Improve Acceptance with Mindfulness Training or a Psychedelic Drug

Improve Acceptance with Mindfulness Training or a Psychedelic Drug

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“If someone gives you 100 micrograms of acid something is going to happen. Two hours later the significance of your existence will have just been borne down on you like an avalanche. And again this can be terrifying or it can be absolutely sublime depending on various causes and conditions. But the one thing it cannot be is boring. And that is you can’t say that about yoga or meditation or just going into solitude or anything else that – any other, you know, non-pharmacological means of inquiry.” – Big Think

 

Psychedelic substances such as peyote, mescaline, LSD, ayahuasca and psilocybin  have been used almost since the beginning of recorded history to alter consciousness and produce spiritually meaningful experiences. A substantial number of Brazilian religious groups ingest the natural psychedelic substance ayahuasca on a regular basis for ritual purposes. These groups, like many users of psychedelic substances, employ them to develop spirituality and self-transcendence.

 

Psychedelics produce effects that are similar to those that are reported in spiritual awakenings. They report a loss of the personal self, a decentering. They experience what they used to refer to as the self as just a part of an integrated whole. They report feeling interconnected with everything else in a sense of oneness with all things. They experience a feeling of timelessness where time seems to stop and everything is taking place in a single present moment. They experience ineffability, being unable to express in words what they are experiencing and as a result sometimes producing paradoxical statements. And they experience a positive mood, with renewed energy and enthusiasm.

 

It is easy to see why people find these experiences so pleasant and eye opening. They often report that the experiences changed them forever. Even though the effects of psychedelic substances have been experienced and reported on for centuries, only very recently have these effects come under rigorous scientific scrutiny.  In today’s Research News article “Four Weekly Ayahuasca Sessions Lead to Increases in “Acceptance” Capacities: A Comparison Study With a Standard 8-Week Mindfulness Training Program.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5869920/ ), Soler and colleagues compare the ability of the psychedelic drug ayahuasca and mindfulness training to change the mindfulness of volunteers.

 

They formed two matched groups from the volunteers, based upon levels of decentering. One group were provided a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. The MBSR program was presented for 2.5 hours, once a week, for 8 weeks with 30-minute daily home practice. It consisted of discussion and meditation, body scan, and yoga practices. The second group of volunteers received 4 weekly 6-8-hour ayahuasca sessions. They were measured before and after treatment for decentering and mindfulness, including the mindfulness facets of observing, describing, non-reacting, non-judging, and acting with awareness.

 

They found that following the MBSR program there were significant increases in decentering and all 5 mindfulness facets. On the other hand, after ayahuasca treatment there was a significant increase only in the non-judging mindfulness facet. Hence, the MBSR program produced the routinely observed improvements in mindfulness and decentering, while ayahuasca treatments only altered “acceptance” (non-judging facet of mindfulness).

 

It is very interesting and perhaps puzzling that ayahuasca treatment did not increase decentering. Decentering changes the nature of experience by having the individual step outside of experiences and observe them from a distanced perspective and be aware of their impermanent nature. This is exactly the type of perspective that is promoted by experiences with psychedelic drugs. The fact that it was not increased with the ayahuasca treatments calls into question the effectiveness of the treatments and dosing used in the current study.

 

Nevertheless the ayahuasca treatments did produce increases in acceptance. This suggests that some of the therapeutic benefits of ayahuasca treatments may be due to changes in mindfulness which, in turn, produce physical and psychological benefits. It will remain for future research to continue to explore the means by which such psychedelic treatments alter the psychological landscape of the individual. It is clear, though, in the current study that Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a potent facilitator of all facets of mindfulness and decentering.

 

So, improve acceptance with mindfulness training or a psychedelic drug.

 

“Meditating can be hard, lonely work, but if recent research is to be believed there may be a quick-and-dirty shortcut to enlightenment: psychedelic drugs. According to an exploratory study, drinking the hallucinogenic brew ayahuasca can bring about improvements in mindfulness that would take years of dedicated meditation to achieve. The research found that ayahuasca raised mindfulness abilities to levels equal to or even greater than those of people who have been practising meditation for around seven years.” – Plastic Brain

 

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

 

Soler, J., Elices, M., Dominguez-Clavé, E., Pascual, J. C., Feilding, A., Navarro-Gil, M., … Riba, J. (2018). Four Weekly Ayahuasca Sessions Lead to Increases in “Acceptance” Capacities: A Comparison Study With a Standard 8-Week Mindfulness Training Program. Frontiers in Pharmacology, 9, 224. http://doi.org/10.3389/fphar.2018.00224

 

Abstract

Background: The therapeutic effects of the Amazonian plant tea ayahuasca may relate to its ability to enhance mindfulness capacities. Ayahuasca induces a modified state of awareness through the combined action of its active principles: the psychedelic N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT) and a series of centrally acting β-carbolines, mainly harmine and tetrahydroharmine. To better understand the therapeutic potential of ayahuasca, here we compared the impact on mindfulness capacities induced by two independent interventions: (a) participation in four ayahuasca sessions without any specific purpose related to improving mindfulness capacities; and (b) participation in a standard mindfulness training course: 8 weeks mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), with the specific goal of improving these skills.

Methods: Participants of two independent groups completed two self-report instruments: The Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ) and the Experiences Questionnaire (EQ). The MINDSENS Composite Index was also calculated, including those EQ and FFMQ items that have proven to be the most sensitive to meditation practice. Group A (n = 10) was assessed before and after the last of four closely spaced consecutive ayahuasca sessions. Group B (n = 10) was assessed before and after completion of a standard 8-week MBSR course.

Results: MBSR training led to greater increases in overall mindfulness scores after the 8-week period. MBSR but not ayahuasca led to increases in the MINDSENS Composite Index. However, the ayahuasca sessions induced comparable increases in the Non-Judging subscale of the FFMQ, specifically measuring “acceptance.” Improving this capacity allows for a more detached and less judgmental stance toward potentially distressing thoughts and emotions.

Results: The present findings suggest that a small number of ayahuasca sessions can be as effective at improving acceptance as more lengthy and costly interventions. Future studies should address the benefits of combining ayahuasca administration with mindfulness-based interventions. This will allow us to investigate if ayahuasca will improve the outcome of psychotherapeutic interventions.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5869920/

 

Improve the Regulation of Emotions in Social Anxiety Disorder with Mindfulness

Improve the Regulation of Emotions in Social Anxiety Disorder with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“One way to do this . . . is mindfulness meditation, in which you observe your thoughts and feelings with the objectivity of a disinterested, nonjudgmental witness. This form of mental training gives you the wherewithal to pause, observe how easily the mind can exaggerate the severity of a setback, note that it as an interesting mental process, and resist getting drawn into the abyss,” – Ritchie Davidson

 

Mindfulness practices have been shown to have a large number of beneficial effects on the psychological, emotional, and physical health of the individual and is helpful in the treatment of mental and physical illness. They have also been shown to effect a large number of physiological and psychological processes, including emotion regulation, attention, sensory awareness, decentering, and reappraisal. It is not known how mindfulness practices produce the myriad effects on the individual’s health and well-being, whether mindfulness has a direct effect or works through intermediary effects to produce the improved well-being.

 

There has been some research on this question, for instance mindfulness has been found to improve some symptoms of mental illness by increasing reappraisal which then affects the symptoms. In today’s Research News article “Testing the mindfulness-to-meaning theory: Evidence for mindful positive emotion regulation from a reanalysis of longitudinal data.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5718463/ ), Garland and colleagues examine the hypothesis that mindfulness practices influence social anxiety disorder (SAD) through a series of intermediaries. They postulate that mindfulness training increases attention which, in turn increases decentering, which, in turn, broadens sensory awareness, which, in turn increases reappraisal, which increases emotion regulation and reductions in social anxiety disorder (SAD).

 

To examine this idea they reanalyzed the data from a longitudinal study of the effects of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) on social anxiety disorder (SAD) to determine the temporal sequence of mindfulness effects. Participants with SAD were randomly assigned to receive either 12 weeks of MBSR or CBT group therapy or on a wait-list control condition. MBSR consists of a combination of meditation, body scanning, and yoga practices. The participants were measured pretreatment, post-treatment, and 3, 6, 9, and 12 months later for attentional control, decentering, reappraisal, sensory awareness, dispositional mindfulness, emotion regulation and positive emotions. The data were analyzed with a sophisticated multivariate path analysis.

 

The best fit path revealed by the analysis had excellent model fit. It revealed that both MBSR and CBT produced significant improvements in attentional control at the end of the 12-week treatment. These attentional improvements were significantly associated with increases in decentering 3 months later. Similarly, change in decentering was significantly associated with broadened sensory awareness at the 6-month follow-up measurement. In turn, the broadened sensory awareness was significantly associated with increases in reappraisal at the 9-month follow-up measurement. Finally, increases in reappraisal were significantly associated with increases in positive emotions at the 12-month follow-up measurement. In comparing Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) in this model, it was found that MBSR produced significantly greater decentering and broadened sensory awareness. So, both MBSR and CBT would appear effective for social anxiety disorder (SAD) but MBSR would appear to be the superior treatment.

 

These are interesting and important findings suggest the mechanism by which mindfulness training improves emotion regulation in patients with social anxiety disorder (SAD). They suggest that mindfulness training sets off a chain of events consisting of improved attention followed by increased decentering followed by broadened sensory awareness, followed by increased reappraisal, followed by increased emotion regulation and reduced social anxiety disorder (SAD). It remains for future research to determine if this sequence events accounts for any other of the mental or physical health benefits of mindfulness training.

 

So, improve the regulation of emotions in social anxiety disorder with mindfulness.

 

“Through your mindful acceptance, you can embrace or hold the feeling in your awareness– this alone can calm and soothe you. This is an act of self-compassion and responsiveness to your own distress, and it is so much more effective than punishing yourself for having this feeling.” – Melli O’Brien

 

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

 

Garland, E. L., Hanley, A. W., Goldin, P. R., & Gross, J. J. (2017). Testing the mindfulness-to-meaning theory: Evidence for mindful positive emotion regulation from a reanalysis of longitudinal data. PLoS ONE, 12(12), e0187727. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0187727

 

Abstract

Background and objective

The Mindfulness to Meaning Theory (MMT) provides a detailed process model of mindful positive emotion regulation.

Design

We conducted a post-hoc reanalysis of longitudinal data (N = 107) derived from a RCT of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) versus cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for social anxiety disorder to model the core constructs of the MMT (attentional control, decentering, broadened awareness, reappraisal, and positive affect) in a multivariate path analysis.

Results

Findings indicated that increases in attentional control from baseline to post-training predicted increases in decentering by 3 months post-treatment (p<.01) that in turn predicted increases in broadened awareness of interoceptive and exteroceptive data by 6 months post-treatment (p<.001). In turn, broadened awareness predicted increases in the use of reappraisal by 9 months post-treatment (p<.01), which culminated in greater positive affect at 12 months post-treatment (p<.001). MBSR led to significantly greater increases in decentering (p<.05) and broadened awareness than CBT (p<.05). Significant indirect effects indicated that increases in decentering mediated the effect of mindfulness training on broadening awareness, which in turn mediated enhanced reappraisal efficacy.

Conclusion

Results suggest that the mechanisms of change identified by the MMT form an iterative chain that promotes long-term increases in positive affectivity. Though these mechanisms may reflect common therapeutic factors that cut across mindfulness-based and cognitive-behavioral interventions, MBSR specifically boosts the MMT cycle by producing significantly greater increases in decentering and broadened awareness than CBT, providing support for the foundational assumption in the MMT that mindfulness training may be a key means of stimulating downstream positive psychological processes.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5718463/

Be Better at Resisting Food with Mindfulness

Be Better at Resisting Food with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Mindfulness is paying attention to your surroundings, being in the present moment. Mindful eating is eating with purpose, eating on purpose, eating with awareness, eating without distraction, when eating only eating, not watching television or playing computer games or having any other distractions, not eating at our desks.” –  Carolyn Dunn

 

Eating is produced by two categories of signals. Homeostatic signals emerge from the body’s need for nutrients and usually work to balance intake with expenditure. Hedonic eating, on the other hand, is not tied to nutrient needs but rather to the pleasurable and rewarding qualities of food, also known as food cues. These cues can be powerful signals to eat even when there is no physical need for food.

 

Mindful eating involves paying attention to eating while it is occurring, including attention to the sight, smell, flavors, and textures of food, to the process of chewing and may help reduce intake. Indeed, high levels of mindfulness are associated with lower levels of obesity and mindfulness training has been shown to reduce binge eating, emotional eating, and external eating. It is suspected that mindful eating counters hedonic eating.

 

Mindfulness has two main components the first is present moment awareness while the second is decentering. This is a less well appreciated component of mindfulness. Decentering changes the nature of experience by having the individual step outside of experiences and observe them from a distanced perspective and be aware of their impermanent nature. The individual learns to observe thoughts and feelings as impermanent objective events in the mind rather than personally identifying with the thoughts or feelings. In other words, they’re not personal but simply things arising and falling away. This way of viewing the world should make the individual less responsive to outside stimuli.

 

In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness Reduces Reactivity to Food Cues: Underlying Mechanisms and Applications in Daily Life.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5435775/ ), Keesman and colleagues review the published research literature on present moment awareness and decentering and reactivity to the stimuli from foods. They examine the ability of present moment awareness and decentering to decrease the individual’s resistance to food cues.

 

They found that the literature reported that when participants were induced to produce a decentering perspective rather than a present moment perspective, there was a large drop in their attraction to food and cravings for foods, and an increase in healthy food choices. Indeed, participants with a decentering perspective produced less saliva when confronted with an energy dense attractive food. There was even a reduction in chocolate consumption over a week when adopting a decentering perspective. Finally, it was reported that meditators who were high in decentering had much fewer food cravings.

 

Hence, decentering reduces reactivity to food cues while simple present moment awareness does not. It is likely that seeing these cues and one’s response to them as impermanent may well make the individual more resistant to them. It is also possible that seeing one’s response to foods cues as mere thoughts that come and go, makes it easier to resist them. Regardless, it is clear that mindfulness, particularly decentering reduces the ability of food cues to affect the individual’s behavior.

 

So, be better at resisting food with mindfulness.

 

“mindfulness can disrupt that automatic reaction by reducing the appeal of unhealthy foods. . . the trick is to think of your food craving, when it pops up, as nothing more than a mere thought. “It’s really like a soap bubble. As soon as you touch it, it’s going to disperse.” – Esther Papies

 

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

 

Keesman, M., Aarts, H., Häfner, M., & Papies, E. K. (2017). Mindfulness Reduces Reactivity to Food Cues: Underlying Mechanisms and Applications in Daily Life. Current Addiction Reports, 4(2), 151–157. http://doi.org/10.1007/s40429-017-0134-2

 

Abstract

Purpose of Review

Mindfulness-based interventions are becoming increasingly popular as a means to facilitate healthy eating. We suggest that the decentering component of mindfulness, which is the metacognitive insight that all experiences are impermanent, plays an especially important role in such interventions. To facilitate the application of decentering, we address its psychological mechanism to reduce reactivity to food cues, proposing that it makes thoughts and simulations in response to food cues less compelling. We discuss supporting evidence, applications, and challenges for future research.

Recent Findings

Experimental and correlational studies consistently find that the adoption of a decentering perspective reduces subjective cravings, physiological reactivity such as salivation, and unhealthy eating.

Summary

We suggest that the decentering perspective can be adopted in any situation to reduce reactivity to food cues. Considering people’s high exposure to food temptations in daily life, this makes it a powerful tool to empower people to eat healthily.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5435775/

Improve Generalized Anxiety Disorder by Decentering and Mindfulness

Improve Generalized Anxiety Disorder by Decentering and Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Mindfulness allows us to interrupt automatic, reflexive fight, flight, or freeze reactions—reactions that can lead to anxiety, fear, foreboding, and worry.” – Bob Stahl

 

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million adults, or 18% of the population. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) affects about 3.1% of the U.S. population. GAD involves excessive worry about everyday problems. People with GAD become anxious in anticipation of problems with their finances, health, employment, and relationships. They typically have difficulty calming their concerns, even though they realize that their anxiety is more intense than the situation warrants. A characterizing feature of anxiety disorders is that the suffer overly identifies with and personalizes their thoughts. The sufferer has recurring thoughts, such as impending disaster, that they may realize are unreasonable, but are unable to shake.

 

Anxiety disorders have generally been treated with drugs. It has been estimated that 11% of women in the U.S. are taking anti-anxiety medications. But, there are considerable side effects and these drugs are often abused. So, there is a need to develop alternative treatments. Recently, it has been found that mindfulness training can be effective for anxiety disorders. Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is targeted at changing unproductive and unreasonable thought patterns and has been shown to be effective for anxiety disorders. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) has also been shown to be effective. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) combines elements from MBCT and mindfulness training and has also been shown to be effective.

 

These therapies have in common the attempt to decenter thought processes. Decentering changes the nature of experience by having the individual step outside of experiences and observe them from a distanced perspective. The individual learns to observe thoughts and feelings as objective events in the mind rather than personally identifying with the thoughts or feelings which is so characteristic of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). The individual, then, sees their thoughts as a constructed reality produced by their self and not as absolute truth. This, in turn, results in an ability to see anxiety provoking thoughts as not true, but simply a construct of the mind’s operation, allowing the individual to begin to change how they interpret experience.

 

In today’s Research News article “Change in Decentering Mediates Improvement in Anxiety in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Generalized Anxiety Disorder.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5354303/

Hoge and colleagues examine the degree to which decentering and mindfulness mediate the effect of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) on Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). They recruited adult patients who were diagnosed with GAD and randomly assigned them to receive either an 8-week MBSR program or stress management education program which aimed to improve “overall health and wellness through education about diet, exercise, sleep, time management, and resilience.” Before and after the 8-weeks of training the participants were measured for anxiety, worry, mindfulness, and decentering.

 

They found that both groups showed improvements but the MBSR group had significantly greater increases in mindfulness and decentering. In addition, they found that the greater the increase in mindfulness the greater the decrease in anxiety levels and similarly, the greater the increase in decentering the greater the decrease in anxiety. A sophisticated statistical mediation analysis technique revealed that MBSR had its primary effect on anxiety levels through decentering rather than mindfulness. On the other hand, MBSR training reduced worry by increasing the mindfulness facets of acting with awareness and non-reactivity to inner experience.

 

The results are interesting and suggest that Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) reduces anxiety and worry through different mechanisms; anxiety by increasing decentering and worry by increasing mindfulness. This is reasonable as anxiety is highly affected by illogical thought processes and decentering provides a means by which these thoughts can be seen as false. Mindfulness, on the other hand produces a focus on the present moment and thereby reduces worry about the future.

 

So, improve generalized anxiety disorder by decentering and mindfulness.

 

“People with anxiety have a problem dealing with distracting thoughts that have too much power. They can’t distinguish between a problem-solving thought and a nagging worry that has no benefit. If you have unproductive worries, you might think ‘I’m late, I might lose my job if I don’t get there on time, and it will be a disaster!’ Mindfulness teaches you to recognize, ‘Oh, there’s that thought again. I’ve been here before. But it’s just that—a thought, and not a part of my core self,’” – Elizabeth Hoge.

 

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

Hoge, E. A., Bui, E., Goetter, E., Robinaugh, D. J., Ojserkis, R. A., Fresco, D. M., & Simon, N. M. (2015). Change in Decentering Mediates Improvement in Anxiety in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 39(2), 228–235. http://doi.org/10.1007/s10608-014-9646-4

 

Abstract

Objective

We sought to examine psychological mechanisms of treatment outcomes of a mindfulness meditation intervention for Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).

Methods

We examined mindfulness and decentering as two potential therapeutic mechanisms of action of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) symptom reduction in patients randomized to receive either mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) or an attention control class (N=38). Multiple mediation analyses were conducted using a non-parametric cross product of the coefficients approach that employs bootstrapping.

Results

Analyses revealed that change in decentering and change in mindfulness significantly mediated the effect of MBSR on anxiety. When both mediators were included in the model, the multiple mediation analysis revealed a significant indirect effect through increases in decentering, but not mindfulness. Furthermore, the direct effect of MBSR on decrease in anxiety was not significant, suggesting that decentering fully mediated the relationship. Results also suggested that MBSR reduces worry through an increase in mindfulness, specifically by increases in awareness and nonreactivity.

Conclusions

Improvements in GAD symptoms resulting from MBSR are in part explained by increased levels of decentering.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5354303/

 

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Improve Personality and Well-being with a Meditation Retreat

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Improve Personality and Well-being with a Meditation Retreat

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Even if you’re terrified, even if you have no interest in being a monk and you’re not an extremist by nature, I know that sitting in silence for 10 days will blow your mind.” – MeiMei Fox

 

Retreat can be a powerful experience. But, in some ways, is like being on vacation. Everything is taken care of, beds made, towels and linens provided, all meals prepared, and time is dictated by a detailed schedule of meditations, talks, question and answer periods, and reflective time. All the individual has to do is show up, meditate, relax, contemplate and listen. The retreatants are terribly spoiled! That seeming ease, however, is deceptive. Retreat is actually quite difficult and challenging. It can be very tiring as it can run from early in the morning till late at night every day. It can also be physically challenging as engaging in sitting meditation repeatedly over the day is guaranteed to produce many aches and pains in the legs, back, and neck. But the real challenges are psychological, emotional, and spiritual. Retreat can be a real test.

 

Retreat isn’t all relaxation and fun. Far from it. The darkness can descend. During silent retreat, deep emotional issues can emerge and may even overwhelm the individual. Many participants will spontaneously burst out in tears. Others may become overwhelmed with fear and anxiety and break out in cold sweats, and still others are sleepless and tormented. How can this be, that something so seemingly peaceful as silent retreat can be so emotionally wrenching? The secret is that the situation removes the minds ability to hide and distract.

 

Humans have done a tremendous job of providing distractions for the mind including books, movies, magazines, music, television, sports, amusement parks, surfing the internet, tweeting, texting, etc. Any time troubling thoughts or memories of traumatic experiences begin to emerge in everyday life, the subject can easily be changed by engaging in a distraction. So, the issues never have to truly be confronted. But, in silent retreat there is no escape. Difficult issues emerge and there is no place to hide. They must be confronted and experienced. For some people this may be the first time in their entire life that they’ve had to directly face themselves and their darkest thoughts. It’s no wonder that retreat can be so wrenching.

 

With all these difficulties, why would anyone want to put themselves through such an ordeal and go on a meditation retreat? People go because retreat has many profound and sometimes life altering benefits. The benefits of retreat were investigated in today’s Research News article “Psychological Effects of a 1-Month Meditation Retreat on Experienced Meditators.” See:

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1469065896450665/?type=3&theater

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

http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01935/full?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Psychology-w51-2016

Montero-Marin and colleagues recruited experienced meditators who participated in a 1-month Vipassana meditation retreat, with 8-9 hours of meditation and 1-2 hours of teaching each day, and compared them to a control group of experienced meditators matched on gender, age, ethnicity, educational, and type of meditation practice. They were measured before and after the retreat for non-attachment, decentering, mindfulness, loving kindness, compassion, joy, and acceptance toward both the self and others, positive and negative affect, satisfaction with life, temperament, and character.

 

They found that following the retreat participants, compared to controls, showed increased non-attachment, observing, mindfulness, positive-affect, balance-affect, and cooperativeness; and decreased describing, negative-others, reward-dependence and self-directedness. Employing a sophisticated statistical technique, they were able to show that non-attachment had a mediating role in decentring, acting aware, non-reactivity, negative-affect, balance-affect and self-directedness; and a moderating role in describing and positive others, with both mediating and moderating effects on satisfaction with life. Hence, attending a 1-month retreat produced improvements in non-attachment, which, in turn, produced improvements in mindfulness, positive emotions, temperament and character.

 

These are important results demonstrating the ability of participation in retreat to powerfully affect an individual beyond what is accomplished by long-term experience meditating. Concentrated practice over an extended period during retreat appears to magnify the effects of meditation, producing even greater positive benefits to the individual. Hence, even though retreat can be difficult, physically and emotionally, it is clear that its benefits, for many, far exceed its costs. This isn’t even considering the powerful spiritual experiences that can occur during retreat. This might account for the popularity of retreat and why it has been seen as an essential component of practice over hundreds of years.

 

So, improve personality and well-being with a meditation retreat.

 

“The retreat helped me realize that I’m full of desire, of longings for raw experience, and unbelievably controlling of how my life is lived. It sounds simple, but one week of silence may give you a hint, maybe more reliably than almost anything else, of who you are.”Tim Wu

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

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

 

Study Summary

Montero-Marin J, Puebla-Guedea M, Herrera-Mercadal P, Cebolla A, Soler J, Demarzo M, Vazquez C, Rodríguez-Bornaetxea F and García-Campayo J (2016) Psychological Effects of a 1-Month Meditation Retreat on Experienced Meditators: The Role of Non-attachment. Front. Psychol. 7:1935. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01935

 

Background: There are few studies devoted to assessing the impact of meditation-intensive retreats on the well-being, positive psychology, and personality of experienced meditators. We aimed to assess whether a 1-month Vipassana retreat: (a) would increase mindfulness and well-being; (b) would increase prosocial personality traits; and (c) whether psychological changes would be mediated and/or moderated by non-attachment.

Method: A controlled, non-randomized, pre-post-intervention trial was used. The intervention group was a convenience sample (n = 19) of experienced meditators who participated in a 1-month Vipassana meditation retreat. The control group (n = 19) comprised matched experienced meditators who did not take part in the retreat. During the retreat, the mean duration of daily practice was 8–9 h, the diet was vegetarian and silence was compulsory. The Experiences Questionnaire (EQ), Non-attachment Scale (NAS), Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS), Satisfaction With Life Scale (SWLS), Temperament Character Inventory Revised (TCI-R-67), Five Facets Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ), Self-Other Four Immeasurables (SOFI) and the MINDSENS Composite Index were administered. ANCOVAs and linear regression models were used to assess pre-post changes and mediation/moderation effects.

Results: Compared to controls, retreatants showed increases in non-attachment, observing, MINDSENS, positive-affect, balance-affect, and cooperativeness; and decreases in describing, negative-others, reward-dependence and self-directedness. Non-attachment had a mediating role in decentring, acting aware, non-reactivity, negative-affect, balance-affect and self-directedness; and a moderating role in describing and positive others, with both mediating and moderating effects on satisfaction with life.

Conclusions: A 1-month Vipassana meditation retreat seems to yield improvements in mindfulness, well-being, and personality, even in experienced meditators. Non-attachment might facilitate psychological improvements of meditation, making it possible to overcome possible ceiling effects ascribed to non-intensive practices.

http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01935/full?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Psychology-w51-2016

Improve Seeing Others as Like the Self with Loving Kindness Meditation

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By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Loving-kindness meditation does far more than produce momentary good feelings. . . . this type of meditation increased people’s experiences of positive emotions. . . . it actually puts people on “trajectories of growth,” leaving them better able to ward off depression and “become ever more satisfied with life.”” – Christine Carter

 

Humans are social animals. This is a great asset for the species as the effort of the individual is amplified by cooperation. In primitive times, this cooperation was essential for survival. But in modern times it is also essential, not for survival but rather for making a living and for the happiness of the individual. This ability to cooperate is so essential to human flourishing that it is built deep into our DNA and is reflected in the structure of the human nervous system. Empathy and compassion are essential for appropriate social engagement and cooperation. In order for these abilities to emerge and strengthen, individuals must be able to see that other people are very much like themselves.

 

Unfortunately, there is very little understanding of the factors that lead to and improve empathy and compassion. One method that appears to be able to increase these capacities is Loving Kindness Meditation (LKM). It has been shown to amplify positive emotions, altruism, and compassion. This suggests that LKM may reduce the perceived difference between the self and other people. This is difficult to study, however, as these capacities are not easily measured and require length, indirect, paper and pencil, tests for assessment.

 

An alternative assessment technique is to measure the electrical response of the brain (electroencephalogram, EEG) as an indicator of empathy and compassion. This can be done by investigating differences in the brains processing of stimuli related to the self, relative to those related to other people. Upon presentation of these stimuli differences in the brain’s response can be seen called the evoked potential (ERP). The P300 response in the evoked potential (ERP) occurs between 3 to 6-tenths 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 self-processing. It is larger in response to stimuli such as one’s own name, face, or information about the person’s history. So, the P300 response is often used as a measure of the processing of information about the self, with the larger the positive change the greater the self-processing.

 

In today’s Research News article “Decentering the self? Preliminary evidence for changes in self- vs. other related processing as a long-term outcome of loving-kindness meditation.” See:

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1441662135857708/?type=3&theater

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

http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01785/full?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Psychology-w48-2016

Trautwein and colleagues employ the P300 response in the evoked potential (ERP) in response to pictures of the self or a close friend to investigate the effectiveness of Loving Kindness Meditation (LKM) to improve empathy and compassion in humans. They recruited adult long-term practitioners of LKM and a group of age, gender, handedness, and education matched non-meditators. The participants were asked to press a button every time a picture of either themselves of their friend was presented amid a series of other stimuli. This occurred on 20% of the time. They measured performed this task while wearing scalp electrodes to measure the EEG and the P300 response to these stimuli was recorded.

 

They found that, as expected, the LKM practitioners reported experiencing more compassionate love for strangers and all of humanity than control participants. They also found that, as expected, the P300 response in the parietal lobe of the brain was greater to the picture of the self than the friend. As a measure of the degree to which the participant viewed the self and other as similar, they measured the difference in the ERP response to the self vs. friend picture. They found that the smaller the difference between the self vs. friend P300 response the greater the levels of self-reported compassion. Importantly, they also found that the greater the amount of LKM practice the smaller the difference in the P300 response to self and friend.

 

These results are interesting and suggest that Loving Kindness Meditation (LKM) improves empathy and compassion by altering the brain’s response to self vs. others. In this way, individuals perceive other people as more like themselves, making them more compassionate and empathetic. It should be noted, however, that there was not a comparison group of meditators who did not practice LKM. So, it cannot be concluded that the effects were due to LKM practice specifically. It could be that any form of meditation practice would have similar effects. But, it is clear that meditation alters the brain’s response to self vs. others.

 

So, improve seeing others as like the self with Loving Kindness Meditation.

 

“The practice of LKM led to shifts in people’s daily experiences of a wide range of positive emotions, including love, joy, gratitude, contentment, hope, pride, interest, amusement, and awe. These shifts in positive emotions took time to appear and were not large in magnitude, but over the course of 9 weeks, they were linked to increases in a variety of personal resources, including mindful attention, self-acceptance, positive relationships with others, and good physical health…They enabled people to become more satisfied with their lives and to experience fewer symptoms of depression.”  – Barbara Fredrickson

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

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

 

Study Summary

Fynn-Mathis Trautwein, José Raúl Naranjo, and Stefan Schmidt Decentering the self? Preliminary evidence for changes in self- vs. other related processing as a long-term outcome of loving-kindness meditation. Front. Psychol., 21 November 2016 | http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01785

 

Research in social neuroscience provides increasing evidence that self and other are interconnected, both on a conceptual and on an affective representational level. Moreover, the ability to recognize the other as “like the self” is thought to be essential for social phenomena like empathy and compassion. Meditation practices such as loving-kindness meditation (LKM) have been found to enhance these capacities. Therefore, we investigated whether LKM is associated to an increased integration of self–other-representations. As an indicator, we assessed the P300 event-related potential elicited by oddball stimuli of the self-face and a close other’s face in 12 long-term practitioners of LKM and 12 matched controls. In line with previous studies, the self elicited larger P300 amplitudes than close other. This effect was reduced in the meditation sample at parietal but not frontal midline sites. Within this group, smaller differences between self- and other-related P300 were associated with increasing meditation practice. Across groups, smaller P300 differences correlated with self-reported compassion. In meditators, we also investigated the effect of a short LKM compared to a control priming procedure in order to test whether the state induction would additionally modulate self- vs. other-related P300. However, no effect of the priming conditions was observed. Overall, our findings provide preliminary evidence that prolonged meditation practice may modulate self- vs. other-related processing, accompanied by an increase in compassion. Further evidence is needed, however, to show if this is a direct outcome of loving-kindness meditation.

http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01785/full?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Psychology-w48-2016

 

Relieve Depression by Decentering

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By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“By practicing with others, people realize that the way their minds generate depressive and ruminative thoughts is really no different from others, like that builder over there, or my neighbor. These are just thoughts — not facts in my life,” – Willem Kuyken

 

Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) was developed specifically to treat depression and has been shown to be very effective in treating existing depression and preventing relapse when depression is in remission. MBCT involves mindfulness training, containing sitting and walking meditation and body scan, and cognitive therapy to alter how the patient relates to the thought processes that often underlie and exacerbate depression. MBCT attempts to decenter depressive thought processes; that is to learn to observe these thoughts and feelings as objective events in the mind rather than personally identifying with the thoughts or feelings.

 

Decentering changes the nature of experience by having the individual step outside of experiences and observe them from a distanced perspective. This allows the individual to see their thoughts as a constructed reality produced by their self and not as absolute truth. This, in turn, results in an ability to see depressive thoughts as not true, but simply a construct of the minds operation. This, then, allows the individual to begin to change how they interpret experience. Hence the depressive thought that how another treated them demonstrates that “I am worthless” can be reinterpreted to “this person acts this way out of their personal needs.”

 

It is not known whether the decentering produced by MBCT is actually necessary for the treatment of depression. This issue was explored in today’s Research News article “Exploring the relationship of decentering to health related concepts and cognitive and metacognitive processes in a student sample.” See:

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1419777434712845/?type=3&theater

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

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4784351/

Kessel and colleagues recruited university students and measured them for depressive symptoms, decentering, self-focused attention, attentional filtering, and metacognition (ability to judge one’s own performance). They found that the higher the student’s level of decentering, including the decentering components of accepting self-perceptions and distancing, the lower the levels of depression. The relationships discovered were relatively strong. Conversely, the higher the levels of dysfunctional self-focused attention the lower the levels of decentering and the higher the levels of depression.

 

The results are clear and interesting. They suggest that decentering is clearly and relatively strongly inversely related to depression. They also suggest that this relationship may be mediated by decentering, with the lowering of dysfunctional self-focused attention, resulting in lower depression levels. It should be kept in mind that this study was correlational. So, no conclusions can be drawn regarding causation. But, the results suggest that MBCT’s effectiveness against depression is at least in part due to its promotion of decentering. They also suggest that decentering training by itself might be an effective treatment for depression.

 

So, relieve depression by decentering.

 

“Mindfulness practices of MBCT allowed people to be more intentionally aware of the present moment, which gave them space to pause before reacting automatically to others. Instead of becoming distressed about rejection or criticism, they stepped back to understand their own automatic reactions—and to become more attuned to others’ needs and emotions. Awareness gave them more choice in how to respond, instead of becoming swept up in escalating negative emotion.” – Emily Nauman

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

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

 

Study Summary

Kessel, R., Gecht, J., Forkmann, T., Drueke, B., Gauggel, S., & Mainz, V. (2016). Exploring the relationship of decentering to health related concepts and cognitive and metacognitive processes in a student sample. BMC Psychology, 4, 11. http://doi.org/10.1186/s40359-016-0115-6

 

Abstract

Background: Decentering, a central change strategy of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, is a process of stepping outside of one’s own mental events leading to an objective and non-judging stance towards the self. The study aimed at investigating associated mechanisms of decentering.

Method: The present study investigated the relation of decentering, operationalized by means of the German Version of the Experiences Questionnaire, to severity of depressive symptoms, assessed by the adaptive Rasch-based depression screening, and self-focussed attention, assessed by the Questionnaire of Dysfunctional and Functional Self-Consciousness. Furthermore, the relationship between decentering and a) the ability to shift and allocate attention by means of the Stroop test, and b) metacognitive monitoring, i.e. the absolute difference between judged and real task performance, was investigated. These relationships were examined in 55 healthy students using Pearson’s correlations.

Results: In line with our assumptions, higher decentering scores were significantly associated with lower scores on severity of depressive symptoms, with higher functional- and lower dysfunctional self-focussed attention. Contrary to our expectations, results neither indicated a relationship between decentering and attention ability, nor between decentering and metacognitive monitoring.

Conclusions: The present results suggest that decentering is associated with concepts of mental health (i.e. less severity of depressive symptoms and higher functional self-focussed attention). Overall, the concept decentering seems to be mainly composed of self-focussed aspects when investigated in a healthy sample without intervention. Further investigations of associated concepts of decentering should consider aspects of self-relevance and emotional valence.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4784351/

Reduce Food Cravings with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

 “When it comes to overcoming food addictions and cravings, if we learn to observe and view our craving-related thoughts and feelings as something separate from ourselves, they lose their power over us.  And we can begin to take back our rightful place in the driver’s seat.” – Traci Pedersen

 

Craving for certain foods is an almost universal phenomenon. There are specific foods, chocolate for many, the thought of which sets off an intense desire to consume them and often food seeking to obtain and ingest them. This is normal. But, in some, food cravings, also known as specific hungers, are the source of overeating and may be a source of overweight and obesity. So, being able to cope with or control food cravings may be of assistance in reducing intake and body weight.

 

Mindfulness has been demonstrated to be effective in reducing food intake. It attempts to reduce intake by engendering mindful eating, which involves paying attention to eating while it is occurring, including attention to the sight, smell, flavors, and textures of food, to the process of chewing and swallowing, and to the physiological feelings of hunger and fullness from the body. Another way mindfulness can help control intake is that it can promote decentering, where the individual learns to view thoughts as just thoughts and not personal. Taking a step back from the craving for a food the individual can see that “I have a thought about wanting chocolate” is different from “I must have chocolate.”

 

It is not known whether mindfulness may produce reduced food cravings by engendering decentering, by another mechanism, or by producing multiple routes to lower cravings. In today’s Research News article “Food-Specific Decentering Experiences Are Associated with Reduced Food Cravings in Meditators: A Preliminary Investigation.” See:

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1345624652128124/?type=3&theater

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

http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12671-016-0554-4

Papies and colleagues investigate mindfulness’ and decentering’s associations with food cravings. They recruited practiced meditators and measured, meditation experience, decentering from food thoughts, awareness of food thoughts, and food cravings. They found that the greater the meditation experience the lower the food cravings. They also found that the greater the decentering from food thoughts the lower the food cravings and this association was stronger for women than for men. Finally, they demonstrated that meditation experience was only associated with lower food cravings when the meditators were low in decentering from food thoughts.

 

These results suggest that both meditation experience and decentering are associated with lower food cravings. Unfortunately, there were no measure of actual intake. So, it cannot be determined if the lower food cravings were associated with actually lower food intake. The fact that meditation experience was only associated with lower cravings when decentering was low may be accounted for by the fact that when decentering was high food cravings were low and there was no room for meditation experience to further lower cravings. In addition, because this study was correlational, cause and effect cannot be determined. For example, people who are low in cravings might be the types of people drawn to meditation and who are already highly decentered.

 

Regardless, it is clear that there are strong relationships between meditation experience and decentering of food thoughts with the levels of food craving in the individual. It will remain for future research to manipulate these variable, disentangle their respective influences, examine causal relationships, and determine if they’re associated with lower food intake. Nevertheless, the present results make it clear that this future research is justified and has the potential to lead to more effective strategies to reduce intake, overweight, and obesity.

 

“Mindful eating is a practice that allows us to tune in to the body’s needs and be thoughtful about how we nourish ourselves. By fully appreciating a food’s flavors and textures and being in the moment while eating, we open ourselves up to a deeper level of enjoyment, and it becomes easier to make better choices.” – Sonia Jones

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

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

 

Study Summary

Papies, E.K., van Winckel, M. & Keesman, M. Food-Specific Decentering Experiences Are Associated with Reduced Food Cravings in Meditators: A Preliminary Investigation. Mindfulness (2016) 7: 1123. doi:10.1007/s12671-016-0554-4

Abstract

This study examined the association of food-specific decentering experiences with food cravings in a sample of meditators. Decentering refers to viewing one’s thoughts as transient mental events and thus experiencing them as less subjectively real. This process has been suggested to be a key mechanism underlying the effects of mindfulness and many contemplative practices. Although most earlier studies have focused on the effects of decentering with regard to negative affect, some studies have shown that brief inductions of decentering among non-meditators reduce food cravings as well as unhealthy food choices. Here, we report a preliminary investigation of whether the food-specific decentering experiences that meditators have in daily life are associated with fewer food cravings. A small sample of meditators (N = 33, female = 15) answered a number of questions about decentering experiences with regard to thoughts about food, and they completed the short version of the Food Cravings Questionnaire–Trait and a measure of meditation experience. Results confirmed that both more meditation experience and more food-specific decentering experiences were associated with fewer food cravings in daily life. In addition, results suggested that when participants had stronger decentering experiences, they experienced fewer food cravings, regardless of their level of meditation experience. Exploratory analyses further revealed that decentering was more strongly associated with reduced cravings in women than in men. These preliminary findings suggest that food-specific decentering experiences indeed help meditators deal with food desires, and thus extend the evidence for decentering effects into the domain of reward. Future research might investigate this in larger samples, validate a food-specific measure of decentering, and consider the broader implications of decentering experiences in daily life.

http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12671-016-0554-4