This is the Brain on Meditation – Major Depressive Disorder

Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) is a severe mood disorder that includes mood dysregulation and cognitive impairment. It is estimated that 16 million adults in the U.S. (6.9% of the population suffered from major depression in the past year and affects females (8.4%) to a great extent than males (5.2%). It is second-leading cause of disability in the world following heart disease.

The usual treatment of choice for MDD is drug treatment. In fact, it is estimated that 10% of the U.S. population is taking some form of antidepressant medication. But a substantial proportion of patients (~40%) do not respond to drug treatment. In addition the drugs can have nasty side effects. So, there is need to explore other treatment options. Mindfulness meditation is a safe alternative that has been shown to be effective for major depressive disorder even in individuals who do not respond to drug treatment. (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/dealing-with-major-depression-when-drugs-fail/ ).

In today’s Research News article “The effect of body-mind relaxation meditation induction on major depressive disorder: A resting-state fMRI study”

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1071024146254844/?type=1&theater

Chen and colleagues explore potential brain mechanisms for meditation effects on depression. They observed neural activity in patients with MDD before and after a mindfulness meditation exercise. They observed decreased activity in the frontal pole and increased connectivity between the right side dorsal medial prefrontal cortex (r-dmPFC) and both the left side dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex (l-dlPFC) and the left side orbitofrontal cortex (l-OFC).

The frontal pole area of the brain has been shown to be heavily involved in evaluation, monitoring, or manipulation of internally generated information, basically thinking without an external referent. One of the characterizing features of depression is rumination, which is a repetitive thought pattern involving worry about past troublesome events. Hence rumination comprises negative internal thoughts without external referents. This has the effect of amplifying the depression as worry about depression produces more depression which produces worry about the depression, etc. So, decreased activity of the frontal pole would signal that after meditation there is a reduced tendency for rumination. This suggests that meditation may in part reduce depressive symptoms by reducing frontal pole meditated rumination.

The increased connectivity between the r-dmPFC and both the l-dlPFC and the (l-OFC is significant as these areas have been implicated in cognitive reappraisal, a strategy to regulate emotions by reinterpreting their meaning from a negative interpretation to a more positive one. For example rather than the feeling surrounding an emotion signaling that the individual is upset and unhappy, it is reinterpreted to mean that the individual is sensitive and empathetic toward other people. So, meditation by improving communications between these areas helps the individual to better and more positively interpret the feeling that they’re experiencing, moving them away from thoughts about depression toward thoughts about more uplifting characteristics.

Hence it appears that even a brief meditation practice can alter the activity of the brain in such a way as to relieve depression.

So, meditate and induce your brain to relieve depression.

CMCS

Have a Healthy Relationship with Mindfulness

Relationships can be challenging especially when one partner has medical needs that need to be provided by the spouse. This puts great strain on a relationship and engenders a wide range of emotional responses from compassion, to guilt, to anger, to depression.

In a previous post we discussed how mindfulness training can be employed to help relieve pain http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/mindfulness-the-pain-killer/. But, how does mindfulness affect pain in a social environment? In particular, can mindfulness in a caregiver make it easier to assist a chronic pain patient? In today’s Research News article “Spousal Mindfulness and Social Support in Couples with Chronic Pain”

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1070466376310621/?type=1&theater

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4013202/

Williams and colleagues explore this very question and find that spouses with high mindfulness were better caregivers.

When a spouse was high in mindful non-judging and non-reacting they were much less likely to meet a spouses behavior with negative responses. Spouses who mindfully act with awareness are perceived by the pain patient as more responsive, providing more support, and less negative. These characteristics are very important for maintaining a positive and supportive environment. Hence, the spouse’s mindfulness has a big impact on their ability to maintain an atmosphere conducive to effective assistance with chronic pain. It is always good to have empirical evidence, but the results here are not surprising. They fit with how mindful people act in general. They are more positive, empathetic, less critical and handle stress better.

Mindfulness has been shown to increase emotion regulation, the ability to feel emotions fully and to effectively respond to them. A spousal relationship, especially when taxed by one partner having a medical condition, can be full of emotion. For a healthy relationship these emotions must not be denied or suppressed but fully felt yet without allowing them to produce behaviors that would make things worse. This emotion regulation characteristic of mindful individuals may underlie why they can be effective caregivers.

Another stress of caring for a chronically ill person is that the caregiver can perceive the future negatively. It would be easy to catastrophize, by seeing things to be bad and getting worse leading to an intolerable situation. This could lead to a feeling of hopelessness. In addition, the interactions with the ill spouse can then be colored by the vision of a terrible future. Mindfulness, by focusing the caregiving spouse on the present moment and appreciating what is right in front of him/her can mitigate catastrophizing. This has been well documented in the research literature. This obviously would lead to better interactions and more effective caregiving.

Finally, caregiving can be very stressful. This can lead to negative emotions and can be detrimental to the caregiving spouse’s health. Since mindfulness training has been well documented to reduce responses to stress, both emotional and physical, the impact of the stress on the mindful spouse would be mitigated.

So, be mindful and have a better relationship even when your spouse is ill.

CMCS

 

Be Positive with Loving-Kindness Meditation

There is a long history in psychology of a focus on mental illnesses and uncomfortable states. In other words, psychology was very much focused on the negative. Over the last couple of decades, however, a new movement has emerged in psychology to focus on the positive, to look for the effects of positive emotions and states and for ways to increase these positive states.

Meditation has been found to not only reduce negative conditions but to also increase positive states such as joy, love, and happiness. As a result positive psychology has become very interested in studying meditation effects.  Loving Kindness Meditation (LKM) is specifically designed to develop positive feelings toward the self and others.  In LKM the meditator focuses on repeatedly wishing positive things, wellness, safety, happiness, health etc. for oneself and toward multiple other people from loved ones to enemies. (See http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/loving-kindness-meditation-and-the-disease-of-the-west/)

LKM has been shown to improve positive mood and improve social interactions (See https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1043326459024613/?type=1&theater

http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/loving-kindness-meditation-and-social-function/). In today’s Research News article “The interventional effects of loving-kindness meditation on positive emotions and interpersonal interactions”

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1069935599697032/?type=1&theater

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4450657/

He and colleagues demonstrated that a brief loving-kindness meditation practice increased positive emotions, interpersonal interactions, and complex understanding of others and decreased negative emotions in Chinese college students.

So, practicing Loving-Kindness Meditation can make you feel more positive toward yourself and others, can improve your interactions with others, and can even make you more understanding of the complexities of human nature. Once we develop compassion and kindness toward ourselves and others, which is the object of Loving-Kindness Meditation, it markedly alters not only our feelings towards ourselves and others, but also allows the cognitive understandings to grow and blossom.

These positive feelings and understandings of ourselves and others has wide ranging consequences. It appears to improve mental and physical health, increase longevity, change neural structures, make us better at coping with stress, improve social connections, and make us feel better about ourselves.

It’s quite remarkable that such a simple technique can have such profound consequences. This seems to support the old saying that “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar”. You can get much more good things done by emphasizing the positive than attempting to fix the negative. Along the same lines, it’s long been known in psychology that learning occurs much more swiftly and permanently with positive rewards than avoidance of punishment. Once again positivity is much more effective than negativity.

So, practice Loving Kindness Meditation and be positive.

CMCS

Why are we Spiritual/Religious?

Spirituality/Religion are characteristic of humans from the earliest recorded history. Even today in an increasingly material world with all of the advances of science, Spirituality/Religion persists and in some areas thrives. In addition, as people get older they become more and more spiritual or religious. What accounts for its pervasiveness? Why is it so ubiquitous in wide ranging societies from primitive to very advanced, widespread areas throughout the globe, and over wildly different eras of recorded history?

I believe that the pervasiveness of Spirituality/Religion results from an ever-present unchanging awareness. When looking at our sensory experience we come to realize that there is something that appears to be seeing, hearing, touching, tasting smelling, feeling. There is something that seems to be looking out through our eyes, listening through our ears, etc. There seems to be something there that is constantly witnessing whatever is going on in the environment. There even appears to be something there that is listening to our thoughts and internal speech, that’s observing us reviewing our memories, and that’s watching us plan for the future.

Whatever it is, it appears to be always present and always the same. As we’ve aged it’s always been there and has never seemed to vary. When we were a child we had the same awareness that we now have as adults. Our ability to think, our storehouse of knowledge and experiences, our wisdom, our bodies, and our emotions have all changed over the years. But that which is witnessing it all has never changed.

This internal entity appears to be making decisions and guiding behavior. It is the unseen chooser. It is the ever present director of our actions. It is what’s responsible for our volition, our free will. It doesn’t actually guide the details of action. These seem to be well learned and have become automatic. Rather, it appears to be what lies beneath making the decisions and guiding and directing the general course of our actions.

It is that never changing sense of presence, of being, of watching, of willing, of choosing that makes us feel that there has to be more than simply physical existence. We experience it as something that transcends the physical, something that cannot be simply explained by biology, physics, and chemistry, something that isn’t just a very complex computational device in action. It is the underlying awareness, presence, and being that just seems to be our spiritual self.

We are aware of this even if we can’t put our fingers on it exactly. There just seems to be something enduring and special about us that transcends the physical. This leaves us in a quandary. We can understand and work with the material world. But, how can we grasp awareness? What does it all mean?

This is where religion comes in. It provides an explanation for where it comes from what it is, and where it’s going. This can be very comforting. If we can’t quite accept someone else’s explanation as outlined in the texts or dogma of the religion, then the approaches of eastern spirituality become a solution. We can seek out an understanding through contemplative practices. These approaches do not provide answers but produce comfort by providing a methodology, the answers can be found through internal reflection.

All of this is not necessarily processed in a logical way or even in a conscious way. But regardless, the urge to grasp and understand our being is compelling. It motivates the need for a frame of reference for existence. Spirituality/Religion provides that. It always has and probably always will. Right or wrong, it satisfies a very basic human need and so is likely to continue far into the future.

CMCS

Spiraling Up with Mindfulness!

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Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) was designed to treat depression. It has been so effective that the British Medical Service considers it a treatment of choice for depression. In a prior post http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/dealing-with-major-depression-when-drugs-fail/ the effectiveness of MBCT for depression was discussed. The relief of depression was evident even with depressed individuals who did not respond to antidepressant drugs.

Depression is characterized by negative mood states. But, depression is also supported by thought processes which tend to emphasize the negative. In addition the depressed individual tends to particularly pay attention to negative stimuli. They even contribute to their negativity by interpreting ambiguous situations as negative and even tend to see their own thoughts in a negative light. This creates a negative downward spiral where a depressed mood is interpreted negatively, for instance as indicative of low self-worth, which increases the depression, where they pick out the negative to focus on from all that is available in daily life, increasing depression, where even neutral events are seen as negative, increasing depression. So, depression leads to more depression which leads to more depression etc., a negative spiral into the depths of depression.

MBCT combines cognitive therapy for depression, which aims to alter the thought processes that reinforce the depression, and mindful meditation practice, which enhances focus on the present moment. Since depression is often characterized by rumination which is repetitive thoughts about negative past or future events, mindfulness training by its emphasis on staying in the present moment tends to markedly reduce ruminative thinking. (http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/depression/ ). Hence, there are clear reasons for MBCT’s effectiveness as it combines two components, CBT and meditation, each of which individually are effective for relief of depression and prevention of relapse.

It is obvious that depression emphasizes the negative. In fact, depressed individuals are not only characterized by increased negativity they also have very little if any positive feelings or thoughts. One way that MBCT is thought to ameliorate depression is by increasing positive thoughts as well as decreasing negative thoughts. In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness training promotes upward spirals of positive affect and cognition: multilevel and autoregressive latent trajectory modeling analyses”

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1068976086459650/?type=1&theater

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4313604/

Garland and colleagues investigated how MBCT works on a day to day basis in improving positive mood and thoughts in depressed individuals in remission and find that it creates a positive upward spiral of thoughts and feelings, the exact opposite of untreated depression.

They found as others have that MBCT tended to increase positive thoughts and feelings. But, in looking day to day after the end of the active treatment phase they observed that each day the positive feelings tended to increase the positive thoughts and feelings on the next day which in turn increased the positive thoughts and feelings on the next day etc. leading to an upward spiral where positivity led to greater positivity which led to even greater positivity. Hence the combination of CBT with mindfulness training creates an emotionally driven upward spiral by stimulating positive thoughts and feelings among people with deficits in positive feelings.

Hence MBCT relieves the negative thoughts and feelings and in addition produces a cascade in the opposite direction of positive thoughts and feelings. No wonder it’s so effective.

So, practice mindfulness and spiral up!

CMCS

 

Age Healthily – Yoga for Arthritis

Yoga arthritis

Arthritis is a chronic disease that most commonly affects the joints. Depending on the type of arthritis symptoms may include pain, stiffness, swelling, redness, and decreased range of motion. It affects an estimated 52.5 million adults in the United States. It is associated with aging as arthritis occurs in only 7% of adults ages 18–44, while 30% adults ages 45–64 are affected, and 50% of adults ages 65 or older. Due to complications associated with arthritis, the lifespan for people with RA may be shortened by 10 years.

The pain, stiffness, and lack of mobility associate with arthritis produce fatigue and markedly reduce the quality of life of the sufferers. It can have very negative psychological effects diminishing the individual’s self-image and may lead to depression, isolation, and withdrawal from friends and social activities. It even affects the individual’s physical appearance. As the quality of life deteriorates the individual can feel a loss of control and become anxious about the future. Stress can build and influence the individual’s attitude toward life and can lead to frustration, anger, and hopelessness.

Arthritis reduces the individual’s ability to function at work and may require modifications of work activities. This can lead to financial difficulties. The normal chores at home may take much longer to accomplish and the individual may need the help of a relative or caregiver. Hence, it can produce stress on the entire family system.

It is obvious that there is a need for a safe and effective treatment to help the suffer cope with the disease and its consequences. Increasing exercise has been shown to increase flexibility and mobility but many form of exercise are difficult for the arthritis sufferer to engage in and many drop out. Recently, yoga practice has been adapted for the treatment of arthritis sufferers.

In today’s Research News article “Yoga in Sedentary Adults with Arthritis: Effects of a Randomized Controlled Pragmatic Trial”

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1068583096498949/?type=1&theater

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4490021/

Moonaz and colleagues tested 8-weeks of yoga practice for the treatment of rheumatoid and osteoarthritis. They found that yoga improved physical activity and physical and psychological health, and the quality of life of the arthritis sufferers. Yoga increased walking capacity, flexibility, pain, general health, vitality and mental health including reduced depression and negative emotions. In addition the positive effects were still present 9 months later.

It appears that the positive effects of yoga on the psychological health of arthritis sufferers was due to the reduction in physical symptoms and their consequences. All of this, of course, increases perceived quality of life. In addition, participation rates for yoga were higher than those for other exercise programs. This suggests that yoga is not only safe and effective for the treatment of arthritis but it is also acceptable producing better adherence to the regimen.

In addition, yoga has been shown to help individual age healthily in other ways. It decreases cellular ageing

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1053553098001949/?type=1&theater

http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/aging-healthily-yoga-and-cellular-aging/

and protects the brain from age related degeneration

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1050712994952626/?type=1&theater

http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/age-healthily-protect-the-brain-with-yoga/

and decreases age related physical decline.

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1015482441809015/?type=1&theater

http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/age-healthily-yoga/

So, practice yoga to deal with arthritis and age healthily.

CMCS

 

Get the Brain to Reduce Anxiety with Meditation

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Anxiety is a very common emotional state. It is a state characterized by feelings of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. For most people occasional anxiety is manageable. But for many it is chronic or extreme in magnitude and can have a major disruptive effect on their lives.

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S. It is estimated that 40 million people or 18% of the population will experience impairment due to of an anxiety condition this year. Although treatable only about a third will receive treatment. About 5% of the U.S. population takes anti-anxiety prescription medications. But many self-medicate as alcohol and recreational drugs are frequently used to cope with anxiety. To make matters worse people who experience anxiety and stress have a very high propensity for drug abuse and addictions. In addition, anti-anxiety medications are frequently used, especially by young people, for recreational purposes

Hence, it is important to find an alternative to drugs for the treatment of anxiety. Contemplative practices would appear to be well suited for the role. Anxiety is a concern about a potential negative occurrence in the future. By training the individual to focus on the present moment contemplative practices can mitigate the importance of the future and thereby reduce anxiety. Indeed, contemplative practices have been found to be quite effective for treating anxiety (See previous post http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/the-mindfulness-cure-for-social-anxiety/)

Contemplative practices are known to have profound effects on the structure and function of the nervous system. So, it would be expected that the anti-anxiety effects of meditation would have associated changes in the brain. In today’s Research News article “Neural correlates of mindfulness meditation-related anxiety relief”

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1067999769890615/?type=1&theater

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4040088/

Zeidan and colleagues found that mindfulness meditation reduced anxiety by activating a network of brain regions including anterior cingulate and prefrontal cortex and insula while reducing activity in the posterior cingulate cortex.

The anterior cingulate and prefrontal cortex and insula have been shown to be involved in emotion regulation. So, it is no surprise that they should be activated as meditation lowers anxiety. The posterior cingulate cortex is a part of what is called the default mode network that is involved in mind wandering and ruminative thinking. Again, it is no surprise that the area responsible for rumination and worry would have its activity decreased in concert with meditation induced reduction in anxiety. Both of these mechanisms would be expected to enhance self-awareness processes particularly of the present moment, increase emotion regulation and decrease rumination and thereby produce anxiety relief.

Hence, meditation would appear to be an ideal treatment for anxiety. It is safe and effective and appears to act by altering nervous system activity. Continued meditation practice has been shown to produce lasting changes in these areas. So, meditation would appear to not just be a quick fix but a lasting treatment for the scourge of anxiety.

So, change the brain with meditation and reduce anxiety.

CMCS

 

Be Mindful of the “Shoulds” and “Coulds”

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Humans torment themselves with “shoulds” and “coulds”. “Things should be this way.” “I could have made a different choice.” “He could have done this for her.” “She shouldn’t have said that.” “I should work harder.” My son should call home more often.” “I shouldn’t have done that.” “I should plan more for the future.” “I could go to church more often.” “I should be doing better,” etc. The list could go on endlessly.

All of these “shoulds” and “coulds” do nothing to change anything except for our happiness. They produce regrets, dismay, and dislike of ourselves and others. Since “should” and “could” imply that we are not acting or feeling as we might, it suggests that we are flawed. This then becomes the source for low self-esteem. Since “should” implies that others aren’t as good as we’d like or expect them to be, it suggests they are unworthy. This then becomes the source for gossip, putting others down, and dislike.

Every time that we say “should” or “could” it is a blatant admission that we’re unhappy with ourselves, things, or others as they are. We want them to be different. The discrepancy between what is and what we want it to be makes us unhappy with the way they are. This is the very essence of suffering. How can one be happy if thing are not right, if they “should” or “could” be different.

The secret to happiness is learning to accept things as they are. This doesn’t mean that we like or endorse what is, we simply accept it as reality. We can see all of the suffering and injustice in the world, not like it, and prefer that it wasn’t there, but recognizing that this is the way it is. This then suggests that the key to our happiness is learning to accept the world, ourselves, and others just as they are.

How can we do this? Mindfulness practice is a key to accepting things as they are. It helps us focus on the present moment. “Shoulds” and “coulds” revolve around the past. Being in the now there can be no “should” or “coulds”. There is only what is at the moment.

If we pay careful attention to the present moment we can begin to see that nothing is lacking. Everything that is needed right now is completely present. There is wonder and beauty in what is present in front of us. Happiness can become a simple constant state. It’s not an ecstasy or a high, but an enduring state of joy. If we can open our eyes without “should” or “could” it is more than possible, it is inevitable.

Unfortunately, there always seems to be this inner voice reminding us of what “should” or “could” be or have been. It is hard to be happy when we’re being constantly reminded by ourselves that things would be better if they were different. To find that happiness that is always there inside us, we need to quiet that voice or recognize that it is only a thought and let it go. This is where practice comes in. We must work at it. We have too long a history of busy minds and listening to the inner voice. It will take a while to learn a different way.

Stick with the practice. Be persistent. It will slowly begin to quite the mind. We will gradually learn to recognize that the inner voice is only a thought produced by a deluded mind and learn to ignore it, just let it pass through like a piece of dust in the wind. Remember, that if we’re willing to invest this time and effort we can indeed find the peace and happiness that is always present right here and right now.

So, practice and learn to find joy in things as they are.

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

Improve Physical Health with Yoga

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Yoga is an ancient practice. Its longevity would suggest that it has observable benefits for its practitioners. Although for years anecdotal evidence supported this notion, it has only recently been demonstrated with modern controlled research studies that yoga indeed is beneficial for health and well-being.

In a previous post, yoga practice was shown to reduce the symptoms of the Metabolic Syndrome a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1045854842105108/?type=1&theater

http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/heart-healthy-yoga/

In another previous post, it was demonstrated the yoga practice improves the immune system

http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/healthy-balance-through-yoga/

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1011595585531034/?type=1&theater

and in yet another post, yoga was shown to delay the decline in strength and flexibility on ageing individuals.

http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/age-healthily-yoga/

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1015482441809015/?type=1&theater

In today’s Research News article “Effects of a 12-Week Hatha Yoga Intervention on Cardiorespiratory Endurance, Muscular Strength and Endurance, and Flexibility in Hong Kong Chinese Adults: A Controlled Clinical Trial.”

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1066686320021960/?type=1&theater

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4475706/

Lau and colleagues demonstrate that yoga improves cardiorespiratory endurance, muscular strength and endurance, and flexibility in both male and female adults.

One of the keys to any program for physical health is its acceptability. There are a large number of different varieties of fitness programs all of which can improve health if practiced. But many are disliked by participants who discontinue participation or only sporadically engage in the program. Lau and colleagues found that that people like yoga practice and so stick with it. Participants attended 94% of the available classes and only 11% dropped out. A practice is only as good a people’s willingness to engage in it and yoga practice appears to pass this test, making it a very good choice for physical health.

The fact that yoga is often practiced in groups may account, in part, for its enjoyability and the high participation rates. The presence of others provides support and camaraderie. The participant discussions that can precede and follow the practice can be helpful in learning about the progressions and difficulties encountered by others, making one’s own difficulties seem more normal and acceptable and setting more realistic expectations for future progress.

It would be expected that yoga would improve muscular strength and flexibility. After all that is what it’s designed to do. But the improvement in cardiovascular endurance is an important bonus. Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in the U.S. killing 800,000 people each year. The observed improvement in cardiorespiratory endurance along with the prior findings of effectiveness for metabolic syndrome, suggest that yoga could help prevent cardiovascular disease and increase longevity.

So, practice the enjoyable exercise of yoga and improve your health.

CMCS

 

Burnout Burnout with Mindfulness

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Stress is epidemic in the western workplace with almost two thirds of workers reporting high levels of stress at work. In high stress occupations burnout is all too prevalent. This is the fatigue, cynicism, and professional inefficacy that comes with work-related stress.

Healthcare is a high stress occupation. It is estimated that over 45% of healthcare workers experience burnout with emergency medicine at the top of the list, over half experiencing burnout. With there being a shortage of doctors and nurses preventing existing healthcare workers from burning out is a priority.

How can burnout be prevented or mitigated? One potential treatment is mindfulness training. A study investigating mindfulness’ association with burnout in emergency room nurses is reported in today’s Research News article “Protective benefits of mindfulness in emergency room personnel. Journal of affective disorders”

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1066150153408910/?type=1&theater

Westphal and colleagues report that indeed stress is prevalent in the ER. It is most frequently associated with interpersonal conflicts and large numbers of consecutive days working. But mindfulness appeared to help as high mindfulness was associated with lower levels of anxiety, depression, and burnout in the ER nurses.

Mindfulness may help in this high stress context by helping with the interpersonal conflicts that are reported to be at the root of their stress and burnout. Mindfulness has been shown to improve interpersonal relationships and social connectedness. This may be very helpful in dealing effectively with co-workers and thereby reducing stress and improving social resources for dealing with the stress.

Mindfulness has also been shown to reduce distress contagion. This occurs when one person observes another suffering a disease or injury and experiences in one’s physical body a similar or related distress. This is common in nurse–patient relationship particularly with empathetic nurses. In fact, this distress contagion is the physical equivalent to empathy. By reducing this distress contagion mindfulness may be reducing stress and burnout.

Mindfulness has also been shown to improve emotion regulation. Mindful people are better at recognizing their emotions and responding to them effectively. Mindful people experience emotions fully, but recognize them and don’t let them dictate what they do. This allows them to work effectively in an emotionally charged environment like the ER.

Finally, mindfulness is known to reduce the psychological and physical responses to stress. Being mindful doesn’t inoculate the individual from stress. Rather it blunts stress’ effects on them. This occurs on a physical level with lower stress hormone responses and lower sympathetic activation in response to stress. It also occurs on the psychological level with less anxiety and depression produced by the stress.

So, burnout burnout with mindfulness!

CMCS