Increase Relaxation with Focused Meditation while Increasing Activation with Open Monitoring Meditation

Increase Relaxation with Focused Meditation while Increasing Activation with Open Monitoring Meditation


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


Mindfulness meditation consists of focused attention meditation (FAM) and open monitoring meditation (OMM), both of which reduce activation of the default mode network (DMN) and mind-wandering.” – Masahiro Fujino


Meditation training has been shown to improve health and well-being. It has also been found to be effective for a large array of medical and psychiatric conditions, either stand-alone or in combination with more traditional therapies. As a result, meditation training has been called the third wave of therapies. One problem with understanding meditation effects is that there are, a wide variety of meditation techniques and it is not known which work best for affecting different psychological areas.


There are a number of different types of meditation. Classically they’ve been characterized on a continuum with the degree and type of attentional focus. In focused attention meditation, the individual practices paying attention to a single meditation object, often the breath. In open monitoring meditation, the individual opens up awareness to everything that’s being experienced including thoughts regardless of its origin. Whether these different meditation types produce different effects has not been extensively studied.


In today’s Research News article “Differential Effects of Focused Attention and Open Monitoring Meditation on Autonomic Cardiac Modulation and Cortisol Secretion.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: ) Ooishi and colleagues recruited healthy adult meditation novices and had them engage in 30 minutes of either focused attention meditation, focusing on the breath, or open monitoring meditation in randomized order separated by 2 hours. They were measured before and after each meditation for heart rate, heart rate variability, respiration rate, and salivary cortisol.


They found that focused attention meditation and open monitoring meditation both reduced respiration rates but produced different physiological responses. Analysis of the heart rate variability data revealed changes in the autonomic nervous system’s components of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. These analyses suggested that focused attention meditation produced an increase in parasympathetic activation but not sympathetic activation while open monitoring meditation produced an increase in sympathetic activation but not parasympathetic activation and reduced salivary cortisol levels.


These findings suggest that focused attention meditation is associated with physiological relaxation while open monitoring meditation is associated with physiological activation. This fits with the findings that focused attention meditation produces greater reductions in anxiety compared to open monitoring meditation. But it needs to be kept in mind that the study employed brief, one-time meditations by meditation naïve participants. It is possible that focused attention meditation is simpler and produces less stress in naive participants while open monitoring meditation is more difficult to learn requiring greater effort and stress. It is clear that this work needs to be replicated with longer term meditation practice.


So, increase relaxation with focused meditation while increasing activation with open monitoring meditation.


Focused attention meditation improves focus.  . . an increased consciousness of bodily sensations. The open-monitoring meditation . .  increases our ability to resolve conflicts.  Open Monitoring meditation increases creativity by improving divergent and convergent thinking.” – Daily Meditation


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ and on Twitter @MindfulResearch


Study Summary


Ooishi, Y., Fujino, M., Inoue, V., Nomura, M., & Kitagawa, N. (2021). Differential Effects of Focused Attention and Open Monitoring Meditation on Autonomic Cardiac Modulation and Cortisol Secretion. Frontiers in Physiology, 12, 675899.



Mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) have been used widely as a useful tool for the alleviation of various stress-related symptoms. However, the effects of MBIs on stress-related physiological activity have not yet been ascertained. MBIs primarily consist of focused-attention (FA) and open-monitoring (OM) meditation. Since differing effects of FA and OM meditation on brain activities and cognitive tasks have been mentioned, we hypothesized that FA and OM meditation have also differing effects on stress-related physiological activity. In this study, we examined the effects of FA and OM meditation on autonomic cardiac modulation and cortisol secretion. Forty-one healthy adults (aged 20–46 years) who were meditation novices experienced 30-min FA and OM meditation tasks by listening to instructions. During resting- and meditation-states, electrocardiogram transducers were attached to participants to measure the R-R interval, which were used to evaluate heart rate (HR) and perform heart rate variability (HRV) analyses. Saliva samples were obtained from participants pre- and post-meditation to measure salivary cortisol levels. Results showed that FA meditation induced a decrease in HR and an increase in the root mean square of successive differences (rMSDD). In contrast, OM meditation induced an increase in the standard deviation of the normal-to-normal interval (SDNN) to rMSSD ratio (SDNN/rMSSD) and a decrease in salivary cortisol levels. These results suggest that FA meditation elevates physiological relaxation, whereas OM meditation elevates physiological arousal and reduces stress.


Sexual Arousal and Mindfulness are Linked in Complex Ways

Sexual Arousal and Mindfulness are Linked in Complex Ways


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“mindfulness meditation” training — which teaches how to bring one’s thoughts into the present moment — can quiet the mental chatter that prevents these women from fully feeling sexual stimuli.” – Gina Silverstein


Problems with sex are very common, but, with the exception of male erectile dysfunction, driven by the pharmaceutical industry, it is rarely discussed and there is little research. While research suggests that sexual dysfunction is common, it is a topic that many people are hesitant or embarrassed to discuss. Women suffer from sexual dysfunction more than men with 43% of women and 31% of men reporting some degree of difficulty. These problems have major impacts on people’s lives and deserve greater research attention.


Problems with sex with women can involve reduced sex drive, difficulty becoming aroused, vaginal dryness, lack of orgasm and decreased sexual satisfaction. Sexual function in women involves many different systems in the body, including physical, psychological and hormonal factors. So, although, female sexual dysfunction is often caused by physical/medical problems, it is also frequently due to psychological issues. This implies that it many cases female sexual problems may be treated with therapies that are effective in working with psychological problems.


Mindfulness trainings have been shown to improve a variety of psychological issues including emotion regulationstress responsestraumafear and worryanxiety, and depression, and self-esteem. Mindfulness training has also been found useful in treating sexual problems. But there is little empirical research. So, it makes sense to further investigate the relationship of mindfulness with female sexual arousal.


In today’s Research News article “Subjective and Oxytocinergic Responses to Mindfulness Are Associated With Subjective and Oxytocinergic Responses to Sexual Arousal.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at:, Dickinson and colleagues recruited women between the ages of 20 to 35 for a study on sexuality and stress hormones and measured them for mindfulness. They watched landscape photographs and rated their liking of the photographs and then provided salivary samples to assess oxytocin and cortisol. Oxytocin levels are a marker of sexual arousal. They then listened to 1.5-minute stories that were either neutral or erotic and provided salivary samples. They also rated their sexual arousal after each story. They then performed a breath focused meditation for 15 minutes and provided a third salivary sample. After a 15-minute quiet period they provided a fourth sample.


They found that the higher the women scored on mindfulness, particularly the describing facet, the higher their levels of reported arousal in response to the erotic stories. They also found that oxytocin levels did not significantly increase in response to the erotic stories, decreased significantly in response to mindful breathing, and increased during recovery. They further found that women high in the mindfulness facet of non-judging internal experience and women who were quicker in detecting mind wandering during meditation had significantly greater decreases in oxytocin during meditation. In addition, women who were quick in detecting mind wandering and women who reported large increases in sexual arousal while listening to the erotic stories had greater decreases in oxytocin while meditating.


These are complex results. They suggest that in women mindfulness, subjective sexual arousal, and endocrine markers of sexual arousal are all linked in complex ways. They also suggest that women who are high in mindfulness are more sexually responsive to erotic stimuli. This may suggest that mindfulness training may be effective in increasing women’s ability to be sexually aroused. Future research should investigate whether mindfulness training may be an effective treatment for women who have difficulty with sexual arousal.


“among women who have sexual difficulties, mindfulness not only improves their desire but improves their overall sexual satisfaction, too.” – Tracy Clark-Flory


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ and on Twitter @MindfulResearch


Study Summary


Dickenson JA, Alley J and Diamond LM (2019) Subjective and Oxytocinergic Responses to Mindfulness Are Associated With Subjective and Oxytocinergic Responses to Sexual Arousal. Front. Psychol. 10:1101. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01101


Mindfulness – the ability to pay attention, on purpose, without judgment, and in the present moment – has consistently been shown to enhance women’s sexual arousal. As a first step toward understanding potential neuroendocrine underpinnings of mindfulness and sexual arousal, we examined whether individual differences in subjective and neuroendocrine (i.e., oxytocin) responses to mindful breathing were associated with individual differences in subjective and neuroendocrine responses to sexual arousal. To achieve this aim, 61 lesbian, bisexual, and heterosexual women completed a questionnaire assessing dispositional mindfulness, underwent an arousal task while continuously rating their sexual arousal and a mindful breathing task, after which participants reported on their ability to detect attentional shifts, and provided salivary samples after each assessment. Results indicated that women who were quicker to detect attentional shifts and women who reported greater sexual arousability reported larger changes (decreases) in oxytocin in response to mindful breathing and were the only women to report increases in oxytocin in response to the sexual arousal induction. Results further indicated that individuals who report greater subjective responsiveness to mindfulness and sexual arousal appear to have an oxytocinergic system that is also more responsive to both arousal and to mindfulness. These results make a significant contribution to our understanding of the role of attentional processes in sexual arousal, and warrant future examination of oxytocin as a potential neuroendocrine mechanism underlying the link between mindfulness and sexual arousal.


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:, 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+ 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.



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.

Improve Well-Being with Menstrual Disorder with Yoga Nidra


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“The ancient practice of yoga nidra, also known as yogic sleep, is a meditative practice that results in conscious deep sleep. Current research suggests that yoga nidra can help relieve menstrual problems, diabetes symptoms and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).”Elaine Gavalas


Menstrual disorders are associated with disruptive physical and/or emotional symptoms just before and during menstruation, including heavy bleeding, missed periods and unmanageable mood swings. Symptoms can include abnormal uterine bleeding, which may be abnormally heavy or absent or occurs between periods, painful menstrual periods, premenstrual syndrome, or premenstrual dysphonic disorder (depression). These disorders are all very common and most women experience some of these symptoms sometime during their premenopausal years, while around 20% experience them throughout their fertile years.


Yoga has documented benefits for the individual’s psychological and physical health and well-being. It has also been shown to improve menstrual problems. Yoga, however, consists of a number of components including, poses, breathing exercises, yoga nidra (meditation), concentration, and philosophy/ethics.  So, it is difficult to determine which facet or combination of facets of yoga are responsible for which benefit. Hence, it is important to begin to test each component in isolation to determine its effects.


In today’s Research News article “Psycho-Biological Changes with Add on Yoga Nidra in Patients with Menstrual Disorders: a Randomized Clinical Trial.” See:

or below or view the full text of the study at:

Rani and colleagues randomly assigned women who displayed menstrual disorders for more than 6-months to either a yoga Nidra or treatment as usual group. Yoga nidra is generally practiced while lying on the back on a mat on the floor with the arms out at the sides and the palm facing up. This is the what’s known as the corpse pose in yoga. It is generally a deep guided meditation practice. It usually begins with a systematic body scan meditation and then moves into a deep meditative state. The most easily observable effect of the yoga nidra practice is the extremely deep relaxation of the nervous system and healing of the body by allowing it the rest and recharge it usually lacks in our all too busy lifestyles. Yoga nidra produces a state of deep relaxation and sedation without the individual actually going to sleep.


At baseline Rani and colleagues measured psychological general well-being, and a variety of hormone levels. The yoga nidra group then received 30-35-minute yoga nidra, 5 days per week for 3 months and practiced at home for the subsequent 3 months. Measurements were then repeated at the end of the 6-month program. Control participants received their normal medical treatments during the 6-month period. They found that the yoga Nidra group showed significant improvements in anxiety, depression, positive well-being, general health, and vitality while the control group did not. Similarly, they found that the yoga Nidra group had significant decreases in 4 hormone levels; thyroid-stimulating hormone, follicle-stimulating hormone, luteinizing hormone, and prolactin. Hence, yoga Nidra produced positive benefits for psychological well-being and also for endocrine (hormonal) function.


These are exciting findings. Yoga Nidra practice improved psychological well-being in women with menstrual disorder. Yoga practice and meditation practice have these same benefits for practitioners. But, it’s interesting that these psychological benefits can be produced by yoga nidra practice alone. The findings of decreased hormone levels are significant. Pituitary hormones, follicle stimulating hormone, luteinizing hormones, prolactin and thyroid hormones are very much involved in the menstrual cycle and are required for normal development of ova. Yoga Nidra practice may be helping with menstrual disorder by producing better regulation of these crucial hormones. Future research will be required to investigate this idea.


It is important to note that the control group did not receive any new active treatment. It is possible that the effects observed were not due to yoga Nidra, but to the expectations of the participants that the yoga nidra would improve their disorder. It will be important for future research to include and active or placebo control condition.


Regardless, the results suggest that well-being can be improved in women with menstrual disorder with yoga nidra.


“Yoga nidra for me is like a ‘super nap’ that recharges me in no time. It is a complete rejuvenation package – a must to relieve ourselves of daily stress in today’s busy world.” – Pritika Nair


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+


Study Summary

Rani, K., Tiwari, S. C., Kumar, S., Singh, U., Prakash, J., & Srivastava, N. (2016). Psycho-Biological Changes with Add on Yoga Nidra in Patients with Menstrual Disorders: a Randomized Clinical Trial. Journal of Caring Sciences,5(1), 1–9.



Introduction: Menstrual disorders are common problems among women in the reproductive age group. Yuga interventions may decrease the physical and psychological problems related to menstrual disorders. The present study was aimed to assess the effect of Yoga Nidra on psychological problems in patients with menstrual disorders.

Methods: A total number of 100 women recruited from the department of obstetrics and gynecology and were then randomly allocated into two groups: a) intervention received yogic intervention and medication for 6 month, and b) control group received no yogic intervention and they only received prescribed medication). Psychological General Well-Being Index (PGWBI) and hormonal profile were assessed at the time of before and after six months on both groups.

Results: The mean score of anxiety, depression, positive well-being, general health, and vitality scores, as well as hormonal levels, in posttest were significantly different in intervention group as compared with pretest. But there was no significant difference in control group.

Conclusion: Yoga Nidra can be a successful therapy to overcome the psychiatric morbidity associated with menstrual irregularities. Therefore, Yogic relaxation training (Yoga Nidra) could be prescribed as an adjunct to conventional drug therapy for menstrual dysfunction.


Distress Produces Less Stress with Mindfulness


“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.” ― Amit Ray


Psychological distress is related to an increase in physiological stress responses. That is, when the individual is anxious, ruminating, or having negative emotions, the physiology including the hormonal system reacts. The increased activity can be measured in heightened stress hormones in the blood and increased heart rate, blood pressure etc. These physiological stress responses on the short-term are adaptive and help to fight off infection, toxins, injury, etc. But when these stress responses are long lasting (chronic) they can themselves be a source of disease.


Chronic stress can produce a myriad of physical problems including mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, and personality disorders; cardiovascular disease, including heart disease, high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, heart attacks, and stroke; obesity and other eating disorders; menstrual problems; sexual dysfunction, such as impotence and premature ejaculation in men and loss of sexual desire in both men and women; skin and hair problems, such as acne, psoriasis, and eczema, and permanent hair loss; and gastrointestinal problems, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), gastritis, ulcerative colitis, and irritable colon. Needless to say, chronic stress can be very harmful.


Unfortunately, psychological distress is often persistent and chronic and resulting in chronic stress which in turn can produce disease. Many of the symptoms of psychological distress have been shown to be related to a lack of mindfulness. Anxiety is often rooted in a persistent dread of future negative events while rumination is rooted in the past, with persistent replaying of negative past events. Since mindfulness is firmly rooted in the present it is antagonistic toward anything rooted in the past or future. Hence, high levels of mindfulness cannot coexist with anxiety and rumination. This has been repeatedly demonstrated (see and In addition, high mindfulness has been shown to be related to high levels of emotion regulation and positive emotions (see So, mindfulness would appear to be an antidote to psychological distress.


In today’s Research News article “It’s Not What You Think, It’s How You Relate to It: Dispositional Mindfulness Moderates the Relationship Between Psychological Distress and the Cortisol Awakening Response”

Daubenmier and colleagues investigated whether mindfulness could blunt the stress hormone response to psychological distress. They measured the cortisol awakening response. Cortisol is a stress hormone whose levels are very low during sleep. Upon awakening they increase. How much they increase is related to the level of chronic stress the individual is under. So, the increase in cortisol shortly after awakening is a good measure of the individual’s level of chronic physiological stress.


They found that, as expected, that the magnitude of the cortisol awakening response was positively related to the individuals’ levels of psychological distress. But, high levels of mindfulness were related to a smaller cortisol awakening responses to psychological distress. In particular, two facets of mindfulness, the ability to describe and the ability to accept thoughts and emotions were negatively related to the cortisol awakening response. This suggests that the ability to consciously label or accept negative thoughts and emotions may buffer their impact on stress hormone activation. In other words, if thoughts and emotions are experienced with mindful awareness they have a less stressful impact.


Mindfulness by focusing the individual’s awareness on the present moment, improving their ability to experience, label, and accept their responses to stress, while interfering with rumination rooted in the past and anxiety rooted in the future, provides a greater tolerance for psychological stress. This would predict that mindful individuals would have less illness as a result of psychological stress. Future research will be needed to verify this prediction.


So, be mindful and be less stressed by psychological distress.


All the suffering, stress, and addiction comes from not realizing you already are what you are looking for. – Jon Kabat-Zinn
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies