Yoga Practice Improves Mood and Spirituality Regardless of Physical or Spiritual Instruction

Yoga Practice Improves Mood and Spirituality Regardless of Physical or Spiritual Instruction


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


The word yoga means to join or unite, and yogis view this unison in different ways – the unison of body, mind and spirit, uniting all the aspects of yourself, or uniting with a higher power or spiritual force.” – DoYou


Yoga developed in India millennia ago as a deep spiritual practice. It developed as a contemplative practice that unified body and mind. Yoga was known to have physical benefits, but the most important benefit was seen to be spiritual development. But as yoga emerged and was practiced in the west it was secularized. This was for good reason, as western society was not ready to accept an ancient eastern spiritual practice.


There are many forms of yoga and many practitioners who are focused on the spiritual aspects of yoga. But, to the vast majority of westerner’s yoga is an exercise for physical fitness. It is a means to mold the body to look good, as a health promoting practice, and as a strategy to help lose weight. These are good and reasonable goals. But they have replaced the spiritual development originally promoted by yoga. As Jon Kabat-Zinn has remarked, ‘there is the potential for something priceless to be lost.’


It may be speculated that the instructions provided with yoga training may produce different effects on the physical and spiritual benefits. In today’s Research News article “Verbal Cuing Is Not the Path to Enlightenment. Psychological Effects of a 10-Session Hatha Yoga Practice.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: Csala and colleagues recruited female college students with no previous experience with yoga and randomly assigned them to receive 10 weekly 1.5 hour training sessions in Hatha yoga designated either as “Sport” yoga or “Spiritual” yoga or to a no treatment control condition. The “Sport” yoga and “Spiritual” yoga  only differed in instructions. The “Sport” yoga group was instructed with an emphasis on the physical aspects of yoga (e.g., correct position, muscles involved). The “Spiritual” yoga group was instructed with an emphasis on the spiritual aspects of yoga (e.g. energetic body and blockages, chakras, meditations etc.). They were measured before and after training for body awareness, mindfulness, positive and negative emotions, and spiritual connections.


They found that in comparison to baseline and the no-treatment control condition the practice of either “Sport” or “Spiritual” yoga produced significant increases in spiritual connections and significant decreases in negative emotions. Hence, regardless of whether the instructions emphasized the physical or spiritual aspects of yoga practice, the same effects occurred of increased spirituality and mood.


Yoga practice has been repeatedly shown in prior research studies to improve mood. So, the observed mood enhancement effects were no surprise. But, the ability of yoga practice to increase spirituality even when the spiritual aspects of yoga were not talked about is surprising. Regardless of instruction Hatha yoga practice produced increased spirituality. This suggests that the western emphasis on the secular aspects of yoga may not interfere with the enhancement of spirituality produced by yoga practice.


Perhaps yoga practice makes the individual more aware of the physical limitations of the body and that by itself may put human existence into perspective, amplifying the importance of the non-physical, spiritual, aspects. Yoga practice has for centuries been practiced in the east enhancing spirituality. It is interesting to find that it has the same effects in the west even when there is no instruction on the spiritual side of yoga practice.


So, yoga practice improves mood and spirituality regardless of physical or spiritual instruction.


“yoga offers much more than just a way to exercise the body. The deeper meaning and gift of yoga is the path it offers into the timeless world of spirit.” –


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


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


Study Summary


Csala B, Ferentzi E, Tihanyi BT, Drew R and Köteles F (2020) Verbal Cuing Is Not the Path to Enlightenment. Psychological Effects of a 10-Session Hatha Yoga Practice. Front. Psychol. 11:1375. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01375


Verbal instructions provided during yoga classes can differ substantially. Yoga instructors might choose to focus on the physical aspects of yoga (e.g., by emphasizing the characteristics of the poses), or they might take a more spiritual approach (e.g., by mentioning energy flow and chakras). The present study investigated the effects of verbal cues during yoga practice on various psychological measures. Eighty-four female students (22.0 ± 3.80 years) participated in the study. Two groups attended a beginner level hatha yoga course in which physically identical exercise was accompanied by different verbal cues. The so-called “Sport group” (N = 27) received instructions referring primarily to the physical aspects of yoga practice, while the “Spiritual group” (N = 23) was additionally provided with philosophical and spiritual information. A control group (N = 34) did not receive any intervention. Mindfulness, body awareness, spirituality, and affect were assessed 1 week before and after the training. 2 × 3 mixed (time × intervention) ANOVAs did not show an interaction effect for any of the variables. However, when the two yoga groups were merged and compared to the control group, we found that spirituality increased, and negative affect decreased among yoga participants. In conclusion, yoga practice might influence psychological functioning through its physical components, independent of the style of verbal instructions provided.


Religion/Spirituality Overall Increases HIV Prevention Behaviors

Religion/Spirituality Overall Increases HIV Prevention Behaviors


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“spirituality plays a critical role in the prognosis of HIV in many patients. The type of spiritual beliefs and practices determines whether spirituality is a protective or risk factor to the progression of HIV.” – Joni Utley


More than 35 million people worldwide and 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV infection. These include a significant number of children and adolescents. In 1996, the advent of the protease inhibitor and the so-called cocktail changed the prognosis for HIV. Since this development a 20-year-old infected with HIV can now expect to live on average to age 69. Even with these treatment advances it is still essential to prevent the transmission of HIV in the first place. There are a number of prevention techniques including drugs, condom use, HIV testing, reducing the number of sexual partners, and reducing intravenous drug use. But, in order for these activities to be effective, the individual must actively engage in them.


Spirituality is defined as “one’s personal affirmation of and relationship to a higher power or to the sacred. 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. Spirituality and religion, however, have a complex relationship with HIV prevention activities. It can be supportive in encouraging morals, norms, structures and institutions that can positively affect the individual’s behavior. On the other hand, religious strictures regarding sexuality can interfere with HIV prevention by discouraging behaviors such as condom use.


A number of research studies have been conducted on the effects of religion/spirituality on HIV prevention behaviors. So, it makes sense to step back and review what has been learned about the effects of religion/spirituality on the prevention of HIV transmission. In today’s Research News article “Religion, faith, and spirituality influences on HIV prevention activities: A scoping review.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: Vigliotti and colleagues review and summarize the published scientific research on the effects of religion/spirituality on HIV prevention. They identified 29 published peer-reviewed research studies.


They report that the majority of studies found that attendance at religious services, religiosity/spirituality, and religion were significantly associated with increased use of condoms and increased HIV testing except in the cases where their religious beliefs and values related to sex and sexuality were against it. Hence, the published research supports the contention that for the most part religion/spirituality improves the likelihood that the individual will engage in behaviors that contribute to the prevention of HIV transmission. This is tempered, however, with the facts that some forms of religion/spirituality incorporate norms and values regarding sexuality that tend to interfere with engaging in behaviors that reduce the prevention of HIV transmission.


These findings were correlative and as such no conclusions about causation can be reached. It is difficult to perform manipulative studies to determine causation so this correlative evidence may be the best available. In addition, many of the studies employed weak designs that included the possibility of confounding. As a result, care must be taken in reaching conclusions regarding the effects of religion/spirituality on HIV prevention.


So, religion/spirituality overall increases HIV prevention behaviors.


overcoming spiritual guilt” is a factor in helping HIV-positive people stay healthy, widespread stigma and condemnation may have ushered those people more quickly toward death.” – Emma Green


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


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


Study Summary


Vigliotti, V., Taggart, T., Walker, M., Kusmastuti, S., & Ransome, Y. (2020). Religion, faith, and spirituality influences on HIV prevention activities: A scoping review. PloS one, 15(6), e0234720.




Strategies to increase uptake of next-generation biomedical prevention technologies (e.g., long-acting injectable pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)) can benefit from understanding associations between religion, faith, and spirituality (RFS) and current primary HIV prevention activities (e.g., condoms and oral PrEP) along with the mechanisms which underlie these associations.


We searched PubMed, Embase, Academic Search Premier, Web of Science, and Sociological Abstracts for empirical articles that investigated and quantified relationships between RFS and primary HIV prevention activities outlined by the United States (U.S.) Department of Health and Human Services: condom use, HIV and STI testing, number of sexual partners, injection drug use treatment, medical male circumcision, and PrEP. We included articles in English language published between 2000 and 2020. We coded and analyzed studies based on a conceptual model. We then developed summary tables to describe the relation between RFS variables and the HIV prevention activities and any underlying mechanisms. We used CiteNetExplorer to analyze citation patterns.


We identified 2881 unique manuscripts and reviewed 29. The earliest eligible study was published in 2001, 41% were from Africa and 48% were from the U.S. RFS measures included attendance at religious services or interventions in religious settings; religious and/or spirituality scales, and measures that represent the influence of religion on behaviors. Twelve studies included multiple RFS measures. Twenty-one studies examined RFS in association with condom use, ten with HIV testing, nine with number of sexual partners, and one with PrEP. Fourteen (48%) documented a positive or protective association between all RFS factors examined and one or more HIV prevention activities. Among studies reporting a positive association, beliefs and values related to sexuality was the most frequently observed mechanism. Among studies reporting negative associations, behavioral norms, social influence, and beliefs and values related to sexuality were observed equally. Studies infrequently cited each other.


More than half of the studies in this review reported a positive/protective association between RFS and HIV prevention activities, with condom use being the most frequently studied, and all having some protective association with HIV testing behaviors. Beliefs and values related to sexuality are possible mechanisms that could underpin RFS-related HIV prevention interventions. More studies are needed on PrEP and spirituality/subjective religiosity.


The Psychology of Ending Suffering

The Psychology of Ending Suffering


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.” – anonymous


The Buddha taught that every one of us is already enlightened We simply need to remove those things that are preventing us from realizing our true nature, and those things are our sufferings. But suffering unsatisfactoriness is rampant in our daily lives. But these unsatisfactorinesses have causes and by eliminating the causes of unsatisfactoriness we can bring about equanimity and happiness. The Buddha and his followers have developed many methods for eliminating unsatisfactoriness and many of them are identical to the teachings of modern Psychology on how to eliminate unwanted behaviors.


The usual way most people tend to think about stopping a behavior is to punish it. This is the ubiquitous solution in our society, particularly exemplified by our treatment of criminal behavior. But we do it also at work. B. F. Skinner analyzed the work environment as dominated by punishers and the avoidance of punishers. He taught that the salary that is earned sets up a lifestyle and we become reliant upon the income to support it. Behavior at work is then controlled by threatening to withdraw this lifestyle, e.g. threat of firing or layoff, lack of raises or promotions, etc. But, psychological research has clearly shown that for the most part, punishment is ineffective in removing unwanted behaviors. Instead, it at best temporarily suppresses behaviors that can reemerge at any time or it leads to the individual avoiding the punisher, the supervisor, the police, or often parents and teachers.


The frequent use of punishment is apparent in our contemplative practice, where we frequently punish ourselves for not being or doing what we think we should be. We get angry at ourselves when we fail at quieting our mind in meditation. We get upset at ourselves when our mind wanders. We feel ashamed when we let our desires control our behavior. We feel bad when we see how we’re constantly wanting things in our lives to be different than they are. But, these punishers, like those in society are ineffective. Instead of improving our practice, they can lead to our avoiding or abandoning the practice.


But, the science of Psychology has a lot to offer in place of punishment in our quest to end unsatisfactoriness. Much has been learned through the years of research of how things are learned and unlearned and how to change behaviors. One of the key notions in Psychology is known as Thorndike’s Law of Effect. Simply stated it teaches that when we do things that lead to a pleasant state of affairs, we tend to repeat them while those that lead to an unpleasant state of affairs tend to become less likely to be repeated. This simple, seemingly obvious principle is actually quite powerful and suggests how we should proceed.


As we’ve discussed, applying unpleasant states, punishment, is not generally effective. Note, the Law of Effect states that we tend not to repeat behaviors that lead to an unpleasant state of affairs. So, if our contemplative or spiritual practice leads to self-punishments, it doesn’t lead to better practice, rather it leads to our becoming less likely to practice. This is the exact opposite of what we want to happen. So punishing ourselves for our failures in practice, instead of correcting them, leads to less practice.


All of this is also true in our everyday lives. Punishing our boss by getting angry at him or her is likely not going to change his or her behavior, except maybe to prompt the boss to punish us. Honking, making obscene gestures, or tailgating a driver who cuts us off is unlikely to make the driver stop cutting people off. Rather it’s likely to anger the driver and make for a more dangerous driving situation. Yelling at your life’s partner when he or she does something that we don’t approve of is more likely to sour our relationships than change our partners’ behavior. Telling people whose political opinions vary from our own that they’re stupid or ignorant, is not likely to change their opinions, but rather to cause them to avoid talking politics with us in the future. Getting upset at ourselves when we’re not as fast, adept, or as effective as we want to be in our exercises, is unlikely to make us faster or more adept or effective, but rather to make it less likely that we’ll engage in exercise in the future. In a nutshell, punishment doesn’t work to change behaviors in our lives. So, it is unlikely to work in helping us eliminate our unsatisfactorinesses and remove the obstacles toward spiritual realization. We need to find another way.


The Law of Effect, though, does provide a powerful prescription for changing behavior. If you want to change a behavior you need to remove what is reinforcing or supporting it. Discover the pleasant state of affairs that is produced by the behavior and eliminate it and the behavior will gradually go away. This is a process called extinction and it is very effective in eliminating unwanted behaviors. So, in our practice, if we want to reduce mind wandering, then we just simply watch it, not punishing it nor giving it any energy. Slowly mind wandering will go through extinction, becoming less frequent. It will sometimes happen so slowly that you won’t notice its changing, but it will inevitably slowly dissipate.


While driving a car, we may want to decrease our impatience with traffic and stop lights. We should first look at removing what’s supporting it and that means reflecting on the impatience to investigate why we feel that way. We may be able to see that it’s supported by the idea that getting somewhere else will make us happy. The thought of it reinforces the desire to get there quickly. But, we should remember that in the past whenever we got to that next place it didn’t make us happy. So, we again became impatient to get to another somewhere else where we feel we’ll really be happy. Hopefully, we can see our delusion that happiness is elsewhere is supporting our impatience. Recognizing this, each time we sense ourselves becoming impatient we bring this thought to mind that where we’re going will not necessarily make us happy, we can only be happy in the present moment. This can begin to extinguish the impatience. There’s no need to be impatient as it’s not going to get us what we want. So, impatience slowly lessens and becomes less frequent. We’ve eliminated a suffering by removing its cause. We’ve extinguished it.


There’s a problem with extinction that modern Psychology has discovered and that is over a period of time the lost behavior can reemerge. This is called spontaneous recovery. To overcome this the behavior must be extinguished again and if spontaneous recovery occurs again, it must be again extinguished. So, patience and persistence must be practiced. Eventually, the behavior will cease and no spontaneous recovery will happen again. So, if impatience while driving occurs again, we need to repeat our extinction process until we stop impatience completely and simply enjoy the present moment.


Psychology has also discovered that learning in one situation will generalize to other similar situations. This can be quite helpful as what we learn is not just effective in the exact circumstances in which we learned it. As a result, if we extinguish impatience while driving we’ll tend to have less impatience at work, with our life partner, with political discussions, and with exercise. Impatience will still be there in these other situations but the generalization from driving results in a lessening in its intensity. Impatience then becomes easier to extinguish in these other situations. If we go through the process we used with driving with our impatience with work and extinguish it, it will also generalize producing a further reduction in impatience with our life partner, with political discussions, and with exercise. Continuing this process will make us much more patient and happier people in virtually every circumstance.


Another method that Psychology has developed for eliminating an unwanted behavior is to replace it with an incompatible behavior. This is called counterconditioning. In this process positive reinforcement, reward, is used to build up a behavior that cannot coexist with the behavior we wish to eliminate. For example, to eliminate a phobia to spiders, a psychologist may attempt to have the patient relax in the face of thinking about spiders, replacing fear with relaxation. Similarly, a child that is hyperactive and engages in problematic behaviors in the schoolroom can be rewarded for paying attention. Since, paying attention cannot occur at the same time as disruptive behaviors, strengthening attention, reduces disruptive behaviors.


For example, we may feel unhappy because our life’s partners have a habit of not picking up after themselves. This feeling of unsatisfactoriness can build up and produce a nasty outburst and upset our partner. But, if when confronted with the mess, we simply remember a wonderful endearing characteristic of our partner, we can begin to replace the unsatisfactoriness with pleasant thoughts. The good feelings then begin to replace the irritation toward our partners. If we continue this practice we will slowly begin to react to the mess with loving feelings and can then confront the behavior with kindness and love, making it more likely to have a positive effect on our partners lack of tidiness. This is the process of eliminating our unsatisfactoriness through counterconditioning. Tangible rewards are not available, but pleasant memories are, and they can be used to reinforce the incompatible behavior.


Positive Psychology has clearly shown that we can replace unsatisfactoriness by strengthening satisfactory states, such as happiness, contentment, joy, and bliss. By simply working to amplify the positive the negative declines. Simple things such as putting a smile on our faces, can brighten our day. Smiling at other people when we pass them in the corridors and streets not only lifts their spirits but also our own and a return smile amplifies the contentment even more. We become so much happier and more content when we focus on the good things in life rather than the bad. When we do, unsatisfactoriness fades away.


The great sage Thich Nhat Hahn teaches us to focus on our non-toothaches. When we have a toothache we’re miserable and suffering and find this very unsatisfactory. We think, if we can just get over this painful condition then things will be good again. But, once it’s gone, we quickly forget and focus on something else that’s unsatisfactory. We need instead to be happy that our teeth are sound, without pain. Simply notice it and rejoice in it. It is a simple miracle that our bodies work so well that we can enjoy great oral health. Simply, occasionally, reflect on our good health and the miracle of being alive with most everything working well. What a beautiful state! What a joy! How can we find our lives unsatisfactory when we appreciate all that is right with our lives.


Psychology has found that positive reinforcement is extraordinarily powerful in changing behavior. So, we should reward ourselves for making strides in our practice and in our lives, rather than punishing ourselves for our failures. During contemplative practice when our minds wander, we shouldn’t get upset that we lost focus, rather celebrate the fact that we returned to focus. When we realize that our mind is wandering we punish ourselves by getting upset with ourselves, what we are effectively doing is punishing returning to focus. As we’ve seen, this leads to making it less likely that we’ll return to focus in the future. But, if we rejoice when we realize our minds are wandering and congratulate ourselves for returning to focus, we increase the likelihood that the next time our minds wander we’ll be more likely to detect it and get back to focusing on our practice. This is far more satisfactory


The other day I was riding my bicycle and got extremely tired before completing my scheduled ride. So, I stopped and rested even though I only had a couple of miles to go. Rather than getting angry and upset at myself for not pacing my ride properly, I congratulated myself for knowing my body and recognizing that a rest was necessary. So, I replaced an unsatisfactory state of self-anger with a satisfactory state. Rather than suffer about my failure, I celebrated my good sense. So, use positive reinforcement and reduce unsatisfactoriness, building happy and satisfying states.


It’s useful in this regard to contemplate happiness. Look carefully at when we’re happy, joyful, or content look carefully at exactly what we’re feeling in our bodies. This will help us at becoming better at recognizing these positive states when they are present. When they are there investigate what were the conditions that led up to these good feelings and thereby begin to learn what really makes us happy. We’ll probably be surprised that it is mostly not what we think will make us happy, but often something simple and everyday, particularly with family and friends. Recognize what truly makes us happy, we can learn how to increase our happiness. Doing so markedly reduces unsatisfactoriness. So eliminate suffering by building happiness, joy, and contentment.


Sometimes our suffering is too strong to simply replace it. Psychology also has a method to use in this case. It’s a process of slowly replacing similar but less intense unsatisfactoriness with counterconditioning and letting it generalize to more intense situations that can now be addressed. This is called systematic desensitization.


We might try this with political discussion where the issues produce so much anger that trying to replace them with good feelings is almost impossible, perhaps discussing abortion. Instead, look for issues of discussion that are contentious but less emotional, perhaps taxes. First practice relaxing by taking a deep breath and focusing on relaxing the facial muscles and smiling. Once, we’ve developed this ability to evoke relaxation and a smile at will we can begin to apply it to replacing anger. After all, it’s impossible to be relaxed and smiling and angry at the same time. Now, we should try this while discussing taxes, while the other people are presenting their viewpoints, produce the relax and smile response and as we’re presenting our viewpoint also produce the relax and smile response. Slowly, anger will be replaced with pleasant feelings so while discussing taxes we are no longer angry.


Next, we move to a more contentious subject, perhaps welfare. The previous counterconditioning for the taxes discussion generalizes to the welfare discussion making it substantially less emotion provoking, so it can be more easily addressed. Then repeat the process of conditioning relaxation and smiling while the other people are presenting their viewpoints on welfare and as we’re presenting our viewpoint. Slowly, anger will be replaced with pleasant feelings so while discussing welfare we are no longer angry. The final step, after these and perhaps more intermediary steps, will be to repeat the process with the most anger producing discussion, perhaps abortion. The previous counterconditionings will have generalized to this discussion and the level of anger may be reduced to the point where it is manageable. We then repeat the process of strengthening the relaxation and smiling response while discussing abortion. Eventually, we’ll be able to take on the worst of the worst and do it while relaxing and smiling. Our unsatisfactoriness will have been eliminated by replacing it with a pleasant state.


These are some of the methods that Psychology has developed that can help us to eliminate our sufferings, unsatisfactorinesses. Applying extinction, counterconditioning, and systematic desensitization to our unsatisfactorinesses can be an effective means of getting rid of them. As we’ve discussed this is fundamental to unmasking our true nature, our Buddha Nature. So, the principles of modern Psychology can be useful tools on our contemplative and spiritual development. We can use the skills developed by following the principles of Psychology to eliminate our unsatisfactorinesses leading to spiritual awakening.


‘if we look deeply into such ways of life as Buddhism, we do not find either philosophy or religion as these are understood in the West. We find something more nearly resembling psychotherapy’. – Alan Watts


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


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

Mindfulness Area Research: Negative Experiences with Mindfulness

Mindfulness Area Research: Negative Experiences with Mindfulness


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 are likely to emerge. The strength here is that meditation is a wonderful occasion to begin to deal with these issues. But often the thoughts or memories are overwhelming. At times, professional therapeutic intervention may be needed.


Many practitioners never experience these negative experiences 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.


Summaries of recent studies on negative experiences with mindfulness can be found at the Negative Experiences link  on the Contemplative Studies blog .


Links to the Research on Negative Experiences with Mindfulness


Mindfulness Training can Produce Harm but Much can be Avoided


Yoga Injuries are Common but Most Can Be Avoided


The Variety of Meditation Experiences


Meditation Can Produce Uncomfortable Effects


What’s Wrong with Meditation II – Improper Instruction



Spirituality is Associated with Better Physical and Mental Health

Spirituality is Associated with Better Physical and Mental Health


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


Spirituality is a sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves. . . Spirituality also incorporates healthy practices for the mind and body, which positively influences mental health and emotional wellbeing.” – Luna Greestein


Religion and spirituality have been promulgated as solutions to the challenges of life both in a transcendent sense and in a practical sense. What evidence is there that these claims are in fact true? 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 religiosity and spirituality on the physical and psychological well-being of practitioners mostly showing positive benefits, with spirituality encouraging personal growth and mental health.


In today’s Research News article “Private religion/spirituality, self-rated health, and mental health among US South Asians.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at:, Kent and colleagues recruited U.S. adults over 40 years of age of south Asian descent. They completed questionnaires on their health, daily spiritual experiences, gratitude, anxiety, anger, religious service attendance, religious affiliation, yoga practice, belief in God, closeness to God, positive religious coping, and divine hope. They were separated into a theistic group who believed in god and a non-theistic group who did not.


They found that in the total sample that the health of the participants was positively related to yoga practice, daily spiritual experiences and gratitude. Emotional functioning was positively related to gratitude and daily spiritual experiences. In addition, anxiety and anger were negatively associated with gratitude and daily spiritual experiences.


In the theistic subsample there were significant positive relationships between health and closeness to god and positive religious coping. There were significant positive relationships between emotional functioning and daily spiritual experiences, closeness to god and positive religious coping and negative relationships with negative religious coping. Anxiety and anger were related to negative religious coping and religious/spiritual struggles.


The results make it clear that religion and spirituality are associated with better physical and mental health. It should be noted that these results are correlational and as such causation cannot be determined. It is equally likely that spirituality promotes mental and physical health, that people with better mental and physical health tend to be more religious and spirituality, or that a third factor is related to both. These results also have limited generalizability as they were obtained from a community sample of people in the U.S. of south Asian descent. They may not apply to other ethnic or religious groups.


Nevertheless, the results present a positive picture of religion and spirituality and its relationships to physical and mental health. Positive religious coping to stress involves the belief that god is guiding the individual for good reasons and this type of coping is associated with better mental health. On the other hand, negative religious coping to stress which involves belief that god is, for some reason, punishing the individual, has negative emotional consequences. So, religion and spirituality are double edged swords depending on how the individual interprets and employs them.


So, spirituality is associated with better physical and mental health.


positive associations have been found between some styles of religion/spirituality and general wellbeing, marital satisfaction and general psychological functioning.” – Deborah Cornah


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


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


Study Summary


Kent, B. V., Stroope, S., Kanaya, A. M., Zhang, Y., Kandula, N. R., & Shields, A. E. (2020). Private religion/spirituality, self-rated health, and mental health among US South Asians. Quality of life research : an international journal of quality of life aspects of treatment, care and rehabilitation, 29(2), 495–504.




Connections between private religion/spirituality and health have not been assessed among U.S. South Asians. The aim of this study was to examine the relationship between private religion/spirituality and self-rated and mental health in a community-based sample of U.S. South Asians.


Data from the Mediators of Atherosclerosis in South Asians Living in America (MASALA) study (collected 2010–2013 and 2015–2018) and the attendant Study on Stress, Spirituality, and Health (n=881) were analyzed using OLS regression. Self-rated health measured overall self-assessed health. Emotional functioning was measured using the Mental Health Inventory-3 index (MHI-3) and Spielberger scales assessed trait anxiety and trait anger. Private religion/spirituality measures included prayer, yoga, belief in God, gratitude, theistic and non-theistic spiritual experiences, closeness to God, positive and negative religious coping, divine hope, and religious/spiritual struggles.


Yoga, gratitude, non-theistic spiritual experiences, closeness to God, and positive coping were positively associated with self-rated health. Gratitude, non-theistic and theistic spiritual experiences, closeness to God, and positive coping were associated with better emotional functioning; negative coping was associated with poor emotional functioning. Gratitude and non-theistic spiritual experiences were associated with less anxiety; negative coping and religious/spiritual struggles were associated with greater anxiety. Non-theistic spiritual experiences and gratitude were associated with less anger; negative coping and religious/spiritual struggles were associated with greater anger.


Private religion/spirituality are associated with self-rated and mental health. Opportunities may exist for public health and religious care professionals to leverage existing religion/spirituality for well-being among U.S. South Asians.


Exercise on the Eightfold Path

mindful exercise running swimming walking | Stress Less Kzoo

Exercise on the Eightfold Path


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“it’s possible to merge awareness and physical exercise together as one. This allows you to experience the present moment during your physical activity.” – Adam Brady


We often think of meditation or spiritual practice as occurring in quiet places removed from the hubbub of life. This is useful to develop skills and deep understanding. Unfortunately, most people do not have the luxury of withdrawing into solitary or monastic life. But it is possible to practice even in the midst of the chaos of everyday life. In fact, there are wonderful opportunities to practice presented to us all the time in the complexities of the modern world. I find that engagement in exercise is one of many wonderful contexts in which to practice the Buddha’s Eightfold Path, the Buddha’s prerequisites for the cessation of suffering; Right View, Right Intentions, Right Actions, Right Speech, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration. Engaging in exercise on the eightfold path can not only improve health but also can contribute to spiritual development. As a bonus it can make exercising more enjoyable.


As we well know, engaging in regular physical exercise is important for our physical and mental health. Similarly, practicing mindfulness is important for our physical, psychological, and spiritual well-being. Together they are a dynamite. But what needs to be done to combine them? With a little reflection, a myriad of opportunities to practice are available while exercising. The details will vary with the type of exercise and the individual, but these same opportunities are available regardless of the nature of the exercise.


An important component of developing the “Right View” is the recognition that all things are impermanent, they come and they go and never stay the same. When exercising it is easy to note that everything about the workout is impermanent. The body is stressed by exercise and this is a good thing as this is what leads to the beneficial effects of exercise. When moderately stressed muscles heal, they grow stronger. Sometimes the stress is pleasant and other times not so. But no matter what it will change, perhaps getting better or perhaps getting worse, but it will not stay the same. During exercise, the physical and mental state of the individual is constantly changing. The body fatigues and grows tired. Pain and discomfort may come and go. By recognizing how fleeting these feelings are, we witness the impermanence of all things. We grow to not only better understand the body and how it benefits from exercise but also see the operation of impermanence. This produces relaxation and acceptance of the body as it is, even as it’s changing, not only improving the exercise but reinforcing “Right View”.


A good example of this is practicing while running. I’m older and my knees are worn out so I practice this while speed walking. Noting the sensations from the foot each time in strikes the ground and as it lifts off the ground, it’s apparent that the sensations are constantly changing and never the same. Impermanence is on display. The same goes for the surrounding sights which are constantly changing. It’s impossible to hold onto any of the myriad of sensations occurring. They are constantly arising and passing away. Impermanence is on display.


Another important component of “Right View” is the recognition that everything is interconnected. This is readily apparent during exercise. During yoga practice all of the aspects of the body work together. As the muscles are stressed they increase the heart rate and respiration. With each pose the muscles produce heat, causing sweating and dilatation of the blood vessels at the surface. Moving into each pose produces changes in balance which produce automatic changes in other muscles to compensate and maintain balance and equilibrium. The senses are engaged in monitoring for pain and fatigue and guiding the exercise. Try paying attention to all of the parts of the body and how they are affected in performing a forward bend, a tree pose, or a lower cobra. By paying attention to these processes during this practice, how the entire body is engaged can be witnessed even if the exercise is targeted at only particular muscles. Interconnectedness is completely apparent. The awareness of this interconnectedness allows for better exercise while reinforcing “Right View”.


One practice I employ with exercise is to identify the limiting component. For me it’s breathing that seems to limit what I can do. My ability to play basketball is limited by the ability to get oxygen to the muscles while sprinting down the court. For others, it’s their knees or other joints, or cardiac capacity, or body temperature. There’s always something that keeps the individual from going faster, or being stronger or more accurate. The ability of the entire body to excel is limited by this factor. All other aspects of physical function are restrained by it. All other aspects are interconnected with it. as it all works together.


This interconnectedness is particularly apparent in team sports. In these contexts, participants affect one another, everyone on the team and everyone on the opposing team. In fact, that interconnectedness is part of the allure and enjoyment of team sports. As every athlete knows, performance is also affected by the individual’s psychological state. At times, exercisers just don’t feel like doing it but force themselves. While at other times, they feel great and can’t wait to get into it. In both cases this psychological state markedly alters the exercise. It’s all interconnected. Hence, the “Right View” of interconnectedness is readily apparent during exercise. Make it part of the exercise to pay attention to and recognize this interconnectedness. It’s on display.


Still another important component of “Right View” is the recognition of the presence of suffering and unsatisfactoriness in all activities. Exercising is a wonderful opportunity to observe this unsatisfactoriness and its roots. While cycling we want everything to be a certain way and when it isn’t, we are unhappy. We want to go faster, or with have greater strength for peddling up hills, or with greater endurance to ride further. The cyclist wants the weather to be just right, the wind to die down, to always be at the back, or for it to be cooler. We want the body’s discomforts to go away. In other words, rather than enjoy cycling, we make it unsatisfactory by not accepting how things are. All things, big and small, are almost always less than optimum. If we focus on this and crave it to be different, then we suffer. But, if we simply accept these conditions as they are, we can ride our bicycle with appreciation and enjoyment with unsatisfactoriness on display. Note, how this constantly arises in thoughts during exercise. Recognizing this can lead to greater understanding of how we make ourselves unhappy, and how by simply accepting things as they are produces better performance and greater enjoyment. Practicing this will reinforce “Right View.”


While exercising, playing sports, or being an observer there are frequent opportunities to practice “Right Intentions.” Here reducing or preventing harm and promoting greater happiness, wisdom, and well-being for all participants can be practiced. This is particularly important for team sports. It is useful, beforehand, to set this intention to make engaging in the game be beneficial for all participants. “Right Intentions” involves targeting what to do while exercising to increase peace, well-being, and happiness, including the abandonment of unwholesome desires.


If exercise particularly in competitive sports, is engaged in with anger, impatience, selfishness, and resentment it is likely to produce harm to everyone involved. Sports, such as football, can be dangerous and can produce physical harm to others. Obviously, games like football are particularly good candidates to play with “Right Intentions.” This way injury or harm can be minimized. It would seem obvious, but taking the time beforehand to establish “Right Intentions” may determine if the game is fun and wholesome or negative and harmful.


When I was young playing basketball with friends an opponent grabbed me as I ran toward the basket. I got angry and retaliated by shoving my friend away forcefully. He fell back so hard that he was momentarily paralyzed. This scared everyone and especially me. It made me recognize the potential harm that I could cause by acting on anger. If I had simply accepted that I was fouled and let it go, no harm would have occurred and play could have continued. The recognition that anger can only lead to more harm is wisdom that can lead to minimizing harm and promoting the greater good. Seeing the situation as it is, and seeing opponents with eyes of compassion leads to skillful actions promoting the happiness and well-being of all.


I’ve found that playing golf is a wonderful opportunity to practice. It has always amazed me how players make themselves so unhappy while engaging in something that’s supposed to be fun. I’ve seen players go into a rage after hitting a poor shot, screaming profanities, pounding their club into the ground or throwing or even breaking the club in rage. This can create a negative atmosphere that sweeps all the players up into a negative mood and destroys the fun and happiness that is the point of playing the game. “Right Intentions” can help here. I’ve learned to approach the game as just that, a game that is to be enjoyed, to laugh at my own incompetence, and joke with the other players about our plight.


We go around the course laughing and having a ball. What a difference it can make, I’ve had other players remark how much they admire me, not for my play which is horrible, but for my enjoyment of the game regardless of how well or more often terribly I play. It changes the atmosphere and infects those that I play with. Just setting the intention ahead of time to have fun regardless, to promote happiness, makes a world of difference. The ripples of good feelings that are created, may spill over from golf to home or work life enhancing life in general.


Playing sports with courtesy, with tolerance and understanding, with kindness and good will needs to be continuously worked on. It’s a practice. “Right Intentions” are a key. They become the moral compass. They tend to lead in the right direction even though at times there are stumbles.  It is often difficult or impossible to predict all of the consequences of actions. It is also very difficult avoid all harm. But forming “Right Intentions” and aspiring to create good and happiness will produce more harmony, good will, and happiness and for the practitioner it will produce progress along the eightfold path.


Exercising is another situation to practice “Right Actions.” To some extent taking care of our bodies is “Right Action” as it benefits our health and well-being, which relieves suffering and increases happiness. While working out “Right Actions” includes following the “Middle Way.” Exercising overly aggressively could produce injury while exercising too lightly is probably a waste of time. While exercising in social contexts such as in a gym or jogging with friends, there can be a tendency to show off. This can be harmful to others by promoting jealousy or decreasing their feelings of self-worth or causing them to try too hard potentially leading to injury.


I used to jog with a group that met at lunchtime. We would all wait around until everyone was there to begin our run. But as soon as we began, one particular runner always leapt ahead and ran well in front of the group for the entire run. At first many of us would try to keep up. This would simply lead to him running even faster to stay ahead. This was not good. We were exercising, not racing. It detracted from the good feelings and camaraderie of the group and caused many of us to run too fast for our ability and to suffer. After a while we learned to ignore him and enjoy running with the rest of the group. This was “Right Actions.” It did make me wonder what suffering was driving him to turn a healthy and fun social run into a race and what I might do to help relieve that suffering. But he always ran ahead and alone making it impossible to communicate.


In some sports lying and cheating occur frequently. Fishing and golf are wonderful examples. outright lied about. Golfers frequently do things such as surreptitiously move their ball to a better lie, or report a lower score than they actually had. This is not “Right Actions.” Scrupulous honesty on the long-term leads to greater happiness and well-being even in these kinds of small and often accepted dishonesties.


While engaging in competitive sports we should have the “Right Intentions” of promoting good and happiness, and relieve suffering in ourselves and others. We can do so by competing patiently and courteously with attention and good sportsmanship. Unfortunately, the prevalent attitude is that “winning is everything.” This works contrary to “Right Actions.” With “Right Actions” promoting happiness, and relieving suffering in everyone involved “is everything.”  We can only control our own actions while competing. So that is where we practice. But, when we compete with “Right Actions” it affects our competitors, making the game more enjoyable, healthier, and productive for everyone.


Verbal and non-verbal interactions are frequently present while exercising, playing sports, or even as a spectator. There are many opportunities to practice “Right Communications”. It involves communicating in such a way as to promote understanding and to produce good feelings. It is non-violent and non-judgmental communications. While engaging in exercise or sports it is important to think before communicating, is the communication true, is it necessary, and is it kind.


While playing golf we communicate verbally and non-verbally and try to do so with “Right Communications”. When someone makes a great shot, we celebrate with them, possibly teasing them as to why they can’t do that every time, and when they make a terrible shot kidding them that it was better than they usually do, or compare it to our own terrible shots. Note that teasing may not on the surface seem to be true, necessary, and kind. But it can lighten the atmosphere and the back and forth can promote good feelings. Non-verbally, we sometimes celebrate ridiculously, dancing around like a clown, when making a good shot, again promoting enjoyment.


Right Communications” often involves deep listening. It is impossible to respond appropriately to another if you haven’t listened carefully to exactly what the other said or looked carefully at their expressions or body language. In playing doubles tennis, watch and listen to your partner. They may show anger or slump after a poor shot. In this case “Right Communications” may involve encouraging the partner or pointing out that the shot that they were attempting was a great idea, or make light of it by saying something to the effect that the shot looked more like something you would do. What would be the right approach depends on the individual and the context. But watching and listening carefully can help to understand what communication may produce the most good and happiness.


Even as spectators it is useful to practice “Right Communications”. I’ve observed parents at youth soccer games yelling at referees, players, and coaches. My 13 year old grandson worked hard to become a referee for children’s soccer matches and earn extra money. But he has dropped it because of the abuse that these parents heaped on him for every decision. No matter what decision he made parents on one side or the other would chastise him. I’ve also seen the impact on the children as their parents yell at the referees or at them for their performance. It’s a truly sad display of wrong communications by the adults.


It’s quite simple to see that “Right Communications” are needed. If the parents had stopped and thought if what they were communicating was true, necessary, and kind, if they had listened deeply or watched with compassion, there may have been a completely different atmosphere at the games, my grandson may still be refereeing, and the children would feel good about playing and would be having fun. Such behavior is not confined to youth soccer. Simply observe fans at sporting events even at the professional level, yelling obscenities and insults at opponents or even at their own team’s players. Indeed, even the players are taunting, hurling insults, and “trash talking” to each other. It is clear that there is a great need to teach fans and players, not only good sportsmanship, but also “Right Communications”. We may not be able to change others but at least we can conduct “Right Communications”.


There are many ways that people can make a living with exercise and sports, from a professional athlete or coach to a personal trainer, to a general manager or executive. This can be itself “Right Livelihood”. It is if it is directed to creating good, helping people, keeping peace, and moving society forward in a positive direction. College coaches using student athletes to further their careers without regard to the furtherance of the players well-being or teaching player “dirty tricks” to harm or injure their opponents would definitely not be “Right Livelihood”.


One should reflect deeply on what they’re doing to ascertain whether it promotes good. It is not ours to judge the “rightness” of the livelihood of athletes, coaches, sports executives etc. This is a personal matter where intention matters, that must be reflected upon deeply. The process itself of evaluating “Right Livelihood” may heighten awareness of the consequences of participating in their careers and make them better able to see and correct where they may be going wrong. This can help move the individual along the Buddha’s path.


Exercise also presents a fine context to practice “Right Effort”. In fact, exercise has its maximum benefit when it is fairly strenuous but not too strenuous. If it’s overdone the body will provide appropriate feedback with aches and pains, hopefully not injuries. If it’s done lazily, the body will not improve. So, exercise is almost a perfect situation to teach “Right Effort”. It involves acting according to the “Middle Way.” That is, not trying too hard and getting hurt, but also not being lackadaisical.  “Right Effort” is a relaxed effort. The “Middle Way” is where effort should be targeted.


Experienced yoga practitioners know this all too well. Yoga can be very beneficial when practiced with “Right Effort” but can be injurious when done improperly. Poses must be held at the appropriate level, slightly backed off from the individual’s limit without going beyond. Struggling to go deeper, beyond the practitioner’s capability, is a formula for injury. Entering too lightly is a formula for wasting time and receiving no benefit. So, not only is yoga practice a good place to practice “Right Effort” it, in fact, provides feedback demonstrating what the “Right Effort” level should be.


Athletes know that to perform optimally they must relax and not press too hard. This is one of the reasons why meditation practice has proved so beneficial for athletes. It allows them to relax into the present moment and react appropriately to their body’s capabilities. I’ve found that with swimming, if I try too hard to go fast, I actually go slower. On the other hand, when I simply swim with moderate effort but with a relaxed body, it produces and efficient stroke and an appropriate body position in the water for optimum speed. So, “Right Effort” with exercise pays off with optimum performance, physical benefit, and progress on the eightfold path.


Exercise requires an accurate understanding of the state of our bodies and the environment in the present moment in order to determine what level of exercise are needed to promote good performance and enjoyment.  In other words, it requires “Right Mindfulness”. Unfortunately, for most of us mindless exercise is probably the norm. While exercising many people listen to music, talk on their cell phones, watch television, or carry on a conversation. But paying attention to what is being experienced while exercising or engaging in sports can turn the exercise into a meditative practice. It creates a richly textured experience of physical and mental activities. It heightens the experience and makes it much more enjoyable.


A prototype is walking meditation, where the individual practices “Right Mindfulness”. The meditator pays close attention to the sensations from the body while slowly walking. Observing each step, feeling the foot hit the ground and pull off the ground, observing each breath, feeling the air on the skin and the touch of the clothing, feeling the muscles contract and relax, experiencing the sights, smells and sounds in the environment. It’s an amazingly pleasant and productive practice.


With exercise, the same technique can be used but greatly speeded up. Jogging can be a speeded-up version of walking meditation. I use “Right Mindfulness” while swimming laps in a pool by doing a body scan. I start on the first lap with paying attention to the sensations from the toes, on the second lap I move to the tops of my feet, next to the bottoms of the feet, to the ankle, shin, knee, thigh etc. The feeling of the water and the movement of each body part is an exquisite practice. I was tired of the boredom of swimming until I developed this practice. It makes the drudgery of lap swimming mindful, interesting, and pleasurable, not to mention that my stroke becomes more efficient and the laps go by quickly. “Right Mindfulness” can be applied to virtually every exercise and sporting activity and will not only make it better but help the participant along the Buddha’s eightfold path.


“Right Concentration” is the practice of focusing the mind solely on one object or a specific unchanging set of objects. Mindfulness is paying attention to whatever arises, but concentration is paying attention to one thing to the exclusion of everything else. This is usually developed during contemplative practice such as meditation. It is difficult to practice during the complex activities involved in exercise. But during repetitive automatized exercises such as jogging concentration on the breath can be practiced.


Engaging in exercise on the eightfold path is a practice. Over time I have gotten better and better at it, but nowhere near perfect. Frequently the discursive mind takes over or my emotions get the better of me. But, by continuing the practice I’ve slowly progressed. I’ve become a better at seeing what needs to be accomplished. I am learning to be relaxed with a smile on my face when I engage in exercise and enjoy the workout.


Can we attain enlightenment through exercise? Probably not! But we can practice the eightfold path that the Buddha taught leads there. The strength of engaging exercise with the practices of the eightfold path is that it occurs in the real world of our everyday life. Quiet secluded practice is wonderful and perhaps mandatory for progress in spiritual development. But for most people it only can occur during a very limited window of time. By extending the practice directly into the mainstream of our lives we can greatly enhance its impact. I like to keep in mind the teaching that actions that lead to greater harmony and happiness should be practiced, while those that lead to unsatisfactoriness and unhappiness should be let go.  Without doubt, by practicing the eightfold path in our engagement in exercise leads to greater harmony and happiness and as such should definitely be included in our spiritual practice.


“The message is that mindfulness may amplify satisfaction, because one is satisfied when positive experiences of physical activity become prominent. For those experiences to be noticed, one must become aware of them. . . this can be achieved by being mindful.” – Kalliopi-Eleni Tsafou


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


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

Spirituality is Associated with Better Decision Making and Well-Being at End of Life

Spirituality is Associated with Better Decision Making and Well-Being at End of Life


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“spirituality is an important component of quality of life and may be a key factor in how people cope with illness, experience healing, and achieve a sense of coherence.” – Christina Puchalski


Death in inevitable, but that does not mean that it has to be difficult. Suzuki Roshi at the end of his life was in excruciating pain from cancer yet he told everyone around him “Don’t worry, It’s just Buddha suffering”. He passed with a smile on his face. Augustus Montague Toplady, the preacher author of the hymn “Rock of Ages” dying from tuberculosis said “Oh, what delights! Who can fathom the joy of the third heaven? The sky is clear, there is no cloud; come Lord Jesus, come quickly!” These stories exemplify how spirituality can influence the quality of life at the end of life.


Spirituality becomes much more important to people when they’re approaching the end of life. It is thought that people take comfort in the spiritual when facing mortality. But, spiritual concerns, such as feelings of being abandoned by god or needing forgiveness for actions in their lives might lead to anxiety and worry rather than comfort and can exacerbate the psychological burdens at the end of life. Hence, there is a need to study the relationship of spirituality to a palliative care patient’s well-being at the approach of the end of life.


In today’s Research News article “The influence of spirituality on decision-making in palliative care outpatients: a cross-sectional study.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at:, Rego and colleagues recruited adult outpatients from cancer palliative care institutes who had terminal illnesses. They were asked to complete measures of decision conflict and health related quality of life including spiritual well-being and undergo a semi-structured interviews addressing “spirituality, the importance of spirituality during illness, spiritual care, the influence of illness in the sense/meaning of life and the ability to make decisions related to health.”


They found that patients who indicated that spirituality was important in dealing with their illness and had a sense of meaning in their lives reported significantly higher levels of spiritual well-being, quality of life, and significantly lower levels of decisional conflict. In addition, they found that higher levels of spiritual wellbeing were associated with higher levels of physical, emotional and functional wellbeing, meaning/peace and faith, and quality of life. Also, spiritual well-being was significantly associated with lower levels of uncertainty and decisional conflict and higher levels of being informed and supported, and satisfaction with decisions. Finally, the patients indicated that spiritual care was important but there was little provided.


It should be noted that this study was correlative and as such conclusions about causation cannot be definitively made. But the results suggest that there are clear relationships between spirituality and the ability to cope with end of life issues. Spirituality was related to many components of well-being, suggesting that while approaching end of life having deeper sense of meaning is important in dealing with mortality. In addition, spirituality appears to be associated with better capacity to make decisions, suggesting that it aids in having a clear mind in dealing with the issues associated with the remainder of their lives.


It is interesting that as important spirituality appears to be for dealing with the end of life the patients reported that there was very little spiritual care available. This suggests that palliative care should include greater spiritual care. The results suggest that if there was greater spiritual care it would help ease the burden of being terminally ill and improve the quality of their remaining life.


Hence, spirituality is associated with better decision making and well-being at end of life.


Spirituality is too important and too impactful to ignore. We must work together as palliative care advocates to ensure that patients get comprehensive, person-centered care that addresses all aspects of their quality of life.” – Coalition for Compassionate Care


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


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


Study Summary


Rego, F., Gonçalves, F., Moutinho, S., Castro, L., & Nunes, R. (2020). The influence of spirituality on decision-making in palliative care outpatients: a cross-sectional study. BMC palliative care, 19(1), 22.




Decision-making in palliative care can be complex due to the uncertain prognosis and general fear surrounding decisions. Decision-making in palliative care may be influenced by spiritual and cultural beliefs or values. Determinants of the decision-making process are not completely understood, and spirituality is essential for coping with illness. Thus, this study aims to explore the influence of spirituality on the perception of healthcare decision-making in palliative care outpatients.


A cross-sectional study was developed. A battery of tests was administered to 95 palliative outpatients, namely: sociodemographic questionnaire (SQ), Decisional Conflict Scale (DCS), Functional Assessment of Chronic Illness Therapy-Spiritual Well-Being scale (FACIT-Sp), and a semi-structured interview (SSI) to study one’s perception of spirituality and autonomy in decision-making. Statistical analyses involved descriptive statistics for SQ and SSI. The Mann-Whitney test was used to compare scale scores between groups and correlations were used for all scales and subscales. The analysis of patients’ definitions of spirituality was based on the interpretative phenomenological process.


Spiritual wellbeing significantly correlated with greater levels of physical, emotional and functional wellbeing and a better quality of life. Greater spiritual wellbeing was associated with less decisional conflict, decreased uncertainty, a feeling of being more informed and supported and greater satisfaction with one’s decision. Most patients successfully implemented their decision and identified themselves as capable of early decision-making. Patients who were able to implement their decision presented lower decisional conflict and higher levels of spiritual wellbeing and quality of life. Within the 16 themes identified, spirituality was mostly described through family. Patients who had received spiritual care displayed better scores of spiritual wellbeing, quality of life and exhibited less decisional conflict. Patients considered spirituality during illness important and believed that the need to receive spiritual support and specialised care could enable decision-making when taking into consideration ones’ values and beliefs.


The impact of spiritual wellbeing on decision-making is evident. Spirituality is a key component of overall wellbeing and it assumes multidimensional and unique functions. Individualised care that promotes engagement in decision-making and considers patients’ spiritual needs is essential for promoting patient empowerment, autonomy and dignity.


Meditation Produces Mental Emptiness by Lowering Phasic Relationships in the EEG

Meditation Produces Mental Emptiness by Lowering Phasic Relationships in the EEG


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


Meditation research explores how the brain works when we refrain from concentration, rumination and intentional thinking. Electrical brain waves suggest that mental activity during meditation is wakeful and relaxed.” – ScienceDaily


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. A characterizing feature of meditation is that it can produce periods of thoughtless awareness also known as mental emptiness where thinking is minimized. Little is known, however, about the underlying brain activity during thoughtless awareness relative to cognitive processing, thinking.


One way to observe the effects of meditation is to measure changes in the electroencephalogram (EEG), the rhythmic electrical activity that can be recorded from the scalp. The recorded activity can be separated into frequency bands. Delta activity consists of oscillations in the 0.5-3 cycles per second band. Theta activity in the EEG consists of oscillations in the 4-8 cycles per second band. Alpha activity consists of oscillations in the 8-12 cycles per second band. Beta activity consists of oscillations in the 13-30 cycles per second band while Gamma activity occurs in the 30-100 cycles per second band.


In today’s Research News article “From thoughtless awareness to effortful cognition: alpha – theta cross-frequency dynamics in experienced meditators during meditation, rest and arithmetic.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at:, Rodriguez-Larios and colleagues recruited adult, highly experienced, meditators and recorded the electroencephalogram (EEG) while they were at rest, engaged in breath following focused meditation, and doing mental arithmetic (counting backward by 7. They analyzed the EEG signals for alpha and theta rhythms and investigated the phasic relationships between them.


They found that during meditation the phasic relationships between alpha and theta rhythms in the brain were at a minimum where they were at a maximum during mental arithmetic. Since during the cognitive task of mental arithmetic the phasic relationships were high, it appears that these phasic relationships between alpha and theta rhythms are associated with cognitive processes, thinking. The fact that they’re minimized during meditation suggests that during meditation cognition, thinking, is minimized. This suggests that awareness is occurring without thought; thoughtless awareness.


These results make sense in that the goal of breath following meditation is to relax the mind and focus it on simple sensory signals and thereby minimize thinking. Meditation focuses the mind on the present moment and the sensory experiences occurring in the moment. The deeper the focus, the less room there is for thought to occur. The present results indicate that this thoughtless awareness can be seen in the electrical activity of the brain during meditation.


So, meditation produces mental emptiness by lowering phasic relationships in the EEG.


A theta wave cycle lasts about as long as the human eye blinks, or about 4/10 of a second! They are also associated with deep meditation. . . Theta waves are associated with dreaming sleep, super learning, creativity, daydreaming, and deep meditation. And with emotional surges, self-reprogramming, and spiritual experiences.” – Mindvalley


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


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


Study Summary


Rodriguez-Larios, J., Faber, P., Achermann, P., Tei, S., & Alaerts, K. (2020). From thoughtless awareness to effortful cognition: alpha – theta cross-frequency dynamics in experienced meditators during meditation, rest and arithmetic. Scientific reports, 10(1), 5419.



Neural activity is known to oscillate within discrete frequency bands and the synchronization between these rhythms is hypothesized to underlie information integration in the brain. Since strict synchronization is only possible for harmonic frequencies, a recent theory proposes that the interaction between different brain rhythms is facilitated by transient harmonic frequency arrangements. In this line, it has been recently shown that the transient occurrence of 2:1 harmonic cross-frequency relationships between alpha and theta rhythms (i.e. falpha ≈ 12 Hz; ftheta ≈ 6 Hz) is enhanced during effortful cognition. In this study, we tested whether achieving a state of ‘mental emptiness’ during meditation is accompanied by a relative decrease in the occurrence of 2:1 harmonic cross-frequency relationships between alpha and theta rhythms. Continuous EEG recordings (19 electrodes) were obtained from 43 highly experienced meditators during meditation practice, rest and an arithmetic task. We show that the occurrence of transient alpha:theta 2:1 harmonic relationships increased linearly from a meditative to an active cognitive processing state (i.e. meditation < rest < arithmetic task). It is argued that transient EEG cross-frequency arrangements that prevent alpha:theta cross-frequency coupling could facilitate the experience of ‘mental emptiness’ by avoiding the interaction between the memory and executive components of cognition.


Our True Nature is Buried Behind Suffering

Our True Nature is Buried Behind Suffering


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“In Buddhism, we say every sentient being has the ability to be awakened, and to understand deeply. We call this Buddha nature. The deer, the dog, the cat, the squirrel, and the bird all have Buddha nature. But what about inanimate species: the pine tree in our front yard, the grass, or the flowers? As part of our living Mother Earth, these species also have Buddha nature. This is a very powerful awareness which can bring us so much joy. Every blade of grass, every tree, every plant, every creature large or small are children of the planet Earth and have Buddha nature. The Earth herself has Buddha nature, therefore all her children must have Buddha nature, too. As we are all endowed with Buddha nature, everyone has the capacity to live happily and with a sense of responsibility toward our mother, the Earth.” – Thich Nhat Hahn


Siddhartha Gautama realized his true nature 2500 years ago. It was called his enlightenment and he became the Buddha, the enlightened one. This true nature that he realized he called Buddha Nature. Millions of followers and practitioners over the centuries have studied and practiced the teachings of the Buddha in the quest to attain the enlightenment that the Buddha realized. But their quest is misguided as he taught that there is actually nothing to attain.


The Buddha, when asked what he gained from enlightenment, what he had attained, had a simple one-word answer “nothing.” How could this be? He got nothing! All of the seekers over the centuries have been attempting to attain a state that doesn’t exist. If that’s true then Buddhism is the greatest spiritual hoax of all times. This leads to the conclusion that the notion of enlightenment itself is a delusion? Practitioners and believers have been pursuing a state that simply doesn’t exist!


In an extremely important teaching, that is rarely talked about, taught, or studied, the Buddha clarified what he realized. As it turns out the key is the word ‘realized’, and not ‘attained’. There’s a tremendous and crucial difference.


The Buddha laid out what he realized in the teaching called the Tathagatagarbha Sutra. The word ‘Tathagatagarbha’ is a Sanskrit tongue twister that can be translated as ‘Buddha Nature’. So, the Tathagatagarbha Sutra is simply a teaching on Buddha Nature, a teaching on what he realized upon his enlightenment. He taught:

“when I regard all beings with my buddha eye, I see that hidden within the klesas [negative mental traits] of greed, desire, anger, and stupidity there is seated augustly and unmovingly the Buddha’s wisdom, the Buddha’s vision, and the Buddha’s body.”

This statement is quite remarkable! He is saying that Buddha Nature, what he realized, is hidden by our bad desires. In other words, it’s already there, just covered up!


He further teaches:

“Good sons, all beings, though they find themselves with all sorts of klesas, have a Buddha Nature that is eternally unsullied, and that is replete with virtues no different from my own. Moreover, good sons, it is just like a person with supernatural vision who can see the bodies of Buddhas seated in the lotus position inside the flowers, even though the petals are not yet unfurled; whereas after the wilted petals have been removed, those Buddhas are manifested for all to see. In similar fashion, the Buddha can really see the Buddha Nature of sentient beings. And because he wants to disclose the Buddha Nature to them, he expounds the sutras and the Dharma, in order to destroy klesas and reveal the buddha nature.”

He teaches that this true nature is exactly like his own. In other words, we all share the same nature as the Buddha. We’re effectively all Buddhas. We just haven’t realized it yet.


The Buddha also teaches that this true nature is eternally present. It doesn’t come and go, but has always been there and always will. A little thought should reveal that something that is the true nature of an individual must always be there. It is the core of existence. If it can go away, then it cannot be true nature. This constancy and ever-present characteristic of Buddha Nature is a clear clue as to how to identify it. To realize our true nature, we need to look at ourselves and identify what is always there and always has been. When we find it, we will have realized our true nature.


The teaching states that this true nature is present in all sentient beings. In the teachings, sentient beings include humans and non-human animals. So, the true nature is common to man and all animals. This, by itself, is remarkable and suggests that killing an animal is destroying a being with Buddha Nature. This clearly suggests that humans should not kill animals and eat meat, but rather choose to sustain themselves with non-animal, vegetarian, food sources. This, as it turns out is more difficult to do than apparent. This issue will be revisited in a later chapter.


The Buddha expounds in the Sutra that his teachings are simply there to help us eliminate these negative desires, so we can see what’s behind, our true nature; the same nature as his, the unchanging and eternal nature, the true nature of all sentient beings. The teaching indicates that we do not realize this true nature because we are blinded by our baser nature, by our greed, desire, anger, and stupidity. So, all we need to do to realize our true nature as a Buddha is to do is destroy these negative mental traits. But, as we will see, this can be very hard to accomplish.


The Sutra continues:

“Good sons, such is the Dharma of all the buddhas. Whether or not buddhas appear in the world, the Buddha Nature of all beings are eternal and unchanging. It is just that they are covered by sentient beings’ klesas. When the Buddha appears in the world, he expounds the Dharma far and wide to remove their ignorance and tribulation and to purify their universal wisdom.”

The teaching here becomes redundant. The repetition suggests that the Buddha believes that this is a very important point that bears repeating. But, again he points to the fact that our true nature is, has been, and always will be present whether or not there is a great teacher like the Buddha to see it. It doesn’t depend upon an enlightened being to reveal it. It’s simply always there, just hidden by our bad desires. The presence of a Buddha is simply that of a teacher to spread the teachings to help everyone who is willing to listen and practice to realize their own true nature.


The Sutra continues:

“Good sons, if there is a bodhisattva who has faith in this teaching and who practices it single-mindedly, he will attain liberation and true, universal enlightenment, and for the sake of the world he will perform buddha deeds far and wide.”

In this teaching, he reiterates that we need to follow the teachings in order to remove the bad desires and reveal our Buddha Nature, not attain it, simply realize it! Once realized, the individual becomes a Buddha who should continue to spread the teachings by word and example. The optimistic message here is that everyone can realize their true nature and become a Buddha. We need just need to practice them single-mindedly, with determination and dilligence.


This Tathagatagarbha Sutra is a hidden gem of the Buddha’s teachings. It reveals to us a fundamental flaw in most people spiritual endeavors. We believe that we are trying to find something that is not already there, to attain a state that we don’t already have, to fundamentally change. The Sutra clearly states that this is the wrong path. We already have what we are seeking. We already have true, Buddha, nature. We simply need to realize it. In addition, the Sutra reveals that we don’t see it because of our greed, desire, anger, and stupidity, our baser tendencies. Get rid of them and all will be obvious. So, the Sutra shows us the way to realize our enlightened nature.


“Even in the midst of suffering, it is possible to bring your awareness to the good qualities within yourself and allow them to manifest in your consciousness. Practice mindful breathing to remind yourself of your Buddha nature, of the great compassion and understanding in you.” – Thich Nhat Hahn


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are available at the Contemplative Studies Blog

They are also available on Google+ and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

Spirituality is Associated with Greater Resilience in College Students

Spirituality is Associated with Greater Resilience in College Students


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


for many people, religion, personal beliefs and spirituality are a source of comfort, wellbeing, security, meaning, sense of belonging, purpose and strength.” – World Health Organization


Spirituality is defined as “one’s personal affirmation of and relationship to a higher power or to the sacred. 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.


Stress is ubiquitous in people’s lives and it can interfere with the individual’s ability to achieve their goals and maintain psychological well-being.  When highly stressed, resilience is required to cope with the stress and prevent its negative impact on psychological well-being. It would seem likely that since both spirituality and resilience are related to psychological well-being that they would be related to each other.


In today’s Research News article “Relationship between aggression and individual resilience with the mediating role of spirituality in academic students – A path analysis.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at:, Sadeghifard and colleagues recruited university students and had them complete measures of spirituality, aggression, and resilience. They then analyzed the relationships between these variables with structural equation modelling.


They found that the higher the levels of spirituality the higher the levels of resilience. While the higher the levels of resilience the lower the levels of aggression. They also found that spirituality was related to resilience both directly and indirectly. Structural equation modelling revealed that spirituality was directly related to higher levels of resilience and also indirectly by being related to lower levels of aggression which was, in turn, was related to higher resilience.


The study was correlational. So, causation cannot be determined. Nevertheless, the ability to effectively cope with stress and life’s difficulties, resilience, is an important part of maintaining psychological well-being and resilience appears to be impaired by aggression. Spirituality is known to contribute to psychological well-being and it is related to both lower levels of aggression and higher levels of resilience. It can be speculated that the relationship of spirituality to mental health results from its negative relationship with aggression and its positive relationship with resilience.


So, spirituality may make college students more resilient and thereby improve their psychological well-being.


for many people, religion, personal beliefs and spirituality are a source of comfort, wellbeing, security, meaning, sense of belonging, purpose and strength.” – Olivia Goldhill


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


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


Study Summary


Sadeghifard, Y. Z., Veisani, Y., Mohamadian, F., Azizifar, A., Naghipour, S., & Aibod, S. (2020). Relationship between aggression and individual resilience with the mediating role of spirituality in academic students – A path analysis. Journal of education and health promotion, 9, 2.




The importance of spirituality and spiritual growth in humans has been increasingly taken to attention by psychologists and mental health professionals. In this study, we aimed to investigate the relationship between the tendency to aggression and individual resilience also considering the role of mediator of spirituality in academic students by path analysis.


A cross-sectional study was conducted using structural equation method (SEM). The target population consisted all of undergraduate academic students in Ilam, Iran University of Applied Sciences, in 2018. Participants included 200 people whom were selected by stratified random sampling. Data collection tools were demographic, Buss and Perry aggression, spirituality assessment, and resiliency of Connor and Davidson questionnaire. In this study, bivariate analysis was used to determine the directionality correlation between the study variables.


The results showed that there was a significant and positive correlation between spirituality and resilience (r = 154% r = 83%). Furthermore, there was a negative and nonsignificant relationship between aggression with resiliency (r = −122% P = 101). In addition, there was no significant correlation between the aggression and spirituality (r = 0.05%, P = 0.942). The results of SEM showed that spirituality and aggression can predict about 20% of the variations in the degree of resilience in academic students. Accordingly, the results of SEM spirituality in an indirect path reduce the aggression and thus increase the resilience (r = 0.102).


The results of this study showed the effect of spirituality on increasing the level of resilience and also positive mediator role of spirituality between aggression and resiliency.