Improve Glucodynamics in Coronary Artery Disease with Meditation

Improve Glucodynamics in Coronary Artery Disease with Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

Meditation can be a useful part of cardiovascular risk reduction/ I do recommend it, along with diet and exercise. It can also help decrease the sense of stress and anxiety.” – Deepak Bhatt

 

Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) disease is the number one killer, claiming more lives than all forms of cancer combined. “Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. About 610,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year–that’s 1 in every 4 deaths. Every year about 735,000 Americans have a heart attack.” (Centers for Disease Control). Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) is highly associated with Type 2 diabetes and those with Type 2 diabetes have a significantly higher risk of death from CAD. So, control of blood glucose and insulin levels are important in the treatment and prevention of CAD.

 

A myriad of treatments has been developed for heart disease including a variety of surgical procedures and medications. But the safest effective treatments are lifestyle changes. These include quitting smoking, weight reduction, improved diet, physical activity, and reducing stresses. Cardiac rehabilitation programs for patients recovering from a heart attack, emphasize these lifestyle changes. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, 60% of cardiac patients decline participation, making these patients at high risk for another attack. Other safe and effective treatments for cardiovascular disease are contemplative practices, such as meditation, tai chi, and yoga, have also been shown to be helpful for heart health. These practices have also been shown to be helpful for producing the kinds of lifestyle changes needed to prevent heart disease such as smoking cessationweight reduction, and stress reduction.

 

In today’s Research News article “Effect of 6 months of meditation on blood sugar, glycosylated hemoglobin, and insulin levels in patients of coronary artery disease. Int J Yoga.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: http://www.ijoy.org.in/article.asp?issn=0973-6131;year=2018;volume=11;issue=2;spage=122;epage=128;aulast=Sinha ), Sinha and colleagues recruited patients with Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) and prescribed for them a program of medications and dietary restrictions. They were then randomly assigned to either receive an additional meditation practice or no further treatment. Meditation was focused on breathing, the body, distress, and self-compassion and was practiced twice a week for 6 months. They were measured before during and after treatment for hemoglobin, blood sugar, fasting glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1c), and fasting serum insulin.

 

They found that after treatment the meditation group but not the control group had significant decreases in fasting and after meal blood sugar and fasting glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1c), a marker of good control of blood glucose levels. It is good to remember that all of these patients, meditation, and control, received standard dietary and drug treatments. So, the beneficial effects of meditation were additional to the effects of the usual treatment. Hence, meditation improved markers of the development of type 2 diabetes in these patients with Coronary Artery Disease (CAD). Unfortunately, there wasn’t a control in the study for expectancy, experimenter bias, or attentional effects, so the conclusions must be tempered with caution.

 

Mindfulness training has previously been shown to be helpful in the treatment of diabetes. The importance of the present findings is that meditation can also help prevent type 2 diabetes in a delicate and vulnerable population of patients with CAD. This suggests that meditation training may help to promote the health and well-being and potentially the longevity of CAD patients.

 

So, improve glucodynamics in coronary artery disease with meditation.

 

“meditation, which includes mindfulness approaches and Transcendental Meditation, can be considered in addition to existing standard treatment for heart problems, including lowering cholesterol, losing weight and stopping smoking.” – American Heart Association

 

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

 

Sinha SS, Jain AK, Tyagi S, Gupta S K, Mahajan AS. Effect of 6 months of meditation on blood sugar, glycosylated hemoglobin, and insulin levels in patients of coronary artery disease. Int J Yoga 2018;11:122-8

 

Background and Objectives: Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. It has been recognized that stress, diabetes, and hypertension are important in etiology and progression of CAD. This study is to evaluate the role of meditation in improving biochemical parameters such as blood glucose, glycosylated hemoglobin, and serum insulin levels in known CAD patients. Material and Methods: Sixty CAD patients are divided into two groups of which one group did meditation and other did not. Blood glucose, glycosylated hemoglobin, and fasting serum insulin levels were measured before and at the end of 6 months of study in both the groups. Results: At the end of the study, significant decrease was seen in patients who practiced meditation as compared to other group. Conclusion: Meditation may modulate the physiological response to stress through neurohumoral activation, which may be a novel therapeutic target for the treatment of CAD.

http://www.ijoy.org.in/article.asp?issn=0973-6131;year=2018;volume=11;issue=2;spage=122;epage=128;aulast=Sinha

Improve Psychological Well-Being with EcoMeditation

Improve Psychological Well-Being with EcoMeditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Eco Meditation ,. . .is a powerful meditation, a synergy of multiple techniques, doing certain physiological moves to help you get into a deep delta meditative state, the same as a meditative master, and in only 90 seconds. You can do this meditation any time of the day, and cumulative benefits accrue with long-term use.” – Inspire Nation

 

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. As a result, meditation training has been called the third wave of therapies. One problem with understanding meditation effects is that meditation is not a specific practice but rather a category encompassing a wide array of practices. It is not known which work best for the health and well-being of the practitioners and for improving different conditions.

 

In today’s Research News article “The Interrelated Physiological and Psychological Effects of EcoMeditation.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5871048/ ), Groesbeck and colleagues study the effects of a relatively new, less commonly practiced, technique called Eco-Meditation. As described by the authors, EcoMeditation “focuses on physiological cues. . . it has participants mimic the physiological state of an experienced practitioner. Participants mechanically assume breathing patterns and body postures that are characteristic of long-time meditators. EcoMeditation combines elements of 4 evidence-based techniques: the Quick Coherence Technique, Clinical Emotional Freedom Techniques, mindfulness meditation, and neurofeedback.

 

In an uncontrolled pilot study, they recruited participants who were attending a weekend meditation workshop at a residential conference center where they practiced EcoMeditation. Before and after the workshop and 2 months later, the participants were measured for anxiety, depression, happiness, pain, Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), resting blood pressure, heart rate, heart rate variability, heart coherence, and Salivary immunoglobulin A and cortisol levels as physiological markers of stress.

 

They found that in comparison to the levels prior to the workshop, afterward there were significant decreases in anxiety, depression, pain, resting heart rate, salivary cortisol levels, and a significantly increase in happiness. Unfortunately, none of these effects were still present 2 months later. Hence, after participating in the workshop but not 2 months later the participants reported improved psychological well-being and less stress.

 

This is an uncontrolled pilot study and no firm conclusions can be made. Without a control group there are many sources of confounding present and many alternative explanations for the results. But, the results were interesting and provide support for a more controlled study.

 

So, improve psychological well-being with EcoMeditation.

 

“In meditation, you’re seeking a state, like peace of mind, not an outcome. The rest of your life is about doing; meditation is about being.” – Anne Siret

 

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

 

Groesbeck, G., Bach, D., Stapleton, P., Blickheuser, K., Church, D., & Sims, R. (2018). The Interrelated Physiological and Psychological Effects of EcoMeditation. Journal of Evidence-Based Integrative Medicine, 23, 2515690X18759626. http://doi.org/10.1177/2515690X18759626

 

Abstract

This study investigated changes in psychological and physiological markers during a weekend meditation workshop (N = 34). Psychological symptoms of anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and happiness were assessed. Physiological markers included cortisol, salivary immunoglobulin A (SigA), heart rate variability (HRV), blood pressure (BP), and resting heart rate (RHR). On posttest, significant reductions were found in cortisol (−29%, P < .0001), RHR (−5%, P = .0281), and pain (−43%, P = .0022). Happiness increased significantly (+11%, P = .0159) while the increase in SigA was nonsignificant (+27%, P = .6964). Anxiety, depression, and PTSD all declined (−26%, P = .0159; −32%, P = .0197; −18%, P = .1533), though changes in PTSD did not reach statistical significance. No changes were found in BP, HRV, and heart coherence. Participants were assessed for psychological symptoms at 3-month follow-up, but the results were nonsignificant due to inadequate sample size (n = 17). EcoMeditation shows promise as a stress-reduction method.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5871048/

MindFULLness

MindFULLness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” -Marcus Aurelius
It is a basic instruction of contemplative practices such as meditation, to work to empty the mind and thereby quiet it. It doesn’t take long for the practitioner to realize that this seemingly simple and easy instruction is very, very difficult to do. The practice feels like a “whack-a-mole” process where as soon as a mental content is eliminated, another rushes in to fill the vacuum, and the process has to begin again, and again, and again. This seems like a never-ending process. The practitioner is taught to seek emptiness, but is cautioned that that doesn’t really mean empty! In fact, it is very, very full; full of everything. As has been pointed out, a glass that has no fluid in it is not empty, it contains air. It is empty only of fluid. Many novices become so frustrated with these paradoxes that they give up and quit contemplative practice.

 

Another instruction is to “let go” of thoughts and desires. But, the mind, like nature, abhors a vacuum. As soon as one thing is let go of, another arises to take its place; another “whack-a-mole” process. “Letting go” as it turns out is as difficult as emptying the mind. In fact, the desire to let go is itself a desire that has to be let go of. This sort of conundrum is typical of what confronts the practitioner who when in frustration asks “tell me what to do,” is told do nothing. As if the mind is ever capable of doing nothing.

 

The term mindfulness is a synonym of attention. But, attention is ambiguous as there is always attention to something. The word mindfulness by itself, does not indicate attention to what. Trying to attend is not “letting go” and attending to something is not emptying the mind. These are such conundrums that they can bring the uninitiated to the point of complete frustration and abandonment of practice.

 

A helpful way to look at the issues of practice is to realize that the mind is always going to be full. It’s not a question of emptying it, but rather of what that content should be. It’s not a question of letting go, but rather what should remain. It’s not a question of emptiness, but rather what actually is there. It’s not a question of mindfulness, but rather what we should be mindful of. It’s not a question of attention, but rather what should be attended to. In other words, realize that the mind is always full, the issue for the practitioner is to fill it with things that will lead to insight and greater happiness.

 

The mind always contains something. What exactly the mind contains is studied using a technique called time sampling. The individual is provided a signal at random times during the day and is simply asked to report on exactly what was in the mind when the signal occurred. Studies using this technique revealed the nearly half of the time, regardless of what the person is actually doing, the mind is wandering. The individual is thinking about something other than what is presently in front of them. When wandering, 42.5% of the time, people’s minds were on pleasant topics, 26.5% on unpleasant topics, and 31% on neutral topic. When asked how happy they were at the moment, they reported that they were no happier when thinking about pleasant topics than about their current activity, but, were considerably unhappier when thinking about neutral topics or unpleasant topics. So, the mind is always full of something, the question is of what. The thought sampling studies suggest that we’re happiest when the mind is focused on the present moment. So, the notion that the mind should be full of the present moment makes sense. It will increase happiness and lower suffering.

 

It is a trap to get carried away with present moment awareness. Don’t think that to gain insight and happiness one must be constantly focused solely on the present moment. In fact, the mind should not be perpetually paying attention only to the present moment. Thinking, planning, remembering are not bad things. In fact, they are very adaptive human qualities that allow us to better control our environment, learn from the past, and be prepared for the future. It is the case that sometimes, it is best if the mind is full of things other than the present moment. The instructions to empty the mind and let go of thinking are not absolute. So, practitioners shouldn’t feel bad when the mind is not full of the present moment. Rather it’s a matter of how often our mind is full of the present and how often of other thoughts.

 

The complexity of modern life demands more thinking and planning than was needed in the past. But, in addition to the needed attention to thinking, the modern world has developed a vast array of distractions from the present moment. Television, movies, social media, email, cell phones, video games, etc. are ever present and take up a substantial proportion of our time. It might be argued that when paying attention to social media we are paying attention to the present moment. In fact, no matter what we’re involved in, is the present moment. But, what is really being alluded to with present moment awareness is attention to the stimuli immediately present in the environment at the expense of thinking.

 

When we’re told to empty the mind, we’re not being literally told to get rid of all mental content, rather we’re being instructed to empty the mind of thoughts. What’s left then, what the mind should be full of, are the physical stimuli around and in us. In part, filling the mind with present moment sights, smells, tastes, sounds, feelings forces thoughts out. So, one way to empty the mind is actually to fill it up, fill it up with sensations. This replacement of thoughts with sensations makes us happier and begins to truly quiet the mind. The instruction to follow the breath is an attempt to do just that, fill the mind with internal stimuli, the sensations of the lungs filling and emptying, and the consequent changes to the abdomen, chest and head.

 

So, quieting the mind is not about emptying it out, rather it’s about filling it up completely. Filling it with awareness of sensations and emptying it of thoughts. This by itself will bring greater peace and happiness. But that’s not all that’s possible. When the mind is full of sensory experience the practitioner slowly begins to recognize that, underneath these experiences is a ground on which the experiences are perceived. This is the next great insight of the practice and is the first glimpse at the practitioner’s true nature.

 

As the process continues, sometimes very slowly and sometimes with flashes of insight the practitioner comes to see that ground on which the experiences are perceived is pure awareness. One reason for quieting the mind of thoughts is that thoughts block the perception of this ground. That’s why the instruction to empty the mind of thoughts exists. Not because there’s anything fundamentally wrong with thoughts, but because they prevent the individual from seeing their true nature.

 

The more time spent in present moment sensation awareness the more the ground of our being becomes apparent and becomes an object of awareness itself; awareness becoming aware of itself. Slowly or suddenly, it reveals that this pure consciousness is a completely empty state of nothingness, that is pure awareness. This is sometimes referred to as a void. But actually, it is not. It is a space of infinite potential. A space where anything can appear and/or disappear at any moment. It is an emptiness that is alive, bubbling over with potential. But, it is empty of thoughts and sensations. This is our true nature. This is what is called Buddha Nature. This is what is called the spirit. This is what is called the soul. It is all there to be witnessed if the individual is willing to patiently invest the time and effort it takes to first empty the mind of thoughts and fill it up with present moment sensations, allowing the ground of being to emerge into consciousness.

 

So, practice MindFULLness.

“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.” ― Henry David Thoreau

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

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

 

 

The Middle Way in Mindfulness Practice

The Middle Way in Mindfulness Practice

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Monks, these two extremes ought not to be practiced by one who has gone forth from the household life. (What are the two?) There is addiction to indulgence of sense-pleasures, which is low, coarse, the way of ordinary people, unworthy, and unprofitable; and there is addiction to self-mortification, which is painful, unworthy, and unprofitable. Avoiding both these extremes, the Tathagata (the Perfect One) has realized the Middle Path; it gives vision, gives knowledge, and leads to calm, to insight, to enlightenment and to Nibbana.”  – Siddhārtha  Gautama

 

I have a life-long habit of trying too hard. In American culture, that is not considered a fault, but in the contemplative life it often is. The Buddha taught the middle way as the proper approach. He tried the extremes from the excess in the life of a prince to the opposite excess in the life of an ascetic. He found after years of futile effort that neither worked in ending suffering. But, when he rejected both and compromised, exerting effort but not too much, he found success and attained enlightenment. So, he taught his followers the middle way.

 

The Buddha likened the spiritual path to a stringed musical instrument. If no effort is exerted the string is slack and does not produce music. If too much effort is exerted, the string is tightened too much and breaks. Only when the string is tightened moderately does it produce beautiful music. He taught this middle way of moderation in all things to achieve success in all phases of life but particularly in spiritual endeavors.

 

The modern sage Thich Nhat Hahn visited the San Francisco Zen Center; a center noted for its rigor. After his visit, he was asked by the leader how the Center could improve. He stated that first he would sleep later, and that they shouldn’t be so grim and dour, and should smile much more. What he was pointing to is the middle way; being less strict and rigorous and practicing with greater joy; keeping the body and spirit at a moderate level that allows for the practice to be relaxed and joyful.

 

I learned this lesson during this most recent retreat. It was a personal retreat with no one but myself setting the schedule of activities. The first couple of days it was raining hard, so I took the opportunity to meditate frequently and for extended periods; as it turns out too frequently and too long. After two days, I was physically and mentally exhausted. Meditation became painful and unproductive. I decided to take the afternoon and evening of the third day off. I simply rested, maintaining silence, but read a novel. Many teachers would reprimand me from breaking from the focus on silent meditation. But, as it turned out, it worked wonderfully. The next day I was refreshed, the pain was gone and my level of concentration was wonderful.

 

I scaled back on the frequency and duration of the meditation and rested more often and for longer times. There was no more novel reading or time off. I had learned the middle way as the way to practice in retreat. Previously on a formal retreat with scheduled meditations, I would scoff at participants who would skip a scheduled meditation or a dharma talk and believed that they were wasting a valuable opportunity. Now I see that I was being unfairly judgmental. I now realize that they were being wise, tailoring the retreat to their own level of energy and physical endurance. They were keeping the practice within the middle way.

 

Psychological research has demonstrated that there is an optimum level of motivation for any task and it is not at the extremes, but in the middle. The research has also demonstrated that what the optimum level is varies from person to person. For some, a low level works best, while for others only very high levels produce optimum results. For most, somewhere in the middle is best. It is up to each of us to find our own optimum level and practice accordingly. I found mine on this personal retreat and once I practiced at this level, the results were good. The Buddha taught to judge an activity, not by its nature, but by the results it produces. Clearly, following my own middle way had positive results for me.

 

Happiness is more likely to be found on the middle way. Studies of happiness have shown that people with very low incomes are generally unhappy. Surprising, those who are quite rich tend to be generally unhappy. It’s the people in the middle, with sufficient, but not excessive income, are generally the happiest. A surprising fact in this regard is that people who have one large amounts of money in the lottery afterward are much less happy than before. It is clear that the middle way with wealth leads to the greatest happiness.

 

Athletes have learned the benefits of the middle way. Trying too hard results in poorer performance and often times injury. Not working hard enough, being too lax, similarly leads to poor performance. Exerting the right amount of effort and relaxing, the middle way, leads to excellence in athletic achievement. Every yoga student knows that to improve flexibility muscles and tendons can’t be stretched too hard. The muscles will resist the stretch or could get injured. Similarly, too little stretch produces no benefits. On the other hand, moderate, middle way, stretching produces the best results.

 

Even something as simple as eating is best practiced on the middle way. We all know that we have to eat. Eating too little is damaging to health and eating too much leads to obesity and disease. During the evolutionary development of humans, the problem was a lack of consistency in the supply of food. Food was plentiful at times, but scarce at others. It was adaptive for humans to overeat during times of plenty in order to store the energy needed to withstand the times of scarcity. In modern times, though, where food can be plentiful at all times, the tendency to overeat doesn’t solve a problem, it creates one, obesity. Here, also, the middle way is best; eating sufficiently for health but not more than is needed. This is promoted by mindful eating. Eat carefully on the middle way.

 

Driving a car is a clear example of the need for a middle way. Driving too fast can lead to loss of control or inability to stop quickly in an emergency, which can be fatal. On the other hand, driving too slowly can also be dangerous as it can lead to being rear ended, prompt overly aggressive passing by other cars, or major back-ups in traffic. Driving too aggressively van be dangerous, while driving too passively can also be. It is best to be driving the middle way, not meaning down the center of the road, but with moderation with speed and assertiveness.

 

I spent many years as a teacher and observed students who were very highly motivated getting exhausted cramming and then were so nervous during exams that they performed poorly. It has been established that too high a level of motivation interferes with learning and memory. Similarly, students who were lackadaisical and don’t apply themselves also performed poorly. But those students who were moderately motivated so that they studied but who could relax, performed the best. Hence, in academics as in meditation, athletics, and work, the middle way is best.

 

In our live in general, overly stressing one aspect of life almost always leads to unhappiness. Balance, the middle way, is needed. Many people, particularly Americans, work excessively at their jobs, working long hours and rarely taking vacations. They may have successful careers, but be miserable. On the deathbed, people virtually never wish that they had spent more time or effort on developing their resumes, on working harder or being more successful. Rather, they most often decry the fact that they didn’t spend enough time and energy on family and friends. A palliative care nurse once recorded the top five regrets of the dying. They were

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

 

When I was younger and went to a new interesting place, I was determined to see all the sights. I got up early and ran from sight to sight till closing time. By evening, I and any companions were exhausted. I had seen many great things; what the place had to offer. But, upon reflection, I realized that I really didn’t enjoy or truly appreciate any of them. I’ve learned to take the middle way, to slow down, to relax, to see less, but enjoy and learn from it more. Spending the day ticking off as many items as possible from the to-do list is a recipe for unhappiness. Take the middle way in everything you do.

 

Raising children is best guided by the middle way. Young children must learn boundaries to their behavior in order to function at home and in society. They can’t have everything they want and they can’t do everything they want. If parenting is too lax the child will grow unruly and difficult and will have problems integrating into school and social groups. On the other hand, if parenting is too severe and intrusive the child will be fearful, the child will have a damaged self-concept, creativity will be stifled, and the child will avoid authority. At extreme levels the child may experience abuse and trauma that may haunt them for the rest of their lives. Mindful parenting takes the middle road, maintaining boundaries but doing so with love and understanding, valuing the child, and guiding development with unconditional positive regard. With this middle way, children grow and are socialized while maintaining creativity and a positive self-regard. They grow into psychologically health adults.

 

So, practice the middle way in mindfulness practice and in life in general, finding the level of effort what works for you. Don’t string yourself too loosely or too tightly, enjoy the symphony of life, and play beautiful spiritual music.

 

“Your hand opens and closes, opens and closes. If it were always a fist or always stretched open, you would be paralyzed. Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding, the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated as birds’ wings.” ― Jalaluddin Rumi

 

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

Improve Psychological Well-being in Coronary Artery Disease Patients with Mindfulness-Based Art Therapy

Improve Psychological Well-being in Coronary Artery Disease Patients with Mindfulness-Based Art Therapy

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Given the proven role of stress in heart attacks and coronary artery disease, effective meditation would be appropriate for almost all patients with coronary artery disease.”Joon Sup Lee

 

Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer, claiming more lives than all forms of cancer combined. “Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. About 610,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year–that’s 1 in every 4 deaths. Every year about 735,000 Americans have a heart attack.” (Centers for Disease Control). “Coronary artery disease develops when the major blood vessels that supply your heart with blood, oxygen and nutrients (coronary arteries) become damaged or diseased. Cholesterol-containing deposits (plaque) in your arteries and inflammation are usually to blame for coronary artery disease.” – (Mayo Clinic)

 

A myriad of treatments has been developed for heart disease including a variety of surgical procedures and medications. But the safest effective treatments are lifestyle changes. These include quitting smoking, weight reduction, improved diet, physical activity, and reducing stresses. Safe and effective alternative treatments for cardiovascular disease are contemplative practices, such as meditation, tai chi, and yoga, have also been shown to be helpful for heart health. These practices have also been shown to be helpful for producing the kinds of lifestyle changes needed to prevent heart disease such as smoking cessationweight reduction, and stress reduction.

 

In today’s Research News article “Effects of Mindfulness-Based Art Therapy on Psychological Symptoms in Patients with Coronary Artery Disease.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5852419/ ), Jang and colleagues studied the effectiveness of Mindfulness-Based Art Therapy (MBAT) on the psychological states of patients with coronary artery disease. They recruited outpatients with coronary artery disease and randomly assigned them to either receive 12 weeks, once a week for 45 minutes, of Mindfulness-Based Art Therapy (MBAT) or a treatment as usual control. MBAT was based on the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program and included meditation, yoga, and body scan practices along with training in expressing their emotions through art and drawing. Patients were measured before and after training for anxiety, depression, and anger.

 

They found that the MBAT trained patients in comparison to baseline and the treatment as usual group had large and significant reduction in depression, anxiety and depression following treatment. In addition, there were large and significant decreases in experiences of anger and expressions of anger and also increases in anger control. Hence, the Mindfulness-Based Art Therapy (MBAT) program was successful in improving the psychological well-being of patients with coronary heart disease.

 

It should be noted that there wasn’t an active control conditions so the conclusions must be tempered with the understanding that there were considerable opportunities for bias and participant expectations to affect the results and there was no long-term follow-up to determine the durability of the effects. The findings, however, are encouraging and should provide encouragement for conducting a larger trial with active control conditions, e.g. aerobic exercise and long-term follow-up.

 

So, improve psychological well-being in coronary artery disease patients with mindfulness-based art therapy.

 

“15 minutes of meditation a day reduced the risk of death, heart attack, and stroke by 48 per cent” – British Heart Foundation

 

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

 

Jang, S.-H., Lee, J.-H., Lee, H.-J., & Lee, S.-Y. (2018). Effects of Mindfulness-Based Art Therapy on Psychological Symptoms in Patients with Coronary Artery Disease. Journal of Korean Medical Science, 33(12), e88. http://doi.org/10.3346/jkms.2018.33.e88

 

Abstract

Background

Mindfulness-based art therapy (MBAT) induces emotional relaxation in coronary artery disease (CAD) patients, and is a treatment known to improve psychological stability. The objective of this study was to evaluate the treatment effects of MBAT for CAD patients.

Methods

A total of 44 CAD patients were selected as participants, 21 patients belonged to a MBAT group, and 23 patients belonged to the control group. The patients in the MBAT group were given 12 sessions of treatments. To measure depression and anxiety, Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) and Trait Anxiety Inventory (TAI) were used. Anger and anger expression were evaluated using the State Trait Anger Expression Inventory (STAXI). The treatment results were analyzed using two-way repeated measures analysis of variance (ANOVA).

Results

The results showed that significant effects for groups, time, and interaction in the depression (interaction effect, [F(1,36) = 23.15, P < 0.001]; between groups, [F(1,36) = 5.73, P = 0.022]), trait anxiety (interaction effect, [F(1,36) = 13.23, P < 0.001]; between groups, [F(1,36) = 4.38, P = 0.043]), state anger (interaction effect, [F(1,36) = 5.60, P = 0.023]), trait anger (interaction effect, [F(1,36) = 6.93, P = 0.012]; within group, [F(1,36) = 4.73, P = 0.036]), anger control (interaction effect, [F(1,36) = 8.41, P = 0.006]; within group, [F(1,36) = 9.41, P = 0.004]), anger out (interaction effect, [F(1,36) = 6.88, P = 0.012]; within group, [F(1,36) = 13.17, P < 0.001]; between groups, [F(1,36) = 5.62, P = 0.023]), and anger in (interaction effect, [F(1,36) = 32.66, P < 0.001]; within group, [F(1,36) = 25.90, P < 0.001]; between groups, [F(1,36) = 12.44, P < 0.001]).

Conclusion

MBAT can be seen as an effective treatment method that improves CAD patients’ psychological stability. Evaluation of treatment effects using program development and large-scale research for future clinical application is needed.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5852419/

 

The Power of Retreat 5 – Meditation and Spirituality

The Power of Retreat 5 – Meditation and Spirituality

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

Improve Migraine Headaches with Spiritual Meditation

Improve Migraine Headaches with Spiritual Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

So, improve migraine headaches with spiritual meditation.

 

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

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

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

 

Study Summary

 

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

 

Abstract

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

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

Psilocybin in Combination with Meditation Practice Improves Psychological Functioning

Psilocybin in Combination with Meditation Practice Improves Psychological Functioning

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

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

 

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

 

It is easy to see why people find these experiences so pleasant and eye opening. They often report that the experiences changed them forever. Even though the effects of psychedelic substances have been experienced and reported on for centuries, only very recently have these effects come under rigorous scientific scrutiny.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

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

 

Study Summary

 

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

 

Abstract

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

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

Retreat for Health

Retreat for Health

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

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

 

Retreat can be a powerful experience. But, in some ways, is like being on vacation. Everything is taken care of, beds made, towels and linens provided, all meals prepared, and time is dictated by a detailed schedule of meditations, talks, question and answer periods, and reflective time. All the individual has to do is show up, meditate, relax, contemplate and listen. The retreatants are terribly spoiled! That seeming ease, however, is deceptive.

 

Retreat is actually quite difficult and challenging. It can be very tiring as it can run from early in the morning till late at night every day. It can also be physically challenging as engaging in sitting meditation repeatedly over the day is guaranteed to produce many aches and pains in the legs, back, and neck. But the real challenges are psychological, emotional, and spiritual. Retreat can be a real test. The darkness can descend. Deep emotional issues can emerge and may even overwhelm the individual. Many participants will spontaneously burst out in tears. Others may become overwhelmed with fear and anxiety and break out in cold sweats, and still others are sleepless and tormented. How can this be, that something so seemingly peaceful as silent retreat can be so emotionally wrenching? The secret is that the situation removes the minds ability to hide and distract.

 

Humans have done a tremendous job of providing distractions for the mind including books, movies, magazines, music, television, sports, amusement parks, surfing the internet, tweeting, texting, etc. Any time troubling thoughts or memories of traumatic experiences begin to emerge in everyday life, the subject can easily be changed by engaging in a distraction. So, the issues never have to truly be confronted. But, in silent retreat there is no escape. Difficult issues emerge and there is no place to hide. They must be confronted and experienced. With all these difficulties, why would anyone want to put themselves through such an ordeal and go on a meditation retreat? People go because they find that retreat produces many profound and sometimes life altering benefits.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

So, retreat for health.

 

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

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

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

 

Study Summary

 

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

 

Abstract

Background

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

Methods

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

Results

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

Conclusions

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

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

The Variety of Transcendent States During Meditation

The Variety of Transcendent States During Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

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

 

Study Summary

 

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

 

Background

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

Objectives

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

Methods

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

Results

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

Conclusions

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

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