Meditation Changes the Brain Differently in Adolescents

Meditation Changes the Brain Differently in Adolescents

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“The benefits of meditation are many with few, if any, drawbacks. If your teen is struggling, it’d be worth it to give it a try.” – Tyler Jacobson

 

There has accumulated a large amount of research demonstrating that mindfulness has significant benefits for psychological, physical, and spiritual wellbeing. It even improves high level thinking known as executive function. Its positive effects are so widespread that it is difficult to find any other treatment of any kind with such broad beneficial effects on everything from thinking to mood and happiness to severe mental and physical illnesses. This raises the question of how mindfulness training could produce such widespread and varied benefits. One possibility is that mindfulness practice results in beneficial changes in the nervous system.

 

The nervous system is a dynamic entity, constantly changing and adapting to the environment. It will change size, activity, and connectivity in response to experience. These changes in the brain are called neuroplasticity. Over the last decade neuroscience has been studying the effects of contemplative practices on the brain and has identified neuroplastic changes in widespread areas. In other words, mindfulness practice appears to mold and change the brain, producing psychological, physical, and spiritual benefits. The brains of adolescents are different from fully mature adult brains. They are dynamically growing and changing. It is unclear how mindfulness affects their maturing brains.

 

In today’s Research News article “Gray Matter Changes in Adolescents Participating in a Meditation Training.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7456888/ ) Yuan and colleagues recruited adolescents aged 14 to 19 years and provided them with a 12 week training in mindfulness meditation. They and a control sample of adolescents underwent Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) of their brains before and after training.

 

They found that after training there was a significant reduction in the volume of gray matter in the left thalamus, left putamen, and left posterior insula. There was no significant influence of age on the decreased volumes. Also, there were no significant increases in gray matter volume were found anywhere in the adolescents’ brains.

 

These results are very surprising. In adults, mindfulness training has been repeatedly shown to increase gray matter volume, not decrease it. The insula, in particular, has been shown to increase in volume after mindfulness training in adults. The insula is thought to underlie awareness of the internal state of the body. Since, mindfulness training usually increases this awareness, the increase in insula volume makes sense, but that it would decrease in volume in the adolescents does not.

 

During adolescents the brain is actively growing and changing. It is possible that mindfulness training affects the growing brain differently than after maturation in adulthood. This suggests that mindfulness may have different effects in adolescents than in adults. But this has not been shown to be the case. In fact, mindfulness training appears to have the same effects in adolescents as in adults. More research is needed to further investigate this phenomenon.

 

So, it would appear that meditation changes the brain differently in adolescents.

 

It is well-documented that mindfulness helps to relieve depression and anxiety in adults.  A small but growing body of research shows that it may also improve adolescent resilience to stress through improved cognitive performance and emotional regulation.” – Malka Main

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

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Study Summary

 

Justin P. Yuan, Colm G. Connolly, Eva Henje, Leo P. Sugrue, Tony T. Yang, Duan Xu, Olga Tymofiyeva. Gray Matter Changes in Adolescents Participating in a Meditation Training. Front Hum Neurosci. 2020; 14: 319. Published online 2020 Aug 14. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2020.00319

 

Abstract

Meditation has shown to benefit a wide range of conditions and symptoms, but the neural mechanisms underlying the practice remain unclear. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies have investigated the structural brain changes due to the practice by examining volume, density, or cortical thickness changes. However, these studies have focused on adults; meditation’s structural effects on the adolescent brain remain understudied. In this study, we investigated how meditation training affects the structure of the adolescent brain by scanning a group of 38 adolescents (16.48 ± 1.29 years) before and after participating in a 12-week meditation training. Subjects underwent Training for Awareness, Resilience, and Action (TARA), a program that mainly incorporates elements from mindfulness meditation and yoga-based practices. A subset of the adolescents also received an additional control scan 12 weeks before TARA. We conducted voxel-based morphometry (VBM) to assess gray matter volume changes pre- to post-training and during the control period. Subjects showed significant gray matter (GM) volume decreases in the left posterior insula and to a lesser extent in the left thalamus and left putamen after meditation training. There were no significant changes during the control period. Our results support previous findings that meditation affects regions associated with physical and emotional awareness. However, our results are different from previous morphometric studies in which meditation was associated with structural increases. We posit that this discrepancy may be due to the differences between the adolescent brain and the adult brain.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7456888/

 

Meditation Improves Health and Well-Being Through Epigenetic Mechanisms

Meditation Improves Health and Well-Being Through Epigenetic Mechanisms

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“It seems unusual that something as simple and easy as meditating could improve your health, but these studies demonstrate an epigenetic link between meditation and its potential disease-reducing benefits.” – Bailey Kirkpatrick

 

Over the last several decades, research and anecdotal experiences have accumulated an impressive evidential case that the development of mindfulness has positive benefits for the individual’s mental, physical, and spiritual life. Mindfulness appears to be beneficial both for healthy people and for people suffering from a myriad of illnesses. It appears to be beneficial across ages, from children to the elderly. And it appears to be beneficial across genders, personalities, race, and ethnicity. The breadth and depth of benefits is unprecedented.

 

Meditation practice has been shown to improve health and longevity. One way it appears to act is by altering the genes which govern cellular processes in our bodies. The genes dictate all of the chemical processes in our bodies including immune and inflammatory responses. The ability of outside influences to affect gene expression is known as epigenetics. There have been a number of research studies of the of the epigenetic effects of mindfulness practices. So, it makes sense to summarize what has been learned regarding the epigenetic alterations in gene expressions produced by mindfulness practices to determine if these effects are the intermediary between meditation and health.

 

In today’s Research News article “Molecules of Silence: Effects of Meditation on Gene Expression and Epigenetics.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7431950/) Venditti and colleagues review and summarize the published research studies of the effects of mindfulness on gene expression.

 

They report that the published research found that sitting and walking meditation, Tai Chi, and Yoga produce wide-ranging changes in gene expression including slowing of the age-related methylation of the genes. They report that the epigenetic changes seen alter genes involved in metabolism, inflammatory processes, oxidative stress, and DNA damage response. In fact, they report that mindfulness practices produce epigenetic changes that are the opposite to those produced by stress.

 

These findings are important for understanding the ability of mindfulness practices to promote health and slow the aging process. By reversing the changes that stress produces in gene expression, mindfulness practices can prevent or reverse the harmful consequences of stress on the body. This may well be one of the mechanisms that underlie the health benefits of mindfulness practices.

 

So, meditation improves health and well-being through epigenetic mechanisms.

 

a single 8-hour mindfulness meditation retreat can rapidly alter methylation levels that affect epigenetic expression in genes among experienced meditators. Involved genes include those that regulate inflammation, immune cell metabolism, DNA repair, cellular aging, RNA metabolism, protein translation, cell adhesion, and neurotransmission.” – AMRA

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

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Study Summary

 

Venditti, S., Verdone, L., Reale, A., Vetriani, V., Caserta, M., & Zampieri, M. (2020). Molecules of Silence: Effects of Meditation on Gene Expression and Epigenetics. Frontiers in psychology, 11, 1767. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01767

 

Abstract

Many studies have consistently demonstrated an epigenetic link between environmental stimuli and physiological as well as cognitive responses. Epigenetic mechanisms represent a way to regulate gene activity in real time without modifying the DNA sequence, thus allowing the genome to adapt its functions to changing environmental contexts. Factors such as lifestyle, behavior, and the practice of sitting and moving mindful activities have been shown to be important means of environmental enrichment. Such practices, which include mindfulness meditation, Vipassana, Yoga, Tai Chi, and Quadrato Motor Training, have been reported to positively impact well-being. In fact, they can be considered emotional and attentional regulatory activities, which, by inducing a state of greater inner silence, allow the development of increased self-awareness. Inner silence can therefore be considered a powerful tool to counteract the negative effects of overabundant environmental noise, thanks to its power to relieve stress-related symptoms. Since all these positive outcomes rely on physiological and biochemical activities, the molecular and epigenetic mechanisms influenced by different mindful practices have recently started to be investigated. Here, we review some of the findings that could allow us to uncover the mechanisms by which specific practices influence well-being.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7431950/

 

Improve Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Symptoms In Veterans With Body Scan or Breath Following Meditation.

Improve Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Symptoms In Veterans With Body Scan or Breath Following Meditation.

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Practicing mindfulness can help you to be more focused and aware of the present moment while also being more willing to experience the difficult emotions that sometimes come up after trauma.” – National Center for PTSD

 

Experiencing trauma is quite common. It has been estimated that 60% of men and 50% of women will experience a significant traumatic event during their lifetime. But, only a fraction will develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). But this still results in a frightening number of people with 7%-8% of the population developing PTSD at some point in their life. For military personnel, it’s much more likely for PTSD to develop with about 11%-20% of those who have served in a war zone developing PTSD.

 

PTSD involves a number of troubling symptoms including reliving the event with the same fear and horror in nightmares or with a flashback. PTSD sufferers avoid situations that remind them of the event this may include crowds, driving, movies, etc. and may avoid seeking help because it keeps them from having to think or talk about the event. They often experience negative changes in beliefs and feelings including difficulty experiencing positive or loving feelings toward other people, avoiding relationships, memory difficulties, or see the world as dangerous and no one can be trusted. Sufferers may feel hyperarousal, feeling keyed up and jittery, or always alert and on the lookout for danger. They may experience sudden anger or irritability, may have a hard time sleeping or concentrating, may be startled by a loud noise or surprise.

 

Obviously, these are troubling symptoms that need to be addressed. There are a number of therapies that have been developed to treat PTSD. One of which, mindfulness training has been found to be particularly effective. The Mindfulness-based Stress reduction (MBSR) program has been found to improve the symptoms of PTSD. But MBSR training contains meditation, body scan, and yoga. It is not known which these components of mindfulness training are effective and which are not.

 

In today’s Research News article “The Body Scan and Mindful Breathing Among Veterans with PTSD: Type of Intervention Moderates the Relationship Between Changes in Mindfulness and Post-treatment Depression.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7451147/) Colgan and colleagues recruited military veterans who were diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). They were randomly assigned to one of 4 groups, body scan meditation, mindful breathing meditation, slow breathing and sitting quietly. Training was the same for all conditions with weekly 60-minute group meetings for 6 weeks along with home practice. Each condition was practiced for 20 minutes at a time. They were measured before and after training for mindfulness, including observing, describing, acting with awareness, nonjudgmental acceptance, and nonreactivity to inner experience facets, depression, and PTSD symptoms including re-experiencing, avoidance, and hyperarousal.

 

They found that the two mindfulness groups, body scan meditation and mindful breathing meditation produced significant increases in mindfulness and significant decreases in depression and PTSD symptoms while the non-mindfulness groups, slow breathing and sitting quietly, did not. Within the mindfulness groups the greater the levels of the mindfulness facet of acting with awareness the lower the depression scores. The greater the increases in nonreactivity the greater the decreases in depression for the body scan meditation group but not the mindful breathing meditation group. In contrast, the greater the increases in acting with awareness the greater the decreases in depression for the mindful breathing meditation group but not the body scan meditation group.

 

These are interesting results that replicate the prior findings that mindfulness training improves depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms. The results further demonstrate the two different mindfulness trainings, body scan meditation, and mindful breathing meditation are effective in improving depression and PTSD symptoms. Mindfulness training programs also contain slowing of breathing and quiet sitting. These components do not involve training in mindfulness itself but rather are necessary for the mindfulness training. The present results demonstrate that these components are not effective, demonstrating that it’s only the active mindfulness training components that are effective.

 

The results also suggest that body scan meditation and mindful breathing meditation effect depression and PTSD symptoms in different ways. Body scan meditation appears to have its effects on depression through increasing nonreactivity to inner experience. This suggests that this training improves the ability recognize inner experience as simply experiences and thereby not reacting to them. On the other hand, mindful breathing meditation appears to work by increasing acting with awareness. This suggests that this training improves depression by making the individual more aware of their actions.

 

Having Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is very difficult to deal with and can lead to very serious consequences such as suicide. It’s wonderful to have a safe and effective treatment, mindfulness, to lessen the torment of PTSD. The present study helps in further defining what components of mindfulness training work. This can lead to an even more effective treatment plan.

 

So, improve Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms in veterans with body scan or breath following meditation

 

Military veterans experienced improvements in symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) treatment.” – Emily Pond

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

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

 

Study Summary

 

Colgan, D. D., Christopher, M., Michael, P., & Wahbeh, H. (2016). The Body Scan and Mindful Breathing Among Veterans with PTSD: Type of Intervention Moderates the Relationship Between Changes in Mindfulness and Post-treatment Depression. Mindfulness, 7(2), 372–383. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-015-0453-0

 

Abstract

Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is a promising intervention for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression; however, a more detailed examination of the different elements of MBSR and various facets of mindfulness to determine what works best for whom is warranted. One hundred and two veterans with PTSD were randomly assigned to one of four arms: (a) body scan (BS; n= 27), (b) mindful breathing (MB; n=25), (c) slow breathing (SB; n=25), or (d) sitting quietly (SQ; n=25). The purpose of this study was to (a) examine two separate components of MBSR (i.e., body scan and mindful breathing) among veterans with PTSD when compared to a nonmindfulness intervention (SB) and a control group (SQ), (b) assess if changes in specific mindfulness facets were predictive of post-treatment PTSD and depression for individuals who participated in a mindfulness intervention (BS vs. MB), and (c) investigate if type of mindfulness intervention received would moderate the relationship between pre- to post-treatment changes in mindfulness facets and post-treatment outcomes in PTSD and depression. Participants in the mindfulness groups experienced significant decreases in PTSD and depression symptom severity and increases in mindfulness, whereas the nonmindfulness groups did not. Among veterans who participated in a mindfulness group, change in the five facets of mindfulness accounted for 23 % of unique variance in the prediction of post-treatment depression scores. Simple slope analyses revealed that type of mindfulness intervention moderated the relationship among changes in facets of mindfulness and post-treatment depression.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7451147/

 

Meditation and Yogic Breathing Techniques Improve Respiration and Psychological Well-Being

Meditation and Yogic Breathing Techniques Improve Respiration and Psychological Well-Being

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Yoga, meditation and other relaxation techniques all depend on focusing on the breath. There are many benefits of meditation and proper breathing is an important part of learning how to calm the mind and body.” – Home Care Assistance

 

Breathing is essential for life and generally occurs automatically. It’s easy to take for granted as it’s been there our entire lives. Nevertheless, we become more aware of it when it varies with circumstances, such as when we exercise and also in emotional states, especially fear and anxiety. But we rarely notice it during everyday ongoing life. Yet, its characteristics are associated with our state of well-being. Slow deep breathing is characteristic of a healthy relaxed state. Breathing exercises are common in yoga and meditation practices and have been found to have a number of beneficial effects.

 

Modern medicine has also developed respiratory therapies for the treatment of patients with cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases. Many of these techniques are similar to those practiced in meditation and yoga. In today’s Research News article “Analogy between classical Yoga/Zen breathing and modern clinical respiratory therapy.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7429199/) Tobe and Saito examine the similarities of meditation and yoga breathing exercises and respiratory therapies and their relative effects.

 

Respiratory therapy has been shown to be essential in the treatment of respiratory diseases. But, breathing techniques are not new. They’ve been practiced for over 3000 years. Yoga incorporates a number of different techniques. Even the Buddha emphasized breathing techniques during meditation and these were greatly elaborated on in Zen meditation. There are considerable similarities with respiratory therapy and meditation and yogic breathing techniques. They all emphasize deep inhalation, slow exhalation with some resistance, low respiratory frequency, and even counting of breaths.

 

Tobe and Saito note that research has shown that meditation and yogic breathing techniques, like respiratory therapy, have considerable positive effects on respiration including improved “vital capacity, timed vital capacity, maximum voluntary ventilation, breath-hold time, maximal inspiratory and expiratory pressures and oxygen saturation.” They also increase the psychological well-being of practitioners including reducing panic attacks, depression, and headaches, relieving pain, and improving sleep.

 

Tobe and Saito conclude that meditation and yogic breathing techniques are effective in modern clinical practice improving respiratory function and psychological well-being, and relieving chronic pain. Indeed, research on meditation and yogic breathing techniques suggest that they improve physiological and respiratory function and are effective for the treatment of a number of diseases and psychological problems.

 

So, meditation and yogic breathing techniques improve respiration and psychological well-being.

 

By inducing stress resilience, breath work enables us to rapidly and compassionately relieve many forms of suffering.” – Richard Brown

 

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

 

Tobe, M., & Saito, S. (2020). Analogy between classical Yoga/Zen breathing and modern clinical respiratory therapy. Journal of anesthesia, 1–6. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00540-020-02840-5

 

Abstract

Anesthesiologists and intensivists are modern-day professionals who provide appropriate respiratory care, vital for patient survival. Recently, anesthesiologists have increasingly focused their attention on the type of spontaneous breathing made by non-intubated patients with pulmonary disease cared for in an intensive care unit, and also patients with chronic pain receiving cognitive behavioral therapy. Prior to our modern understanding of respiratory physiology, Zen meditators recognized that breathing has a significant impact on a person’s mental state and general physical well-being. Examples of this knowledge regarding respiration include the beneficial effects of deep inhalation and slow exhalation on anxiety and general wellness. The classical literature has noted many suggestions for breathing and its psycho-physical effects. In the present review, we examine the effect of classical breathing methods and find an analogy between typical Yoga/Zen breathing and modern clinical respiratory therapy. Evidence is increasing about historical breathing and related meditation techniques that may be effective in modern clinical practice, especially in the field of anesthesiology, such as in improving respiratory function and reducing chronic pain. Clarification of the detailed mechanisms involved is anticipated.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7429199/

 

Improve Physiological Symptoms Related to Anxiety in Remitted Depression with Mindfulness

Improve Physiological Symptoms Related to Anxiety in Remitted Depression with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

Through mindfulness, individuals start to see their thoughts as less powerful. These distorted thoughts – such as “I always make mistakes” or “I’m a horrible person” – start to hold less weight. . . We ‘experience’ thoughts and other sensations, but we aren’t carried away by them. We just watch them come and go.” – Margarita Tartakovsky

 

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

 

Many patients who achieve remission have relapses and recurrences of the depression. Even after remission some symptoms of depression including anxiety may still be present (residual symptoms). Obviously, there is a need for alternative treatments that can not only address depression but also the residual symptoms present during remission. Mindfulness training has been shown to be an effective treatment for depression and its recurrence and even in the cases where drugs fail. But there is a need to explore whether mindfulness training can also assist with the residual symptoms present during remission, including anxiety.

 

In today’s Research News article “Modulation of respiration pattern variability and its relation to anxiety symptoms in remitted recurrent depression.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7358718/) Zamoscik and colleagues recruited patients with at least 2 bouts of recurrent depression who were in remission for at least 2 months. They were randomly assigned to receive 4-week programs of either mindfulness training or progressive muscle relaxation training. Mindfulness training consisted of breath following and body scan meditations and breathing exercises. Before and after training they were measured for well-being and anxiety. They also had their brains scanned with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and respiration pattern variability was measured for 4.5 minutes during a sad mood induction by cuing memories of 3 negative life events.

 

They found that in comparison to the progressive muscle relaxation group, the group that received mindfulness training had significantly reduced variability of respiration. In addition, respiratory variability was associated with anxiety levels particularly in participants who were high in anxiety at baseline.

 

Anxiety often produces irregular breathing where relaxation produces regular breathing patterns. The variability of respiration then is a measure of anxiety levels. Hence, the results suggest that the mindfulness training reduced a physiological indicator of anxiety when a sad mood was invoked. An interpretive difficulty was produced by the fact that the training included both mindfulness exercises and also breathing exercises. Hence, it is unclear whether the effects were due to mindfulness training or breathing exercises or a combination of both.

 

Regardless, the results suggest that mindfulness may affect anxiety by affecting physiological processes that may underlie the feelings of anxiety. This occurred in patients who were in remission from recurrent depression. It has been well established that mindfulness training improves depression and reduces the likelihood of relapse. The finding suggest that mindfulness may reduce anxiety during remission which may in turn reduce the likelihood of the reoccurrence of depression.

 

So, improve physiological symptoms related to anxiety in remitted depression with mindfulness.

 

Mindfulness and other meditations, particularly combined with cognitive therapy, work just as well for anxiety or depression as the medications do, but they don’t have those side effects,”- Daniel  Goleman

 

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

 

Zamoscik, V., Schmidt, S., Timm, C., Kuehner, C., & Kirsch, P. (2020). Modulation of respiration pattern variability and its relation to anxiety symptoms in remitted recurrent depression. Heliyon, 6(7), e04261. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.heliyon.2020.e04261

 

Abstract

Background

Depression is related to default mode network (DMN) connectivity and higher respiration pattern variability (RPV). In addition, DMN connectivity and RPV are interrelated and predict a poorer clinical course of depression. The association of RPV and depression might further be boosted by anxiety levels. Aim of the present study was to investigate whether a mindfulness-based training in emotionally challenged remitted depressed participants (rMDD) leads to reduced DMN connectivity and lower RPV, and if RPV interacts with anxiety levels.

Methods

To challenge participants, sad mood was induced with keywords of personal negative life events in 49 rMDD during fMRI before and after a 4-week mindfulness-based attention training (MBAT) or progressive muscle relaxation. Respiration was measured by means of a built-in respiration belt.

Results

After both trainings, rMDD showed no significant changes in DMN connectivity. However, MBAT was effective in reducing the RPV which was related to lower anxiety levels especially in high anxious individuals.

Conclusions

RPV can be influenced by training which may hint to an underlying biological pathway of training effects. Importantly, these effects seem to be associated with anxiety levels. Therefore, respiration focused training might be an important tool assisting the treatment of depression and anxiety.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7358718/

 

Reduce Anxiety with Anapanasati (Breath) Meditation

Reduce Anxiety with Anapanasati (Breath) Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

Even a few minutes of meditation everyday can give you the space you need to reflect on your anxiety, calm your nerves, and allow you to create a retreat away from hectic modern life.” – Natural Anxiety Meds

 

Anxiety at low levels is normal and can act to signal potential future danger. But when it is overwhelming it creates what we label as anxiety disorders. They are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million adults, or 18% of the population. A characterizing feature of anxiety disorders is that the suffer overly identifies with and personalizes their thoughts. The sufferer has recurring thoughts, such as impending disaster, that they may realize are unreasonable, but are unable to shake. It has been estimated that one out of every three absences at work are caused by high levels of anxiety. Also, it has been found to be the most common reason for chronic school absenteeism. In addition, people with an anxiety disorder are three-to-five times more likely to go to the doctor and six times more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric disorders than non-sufferers, making it a major burden on the healthcare system.

 

Anxiety disorders have generally been treated with drugs. But there are considerable side effects and these drugs are often abused. There are a number of psychological therapies for anxiety. But, about 45% of the patients treated do not respond to the therapy. So, there is a need to develop alternative treatments. Recently, it has been found that mindfulness improves the regulation of  all emotions, including negative emotions like anxiety. There are a large variety of mindfulness meditation practices. So, it is important to examine the effectiveness of different mindfulness meditation practices on anxiety.

 

In today’s Research News article “Effect of anapanasati meditation on anxiety: a randomized control trial.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6894628/) Sivaramappa and colleagues recruited healthy adults and randomly assigned them to either receive a 6-month program of once a day, 6 days per week, for 1 hour anapanasati (breath following) meditation or to a no-treatment control group. The participants completed a measure of anxiety levels before and after the 6-month treatment period.

 

They found that the participants who practiced meditation had significantly reduced levels of anxiety after the 6-minth period while the no-treatment group had a significant increase in anxiety. Interestingly, the decrease in the meditation group was due solely to reductions in anxiety in participants over 40 years of age while the increase in the control group was due solely to increases in anxiety in participants under 40 years of age. Since the control participants under 40 years of age significantly increased in anxiety levels but the meditation participants under 40 did not, it suggests that meditation protected under 40 participants from increasing anxiety levels. In addition, in the meditation group, the reductions were primarily among participants who expressed high anxiety levels at baseline.

 

These results replicate the common finding that mindfulness training reduces anxiety levels. The present study demonstrated that a particular form of focused meditation practice, anapanasati (breath following) meditation, was effective in lowering anxiety particularly in older participants and those who had high anxiety levels at the start of the study. This improves our understanding of meditation effects on anxiety.

 

So, reduce anxiety with anapanasati (breath) meditation.

 

“Breathing exercises are an effective, quick, and easy solution for stress and anxiety relief. Proper breathing techniques work on anxiety on a physiological level by automatically slowing your heart rate. The effect on anxiety is almost instant.” – Alice Boyes

 

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

 

Sivaramappa, B., Deshpande, S., Kumar, P., & Nagendra, H. R. (2019). Effect of anapanasati meditation on anxiety: a randomized control trial. Annals of neurosciences, 26(1), 32–36. https://doi.org/10.5214/ans.0972.7531.260107

 

Abstract

Background

Meditation has shown positive results in improving the psychological disorders such as anxiety. There is a need to study the therapeutic benefits of Anapanasati meditation, a mindfulness meditation technique.

Purpose

The study aims at investigating the effect of Anapanasati meditation on individuals with moderate anxiety.

Methods

A total of 112 participants who were willing to participate in the study were recruited for the study. Anapanasati meditation was used as an intervention. The participants were divided into two groups experiment and control groups. Experiment group had 56 persons performing Anapanasati meditation and Control group had 56 persons not performing any type of meditation. The experiment group practiced one hour of Anapanasati meditation daily under the supervision of experts for six months and continued their daily routine and control group was not given any intervention, but they continued their daily routine. State Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) is used to assess the anxiety level.

Results

The STAI score before and after Anapanasati meditation was analysed for both experiment and control groups using Paired Samples T test. The experiment group has shown significant reduction in the STAI (P < 0.05) score after the intervention whereas in the control group the reduction in STAI score was not significant.

Conclusion

This study has shown that after six months of intervention, the subjects with moderate anxiety who practiced Anapanasati meditation had a significant decrease in their STAI score and the control group has not shown significant change in the STAI score.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6894628/

 

Support Creativity with Mindfulness

Support Creativity with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

mindfulness meditation and other mindfulness practices enhance three essential skills necessary for creative problem solving. First, mindfulness switches on divergent thinking. In other words, meditation opens your mind to new ideas. Second, mindfulness practice improves attention and makes it easier to register the novelty and usefulness of ideas. And finally, mindfulness nurtures courage and resilience in the face of skepticism and setbacks, which is important because failure and setbacks are inextricably linked with any innovation process.” – Danny Penman

 

Creative solutions are unusual but appropriate and useful solutions to a problem. Problem solving most frequently involves logic and reasoning, sometimes along with mathematics. If logic and reason fail, then fanciful and out-of-the box thinking may be needed. In this case mind wandering, taking the thought process away from the failed logical strategy, is superior, often producing a solution in a flash, an “aha” moment. In this case focused attention prevents the individual from seeing an unusual or creative solution. While the mind wandering off topic increases the discursive thinking that is required for obtaining the insightful solution.

 

Mindfulness is the ability to focus on what is transpiring in the present moment. It involves a greater emphasis on attention to the immediate stimulus environment. Mindful people generally have better attentional abilities and have fewer intrusive thoughts and less spontaneous mind wandering. This would predict that mindfulness, which increases focused attention, would interfere with creativity. It is possible, however, that mindful attention might promote a purposeful, intentional, deliberate mind wandering that may actually increase creativity.

 

Additionally, creative solutions often occur after an incubation period where the individual gets away from the problem for a while. This tends to break up repetitive and routine thinking that may interfere with finding a creative solution. Mindfulness practices may provide incubation periods that help to spur creative thought. Indeed, mindfulness has been found to increase creativity.

 

The research has been accumulating and it makes sense to pause and take a look at what has been learned. In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness and Creativity: Implications for Thinking and Learning.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7395604/) Henriksen and colleagues review, summarize, and perform a thematic analysis of the published research studies on the effects of mindfulness on creativity.

 

They report that the published research found that the practice of mindfulness meditation increases creativity and that the higher the levels of mindfulness the higher the levels of creativity. They also report that open monitoring meditation appears to be better at promoting divergent thinking (creativity) while focused meditation appears to be better at promoting convergent (logical) thinking. Both divergent and convergent thinking can lead to creative solutions to problems although divergent thinking produces more unusual solutions.

 

The research also found that mind wandering and mindfulness were not necessarily in opposition in promoting creativity. Deliberate purposeful mind wandering is supported by mindfulness and promotes creativity, whereas spontaneous mind wandering is suppressed by mindfulness and it interferes with creativity. Hence, the literature supports the conclusion that mindfulness promotes creativity.

 

So, support creativity with mindfulness.

 

“The kind of mindfulness that brings us into the default mode is the bridge between incubation and illumination. It can be the silence that allows us to find our true voice.” – Michael Formica

 

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

 

Henriksen, D., Richardson, C., & Shack, K. (2020). Mindfulness and Creativity: Implications for Thinking and Learning. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 100689. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tsc.2020.100689

 

Abstract

Mindfulness and creativity have both come to the forefront of interest in educational settings—but a better understanding of their relationship and the implications for education is needed. This article reviews the literature on the intersection of these topics in order to understand where and how these two related but distinctive areas of research connect, and how this pertains to the complexity of educational settings. Our goal is to understand findings from the literature and consider what the implications are for educational practice and research, with an eye to how mindfulness can be supportive to learners’ creativity. This thematic review and qualitative analysis of extant literature identifies four themes that speak to the connection between mindfulness and creativity and its complexity. There is solid evidence to show a generally beneficial and supportive relationship, in that practicing mindfulness can support creativity—but many factors affect this and there are a range of considerations for practice. This article reflects on the key findings of scholarly work on the mindfulness-creativity relationship with interpretative discussion and implications for educational research and practice.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7395604/

 

Increase Well-Being and Spirituality with Loving Kindness Meditation

Increase Well-Being and Spirituality with Loving Kindness Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

Loving-kindness refers to a state of unconditional kindness and compassion for all beings.  . . Some studies suggest you can boost your empathy and feelings of connection and reduce your implicit bias, anger, depression and anxiety.” – Heart.org

 

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 there are, a wide variety of meditation techniques and it is not known which work best for improving different conditions. One understudied meditation technique is Loving Kindness Meditation. It is designed to develop kindness and compassion to oneself and others. 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. Although Loving Kindness Meditation has been practiced for centuries, it has received very little scientific research attention.

 

In today’s Research News article “The Effect of Loving-Kindness Meditation on Flight Attendants’ Spirituality, Mindfulness and Subjective Well-Being.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7349275/) Liu and colleagues recruited flight attendants who were 21-40 years old, physically and psychologically healthy, and 78% female and randomly assigned them to either a wait-list control condition or to receive 5 90-minute sessions of  Loving Kindness Meditation training over 8 weeks. They were also encouraged to practice at home and at work. They were measured before and after training for mindfulness, spirituality including meaning, trust, acceptance, caring for others, connection with nature, transcendence, and spiritual activity, and subjective well-being which is a composite of scores on satisfaction with life, and positive and negative emotions.

 

They found that in comparison to baseline and the wait-list control group, the Loving Kindness Meditation produced a significantly higher level of spirituality and a large (30%) significant increase in subjective well-being. Hence, the Loving Kindness Meditation improves with psychological and spiritual well-being of the practitioners. It is interesting that this happened in young and psychologically healthy individuals. They would be expected to be relatively high in subjective well-being to start with. So, producing a further large increase is remarkable.

 

So, increase well-being and spirituality with Loving Kindness Meditation.

 

“To send loving-kindness does not mean that we approve or condone all actions, it means that we can see clearly actions that are incorrect or unskillful and still not lose the connection.” – Sharon Salzberg

 

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

 

Liu, C., Chen, H., Liu, C. Y., Lin, R. T., & Chiou, W. K. (2020). The Effect of Loving-Kindness Meditation on Flight Attendants’ Spirituality, Mindfulness and Subjective Well-Being. Healthcare (Basel, Switzerland), 8(2), 174. https://doi.org/10.3390/healthcare8020174

 

Abstract

Background: This study investigated: (1) the effects of the loving-kindness meditation (LKM) on mindfulness, subjective well-being (SWB), and spirituality and (2) the relationships between mindfulness, spirituality, and SWB. Methods: 98 flight attendants from Xiamen Airlines in China were recruited and randomly assigned to the LKM training group (n = 49) or the waiting control group (n = 49). The LKM training group underwent an 8-week LKM training intervention, and the control group did not undergo intervention. The three main variables (SWB, mindfulness, and spirituality) were measured both before (pre-test) and after (post-test) the LKM training intervention. Results: In the experimental group, SWB and spirituality increased significantly. In the control group, no significant differences were observed for the three variables between the pre-test and post-test. Conclusions: Our results indicated that LKM may help to improve SWB and spirituality. However, the mechanisms which underlie the effects of the LKM on mindfulness, spirituality, SWB, and other psychological constructs require further elucidation.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7349275/

 

Meditation Alters a Variety of Biological Mechanisms and Improves Mental Disorders

Meditation Alters a Variety of Biological Mechanisms and Improves Mental Disorders

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

Meditation-which come in many variations-has long been acknowledged as a tool to master the mind and cope with stress. Science is increasingly validating those claims, especially for depression, schizophrenia, anxiety, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).” – Mental Health America

 

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. It is useful to review and summarize what has been discovered regarding the mechanisms by which meditation practice improves mental disorders.

 

In today’s Research News article “Biological mechanism study of meditation and its application in mental disorders.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7359050/) Shen and colleagues review and summarize the published scientific research studies on the mechanisms by which meditation practice improves mental disorders.

 

They report that the published research has found complex and widespread changes in the nervous system occur as a result of meditation. In the central nervous system these are relatively long lasting changes in the amount and connectivity of the brain tissue, termed neuroplastic changes, and these may underlie the beneficial changes in the meditators. In addition, meditation appears to alter the peripheral nervous system, in particular, the autonomic nervous system. Meditation increases parasympathetic activity that underlies vegetative functions and relaxation. This may be one mechanism by which meditation improves stress responses.

 

They further report that the published research found that meditation improves the functions of the immune and inflammatory systems. These effects also improve stress responses and fighting off disease. Hence, the effects of meditation on these biological process may underlie meditations ability to improve health. Since inflammatory responses often accompany mental illnesses, this may also be a mechanism by which meditation improved mental disease.

 

On a genetic, microbiological, level meditation has been found to alter the expression of genes that promote health. This may be the underlying reason that meditation improves the immune and inflammatory systems. Also, on the genetic level the research has found that meditation promotes the preservation of telomeres. These are the ends of the chromosomes that shorten throughout the lifetime and are thought to perhaps underlie cellular aging. This mechanism may underlie meditation’s ability to slow the aging process.

 

Meditation has been found through systematic controlled research to improve a wide array of mental illnesses. These include depression, including major depressive disorders, Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and Schizophrenia. In addition, meditation has been found to aid in recovery from substance abuse disorders and to help prevent relapse.

 

It is clear from the published scientific research that meditation alters a wide array of physiological processes and improves and improves an equally wide array of mental illnesses. It will be important in the future to link the two to begin to understand what physiological changes underlie which improvements in mental illness. Regardless it is clear that meditation has many beneficial effects that promote physical and mental well-being.

 

So, practice meditation to alter a variety of biological mechanisms and improve mental disorders.

 

Mindfulness exercises are valuable and useful for anyone, but most especially for people who are struggling with mental illness or addictions. “ – Sarah Levin

 

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

 

Shen, H., Chen, M., & Cui, D. (2020). Biological mechanism study of meditation and its application in mental disorders. General psychiatry, 33(4), e100214. https://doi.org/10.1136/gpsych-2020-100214

 

Abstract

In recent years, research on meditation as an important alternative therapy has developed rapidly and been widely applied in clinical medicine. Mechanism studies of meditation have also developed progressively, showing that meditation has great impact on brain structure and function, and epigenetic and telomere regulation. In line with this, the application of meditation has gradually been expanded to mental illness, most often applied for major depressive disorders and substance-related and addictive disorders. The focus of this paper is to illustrate the biological mechanisms of meditation and its application in mental disorders.

Conclusions

Over the past two decades, meditation has been used in a great variety of fields to relieve stress, regulate emotions and promote physical and mental health. In recent years, the application of meditation in the psychiatric field has gradually received attention. It has become an adjunctive and alternative therapy for depression, PTSD and ADHD and has been carried out for the acute and remission stages of treatment for severe schizophrenia. Additionally, it can ameliorate emotional distress, craving and withdrawal symptoms in substance addiction. However, the current researchers adopt different meditation methods and diverse training durations, which leads to the inability to systematically evaluate which type of meditation is more beneficial to which populations or diseases, and to completely elucidate the biological mechanism of meditation. In the future, further targets for selective meditation subtypes along with prescribed training time, and randomised controlled studies with sufficient samples are required to determine the efficacy of meditation on the one hand, and simultaneously study the mechanisms behind meditation on the mind–body interaction, which can better display the positive function of meditation as an ancient physical and mental healing method in promoting human health.

 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7359050/

 

Normalize Heart Rate Processes with Yoga Practice

Normalize Heart Rate Processes with Yoga Practice

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

Heart Rate Variability is the ability of the heart rate to change from beat to beat., which is based off the activity of the nervous system. HRV is a more accurate measure of a person’s health than examining only the heart rate.” – Zelinda Yañez

 

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

 

Heart Rate Variability (HRV) refers to the change in the time intervals between consecutive heart beats. Higher levels of HRV are indicative of flexibility in the Autonomic Nervous System and are associated with adaptability to varying environments. Mindfulness has been associated with psychological flexibility and a greater ability to adapt appropriately to differing situations. Indeed, mindfulness practice improves Heart Rate Variability (HRV). It makes sense to determine if yoga practice can also improve heart rate variability.

 

In today’s Research News article “Changes in Heart Rate Variability after Yoga are Dependent on Heart Rate Variability at Baseline and during Yoga: A Study Showing Autonomic Normalization Effect in Yoga-Naïve and Experienced Subjects.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7336948/) Shinba and colleagues recruited adults who were either experienced yoga practitioners or yoga naïve. The engaged in 20 minutes of seated breath awareness and yogic breathing exercises. Their electrocardiogram heart rates were recorded before, during, and after the practice.

 

They found that the low frequency component of heart rate variability and the ratio of the low frequency to the high frequency component were normalized after yoga practice such that when the baseline levels were low the components increased as a result of yoga practice and when the baseline levels were high the components decreased. No significant changes in the high frequency component was observed.

 

The results do not replicate previous findings that yoga practice increases the high frequency component of heart rate variability reflecting an increase in parasympathetic activity which is associated with physiological relaxation. This lack of replication may be due to the brevity of the practice or to the nature of the practice where only breath awareness and breathing exercises were included. It is possible that more active components such as postures are needed to produce increases in parasympathetic activity.

 

The low frequency component of heart rate variability reflects the regulation of the heart rate based upon blood pressure. This reflects the maintenance of an adequate blood flow at all times. Hence, the present brief breath-oriented yoga practice appears to regularize blood flows. This, in turn, may reflect an increased ability of the physiology to deal with stresses.

 

So, normalize heart rate processes with yoga practice.

 

“HRV is an interesting and noninvasive way to identify these ANS imbalances. If a person’s system is in more of a fight-or-flight mode, the variation between subsequent heartbeats is low. If one is in a more relaxed state, the variation between beats is high. In other words, the healthier the ANS the faster you are able to switch gears, showing more resilience and flexibility.” – Marcelo Campos

 

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

 

Shinba, T., Inoue, T., Matsui, T., Kimura, K. K., Itokawa, M., & Arai, M. (2020). Changes in Heart Rate Variability after Yoga are Dependent on Heart Rate Variability at Baseline and during Yoga: A Study Showing Autonomic Normalization Effect in Yoga-Naïve and Experienced Subjects. International journal of yoga, 13(2), 160–167. https://doi.org/10.4103/ijoy.IJOY_39_19

 

Abstract

Background:

Yoga therapy is widely applied to the maintenance of health and to treatment of various illnesses. Previous researches indicate the involvement of autonomic control in its effects, although the general agreement has not been reached regarding the acute modulation of autonomic function.

Aim:

The present study aimed at revealing the acute effect of yoga on the autonomic activity using heart rate variability (HRV) measurement.

Methods:

Twenty-seven healthy controls participated in the present study. Fifteen of them (39.5 ± 8.5 years old) were naïve and 12 (45.1 ± 7.0 years old) were experienced in yoga. Yoga skills included breath awareness, two types of asana, and two types of pranayama. HRV was measured at the baseline, during yoga, and at the resting state after yoga.

Results:

In both yoga-naïve and experienced participants, the changes in low-frequency (LF) component of HRV and its ratio to high-frequency (HF) component (LF/HF) after yoga were found to be correlated negatively with the baseline data. The changes in LF after yoga were also correlated with LF during yoga. The changes in HF as well as the raw HRV data after yoga were not related to the baseline HRV or the HRV during yoga.

Conclusion:

The results indicate that yoga leads to an increase in LF when LF is low and leads to a decrease in LF when it is high at the baseline. This normalization of LF is dependent on the autonomic modulation during yoga and may underlie the clinical effectiveness of yoga therapy both in yoga-naïve and experienced subjects.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7336948/