Improve Attention with Even Very Brief Meditation

Improve Attention with Even Very Brief Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“We practice meditation in the end not to become great meditators but to have a different life. As we deepen the skills of concentration, mindfulness, and compassion, we find we have less stress, more fulfillment, more insight, and vastly more happiness. We transform our lives.” – Sharon Salzberg

 

One of the primary effects of mindfulness training is an improvement in the ability to pay attention to the task at hand and ignore interfering stimuli. This is an important consequence of mindfulness training and produces improvements in thinking, reasoning, and creativity. The importance of heightened attentional ability to the individual’s ability to navigate the demands of complex modern life cannot be overstated. It helps at work, in relationships, or simply driving a car.

 

There is evidence that mindfulness training improves attention by altering the brain. It appears That mindfulness training increases the size, connectivity, and activity of areas of the brain that are involved in paying attention. A common method to study the activity of the nervous system is to measure the electrical signal at the scalp above brain regions. Changes in this activity are measurable with mindfulness training. One method to observe attentional processing in the brain is to measure the changes in the electrical activity that occur in response to specific stimuli. These are called event-related potentials or ERPs. The signal following a stimulus changes over time. The fluctuations of the signal after specific periods of time are thought to measure different aspects of the nervous system’s processing of the stimulus.

 

The P3b response in the evoked potential (ERP) is a positive going electrical response occurring between a 2.5 to 5 tenths of a second following the target stimulus presentation. The P3b (distractor positivity) component is thought to reflect an attentional suppression process involved in preventing shifts in attention. The N2 response is a negative electrical change that occurs around 2 tenths of a second following the target stimulus presentation. The N2 response has been implicated in conflict detection and executive attention. These components of the evoked potential can be used to assess the nature of attentional processing before and after meditation, reflecting how meditation might improve attention.

 

In today’s Research News article “Brief Mindfulness Meditation Improves Attention in Novices: Evidence From ERPs and Moderation by Neuroticism.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6088366/ ), Norris and colleagues recruited undergraduate students for two experiments to examine the ability of a very brief meditation experience to affect attentional abilities.

 

In the first study they had the students listen to a 10-minute recording either of mindfulness meditation instructions or a reading of a National Geographic article about giant sequoias. The participants then performed a flanker task, a measure of executive cognitive function. In this task the participant has to respond to the direction of an arrow, when it is surrounded by distracting arrows that point either in the same (congruent) or opposite (incongruent) directions. Afterwards they completed the Big 5 Personality Inventory. They found that the participants who listened to the meditation recording were significantly more accurate on the flanker task on incongruent trials. This suggests that a brief meditation improves cognitive attentional ability to screen out irrelevant material.

 

In the second study students listened to recordings like in study 1 and performed an attention network task. It includes the flanker task but also includes measures of different types of attention, including alerting, orienting, and executive control. While performing the task the electroencephalogram (EEG) was recorded and the event related potential recorded in response to the presentation of the task. They found that the participants who listened to the meditation recording were significantly faster in responding on the attentional network task. They found that the low neuroticism participants who listened to the meditation recording had significantly larger N2 ERP responses and significantly smaller P3b ERP responses during incongruent (conflict) task than controls. These changes in the ERP suggests that after meditation, the brain functions better in allocating attentional resources to the task at hand.

 

These results are interesting and suggest that even a single brief meditation experience can alter both behavioral and EEG measures of attention. They suggest that even a 10-minute meditation enhances attentional mechanisms. This extends the literature on the effectiveness of mindfulness training on attention, demonstrating that even 10 minutes of meditation exposure can improve the individual’s ability to attend to and process information in the present environment.

 

So, improve attention with even very brief meditation.

 

“intensive and continued meditation practice is associated with enduring improvements in sustained attention and response inhibition, with the potential to alter longitudinal trajectories of cognitive change across a person’s life,” – Anthony Zanesco

 

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

 

Norris, C. J., Creem, D., Hendler, R., & Kober, H. (2018). Brief Mindfulness Meditation Improves Attention in Novices: Evidence From ERPs and Moderation by Neuroticism. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 12, 315. http://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2018.00315

 

Abstract

Past research has found that mindfulness meditation training improves executive attention. Event-related potentials (ERPs) have indicated that this effect could be driven by more efficient allocation of resources on demanding attentional tasks, such as the Flanker Task and the Attention Network Test (ANT). However, it is not clear whether these changes depend on long-term practice. In two studies, we sought to investigate the effects of a brief, 10-min meditation session on attention in novice meditators, compared to a control activity. We also tested moderation by individual differences in neuroticism and the possible underlying neural mechanisms driving these effects, using ERPs. In Study 1, participants randomly assigned to listen to a 10-min meditation tape had better accuracy on incongruent trials on a Flanker task, with no detriment in reaction times (RTs), indicating better allocation of resources. In Study 2, those assigned to listen to a meditation tape performed an ANT more quickly than control participants, with no detriment in performance. Neuroticism moderated both of these effects, and ERPs showed that those individuals lower in neuroticism who meditated for 10 min exhibited a larger N2 to incongruent trials compared to those who listened to a control tape; whereas those individuals higher in neuroticism did not. Together, our results support the hypothesis that even brief meditation improves allocation of attentional resources in some novices.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6088366/

 

Improve Thinking in Substance Abusers with Yoga

Improve Thinking in Substance Abusers with Yoga

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“When people take substances, they’re seeking a certain experience, whether it’s escapist or transcendental or just wanting a different psychological state, to get away from whatever is making them unhappy. Yoga is an alternative, a positive way to generate a change in consciousness that, instead of providing an escape, empowers people with the ability to access a peaceful, restorative inner state that integrates mind, body, and spirit.” – Sat Bir Khalsa

 

Substance abuse is a major health and social problem. There are estimated 22.2 million people in the U.S. with substance dependence. It is estimated that worldwide there are nearly ¼ million deaths yearly as a result of illicit drug use which includes unintentional overdoses, suicides, HIV and AIDS, and trauma. In the U.S. about 17 million people abuse alcohol. Drunk driving fatalities accounted for over 10,000 deaths annually. “Tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of death and disease in the United States. Cigarette smoking kills more than 480,000 Americans each year, with more than 41,000 of these deaths from exposure to secondhand smoke. In addition, smoking-related illness in the United States costs more than $300 billion a year. In 2013, an estimated 17.8% (42.1 million) U.S. adults were current cigarette smokers.”  (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

 

Obviously, there is a need to find effective methods to prevent and treat substance abuse. There are a number of programs that are successful at stopping the drug abuse, including the classic 12-step program emblematic of Alcoholics Anonymous. Unfortunately, the majority of drug and/or alcohol abusers relapse and return to substance abuse. Hence, it is important to find an effective method to both treat substance abuse disorders and to prevent relapses. Mindfulness practices have been shown to improve recovery from various addictions. Yoga is a mindfulness practice that has documented benefits for the individual’s psychological and physical health and well-being. There has been a paucity of studies, however, on the use of yoga practice to treat substance abuse.

 

Substance abuse frequently produces cognitive deficits which interfere with the clear thinking needed for abstinence and recovery from substance abuse. So, it is important that methods be found to improve cognitive function in substance abusers undergoing treatment. In today’s Research News article “Effect of Add-On Yoga on Cognitive Functions among Substance Abusers in a Residential Therapeutic Center: Randomized Comparative Study.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5981665/ ), Gaihre and colleagues examine the ability of yoga practice in comparison to a physical exercise program to enhance the cognitive performance in substance abusers undergoing treatment.

 

They recruited adult substance abusers entering a treatment program and having successfully undergone 3 weeks of withdrawal and abstinence. They were randomly assigned to receive 12-week programs of either yoga practice or physical exercise. Both programs met 6 times per week for 90 minutes. The yoga program included postures, breathing exercises, stretching, relaxation, and meditation. The physical exercise program included stretching and walking and running aerobic exercise. The participants were measured before and after the 12-week intervention for cognitive performance including the Stroop interference task, digit span short-term memory task, and a sustained and selective task.

 

They found that after 12-weeks of practice both yoga practice and physical exercise groups had large and significant improvements in all of the cognitive tasks. Hence, both types of exercise were associated with clearer thought processes in the substance abusers. It is unfortunate that there a no-treatment control wasn’t included as the improvements might have occurred anyway over the 12-weeks of residential substance abuse treatment. It will remain for future research to examine this possibility.

 

Substance abuse treatment is difficult and relapse is very common. So, finding methods that can enhance the abuser’s ability to process information and think clearly about their addiction and its treatment would be very helpful. The findings suggest that exercise programs including yoga practice may be able to help clear the cognitive fog and enhance the abuser’s ability to successfully complete treatment and resist relapse.

 

So, improve thinking in substance abusers with Yoga.

 

“Since most meditation practices involve management of the mind’s energy and impulses, practitioners of yoga and meditation experience greater mood stability in the face of outside pressures. Having a calm mind and being mentally stable can contribute to the avoidance of self-harming behaviors and activities, like substance abuse.” – Addiction Resources

 

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

 

Gaihre, A., & Rajesh, S. K. (2018). Effect of Add-On Yoga on Cognitive Functions among Substance Abusers in a Residential Therapeutic Center: Randomized Comparative Study. Annals of Neurosciences, 25(1), 38–45. http://doi.org/10.1159/000484165

 

Abstract

Background

Chronic vulnerability characterizes substance abuse disorder with consequent relapse. The process of abstinence depends on cognitive recovery. Hence, behavioral intervention should account for cognitive dimension of substance abusers. Recent studies highlight yoga-based intervention as a promising add-on therapy for treating and preventing addictive behaviors.

Purpose

The study aimed to evaluate the efficacy of a yoga-based intervention as an add-on in enhancing cognitive functions, compared with physical exercise to newly admitted substance abusers seeking an inpatient treatment program.

Methods

The study was a single-blind, randomized, comparative design that included 96 male participants, between 18 and 40 years in a residential rehabilitation treatment unit. Partakers in the yoga or physical exercise group received supervised daily training for 12 weeks, in addition to standard rehabilitation treatment. Raters blind to the study assessed the patients on digit span task, cancellation test, and Stroop tests at the baseline and following 12 weeks of intervention.

Results

A significant enhancement in digit forward (yoga – p < 0.0005, d = 0.81; exercise – p < 0.0005, d = 0.73), digit backward (yoga – p < 0.0005, d = 0.88; exercise – p < 0.0005, d = 0.58), and letter cancellation test scores (yoga – p < 0.0005, d = 1.31; exercise – p < 0.0005, d = 1.4) were observed in both the yoga and the exercise groups. Stroop word and color task scores were seen significantly higher following yoga (p <0.005, d = 0.74; p < 0.005, d = 1.13) and exercise (p < 0.0005, d = 0.62; p < 0.0005, d = 0.61). Furthermore, Stroop color-word test showed significant enhancement after yoga (p < 0.0005, d = 1.10) and exercise (p < 0.0005, d = 0.42), with degree of variation higher in the yoga group.

Conclusion

Our results suggest that the add-on yoga or exercise-based intervention show enhancement of cognitive functions. These findings provide the utility of yoga and exercise-based intervention in improving cognitive functions among substance abusers. Furthermore, rigorous trials are needed to explore the potential long-term effects of these procedures.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5981665/

 

Improve Proactive Cognition with Mindfulness

Improve Proactive Cognition with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Mindfulness meditation has been found to elicit a positive impact on cognitive performance and abilities such as attention, memory, cognitive flexibility, and quality of task performance.” – Lauren Martin

 

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 mind wandering. As a result, mindfulness has been shown to be associated with improved cognition (thinking). Cognition can involve planning for the future (proactive cognition) or it can also involve processing what has, or is, occurring (reactive cognition). It is not known whether mindfulness training affects either or both forms of cognition.

 

In today’s Research News article “The Effect of Mindfulness Training on Proactive and Reactive Cognitive Control.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01002/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_686352_69_Psycho_20180626_arts_A ), Li and colleagues recruited meditation naïve adults and randomly assigned them to either receive 8 weeks of mindfulness training or a no-treatment control condition. Mindfulness training occurred with a once per week, 2.5-hour group training session and 30 minutes of daily home practice. It included meditation, body scan, and yoga practices. They were measured before and after training for mindfulness and its 5 facets, Observing, Describing, Acting with awareness, Non-judging, and Non-reacting.

 

The participants also performed a Continuous Performance Test before and after training. Participants pressed a left button or a right button depending on whether a target or non-target letter followed an “A” on the screen and only one button regardless of letter type if it followed a “B” on the screen. Proactive cognition can be assessed by the tendency to react to the first letter (the “A” or “B”) regardless of what follows. Retroactive cognition can be assessed by the tendency to react to the target letter regardless of what preceded it (the “A” or “B”).

 

Not surprisingly, the mindfulness trained group had significant increases in all facets of mindfulness where the control group did not. More significantly, they found that the mindfulness trained group had higher scores for proactive control relative to retroactive control than the no-treatment group. This suggests that mindfulness training enhances proactive control and not retroactive cognitive control.

 

These results suggest that increasing mindfulness results in an enhancement in responding to the present moment (proactive) and less to the past (retroactive). Since, mindfulness training is designed to do just that, the results suggest that the training makes the individual more sensitive to immediate stimuli, just as its’ supposed to.

 

So, improve proactive cognition with mindfulness.

 

“The meditation group did especially better on all the cognitive tests that were timed. In tasks where participants had to process information under time constraints causing stress, the group briefly trained in mindfulness performed significantly better.” – Fadel Zeidan

 

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

 

Li Y, Liu F, Zhang Q, Liu X and Wei P (2018) The Effect of Mindfulness Training on Proactive and Reactive Cognitive Control. Front. Psychol. 9:1002. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01002

 

Abstract

Previous studies have demonstrated that mindfulness practice can improve general cognitive control. However, little research has examined whether mindfulness practices affect different cognitive control strategies. According to the dual mechanisms of control (DMC) model, different cognitive control strategies may play distinct roles in individuals’ lives. Proactive control allows people to maintain and prepare for goals, whereas reactive control allows them to respond flexibly to a changing environment. Thus, this study investigates the influences of mindfulness training on proactive and reactive control measured by the AX version of the Continuous Performance Test (AX-CPT). Thirty participants completed AX-CPT and the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ) before and after random assignment to either an 8-week mindfulness training group or a control group. The results showed no interaction between group and test time for AY or BX trial type, but the training group had fewer post-test errors on the BX trial and a higher Behavior Shift Index (BSI) of reaction time (RT) compared with the control group. This finding indicates enhanced trend of proactive control with mindfulness training. A positive correlation between the BSI of RT and observing scores on the FFMQ confirmed the connection between attentional components in mindfulness and proactive control. Errors on the AY trial in the post-test decreased in both groups, reflecting reactive control that did not differ between groups. The 8-week mindfulness training demonstrates a potential improvement effect on proactive control and could be helpful in overcoming interference.

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01002/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_686352_69_Psycho_20180626_arts_A

 

High Mindfulness and Low Anxiety is Associated with High Level Cognitive Ability

High Mindfulness and Low Anxiety is Associated with High Level Cognitive Ability

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Mindfulness meditation has been found to elicit a positive impact on cognitive performance and abilities such as attention, memory, cognitive flexibility, and quality of task performance.” – Integrative Therapeutics

 

There is a tremendous amount of information present at any moment. It is a challenge to the nervous system to sort it out and pay attention to only the most significant information. This involves ignoring competing or conflicting stimuli and concentrating on only the most salient and pertinent stimuli. Mindfulness training can help. It involves a greater emphasis on attention to the immediate stimulus environment. So, it builds the capacity to focus on what is transpiring in the present moment. Mindful people generally have better attentional abilities and have fewer intrusive thoughts and less mind wandering. As a result, mindfulness has been shown to be associated with differences in thought processes, increases creativity, and improves cognitive processes.

 

In general, anxiety tends to interfere with high level thinking; interfering with cognitive ability. So, it would seem that people high in mindfulness and also low in anxiety would perform better on cognitive tasks compared to people low in mindfulness and high in anxiety. In today’s Research News article “Better Cognitive Performance Is Associated With the Combination of High Trait Mindfulness and Low Trait Anxiety.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00627/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_640301_69_Psycho_20180515_arts_A ), Jaiswal and colleagues examine this prediction.

 

They recruited adults aged 18 to 30 years through Facebook and measured them for mindfulness and anxiety. They identified participants who were 0.85 standard deviations above the mean in mindfulness and 0.85 standard deviations below the mean in anxiety (High Mindfulness – Low Anxiety) and participants who were 0.85 standard deviations below the mean in mindfulness and 0.85 standard deviations above the mean in anxiety (Low Mindfulness – High Anxiety). These participants were asked to perform a flanker distraction task to measure attentional ability, a Stroop color test to measure interference with attention, and a visual working memory task.

 

They found that the High Mindfulness – Low Anxiety group performed significantly better than the Low Mindfulness – High Anxiety group on the Stroop attention interference task and the visual working memory task, and overall working memory capacity. The results confirmed the initial hypothesis that individuals with a combination of high mindfulness and low anxiety have superior attentional and cognitive abilities. Hence, it appears that mindfulness improves cognition while anxiety interferes with it.

 

The study was a cross sectional design and neither mindfulness nor anxiety were manipulated. Thus, causation cannot be determined. The results, though, support the initiation of a study where groups are trained in mindfulness and exposed to anxiety evoking situations to determine the causal connections of the combinations of mindfulness and anxiety on the ability for high level attentional ability and thought processes.

 

Nevertheless, it appears that high mindfulness and low anxiety is associated with high level attentional and cognitive ability.

 

“new research now suggests that the mind may be easier to cognitively train than we previously believed. Psychologists studying the effects of a meditation technique known as “mindfulness ” found that meditation-trained participants showed a significant improvement in their critical cognitive skills (and performed significantly higher in cognitive tests than a control group) after only four days of training for only 20 minutes each day.” – Science daily

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

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

 

Study Summary

 

Jaiswal S, Tsai S-Y, Juan C-H, Liang W-K and Muggleton NG (2018) Better Cognitive Performance Is Associated With the Combination of High Trait Mindfulness and Low Trait Anxiety. Front. Psychol. 9:627. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00627

 

There are several ways in which cognitive and neurophysiological parameters have been consistently used to explain the variability in cognitive ability between people. However, little has been done to explore how such cognitive abilities are influenced by differences in personality traits. Dispositional mindfulness and anxiety are two inversely linked traits that have been independently attributed to a range of cognitive functions. The current study investigated these two traits in combination along with measures of the attentional network, cognitive inhibition, and visual working memory (VWM) capacity. A total of 392 prospective participants were screened to select two experimental groups each of 30 healthy young adults, with one having high mindfulness and low anxiety (HMLA) and the second having low mindfulness and high anxiety (LMHA). The groups performed an attentional network task, a color Stroop task, and a change detection test of VWM capacity. Results showed that the HMLA group was more accurate than the LMHA group on the Stroop and change detection tasks. Additionally, the HMLA group was more sensitive in detecting changes and had a higher WMC than the LMHA group. This research adds to the literature that has investigated mindfulness and anxiety independently with a comprehensive investigation of the effects of these two traits in conjunction on executive function.

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00627/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_640301_69_Psycho_20180515_arts_A

 

Mindfulness Plus Reflection Training Improves Thinking in Pre-School Children

Mindfulness Plus Reflection Training Improves Thinking in Pre-School Children

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“When we teach mindfulness to children, we are sharing with them skillful ways of relating to life’s uncomfortable and challenging moments. The earlier we do so in their young lives, the greater the opportunity to help them cultivate resilience and develop and refine their mindfulness practice as they mature.” – Scott Rogers

 

Childhood is a miraculous period during which the child is dynamically absorbing information from every aspect of its environment. This occurs almost without any intervention from the adults as the child appears to be programmed to learn. It is here that behaviors, knowledge, skills, and attitudes are developed that shape the individual. But, what is absorbed depends on the environment. If it is replete with speech, the child will learn speech, if it is replete with trauma, the child will learn fear, if it is replete with academic skills the child will learn these, and if it is replete with interactions with others, the child will learn social skills.

 

Pre-School and elementary school are environments that have a huge effect on development. They are also excellent times to teach children the skills to adaptively negotiate its environment. Mindfulness training in school, at all levels has been shown to have very positive effects. These include academic, cognitive, psychological, and social domains. Importantly, mindfulness training in school appears to improve the student’s self-concept. It also improves attentional ability and reduces stress, which are keys to successful learning in school. Since, what occurs in these early years and in school can have such a profound, long-term effect on the child it is important to further study the impact of mindfulness training on the development of thinking skills in pre-school children.

 

In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness Plus Reflection Training: Effects on Executive Function in Early Childhood.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00208/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_556427_69_Psycho_20180301_arts_A ), Zelazo and colleagues recruited preschool children (4-5 years old) from two schools with predominantly children from low-income families and randomly assigned them to either Mindfulness + Reflection, Literacy, or Business as Usual conditions. Mindfulness + Reflection and Literacy training occurred daily for 6 weeks for 24 minutes per day. Mindfulness + Reflection training was adapted for young children and involved mindfulness and relaxation exercises, attention to thoughts and emotions, and cognitive enrichment programs; particularly attention training. The literacy program was adapted from the OWL (Opening the World of Learning) program.

 

The children were measured before the 6-week training period for vocabulary, math skills, IQ, and reading readiness. The children were measured before and after the 6-week training period and 4-6 weeks later for executive function, theory of mind, and literacy with measures adapted for young children. Teachers also rated the children for behaviors indicating surgency, negative affect, and effortful control and for attachment/relationships, behavioral concerns, initiative, and self-control.

 

They found that after training most of the children in all groups showed significant improvements on many of the measures. But, the children participating in the Mindfulness + Reflection program had significantly greater increases in overall executive function scores including working memory measures. The literacy training group had significantly greater improvements in effortful control reflecting improvements in inhibitory control, attentional control, low intensity pleasure, and perceptual sensitivity. Hence, they found evidence that mindfulness training can improve thinking while literacy training can improve behavioral control in very young disadvantaged children.

 

Early childhood is a time of rapid brain development and cognitive abilities. Since, it’s been shown that mindfulness training can produces changes in the brains of adolescents and adults, it is likely that the training in early childhood also changes brain development, This is a very important period of development and improvements here may well affect the children for the rest of their lives. This may be particularly important for disadvantaged children potentially altering the trajectory of their lives,

 

This study is laudable as working with and measuring very young children is challenging and requires insight and creativity. But, research conducted during this dynamic phase of development is particularly important. Of course, much more work is needed. But these results are promising and lend support to conducting further work.

 

“There is an emerging body of research that indicates mindfulness can help children improve their abilities to pay attention, to calm down when they are upset and to make better decisions. In short, it helps with emotional regulation and cognitive focus.” – Sarah Rudell Beach

 

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

 

Zelazo PD, Forston JL, Masten AS and Carlson SM (2018) Mindfulness Plus Reflection Training: Effects on Executive Function in Early Childhood. Front. Psychol. 9:208. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00208

 

Executive function (EF) skills are essential for academic achievement, and poverty-related stress interferes with their development. This pre-test, post-test, follow-up randomized-control trial assessed the impact of an intervention targeting reflection and stress reduction on children’s EF skills. Preschool children (N = 218) from schools serving low-income families in two U.S. cities were randomly assigned to one of three options delivered in 30 small-group sessions over 6 weeks: Mindfulness + Reflection training; Literacy training; or Business as Usual (BAU). Sessions were conducted by local teachers trained in a literacy curriculum or Mindfulness + Reflection intervention, which involved calming activities and games that provided opportunities to practice reflection in the context of goal-directed problem solving. EF improved in all groups, but planned contrasts indicated that the Mindfulness + Reflection group significantly outperformed the BAU group at Follow-up (4 weeks post-test). No differences in EF were observed between the BAU and Literacy training groups. Results suggest that a brief, small-group, school-based intervention teaching mindfulness and reflection did not improve EF skills more than literacy training but is promising compared to BAU for improving EF in low-income preschool children several weeks following the intervention.

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00208/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_556427_69_Psycho_20180301_arts_A

 

Improve Arthritis with Qigong

Improve Arthritis with Qigong

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Qigong techniques are simple and do not need to be carried out precisely to bring about its great benefits. Qigong practice is known for preventing disease, strengthening immunity and producing better health and well-being. However it is under-appreciated, even in China, that Qigong therapy can be effective for relieving pain and treating arthritis.” – Kellen Chia

 

Arthritis is a chronic disease that most commonly affects the joints. There are over 100 different types of arthritis. Depending on the type of arthritis symptoms may include pain, stiffness, swelling, redness, and decreased range of motion. It affects an estimated 52.5 million adults in the United States. It is associated with aging as arthritis occurs in only 7% of adults ages 18–44, while 30% adults ages 45–64 are affected, and 50% of adults ages 65 or older. The pain, stiffness, and lack of mobility associate with arthritis produce fatigue and markedly reduce the quality of life of the sufferers. Arthritis can have very negative psychological effects diminishing the individual’s self-image and may lead to depression, isolation, and withdrawal from friends and social activities Arthritis reduces the individual’s ability to function at work and may require modifications of work activities which can lead to financial difficulties. It even affects the individual’s physical appearance. In addition, due to complications associated with rheumatoid arthritis, particularly cardiovascular disease, the lifespan for people with rheumatoid arthritis may be shortened by 10 years.

 

It is obvious that there is a need for a safe and effective treatment to help rheumatoid arthritis sufferers cope with the disease and its consequences. Increasing exercise has been shown to increase flexibility and mobility but many form of exercise are difficult for the arthritis sufferer to engage in and many drop out. But all that may be needed is gentle movements of the joints. Qigong or Tai Chi training are designed to enhance and regulate the functional activities of the body through regulated breathing, mindful concentration, and gentle movements. They have been shown to have many physical and psychological benefits, especially for the elderly. Because They are not strenuous, involving slow gentle movements, and are safe, having no appreciable side effects, they are appropriate for an elderly population. So, it would seem that Qigong or Tai Chi practice would be well suited to treat arthritis in seniors.

 

In today’s Research News article “Qigong Exercise and Arthritis.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5750595/ ), Marks reviewed and summarized the published research on the effectiveness of Qigong practice for the treatment of arthritis. He found that Qigong practice produced significant improvements in the musculoskeletal system including increased strength, joint flexibility, posture, balance motor function, and motor coordination, and improvements in quality of life and cognitive function. In addition, the research reported decreased pain, fatigue, and blood pressure and improved immune function, metabolic function, circulation, aerobic capacity, and reduced falls, improved psychological health, mood, and sleep.

 

These are impressive results. Scientific research suggests that Qigong practice produces  widespread improvements in mental and physical health in arthritis sufferers. In addition, it is inexpensive, convenient, appropriate for individuals of all ages and health condition and is safe to practice, making it an almost ideal treatment for the symptoms of arthritis.

 

So, improve arthritis with Qigong.

 

“Qigong focuses on relaxing the body, which over time, allows the joints and muscles to loosen up, improving the circulation of fluids and blood. The practice focuses on rebuilding overall health and strengthening the spirit, while encouraging one to change the way one looks at life in general, and at the illness affecting you.” – 1MD

 

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

 

Ray Marks. Qigong Exercise and Arthritis. Medicines (Basel) 2017 Dec; 4(4): 71. Published online 2017 Sep 27. doi: 10.3390/medicines4040071

 

Abstract

Background: Arthritis is a chronic condition resulting in considerable disability, particularly in later life. Aims: The first aim of this review was to summarize and synthesize the research base concerning the use of Qigong exercises as a possible adjunctive strategy for promoting well-being among adults with arthritis. A second was to provide related intervention directives for health professionals working or who are likely to work with this population in the future. Methods: Material specifically focusing on examining the nature of Qigong for minimizing arthritis disability, pain and dependence and for improving life quality was sought. Results: Collectively, despite almost no attention to this topic, available data reveal that while more research is indicated, Qigong exercises—practiced widely in China for many centuries as an exercise form, mind-body and relaxation technique—may be very useful as an intervention strategy for adults with different forms of painful disabling arthritis. Conclusion: Health professionals working with people who have chronic arthritis can safely recommend these exercises to most adults with this condition with the expectation they will heighten the life quality of the individual, while reducing pain and depression in adults with this condition.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5750595/

Be Mindful for Improved Psychological Health

Be Mindful for Improved Psychological Health

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

We’ve seen this in the clinical domain for many years. People, in concert with their physicians… actually going off their medications for pain, for anxiety, for depression, as they begin to learn the self-regulatory elements of mindfulness. They discover that the things that used to be symptomatically problematic for them are no longer arising at the same level.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn

 

Mindfulness training has been shown through extensive research to be effective in improving the physical and psychological condition of otherwise healthy people and also treating the physical and psychological issues of people with illnesses and particularly with the physical and psychological reactions to stress. Techniques such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) as well as Yoga practice and Tai Chi or Qigong practice have been demonstrated to be particularly effective. This has led to an increasing adoption of these mindfulness techniques for the health and well-being of both healthy and ill individuals.

 

In fact, the degree of mindfulness, inherent in the individual, without training, known as dispositional mindfulness, has been shown to be associated with the degree of mental and physical health. In today’s Research News article “Dispositional Mindfulness and Psychological Health: a Systematic Review.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5770488/ ), Tomlinson and colleagues review and summarize the published scientific research regarding the relationship of dispositional mindfulness to psychological health. They identified 93 research studies that found three different areas of relationship.

 

They report that the published research found that dispositional mindfulness was associated with improved psychopathological symptoms. The published research report that the higher the individuals’ levels of dispositional mindfulness the lower the levels of depression, anxiety, disordered eating, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms, and Borderline Personality Disorder (DPD) symptoms.

 

They report that the published research found that dispositional mindfulness was associated with improved cognitive performance. It was found that that the higher the individuals’ levels of dispositional mindfulness the lower the levels of avoidant coping strategies e.g. procrastination, rumination, impulsivity, catastrophizing and neuroticism, and the higher the levels of executive function (high level thinking).

 

Finally, they report that dispositional mindfulness was associated with improved emotional control. It was reported that the higher the individuals’ levels of dispositional mindfulness the lower the levels of perceived stress, emotional distress, and higher levels of emotion regulation, emotional stability, psychological well-being, and recovery following stressful conditions.

 

This review of the published research suggests that being generally mindful (dispositional mindfulness) is associated with psychological health and well-being. The problem with dispositional characteristics is that they cannot be manipulated as they are relatively stable characteristics of the individual. They can only be correlated with other characteristics. As such, it is impossible to conclude causal relationships between dispositional mindfulness and psychological health. It is equally likely that psychological health produces dispositional mindfulness, that dispositional mindfulness produces psychological health, or that a third factor causes both.

 

Manipulative research, producing changes in the short-term state of mindfulness, however, demonstrates that increases in mindfulness cause improvements in psychological well-being. So, it is likely that the observed relationships of dispositional mindfulness and psychological health are the result of dispositional mindfulness causing improved emotional and cognitive function and thereby reduced psychopathology and improved mental health.

 

So, be mindful for improved psychological health.

 

“A great deal of research has documented physical health benefits of mindfulness, such as an improved immune system, lower blood pressure, and better sleep. Mindfulness has also been linked to mental health benefits, such as reduced stress and anxiety, and improved concentration and focus, less emotional reactivity.” – American Psychiatric 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

 

Eve R. Tomlinson, Omar Yousaf, Axel D. Vittersø, Lauraine Jones. Dispositional Mindfulness and Psychological Health: a Systematic Review. Mindfulness (N Y) 2018; 9(1): 23–43. Published online 2017 Jul 1. doi: 10.1007/s12671-017-0762-6

 

Abstract

Interest in the influence of dispositional mindfulness (DM) on psychological health has been gathering pace over recent years. Despite this, a systematic review of this topic has not been conducted. A systematic review can benefit the field by identifying the terminology and measures used by researchers and by highlighting methodological weaknesses and empirical gaps. We systematically reviewed non-interventional, quantitative papers on DM and psychological health in non-clinical samples published in English up to June 2016, following the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-analyses (PRISMA) guidelines. A literature search was conducted using PsycINFO, PubMED, Medline and Embase, and 93 papers met the inclusion criteria. Within these, three main themes emerged, depicting the relationship between DM and psychological health: (1) DM appears to be inversely related to psychopathological symptoms such as depressive symptoms, (2) DM is positively linked to adaptive cognitive processes such as less rumination and pain catastrophizing and (3) DM appears to be associated with better emotional processing and regulation. These themes informed the creation of a taxonomy. We conclude that research has consistently shown a positive relationship between DM and psychological health. Suggestions for future research and conceptual and methodological limitations within the field are discussed.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5770488/

Improve Cognition in the Elderly with Tai Chi

Improve Cognition in the Elderly with Tai Chi

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Tai Chi has consistent, small effects on improving cognitive performance in both healthy older adults and older adults with some cognitive impairment.” – PM Wayne

 

The aging process involves a systematic progressive decline of the body and the brain. Every system in the body deteriorates including cognitive function (thinking ability) and motor function with a decline in strength, flexibility, and balance. It is inevitable. In addition, many elderly experience withdrawal and isolation from social interactions. There is some hope as there is evidence that these declines can be slowed. For example, a healthy diet and a regular program of exercise can slow the physical and cognitive decline of the body with aging. Also, contemplative practices such as meditation, yoga, and tai chi or qigong have all been shown to be beneficial in slowing or delaying physical and mental decline.

 

Tai Chi has been practiced for thousands of years with benefits for health and longevity. Tai Chi training is designed to enhance function and regulate the activities of the body through regulated breathing, mindful concentration, and gentle movements. Only recently though have the effects of Tai Chi practice been scrutinized with empirical research. But, it has been found to be effective for an array of physical and psychological issues. Tai Chi has been shown to help the elderly improve attentionbalance, reducing fallsarthritiscognitive functionmemory, and reduce age related deterioration of the brain. Because Tai Chi is not strenuous, involving slow gentle movements, and is safe, having no appreciable side effects, it is appropriate for all ages including the elderly and for individuals with illnesses that limit their activities or range of motion.

 

In today’s Research News article “Effects of tai chi on cognition and instrumental activities of daily living in community dwelling older people with mild cognitive impairment.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5797349/ ), Siu and Lee examine the effectiveness of Tai Chi practice for elderly individuals with mild cognitive impairment. They recruited elderly individuals (> 60 years of age) with mild cognitive impairment from 4 community centers for the elderly. Participants from two community centers were randomly assigned to a no-treatment control condition or to receive 16 weeks of Tai Chi training for 1-hour twice a week. They were measured before and after training for cognitive ability and daily living activities; including using telephone, shopping, preparing food, doing house-keeping and laundry, using transportation, managing finances, handling medication, and doing handyman work.

 

They found that the Tai Chi practice group compared to baseline and the control group had significant improvements in cognitive ability and in the performance of daily activities. These are important findings. With an aging population, the maintenance of ability to perform daily activities may reduce the burden and cost of caregivering. In addition, the improvements in cognitive function may reduce the incidence of dementia and allow for better quality of life in the elderly. Importantly, these benefits can be produced with a convenient, inexpensive, safe, and fun social activity.

 

So, improve cognition in the Elderly with Tai Chi.

 

“A comparison of the effects of regular sessions of tai chi, walking, and social discussion, has found tai chi was associated with the biggest gains in brain volume and improved cognition.” – Fiona MsPherson

 

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

 

Mei-yi Siu, Diana T. F. Lee. Effects of tai chi on cognition and instrumental activities of daily living in community dwelling older people with mild cognitive impairment. BMC Geriatr. 2018; 18: 37. Published online 2018 Feb 2. doi: 10.1186/s12877-018-0720-8

 

Abstract

Background

Cognitive impairment places older adults at high risk of functional disability in their daily-life activities, and thus affecting their quality of life. This study aimed to examine the effects of Tai Chi on general cognitive functions and instrumental activities of daily living (IADL) in community-dwelling older people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) in Hong Kong.

Methods

The study adopted a multi-site nonequivalent control-group pretest-posttest design. 160 community-dwelling older people, aged ≥60, with MCI, from four community elderly centers participated in the study. The intervention group (IG, n = 80) received training in the Yang-style simple form of Tai Chi, at a frequency of two lessons per week for 16 weeks. Each lesson lasted for one hour. The control group (CG, n = 80) had no treatment regime and joined different recreational activity groups in community centers as usual within the study period. Outcome measures included measures of global cognitive status and IADL. The Chinese version of the Mini-Mental State Examination (CMMSE) was used for global cognitive assessment. The Hong Kong Chinese version of Lawton’s Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADL-CV) was used to assess the participants’ IADL levels. General Estimating Equations (GEE) was used to examine each of the outcome variables for the two groups at the two study time points (the baseline and at the end of the study). Meanwhile, minimum detectable change (MDC) was calculated to estimate the magnitude of changes required to eradicate the possibility of measurement error of outcome measures.

Results

Seventy four participants in the IG and 71 participants in the CG completed the study. With adjustments for differences in age, education, marital status and living conditions, the findings revealed that the participants in the IG scored significantly better on the CMMSE test (P = 0.001), and the instrumental ADL questionnaire (P = 0.004). However, those scores changes did not exceed the limits of the respective MDCs in the study, the possibility of measurement variation due to error could not be excluded.

Conclusion

Tai Chi may be an effective strategy to enhance cognitive health and maintain functional abilities in instrumental ADL in older people with MCI.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5797349/

Slow Mental Decline in the Elderly with Tai Chi

Slow Mental Decline in the Elderly with Tai Chi

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“improvement of heart function combined with increased muscular power meant that the martial art should be considered the preferred technique for elderly people to maintain good health.” – The Telegraph

 

We celebrate the increasing longevity of the population. But, aging is a mixed blessing. The aging process involves a systematic progressive decline of the body and the brain. Every system in the body deteriorates including cognitive function (thinking ability) and motor function with a decline in strength, flexibility, and balance. It is inevitable. In addition, many elderly experience withdrawal and isolation from social interactions. There is some hope as there is evidence that these declines can be slowed. For example, a healthy diet and a regular program of exercise can slow the physical and cognitive decline of the body with aging. Also, contemplative practices such as meditation, yoga, and tai chi or qigong have all been shown to be beneficial in slowing or delaying physical and mental decline.

 

Tai Chi has been practiced for thousands of years with benefits for health and longevity. Tai Chi training is designed to enhance function and regulate the activities of the body through regulated breathing, mindful concentration, and gentle movements. Only recently though have the effects of Tai Chi practice been scrutinized with empirical research and found to be effective for an array of physical and psychological issues. Tai Chi has been shown to help the elderly improve attentionbalance, reducing fallsarthritiscognitive functionmemory, and reduce age related deterioration of the brain. Because Tai Chi is not strenuous, involving slow gentle movements, and is safe, having no appreciable side effects, it is appropriate for all ages including the elderly and for individuals with illnesses that limit their activities or range of motion.

 

In today’s Research News article “Tai Chi Improves Cognition and Plasma BDNF in Older Adults with Mild Cognitive Impairment: A Randomized Controlled Trial.”  Sungkarat and colleagues recruited elderly participants with mild cognitive impairments and randomly assigned them to either receive educational instruction related to cognitive impairment and fall prevention or practice Tai Chi at home guided by a 50-minute video, 3 times per week, for 6 months. They were measured at the beginning and end of training for cognitive performance, including memory, visuospatial ability, and executive function, and plasma markers for inflammation and neuroprotection, including plasma BDNF, TNF-α, and IL-10 levels.

 

They found that compared to baseline and control participants, the elderly who practiced Tai Chi had significantly improved levels of cognitive function, including improvements in memory and thinking ability (executive function). In addition, Tai Chi practice was found to significantly increase the levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF is a neurotrophic factor that works to protect the brain from deterioration and promote the growth of brain cells. Hence, they found that Tai Chi practice reduces cognitive decline with aging and increases neuroprotection.

 

The cognitive decline with aging has been associated with degeneration of neural tissues. On the other hand, mindfulness practices have been found to change the brain and protect it against age related decline. The present results add further evidence that mindfulness practices, Tai Chi  in particular, improves memory and cognitive performance and promotes neuroprotection in the elderly. The attractiveness of the low intensity, low cost, convenient, and socially fun nature of Tai Chi practice makes it a great treatment for the prevention of age related decline.

 

So, slow mental decline in the elderly with Tai Chi.

 

“Scientists . . . found increases in brain volume and improvements on tests of memory and thinking in Chinese seniors who practiced Tai Chi three times a week.” – Science Daily

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

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

 

Study Summary

 

Somporn Sungkarat, PhD, SirinunBoripuntakul, PhD, Sirinart Kumfu, PhD, Stephen R. Lord, PhD, Nipon Chattipakorn, MD, PhD. Tai Chi Improves Cognition and Plasma BDNF in Older Adults With Mild Cognitive Impairment: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair. First Published January 20, 2018, https://doi-org.ezproxy.shsu.edu/10.1177/15459683177536

 

Abstract

Background. Effects of Tai Chi (TC) on specific cognitive function and mechanisms by which TC may improve cognition in older adults with amnestic mild cognitive impairment (a-MCI) remain unknown. Objective. To examine the effects of TC on cognitive functions and plasma biomarkers (brain-derived neurotrophic factor [BDNF], tumor necrosis factor-α [TNF-α], and interleukin-10 [IL-10]) in a-MCI. Methods. A total of 66 older adults with a-MCI (mean age = 67.9 years) were randomized to either a TC (n = 33) or a control group (n = 33). Participants in the TC group learned TC with a certified instructor and then practiced at home for 50 min/session, 3 times/wk for 6 months. The control group received educational material that covered information related to cognition. The primary outcome was cognitive performance, including Logical Memory (LM) delayed recall, Block Design, Digit Span, and Trail Making Test B minus A (TMT B-A). The secondary outcomes were plasma biomarkers, including BDNF, TNF-α, and IL-10. Results. At the end of the trial, performance on the LM and TMT B-A was significantly better in the TC group compared with the control group after adjusting for age, gender, and education (P < .05). Plasma BDNF level was significantly increased for the TC group, whereas the other outcome measures were similar between the 2 groups after adjusting for age and gender (P < .05). Conclusions. TC training significantly improved memory and the mental switching component of executive function in older adults with a-MCI, possibly via an upregulation of BDNF.

http://journals.sagepub.com.ezproxy.shsu.edu/doi/full/10.1177/1545968317753682

The Variety of Meditation Experiences

The Variety of Meditation Experiences

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

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

 

Study Summary

 

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

 

Abstract

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

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