Improve Brain Processing of Emotional Stimuli with Mindfulness

Improve Brain Processing of Emotional Stimuli with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“If you’re a naturally mindful person, and you’re walking around very aware of things, you’re good to go. You shed your emotions quickly,” Moser said. “If you’re not naturally mindful, then meditating can make you look like a person who walks around with a lot of mindfulness.” – Jason Moser

 

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 practices appears to mold and change the brain, producing psychological, physical, and spiritual benefits.

 

Mindfulness practice has been shown to improve emotion regulation. Practitioners demonstrate the ability to fully sense and experience emotions, but respond to them in more appropriate and adaptive ways. In other words, mindful people are better able to experience yet control their responses to emotions. This is a very important consequence of mindfulness. Humans are very emotional creatures and these emotions can be very pleasant, providing the spice of life. But, when they get extreme they can produce misery and even mental illness. The ability of mindfulness training to improve emotion regulation is thought to be the basis for a wide variety of benefits that mindfulness provides to mental health and the treatment of mental illness especially depression and anxiety disorders.

 

One way to measure emotional responses is to record brain activity with the electroencephalogram (EEG) that occurs in response to visual stimuli that reliably evoke emotional responses. In particular, the late positive potential (LPP) response in the EEG is a positive going electrical response to an emotion laden picture that occurs between 0.3 to 0.6 seconds following stimulus presentation. The LPP response has been associated with the presence of emotional information. As such, these electrical responses can be used to measure the brains response to emotional laden stimuli and can perhaps measure brain process of emotion regulation. It may be that simply being a mindful individual may be associated with different processing of emotional stimuli by the brain and this can be seen in the LPP response.

 

In today’s Research News article “Dispositional mindfulness and the attenuation of neural responses to emotional stimuli.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3541486/ ), Brown and colleagues recruited college students and measured their enduring levels of mindfulness (trait mindfulness), attentional control, neuroticism, and levels of positive and negative emotions. They measured the electroencephalogram (EEG) changes in the students that occurred in response to pictures that evoked pleasant or unpleasant emotions at a high level (e.g. skydiving, erotica, vs. mutilations) or at a low level (e.g. flowers vs. pollution).

 

They found, confirming prior research, that the late positive potential (LPP) response in the EEG was larger after pictures that evoked strong emotions regardless of whether they were pleasant or unpleasant than after pictures that evoked weak emotions. Importantly, they found that the trait mindfulness of the participants modulated the response. Students high in mindfulness had smaller LPP responses to images that evoked strong emotions both pleasant and unpleasant than low mindfulness students. Hence, mindfulness was shown to lessen the brains response to emotion laden stimuli.

 

This is interesting research that suggests that mindfulness changes the brains processing of emotional stimuli, reducing the strength of the response. The LPP is indicative of the very early stage of brain processing of emotional material. So, the results suggest that the brains of mindful people improve their ability to regulate their emotions and that this occurs at a very early stage of neural processing. It reduces the magnitude of the initial response to emotions. This may make difficult or extreme emotion easier to handle.

 

So, improve brain processing of emotional stimuli with mindfulness.

 

“The impact that mindfulness exerts on our brain is borne from routine: a slow, steady, and consistent reckoning of our realities, and the ability to take a step back, become more aware, more accepting, less judgmental, and less reactive. Just as playing the piano over and over again over time strengthens and supports brain networks involved with playing music, mindfulness over time can make the brain, and thus, us, more efficient regulators, with a penchant for pausing to respond to our worlds instead of mindlessly reacting.” – Jennifer Wolkin

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

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

 

Study Summary

 

Brown, K. W., Goodman, R. J., & Inzlicht, M. (2013). Dispositional mindfulness and the attenuation of neural responses to emotional stimuli. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 8(1), 93–99. http://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nss004

 

Abstract

Considerable research has disclosed how cognitive reappraisals and the modulation of emotional responses promote successful emotion regulation. Less research has examined how the early processing of emotion-relevant stimuli may create divergent emotional response consequences. Mindfulness—a receptive, non-evaluative form of attention—is theorized to foster emotion regulation, and the present study examined whether individual differences in mindfulness would modulate neural responses associated with the early processing of affective stimuli. Focus was on the late positive potential (LPP) of the event-related brain potential to visual stimuli varying in emotional valence and arousal. This study first found, replicating past research, that high arousal images, particularly of an unpleasant type, elicited larger LPP responses. Second, the study found that more mindful individuals showed lower LPP responses to high arousal unpleasant images, even after controlling for trait attentional control. Conversely, two traits contrasting with mindfulness—neuroticism and negative affectivity—were associated with higher LPP responses to high arousal unpleasant images. Finally, mindfulness was also associated with lower LPP responses to motivationally salient pleasant images (erotica). These findings suggest that mindfulness modulates neural responses in an early phase of affective processing, and contribute to understanding how this quality of attention may promote healthy emotional functioning.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3541486/

Virtual Reality Enhances Meditative Experience

Virtual Reality Enhances Meditative Experience

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“It seems that a technology that pries your eyes and ears wide open to absorb as much sensory input as possible is working at cross-purposes with a discipline that asks you to forgo distraction, to close your eyes and direct your attention inward.” – Michael Gollust

 

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. There is no other treatment or practice that has been shown to come anyway near the range of mindfulness’ positive benefits. With impacts so great it is important to know how to promote the development of mindfulness even in individuals who dislike or avoid the discipline of practice.

 

Technology has recently been applied to training in mindfulness. Indeed, mindfulness training carried out completely on-line has been shown to be effective for as number of conditions. But, now virtual reality (VR) devices are improving and becoming readily available. Previously it has been shown the virtual reality (VR) can be helpful in treating phobias. and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). But, can VR enhance the development of mindfulness?

 

In today’s Research News article “Meditation experts try Virtual Reality Mindfulness: A pilot study evaluation of the feasibility and acceptability of Virtual Reality to facilitate mindfulness practice in people attending a Mindfulness conference.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5699841/ ), Navarro-Haro and colleagues had mindfulness experts who were attending a conference on mindfulness evaluate a Virtual Reality system that was designed to enhance the instructions of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). They had the experts wear a VR helmet that presented a scene of floating “down a calm 3D computer generated virtual river while listening to digitized DBT mindfulness skills training instructions.” They listened to one of three 10-minute DBT instructions on “Wise Mind, Observing Sound, or Observing visuals.” Before and after the VR experience they were measured for mindfulness, state of presence, their emotional state, including happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, anxiety, relax/calm vigor/energy, previous experience with technologies and the acceptability of the method.

 

They found that in comparison to their pre-VR state, after the session the participants had significantly higher levels of mindfulness and relaxation and lower levels of sadness, anger, and anxiety. The system was acceptable as the participants gave high ratings to it and the experience. This acceptability was also significantly correlated with the changes in emotions. These results suggest that in the eyes of experts on mindfulness, using Virtual Reality to enhance mindfulness instruction was a good thing and made them feel more mindful and emotionally better.

 

This is a good start. Of course, the next step will be to determine if VR is acceptable and can enhance mindfulness instruction in individuals who were not adept at, or practiced mindfulness. Additionally, this was an extremely short-term experience. It will be necessary to determine the effects of longer-term use of VR. Since, mindfulness training involves quieting the mind, it is possible that the VR stimulus environment may work counter to the goals of mindfulness practice. Finally, it will be necessary to try VR enhanced mindfulness training with individuals with physical and/or psychological problems.

 

Nevertheless, VR is an interesting technology that has been shown to help in treating some forms of psychological issues; phobias. and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and holds promise for further applications. It may be a method that can help train mindfulness even in resistant individuals.

 

“As I continued my exploration of this virtual world, at some point I noticed my mind had gone completely still. The monkey-mind, that great enemy of meditation, mindfulness, and really, of life, had all but vanished. I’d gone from zero to zen and the stillness that followed was glorious.’ – Mind Prana

 

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

 

Navarro-Haro, M. V., López-del-Hoyo, Y., Campos, D., Linehan, M. M., Hoffman, H. G., García-Palacios, A., … García-Campayo, J. (2017). Meditation experts try Virtual Reality Mindfulness: A pilot study evaluation of the feasibility and acceptability of Virtual Reality to facilitate mindfulness practice in people attending a Mindfulness conference. PLoS ONE, 12(11), e0187777. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0187777

 

Abstract

Regular mindfulness practice benefits people both mentally and physically, but many populations who could benefit do not practice mindfulness. Virtual Reality (VR) is a new technology that helps capture participants’ attention and gives users the illusion of “being there” in the 3D computer generated environment, facilitating sense of presence. By limiting distractions from the real world, increasing sense of presence and giving people an interesting place to go to practice mindfulness, Virtual Reality may facilitate mindfulness practice. Traditional Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT®) mindfulness skills training was specifically designed for clinical treatment of people who have trouble focusing attention, however severe patients often show difficulties or lack of motivation to practice mindfulness during the training. The present pilot study explored whether a sample of mindfulness experts would find useful and recommend a new VR Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT®) mindfulness skills training technique and whether they would show any benefit. Forty four participants attending a mindfulness conference put on an Oculus Rift DK2 Virtual Reality helmet and floated down a calm 3D computer generated virtual river while listening to digitized DBT® mindfulness skills training instructions. On subjective questionnaires completed by the participants before and after the VR DBT® mindfulness skills training session, participants reported increases/improvements in state of mindfulness, and reductions in negative emotional states. After VR, participants reported significantly less sadness, anger, and anxiety, and reported being significantly more relaxed. Participants reported a moderate to strong illusion of going inside the 3D computer generated world (i.e., moderate to high “presence” in VR) and showed high acceptance of VR as a technique to practice mindfulness. These results show encouraging preliminary evidence of the feasibility and acceptability of using VR to practice mindfulness based on clinical expert feedback. VR is a technology with potential to increase computerized dissemination of DBT® skills training modules. Future research is warranted.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5699841/

Improve the Emotion Regulation of High School Students with Mindfulness

Improve the Emotion Regulation of High School Students with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“A large part of being a human being is having social, emotional and attention skills and in the majority of schools I visit, we don’t actually teach kids how to pay attention or how to deal with their inner states in a healthy way. We just assume that they’ll learn them somewhere else.” – Patrick Cook-Deegan

 

It’s a normal human response to become anxious while being evaluated by others. In fact, the vast majority of students report that the stress and anxiety associated with being evaluated is greater than that produced by anything else in their lives. The majority of students are able to cope with the anxiety and perform on tests in spite of it. But, for a minority of students, somewhere around 16%-20%, the anxiety level is so high that it causes them to “freeze” on tests and markedly impair their performance. It is estimated that they perform 12 points lower, more than one letter grade, on average than students lower in anxiety. Counselling centers in colleges and universities report that evaluation anxiety is the most common complaint that they treat among students.

 

It has been demonstrated repeatedly that mindfulness counteracts anxiety and mindfulness training is an effective treatment for a variety of forms of anxiety. Mindfulness training has been shown to be effective for anxiety disorders in general and  in relieving test anxietyMindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a classic program that includes three mindfulness techniques; meditation, body scan, and yoga. MBSR has been employed for years to successfully treat a myriad of psychological and medical conditions. But, it has not yet been tested for use to treat test anxiety.

 

In today’s Research News article “Effectiveness of mindfulness-based stress reduction on emotion regulation and test anxiety in female high school students.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5651652/ ),

Shahidi and colleagues recruited female High School students and randomly assigned them to a no-treatment control condition or to receive an 8-week, once a week for 90 minutes, program of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) with encouragement to practice at home. They were measured before and after training and 3-months later for test anxiety and emotion regulation.

 

They found that after the program and also 3-months later that the students who received MBSR had clinically significant 46% reductions in test anxiety. In addition, they showed significant improvement in emotion regulation including; blaming others, rumination/focus on thought, catastrophizing, putting into perspective, positive refocusing, positive reappraisal, acceptance, and refocus on planning. Only the self-blame strategy was not significantly affected by MBSR training. Hence, MBSR training for High School students produces a lasting relief of test anxiety and improves the ability to cope with emotions.

 

It should be mentioned that this study did not contain an active control condition. So, bias and contamination of the results may be present. Also, the study only tested female students, thus limiting generalization of the results. Future research should include a both males and females and a group receiving active alternative treatment, say exercise training. Regardless, the results suggest that MBSR training can help students cope with their emotions, including test anxiety. This would predict that there would be improved academic performance and less psychological problems in the trained students. This further suggests that MBSR training should be considered to be routinely employed for High School students.

 

So, improve the emotion regulation of high school students with mindfulness.

 

“Mindfulness practices help children improve their ability to pay attention, by learning to focus on one thing (e.g., breath, sound) while filtering out other stimuli. Mindfulness also provides kids with skills for understanding their emotions and how to work with them.” – Sarah 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

 

Shokooh Shahidi, Hossein Akbari, Fatemeh Zargar, Effectiveness of mindfulness-based stress reduction on emotion regulation and test anxiety in female high school students. J Educ Health Promot. 2017; 6: 87. Published online 2017 Oct 4. doi: 10.4103/jehp.jehp_98_16

 

 

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Test anxiety is one of the most disabling disorders and annual school academic performance will affect millions of students. Hence, it needs attention and treatment. Therefore, this research aimed to examine the effectiveness of a mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) therapy on emotion regulation and test anxiety of students and test the remaining effect of this treatment after 3 month.

METHODS:

Sample size of fifty participants randomly divided into experimental (MBSR) and control groups. The MBSR training interventions were implemented to the experimental group, in eight weekly sessions using MBSR manual by John Kabat-Zinn (2013). Participants in both groups were evaluated using the Test Anxiety Scale and the Cognitive Emotion Regulation Questionnaire. The study findings were analyzed using analysis of variance with repeated measures.

RESULTS:

The result shows that the MBSR program has had continuous significant effects on test anxiety (P< 000) and emotion regulation (P < 000) but was not significant only for the self-blame subscale (P = 0.126).

CONCLUSIONS:

The study results indicated that the effects of MBSR lasted through the follow-up, for both of these variables. Using the results of this study may be proposed school counselors use mindfulness to reduce the anxiety of their pupils.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5651652/

Improve the Regulation of Emotions in Social Anxiety Disorder with Mindfulness

Improve the Regulation of Emotions in Social Anxiety Disorder with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“One way to do this . . . is mindfulness meditation, in which you observe your thoughts and feelings with the objectivity of a disinterested, nonjudgmental witness. This form of mental training gives you the wherewithal to pause, observe how easily the mind can exaggerate the severity of a setback, note that it as an interesting mental process, and resist getting drawn into the abyss,” – Ritchie Davidson

 

Mindfulness practices have been shown to have a large number of beneficial effects on the psychological, emotional, and physical health of the individual and is helpful in the treatment of mental and physical illness. They have also been shown to effect a large number of physiological and psychological processes, including emotion regulation, attention, sensory awareness, decentering, and reappraisal. It is not known how mindfulness practices produce the myriad effects on the individual’s health and well-being, whether mindfulness has a direct effect or works through intermediary effects to produce the improved well-being.

 

There has been some research on this question, for instance mindfulness has been found to improve some symptoms of mental illness by increasing reappraisal which then affects the symptoms. In today’s Research News article “Testing the mindfulness-to-meaning theory: Evidence for mindful positive emotion regulation from a reanalysis of longitudinal data.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5718463/ ), Garland and colleagues examine the hypothesis that mindfulness practices influence social anxiety disorder (SAD) through a series of intermediaries. They postulate that mindfulness training increases attention which, in turn increases decentering, which, in turn, broadens sensory awareness, which, in turn increases reappraisal, which increases emotion regulation and reductions in social anxiety disorder (SAD).

 

To examine this idea they reanalyzed the data from a longitudinal study of the effects of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) on social anxiety disorder (SAD) to determine the temporal sequence of mindfulness effects. Participants with SAD were randomly assigned to receive either 12 weeks of MBSR or CBT group therapy or on a wait-list control condition. MBSR consists of a combination of meditation, body scanning, and yoga practices. The participants were measured pretreatment, post-treatment, and 3, 6, 9, and 12 months later for attentional control, decentering, reappraisal, sensory awareness, dispositional mindfulness, emotion regulation and positive emotions. The data were analyzed with a sophisticated multivariate path analysis.

 

The best fit path revealed by the analysis had excellent model fit. It revealed that both MBSR and CBT produced significant improvements in attentional control at the end of the 12-week treatment. These attentional improvements were significantly associated with increases in decentering 3 months later. Similarly, change in decentering was significantly associated with broadened sensory awareness at the 6-month follow-up measurement. In turn, the broadened sensory awareness was significantly associated with increases in reappraisal at the 9-month follow-up measurement. Finally, increases in reappraisal were significantly associated with increases in positive emotions at the 12-month follow-up measurement. In comparing Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) in this model, it was found that MBSR produced significantly greater decentering and broadened sensory awareness. So, both MBSR and CBT would appear effective for social anxiety disorder (SAD) but MBSR would appear to be the superior treatment.

 

These are interesting and important findings suggest the mechanism by which mindfulness training improves emotion regulation in patients with social anxiety disorder (SAD). They suggest that mindfulness training sets off a chain of events consisting of improved attention followed by increased decentering followed by broadened sensory awareness, followed by increased reappraisal, followed by increased emotion regulation and reduced social anxiety disorder (SAD). It remains for future research to determine if this sequence events accounts for any other of the mental or physical health benefits of mindfulness training.

 

So, improve the regulation of emotions in social anxiety disorder with mindfulness.

 

“Through your mindful acceptance, you can embrace or hold the feeling in your awareness– this alone can calm and soothe you. This is an act of self-compassion and responsiveness to your own distress, and it is so much more effective than punishing yourself for having this feeling.” – Melli O’Brien

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

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

 

Study Summary

 

Garland, E. L., Hanley, A. W., Goldin, P. R., & Gross, J. J. (2017). Testing the mindfulness-to-meaning theory: Evidence for mindful positive emotion regulation from a reanalysis of longitudinal data. PLoS ONE, 12(12), e0187727. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0187727

 

Abstract

Background and objective

The Mindfulness to Meaning Theory (MMT) provides a detailed process model of mindful positive emotion regulation.

Design

We conducted a post-hoc reanalysis of longitudinal data (N = 107) derived from a RCT of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) versus cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for social anxiety disorder to model the core constructs of the MMT (attentional control, decentering, broadened awareness, reappraisal, and positive affect) in a multivariate path analysis.

Results

Findings indicated that increases in attentional control from baseline to post-training predicted increases in decentering by 3 months post-treatment (p<.01) that in turn predicted increases in broadened awareness of interoceptive and exteroceptive data by 6 months post-treatment (p<.001). In turn, broadened awareness predicted increases in the use of reappraisal by 9 months post-treatment (p<.01), which culminated in greater positive affect at 12 months post-treatment (p<.001). MBSR led to significantly greater increases in decentering (p<.05) and broadened awareness than CBT (p<.05). Significant indirect effects indicated that increases in decentering mediated the effect of mindfulness training on broadening awareness, which in turn mediated enhanced reappraisal efficacy.

Conclusion

Results suggest that the mechanisms of change identified by the MMT form an iterative chain that promotes long-term increases in positive affectivity. Though these mechanisms may reflect common therapeutic factors that cut across mindfulness-based and cognitive-behavioral interventions, MBSR specifically boosts the MMT cycle by producing significantly greater increases in decentering and broadened awareness than CBT, providing support for the foundational assumption in the MMT that mindfulness training may be a key means of stimulating downstream positive psychological processes.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5718463/

Improve Psychological Well-Being in the Elderly with Mild Memory Loss with Meditation

Improve Psychological Well-Being in the Elderly with Mild Memory Loss with Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all the answers we’re looking for when it comes to ending memory loss could be gained by simply doing KK for 12 minutes each morning? Perhaps that magic bullet is already here, waiting to be discovered in each and every one of us after all. Now, wouldn’t that be grand?” – Dharma Singh Khalsa

 

The aging process involves a systematic progressive decline in every system in the body, the brain included. It cannot be avoided. Our mental abilities may also decline with age including impairments in memory, attention, and problem solving ability. These are called age related cognitive decline. This occurs to everyone as they age, but to varying degrees. Some deteriorate into a dementia, while others maintain high levels of cognitive capacity into very advanced ages. It is estimated that around 30% of the elderly show significant age related cognitive decline. These cognitive declines markedly increase the risk of dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease. The declines occur along with sleep disruptions declines in mental health and quality of life, which in turn, appear to exacerbate the decline.

 

There is some hope, however, for those who are prone to deterioration as there is evidence that these cognitive declines can be slowed. For example, a healthy diet and a regular program of exercise can slow the physical 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 with aging. Indeed, mindfulness practices reduce the deterioration of the brain that occurs with aging restraining the loss of neural tissue.

 

In today’s Research News article “Effects of Meditation versus Music Listening on Perceived Stress, Mood, Sleep, and Quality of Life in Adults with Early Memory Loss: A Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5649740/ ), Innes and colleagues recruited community living adults over 50 years of age and experiencing memory problems and slight cognitive decline. They were randomly assigned to 12-week, 12 minutes per day, programs of classical music listening or Kirtan Kriya meditation, performed while sitting comfortably with eyes closed. At the first session the participants received 35-minute instruction on relaxation and their specific program and then provided DVDs for daily home practice. Kirtan Kriya meditation included signing a mantra, successive finger touching and visualization exercises. After the 12 weeks of practice participants were free to continue practicing if they wished. They were measured before and after the 12-week programs and 14 weeks later for body size, sleep quality, perceived stress, health-related quality of life, psychological well-being, mood, memory, and cognitive performance.

 

Retention and participation were high, with 92% of the music listening participants and 88% of the meditation participants completing the program. Participants completed 93% of the required session and 73% of the optional sessions during the second 14-week period. This indicates that the participants found the programs enjoyable and worth their time and effort.

 

Over the 12-week program, both groups showed significant improvements in sleep quality, perceived stress, health-related quality of life, psychological well-being, and mood. These improvements were either sustained or further improved over the subsequent 14 weeks. The meditation group had significantly greater improvements than the music listening group in perceived stress, mood, psychological well-being, and mental health quality of life. In addition, the greater the improvements in mood, stress, sleep, well-being, and quality of life, the greater the improvements in memory function. Hence, the two forms of relaxation produced improvements in the participants well-being which were related to improvements in memory. But, meditation had a greater impact then music listening.

 

These results are quite remarkable that such simple practices for only 12 minutes per day can have such profound effects on the well-being of aging individuals with slight cognitive decline. This could potentially delay of lower the likelihood that the decline will continue into dementia of Alzheimer’s Disease. It is important that the effects were lasting and participation high, both of which suggest that the meditation program can be easily and inexpensively applied to large groups of community-based aging individuals.

 

So, improve psychological well-being in the elderly with mild memory loss with meditation

 

“Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) can affect up to 20% of the population at any one time—and half of them will progress to full-on dementia. Now, a recent study . . .  finds as little as 15 minutes of daily meditation can significantly slow that progression.” – Nina Elias

 

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

 

Innes, K. E., Selfe, T. K., Khalsa, D. S., & Kandati, S. (2016). Effects of Meditation versus Music Listening on Perceived Stress, Mood, Sleep, and Quality of Life in Adults with Early Memory Loss: A Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease : JAD, 52(4), 1277–1298. http://doi.org/10.3233/JAD-151106

 

Abstract

Background

Older adults with subjective cognitive decline (SCD) are at increased risk not only for Alzheimer’s disease, but for poor mental health, impaired sleep, and diminished quality of life (QOL), which in turn, contribute to further cognitive decline, highlighting the need for early intervention.

Objective

In this randomized controlled trial, we assessed the effects of two 12-week relaxation programs, Kirtan Kriya Meditation (KK) and music listening (ML), on perceived stress, sleep, mood, and health-related QOL in older adults with SCD.

Methods

Sixty community-dwelling older adults with SCD were randomized to a KK or ML program and asked to practice 12 minutes daily for 12 weeks, then at their discretion for the following 3 months. At baseline, 12 weeks, and 26 weeks, perceived stress, mood, psychological well-being, sleep quality, and health-related QOL were measured using well-validated instruments.

Results

Fifty-three participants (88%) completed the 6-month study. Participants in both groups showed significant improvement at 12 weeks in psychological well-being and in multiple domains of mood and sleep quality (p’s ≤ 0.05). Relative to ML, those assigned to KK showed greater gains in perceived stress, mood, psychological well-being, and QOL-Mental Health (p’s ≤ 0.09). Observed gains were sustained or improved at 6 months, with both groups showing marked and significant improvement in all outcomes. Changes were unrelated to treatment expectancies.

Conclusions

Findings suggest that practice of a simple meditation or ML program may improve stress, mood, well-being, sleep, and QOL in adults with SCD, with benefits sustained at 6 months and gains that were particularly pronounced in the KK group.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5649740/

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/

Decrease Sadness with Mindfulness

Decrease Sadness with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Meditation can be helpful. . . We are like a plant in winter: cold, dark, dormant. If we can accept this feeling as a natural part of having a human heart—that it breaks sometimes—we can give it the attention and love it needs. It may be painful, but being with the sadness without trying to do much with it is the best way to let the winter pass of its own accord.” – Mindful

 

Sadness is labelled as a negative emotion. It is, however, a natural and normal reaction to loss, or lack, or loneliness. But, if sadness if overly intense or prolonged, it can turn into an intense misery, e.g. grief. Sadness is sometimes confused with depression. But they are quite different states. Sadness occurs normally in response to a situation, while depression occurs without an external referent. The mindfulness approach to emotion is to simply observe it, not deny or suppress it, but let it arise and then watch it dissipate. How the individual reacts to n emotion can results in an amplification of the magnitude of the emotion. Acceptance of the emotion then can eliminate the magnification of the emotion. This mindfulness approach has been shown to improve the ability to regulate most emotions. So, it would seem reasonable to hypothesize that mindfulness training would be able to reduce sadness.

 

There are other strategies to control emotions including suppression and reappraisal. Suppression is an active attempt to inhibit both the physical and psychological aspects of an emotion. On the other hand, reappraisal is an active process of reinterpreting the cause of the emotion and thereby reduce its impact. It is not known which of these three strategies would be most effective in dealing with sadness.

 

In today’s Research News article “Effects of mindfulness, reappraisal, and suppression on sad mood and cognitive resources.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5509409/, Keng and colleagues recruited college students and randomly assigned them to receive instructions for dealing with emotions with mindfulness, suppression, or reappraisal. They listened to a pre-recorded (10 minute) audio instruction. The instructions for the mindfulness condition, emphasized registering thoughts and emotions as they are without judging them. Instructions for the reappraisal condition were to reframe the meaning of an emotional event to reduce its emotional impact. Instructions for the suppression condition emphasized suppressing both the experience and expression of emotions.

 

A sad mood was induced by asking the participants to recall and spend 10 minutes writing about sad events in their lives while listening to sad music. The participants were then asked to use their assigned strategy, mindfulness, suppression, or reappraisal to deal with the sad emotion. They rated their sadness every minute during the application of the strategy. Before and after inducing the sad mood, the participants were measured for sadness, and attentional ability (Stroop task). Only participants who had a significant increase in sadness resulting from the induction were included in the final sample.

 

They found that over time sadness declined, but it declined faster with the mindfulness strategy than with either the suppression or reappraisal strategies. In addition, mindfulness resulted in better attention performance. So, although this was a somewhat artificial laboratory experiment, the results suggested that mindfulness was a superior strategy for dealing with sadness and maintaining attentional ability than either suppression or reappraisal.  So, experiencing emotions as they are without judgement appears to be better at reducing the strength of the emotion than trying to eliminate or reinterpret it.

 

So, decrease sadness with mindfulness.

 

“Despair is what happens when you fight sadness. Compassion is what happens when you don’t.” – Susan Piver

 

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

 

Keng, S.-L., Tan, E. L. Y., Eisenlohr-Moul, T. A., & Smoski, M. J. (2017). Effects of mindfulness, reappraisal, and suppression on sad mood and cognitive resources. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 91, 33–42. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.brat.2017.01.006

 

Abstract

The present study investigated the relative effects of mindfulness, reappraisal and suppression in reducing sadness, and the extent to which implementation of these strategies affects cognitive resources in a laboratory context. A total of 171 Singaporean undergraduate participants were randomly assigned to receive brief training in mindfulness, reappraisal, or suppression prior to undergoing a sad mood induction. Individual adherence to Asian cultural values was assessed as a potential moderator of strategy effectiveness. Participants rated their mood and completed a Color-Word Stroop task before and after mood regulation instructions. Analyses using multi-level modelling showed that the suppression condition caused less robust declines in sadness over time compared to mindfulness. There was also a nonsignificant trend in which mindfulness was associated with greater sadness recovery compared to reappraisal. Suppression resulted in lower average sadness compared to mindfulness among those high on Asian cultural values, but not those low on Asian cultural values. Both mindfulness and reappraisal buffered against increases in Stroop interference from pre-to post-regulation compared to suppression. The findings highlight the advantage of mindfulness as a strategy effective not only in the regulation of sad mood, but also in the preservation of cognitive resources in the context of mood regulation.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5509409/

Improve Emotion Regulation, and in Turn, Anxiety, and Depression with Mindfulness

Improve Emotion Regulation, and in Turn, Anxiety, and Depression with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“With mindfulness meditation training or practice (even a little practice has been shown to make a difference), we become more able to allow disturbing emotions and thoughts to pass through awareness. We develop the ability to NOT act or react to every emotion or thought we have.” – Timothy Psychyl

 

Mindfulness practice has been shown to produce improved emotion regulation. Practitioners demonstrate the ability to fully sense and experience emotions, but respond to them in more appropriate and adaptive ways. In other words, mindful people are better able to experience yet control emotions. This is a very important consequence of mindfulness. Humans are very emotional creatures and these emotions can be very pleasant, providing the spice of life. But, when they get extreme they can produce misery and even mental illness. The ability of mindfulness training to improve emotion regulation is thought to be the basis for a wide variety of benefits that mindfulness provides to mental health and the treatment of mental illness especially depression and anxiety disorders.

 

In today’s Research News article “Emotion Regulation Mediates the Associations of Mindfulness on Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety in the General Population.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5605587/, Freudenthaler and colleagues examine whether mindfulness practice improves mental health by improving emotion regulation. They recruited a large sample of relatively normal adults from the German population and measured them for mindfulness, emotion regulation, and psychological symptoms, particularly anxiety and depression.

 

They found that the higher the levels of mindfulness the lower the levels of anxiety, depression, and difficulties with emotion regulation and the greater the difficulties with emotion regulation the higher the levels of anxiety and depression. So, mindfulness was associated with better mental health and emotion regulation while difficulties in regulating emotions was associated with poorer mental health.

 

They also conducted a mediation analysis to determine whether the association of mindfulness with anxiety and depression was mediated by emotion regulation. They found that mindfulness was primarily associated with mental health by being associated with reduced difficulties with emotion regulation. But, there were still small but significant direct effects of mindfulness on reducing anxiety and depression. So, it appears that mindfulness is associated with reduced anxiety and depression primarily by improving emotion regulation. The small remaining direct effect of mindfulness suggests that other intermediaries may also be present.

 

These results are a strong confirmation that mindfulness markedly improves the individual’s ability to experience emotions, but respond to them in more appropriate and adaptive ways. This allows them to feel anxiety and depression but cope with it effectively. Anxiety and Depression are self-reinforcing. That is, the presence of anxiety tends to produce greater anxiety and the same is true for depression. So, by being able to respond adaptively to the feelings of anxiety and depression, the individual prevents the escalation of the emotions. Hence, mindfulness reduces anxiety and depression.

 

It should be kept in mind that the participants were normally functioning individuals and not people with serious mental health problems. It remains to be seen if these relationships will still be present in clinical populations. Regardless, the ability of mindfulness to improve the mental health of normal individuals is important for allowing the individual to thrive and be happy in their lives. This suggests that promoting mindfulness will have positive mental health benefits for entire populations of humans.

 

So, improve emotion regulation, and in turn, anxiety, and depression with mindfulness.

 

“Individuals who are naturally mindful can effectively regulate their emotions even without meditation, but for those who are not naturally mindful, simply forcing oneself to be mindful “in the moment” is not enough — it is necessary to engage in mindfulness meditation in order to effectively regulate your emotions.” – Crystal Goh

 

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

 

Freudenthaler, L., Turba, J. D., & Tran, U. S. (2017). Emotion Regulation Mediates the Associations of Mindfulness on Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety in the General Population. Mindfulness, 8(5), 1339–1344. http://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-017-0709-y

 

Abstract

In the last decade, clinical research on mindfulness and its positive effects on depression and anxiety have gained increased interest. Emotion regulation mediates the effects of mindfulness on mental health in clinical samples and among meditators. The present study examined whether these associations also generalize to the general population. Multi-group structural equation models tested with a sample of 853 adults whether difficulties in emotion regulation mediated the associations between overall mindfulness in addition to the Observe facet with symptoms of depression and anxiety and whether associations were similar among men and women. Emotion regulation partially mediated the associations of overall mindfulness with symptoms of depression and anxiety; associations with Observe were fully mediated. The magnitude of associations was similar among men and women. Mindfulness exerts positive effects on mental health among the general population mostly via improving emotion regulation. The training of mindfulness and emotion regulation may thus benefit mental health not only in clinical populations but also in the general population. Venues for further research are discussed.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5605587/

Increase Spirituality and Positive Emotions in Meditation with Oxytocin

Increase Spirituality and Positive Emotions in Meditation with Oxytocin

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“A meditation practice gives you the benefit of turning inward to your spirituality for answers, instead of looking to others. Meditation can drastically improve the loneliness, or longing you have in your life. Reach a state of interconnectedness with others and with your higher self, improve the joy you feel daily and become a compassionate person, free of fear and anxiety.” – EOC Institute

 

Spirituality is defined as “one’s personal affirmation of and relationship to a higher power or to the sacred.” Spirituality has been promulgated as a solution to the challenges of life both in a transcendent sense and in a practical sense. The transcendent claims are untestable with the scientific method. But, the practical claims are amenable to scientific analysis. There have been a number of studies of the influence of spirituality on the physical and psychological well-being of practitioners mostly showing positive benefits, with spirituality encouraging personal growth and mental health.

 

Oxytocin is a hormone and a neuromodulator that affects both the peripheral physiology and the brain. High levels of Oxytocin have been associated with high levels of social bonding and spirituality. But, the fact that the Oxytocin and spirituality are related does not demonstrate that there’s a causal connection. To determine if Oxytocin actually produces increased spirituality there is a need to manipulate its levels and observe its effects on spirituality. In today’s Research News article “Effects of oxytocin administration on spirituality and emotional responses to meditation.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5040919/, Van Cappellen and colleagues examine the relationship of Oxytocin with spirituality by actively manipulating its levels and observing its effects on spirituality and well-being.

 

Van Cappellen and colleagues recruited meditation naïve males between the ages of 35 and 65 years and randomly assigned them to either receive Oxytocin or a placebo administered via a nasal spray in a double-blind fashion. Before administration the participants were genotyped for the oxytocin receptor gene. After administration the participants were administered a 20-minute guided meditation and measured for emotions afterward. Both before and after administration and 1 week later the participants completed two measures of spirituality, a measure of positive and negative emotions, and involvement in religious organizations.

 

They found that after oxytocin administration in comparison to placebo there was a significant, 33%, increase in spirituality, including interconnectedness and meaning and purpose, that were maintained one week later. They also had significantly greater positive emotions during and after meditation that were significantly mediated by the increases in spirituality. That is, oxytocin increased spirituality that, in turn, increased positive emotions associated with meditation. Finally, they found that these effects were modulated by variants of oxytocin receptor genes.

 

This was an interesting, tightly controlled study that demonstrated that elevated levels of oxytocin cause a lasting increase in spirituality and positive emotions during and after meditation. The fact that these effects are modulated by different variant of receptor genes suggests that different individuals are biologically predisposed to spirituality. So, spirituality is at least in part influenced by the biology and has the effect of improving the individuals’ mood.

 

So, increase spirituality and positive emotions in meditation with oxytocin.

 

“Awe involves that assimilation — giving up your cognitive structures in order to accommodate [the object of awe]. And mindfulness is a little bit about that too, because you’re paying attention and exercising non-conceptual awareness, so you should be more open to the immensity that’s there. You step out of the small frame that you have and this small idea of what the world is… You’re not stuck in your own story.” – Brian Ostafin

 

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

 

Van Cappellen, P., Way, B. M., Isgett, S. F., & Fredrickson, B. L. (2016). Effects of oxytocin administration on spirituality and emotional responses to meditation. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 11(10), 1579–1587. http://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsw078

 

Abstract

The oxytocin (OT) system, critically involved in social bonding, may also impinge on spirituality, which is the belief in a meaningful life imbued with a sense of connection to a Higher Power and/or the world. Midlife male participants (N = 83) were randomly assigned to receive intranasal OT or placebo. In exploratory analyses, participants were also genotyped for polymorphisms in two genes critical for OT signaling, the oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR rs53576) and CD38 (rs6449182 and rs3796863). Results showed that intranasal OT increased self-reported spirituality on two separate measures and this effect remained significant a week later. It also boosted participants’ experience of specific positive emotions during meditation, at both explicit and implicit levels. Furthermore, the effect of OT on spirituality was moderated by OT-related genotypes. These results provide the first experimental evidence that spirituality, endorsed by millions worldwide, appears to be supported by OT.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5040919/

Protect the Aging Brain with Meditation

Protect the Aging Brain with Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“long-term engagement in mindfulness meditation may enhance cognitive performance in older adults, and that with persistent practice, these benefits may be sustained. That’s great news for the millions of aging adults working to combat the negative effects of aging on the brain.” B. Grace Bullock

 

Human life is one of constant change. We revel in our increases in physical and mental capacities during development, but regret their decreases during aging. The aging process involves a systematic progressive decline in every system in the body, the brain included. Starting in the 20s there is a progressive decrease in the volume of the brain as we age.

 

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 area. and have found that meditation practice appears to mold and change the brain, producing psychological, physical, and spiritual benefits. In addition, they have been able to investigate various techniques that might slow the process of neurodegeneration that accompanies normal aging. They’ve found that mindfulness practices reduce the deterioration of the brain that occurs with aging restraining the loss of neural tissue. Indeed, the brains of practitioners of meditation and yoga have been found to degenerate less with aging than non-practitioners.

 

In today’s Research News article “Promising Links between Meditation and Reduced (Brain) Aging: An Attempt to Bridge Some Gaps between the Alleged Fountain of Youth and the Youth of the Field.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5447722/, Kurth and colleagues review and summarize the published research literature on the neuroprotective effects of meditation in the elderly. They discuss the ideas that the aging based deterioration of the brain is due to a number of processes, including changes in the DNA telomeres, inflammation, stress, and neuroplasticity and that meditation appears to effect all of these processes.

 

There has accumulated evidence that meditation protects against age related decline at the molecular genetic level. As we age the length of a DNA structures called the telomeres progressively shorten. It is thought that the shorter the telomeres get the more difficult it becomes for cells to replicate properly and thus leads to decline. Mindfulness training in general and meditation specifically, has been shown to reduce the shortening of the telomeres with aging. Kurth and colleagues speculate that this is one mechanism by which meditation protects the brain from age related decline.

 

As we age the natural inflammatory response that normally occurs to protect against infection begins to increase in general and lose its specificity to fighting particular diseases, pathogens, and injuries. It becomes more widespread damaging normal tissues. Mindfulness training in general and meditation specifically has been shown to reduce inflammatory responses. It seems reasonable that this is another mechanism by which meditation protects the body from age related decline.

 

Stress is present throughout life. But if it is too intense or prolonged the biological responses to stress begin to damage the body. These stress induced changes are similar to age related deterioration. Stress effects may accumulate over time. Hence, the older we get the greater the total stress induced damage. Mindfulness training in general and meditation specifically has been shown to improve emotion regulation and to reduce the physiological and psychological responses to stress. This is hypothesized to be another mechanism by which meditation protects the brain from deterioration with aging.

 

Neuroplasticity is a change in the size and connectivity of brain structures as they are exercised over a prolonged period of time. Mindfulness training in general and meditation specifically has been shown to produce neuroplastic changes in the brain, increasing the size and connectivity of brain structures. This process would tend to counteract brain degeneration with aging and may be another mechanism by which meditation protects the brain during aging.

 

Hence there has accumulated evidence that meditation reduces the deterioration of the brain with aging. It appears to do so by altering a number of different mechanisms including changes in the DNA telomeres, inflammation, stress, and neuroplasticity. This protection of the brain may be responsible to the ability of meditation to reduce the decline in mental abilities that occur with aging. This would tend to make aging a more benign process.

 

So, protect the aging brain with meditation.

 

We expected rather small and distinct effects located in some of the regions that had previously been associated with meditating. Instead, what we actually observed was a widespread effect of meditation that encompassed regions throughout the entire brain.” – Florian Kurth

 

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

 

Kurth, F., Cherbuin, N., & Luders, E. (2017). Promising Links between Meditation and Reduced (Brain) Aging: An Attempt to Bridge Some Gaps between the Alleged Fountain of Youth and the Youth of the Field. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 860. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00860

 

Abstract

Over the last decade, an increasing number of studies has reported a positive impact of meditation on cerebral aging. However, the underlying mechanisms for these seemingly brain-protecting effects are not well-understood. This may be due to the fact, at least partly, that systematic empirical meditation research has emerged only recently as a field of scientific scrutiny. Thus, on the one hand, critical questions remain largely unanswered; and on the other hand, outcomes of existing research require better integration to build a more comprehensive and holistic picture. In this article, we first review theories and mechanisms pertaining to normal (brain) aging, specifically focusing on telomeres, inflammation, stress regulation, and macroscopic brain anatomy. Then, we summarize existing research integrating the developing evidence suggesting that meditation exerts positive effects on (brain) aging, while carefully discussing possible mechanisms through which these effects may be mediated.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5447722/