Improve Well-Being During Covid-19 Lockdown with Yoga and Meditation

Improve Well-Being During Covid-19 Lockdown with Yoga and Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

Practicing mindfulness and meditation may help you manage stress and high blood pressure, sleep better, feel more balanced and connected, and even lower your risk of heart disease.” American Heart Association

 

The Covid-19 pandemic has challenged the mental and physical health of the population. It has created intense stress both for frontline workers but also for people simply isolating at home. Mindfulness training has been shown to improve health and well-being in healthy individuals and those with medical and psychiatric conditions, Similarly, yoga practice has been shown to improve health and well-being in healthy individuals and those with medical and psychiatric conditions.  Meditation practice is known to decrease the psychological and physical responses to stress. Similarly, yoga practice has been shown to decrease the psychological and physical responses to stress. So, mindfulness and yoga practices may be helpful in coping with the mental and physical challenges resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown.

 

In today’s Research News article “A cross–sectional study of mental wellbeing with practice of yoga and meditation during Covid-19 pandemic.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8144767/ ) Priyanka and colleagues recruited adults over the internet during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown and had them complete a questionnaire measuring yoga practice, meditation practice, mental well-being, change in eating and sleeping, and the effects of the lockdown on mental health. The participants were separated into 4 groups, yoga only (18%), meditation only (21%), meditation plus yoga (35%), and no yoga or meditation.

 

They found that normal well-being scores were present in 66% of participants who practiced both yoga and meditation, 62% of those practicing meditation only, 60% of those practicing yoga only and 50.6% of people who practiced none. They also found that the greater the number of years practicing and the more frequent the practice the greater the proportion of participants with normal well-being scores.  A similar association of yoga and meditation practices was found with the change in eating, sleeping pattern, and family relations.

 

These results are correlational and as such caution must be exercised in concluding causation. But it has been previously shown that contemplative practices improve well-being, sleep, eating, and family relations. So, it is likely that the present results are due to yoga and meditation producing these benefits. The results, then, suggest that practicing yoga and meditation help to maintain mental well-being during a stressful pandemic lockdown and practicing both produces optimum benefits. They also suggest that the greater the frequency of practice and years practicing the greater the benefits. This suggests that practicing yoga and meditation help to relieve stress during difficult times, improving overall well-being.

 

So, improve well-being during Covid-19 lockdown with yoga and meditation.

 

mindfulness meditation is related to improved mental health across a variety of disorders, including different anxiety disorders, depression, eating disorders, substance abuse, and chronic pain symptom reduction.” – Jennifer Wolkin

 

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

 

Priyanka, & Rasania, S. K. (2021). A cross–sectional study of mental wellbeing with practice of yoga and meditation during COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of family medicine and primary care, 10(4), 1576–1581. https://doi.org/10.4103/jfmpc.jfmpc_2367_20

 

Abstract

Background:

COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in increased mental health issues. Yoga and meditation can help in alleviating mental stress and improving psychological wellbeing.

Methods:

It was a community-based online cross-sectional study involving adult general population. Data collection was done by using a Google form link that was circulated via online platforms. The data were analyzed using Microsoft Excel and SPSS version 22. Qualitative data were expressed in proportions or percentages and quantitative data were expressed in mean and standard deviation. Chi-square test was used to check the association of various factors and mental wellbeing.

Results:

A total of 649 (58.4%) subjects had normal mental wellbeing score, whereas 279 (25.1%) were found to be at risk of developing psychological distress and 184 (16.5%) were at risk of depression. A significantly larger proportion of subjects with normal mental wellbeing was found with the practice of both yoga and meditation (66.2%), followed by practice of only meditation (62.1%), only yoga (59.9%), and none of them (50.6%). A similar association of yoga and meditation practices was found with the change in eating, sleeping patterns, and family relations. The frequency of practice was positively associated with a higher level of mental wellbeing in the case of both yoga as well as meditation, with daily practice having the highest wellbeing scores.

Conclusion:

The practice of yoga and meditation, preferably both of them, is associated with higher level of mental wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8144767/

 

Improve Major Depression with Yoga

Improve Major Depression with Yoga

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Kriya yoga may be an effective, low-cost, non-drug approach to help patients who do not respond to antidepressants.” – Anup Sharma

 

Depression affects over 6% of the population. Depression can be difficult to treat. It is usually treated with antidepressant 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. Being depressed and not responding to treatment or relapsing is a terribly difficult situation. The patients are suffering and nothing appears to work to relieve their intense depression. Suicide becomes a real possibility. So, it is imperative that other treatments be identified that can relieve the suffering.

 

Mindfulness training is an alternative treatment for depression. It has been shown to be an effective treatment for depression and its recurrence and even in the cases where drugs fail.  Another effective alternative treatment is exercise. But it is difficult to get depressed people, who lack energy, to engage in regular exercise. Yoga is a contemplative practice that is both a mindfulness practice and an exercise. It has been shown to be effective in the treatment of depression. So, it makes sense to further study the effectiveness of yoga for major depression.

 

In today’s Research News article “Kriya Yoga in Patients with Depressive Disorders: A Pilot Study.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8079176/) Srivastava and colleagues recruited adult patients with major depressive disorder who were taking psychotropic medications and offered them Kriya yoga therapy. Those who chose not to participate were assigned to the control condition. Kriya yoga consisted of poses, breathing exercises, chanting, mantra repetition, meditation, and relaxation. For the first 2 weeks they were provided daily 45-minute instruction and practice followed by 6 weeks of 20-minute daily home practice. They were measured before training and at 2, 4, 6, and 8 weeks for depression characteristics and their level of depression.

 

They found that in comparison to baseline and the control condition, the participants who practiced Kriya yoga had significantly greater decreases in depression at 2, 4, 6, and 8 weeks. All of the participants in the Kriya yoga group achieved remission by 4 weeks while only 24% of the control group did.

 

The results must be interpreted carefully as the participants were not randomly assigned but rather self-selected to practice yoga or not and there was no follow-up after the completion of training to ascertain if the benefits last beyond the training period. Nevertheless, the participants that selected Kriya yoga in addition to psychotropic medication had faster and greater recovery from their major depressive disorder than participants taking psychotropic medications alone. These are encouraging results and should be followed up with a randomized controlled trial with long-term follow-up.

 

So, improve major depression with yoga.

 

A breathing-based meditation practice known as Sudarshan Kriya yoga helped alleviate severe depression in people who did not fully respond to antidepressant treatments.” – Science Daily

 

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

 

Srivastava, A., Kuppili, P. P., Gupta, T., Nebhinani, N., & Chandani, A. (2021). Kriya Yoga in Patients with Depressive Disorders: A Pilot Study. Journal of neurosciences in rural practice, 12(2), 362–367. https://doi.org/10.1055/s-0041-1726618

 

Abstract

Background and Objectives  Despite the easy acceptability and holistic nature of Kriya yoga, there are no studies evaluating the role of Kriya yoga intervention on depression. The objective of the current study was to assess the feasibility and effect of adjunctive Kriya yoga on depression.

Methods  Patients with major depressive disorder who opted for Kriya yoga were recruited into the intervention group (adjunctive Kriya yoga) and those on psychotropic medication alone were enrolled into the control group. The Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HDRS) measurements were recorded at baseline, end of 2, 4, and 8 weeks.

Results  HDRS scores of the intervention group ( n = 29) were found to be significantly lesser than that of the control group ( n = 52) by the end of 2, 4, and 8 weeks. The remission rate was also significantly greater in the intervention group.

Conclusion  Kriya yoga intervention was found to be feasible, as well as improved the severity of depression.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8079176/

Relieve Loneliness with Meditation

Relieve Loneliness with Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“When we can rest in the middle [of meditation], we begin to have a nonthreatening relationship with loneliness, a relaxing and cooling loneliness that completely turns our usual fearful patterns upside down.” – Pema Chodron

 

Humans are social animals. We are generally happiest when we’re with family and friends. Conversely, being without close social contact makes us miserable. It’s the close relationship that is so important as we can be around people all day at work and still feel deep loneliness. These contacts are frequently superficial and do not satisfy our deepest need. It is sometimes said that we live in “the age of loneliness.” It is estimated that 20% of Americans suffer from persistent loneliness. This even when we are more connected than ever with the internet, text messaging, social media, etc. But these create the kinds of superficial contacts that we think should be satisfying, but are generally not. This has led to the counterintuitive findings that young adults, 18-34, have greater concerns with loneliness than the elderly.

 

The consequences of loneliness are dire. It has been estimated that being socially isolated increases mortality by 14%. This is twice the elevation produced by obesity. Even worse, for people over 60, loneliness increases their risk of death by 45%. When a spouse loses a marital partner there’s a 30% increase in mortality in the 6-months following the death. Hence, loneliness is not only an uncomfortable and unhappy state, but it is also a threat to health and longevity. It is clear that this epidemic of loneliness needs to be addressed.

 

Mindfulness has been found to reduce loneliness. The research is accumulating. So, it makes sense to step back and summarize what has been learned. In today’s Research News article “Saini, G. K., Haseeb, S. B., Taghi-Zada, Z., & Ng, J. Y. (2021). The effects of meditation on individuals facing loneliness: a scoping review.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8140565/ ) Saini and colleagues review and summarize the published research studies on the effectiveness of meditation as a treatment for loneliness.

 

They identified 13 published randomized controlled trials and report that the studies were relatively small but found that meditation produced a significant reduction in loneliness. How meditation may have its effects on loneliness is not known. Meditation, though has been shown to increase emotion regulation and positive emotions and reduce negative emotions in general and these effects may generalize to loneliness. Also, meditation produces acceptance of experience as it is and this may allow the individual to accept their loneliness and not fight against it. Regardless, it is clear that meditation practice is helpful in treating loneliness.

 

So, relieve loneliness with meditation.

 

By making us feel connected to everyone and everything, meditation cancels out the detrimental mental, emotional, and physical effects of loneliness.” –  Eoc Institute

 

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

 

Saini, G. K., Haseeb, S. B., Taghi-Zada, Z., & Ng, J. Y. (2021). The effects of meditation on individuals facing loneliness: a scoping review. BMC psychology, 9(1), 88. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40359-021-00585-8

 

Abstract

Background

Meditation is defined as a mind and body practice focused on interactions between the brain, mind, body, and behaviour, containing four key elements: a quiet location with little distractions, a comfortable posture, a focus of attention, and an open attitude. We sought to review the benefits of meditation on the alleviation of loneliness.

Methods

A scoping review was conducted based on Arksey and O’Malley’s five-stage framework. Eligibility criteria included primary studies of any type that investigated the effects of meditation on loneliness. Search strategies were developed and conducted on MEDLINE, EMBASE, AMED, and CINAHL. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, and American Psychological Association websites were also searched. Articles meeting the inclusion criteria were critically reviewed using a descriptive-analytical narrative method.

Results

Thirteen studies met our inclusion criteria and were published between 2012 and 2020 across 10 countries. Eleven studies reported improvements in relation to loneliness. Of the remaining two studies (15%), one mentioned the alleviation of loneliness, but only looked primarily at social closeness in lonely individuals. The other study found a correlation between loneliness and nuclear factor (NF)-κB levels, which was the measured outcome; however, the direct effects of meditation on loneliness were unclear. Three main themes emerged from our analysis, as follows: 1) positive results across all studies, 2) relatively small randomized control trials conducted over the last decade, and 3) lack of diverse demographic information.

Conclusions

While a small number of studies exist at this intersection, given all included studies indicated positive findings, the effects of meditation in alleviating loneliness are promising. Future research should be directed at understanding how meditation mitigates loneliness and how this intervention can impact practice for healthcare professionals.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8140565/

 

Meditation Increases Functional Connectivity of Brain Networks

Meditation Increases Functional Connectivity of Brain Networks

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

It seems the longer you do meditation, the better your brain will be at self-regulation,” – Bin He

 

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

 

In today’s Research News article “Longitudinal effects of meditation on brain resting-state functional connectivity.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8166909/ ) Zhang and colleagues recruited novice meditators enrolled in a university meditation course. They practiced focused attention meditation over 2 months twice a week in class and at home 5 times per week for 10 minutes. Before and after training the students had their brains scanned with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (f-MRI).

 

They found that after the 2-month meditation training the participants had significant increases in the functional connectivity within the Dorsal Attention Network of the brain and between the Dorsal Attention Network and the Default Mode Network and also between the Default Mode Network and the visual cortex.

 

The Dorsal Attention Network is a series of structures in the brain that are associated with attentional focusing while the Default Mode Network is a series of structures in the brain that are associated with self-referential thought and mind wandering. Typically, during focused attention meditation, particularly in novice meditators, the mind switches back and forth between focus on the object of meditation and unfocused mind wandering. During mind wandering, visualizations of this content often occur. This usually occurs repeatedly during the meditation session. This switching involves going back and forth between the Dorsal Attention Network and the Default Mode Network and the visual areas of the brain. The brain scan findings indicate that this results in an increase in the functional connectivity between the two networks. Hence, the changes in the mental contents during meditation are reflected in brain activity.

 

So, meditation increases functional connectivity of brain networks.

 

So, not only did meditation change the structures in the participants’ brains, it also changed how they felt.” – Lela Moore

 

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

 

Zhang, Z., Luh, W. M., Duan, W., Zhou, G. D., Weinschenk, G., Anderson, A. K., & Dai, W. (2021). Longitudinal effects of meditation on brain resting-state functional connectivity. Scientific reports, 11(1), 11361. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-90729-y

 

Abstract

Changes in brain resting-state functional connectivity (rsFC) were investigated using a longitudinal design by following a 2-month focused attention meditation (FAM) practice and analyzing their association with FAM practice time. Ten novice meditators were recruited from a university meditation course. Participants were scanned with a resting-state fMRI sequence with multi-echo EPI acquisition at baseline and at the 2-month follow-up. Total FAM practice time was calculated from the daily log of the participants. We observed significantly increased rsFC between the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) and dorsal attention network (DAN), the right middle temporal (RMT) region and default mode network (DMN), the left and right superior parietal lobules (LSPL/RSPL) and DMN, and the LSPL/RSPL and DAN. Furthermore, the rsFC between the LSPL and medial prefrontal cortex was significantly associated with the FAM practice time. These results demonstrate increased connectivity within the DAN, between the DMN and DAN, and between the DMN and visual cortex. These findings demonstrate that FAM can enhance the brain connection among and within brain networks, especially DMN and DAN, indicating potential effect of FAM on fast switching between mind wandering and focused attention and maintaining attention once in the attentive state.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8166909/

 

Different Meditation Styles Affect the Medial Frontal Brain Network Differently

Different Meditation Styles Affect the Medial Frontal Brain Network Differently

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“meditation has a variety of neurological benefits, from changes in brain volume to decreasing activity in parts of the brain involved with stress.” – Ashley Welch

 

Mindfulness training has been shown to improve health and well-being. It has also been found to be effective for a large array of medical and psychiatric conditions, either stand-alone or in combination with more traditional therapies. How exactly mindfulness practices produce their benefits is unknown. But it is known that meditation practice alters brain activity.

 

There are a number of different types of meditation. Classically they’ve been characterized on a continuum with the degree and type of attentional focus. In focused attention meditation, the individual practices paying attention to a single meditation object, usually the breath. In open monitoring meditation, the individual opens up awareness to everything that’s being experienced including thoughts regardless of its origin. In Loving Kindness Meditation the individual

systematically pictures different individuals from self, to close friends, to enemies and wishes them happiness, well-being, safety, peace, and ease of well-being. It is suspected but not known that different forms of meditation practice can produce different changes in brain activity.

 

One way is to measure changes in the electroencephalogram (EEG), the rhythmic electrical activity that can be recorded from the scalp. In today’s Research News article “Attentional and cognitive monitoring brain networks in long-term meditators depend on meditation states and expertise.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7921394/ )  Yordanova and colleagues recruited highly experienced meditators who practiced focused attention meditation, open monitoring meditation, and Loving Kindness Meditation in a balanced way. They had their electroencephalograms (EEG) recorded while at rest and while performing the 3 meditation types for 3 minutes each.

 

They found that the Frontal-Parietal network, that is thought to underlie attentional mechanisms did not differ between meditation types. But there was increased connectivity between the right hemisphere frontal and left hemisphere parietal areas. On the other hand, the Medial Frontal network that is thought to underlie cognitive control and monitoring mechanisms had different activity patterns with the different meditation types. During focused attention meditation was increased synchronization in the parietal regions whereas during Loving Kindness Meditation it increased in the right frontal regions.

 

These are interesting findings that demonstrate that highly experienced meditators have distinct changes in the activity of their brains during meditation regardless of type. But in areas associated with cognitive monitoring mechanisms, difference appear. During focused attention meditation and Loving Kindness Meditation there are different patterns of activity. To some extent this is not surprising in that the two meditation types involve specific focuses. But Loving Kindness Meditation is emotionally focused while focused attention meditation is breath sensation focused and these require different kinds of cognitive control. These differences may underlie the different medial frontal activities.

 

It should be noted that these patterns are quite different from those of inexperienced meditators and that the greater the amount of practice the greater the neural activations. It would be expected that highly experienced meditators would have greater focus and much less mind wandering during meditation than inexperience meditators and this would produce different patterns of neural activation.

 

So, different meditation styles affect the medial frontal brain network differently.

 

Meditation benefits for the brain are abundant. Meditating strengthens neural connections and can literally change the configuration of these networks. With regular practice, you can cultivate a more resilient neurobiology.” – Ask the Scientists

 

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

 

Yordanova, J., Kolev, V., Nicolardi, V., Simione, L., Mauro, F., Garberi, P., Raffone, A., & Malinowski, P. (2021). Attentional and cognitive monitoring brain networks in long-term meditators depend on meditation states and expertise. Scientific reports, 11(1), 4909. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-84325-3

 

Abstract

Meditation practice is suggested to engage training of cognitive control systems in the brain. To evaluate the functional involvement of attentional and cognitive monitoring processes during meditation, the present study analysed the electroencephalographic synchronization of fronto-parietal (FP) and medial-frontal (MF) brain networks in highly experienced meditators during different meditation states (focused attention, open monitoring and loving kindness meditation). The aim was to assess whether and how the connectivity patterns of FP and MF networks are modulated by meditation style and expertise. Compared to novice meditators, (1) highly experienced meditators exhibited a strong theta synchronization of both FP and MF networks in left parietal regions in all mediation styles, and (2) only the connectivity of lateralized beta MF networks differentiated meditation styles. The connectivity of intra-hemispheric theta FP networks depended non-linearly on meditation expertise, with opposite expertise-dependent patterns found in the left and the right hemisphere. In contrast, inter-hemispheric FP connectivity in faster frequency bands (fast alpha and beta) increased linearly as a function of expertise. The results confirm that executive control systems play a major role in maintaining states of meditation. The distinctive lateralized involvement of FP and MF networks appears to represent a major functional mechanism that supports both generic and style-specific meditation states. The observed expertise-dependent effects suggest that functional plasticity within executive control networks may underpin the emergence of unique meditation states in expert meditators.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7921394/

 

Improve Decision Making with a Brief Mindfulness Training

Improve Decision Making with a Brief Mindfulness Training

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“With mindfulness, the decision-making process becomes a thoughtful, cognitive exercise, rather than an impulsive reaction to immediate needs.” – Insead

 

We are confronted daily with a myriad of decisions, many small of little importance; chocolate or strawberry, pass or follow, do the dishes or empty the trash, watch a movie or sports, etc. But some have a major impact on ourselves and others; take a new job, get married, buy a home, retire or stay working, exercise or not, etc. The problem is that humans are not always good decision makers.

 

We often make decisions for emotional reasons; buying a new car, not because we need one but because it makes us feel like a race car driver, selling a stock out of fear of losses, marrying someone out of fear of being alone, etc. We also have a tendency to make decisions based upon how we’ve made them in the past regardless of whether that strategy is still appropriate. Having decided to finish high school, get a college degree, and going back to school to get an MBA may have helped our careers, but then going back to school again may not.

 

So, decisions are not always logical or optimal. Mindfulness has been shown to help with decision making. One problem, though, with mindfulness training is that it can take a great deal of time. This is not always possible when decisions must be made quickly. It is unclear if a very brief instruction in mindfulness may help individuals in making better decisions.

 

In today’s Research News article “The Effect of a 3-Minute Mindfulness Intervention, and the Mediating Role of Maximization, on Critical Incident Decision-Making.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.674694/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_1651992_69_Psycho_20210603_arts_A )  Shortland and colleagues recruited adult participants online and randomly assigned them to a 3 minute meditation or story listening. The participants completed a measure of maximization of decision making. They them completed their 3-minute meditation or listening followed by a decision-making task with presented audio scenarios that had approach or avoidance solutions. They then measured situational awareness time, choice time, decision time, commitment time, decision difficulty, and approach/avoidance decision.

 

They found that the meditation group had significantly faster reaction times on all measures and higher decision difficulty. In addition, the mindfulness group were significantly more approach oriented rather than avoidance oriented in their decisions. But decisions became more avoidant after mindfulness training in participants who scored high in maximization of decision making. So, mindfulness training improved decision making by individuals who tend to find optimal solutions rather than acceptable solutions and find decisions less difficult to make.

 

The results are interesting and demonstrate that even a very brief exposure to mindfulness has positive effects on decision making. This suggests that prior to making complex difficult decision a brief period of meditation might be helpful, but particularly in individuals who look for optimal solutions.

 

So, improve decision making with a brief mindfulness training.

 

If we are mindful of how we feel, we can more consciously include this in the decision-making process.” – Applied Attention

 

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

 

Shortland ND, McGarry P, Thompson L, Stevens C and Alison LJ (2021) The Effect of a 3-Minute Mindfulness Intervention, and the Mediating Role of Maximization, on Critical Incident Decision-Making. Front. Psychol. 12:674694. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.674694

 

Objective: In this study, we extend the impact of mindfulness to the concept of least-worst decision-making. Least-worst decisions involve high-uncertainty and require the individual to choose between a number of potentially negative courses of action. Research is increasingly exploring least-worst decisions, and real-world events (such as the COVID-19 pandemic) show the need for individuals to overcome uncertainty and commit to a least-worst course of action. From sports to business, researchers are increasingly showing that “being mindful” has a range of positive performance-related benefits. We hypothesized that mindfulness would improve least-worst decision-making because it would increase self-reflection and value identification. However, we also hypothesized that trait maximization (the tendency to attempt to choose the “best” course of action) would negatively interact with mindfulness.

Methods: Three hundred and ninety-eight participants were recruited using Amazon MTurk and exposed to a brief mindfulness intervention or a control intervention (listening to an audiobook). After this intervention, participants completed the Least-Worst Uncertain Choice Inventory for Emergency Responders (LUCIFER).

Results: As hypothesized, mindfulness increased decision-making speed and approach-tendencies. Conversely, for high-maximizers, increased mindfulness caused a slowing of the decision-making process and led to more avoidant choices.

Conclusions: This study shows the potential positive and negative consequences of mindfulness for least-worst decision-making, emphasizing the critical importance of individual differences when considering both the effect of mindfulness and interventions aimed at improving decision-making.

“In the NBA, mindfulness is important because the game is chaotically fast and the pressures on players are extreme. In real life, it’s important because the practice can help us get a handle on ourselves and stop going into a tailspin or endless series of tangents.”

Sirk (Zen and the Art of Winning: Phil Jackson’s Team Leadership, 2020).

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.674694/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_1651992_69_Psycho_20210603_arts_A

Improve Physical and Mental Health with an Isha Yoga Retreat

Improve Physical and Mental Health with an Isha Yoga Retreat

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

As we have physical science to create external wellbeing there is a whole inner dimension of science to create inner wellbeing. I call it Inner Engineering.” – Sadhguru

 

Retreat can be a powerful experience. But it can be quite difficult and challenging. It can be very tiring and 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. 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 “Isha Yoga Practices and Participation in Samyama Program are Associated with Reduced HbA1C and Systemic Inflammation, Improved Lipid Profile, and Short-Term and Sustained Improvement in Mental Health: A Prospective Observational Study of Meditators.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.659667/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_1645362_69_Psycho_20210525_arts_A )   Sadhasivam and colleagues recruited adult participants in a scheduled 8-day Isha yoga retreat and their spouses as controls. Retreat participants had to engage in 2 months of preparatory practices including a vegan diet daily practice of hata yoga, kriya yoga, and Shoonya meditation. In the retreat there was intensive practice. They were measured before, after, and 3-4 months later for depression, anxiety, mindfulness, joy, vitality, and resilience, diet, yoga practice, dietary restrictions, and overall health/well-being. They also had blood drawn and assayed for hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c), hemoglobin (Hb), lipid profile [cholesterol, high density lipoprotein (HDL), low density lipoprotein (LDL), and triglycerides (TG)], and C-reactive protein (CRP).

 

They found that after the retreat and sustained 3-4 months later were significant decreased in anxiety and depression and significant increases in mindfulness, joy, vitality, resilience, blood triglycerides, and body weight. These changes did not occur in the control group. Previous research has similarly demonstrated that yoga and meditation decreases anxiety, depression, blood triglycerides and increases joy, vitality, resilience, and body weight.

 

The study did not have a comparable control group and as a result there are a number of possible alternative explanations for the results including participant expectancy effects. To sign up for and engage in an intensive retreat, there was likely a strong belief that the retreat would be beneficial producing a strong expectancy (placebo) effect. Future research should include a comparison to a different kind of retreat or, as has been used in other studies, a comparison to the effects of a comparable duration vacation.

 

The results are interesting in that the participants had considerable practice during the 2-month preparatory phase. So, the effects of the practices would be expected to be present before the retreat began. So, the improvements observed were due to participation in a 4-day intensive retreat rather than the practices themselves. The retreat involves residential living in a group and withdrawal from daily life. This has social effects and vacation-like effects of removal of life stressors. These could be responsible for the observed benefits. This supports the need for future better controlled research.

 

So, improve physical and mental health with an Isha yoga retreat.

 

“An intense 4-day guided Isha meditation retreat significantly decreased depression and anxiety while improving happiness, mindfulness, and psychological well-being.” – Senthilkumar Sadhasivam

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

 

Sadhasivam S, Alankar S, Maturi R, Williams A, Vishnubhotla RV, Hariri S, Mudigonda M, Pawale D, Dubbireddi S, Packiasabapathy S, Castelluccio P, Ram C, Renschler J, Chang T and Subramaniam B (2021) Isha Yoga Practices and Participation in Samyama Program are Associated with Reduced HbA1C and Systemic Inflammation, Improved Lipid Profile, and Short-Term and Sustained Improvement in Mental Health: A Prospective Observational Study of Meditators. Front. Psychol. 12:659667. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.659667

 

Background: Meditation is gaining recognition as a tool to impact health and well-being. Samyama is an 8-day intensive residential meditation experience conducted by Isha Foundation requiring several months of extensive preparation and vegan diet. The health effects of Samyama have not been previously studied. The objective was to assess physical and emotional well-being before and after Samyama participation by evaluating psychological surveys and objective health biomarkers.

Methods: This was an observational study of 632 adults before and after the Isha Samyama retreat. All participants were invited to complete surveys. Controls included household significant others. Surveys were completed at baseline (T1), just before Samyama (T2), immediately after Samyama (T3), and 3 months later (T4) to assess anxiety, depression, mindfulness, joy, vitality, and resilience through validated psychometric scales. Voluntary blood sampling for biomarker analysis was done to assess hemoglobin (Hb), HbA1c, lipid profile, and C-reactive protein (CRP). Primary outcomes were changes in psychometric scores, body weight, and blood biomarkers.

Results: Depression and anxiety scores decreased from T1 to T3, with the effect most pronounced in participants with baseline depression or anxiety. Scores at T4 remained below baseline for those with pre-existing depression or anxiety. Vitality, resilience, joy, and mindfulness increased from T1 to T3 (sustained at T4). Body weight decreased by 3% from T1 to T3. Triglycerides (TG) were lower from T2 to T3. Participants had lower HbA1c and HDL at T2, and lower CRP at all timepoints compared with controls.

Conclusions: Participation in the Isha Samyama program led to multiple benefits. The 2-month preparation reduced anxiety, and participants maintained lower anxiety levels at 3 months post-retreat. Physical health improved over the course of the program as evidenced by weight loss and improved HbA1C and lipid profile. Practices associated with the Samyama preparation phase and the retreat may serve as an effective way to improve physical and mental health. Future studies may examine their use as an alternative therapy in patients with depression and/or anxiety.

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.659667/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_1645362_69_Psycho_20210525_arts_A

 

Meditation Reduces the Complexity of Brain Activity

Meditation Reduces the Complexity of Brain Activity

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

What happens in your brain when you meditate. . . The overall difference is that our brains stop processing information as actively as they normally would.” – Belle Beth Cooper

 

Meditation training has been shown to improve health and well-being. It has also been found to be effective for a large array of medical and psychiatric conditions, either stand-alone or in combination with more traditional therapies. There are a number of ways that meditation practices produce these benefits, including changes to the brain and physiology. One way to observe the effects of meditation on neural activity is to measure changes in the electroencephalogram (EEG), the rhythmic electrical activity that can be recorded from the scalp.

 

In today’s Research News article “Contrasting Electroencephalography-Derived Entropy and Neural Oscillations With Highly Skilled Meditators.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at:  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8119624/ ) Young and colleagues recruited experienced meditators who engaged in six different meditation styles (shamatha, vipassana, zazen, dzogchen, tonglen, and visualization). They had on average 21,935 hours of meditation experience. The researchers then recorded the Electroencephalogram (EEG) while the meditators were thinking about their day and also during meditation practice. The EEG recordings were analyzed for entropy and their power spectra.

 

They found that tonglen and zazen meditators had the highest alpha rhythm power during meditation compared to other styles of meditation. But different styles had markedly different patterns. On the other hand, overall, with all meditation types there was a significant reduction in entropy of the brain activity during meditation.

 

The differences in the power spectrum observed with different meditation types probably reflects the different mental activity encouraged by the individual practices, On the other hand there were consistent findings with the entropy measures suggesting a common element of neural activity occurring with meditation regardless of its form.

 

Entropy of the pattern of Electroencephalogram (EEG) activity is a measure of the complexity of the activity. The reduction in entropy observed during meditation suggests that meditation is associated with a simplification of brain activity. This makes sense as during meditation attention is focused, reducing the variety of mental activity. Hence, the simplified mental experiences during meditation are reflected in a simplified neural activity.

 

So, meditation reduces the complexity of brain activity.

 

“It seems the longer you do meditation, the better your brain will be at self-regulation. You don’t have to consume as much energy at rest and you can more easily get yourself into a more relaxed state.” – Bin He

 

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

 

Jacob H. Young, Martha E. Arterberry, Joshua P. Martin. Contrasting Electroencephalography-Derived Entropy and Neural Oscillations With Highly Skilled Meditators. Front Hum Neurosci. 2021; 15: 628417. Published online 2021 Apr 30. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2021.628417

 

Abstract

Meditation is an umbrella term for a number of mental training practices designed to improve the monitoring and regulation of attention and emotion. Some forms of meditation are now being used for clinical intervention. To accompany the increased clinical interest in meditation, research investigating the neural basis of these practices is needed. A central hypothesis of contemplative neuroscience is that meditative states, which are unique on a phenomenological level, differ on a neurophysiological level. To identify the electrophysiological correlates of meditation practice, the electrical brain activity of highly skilled meditators engaging in one of six meditation styles (shamatha, vipassana, zazen, dzogchen, tonglen, and visualization) was recorded. A mind-wandering task served as a control. Lempel–Ziv complexity showed differences in nonlinear brain dynamics (entropy) during meditation compared with mind wandering, suggesting that meditation, regardless of practice, affects neural complexity. In contrast, there were no differences in power spectra at six different frequency bands, likely due to the fact that participants engaged in different meditation practices. Finally, exploratory analyses suggest neurological differences among meditation practices. These findings highlight the importance of studying the electroencephalography (EEG) correlates of different meditative practices.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8119624/

 

Improve Attention, Memory, and Emotions with Meditation

Improve Attention, Memory, and Emotions with Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

meditating can change the structure and function of the brain through relaxation, which can: Reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, Increase focus and learning concentration, Improve memory and attention span, Build stronger immune system and greater physical/psychological resilience, Allow better sleep” – Columbia University

 

Mindfulness training has been shown to be effective in improving physical and psychological health and particularly with the physical and psychological reactions to stress. Mindfulness also decreases the individual’s tendency to use tried and true solutions to problems and thereby improves cognitive flexibility. Mindfulness has also been shown to improve attention, memory, and emotions. This has led to an increasing adoption of these mindfulness techniques for the health and well-being of both healthy and ill individuals.There are, however, a large variety of meditation techniques and it is not known which types are best for which benefit.

 

In today’s Research News article “Effects of Combining Meditation Techniques on Short-Term Memory, Attention, and Affect in Healthy College Students.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.607573/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_1616048_69_Psycho_20210504_arts_A )  Pragya and colleagues recruited college students and randomly assigned them to one of three meditation groups or to a no-treatment control group. Meditation occurred in 3 25-minute sessions per week for 8 weeks and was either a sound meditation (Bee sound), color imagery (green) or the combination of the two. They were measured before and after training for short-term memory and positive and negative emotions. They also completed a continuous performance test to measure selective attention, sustained attention, and impulsivity.

 

They found that in comparison to baseline and the control group the combined meditation groups had significantly greater short-term memory and positive emotions and significantly lower negative emotions, inattention, and impulsivity. The two types of meditation techniques and their combination had somewhat different magnitudes of effects. Sound meditation had greater improvements of attention and reductions in negative emotions, while the color focused meditation group had greater attentiveness and short-term memory. The combined color and sound meditation group had the greatest improvements.

 

These results demonstrate as has been previously reported that mindfulness practices produce greater short-term memory and positive emotions and significantly lower negative emotions, inattention, and impulsivity. The contribution of the present study is to demonstrate that different meditation techniques produce similar effects but differ in the magnitudes of those effects. This could help to determine which techniques work best for people with different weaknesses. Regardless, meditation appear to improve cognitive and emotional well-being.

 

So, improve attention, memory, and emotions with meditation.

 

A critical part of attention (and working memory capacity) is being able to ignore distraction. There has been growing evidence that meditation training (in particular mindfulness meditation) helps develop attentional control, and that this can start to happen very quickly.” – About memory

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

 

Pragya SU, Mehta ND, Abomoelak B, Uddin P, Veeramachaneni P, Mehta N, Moore S, Jean-Francois M, Garcia S, Pragya SC and Mehta DI (2021) Effects of Combining Meditation Techniques on Short-Term Memory, Attention, and Affect in Healthy College Students. Front. Psychol. 12:607573. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.607573

 

Meditation refers to a family of self-regulation practices that focuses on training attention and awareness to foster psycho-emotional well-being and to develop specific capacities such as calmness, clarity, and concentration. We report a prospective convenience-controlled study in which we analyzed the effect of two components of Preksha Dhyāna – buzzing bee sound meditation (Mahapran dhvani) and color meditation (leśyā dhyāna) on healthy college students. Mahapran and leśya dhyāna are two Preksha Dhyāna practices that are based on sound and green color, respectively. The study population represents a suitable target as college students experience different stress factors during the school year. This study measures the individual and combined effects of two techniques (one focusing on sound and one focusing on color), on short-term memory, attention, and affect, in novice meditators. We used a battery of cognitive, performance, and compared results with baseline and control values. We found improved cognition, especially attention, short-term memory, and affect in terms of positivity and reduced negativity. Overall, the two techniques produced variable benefits and subjects showed improved scores over baseline for short-term memory, cognitive function, and overall wellbeing. Further studies are required to understand underlying mechanisms for the observed differences between the two techniques and to elucidate mechanisms underlying the more pronounced and global benefits observed with the combined techniques. These results underscore a need to examine individual components of meditation practices in order to individualize treatment approaches for attention disorders in young adults.

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.607573/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_1616048_69_Psycho_20210504_arts_A

 

Mindfulness Training Increases the Use of Yoga and Meditation to Cope with the Covid-19 Lockdown

Mindfulness Training Increases the Use of Yoga and Meditation to Cope with the Covid-19 Lockdown

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“mindfulness is one tool that can help promote mental wellness throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.” – Julie Dunne

 

Mindfulness training has been shown to improve health and well-being in healthy individuals. It has also been found to be effective for a large array of medical and psychiatric conditions, either stand-alone or in combination with more traditional therapies. The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged the mental and physical health of the population. It has created intense stress both for frontline workers but also for people simply isolating at home. Mindfulness is known to decrease the psychological and physical responses to stress. So, mindfulness training may be helpful in coping with the mental and physical challenges resulting from the lockdown during the the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

In today’s Research News article “Developing Resilience During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Yoga and Mindfulness for the Well-Being of Student Musicians in Spain.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: (https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.642992/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_1616048_69_Psycho_20210504_arts_A ) Bartos and colleagues recruited Spanish college music students who enrolled in 1-hour per week mindfulness course and those who did not. The course ran from November 2019 to May 2020. In march 2020 a nationwide lockdown was initiated and the mindfulness course switched to online. The students were asked whether during Covid-19 lockdown they received psychological help, had setbacks, health changes, the nature of health changes, changes in physical, psychological, and sleep quality during the lockdown, and any practices engaged in during the lockdown and the nature of the practices.

 

They found that the students who experienced mindfulness training were significantly more likely to practice yoga and meditation to improve their health and well-being during the lockdown than the control participants. They also indicated that they received greater benefits from the practices. Almost all of the mindfulness trained participants engaged in these practices while only about a half of the control participants did.

 

It should be noted that there wasn’t random assignment of students to groups. Rather, the groups were formed by the selections of the students. This can result in different kinds of students in the two groups. It is possible that students who were likely to use yoga and meditation as coping mechanisms would be much more likely to choose to participate in a mindfulness course.

 

The Covid-19 lockdown provided a natural experiment that the researchers took advantage of to investigate the impact of mindfulness training on the students’ well-being during the lockdown. The findings support the efficacy of mindfulness training in improving the likelihood that yoga and meditation will be used as coping strategies and that these practices produce greater perceived benefits.

 

So, mindfulness training increases the use of yoga and meditation to cope with the covid-19 lockdown.

 

Introducing a mindfulness and meditation practice during this pandemic has the potential to complement treatment and is a low-cost beneficial method of providing support with anxiety for all.” – C. Behan

 

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

 

Bartos LJ, Funes MJ, Ouellet M, Posadas MP and Krägeloh C (2021) Developing Resilience During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Yoga and Mindfulness for the Well-Being of Student Musicians in Spain. Front. Psychol. 12:642992. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.642992

 

Here, we report on a quasi-experimental study to explore the applicability and perceived benefits of the CRAFT program, which is based on mindfulness, yoga, positive psychology, and emotional intelligence, to improve higher education student musicians’ health and well-being during the lockdown. A subset of student musicians at a Higher Conservatory of Music in Spain followed the CRAFT program during the academic year 2019/2020, 1 h per week as part of their curriculum. Students enrolled in CRAFT-based elective subjects formed the CRAFT program group (n = 40), while other students represented the control group (n = 53). The onset of the national lockdown elicited by the COVID-19 pandemic occurred halfway through the program, which was subsequently delivered in an online format. We administered an online survey to explore the effect that the exposure to the CRAFT program had in terms of how participants dealt with various health and well-being concerns arising from the COVID-19 lockdown. There was a significantly higher proportion of proactive participants in the CRAFT program group, 92%, than in the control group, 58%, in terms of implementing practices to improve their health and well-being during the lockdown. Additionally, significantly more participants acknowledged perceived benefits from their practices in the CRAFT program group, 78%, than in the control group, 52%. Among proactive participants, yoga/meditation was the most implemented in the CRAFT program group, followed by exercise, and other yoga/meditation practices, whereas in the control group, exercise and Alexander technique-based practices were the most applied. In the CRAFT program group, the highest rate of perceived benefits was from yoga/meditation CRAFT-based practices, 51%, followed by exercise, 32%, and other yoga/meditation practices, 27%, whereas in the control group, benefits were reported by 29% of exercising participants and 16% for those having practiced the Alexander technique. A similar pattern was observed when excluding participants with previous yoga/meditation experience. This study revealed how participants can independently apply learned skills from the CRAFT program in response to a naturally occurring life event of unprecedented global impact, suggesting that previous exposure to mindfulness and yoga is likely to have a beneficial effect on how young adults react towards exceptionally stressful conditions.

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.642992/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_1616048_69_Psycho_20210504_arts_A