Reduce the Stress of Aging and Improve Quality of Life with Meditation

Reduce the Stress of Aging and Improve Quality of Life with Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

if we can delay the onset of memory loss by five years, we can reduce an individual’s chance of developing Alzheimer’s by 50 percent. Moreover, if you can keep your memory strong and vital 10 years longer than expected, you can forget about ever getting Alzheimer’s.” – Dharma Singh Khalsa

 

Human life is one of constant change. We revel in our increases in physical and mental capacities during development, but regret their decline during aging. As we age, there are systematic progressive declines in every system in the body, the brain included. This includes our mental abilities and results in impairments in memory, attention, and problem solving ability. It is inevitable and cannot be avoided. Aging also results in changes in mental health. Depression is very common in the elderly. The elderly cope with increasing loss of friends and family, deteriorating health, as well as concerns regarding finances on fixed incomes. All of these are legitimate sources of worry. In addition, many elderly experience withdrawal and isolation from social interactions. But, no matter how reasonable, the increased loneliness, worry and anxiety add extra stress that can impact on the elderly’s already deteriorating physical and psychological health.

 

Mindfulness appears to be effective for an array of physical and psychological issues that occur with aging. It appears to strengthen the immune system and reduce inflammation. It has also been shown to be beneficial in slowing or delaying physical and mental decline with aging. and improve cognitive processes. It has also been shown to reduce anxietyworry, and depression and improve overall mental health. Since the global population of the elderly is increasing at unprecedented rates, it is imperative to investigate safe and effective methods to slow physical and mental aging and improve mental health in the elderly.

 

In today’s Research News article “Effects of Meditation versus Music Listening on Perceived Stress, Mood, Sleep, and Quality of Life in Adults with Early Memory Loss: A Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5649740/, Innes and colleagues recruited older adults (over 50 years of age) with mild cognitive impairments and randomly assigned them to either relax and listen to classical music or practice Kirtan Kriya meditation for 12-minutes, once a day for 12 weeks. They were measured before and after treatment and again 3 months later for perceived stress, sleep quality, positive and negative moods, psychological well-being, health-related quality of life, memory, and cognitive ability. Retention of participants was high as only 8% dropped out of the study.

 

They found that after 12 weeks of practice both the music listening and the Kirtan Kriya meditation groups showed significant improvements in psychological well-being, mood, including anxiety, depression, confusion, anger, and fatigue, sleep quality, and health-related quality of life, including mental health, energy, and emotional well-being. These improvements were sustained 3 months after the conclusion of formal practice. Importantly, the Kirtan Kriya meditation group had significantly greater improvement in perceived stress, mood, psychological well-being, mental health-related quality of life than the music listening group.

 

These results suggest that relaxation in general produces sustained improvements in the well-being of older adults with mild cognitive impairments. But, Kirtan Kriya meditation practice produces greater improvements. The fact that there was a music listening control group suggests that it was the meditation per se and not just the relaxation inherent in meditation practice that was responsible for the improvements. This suggests that meditation practice is very beneficial of older adults with mild cognitive impairments improving their mental health, perceived stress, and well-being and that these improvements are sustained at least for 3 months. Since, these factors are associated with further cognitive decline, the results suggest that meditation practice may slow age-related cognitive decline.

 

So, reduce the stress of aging and quality of life with meditation.

 

“One of the major difficulties that individuals with dementia and their family members encounter is that there is a need for new ways of communicating due to the memory loss and other changes in thinking and abilities. The practice of mindfulness places both participants in the present and focuses on positive features of the interaction, allowing for a type of connection that may substitute for the more complex ways of communicating in the past. It is a good way to address stress.” – Sandra Weintraub

 

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

 

Kim E. Innes, Terry Kit Selfe, Dharma Singh Khalsa, Sahiti Kandati. Effects of Meditation versus Music Listening on Perceived Stress, Mood, Sleep, and Quality of Life in Adults with Early Memory Loss: A Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial. J Alzheimers Dis.  2016 Apr 8; 52(4): 1277–1298. doi: 10.3233/JAD-151106

 

Abstract

Background

Older adults with subjective cognitive decline (SCD) are at increased risk not only for Alzheimer’s disease, but for poor mental health, impaired sleep, and diminished quality of life (QOL), which in turn, contribute to further cognitive decline, highlighting the need for early intervention.

Objective

In this randomized controlled trial, we assessed the effects of two 12-week relaxation programs, Kirtan Kriya Meditation (KK) and music listening (ML), on perceived stress, sleep, mood, and health-related QOL in older adults with SCD.

Methods

Sixty community-dwelling older adults with SCD were randomized to a KK or ML program and asked to practice 12 minutes daily for 12 weeks, then at their discretion for the following 3 months. At baseline, 12 weeks, and 26 weeks, perceived stress, mood, psychological well-being, sleep quality, and health-related QOL were measured using well-validated instruments.

Results

Fifty-three participants (88%) completed the 6-month study. Participants in both groups showed significant improvement at 12 weeks in psychological well-being and in multiple domains of mood and sleep quality (p’s ≤ 0.05). Relative to ML, those assigned to KK showed greater gains in perceived stress, mood, psychological well-being, and QOL-Mental Health (p’s ≤ 0.09). Observed gains were sustained or improved at 6 months, with both groups showing marked and significant improvement in all outcomes. Changes were unrelated to treatment expectancies.

Conclusions

Findings suggest that practice of a simple meditation or ML program may improve stress, mood, well-being, sleep, and QOL in adults with SCD, with benefits sustained at 6 months and gains that were particularly pronounced in the KK group.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5649740/

Modulate Brain Processing of Emotions with Religious Chanting

Modulate Brain Processing of Emotions with Religious Chanting

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Mantras – properly practiced –  turn negative emotions into life-enriching creativity. It’s that simple and that powerful.” – Eric Klein

 

Alternative and Complementary techniques have been growing in acceptance and use over the last couple of decades. With good reason. They have been found to be beneficial for physical and mental health. Contemplative practices have been shown to improve health and well-being. These include mindfulness practicesmeditationyoga, mindful movement practices such as tai chi and qigong, and spiritual practices such as contemplative prayer. These practices, when engaged in over a period of time, have been shown to change brain structure and electrical activity relatively permanently in a process known as neuroplasticity.

 

One ancient practice that is again receiving acceptance and use is chanting. It is a very common component of many contemplative practices. Chanting is claimed to be helpful in contemplative practice and to help improve physical and mental well-being. But, there is very little empirical research on chanting or their effectiveness. One problem in studying chanting is that they are embedded in a contemplative practice. It is difficult then to separate the effects of the chanting from that of the overall practice. So, it is important to study the effects of chanting while isolating and extracting them from the practices.

 

Contemplative practices have also been shown to improve emotion regulation, allowing the practitioner to completely feel emotions but reducing the reactivity to them. Emotions, however are difficult to measure directly. One method to indirectly 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 event-related 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 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 late positive potential (LPP) response in the ERP is a positive going response occurring between 3 and 6 tenths of a second following stimulus presentation. The LPP response has been associated with the presence of emotional information. As such, these electrical responses can be used to measure the brains response to emotional laden stimuli and can perhaps measure brain process of emotion regulation.

 

In today’s Research News article “Repetitive Religious Chanting Modulates the Late-Stage Brain Response to Fear- and Stress-Provoking Pictures.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5223166/

Gao and colleagues studied isolated chanting effects on emotion processing in the brain by recording event-related potentials, ERPs to emotion laden pictures while chanting. They recruited male and female adult, 42-50 years of age, Buddhists who had extensive experience with Buddhist chanting. They were presented with either neutral or emotionally negative pictures for 2 seconds while chanting for 20 seconds a religious chant, the word “Buddha”, or a secular chant, the words “Santa Claus”, or no chant. During each of the six, randomly presented conditions brain electrical activity was monitored with EEG electrodes and the electrical responses to the pictures was recorded (Event-Related Potentials, ERPs). To measure the physiological changes corresponding to negative emotions, electrocardiogram and galvanic skin response data were also collected.

 

They found that the N100 component was increased by viewing emotionally negative pictures but did not differ between chanting conditions. Hence, the negative pictures engaged visual attention equally regardless of chanting. They found that the LPP was strongest in the central-parietal regions of the brain. Viewing neutral pictures did not affect the LPP, but emotionally negative pictures produced a much smaller LPP responses, except in the chanting “Buddha” condition. This was not true for either no chant or chanting “Santa Clause.” Hence, the smaller late positive potential (LPP) in response to emotionally negative pictures while chanting “Buddha” was the same as that to neutral pictures. This indicates that emotion regulation is improved when engaging in the religious but not secular chanting.

 

These findings are interesting. Although the ERP is an indirect measure of brain activity to emotional stimuli, the late positive potential is associated with emotion regulation. The results suggest then that the smaller LPP response to emotionally negative pictures while chanting “Buddha”, is indicative of better emotion processing when engaged in a chant that has religious significance. Hence, the results suggest that religious chanting improves the important processes of regulating the responses to emotions. This suggests that spiritually significant activity may better prepare individuals to respond appropriately to their emotions.

 

So, modulate brain processing of emotions with religious chanting.

 

“The scans showed decreased blood flow to the parts of the brain that control emotion while chanting Om, when compared to another phrase. This suggests that the different forms of chanting prescribed in various mindfulness techniques (yoga or mindfulness meditation) can help manage negative emotions when practiced regularly.” – Pavitra Jayaraman

 

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

Gao, J., Fan, J., Wu, B. W., Halkias, G. T., Chau, M., Fung, P. C., … Sik, H. (2016). Repetitive Religious Chanting Modulates the Late-Stage Brain Response to Fear- and Stress-Provoking Pictures. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 2055. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.02055

 

Abstract

Chanting and praying are among the most popular religious activities, which are said to be able to alleviate people’s negative emotions. However, the neural mechanisms underlying this mental exercise and its temporal course have hardly been investigated. Here, we used event-related potentials (ERPs) to explore the effects of chanting the name of a Buddha (Amitābha) on the brain’s response to viewing negative pictures that were fear- and stress-provoking. We recorded and analyzed electroencephalography (EEG) data from 21 Buddhists with chanting experience as they viewed negative and neutral pictures. Participants were instructed to chant the names of Amitābha or Santa Claus silently to themselves or simply remain silent (no-chanting condition) during picture viewing. To measure the physiological changes corresponding to negative emotions, electrocardiogram and galvanic skin response data were also collected. Results showed that viewing negative pictures (vs. neutral pictures) increased the amplitude of the N1 component in all the chanting conditions. The amplitude of late positive potential (LPP) also increased when the negative pictures were viewed under the no-chanting and the Santa Claus condition. However, increased LPP was not observed when chanting Amitābha. The ERP source analysis confirmed this finding and showed that increased LPP mainly originated from the central-parietal regions of the brain. In addition, the participants’ heart rates decreased significantly when viewing negative pictures in the Santa Claus condition. The no-chanting condition had a similar decreasing trend although not significant. However, while chanting Amitābha and viewing negative pictures participants’ heart rate did not differ significantly from that observed during neutral picture viewing. It is possible that the chanting of Amitābha might have helped the participants to develop a religious schema and neutralized the effect of the negative stimuli. These findings echo similar research findings on Christian religious practices and brain responses to negative stimuli. Hence, prayer/religious practices may have cross-cultural universality in emotion regulation. This study shows for the first time that Buddhist chanting, or in a broader sense, repetition of religious prayers will not modulate brain responses to negative stimuli during the early perceptual stage, but only during the late-stage emotional/cognitive processing.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5223166/