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