Improve Empathy, Compassion, and Prosocial Behaviors with Meditation

Improve Empathy, Compassion, and Prosocial Behaviors with Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“From the philosophical and religious traditions from which mindfulness comes, it’s been long understood that practicing meditation, and cultivating mindfulness, in particular, can conduce to virtuous action.” – Daniel Berry

 

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.

 

Mindfulness has been found to increase prosocial emotions such as compassion, and empathy and prosocial behaviors such as altruism. These changes in turn reduce antisocial behaviors such as violence and aggression. The research findings on the effectiveness of meditation practice in developing prosocial attitudes and behaviors is accumulating. So, it makes sense to take a step back and summarize what’s been learned.

 

In today’s Research News article “A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of the Effects of Meditation on Empathy, Compassion, and Prosocial Behaviors.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6081743/), Luberto and colleagues review, summarize, and perform a meta-analysis on the effects of meditation practice on procociality; “empathy, compassion, sympathy, love, altruism, and kindness.” They discovered 26 studies, 22 examined adults while 4 examined children.

 

They report that the published studies found that meditation practices produced significant increases in empathy, compassion, and prosocial behaviors. Mediation analyses suggest that meditation practice improves social-emotional functioning that in turn improves prosocial behaviors. It also suggests that this is in part due to meditation practice producing a physical and psychological relaxation response that counters stress effects. Regardless the published research literature makes it clear that meditation practice improves social emotions and behaviors. This may lead to a smoother and more effectively functioning society and to greater social cohesion and happiness.

 

So, improve empathy, compassion, and prosocial behaviors with meditation.

 

“the research shows that mindfulness increases empathy and compassion for others and for oneself, and that such attitudes are good for you.” – Shauna Shapiro

 

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

 

Luberto, C. M., Shinday, N., Song, R., Philpotts, L. L., Park, E. R., Fricchione, G. L., & Yeh, G. Y. (2018). A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of the Effects of Meditation on Empathy, Compassion, and Prosocial Behaviors. Mindfulness, 9(3), 708–724. doi:10.1007/s12671-017-0841-8

 

Abstract

Increased attention has focused on methods to increase empathy, compassion, and pro-social behavior. Meditation practices have traditionally been used to cultivate pro-social outcomes, and recently investigations have sought to evaluate their efficacy for these outcomes. We conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of meditation for pro-social emotions and behavior. A literature search was conducted in PubMed, MEDLINE, PsycINFO, CINAHL, Embase, and Cochrane databases (inception-April 2016) using the search terms: mindfulness, meditation, mind-body therapies, tai chi, yoga, MBSR, MBCT, empathy, compassion, love, altruism, sympathy, or kindness. Randomized controlled trials in any population were included (26 studies with 1,714 subjects). Most were conducted among healthy adults (n=11) using compassion or loving kindness meditation (n=18) over 8–12weeks (n=12) in a group format (n=17). Most control groups were wait-list or no-treatment (n=15). Outcome measures included self-reported emotions (e.g., composite scores, validated measures) and observed behavioral outcomes (e.g., helping behavior in real-world and simulated settings). Many studies showed a low risk of bias. Results demonstrated small to medium effects of meditation on self-reported (SMD = .40, p < .001) and observable outcomes (SMD = .45, p < .001) and suggest psychosocial and neurophysiological mechanisms of action. Subgroup analyses also supported small to medium effects of meditation even when compared to active control groups. Clinicians and meditation teachers should be aware that meditation can improve positive pro-social emotions and behaviors.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6081743/

 

Different Activity of the Brain is Associated with Meditation

Different Activity of the Brain is Associated with Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Backed by 1000’s of studies, meditation is the neuroscientific community’s most proven way to upgrade the human brain.” – EOC Institute

 

There has accumulated a large amount of research demonstrating that mindfulness has significant benefits for psychological, physical, and spiritual wellbeing. One way that mindfulness practices may produce these benefits is by altering the brain. The nervous system is a dynamic entity, constantly changing and adapting to the environment. It will change size, activity, and connectivity in response to experience. These changes in the brain are called neuroplasticity. Over the last decade neuroscience has been studying the effects of contemplative practices on the brain and has identified neuroplastic changes in widespread areas. In other words, mindfulness practice appears to mold and change the brain, producing psychological, physical, and spiritual benefits.

 

In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness Meditation Is Related to Long-Lasting Changes in Hippocampal Functional Topology during Resting State: A Magnetoencephalography Study.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6312586/), Lardone and colleagues recruited healthy adult participants who had practiced Vipassana meditation for at least one year and participants who had never meditated. They recorded functional connectivity of brain regions with magnetoencephalography, a technique to record brain activity.

 

They found that in comparison to non-meditators, the meditators had increased activity in the Amygdala in the gamma frequency band (25-100 hz), the Hippocampus, the Caudate and the Cingulum in the Theta frequency band (4-8 hz), and the prefrontal cortex in the alpha frequency band (8-12 hz). Hence, there were significant differences in neural activity in the brains of meditators vs. non-meditators.

 

This study is correlative and causation cannot be determined. Meditation may cause these brain activity changes, or people with these kinds of brain activity are likely to engage in meditation, or some third factor may cause them both to covary. Nevertheless, it is clear that meditation practice is associated with different brain activity. This may be the physiological process that underlies some or all of the widespread psychological and physical benefits of meditation practice.

 

“Meditation provides experiences that the mind can achieve no other way, such as inner silence and expanded awareness. And as the mind gains experience, the brain shows physical activity as well—sometimes profound changes.” – Deepak Chopra

 

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

 

Lardone, A., Liparoti, M., Sorrentino, P., Rucco, R., Jacini, F., Polverino, A., … Mandolesi, L. (2018). Mindfulness Meditation Is Related to Long-Lasting Changes in Hippocampal Functional Topology during Resting State: A Magnetoencephalography Study. Neural plasticity, 2018, 5340717. doi:10.1155/2018/5340717

 

Abstract

It has been suggested that the practice of meditation is associated to neuroplasticity phenomena, reducing age-related brain degeneration and improving cognitive functions. Neuroimaging studies have shown that the brain connectivity changes in meditators. In the present work, we aim to describe the possible long-term effects of meditation on the brain networks. To this aim, we used magnetoencephalography to study functional resting-state brain networks in Vipassana meditators. We observed topological modifications in the brain network in meditators compared to controls. More specifically, in the theta band, the meditators showed statistically significant (p corrected = 0.009) higher degree (a centrality index that represents the number of connections incident upon a given node) in the right hippocampus as compared to controls. Taking into account the role of the hippocampus in memory processes, and in the pathophysiology of Alzheimer’s disease, meditation might have a potential role in a panel of preventive strategies.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6312586/

 

Improve Physical and Psychological Symptoms and Quality of Life in People Living with HIV with Mind-Body Practices

Improve Physical and Psychological Symptoms and Quality of Life in People Living with HIV with Mind-Body Practices

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Our bodies and minds are intimately connected. Living with HIV can be stressful and can challenge our emotional well-being. Similarly, stress and anxiety can affect our bodies. So maintaining “a healthy mind in a healthy body” is key.” – CATIE

 

More than 35 million people worldwide and 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV infection. In 1996, the advent of the protease inhibitor and the so-called cocktail changed the prognosis for HIV. Since this development a 20-year-old infected with HIV can now expect to live on average to age 69. Hence, living with HIV is a long-term reality for a very large group of people. People living with HIV infection experience a wide array of physical and psychological symptoms which decrease their perceived quality of life. The symptoms include chronic pain, muscle aches, anxiety, depression, weakness, fear/worries, difficulty with concentration, concerns regarding the need to interact with a complex healthcare system, stigma, and the challenge to come to terms with a new identity as someone living with HIV.

 

Mindfulness training has been found to be effective in treating chronic pain conditions. In addition, mindfulness training has been shown to improve psychological well-being, lower depression and strengthen the immune system of patients with HIV infection. The research and evidence is accumulating. Hence it makes sense to stop and summarize the research on the ability of mind-body practices to help relieve the symptoms of patients living with HIV.

 

In today’s Research News article “Mind-body practices for people living with HIV: a systematic scoping review.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6560810/ ), Ramirez-Garcia and colleagues review and summarize the published research studies of the effectiveness of mind-body practices for the treatment of the symptoms of HIV infection. “Mind-body practices include Tai Chi, Qigong, yoga, meditation, and all types of relaxation” training. They identified 84 published research studies.

 

They report that these studies found that for patients with HIV, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) decrease the physical symptoms and the side effects of the drug treatment, and improves the patient’s psychological state. They also report that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and the combining at least three relaxation techniques decreases the patient’s physical and psychological symptoms, and increase quality of life and health. Yoga practice was also found to lower the patient’s blood pressure. Tai Chi, Qigong, and relaxation techniques were found to improve the patient’s physical and psychological condition.

 

Hence the accumulated research suggests that mind-body therapies in addition to antiretroviral treatment are safe and effective treatments to improve the health, well-being, and quality of life of patients living with HIV. This is important as these patients will be living for many years with the symptoms of HIV and the side effects of its treatment. The addition of mind-body practices can help make living with HIV more tolerable and improve the patients’ lives.

 

So, improve physical and psychological symptoms and quality of life in people living with HIV with Mindbody practices.

 

“Living a healthy lifestyle can help you better control HIV and prevent the progression to AIDS. Eating a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy body weight, exercising regularly, practicing safe sex, and following your medicine regimen are all important steps in managing HIV.” – Johns Hopkins Health

 

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

 

Ramirez-Garcia, M. P., Gagnon, M. P., Colson, S., Côté, J., Flores-Aranda, J., & Dupont, M. (2019). Mind-body practices for people living with HIV: a systematic scoping review. BMC complementary and alternative medicine, 19(1), 125. doi:10.1186/s12906-019-2502-z

 

Abstract

Background

Mind-body practices are frequently used by people living with HIV to reduce symptoms and improve wellbeing. These include Tai Chi, Qigong, yoga, meditation, and all types of relaxation. Although there is substantial research on the efficacy of mind-body practices in people living with HIV, there is no summary of the available evidence on these practices. The aim of this scoping review is to map available evidence of mind-body practices in people living with HIV.

Methods

The Arksey and O’Malley (Int J Soc Res Methodol 8:19-32, 2005) methodological framework was used. A search of 16 peer-review and grey literature databases, websites, and relevant journals (1983–2015) was conducted. To identify relevant studies, two reviewers independently applied the inclusion criteria to all abstracts or full articles. Inclusion criteria were: participants were people living with HIV; the intervention was any mind-body practice; and the study design was any research study evaluating one or several of these practices. Data extraction and risk of bias assessment were performed by one reviewer and checked by a second, as needed, using the criteria that Cochrane Collaboration recommends for systematic reviews of interventions (Higgins and Green, Cochrane handbook for systematic reviews of intervention. 2011). A tabular and narrative synthesis was carried out for each mind-body practice.

Results

One hundred thirty-six documents drawing on 84 studies met the inclusion criteria. The most widely studied mind-body practice was a combination of least three relaxation techniques (n = 20), followed in declining order by meditation (n = 17), progressive muscle relaxation (n = 10), yoga (n = 9) and hypnosis (n = 8). Slightly over half (47/84) of studies used a RCT design. The interventions were mainly (46/84) conducted in groups and most (51/84) included daily individual home practice. All but two studies were unblinded to participants.

Conclusion

The amount of available research on mind-body practices varies by practice. Almost half of the studies in this review were at high risk of bias. However, mindfulness, a combination of least three relaxation techniques and cognitive behavioral strategies, and yoga show encouraging results in decreasing physical and psychological symptoms and improving quality of life and health in people living with HIV. More rigorous studies are necessary to confirm the results of Tai Chi, Qigong, and some relaxation techniques.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6560810/

 

Increase Positive Emotions and Decrease Emotional Disturbance in Adolescents with Meditation

Increase Positive Emotions and Decrease Emotional Disturbance in Adolescents with Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Adolescence is a time of change and growth. It is the period of life reserved for rebellion and self-discovery, but as the demands in life increase for teens, this time is often fraught with confusion, anxiety or depression. For many teens these challenges lead to disconnection and isolation.” – Making Friends with Yourself

 

Adolescence is a time of mental, physical, social, and emotional growth. But adolescence can be a difficult time, fraught with challenges. During this time the child transitions to young adulthood; including the development of intellectual, psychological, physical, and social abilities and characteristics. There are so many changes occurring during this time that the child can feel overwhelmed and unable to cope with all that is required. Indeed, up to a quarter of adolescents suffer from depression or anxiety disorders, and an even larger proportion struggle with subclinical symptoms.

 

Mindfulness training has been shown in adolescents to improve emotion regulation and to benefit the psychological and emotional health. Since adolescent girls are more likely to have emotional issues than boys, it would seem reasonable to hypothesize that mindfulness would have greater psychological benefits for adolescent girls than for boys.

 

In today’s Research News article “Gender differences in response to a school-based mindfulness training intervention for early adolescents.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6174072/), Kang and colleagues recruited male and female 6th grade students and randomly assigned them to receive a school-based, 6-week program, 4-5 times per week for, on average, 5 minutes per day of either guided meditations or brief lessons on African history. Before and after training the students were measured for global emotional disturbance, positive emotions, mindfulness, and self-compassion.

 

They found that in comparison to baseline and the active controls, the adolescents who meditated had significantly higher positive emotions and significantly lower global emotional disturbance. For males there were significant increases in positive emotions for both groups while for females there were significant increases in positive emotions only for the meditation group. A similar trend was present for global emotional disturbance. In addition, they found that for females the higher the levels of self-compassion the higher the levels of positive emotions and the lower the levels of global emotional disturbance. This was not true for males.

 

The results appear to show that meditation training is particularly effective in improving emotions in female but not male adolescents. But the difference was not in the meditation condition but rather in the control condition. Whereas the female controls did not show any improvement in emotions while the meditation group improved. For the males, both groups improved. So, both males and female adolescents had improved emotions following 6-weeks of meditation practice. Adolescents is a turbulent time with strong emotions. The present results suggest that providing meditation training in school may be helpful in controlling and leveling these emotions.

 

So, increase positive emotions and decrease emotional disturbance in adolescents with meditation.

 

“Adolescence is a developmental moment of peak stress, and a teen’s heightened self-consciousness (“Do I look weird? Did I just sound stupid in class?”) cranks up the volume of the inner critic. Self-compassion encourages mindfulness, or noticing your feelings without judgment; self-kindness, or talking to yourself in a soothing way; and common humanity, or thinking about how others might be suffering similarly.” – Rachel Simmons

 

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

 

Kang, Y., Rahrig, H., Eichel, K., Niles, H. F., Rocha, T., Lepp, N. E., … Britton, W. B. (2018). Gender differences in response to a school-based mindfulness training intervention for early adolescents. Journal of school psychology, 68, 163–176. doi:10.1016/j.jsp.2018.03.004

 

Abstract

Mindfulness training has been used to improve emotional wellbeing in early adolescents. However, little is known about treatment outcome moderators, or individual differences that may differentially impact responses to treatment. The current study focused on gender as a potential moderator for affective outcomes in response to school-based mindfulness training. Sixth grade students (N = 100) were randomly assigned to either the six weeks of mindfulness meditation or the active control group as part of a history class curriculum. Participants in the mindfulness meditation group completed short mindfulness meditation sessions four to five times per week, in addition to didactic instruction (Asian history). The control group received matched experiential activity in addition to didactic instruction (African history) from the same teacher with no meditation component. Self-reported measures of emotional wellbeing/affect, mindfulness, and self-compassion were obtained at pre and post intervention. Meditators reported greater improvement in emotional wellbeing compared to those in the control group. Importantly, gender differences were detected, such that female meditators reported greater increases in positive affect compared to females in the control group, whereas male meditators and control males displayed equivalent gains. Uniquely among females but not males, increases in self-reported self-compassion were associated with improvements in affect. These findings support the efficacy of school-based mindfulness interventions, and interventions tailored to accommodate distinct developmental needs of female and male adolescents.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6174072/

 

Meditation Practice Produces Unpleasant as well as Pleasant Consequences

Meditation Practice Produces Unpleasant as well as Pleasant Consequences

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“More than a quarter of people who regularly meditate have had a ‘particularly unpleasant’ psychological experience related to the practice, including feelings of fear and distorted emotions.” – University College London

 

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 are likely to emerge. Meditation practice can also produce some troubling experiences beyond unmasking deep psychological issues. Not the least of these experiences are awakening experiences themselves. If they are not properly understood, they can lead to sometimes devastating consequences. These experiences are so powerful and unusual that they can be misinterpreted. Awakening experiences have been misdiagnosed as psychotic breaks and the individual placed on powerful drugs and/or institutionalized.

 

Meditation practice can sometimes produce energetic states that can vary in intensity, location, and duration. If and when these occur, they are usually quite surprising and unexpected. They can be readily misinterpreted. They involve energy focused in specific parts of the body or overall. They can feel like nervousness, tension, or almost like electrical currents flowing through the body and can produce spontaneous and undirected movements. These energy states are usually found to be aversive and difficult to cope with.

 

Many practitioners never experience these issues or only experience very mild states. But these negative experiences are quite common. It has been estimated that about 25% of meditators experience negative effects. The most frequently described reactions were anxiety symptoms (including panic attacks) and depersonalization or derealization. There is a need to better understand these negative consequences of meditation.

 

In today’s Research News article “Unpleasant meditation-related experiences in regular meditators: Prevalence, predictors, and conceptual considerations.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6508707/), Schlosser and colleagues recruited regular meditators to complete a 20 minute online survey. They were asked to describe their meditation practice and were also asked to report any unpleasant meditation-related experiences, including anxiety, fear, distorted emotions or thoughts, or an altered sense of self or the world. They were also measured for self-compassion, repetitive negative thinking, and mindfulness.

 

They found that 25.6% of the meditators reported that they had had particularly unpleasant meditation-related experiences. They also report that women and religious practitioners were significantly less likely to report unpleasant experiences. Meditators who had high levels of repetitive negative thinking, practiced insight types of meditation (e.g. Vipassana) and who engaged in meditation retreats were significantly more likely to report unpleasant experiences.

 

The study was limited in that they did not look at the exact nature of the experiences or their intensity. Nonetheless, the results suggest that unpleasant negative experiences are fairly common among meditation practitioners. The results also suggest that retreats are particularly likely to evoke negative experiences and particular attention to these experiences should be built into retreat structures. In addition, the types of meditation practices that are designed to break down perceived reality, insight meditations, are particularly susceptible to negative experiences. The instructions for these practices need to include recognition of their likelihood. Finally, the results suggest that practitioners who evidence repetitive negative thinking are much more vulnerable and should be identified before beginning meditation practice for instruction.

 

It is important to understand these events to better prepare meditators to cope with their experiences in meditation. They are also important for meditation instructors to better monitor their students’ experiences and help them understand and deal with these experiences. Meditation is not all positive and pleasant and it is important for people engaging in meditation to understand this right from the outset. This could mitigate the impact of these negative experiences and better promote the beneficial aspects of meditation practice.

 

So, keep in mind that meditation practice produces unpleasant as well as pleasant consequences.

 

Recent reports linked meditation with instances of anxiety, panic and the worsening of existing symptoms. Little is known about why and when these experiences arise, or how common they are.” – Marco Schlosser

 

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

 

Schlosser, M., Sparby, T., Vörös, S., Jones, R., & Marchant, N. L. (2019). Unpleasant meditation-related experiences in regular meditators: Prevalence, predictors, and conceptual considerations. PloS one, 14(5), e0216643. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0216643

 

Abstract

So far, the large and expanding body of research on meditation has mostly focussed on the putative benefits of meditation on health and well-being. However, a growing number of reports indicate that psychologically unpleasant experiences can occur in the context of meditation practice. Very little is known about the prevalence and potential causes of these experiences. The aim of this study was to report the prevalence of particularly unpleasant meditation-related experiences in a large international sample of regular meditators, and to explore the association of these experiences with demographic characteristics, meditation practice, repetitive negative thinking, mindfulness, and self-compassion. Using a cross-sectional online survey, 1,232 regular meditators with at least two months of meditation experience (mean age = 44.8 years ± 13.8, 53.6% female) responded to one question about particularly unpleasant meditation-related experiences. A total of 315 participants (25.6%, 95% CI: 23.1 to 28.0) reported having had particularly unpleasant meditation-related experiences, which they thought may have been caused by their meditation practice. Logistic regression models indicated that unpleasant meditation-related experiences were less likely to occur in female participants and religious participants. Participants with higher levels of repetitive negative thinking, those who only engaged in deconstructive types of meditation (e.g., vipassana/insight meditation), and those who had attended a meditation retreat at any point in their life were more likely to report unpleasant meditation-related experiences. The high prevalence of particularly unpleasant meditation-related experiences reported here points to the importance of expanding the scientific conception of meditation beyond that of a (mental) health-promoting and self-regulating technique. We propose that understanding when these experiences are constitutive elements of meditative practice rather than merely negative effects could advance the field and, to that end, we conclude with an overview of methodological and conceptual considerations that could be used to inform future research.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6508707/

 

Reduce Stress and Improve Emotion Regulation with Mindfulness

Reduce Stress and Improve Emotion Regulation with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“By recognizing and identifying emotions as they arise, you are able to see how your thoughts can spiral you into agitated emotional states. . . Being mindful of your emotions will help you accept them and also stay in control of them. It’s from that place you will be able to refocus, rebalance, and recalibrate.” – Tris Thorpe

 

Mindfulness practice has been shown to improve emotion regulation. Practitioners demonstrate the ability to fully sense and experience emotions, but respond to them in more appropriate and adaptive ways. In other words, mindful people are better able to experience yet control their responses to emotions. The ability of mindfulness training to improve emotion regulation is thought to be the basis for a wide variety of benefits that mindfulness provides to mental health and the treatment of mental illness especially depression and anxiety disorders.

 

Mindfulness has also been shown to reduce the psychological and physiological responses to stress. Indeed, mindfulness has been shown to be helpful in treating and preventing burnoutincreasing resilience, and improving sleep. It is not known if stress reduction my be part of the mechanism by which mindfulness improves the control of emotions.

 

In today’s Research News article “Perceived stress mediates the relationship between mindfulness and negative affect variability: A randomized controlled trial among middle-aged to older adults.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6534144/), Colgan and colleagues recruited mildly stressed older adults aged 50 – 85 years and randomly assigned them to either receive a 6-week mindfulness meditation program or to a wait-list control condition. Meditation training occurred one-on-one for 1.5 hours weekly for 6 weeks and involved home practice. The participants were measured before and after training for perceived stress, positive and negative emotions, variability of negative emotions, and expectancies about the effects of meditation.

 

They found that in comparison to baseline and the wait-list control group the meditation group had significant decreases in perceived stress and negative emotion variability. In addition, the greater the change in perceived stress the greater the change in negative emotion variability. A mediation analysis revealed that meditation practice was reduced negative emotion variability directly and indirectly by reducing perceived stress which, in turn, reduced negative emotion variability.

 

It should be pointed out that there wasn’t an active control condition which opens up the possibility that placebo (subject expectancy) effects could be responsible for the results. But, the participants reported expectancies regarding the effects of meditation that were no different than the expectancies of control participants. This suggests that placebo effects were not responsible for the results.

 

Negative emotion variability can be viewed as an indicator of emotion regulation. If indeed an individual has better ability to deal with emotions then it would be expected that emotions would not build upon themselves and thereby be less variable. So, the present results are in line with previous research that meditation practice improves emotion regulation. They also suggest that it does so, in part, by its ability to reduce perceived stress.

 

So, reduce stress and improve emotion regulation with mindfulness.

 

Through mindfulness you can learn to turn your negative emotions into your greatest teachers and sources of strength. Instead of ‘turning away’ from pain in avoidance we can learn to gently ‘turn towards’ what we’re experiencing. We can bring a caring open attention towards the wounded parts of ourselves and make wise choices about how to respond to ourselves and to life. It’s a paradox that we all must understand: It is by turning towards negative emotions that we find relief from them – not by turning away.” – 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

 

Colgan, D. D., Klee, D., Memmott, T., Proulx, J., & Oken, B. (2019). Perceived stress mediates the relationship between mindfulness and negative affect variability: A randomized controlled trial among middle-aged to older adults. Stress and health : journal of the International Society for the Investigation of Stress, 35(1), 89–97. doi:10.1002/smi.2845

 

Abstract

Despite the interest in mindfulness over the past 20 years, studies have only recently begun to examine mindfulness in older adults. The primary aim of this study was to evaluate pretreatment to post-treatment change in negative affect variability (NAV) following a mindfulness training among 134 mildly stressed, middle-aged to older adults. The secondary aim was to assess if the effects of mindfulness training on NAV would be partially explained by pretreatment to post-treatment reductions in perceived stress, a trend that would be congruent with several stress models. In this randomized control trial, participants were assigned to either a 6-week mindfulness meditation training programme or to a wait list control. Ecological momentary assessment, a data capturing technique that queries about present moment experiences in real time, captured NAV. Mixed-model ANOVAs and a path analysis were conducted. Participants in the mindfulness meditation training significantly reduced NAV when compared with wait list control participants. Further, there was a significant indirect group effect on reductions in NAV through change in perceived stress. Few studies have tested mechanisms of action, which connect changes that occur during mindfulness training with psychological outcomes in older adults. Understanding the mechanisms by which mindfulness enhances well-being may optimize interventions.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6534144/

 

Sexual Arousal and Mindfulness are Linked in Complex Ways

Sexual Arousal and Mindfulness are Linked in Complex Ways

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“mindfulness meditation” training — which teaches how to bring one’s thoughts into the present moment — can quiet the mental chatter that prevents these women from fully feeling sexual stimuli.” – Gina Silverstein

 

Problems with sex are very common, but, with the exception of male erectile dysfunction, driven by the pharmaceutical industry, it is rarely discussed and there is little research. While research suggests that sexual dysfunction is common, it is a topic that many people are hesitant or embarrassed to discuss. Women suffer from sexual dysfunction more than men with 43% of women and 31% of men reporting some degree of difficulty. These problems have major impacts on people’s lives and deserve greater research attention.

 

Problems with sex with women can involve reduced sex drive, difficulty becoming aroused, vaginal dryness, lack of orgasm and decreased sexual satisfaction. Sexual function in women involves many different systems in the body, including physical, psychological and hormonal factors. So, although, female sexual dysfunction is often caused by physical/medical problems, it is also frequently due to psychological issues. This implies that it many cases female sexual problems may be treated with therapies that are effective in working with psychological problems.

 

Mindfulness trainings have been shown to improve a variety of psychological issues including emotion regulationstress responsestraumafear and worryanxiety, and depression, and self-esteem. Mindfulness training has also been found useful in treating sexual problems. But there is little empirical research. So, it makes sense to further investigate the relationship of mindfulness with female sexual arousal.

 

In today’s Research News article “Subjective and Oxytocinergic Responses to Mindfulness Are Associated With Subjective and Oxytocinergic Responses to Sexual Arousal.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01101/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_999212_69_Psycho_20190528_arts_A), Dickinson and colleagues recruited women between the ages of 20 to 35 for a study on sexuality and stress hormones and measured them for mindfulness. They watched landscape photographs and rated their liking of the photographs and then provided salivary samples to assess oxytocin and cortisol. Oxytocin levels are a marker of sexual arousal. They then listened to 1.5-minute stories that were either neutral or erotic and provided salivary samples. They also rated their sexual arousal after each story. They then performed a breath focused meditation for 15 minutes and provided a third salivary sample. After a 15-minute quiet period they provided a fourth sample.

 

They found that the higher the women scored on mindfulness, particularly the describing facet, the higher their levels of reported arousal in response to the erotic stories. They also found that oxytocin levels did not significantly increase in response to the erotic stories, decreased significantly in response to mindful breathing, and increased during recovery. They further found that women high in the mindfulness facet of non-judging internal experience and women who were quicker in detecting mind wandering during meditation had significantly greater decreases in oxytocin during meditation. In addition, women who were quick in detecting mind wandering and women who reported large increases in sexual arousal while listening to the erotic stories had greater decreases in oxytocin while meditating.

 

These are complex results. They suggest that in women mindfulness, subjective sexual arousal, and endocrine markers of sexual arousal are all linked in complex ways. They also suggest that women who are high in mindfulness are more sexually responsive to erotic stimuli. This may suggest that mindfulness training may be effective in increasing women’s ability to be sexually aroused. Future research should investigate whether mindfulness training may be an effective treatment for women who have difficulty with sexual arousal.

 

“among women who have sexual difficulties, mindfulness not only improves their desire but improves their overall sexual satisfaction, too.” – Tracy Clark-Flory

 

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

 

Dickenson JA, Alley J and Diamond LM (2019) Subjective and Oxytocinergic Responses to Mindfulness Are Associated With Subjective and Oxytocinergic Responses to Sexual Arousal. Front. Psychol. 10:1101. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01101

 

Mindfulness – the ability to pay attention, on purpose, without judgment, and in the present moment – has consistently been shown to enhance women’s sexual arousal. As a first step toward understanding potential neuroendocrine underpinnings of mindfulness and sexual arousal, we examined whether individual differences in subjective and neuroendocrine (i.e., oxytocin) responses to mindful breathing were associated with individual differences in subjective and neuroendocrine responses to sexual arousal. To achieve this aim, 61 lesbian, bisexual, and heterosexual women completed a questionnaire assessing dispositional mindfulness, underwent an arousal task while continuously rating their sexual arousal and a mindful breathing task, after which participants reported on their ability to detect attentional shifts, and provided salivary samples after each assessment. Results indicated that women who were quicker to detect attentional shifts and women who reported greater sexual arousability reported larger changes (decreases) in oxytocin in response to mindful breathing and were the only women to report increases in oxytocin in response to the sexual arousal induction. Results further indicated that individuals who report greater subjective responsiveness to mindfulness and sexual arousal appear to have an oxytocinergic system that is also more responsive to both arousal and to mindfulness. These results make a significant contribution to our understanding of the role of attentional processes in sexual arousal, and warrant future examination of oxytocin as a potential neuroendocrine mechanism underlying the link between mindfulness and sexual arousal.

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01101/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_999212_69_Psycho_20190528_arts_A

 

Alter the Brain to Deal with Stress with Meditation and Yoga

Alter the Brain to Deal with Stress with Meditation and Yoga

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Brain researchers have detected improvements in cognition and emotional well-being associated with meditation and yoga, as well as differences in how meditation and prayer affect the brain.” – Michaela Jarvis

 

There has accumulated a large amount of research demonstrating that mindfulness has significant benefits for psychological, physical, and spiritual wellbeing. One way that mindfulness practices may produce these benefits is by altering the brain. The nervous system is a dynamic entity, constantly changing and adapting to the environment. It will change size, activity, and connectivity in response to experience. These changes in the brain are called neuroplasticity. Over the last decade neuroscience has been studying the effects of contemplative practices on the brain and has identified neuroplastic changes in widespread areas. In other words, mindfulness practice appears to mold and change the brain, producing psychological, physical, and spiritual benefits.

 

In today’s Research News article “Meditation and yoga practice are associated with smaller right amygdala volume: the Rotterdam study.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6302143/), Gotink and colleagues utilized the data on participants in the longitudinal Rotterdam Study who were 45 years of age and older  at the time of recruitment and at the time of measurement had a mean age of 64 years. They were interviewed to determine if the practiced meditation and yoga and whether these practices improved their coping with stress. They were also measured for body size, blood pressure, blood fat, diabetes, smoking, alcohol use, stress, anxiety, and depression. In addition, their brains were scanned with Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI).

 

They found that practitioners of meditation and yoga reported higher stress levels than non-practitioners, but reported that the practice helped them cope with the stress. In addition, meditation practitioners had higher depression levels than non-practitioners. It is possible that people who are under high levels of stress or are depressed tend to engage in meditation and yoga practices to help cope with it.

 

They also report that the practitioners had smaller volumes of the brain structures right side amygdala and left hippocampus. In addition, over a five-year period the practitioners had a significant decrease in amygdala volume. The amygdala is associated with negative emotions and its smaller volume may suggest fewer or weaker negative emotions in practitioners.

 

This was a cross-sectional study and causation cannot be determined. It is possible that people with certain types of brains are more likely to practice. It will require a randomized controlled trial to determine what effects yoga and meditation practice may have on the psychological state and nervous system volumes.

 

Alter the brain to deal with stress with meditation and yoga.

 

“Studies show that yoga increases relaxation in the brain, improves areas of the brain that help us manage pain, and protects us against age-related decline. Together, these benefits begin to reveal the scientifically validated effects of yoga practice on brain health.” – Angela Wilson

 

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

 

Gotink, R. A., Vernooij, M. W., Ikram, M. A., Niessen, W. J., Krestin, G. P., Hofman, A., … Hunink, M. (2018). Meditation and yoga practice are associated with smaller right amygdala volume: the Rotterdam study. Brain imaging and behavior, 12(6), 1631–1639. doi:10.1007/s11682-018-9826-z

 

Abstract

To determine the association between meditation and yoga practice, experienced stress, and amygdala and hippocampal volume in a large population-based study. This study was embedded within the population-based Rotterdam Study and included 3742 participants for cross-sectional association. Participants filled out a questionnaire assessing meditation practice, yoga practice, and experienced stress, and underwent a magnetic resonance scan of the brain. 2397 participants underwent multiple brain scans, and were assessed for structural change over time. Amygdala and hippocampal volumes were regions of interest, as these are structures that may be affected by meditation. Multivariable linear regression analysis and mixed linear models were performed adjusted for age, sex, educational level, intracranial volume, cardiovascular risk, anxiety, depression and stress. 15.7% of individuals participated in at least one form of practice. Those who performed meditation and yoga practices reported significantly more stress (mean difference 0.2 on a 1–5 scale, p < .001) and more depressive symptoms (mean difference 1.03 on CESD, p = .015). Partaking in meditation and yoga practices was associated with a significantly lower right amygdala volume (β = − 31.8 mm3, p = .005), and lower left hippocampus volume (β = − 75.3 mm3, p = .025). Repeated measurements using linear mixed models showed a significant effect over time on the right amygdala of practicing meditation and yoga (β = − 24.4 mm3, SE 11.3, p = .031). Partaking in meditation and yoga practice is associated with more experienced stress while it also helps cope with stress, and is associated with smaller right amygdala volume.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6302143/

 

Meditation Alter Short-Term and Long-Term Breathing

Meditation Alter Short-Term and Long-Term Breathing

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“By activating the parasympathetic nervous system, meditation healthfully slows down heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure, sweating, and soothing all other sympathetic nervous system fight or flight functions.” – EOC Institute

 

In our lives we are confronted with a variety of situations and environments. In order to successfully navigate these differing situations, we must be able to adapt and self-regulate. The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) is designed to adapt physiologically to the varying demands on us. It is composed of 2 divisions; the sympathetic division underlies activation, including increases in respiration, heart rate, and blood pressure, while the parasympathetic division underlies relaxation, including decreases in respiration, heart rate, and blood pressure.

 

Mindfulness training has been shown through extensive research to be effective in improving physical and psychological health and particularly with the physical and psychological reactions to stress. These include alterations of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) producing physiological relaxation including reductions in breathing rates. But the effects of meditation on breathing has not been well studied.

 

In today’s Research News article “Breath Rate Variability: A Novel Measure to Study the Meditation Effects.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6329220/), Soni and colleagues recruited experienced meditators and nonmeditators who expressed interest in meditation. They were asked to close their eyes and sit quietly for 15 minutes. During which time they measured for heart rate and respiration.

 

They found that the meditators had significantly greater mean and median breathing time, standard deviation of the breath to breathe interval, standard deviation of the average breath to breathe interval, root mean square standard deviation of the average breath to breathe interval and significantly lower breath rate. These measures suggest that meditation practice produces short-term changes in breathing when at rest. In addition, heart rate and breath rate variability measures suggested that there was a significant increase in long-term parasympathetic input in the meditators.

 

These are complex but interesting results that suggest that meditation practice alters respiration over both the short and long term. On the short term, while at rest with eyes closed meditators have better, more relaxed, control of respiration. On the long term, meditator appear to have increased parasympathetic control of respiration. This suggest an overall relaxation of respiration. Meditation would appear to alter the overall balance in the autonomic nervous system toward increased parasympathetic (relaxation) control and decreases sympathetic (activation) control. This may explain some of the benefits of meditation for stress reduction.

 

So, relax short-term and long-term breathing with meditation

 

“all forms of meditation studied reduce physiological stress markers in one way or another, and therefore, all forms are likely beneficial in managing stress.” – Michaela Pascoe

 

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

 

Soni, R., & Muniyandi, M. (2019). Breath Rate Variability: A Novel Measure to Study the Meditation Effects. International journal of yoga, 12(1), 45–54. doi:10.4103/ijoy.IJOY_27_17

 

Abstract

Context:

Reliable quantitative measure of meditation is still elusive. Although electroencephalogram (EEG) and heart rate variability (HRV) are known as quantitative measures of meditation, effects of meditation on EEG and HRV may well take long time as these measures are involuntarily controlled. Effect of mediation on respiration is well known; however, quantitative measures of respiration during meditation have not been studied.

Aims:

Breath rate variability (BRV) as an alternate measure of meditation even over a short duration is proposed. The main objective of this study is to test the hypothesis that BRV is a simple measure that differentiates between meditators and nonmeditators.

Settings and Design:

This was a nonrandomized, controlled trial. Volunteers meditate in their natural habitat during signal acquisition.

Subjects and Methods:

We used Photo-Plythysmo-Gram (PPG) signal acquisition system from BIO-PAC and recorded video of chest and abdomen movement due to respiration during a short meditation (15 min) session for 12 individuals (all males) meditating in a relaxed sitting posture. Seven of the 12 individuals had substantial experience in meditation, while others are controls without any experience in meditation. Respiratory signal from PPG signal was derived and matched with that of the video respiratory signal. This derived respiratory signal is used for calculating BRV parameters in time, frequency, nonlinear, and time-frequency domain.

Statistical Analysis Used:

First, breath-to-breath interval (BBI) was calculated from the respiration signal, then time domain parameters such as standard deviation of BBI (SDBB), root mean square value of SDBB (RMSSD), and standard deviation of SDBB (SDSD) were calculated. We performed spectral analysis to calculate frequency domain parameters (power spectral density [PSD], power of each band, peak frequency of each band, and normalized frequency) using Burg, Welch, and Lomb–Scargle (LS) method. We calculated nonlinear parameters (sample entropy, approximate entropy, Poincare plot, and Renyi entropy). We calculated time frequency parameters (global PSD, low frequency-high frequency [LF-HF] ratio, and LF-HF power) by Burg LS and wavelet method.

Results:

The results show that the mediated individuals have high value of SDSD (+24%), SDBB (+29%), and RMSSD (+26%). Frequency domain analysis shows substantial increment in LFHF power (+73%) and LFHF ratio (+33%). Nonlinear parameters such as SD1 and SD2 were also more (>20%) for meditated persons.

Conclusions:

As compared to HRV, BRV can provide short-term effect on anatomic nervous system meditation, while HRV shows long-term effects. Improved autonomic function is one of the long-term effects of meditation in which an increase in parasympathetic activity and decrease in sympathetic dominance are observed. In future works, BRV could also be used for measuring stress.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6329220/

 

Eye Movements Reveal Mind Wandering During Meditation

Eye Movements Reveal Mind Wandering During Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Distractions in the mind translate to micro movements in the eyes or eyelids, and vice-versa. Stillness of eyes brings stillness of mind, and vice-versa.” – Giovanni

 

We spend a tremendous amount of waking time with our minds wandering and not on the present environment or the task at hand. We daydream, plan for the future, review the past, ruminate on our failures, exalt in our successes. In fact, we spend almost half of our waking hours off task with our mind wandering. Mind wandering is also present even during meditation. Mind wandering interferes with our concentration on the present moment. Focused meditation, on the other hand, is the antithesis of mind wandering. Indeed, the more mindful we are the less the mind wanders.

 

A system of the brain known as the Default Mode Network (DMN) becomes active during wind wandering and relatively quiet during focused on task behavior. Meditation is known to reduce the size, connectivity, and activity of the Default Mode Network (DMN).  Hence, brain activity may help identify mind wandering when it occurs. Eye movements occur even when the eyes are closed and during meditation. They may also be indicators of mind wander in during meditation.

 

In today’s Research News article “Spontaneous eye movements during focused-attention mindfulness meditation.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6345481/), Matiz and colleagues recruited adult experienced meditators. They engaged in a 7-minute focused breath meditation or a 7-minute mind wandering where they were asked to “remember or imagine one or more events of their past or future in which they, or another person, were the protagonist.” During the session brain activity, the electroencephalogram (EEG), was recorded. They derived a measure from the EEG that indicated vertical and horizontal eye movements. They also measured the total amount of meditation experience for each participant.

 

They found that during the 7-minutes of mind wandering there were significantly more eye movements, including both vertical and horizontal movements, than during the7-minutes of  focused meditation. In addition, they found that the more meditation experience that the meditator had, the fewer the eye movements that were recorded under both conditions. Hence, experienced meditators not only move their eyes less during meditation and but also during mind wandering.

 

These are interesting findings that suggest that analysis of the brain’s electrical activity, electroencephalogram (EEG), may be able to detect when mind wandering is occurring during meditation. This could lead to the possibility of providing biofeedback to the meditator when the mind is wandering, lessening the amount of mind wandering and thereby deepening the meditative experience. This is an intriguing possibility for future research.

 

When the mind becomes steady in meditation, the eyeballs also become steady. A Yogi whose mind is calm will have a steady eye. “ – Swami Sivananda

 

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

 

Matiz, A., Crescentini, C., Fabbro, A., Budai, R., Bergamasco, M., & Fabbro, F. (2019). Spontaneous eye movements during focused-attention mindfulness meditation. PloS one, 14(1), e0210862. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0210862

 

Abstract

Oculometric measures have been proven to be useful markers of mind-wandering during visual tasks such as reading. However, little is known about ocular activity during mindfulness meditation, a mental practice naturally involving mind-wandering episodes. In order to explore this issue, we extracted closed-eyes ocular movement measurements via a covert technique (EEG recordings) from expert meditators during two repetitions of a 7-minute mindfulness meditation session, focusing on the breath, and two repetitions of a 7-minute instructed mind-wandering task. Power spectral density was estimated on both the vertical and horizontal components of eye movements. The results show a significantly smaller average amplitude of eye movements in the delta band (1–4 Hz) during mindfulness meditation than instructed mind-wandering. Moreover, participants’ meditation expertise correlated significantly with this average amplitude during both tasks, with more experienced meditators generally moving their eyes less than less experienced meditators. These findings suggest the potential use of this measure to detect mind-wandering episodes during mindfulness meditation and to assess meditation performance.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6345481/