The Power of Retreat 5 – Meditation and Spirituality

The Power of Retreat 5 – Meditation and Spirituality

 

“Meditation is the discovery that the point of life is always arrived at in the immediate moment.” – Alan Watts

 

In a prior essay ‘The Power of Retreat 4 – the Container of Silence’ (https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/insights/?section=navPosts), the effects of the container in which retreat is conducted were explored. But, the point of retreat is not the container, it is what transpires within it. Meditation and contemplation are the primary practices of the retreat. The amount varies with different types of retreats. The one we just returned from the amount of meditation varied between 3 to 4+ hours per day occurring in 6 to 8 periods beginning at 7:30 in the morning through 9:30 in the evening. The retreat not only allows for deep meditative experiences that build over the course of the retreat, but it also allows for time for contemplation. Just sitting or walking while reflecting on our environment, immediate experience, or the insights occurring in meditation is as important as the meditation itself.

 

The specific type of meditation practiced can vary with different retreats (see links below for explanations of meditation techniques). But, all practices emphasize quieting the mind, reducing the internal conversation and chatter, in order to better see and understand the operation of the mind. The amount of meditation is important as it is a ‘practice’ and over time the mind gets quieter. When the mind quiets all sorts of things can emerge, some expected, some a complete surprise, some sublime, but some very uncomfortable and upsetting. Be forewarned, meditation can produce wrenching experiences. We’ve seen many people spontaneously break out in tears at any moment. Most deal with it effectively, confronting and experiencing troubling experiences and the attached strong emotions. This is actually a very good thing as it can help to heal inner wounds that may have festered for decades. But, some participants are overwhelmed and need assistance or need to leave the retreat. Don’t be put off, these are important experiences and may constitute breakthrough moments, leading to self-transformation.

 

The intent of meditation is not to elicit thinking or emotions, even though thinking and emotions occur frequently during meditation. The intent is to allow inner silence to prevail. At the retreat we attended we all wore tags stating “I am observing silence.” This can be viewed very practically as a message to everyone around who may not be participating in the retreat, that we’re not open to conversation, or even everyday niceties. But, it’s true meaning is deeper. It suggests that we are observing silence itself, the silence within that is ever present and the foundation upon which all experiences emerge. It is a wonderful experience to be deeply immersed in the silence.

 

A powerful component of retreat is the commitment and intention that the participants bring. Most people coming to a retreat are very committed. The investment of money and especially a week’s time is a concrete expression of that commitment. The week taken away from work and everyday activities is dear to many. It could have been used to take a cruise, tour a foreign country, go to a beach or theme park, visit friends and family, etc. So, the choice to go on retreat instead is meaningful. This commitment provides the motivation for the individual to focus on the work of the retreat and particularly on their intention. Most come with an intention to work on self-understanding, which may paradoxically include a loss of self! In addition, the fact that there is a group of committed individuals with a shared intention present energizes the retreat.

 

For many the intention is for spiritual development. Some come to retreat with a specific intention to experience spiritual awakening or to experience a union with God. But, even those who come for personal development reasons often migrate toward spiritual development. This is a natural outgrowth of meditation. It is impossible to look deeply inside, particularly at the silence and emptiness and not be spiritually affected, to not glimpse the deeper aspects of existence. In fact, it is common in retreat for people to have awakening experiences. These frequently occur not in the meditation itself but during the contemplative time. That’s frequently where the fruits of meditation ripen. Additionally, the supportive environment of retreat can promote awakenings as the individual knows that these unusual experiences will be accepted and understood, whereas in everyday life they are not.

 

Silent meditation retreat is an opportunity to move away from our everyday lives. Some may see this as an opportunity to escape them but the power of retreat is not to escape our lives but to provide perspective on them. Yes, work, chores etc. must be done. But, by putting perspective on their true importance we become less stressed and anxious about them and don’t ruminate about unfinished tasks. Rather, we can begin to live our life with balance, making sure that we take care of what constitutes the to do list of our happiness and growth. It has been pointed out that absolutely no one, on their death bed, wishes that they had spent more time at work. Retreat can provide this same kind of perspective. We come away from retreat with a clear realization that we must give higher priorities and more time to our emotional and spiritual lives. We must invest the precious time of our lives in rest and contemplation. We must devote ourselves more to others and especially, to caring for ourselves. We can see how important our relationships, family and friends are to our inner reality. Retreat can provide this perspective for us and is part of its life-altering power.

 

We highly recommend retreat, especially silent retreat, for those who wish for personal or spiritual development. But, be prepared. It is often not the pleasant relaxing time off that many envision. It can be emotional and spiritual dynamite that needs to be approached with caution.

 

As gold purified in a furnace loses its impurities and achieves its own true nature, the mind gets rid of the impurities of the attributes of delusion, attachment and purity through meditation and attains Reality. – Adi Shankara”

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

Improve Migraine Headaches with Spiritual Meditation

Improve Migraine Headaches with Spiritual Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

Meditation is an ancient spiritual practice that people are still using today to get headache relief. This mind-body practice seems to work by relieving stress associated with headache pain.” – Chris Iliades

 

Migraine headaches are a torment far beyond the suffering of a common headache. It is an intense throbbing pain usually unilateral, focused on only one side of the head and lasts from 4 hours to 3 days. They are actually a collection of neurological symptoms. Migraines often include: visual disturbances, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, extreme sensitivity to sound, light, touch and smell, and tingling or numbness in the extremities or face. Migraines are the 8th most disabling illness in the world. In the U.S. they affect roughly 40 million men, women and children. While most sufferers experience attacks once or twice a month, 14 million people or about 4% have chronic daily headaches. Migraines are very disruptive to the sufferer’s personal and work lives as most people are unable to work or function normally when experiencing a migraine.

 

There is no known cure for migraine headaches. Treatments are targeted at managing the symptoms. Prescription and over-the-counter pain relievers are frequently used. There are a number of drug and drug combinations that appear to reduce the frequency of migraine attacks. These vary in effectiveness but unfortunately can have troubling side effects and some are addictive. Behaviorally, relaxation and sleep appear to help lower the frequency of migraines. Mindfulness practices have been shown to reduce stress and improve relaxation. So, they may be useful in preventing migraines. Indeed, it has been shown that mindfulness practice can reduce headache pain.

 

There are a wide variety of meditation techniques. It is not known which kinds work best for migraine headaches. In today’s Research News article “Effect of Different Meditation Types on Migraine Headache Medication Use.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4600642/ ), Wachholtz and colleagues examine the effectiveness of spiritual focused vs. secular meditation techniques on treating migraine headaches. They recruited adult migraine sufferers who had at least 2 migraine headaches per month and who were naive to meditation. They were randomly assigned to one of four groups who meditated for 20 minutes per day for 30 days; Spiritual Meditation, Internally Focused Secular Meditation, Externally Focused Secular Meditation, or Progressive Muscle Relaxation.

 

The meditation techniques differed in a phrase that the participants repeated to themselves and used as a focus for their meditation during the 20-minute daily period. For the Spiritual Meditation group the participants chose one of four phrases; “God is peace,” “God is joy,” God is good,” and “God is love.” For the Secular Internal Meditation group the participants chose either; “I am content,” “I am joyful,” “I am good,” “I am happy.” For the Secular External Meditation group the participants chose either; “Grass is green,” “Sand is soft,” “Cotton is fluffy,” “Cloth is smooth.” The Relaxation group practiced progressive muscle relaxation, systematically tensing and relaxing muscles. Participants were measured before and after the 30 days of meditation for headache frequency, intensity, and usage of migraine medications, and for spiritual and religious experiences and activities. They also maintained daily headache diaries.

 

They found that while all groups showed some improvement in migraine frequency, the Spiritual Meditation groups had significantly greater improvement than the other groups. In addition, while all groups showed significant reduction in the use of migraine medications, the Spiritual Meditation groups had significantly greater reductions. There was, however, no change in the severity of the migraines. Hence, although there were fewer headaches, when they did occur they were just as intense as usual. It should be noted, however, that there wasn’t a no-treatment control. So, it is unclear that improvements would not have occurred without treatment.

 

The results suggest that meditation and relaxation, but especially spiritually focused meditation, can improve migraine frequency and medication use. Mindfulness practices, in the previous research have been shown to be effective in treating pain from a variety of sources including headaches. It is not clear, however, why meditating with a spiritual focus is superior to secular focused meditation or relaxation. Perhaps focusing on a greater power relieves the stress of searching for the sources of the headaches within the self or the environment, and the stress reduction, in turn, reduces the likelihood of a migraine.

 

So, improve migraine headaches with spiritual meditation.

 

“This kind of moment-to-moment, positive mindfulness is crucial for chronic pain sufferers. Pain is only ever exacerbated by depression and despair. And depression and despair most definitely intensify pain. Thus, the dark circle of chronic illness. Mindfulness can stop this cycle in its tracks by allowing the patient to take back control and climb out of the gloom, a single moment at a time. “ – Ashley Jonkman

 

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

 

Wachholtz, A. B., Malone, C. D., & Pargament, K. I. (2017). Effect of Different Meditation Types on Migraine Headache Medication Use. Behavioral Medicine (Washington, D.C.), 43(1), 1–8. http://doi.org/10.1080/08964289.2015.1024601

 

Abstract

Spiritual meditation has been found to reduce the frequency of migraines and physiological reactivity to stress. However, little is known about how introducing a spirituality component into a meditation intervention impacts analgesic medication usage. In this study, 92 meditation naïve participants were randomly assigned to four groups (Spiritual Meditation (N=25), Internally Focused Secular Meditation (N=23), Externally Focused Secular Meditation (N=22), Progressive Muscle Relaxation (N=22)) and practiced their technique for 20min/day over 30 days while completing daily diaries. Headache frequency, headache severity, and pain medication use were assessed. Migraine frequency decreased in the Spiritual Meditation group compared to other groups (p<.05). Headache severity ratings did not differ across groups (p=NS). After adjusting for headache frequency, migraine medication usage decreased in the Spiritual Meditation group compared to other groups (p<.05). Spiritual Meditation was found to not affect pain sensitivity, but it does improve pain tolerance with reduced headache related analgesic medication usage.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4600642/

Psilocybin in Combination with Meditation Practice Improves Psychological Functioning

Psilocybin in Combination with Meditation Practice Improves Psychological Functioning

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“The ingestion of psilocybin, brought on “mystical” experiences that reduced illness-related anxiety and depression in nearly 80 percent of subjects studied in research trials.” – Andrew McCarron

 

Psychedelic substances have been used almost since the beginning of recorded history to alter consciousness and produce spiritually meaningful experiences. Psychedelics produce effects that are similar to those that are reported in spiritual awakenings. They report a loss of the personal self. 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.

 

Psilocybin is a psychedelic substance that is found naturally in a number of varieties of mushrooms. It has been used for centuries particularly by Native Americans for their spiritual practices. When studied in the laboratory under double blind conditions, Psilocybin has been shown to “reliably occasion deeply personally meaningful and often spiritually significant experiences (e.g. mystical-type experiences).” How lasting the changes are has not been systematically studied in controlled research studies.

 

In today’s Research News article “Psilocybin-occasioned mystical-type experience in combination with meditation and other spiritual practices produces enduring positive changes in psychological functioning and in trait measures of prosocial attitudes and behaviors.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5772431/ ), Griffiths and colleagues examine the duration of Psilocybin effects when administered under laboratory conditions. They recruited participants from the community who were not experienced with either psychedelics or meditation and randomly assigned to one of three groups; very low Psilocybin dose – standard spiritual support, high Psilocybin dose – standard spiritual support, or high Psilocybin dose – high spiritual support. Participants and researchers who interacted with them were not informed as to the dosing conditions.

 

Psilocybin was administered in capsule form in the morning and the participants remained in the laboratory and were measured until Psilocybin immediate effects were gone 7 hours later. One month later the participants returned for a second similar Psilocybin session. For the standard support conditions, the participants met with “guides” for five 1 to 2-hour sessions and a couple of days after Psilocybin administration for another 1-hour session, followed up later with a 10-minute teleconference. Sessions consisted of instruction and support for their usual spiritual practices. For the high support conditions, participants met on a similar schedule and dad additional sessions approximately monthly thereafter. The “spiritual practice suggestions had three primary elements: meditation (10 to 30 minutes of sitting meditation daily); daily awareness practice (use of mantra and one-pointed attention in daily activities); and daily self-reflective journaling of insights, benefits, and challenges of spiritual practice in daily life.”

 

They found that the high Psilocybin dose administration during the 7-hour post-administration period produced hallucinations and illusions, feelings of transcendence, grief, joy, and/or anxiety, and a sense of meaning and insight. These effects were significantly greater in the high spiritual support group. At the 6-month follow up they found that the high Psilocybin dose group in comparison the very low dose group had significantly improves attitudes about life and self, improved mood, increased altruism and spirituality, and significantly greater personal meaning, spiritual significance, and change in well-being. Again, in the high spiritual support group had significantly greater effects. Virtually all of the participants in the high Psilocybin dose conditions reported that this was among the greatest spiritual experiences of their lives.

 

These results are striking and important. Administration of the psychedelic substance, Psilocybin, produced consistently positive personal and spiritual effects immediately and the effects appeared to be relatively permanent, still present after 6 months. In addition, engaging in spiritual meditative practices appeared to heighten these effects. The use of psychedelic substances is extremely controversial and for the most part illegal. But, the present findings suggest that at least under controlled circumstances, they may have positive and lasting, effects on the individual and their spirituality. Further research should explore the use of Psilocybin for the treatment of mental illness and the promotion of human well-being.

 

So, psilocybin in combination with meditation practice improves psychological functioning.

 

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

 

Roland R Griffiths, Matthew W Johnson, William A Richards, Brian D Richards, Robert Jesse, Katherine A MacLean, Frederick S Barrett, Mary P Cosimano, Maggie A Klinedinst. Psilocybin-occasioned mystical-type experience in combination with meditation and other spiritual practices produces enduring positive changes in psychological functioning and in trait measures of prosocial attitudes and behaviors. J Psychopharmacol. 2018 Jan; 32(1): 49–69. Published online 2017 Oct 11. doi: 10.1177/0269881117731279

 

Abstract

Psilocybin can occasion mystical-type experiences with participant-attributed increases in well-being. However, little research has examined enduring changes in traits. This study administered psilocybin to participants who undertook a program of meditation/spiritual practices. Healthy participants were randomized to three groups (25 each): (1) very low-dose (1 mg/70 kg on sessions 1 and 2) with moderate-level (“standard”) support for spiritual-practice (LD-SS); (2) high-dose (20 and 30 mg/70 kg on sessions 1 and 2, respectively) with standard support (HD-SS); and (3) high-dose (20 and 30 mg/70kg on sessions 1 and 2, respectively) with high support for spiritual practice (HD-HS). Psilocybin was administered double-blind and instructions to participants/staff minimized expectancy confounds. Psilocybin was administered 1 and 2 months after spiritual-practice initiation. Outcomes at 6 months included rates of spiritual practice and persisting effects of psilocybin. Compared with low-dose, high-dose psilocybin produced greater acute and persisting effects. At 6 months, compared with LD-SS, both high-dose groups showed large significant positive changes on longitudinal measures of interpersonal closeness, gratitude, life meaning/purpose, forgiveness, death transcendence, daily spiritual experiences, religious faith and coping, and community observer ratings. Determinants of enduring effects were psilocybin-occasioned mystical-type experience and rates of meditation/spiritual practices. Psilocybin can occasion enduring trait-level increases in prosocial attitudes/behaviors and in healthy psychological functioning.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5772431/

Retreat for Health

Retreat for Health

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“retreat confirmed the importance of taking time out of our busy lives to quietly reflect and connect with ourselves. I learned countless lessons that could have only happened through direct experience. Perhaps most importantly, I deeply accepted myself and vowed to continue leaning into my fears.” – Alyssa Siefert

 

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. The darkness can descend. 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. With all these difficulties, why would anyone want to put themselves through such an ordeal and go on a meditation retreat? People go because they find that retreat produces many profound and sometimes life altering benefits.

 

In today’s Research News article “The health impact of residential retreats: a systematic review.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5761096/ ), Naidoo and colleagues review and summarize the effects on health of attending a retreat. They discovered 23 scientific studies of the health effects of retreat of which 8 were randomized controlled trials. These studies included a wide range of participants including healthy individuals and people with mental and physical disorders. The retreats lasted from 2.5 to 15 days with most around a week.

 

They found that without exception the studies reported statistically significant improvements following the retreat in some outcome measures of mental or physical health. These benefits included significant improvements in quality of life, perceived physical health and health symptoms, as well as psychological and spiritual well-being, and even genetic markers of longevity. These benefits appear to last long after the completion of the retreat. So, retreat appears to produce substantial and lasting health benefits.

 

It is very difficult to find appropriate comparison conditions for a retreat or have a retreat with blind participants or researchers. So, there is a considerable risk of bias in all of these studies. Nevertheless, the universal findings of the scientific studies that have investigated the effects of participating in a retreat find significant psychological, physical, and spiritual benefits for healthy or sick individuals.

 

So, retreat for health.

 

“A 1-month Vipassana meditation retreat may yield improvements in mindfulness, affect and personality, even in experienced meditators.” – Montero Marin

 

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

 

Dhevaksha Naidoo, Adrian Schembri, Marc Cohen, The health impact of residential retreats: a systematic review. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2018; 18: 8. Published online 2018 Jan 10. doi: 10.1186/s12906-017-2078-4

 

Abstract

Background

Unhealthy lifestyles are a major factor in the development and exacerbation of many chronic diseases. Improving lifestyles though immersive residential experiences that promote healthy behaviours is a focus of the health retreat industry. This systematic review aims to identify and explore published studies on the health, wellbeing and economic impact of retreat experiences.

Methods

MEDLINE, CINAHL and PsychINFO databases were searched for residential retreat studies in English published prior to February 2017. Studies were included if they were written in English, involved an intervention program in a residential setting of one or more nights, and included before-and-after data related to the health of participants. Studies that did not meet the above criteria or contained only descriptive data from interviews or case studies were excluded.

Results

A total of 23 studies including eight randomised controlled trials, six non-randomised controlled trials and nine longitudinal cohort studies met the inclusion criteria. These studies included a total of 2592 participants from diverse geographical and demographic populations and a great heterogeneity of outcome measures, with seven studies examining objective outcomes such as blood pressure or biological makers of disease, and 16 studies examining subjective outcomes that mostly involved self-reported questionnaires on psychological and spiritual measures. All studies reported post-retreat health benefits ranging from immediately after to five-years post-retreat. Study populations varied widely and most studies had small sample sizes, poorly described methodology and little follow-up data, and no studies reported on health economic outcomes or adverse effects, making it difficult to make definite conclusions about specific conditions, safety or return on investment.

Conclusions

Health retreat experiences appear to have health benefits that include benefits for people with chronic diseases such as multiple sclerosis, various cancers, HIV/AIDS, heart conditions and mental health. Future research with larger numbers of subjects and longer follow-up periods are needed to investigate the health impact of different retreat experiences and the clinical populations most likely to benefit. Further studies are also needed to determine the economic benefits of retreat experiences for individuals, as well as for businesses, health insurers and policy makers.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5761096/

The Variety of Transcendent States During Meditation

The Variety of Transcendent States During Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Ancient masters described intense transcendent states that result from meditation. A true awakening, transformation of consciousness, oneness with the ALL. Many esoterics have glimpsed these levels of consciousness, and for a few it became a persistent state – enlightenment.” – Future Thinkers

 

Millions of people worldwide seek out transcendent experiences by engaging in practices, such as meditation, yoga, and prayer. Others use drugs such as peyote, mescaline, LSD, ayahuasca and psilocybin to induce these experiences. Transcendent experiences have many characteristics which are unique to the experiencer, their religious context, and their present situation. But, the common, central feature of transcendence is a sense of oneness, that all things are contained in a single thing, a sense of union with the universe and/or God and everything in existence. This includes a loss of the personal self. What they used to refer to as the self is experienced as just a part of an integrated whole. People who have had these experiences report feeling interconnected with everything else in a sense of oneness with all things. Although transcendent experiences can vary widely, they all contain this experience of oneness.

 

I published a summary and review of these characteristics in a paper entitles “A Model of Enlightened/Mystical/Awakened Experience. It can be found on Research Gate at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/281807307_A_Model_of_EnlightenedMysticalAwakened_Experience.

 

Because of their relatively rare, ineffable, and completely subjective characteristics, transcendent experiences have received only a small amount of scientific attention. This, however, flies in the face of their importance to humans of spirituality. They are central to the human search for the nature and meaning of existence. Hence, there is a need for greater scientific attention to transcendent experiences.

 

In today’s Research News article “A Systematic Review of Transcendent States Across Meditation and Contemplative Traditions.” Wahbeh and colleagues summarize the published peer-reviewed scientific literature on transcendent experiences occurring during meditation. They identified 25 studies involving a total of 672 participants that measured a variety of physiological, psychological, and experiential variables during or after the experience of transcendence during meditation.

 

They found that “as meditation progresses, a person’s sense of agency, location and boundaries in time and space become weaker and the sense of self dissolves”. This was associated with relaxed wakefulness which included decreased respiration, skin conductivity, and muscle relaxation, increase in the brain’s alpha rhythm power, alpha blocking, and changes in brain area interconnectedness and activity. The meditators report experiencing “a sense of timelessness, spacelessness, unconditional love, peace, profound joy, and loss of boundaries of the self. In Christian contemplative traditions, there is a “transformative presence of God” and religious ecstasy.” The meditators report changes in perception that are reflected in changes in brain activity in the sensory cortices. Phenomenologically these changes are reported to not alter the present sensory environment but transcends it producing a sense on oneness of all things.

 

The studies reported were very heterogenous with different methodologies, measurements, and focus and with great differences in scientific quality and bias. This is unfortunate, as this is such an important area of study. There is a need for more work under similar conditions with standardized measurements and tighter experimental controls. Rather than considering the published research as definitive, it should be viewed as a first step in the investigation of transcendent experiences during meditation. But, the published studies to date produce a tantalizing glimpse into these states, reflecting an altered interpretation of reality and perhaps insight into the nature of being.

 

“during transcendent states, we slip into an altered state of consciousness different from our ordinary waking or rational consciousness. “No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded.” – William James

 

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

 

Wahbeh H, Sagher A, Back W, Pundhir P, Travis F. A Systematic Review of Transcendent States Across Meditation and Contemplative Traditions. Explore (NY). 2018 Jan – Feb;14(1):19-35. doi: 10.1016/j.explore.2017.07.007. Epub 2017 Oct 23.

 

Background

Across cultures and throughout history, transcendent states achieved through meditative practices have been reported. The practices to attain transcendent states vary from transcendental meditation to yoga to contemplative prayer, to other various forms of sitting meditation. While these transcendent states are ascribed many different terms, those who experience them describe a similar unitive, ineffable state of consciousness. Despite the common description, few studies have systematically examined transcendent states during meditation.

Objectives

The objectives of this systematic review were to: 1) characterize studies evaluating transcendent states associated with meditation in any tradition; 2) qualitatively describe physiological and phenomenological outcomes collected during transcendent states and; 3) evaluate the quality of these studies using the Quality Assessment Tool.

Methods

Medline, PsycINFO, CINAHL, AltHealthWatch, AMED, and the Institute of Noetic Science Meditation Library were searched for relevant papers in any language. Included studies required adult participants and the collection of outcomes before, during, or after a reported transcendent state associated with meditation.

Results

Twenty-five studies with a total of 672 combined participants were included in the final review. Participants were mostly male (61%; average age 39 ± 11 years) with 12.7 ± 6.6 (median 12.6; range 2–40) average years of meditation practice. A variety of meditation traditions were represented: (Buddhist; Christian; Mixed (practitioners from multiple traditions); Vedic: Transcendental Meditation and Yoga). The mean quality score was 67 ± 13 (100 highest score possible). Subjective phenomenology and the objective outcomes of electroencephalography (EEG), electrocardiographyelectromyographyelectrooculogramevent-related potentialsfunctional magnetic resonance imagingmagnetoencephalography, respiration, and skin conductance and response were measured. Transcendent states were most consistently associated with slowed breathing, respiratory suspension, reduced muscle activity and EEG alpha blocking with external stimuli, and increased EEG alpha power, EEG coherence, and functional neural connectivity. The transcendent state is described as being in a state of relaxed wakefulness in a phenomenologically different space-time. Heterogeneity between studies precluded any formal meta-analysis and thus, conclusions about outcomes are qualitative and preliminary.

Conclusions

Future research is warranted into transcendent states during meditation using more refined phenomenological tools and consistent methods and outcome evaluation.

https://www-sciencedirect-com.ezproxy.shsu.edu/science/article/pii/S1550830717300460

Improve the Ability to Control the Brain’s Activity with Prayer and Meditation

Improve the Ability to Control the Brain’s Activity with Prayer and Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“You can sculpt your brain just as you’d sculpt your muscles if you went to the gym. Our brains are continuously being sculpted, whether you like it or not, wittingly or unwittingly.” – Ritchie Davidson

 

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. For example, the brain area that controls the right index finger has been found to be larger in blind subjects who use braille than in sighted individuals.  Similarly, cab drivers in London who navigate the twisting streets of the city, have a larger hippocampus, which is involved in spatial navigation, than predefined route bus drivers. 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.

 

Prayer and meditation can be quite similar. It is possible that they can both produce changes to the brain. Since, both involve a degree of self-control, it is possible that they both change the brain to enhance self-control mechanisms. In today’s Research News article “Ability to Gain Control Over One’s Own Brain Activity and its Relation to Spiritual Practice: A Multimodal Imaging Study.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5442174/ ), Kober and colleagues studied the ability of meditation and prayer to alter the nervous system and improve self-control. They recruited healthy adults who reported either a low or a high frequency of prayer or meditation. They were measured for spirituality and religiousness, mindfulness and locus of control. In addition, the participants had their brains scanned with Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI).

 

The participants had their brain activity measured with an electroencephalogram (EEG). They were shown a display with three bars the height of which was determined by brain activity in the 4-7 hertz (Theta), 12-25 hertz (SMR- Sensory-motor rhythm), and 21-35 hertz (Beta) range respectively. They received rewards (points) whenever their SMR was above a prescribed threshold and both their Theta and Beta were below a certain threshold. In other words, whenever their EEG reflected a specific prescribed pattern. If the participant was able to increase their SMR and decrease their Theta and Beta rhythms over training, it indicated and ability to control their brain activity.

 

They found, not surprisingly, that the high frequency group had higher levels of religiosity and mindfulness than the low frequency group. Importantly, they found a significant difference in the groups in their ability to control their brains. In particular, they found that the high frequency of meditation or prayer group was able to significantly increase their SMR while decreasing their Theta and Beta rhythms over training, while the low frequency group was not. When asked about their mental strategies to control their brain waves, the high frequency group reported significantly more “doing nothing”, similar to meditating or praying, than the low frequency group. Hence, the group who meditated and prayed often showed an ability to control their brains activity by employing a meditative strategy.

 

These are striking results. It has been known that with reward (biofeedback) people could learn to change their brain activity. But, it has never been shown before that people who prayed or meditated often would be significantly better at it than those who didn’t. The high frequency group is “assumed to be experts in focusing attention on inner states and self-referential processes.” This suggests that focused meditative practice improves the individual’s ability to control their brain activity. In other words, spiritual practice made them better at “doing nothing” and preventing thoughts from disrupting control of brain activity.

 

So, improve the ability to control the brain’s activity with prayer and meditation.

 

“The idea that there’s something specific about religious practices that changes your brain is just ridiculous. Everything changes your brain. Your brain is changing now, as is mine, as we’re having this conversation. There’s nothing special or magical about engaging in religious practices and showing certain changes in brain structure or function.” – Richard Sloan

 

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

 

Kober, S. E., Witte, M., Ninaus, M., Koschutnig, K., Wiesen, D., Zaiser, G., … Wood, G. (2017). Ability to Gain Control Over One’s Own Brain Activity and its Relation to Spiritual Practice: A Multimodal Imaging Study. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 11, 271. http://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2017.00271

 

Abstract

Spiritual practice, such as prayer or meditation, is associated with focusing attention on internal states and self-awareness processes. As these cognitive control mechanisms presumably are also important for neurofeedback (NF), we investigated whether people who pray frequently (N = 20) show a higher ability of self-control over their own brain activity compared to a control group of individuals who rarely pray (N = 20). All participants underwent structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and one session of sensorimotor rhythm (SMR, 12–15 Hz) based NF training. Individuals who reported a high frequency of prayer showed improved NF performance compared to individuals who reported a low frequency of prayer. The individual ability to control one’s own brain activity was related to volumetric aspects of the brain. In the low frequency of prayer group, gray matter volumes in the right insula and inferior frontal gyrus were positively associated with NF performance, supporting prior findings that more general self-control networks are involved in successful NF learning. In contrast, participants who prayed regularly showed a negative association between gray matter volume in the left medial orbitofrontal cortex (Brodmann’s area (BA) 10) and NF performance. Due to their regular spiritual practice, they might have been more skillful in gating incoming information provided by the NF system and avoiding task-irrelevant thoughts.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5442174/

Virtual Reality Enhances Meditative Experience

Virtual Reality Enhances Meditative Experience

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“It seems that a technology that pries your eyes and ears wide open to absorb as much sensory input as possible is working at cross-purposes with a discipline that asks you to forgo distraction, to close your eyes and direct your attention inward.” – Michael Gollust

 

Over the last several decades, research and anecdotal experiences have accumulated an impressive evidential case that the development of mindfulness has positive benefits for the individual’s mental, physical, and spiritual life. Mindfulness appears to be beneficial both for healthy people and for people suffering from a myriad of illnesses. It appears to be beneficial across ages, from children to the elderly. And it appears to be beneficial across genders, personalities, race, and ethnicity. The breadth and depth of benefits is unprecedented. There is no other treatment or practice that has been shown to come anyway near the range of mindfulness’ positive benefits. With impacts so great it is important to know how to promote the development of mindfulness even in individuals who dislike or avoid the discipline of practice.

 

Technology has recently been applied to training in mindfulness. Indeed, mindfulness training carried out completely on-line has been shown to be effective for as number of conditions. But, now virtual reality (VR) devices are improving and becoming readily available. Previously it has been shown the virtual reality (VR) can be helpful in treating phobias. and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). But, can VR enhance the development of mindfulness?

 

In today’s Research News article “Meditation experts try Virtual Reality Mindfulness: A pilot study evaluation of the feasibility and acceptability of Virtual Reality to facilitate mindfulness practice in people attending a Mindfulness conference.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5699841/ ), Navarro-Haro and colleagues had mindfulness experts who were attending a conference on mindfulness evaluate a Virtual Reality system that was designed to enhance the instructions of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). They had the experts wear a VR helmet that presented a scene of floating “down a calm 3D computer generated virtual river while listening to digitized DBT mindfulness skills training instructions.” They listened to one of three 10-minute DBT instructions on “Wise Mind, Observing Sound, or Observing visuals.” Before and after the VR experience they were measured for mindfulness, state of presence, their emotional state, including happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, anxiety, relax/calm vigor/energy, previous experience with technologies and the acceptability of the method.

 

They found that in comparison to their pre-VR state, after the session the participants had significantly higher levels of mindfulness and relaxation and lower levels of sadness, anger, and anxiety. The system was acceptable as the participants gave high ratings to it and the experience. This acceptability was also significantly correlated with the changes in emotions. These results suggest that in the eyes of experts on mindfulness, using Virtual Reality to enhance mindfulness instruction was a good thing and made them feel more mindful and emotionally better.

 

This is a good start. Of course, the next step will be to determine if VR is acceptable and can enhance mindfulness instruction in individuals who were not adept at, or practiced mindfulness. Additionally, this was an extremely short-term experience. It will be necessary to determine the effects of longer-term use of VR. Since, mindfulness training involves quieting the mind, it is possible that the VR stimulus environment may work counter to the goals of mindfulness practice. Finally, it will be necessary to try VR enhanced mindfulness training with individuals with physical and/or psychological problems.

 

Nevertheless, VR is an interesting technology that has been shown to help in treating some forms of psychological issues; phobias. and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and holds promise for further applications. It may be a method that can help train mindfulness even in resistant individuals.

 

“As I continued my exploration of this virtual world, at some point I noticed my mind had gone completely still. The monkey-mind, that great enemy of meditation, mindfulness, and really, of life, had all but vanished. I’d gone from zero to zen and the stillness that followed was glorious.’ – Mind Prana

 

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

 

Navarro-Haro, M. V., López-del-Hoyo, Y., Campos, D., Linehan, M. M., Hoffman, H. G., García-Palacios, A., … García-Campayo, J. (2017). Meditation experts try Virtual Reality Mindfulness: A pilot study evaluation of the feasibility and acceptability of Virtual Reality to facilitate mindfulness practice in people attending a Mindfulness conference. PLoS ONE, 12(11), e0187777. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0187777

 

Abstract

Regular mindfulness practice benefits people both mentally and physically, but many populations who could benefit do not practice mindfulness. Virtual Reality (VR) is a new technology that helps capture participants’ attention and gives users the illusion of “being there” in the 3D computer generated environment, facilitating sense of presence. By limiting distractions from the real world, increasing sense of presence and giving people an interesting place to go to practice mindfulness, Virtual Reality may facilitate mindfulness practice. Traditional Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT®) mindfulness skills training was specifically designed for clinical treatment of people who have trouble focusing attention, however severe patients often show difficulties or lack of motivation to practice mindfulness during the training. The present pilot study explored whether a sample of mindfulness experts would find useful and recommend a new VR Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT®) mindfulness skills training technique and whether they would show any benefit. Forty four participants attending a mindfulness conference put on an Oculus Rift DK2 Virtual Reality helmet and floated down a calm 3D computer generated virtual river while listening to digitized DBT® mindfulness skills training instructions. On subjective questionnaires completed by the participants before and after the VR DBT® mindfulness skills training session, participants reported increases/improvements in state of mindfulness, and reductions in negative emotional states. After VR, participants reported significantly less sadness, anger, and anxiety, and reported being significantly more relaxed. Participants reported a moderate to strong illusion of going inside the 3D computer generated world (i.e., moderate to high “presence” in VR) and showed high acceptance of VR as a technique to practice mindfulness. These results show encouraging preliminary evidence of the feasibility and acceptability of using VR to practice mindfulness based on clinical expert feedback. VR is a technology with potential to increase computerized dissemination of DBT® skills training modules. Future research is warranted.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5699841/

Improve Psychological Well-Being in the Elderly with Mild Memory Loss with Meditation

Improve Psychological Well-Being in the Elderly with Mild Memory Loss with Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all the answers we’re looking for when it comes to ending memory loss could be gained by simply doing KK for 12 minutes each morning? Perhaps that magic bullet is already here, waiting to be discovered in each and every one of us after all. Now, wouldn’t that be grand?” – Dharma Singh Khalsa

 

The aging process involves a systematic progressive decline in every system in the body, the brain included. It cannot be avoided. Our mental abilities may also decline with age including impairments in memory, attention, and problem solving ability. These are called age related cognitive decline. This occurs to everyone as they age, but to varying degrees. Some deteriorate into a dementia, while others maintain high levels of cognitive capacity into very advanced ages. It is estimated that around 30% of the elderly show significant age related cognitive decline. These cognitive declines markedly increase the risk of dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease. The declines occur along with sleep disruptions declines in mental health and quality of life, which in turn, appear to exacerbate the decline.

 

There is some hope, however, for those who are prone to deterioration as there is evidence that these cognitive declines can be slowed. For example, a healthy diet and a regular program of exercise can slow the physical decline of the body with aging. Also, contemplative practices such as meditation, yoga, and tai chi or qigong have all been shown to be beneficial in slowing or delaying physical and mental decline with aging. Indeed, mindfulness practices reduce the deterioration of the brain that occurs with aging restraining the loss of neural tissue.

 

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 community living adults over 50 years of age and experiencing memory problems and slight cognitive decline. They were randomly assigned to 12-week, 12 minutes per day, programs of classical music listening or Kirtan Kriya meditation, performed while sitting comfortably with eyes closed. At the first session the participants received 35-minute instruction on relaxation and their specific program and then provided DVDs for daily home practice. Kirtan Kriya meditation included signing a mantra, successive finger touching and visualization exercises. After the 12 weeks of practice participants were free to continue practicing if they wished. They were measured before and after the 12-week programs and 14 weeks later for body size, sleep quality, perceived stress, health-related quality of life, psychological well-being, mood, memory, and cognitive performance.

 

Retention and participation were high, with 92% of the music listening participants and 88% of the meditation participants completing the program. Participants completed 93% of the required session and 73% of the optional sessions during the second 14-week period. This indicates that the participants found the programs enjoyable and worth their time and effort.

 

Over the 12-week program, both groups showed significant improvements in sleep quality, perceived stress, health-related quality of life, psychological well-being, and mood. These improvements were either sustained or further improved over the subsequent 14 weeks. The meditation group had significantly greater improvements than the music listening group in perceived stress, mood, psychological well-being, and mental health quality of life. In addition, the greater the improvements in mood, stress, sleep, well-being, and quality of life, the greater the improvements in memory function. Hence, the two forms of relaxation produced improvements in the participants well-being which were related to improvements in memory. But, meditation had a greater impact then music listening.

 

These results are quite remarkable that such simple practices for only 12 minutes per day can have such profound effects on the well-being of aging individuals with slight cognitive decline. This could potentially delay of lower the likelihood that the decline will continue into dementia of Alzheimer’s Disease. It is important that the effects were lasting and participation high, both of which suggest that the meditation program can be easily and inexpensively applied to large groups of community-based aging individuals.

 

So, improve psychological well-being in the elderly with mild memory loss with meditation

 

“Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) can affect up to 20% of the population at any one time—and half of them will progress to full-on dementia. Now, a recent study . . .  finds as little as 15 minutes of daily meditation can significantly slow that progression.” – Nina Elias

 

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

 

Innes, K. E., Selfe, T. K., Khalsa, D. S., & Kandati, S. (2016). 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. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease : JAD, 52(4), 1277–1298. http://doi.org/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/

The Variety of Meditation Experiences

The Variety of Meditation Experiences

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“One can have almost any type of physical sensation during meditation in any area of the body. . .  The ticklish sensation in your heart just means that some normalization is occurring there, allowing for a more full expression of your emotions. The sense of anxiety or fear is a by-product of that clearing process.” – Depak Chopra

 

Meditation is a wonderful practice that has many documented beneficial effects on mental, physical and spiritual health. For the most part, people have positive experiences during meditation, but it is not all positive. People begin meditation with the misconception that meditation will help them escape from their problems. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, meditation does the exact opposite, forcing the meditator to confront their issues. In meditation, the practitioner tries to quiet the mind. But, in that relaxed quiet state, powerful, highly emotionally charged thoughts and memories sometimes emerge.

 

Many practitioners never experience these issues or only experience very mild states. There are, however, few systematic studies of the extent of negative experiences. In general, the research has reported that unwanted (negative) experiences are quite common with meditators, but for the most part, are short-lived and mild. There is, however, a great need for more research into the nature of the experiences that occur during meditation.

 

In today’s Research News article “The varieties of contemplative experience: A mixed-methods study of meditation-related challenges in Western Buddhists.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5443484/ ),

Lindahl and colleagues recruited experienced adult meditation practitioners and teachers from a variety of different traditions. Meditators were excluded if they had a history of unusual psychological experiences prior to learning meditation. They conducted extensive semi-structured interviews that consisted of open-ended questions regarding meditation-related experiences. Interviews with the participants were conducted either in person, by videoconferencing, or by telephone. Transcripts of the interviews were then subjected to qualitative data analysis focusing on challenging or difficult experiences.

 

They found that most practitioners had experienced at least some challenging experiences. 29% encountered challenges in their first year of practice while 45% encountered them in their first 10 years. For 73% of the practitioners, challenging experiences were associated with meditation retreats, while the rest were associated with daily practice. The more meditation per day the greater the likelihood of negative experiences with only 25% who practiced for 30-60 minutes per day having negative experiences, 34% who practiced 1-9 hours per day, and 41% who practiced over 10 hours per day. One of the most striking findings was the duration of negative experiences. They were not brief or fleeting. In fact, on average they were reported to persist from 1 to 3 years and as long as 10 years.

 

Thematic content analysis of the transcripts revealed 59 different categories of experiences that occurred in 7 higher order domains; cognitive, perceptual, affective, somatic, conative, sense of self, and social. 73% of practitioners had experiences falling into at least 6 domains.

 

The Cognitive Domain consisted in “Changes . . . to mental functioning, including the frequency, quality and content of thoughts, as well as . . . planning, decision-making and memory.” Most experiences in this domain were pleasant but unpleasant experiences also occurred including inability to concentrate for extended periods, problems with memory, the disintegration of conceptual meaning structures, “mind racing,” vivid imagery, and delusional, irrational, or paranormal beliefs.

 

The Perceptual domain consisted of ”changes to any of the five senses: vision, hearing, smell, taste and somatosensory processing” and interoception and proprioception. Unpleasant experiences in this domain included hypersensitivity to stimuli, illusions, hallucinations, dissolution of perceptual objects, distortions in time and space, and sensations appearing dreamlike, as if in a fog.

 

The Affective domain consisted of changes in the type, frequency, or intensity of emotions. For many the affective experiences were pleasant including bliss and euphoria, sometimes verging on mania. But, unpleasant experiences were very frequent and involved both increased and decreased emotionality including anxiety fear, panic, re-experiencing trauma, irritability, anger, and paranoia with 82% reporting it. For some flat affect occurred with a loss of swings in emotion.

 

The Somatic domain consisted of “changes in bodily functioning or physiological processes.” Unpleasant experiences in this domain included sleep disruption, feelings of pressure, tension, and hot and cold, electricity like voltages or currents through the body sometimes resulting in involuntary movements.

 

The Conative domain consisted of “changes in motivation or goal-directed behaviors.” Unpleasant experiences in this domain included loss of desire for previously enjoyed activities and loss of motivation to achieve goals.

 

The Sense of Self domain consisted of “changes in how a practitioner conceives of himself or herself over time.” Unpleasant experiences in this domain including a dissolution of boundaries between the individuals and others and the environment, loss of a sense of ownership of thoughts, emotions and agency (the doer), and loss of a sense of self entirely.

 

The Social domain consisted of “changes in interpersonal activities or functioning, including level of engagement, quality of relationships, or periods of conflict, isolation or withdrawal.” Unpleasant experiences in this domain included problems re-integrating into society after a retreat or intensive practice, impaired functioning at work or with family, and doubt and loss of faith. In fact, many of the negative experiences bled over into everyday life affecting all social interactions.

 

These findings need to be kept in perspective as most experience with meditation are pleasant and positive and even the negative experiences are mainly brief and manageable. But the results emphasize that it’s not all what people are led to believe. It can turn unpleasant or even ugly. It is important that this be taught and managed in the meditation community. In the monasteries this is well understood and managed. But in the secular world, these negative experiences are rarely taught, understood, reacted to properly, or managed. For many negative experiences can lead to stopping practice, but for others they can lead to grave psychological harm. It is important that the practitioner be made aware of these possible experiences before they begin, so they are better able to understand them a handle them astutely.

 

Meditation should not be engaged in blindly without proper instruction. It can produce great benefit but sometimes great harm. In order to maximize the benefits and minimize the harm proper education and management is needed.

 

Emotions that come up during meditation represent one of two things: 1) undigested past negative emotions that are rising up to be processed, or 2) a present-moment experience of raw emotion from something happening now, which can be positive or negative. Either way, it can make for an uncomfortable meditation and is one of the most common reasons people stop meditating.” – Trista Thorp

 

 

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

 

Lindahl, J. R., Fisher, N. E., Cooper, D. J., Rosen, R. K., & Britton, W. B. (2017). The varieties of contemplative experience: A mixed-methods study of meditation-related challenges in Western Buddhists. PLoS ONE, 12(5), e0176239. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0176239

 

Abstract

Buddhist-derived meditation practices are currently being employed as a popular form of health promotion. While meditation programs draw inspiration from Buddhist textual sources for the benefits of meditation, these sources also acknowledge a wide range of other effects beyond health-related outcomes. The Varieties of Contemplative Experience study investigates meditation-related experiences that are typically underreported, particularly experiences that are described as challenging, difficult, distressing, functionally impairing, and/or requiring additional support. A mixed-methods approach featured qualitative interviews with Western Buddhist meditation practitioners and experts in Theravāda, Zen, and Tibetan traditions. Interview questions probed meditation experiences and influencing factors, including interpretations and management strategies. A follow-up survey provided quantitative assessments of causality, impairment and other demographic and practice-related variables. The content-driven thematic analysis of interviews yielded a taxonomy of 59 meditation-related experiences across 7 domains: cognitive, perceptual, affective, somatic, conative, sense of self, and social. Even in cases where the phenomenology was similar across participants, interpretations of and responses to the experiences differed considerably. The associated valence ranged from very positive to very negative, and the associated level of distress and functional impairment ranged from minimal and transient to severe and enduring. In order to determine what factors may influence the valence, impact, and response to any given experience, the study also identified 26 categories of influencing factors across 4 domains: practitioner-level factors, practice-level factors, relationships, and health behaviors. By identifying a broader range of experiences associated with meditation, along with the factors that contribute to the presence and management of experiences reported as challenging, difficult, distressing or functionally impairing, this study aims to increase our understanding of the effects of contemplative practices and to provide resources for mediators, clinicians, meditation researchers, and meditation teachers.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5443484/

Reduce Depression by Improving Brain Responses with Mindfulness

Reduce Depression by Improving Brain Responses with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“If we accept that you can’t control your thoughts or feelings, but rather focus on cultivating your awareness of them, and regulate their impact, without getting caught up with them, then life can be far less stressful. The important thing is to realize that the content of our thoughts and emotions is less important than how we let them affect us.” – Ray Williams

 

Clinically diagnosed depression is the most common mental illness, affecting over 6% of the population. Depression can be difficult to treat. It is usually treated with anti-depressive medication. But, of patients treated initially with drugs only about a third attained remission of the depression. After repeated and varied treatments including drugs, therapy, exercise etc. only about two thirds of patients attained remission. But, drugs often have troubling side effects and can lose effectiveness over time. In addition, many patients who achieve remission have relapses and recurrences of the depression.

 

One of the characterizing features of depression is flat affect. Depressed individuals do not appear to react emotionally to either positive or negative events in their lives. Good things do not improve their mood and bad things don’t worsen it. This lack of reactivity tends to interfere with recovery from depression. Mindfulness training is an alternative treatment for depression. It has been shown to be an effective treatment for depression and is also effective for the prevention of its recurrence. This suggests that mindfulness training may help to reverse the flat affect, the lack of emotional reactivity.

 

In today’s Research News article “Brief training in mindfulness may normalize a blunted error-related negativity in chronically depressed patients.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5709439/ ), Fissler and colleagues employed an electrical response of the brain to the commission of an error, error related negativity, to measure non-reactivity in depressed patients and the effects of mindfulness training on this response.

 

They recruited adult depressed patients and healthy individuals as control participants. They were measured for depression both by clinical interview and self-report. Participants were asked to perform a sustained attention to response task in which single digits were presented and the participants were asked to press a space bar for all digits except the number 3. During the task, the Electroencephalogram (EEG) was recorded from the scalp to measure brain responses. The brain frontal lobe electrical response on correct trials was compared to that when errors were committed to measure error related negativity. After baseline measurement, the depressed patients were randomly assigned to either receive 2 weeks of mindfulness training or rest. The mindfulness training consisted of 25 minutes of meditation twice a day for 6 days per week. Resting depressed patients were asked to schedule rest periods on a similar schedule.

 

They found that the depressed patients were slower and made more errors on the sustained attention to response task than the health controls. In addition, the depressed patients had a significantly lower error related negativity in the EEG from the frontal lobe than controls, signifying less reactivity in these patients. They further compared the depressed patients who meditated to those who rested and found that both groups had decreased depression levels, but the meditators had significantly greater reductions in depression. Importantly, the depressed patients who meditated had an increased error related negativity response while the depressed patients who rested did not. This indicates that meditation improved depression and the brains electrical responses to events.

 

These are interesting and important results. It is well established that mindfulness training (meditation) significantly improves depression and this effect was repeated in this study. But, the results also suggest that meditation changes the brain of depressed patients, making it more responsive to environmental events. This suggests that meditation training may, to some extent, reverse the flat affect of depressed patients and that this occurs in combination with decreased depression. It cannot be established from this study if there is a causal connection between the flat affect and depression improvements. But, it is clear that mindfulness training (meditation) improves both.

 

So, reduce depression by improving brain responses with mindfulness.

 

“When unhappy or stressful thoughts occur, rather than taking them personally and merely reacting, mindfulness teaches you to observe such thoughts with friendly curiosity. You learn to catch negative patterns of thinking before they put you into a downward spiral. Over time, mindfulness can bring about long-term changes in mood and increased levels of happiness.” Sylvia Brafman

 

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

 

Fissler, M., Winnebeck, E., Schroeter, T. A., Gummbersbach, M., Huntenburg, J. M., Gärtner, M., & Barnhofer, T. (2017). Brief training in mindfulness may normalize a blunted error-related negativity in chronically depressed patients. Cognitive, Affective & Behavioral Neuroscience, 17(6), 1164–1175. http://doi.org/10.3758/s13415-017-0540-x

 

Abstract

The error-related negativity (ERN), an evoked-potential that arises in response to the commission of errors, is an important early indicator of self-regulatory capacities. In this study we investigated whether brief mindfulness training can reverse ERN deficits in chronically depressed patients. The ERN was assessed in a sustained attention task. Chronically depressed patients (n = 59) showed significantly blunted expression of the ERN in frontocentral and frontal regions, relative to healthy controls (n = 18). Following two weeks of training, the patients (n = 24) in the mindfulness condition showed a significantly increased ERN magnitude in the frontal region, but there were no significant changes in patients who had received a resting control (n = 22). The findings suggest that brief training in mindfulness may help normalize aberrations in the ERN in chronically depressed patients, providing preliminary evidence for the responsiveness of this parameter to mental training.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5709439/