technique is Loving Kindness Meditation. It is designed to develop kindness and compassion to oneself and others. The individual systematically pictures different individuals from self, to close friends, to enemies and wishes them happiness, well-being, safety, peace, and ease of well-being. Although Loving Kindness Meditation has been practiced for centuries, it has received very little scientific research attention. But it may be effective in counteracting the effects of stress and self-criticism.

 

In today’s Research News article “Psychological and Physiological Effects of the Mindful Lovingkindness Compassion Program on Highly Self-Critical University Students in South Korea.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.585743/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_1463957_69_Psycho_20201022_arts_A ) Noh and colleagues recruited healthy Korean college students who were high in self-criticism and randomly assigned them to either a wait-list control condition or to receive a Mindful Lovingkindness Compassion program. The training consisted of 8 2-hour sessions over 6 weeks of mindfulness meditation and Loving Kindness Meditation. They were measured before and after training and one and three months later for self-criticism, self-reassurance, mindfulness, compassion, shame, anxiety, depression, fears of compassion, satisfaction with life, and heart rate variability.

 

They found that in comparison to baseline and the wait-list control group, the Mindful Lovingkindness Compassion group had significantly higher self-reassurance, mindfulness, compassion, and satisfaction with life, and significantly lower self-criticism, shame, anxiety, depression, and fears of compassion. These improvements continued to be present 1 and 3 months after the completion of training. In addition, the Mindful Lovingkindness Compassion group had significantly higher heart rate variability.

 

The interpretation of these results has to be tempered with the knowledge that the comparison, control, condition was passive. This opens the study up to a number of potential confoundings. Nevertheless, the results are similar to those of prior research that found that mindfulness training produces higher self-reassurance, compassion, and satisfaction with life, and lower self-criticism, shame, anxiety, and depression. Hence, the current study suggests that Mindful Lovingkindness Compassion training produces improved psychological health in highly self-critical college students. In addition, the increased heart rate variability observed suggests that the trained students had greater physiological relaxation, probably indicating a great resistance to the effects of stress.

 

This is important for the well-being of college students. They are under great pressure to perform especially in Asian countries like Korea. Combining that with high levels of self-criticism is a formula for psychological and physical problems. The kind of mindfulness and loving kindness training employed here appears to be able to markedly counteract the deleterious effects of these forces and produce greater relaxation and overall well-being.

 

So, reduce college students’ self-criticism with Mindful Lovingkindness training.

 

Self-criticism is an unhelpful habit that can sometimes be destructive and cause emotional ill-health. . . Through practicing mindfulness and self-compassion you can loosen up old self-critical habits that may have been present from childhood and develop a kinder, more appreciative way of being with yourself.” – Linda Hall

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Noh S and Cho H (2020) Psychological and Physiological Effects of the Mindful Lovingkindness Compassion Program on Highly Self-Critical University Students in South Korea. Front. Psychol. 11:585743. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.585743

 

Objectives: Self-critical behavior is especially relevant for university students who face academic and non-academic stressors, leading to negative outcomes such as mental distress and psychopathologies. To address this behavior, mindfulness and compassion are important factors to decrease self-criticism and ensure positive outcomes. This study examined the psychological and physiological effects of an intervention, the Mindful Lovingkindness Compassion Program (MLCP), on highly self-critical university students in South Korea.

Methods: Thirty-eight university students with a high level of self-criticism were assigned to an MLCP group (n = 18) or waitlist (WL) group (n = 20). Self-report measures of self-criticism, self-reassurance, psychological distress, and other mental health variables were completed, and the physiological measure of heart rate variability (HRV) was conducted before and after the intervention with both groups. In addition, 1- and 3-month follow-up assessments were conducted using self-report measurements.

Results: Compared to the WL group, participants in the MLCP group experienced significantly greater reductions in self-criticism and psychological distress, and a greater increase in self-reassurance, mental health, and HRV. The improvements in the self-report measures were maintained when assessed 1 and 3 months later.

Conclusions: MLCP could be a promising intervention for alleviating self-criticism and increasing self-reassurance among self-critical individuals.

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.585743/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_1463957_69_Psycho_20201022_arts_A

Change the Brain with Mindfulness Apps

Change the Brain with Mindfulness Apps

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Rather than treating the usage of smartphones and mindfulness as oxymorons, we should consider ways to use our smartphones as a tool to aid our mindfulness practices.” – Courtney Ackerman

 

Mindfulness training has been shown through extensive research to be effective in improving physical and psychological health and particularly with reducing the physical and psychological reactions to stress and increasing resilience in the face of stress. There are a number of ways that meditation practices produce these benefits, including changes to the brain and physiology. The nervous system changes in response to how it is used and how it is stimulated in a process called neuroplasticity. Highly used areas grow in size, metabolism, and connectivity. Mindfulness practices in general are known to produce these kinds of changes in the structure and activity of the brain.

 

The vast majority of the mindfulness training techniques, however, require a trained teacher. The participants must be available to attend multiple sessions at particular scheduled times that may or may not be compatible with busy employee schedules and at locations that may not be convenient. As an alternative, apps for smartphones have been developed. These have tremendous advantages in decreasing costs, making training schedules much more flexible, and eliminating the need to go repeatedly to specific locations. But the question arises as to the effectiveness of these apps and their ability to produce neuroplastic changes in the brain.

 

In today’s Research News article “The Impact of App-Delivered Mindfulness Meditation on Functional Connectivity and Self-Reported Mindfulness Among Health Profession Trainees.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7543678/ ) Smith and colleagues recruited surgery residents and physicians assistant students and randomly assigned them to a wait-list control condition or to practice mindfulness meditation for 12 minutes per day for 8 weeks  guided by the “10% Happier” smartphone app. They were measured before and after training for mindfulness with the Five Facets of Mindfulness Questionnaire and had their brains scanned with a resting state functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI).

 

They found in comparison to baseline and the wait-list control conditions that the mindfulness app group had a significantly higher Describe facet of mindfulness. They report that the greater the amount of app practice, the greater the increase in the Describe facet of mindfulness. The brain scans revealed that using the mindfulness app resulted in changes in the connectivity of a number of systems within the brain. They found that there was increased connectivity between the Central Executive Network and the Nucleus Accumbens and also between the Default Mode Network and the Salience Network. In addition, the greater the Describe mindfulness facet and the greater the amount of practice the greater the increase in these connectivities.

 

These networks are very important for the functioning of the brain. The Central Executive Network is involved in high level thinking, the Default Mode Network is involved in mind wandering and self-referential thinking, and the Salience Network is involved in attentional processing. The increased connectivity observed with the systems after using the mindfulness app suggests that the app was successful in increasing mindfulness which in turn improved the processing of important neural systems, effectively improving the brain.

 

So, change the brain with mindfulness Apps.

 

meditation, which changes the brain for the better, is a very specific technique rooted in age old philosophies. How meditation apps work on the brain has been debated, but a recent study . . .  shows that mindfulness changes cells in the brain.” – Sophia Quaglia

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Smith, J. L., Allen, J. W., Haack, C., Wehrmeyer, K., Alden, K., Lund, M. B., & Mascaro, J. S. (2020). The Impact of App-Delivered Mindfulness Meditation on Functional Connectivity and Self-Reported Mindfulness Among Health Profession Trainees. Mindfulness, 1–15. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-020-01502-7

 

Abstract

Objectives

Previous research indicates that mindfulness meditation reduces anxiety and depression and enhances well-being. We examined the impact of app-delivered mindfulness meditation on resting state functional MRI (fMRI) connectivity among physician assistant (PA) students and surgery residents.

Methods

PA students and residents were randomized to receive a popular meditation app or to wait-list control group. Before and after the 8-week meditation period, we acquired fMRI scans of participants’ resting state, and participants completed a self-report measure of mindfulness. We used a 2 × 2, within- and between-group factorial design and leveraged a whole-brain connectome approach to examine changes in within- and between-network connectivity across the entire brain, and to examine whether changes in connectivity were associated with app use or to changes in self-reported mindfulness.

Results

Meditation practitioners exhibited significantly stronger connectivity between the frontoparietal network and the left and right nucleus accumbens and between the default mode (DMN) and salience networks, among other regions. Mindfulness practice time was correlated with increased connectivity between the lateral parietal cortex and the supramarginal gyrus, which were also positively correlated with increased scores on the “Describing” subscale of the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire between baseline and post-meditation. These findings are consistent with previous research indicating that mindfulness-based interventions alter functional connectivity within the DMN and between the DMN and other networks both during meditation and at rest, as well as increased connectivity in systems important for emotion and reward.

Conclusions

Recent commentaries call for healthcare provider and trainee wellness programs that are sustainable and preventive in nature rather than reactive; these data indicate that even brief sessions of app-delivered mindfulness practice are associated with functional connectivity changes in a dose-dependent manner.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7543678/

 

Unique Brain Activity Registers Internal Attentional States During Meditation

Unique Brain Activity Registers Internal Attentional States During Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Your brain is actually shaped by your thoughts and your behaviors. . . meditation can help boost attention and keep the brain sharp. . .  mindful breath awareness may improve attention and help curb impulsive behavior” – Grace Bullock

 

There has accumulated a large amount of research demonstrating that mindfulness has significant benefits for psychological, physical, and spiritual wellbeing. It even improves high level thinking known as executive function and emotion regulation and compassion. 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 in school, at work, in relationships, or simply driving a car. As important as attention is, it’s surprising that little is known about the mechanisms by which mindfulness improves attention.

 

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. But there are various states of attention including meditation-related states: breath attention, mind wandering, and self-referential processing, and control states e.g. attention to feet and listening to ambient sounds. It is not known what changes occur in the brain during these five different modes and if they can be used to better discriminate the nature of attentional changes during meditation.

 

In today’s Research News article “Focus on the Breath: Brain Decoding Reveals Internal States of Attention During Meditation.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7483757/ ) Weng and colleagues recruited healthy adult meditators (at least 5 years of experience) and non-meditators. They were given a series of tasks while having their brains scanned with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). They were asked for 16-50 seconds to 1) pay attention to their breath, 2) let the mind wander, 3) think about past events, 4) pay attention to their feet, and 5) pay attention to ambient sounds. The 5 conditions were repeated multiple times in random orders. They then performed a 10-minute breath following meditation followed by a repeat of the premeditation tasks. Artificial intelligence was employed to determine unique neural activity associated with each of the 5 mental states for each participant.

 

They found unique individual brain activity patterns for each participant and could reliably distinguish different individual patterns for the 5 mental states. They then used these individualized patterns in an attempt to determine mental state during the breath focused meditation. They found that the individualized patterns identified for following the breath were present a greater percentage of time than the mind wandering or self-referential states when engaging in breath focused meditation. Further they found that the greater the amount of time for each participant in the breath following brain pattern the larger the rating by the participant of their engagement with breath following.

 

This was a proof of concept study. But it successfully demonstrated that unique individual patterns of brain activity can be identified for 5 mental states. These could be reliably differentiated. It also showed that these patterns could be used to identify breath following during breath following meditation. This suggests that this method may be used to identify mental states during ongoing meditation sessions. This could be a powerful research tool for future investigations of the mental states occurring during meditation.

 

So, unique brain activity registers internal attentional states during meditation.

 

Mindfulness training can help change patterns of brain activity because the synapses within these attentional networks can strengthen or weaken with use. So, join a mindful meditation class or download a mindful meditation app and train your brain to get out of the default mode network and be present!” – Mclean Bolton

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

Weng, H. Y., Lewis-Peacock, J. A., Hecht, F. M., Uncapher, M. R., Ziegler, D. A., Farb, N., Goldman, V., Skinner, S., Duncan, L. G., Chao, M. T., & Gazzaley, A. (2020). Focus on the Breath: Brain Decoding Reveals Internal States of Attention During Meditation. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 14, 336. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2020.00336

Abstract

Meditation practices are often used to cultivate interoception or internally-oriented attention to bodily sensations, which may improve health via cognitive and emotional regulation of bodily signals. However, it remains unclear how meditation impacts internal attention (IA) states due to lack of measurement tools that can objectively assess mental states during meditation practice itself, and produce time estimates of internal focus at individual or group levels. To address these measurement gaps, we tested the feasibility of applying multi-voxel pattern analysis (MVPA) to single-subject fMRI data to: (1) learn and recognize internal attentional states relevant for meditation during a directed IA task; and (2) decode or estimate the presence of those IA states during an independent meditation session. Within a mixed sample of experienced meditators and novice controls (N = 16), we first used MVPA to develop single-subject brain classifiers for five modes of attention during an IA task in which subjects were specifically instructed to engage in one of five states [i.e., meditation-related states: breath attention, mind wandering (MW), and self-referential processing, and control states: attention to feet and sounds]. Using standard cross-validation procedures, MVPA classifiers were trained in five of six IA blocks for each subject, and predictive accuracy was tested on the independent sixth block (iterated until all volumes were tested, N = 2,160). Across participants, all five IA states were significantly recognized well above chance (>41% vs. 20% chance). At the individual level, IA states were recognized in most participants (87.5%), suggesting that recognition of IA neural patterns may be generalizable for most participants, particularly experienced meditators. Next, for those who showed accurate IA neural patterns, the originally trained classifiers were applied to a separate meditation run (10-min) to make an inference about the percentage time engaged in each IA state (breath attention, MW, or self-referential processing). Preliminary group-level analyses demonstrated that during meditation practice, participants spent more time attending to breath compared to MW or self-referential processing. This paradigm established the feasibility of using MVPA classifiers to objectively assess mental states during meditation at the participant level, which holds promise for improved measurement of internal attention states cultivated by meditation.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7483757/