Religion-Spirituality Improve Mental Health

Spirituality Mental Health Goncalves2


“Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude.” – Denis Waitley


Religion and spirituality have been promulgated as solutions to the challenges of life both in a transcendent sense and in a practical sense. On a transcendent level western religions promise a better life in an afterlife while eastern practices promise an escape from suffering and the cycle of birth and death. On a more mundane level western religions promise feelings of self-control, compassion, and fulfillment while eastern practices promise greater happiness and mindfulness.


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 (see mostly showing positive benefits. In today’s Research News article “Religious and spiritual interventions in mental health care: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled clinical trials”

Gonçalves and colleagues review the published literature on the effects of randomized controlled trials of religious and spiritual practices on psychological health. In these studies the spiritual practices involved ”themes such as moral values, belief in a ‘high power’, coping and transcendence, and others in the form of therapeutic models, audiovisual resources and meditation. Religious approaches explored the beliefs and specific traditions of Catholics, Jews and Muslims, conducted in pastoral services and therapeutic models.” The studies compared the results of the interventions to the results of secular therapy, disease education, or wait list controls.


They found that religious or spiritual interventions produced significant improvements in psychological health, particularly in anxiety levels. The interventions that included meditation or psychotherapy were especially effective. These results, summarizing the literature on active interventions that were either religious or spiritual in orientation, clearly show that these practices have mental health benefits in comparison to secular interventions. It is important to note that in these studies groups were randomly assigned and active interventions employed. It is thus reasonable to conclude that the religious or spiritual practices were the cause of improved mental health. Hence, scientific analysis was able to confirm some practical psychological benefits of religious and spiritual practices.


So, engage in religious and/or spiritual practices to improve mental health.


“The world sometimes feels like an insane asylum. You can decide whether you want to be an inmate or pick up your visitor’s badge. You can be in the world but not engage in the melodrama of it; you can become a spiritual being having a human experience thoroughly and fully.” – Deepak Chopra


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Improve Physical Well-being with Bikram Yoga

Yoga Bikram Hewett2

“My system works, as long as people let me do my job my way. It is not just the sequence, it is how you do it: the timing, the mirrors, the temperature, the carpet. But if people only do it 99% right, it is 100% wrong. When someone tries to mess with it, the people won’t get the yoga benefits.”Bikram Choudhury


Yoga practice has been shown to improve physical well-being (see But, there are a large number of different types of yoga practice including Ansura, Ashtanga, Bikram, Hatha, Hot Yoga, Iyengar, Jivamukti, Kripalu, Kundalini, Prenatal, Restorative, Viniypga, Vinyasa, and yin. One problem with the research on yoga effects is that different researchers use different types of yoga. So, it is difficult to compare results. In addition, the studies do not establish the relative effectiveness of each type of yoga.


Bikram Yoga is somewhat unique in that it employs a set sequence of 26 poses (asanas) and two breathing exercises. It is practiced in a heated environment (105°F, 40.6°C, 40% humidity) and there is a unique programmed instructional dialogue. The hot environment is thought to soften the muscles making them more pliable and loosen the joints making them more flexible allowing the practitioner to go deeper into poses. The sweating that occurs is thought to help remove toxins and impurities.


In today’s Research News article “The Effects of Bikram Yoga on Health: Critical Review and Clinical Trial Recommendations”

Hewett and colleagues review the published research on the effectiveness of Bikram Yoga on physical well-being. They report that in terms of physical fitness, Bikram Yoga increases lower body range of motion, balance, isometric dead-lift strength, isometric maximal voluntary contraction, total hip bone density, and balance compared to the control group. It appears to improve cardiovascular fitness, increasing carotid artery compliance and decreasing beta-stiffness, and HDL and total cholesterol. In overweight and obese practitioners Bikram Yoga improved a number of metabolic markers including blood lipids, insulin resistance, and glucose tolerance. Psychologically, this form of yoga appears to reduce perceived stress and increase mindfulness.


These are important findings suggesting that Bikram Yoga is effective in improving fitness, cardiovascular, health, and psychological well-being. The reviewed research studies were limited and did not investigate many other physical and mental parameters and did not investigate Bikram Yoga’s applicability to the treatment of diseases. Unfortunately, the research studies reviewed did not compare Bikram Yoga to other forms of yoga, so it is not known what if any of the reported benefits are specific to Bikram Yoga and which are in common with other practices. This review is an important first step in documenting the effects of Bikram Yoga which are shown to be widely beneficial. It is clear that much more research is warranted comparing the effects of the different forms of practice.


Regardless, the results are clear that you can improve well-being with Bikram Yoga.


“To sweat is to pray, to make an offering of your innermost self. Sweat is holy water, prayer beads, pearls of liquid that release your past. Sweat is an ancient and universal form of self healing, whether done in the gym, the sauna, or the sweat lodge … The more you sweat, the more you pray. The more you pray, the closer you come to ecstasy.”  – Gabrielle Roth
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


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



Feel Better about Hearing Voices with Mindfulness



“I lie on the floor, washed by nothing and hanging on. I cry at night. I am afraid of hearing voices, or a voice. I have come to the edge, of the land. I could get pushed over.”  ― Margaret Atwood


Hearing voices (auditory hallucinations) is seen as a prime symptom of psychosis andis considered a first rank symptom of schizophrenia. There are actually three main psychiatric categories of patients that hear voices; schizophrenia, affective psychosis, and dissociative disorders. Neuroimaging has demonstrated that the voices that people hear are experienced as if there were a real person talking to them with the same brain areas becoming active during voice hearing as during listening to actual speech. So, it would appear that voice hearers are actually experiencing voices.


Hearing voices, however, is not always indicative of psychosis. Around 2% – 4% of the population reports hearing voices. But, only about a third of voice hearers are considered psychotic. On the other hand, about two thirds of voice hearers are quite healthy and function well. They cope effectively with the voices they’re hearing, do not receive the diagnosis of psychosis, and do not require psychiatric care.


The differences between psychotics and the healthy people who hear voices, is not in the form but the content of the heard speech. Non-psychotic individuals hear voices both inside and outside their head just like the psychotic patients but either the content is positive or the individual feels positive about the voice or that they are in control of it. By contrast the psychotic patients are frightened of the voices, the voices are more malevolent, and they feel less control over them. So what accounts for the differences? One possibility is mindfulness, being focused non-judgmentally in the present moment.


There is recent information linking auditory hallucinations (hearing voices) with dissociation which can be thought of as a detachment from reality rather than a loss of reality. The types of dissociation that have been found to be associated with hearing voices are dissociative amnesia, absorption, and depersonalization. Dissociative amnesia occurs when the individual blocks out certain information, usually associated with a stressful or traumatic event, leaving him or her unable to remember important personal information. Absorption occurs when an individual becomes absorbed in his or her mental imagery, particularly fantasy. Finally, depersonalization occurs when an individual feels disconnected or detached from their own body and thoughts, sometimes feeling like they are observing themselves from outside the body or like being in a dream.


In today’s Research News article “Dissociation and Mindfulness in Patients with Auditory Verbal Hallucinations. J Trauma Dissociation”

Escudero-Pérez and colleagues investigate the relationship between mindfulness, absorption, depersonalization and voice hearing in a group of psychotic patients. They found that the higher the mindfulness, the lower the levels of dissociation, and the lower the level of distress produced by the voices, but not the severity of the voices. They also found that the higher the level of depersonalization the higher the severity of the voices. So, depersonalization appears to be positively related to severity of the voices, while mindfulness is negatively related to the distress caused by them.


It makes sense that the voice hearer finds the voices more severe when they feel like they are outside of themselves. Importantly it appears that mindfulness does not affect the severity of the voices heard. Rather it changes how people feel about the voices reducing how distressful they are to the individual. So, mindful people don’t hear the voices differently. They simply suffer less from the voices they hear.


This may help to understand why some voice hearers are psychotic and others relatively healthy as mindfulness reduces the suffering caused by the voices. The voices bring distress if they are seen as a reflection of the past which is often traumatic in voice hearers or if they’re seen as prognosticators of future problems. Being in the present moment allows the voice hearer to simply hear the voice without associating it with past or future problems making it much less distressful. Being in the present moment is also antithetical to being dissociated from it. One can’t be focused in the present and outside of it at the same time. So, mindfulness may to some extent be an antidote to dissociation. Both of these effects suggest that mindfulness may make the difference between a voice hearer staying healthy rather than becoming psychotic.


So, feel better about hearing voices with mindfulness.


“Belief is a meaningless word. What does it mean? I believe something. Okay, now you have someone who is hearing voices and believes in these voices. It doesn’t mean they have any necessary reality. Your whole concept of your “I” is an illusion. You have to give something called an “I” before you speak of what the “I” believes.” – William S. Burroughs
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CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Improve Mental and Physical Well-being with Yoga


Yoga cognition Nagendra2

“The breathing and meditative exercises aim at calming the mind and body and keeping distracting thoughts away while you focus on your body, posture or breath. Maybe these processes translate beyond yoga practice when you try to perform mental tasks or day-to-day activities.” – Neha Gothe


If we are lucky enough to navigate life’s dangers we are rewarded with the opportunity to experience aging! The aging process involves a progressive deterioration of the body including the brain. It actually begins in the late 20s and continues throughout the lifespan. It’s inevitable. We can’t stop it or reverse it. But, it is becoming more apparent that life-style changes can slow down and to some extent counteract the process and allow us to live longer and healthier lives. This is true for both physical and mental deterioration including degeneration and shrinkage of the nervous system. Aging healthily to a large extent involves strategies to slow down the deterioration.


Contemplative practices including yoga practice (See links below) have been shown to reduce the physical deterioration that occurs with aging (see Yoga practice has many physical and mental benefits including protection of brain structures from degeneration with aging (see These structural changes have been demonstrated by neuroimaging techniques with yoga practitioners. They document change in the size and connectivity of brain structures that result from yoga practice.


Yoga is a mind-body practice that involves both physical and mental exercises. This is accompanied by changes in the activity of virtually every component of the body including general physiology and the peripheral and central nervous systems. So, another potential method to investigate yoga’s effects on the nervous system is to measure the electrical signals emanating from the nervous system.


In today’s Research News article “Cognitive Behavior Evaluation Based on Physiological Parameters among Young Healthy Subjects with Yoga as Intervention”

Nagendra and colleagues trained naive adults in yoga practice for a period of five months for 1.5 hours per day and compared physiological measure to a no-treatment control group. They found that yoga practice produced an increase in parasympathetic (vegetative) and decrease in sympathetic (activation) activity in the peripheral nervous system including a decrease in heart rate and heart rate variability. This indicates a calming and relaxing effect of yoga on the physiology.


Nagendra and colleagues also found significant differences in EEG activity of the central nervous system. The changes were complex and varied. But they are indicators that yoga practice produces alterations of brain activity in ways that are indicative of improved vigilance, alertness, attention, concentration ,memory, visual information processing, sense of wellbeing, responsiveness, emotion process, cognition, and executive function and reduced stress and strain. In other words the changes in the brain activity indicated vast improvements in mental processing produced by yoga practice.


It should be noted that these are indirect measures and the researchers did not directly measure the psychological variables. So, although suggestive they are not conclusive. They are, however, similar to findings of yoga effects in other research with direct measures (see But, even with this caution, the results suggest that yoga practice has widespread beneficial effects on the mental and physical well-being of the individual.


So, practice yoga and improve mental and physical well-being.


“True yoga is not about the shape of your body, but the shape of your life. Yoga is not to be performed; yoga is to be lived. Yoga doesn’t care about what you have been; yoga cares about the person you are becoming. Yoga is designed for a vast and profound purpose, and for it to be truly called yoga, its essence must be embodied.” — Aadil Palkhivala


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies



Yoga and aging links

Yoga reduces physical degeneration in the elderly

Yoga reduces cellular aging

Yoga practice improves the symptoms of arthritis in the elderly



Stop Being Angry, Anxious, and Depressed over Fibromyalgia with Mindfulness

Mindfulness fibromyalgia Amutio2

“Fibromyalgia is not a cookie-cutter illness. Each of us is different and unique. There is no cure or control over this, hence each day we must continuously adapt to our disease state.” – Dear Fibromyalgia


Fibromyalgia is a mysterious disorder whose causes are unknown. It is very common affecting over 5 million people in the U.S., about 2% of the population with about 7 times more women affected than men. It is characterized by widespread pain, abnormal pain processing, sleep disturbance, and fatigue that lead to psychological distress. Fibromyalgia may also have morning stiffness, tingling or numbness in hands and feet, headaches, including migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, sleep disturbances, thinking and memory problems, and painful menstrual periods. The symptoms are so severe and debilitating that about half the patients are unable to perform routine daily functions and about a third have to stop work. Although it is not itself fatal, suicide rates are higher in fibromyalgia sufferers.


Many studies have linked fibromyalgia with depression. In fact, people with fibromyalgia are up to three times more likely to be depressed at the time of their diagnosis than someone without fibromyalgia. In addition, the stress from pain and fatigue can cause anxiety and social isolation. As a result, many patients experience intense anger regarding their situation. The emotions are understandable, but can act to amplify the pain. Hence, controlling the emotions may reduce the perceived pain.


Mindfulness practices have been shown to be effective in reducing pain from fibromyalgia (see This may occur directly or indirectly by reducing emotions or both. Since mindfulness has been shown to improve emotion regulation, it would seem reasonable that this could be a route of effectiveness. In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness training for reducing anger, anxiety, and depression in fibromyalgia patients”

Amutio and colleagues investigate the effects of a 7-week, 2-hour per week mindfulness practice on the heightened emotions that accompany fibromyalgia. Results were compared to those obtained from a wait-list control group. It was found that the mindfulness training significantly reduced anger, anxiety, and depression at the end of training and these improvements were maintained three months later.


These are exciting results and suggest that mindfulness training is effective for the heightened emotions associated with fibromyalgia. It is unfortunate that Amutio and colleagues did not measure levels of pain. So, it is impossible to ascertain whether the emotional reductions also produced pain reductions. But, even if the mindfulness program only affects emotions, that by itself would be a significant contribution to the patients’ well-being.


Mindfulness has been shown to improve emotion regulation (see which allows the individual to experience the emotions fully but to respond to them in a constructive, productive fashion, thus taking away the amplifying effect of the emotions on pain. Mindfulness training also improves the individual’s ability to focus on the present moment and this has been shown to reduce rumination and catastrophizing (see which can produce anxiety and depression. These would also amplify the pain. Regardless of the mechanism it is clear the mindfulness training can be beneficial in controlling the emotional sequela of fibromyalgia pain.


So, stop being angry, anxious, and depressed over fibromyalgia with mindfulness.

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. Say you’re running and you think, ‘Man, this hurts, I can’t take it anymore. The ‘hurt’ part is an unavoidable reality, but whether or not you can stand anymore is up to the runner himself.” ― Haruki Murakami

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Reduce Depression with Cyber-Mindfulness  

MBCT Depression Internet Beck2


“Our emotional reactions depend on the story we tell ourselves, the running commentary in the mind that interprets the data we receive through our senses.” ― Mark Williams,


Depression is widespread and debilitating. It is the most common mental illness affecting about 4% of the population worldwide. There are a number of treatments for depression the most common of which is antidepressant medication. But the drugs do not always work and can become ineffective over time. They can also have troublesome side effects. So, there is a need to discover safe and effective alternative treatments.


Mindfulness training has been shown to be an effective treatment for depression (see Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has been shown to be effective for depression by altering the ways people think about and process events that occur in their lives. Mindfulness Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (MBCT) adds mindfulness training to CBT. It was designed specifically to treat depression and has been shown to be effective even with people who do not respond to antidepressant medications (see MBCT has been so effective that the British Medical Service considers it a treatment of choice for depression.


MBCT can be delivered either individually or in groups. But, it requires that a highly trained therapist lead the process and it can be delivered to only a limited number of people at a time. Hence, it is relatively expensive to deliver. Also, it requires the patients to come to a practitioner’s facility on a regular basis over 8 to 12 weeks. This can be inconvenient for many and impossible for others. In addition, depressed individuals lack energy and motivation and many simply can’t find the strength to attend regular sessions. So, there is a need to develop better ways to deliver therapy. The internet provides a mechanism that could potentially overcome many of these drawbacks to face-to-face delivery of MBCT. It’s low cost and widely available and can be accessed when the patient feels up to it.


In today’s Research News article “PS2-43: Internet Delivered Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy for Reducing Residual Depressive Symptoms: An Open Trial and Quasi-experimental Comparison to Propensity Matched Controls”

Beck and colleagues developed and tested an 8-session MBCT program delivered over the internet to recurrently depressed patients. Compared to treatment as usual for depression internet based MBCT produced a clinically significant decrease in depression with large effect size.


These are very exciting results. The cyber MBCT program is highly scalable and can be delivered to large numbers of depression sufferers at low cost. Because it’s delivered over the internet, it is convenient and available to patients who live in areas without access to clinics. The program needs to be compared to face-to-face MBCT. But, these results suggest that its effectiveness is comparable. Further research is definitely called for.


So, reduce depression with cyber-mindfulness.


“Unhappiness itself is not the problem—it is an inherent and unavoidable part of being alive. Rather, it’s the harshly negative views of ourselves that can be switched on by unhappy moods that entangle us. It is these views that transform passing sadness into persistent unhappiness and depression. Once these harsh, negative views of ourselves are activated, not only do they affect our mind, they also have profound effects on our body—and then the body in turn has profound effects on the mind and emotions.”  ― Mark Williams


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Religion and Spirituality have Different Relationships with Sexual Attitudes

Spirituality Sex Ahrold2

“Spiritualizing sex is actually a movement of energy—feeling and emotion—that rises within you and moves into your sexual physicality as an alive, tender, erotic, or passionate expression. Your bodies move without inhibition so all the energy can flow out of you and between the two of you. You allow spiritual energy to express its dance through you. Sexuality can be a profound demonstration of your love, and especially your freedom, to express and bond. Spiritual sex, then, combines how you express your love with the intentions or blessings you bring to your partnership.” ― Alexandra Katehakis


Sex is a powerful motivation that is responsible for both very positive and very negative behavior. Its negative potential has resulted in a myriad of laws and regulations not to mention social mores, to control it. This is very evident in traditional religions and their teachings. The control of sexual behavior plays a prominent role in most religions. This ranges from celibacy to polygamy to prohibitions against sex outside of marriage, to its use for procreation only.


Many of these prohibitions result in frustration and repression. In many this can produce negative consequences. But, sometimes sexual motivation can find expression in sublimation, a creative and positive substitution of a socially acceptable outlet for the prohibited behavior. Unfortunately, in others sexual frustrations can result in release of abhorrent behaviors such as forced sex. Hence it is clearly important to understand how religion and spirituality affect sexual behavior.


In today’s Research News article “The Relationship among Sexual Attitudes, Sexual Fantasy, and Religiosity”

Ahrold and colleagues studied sexual attitudes and sexual fantasies in college students with diverse religious affiliations. They found not surprisingly that those who were not affiliated with a formal religion, agnostics, had the most sexually liberal attitudes of any group. They also found that higher levels of intrinsic religiosity were consistently associated with more conservative sexual attitudes. That is the participants who were more sincere and devout about their religion had the most conservative sexual attitudes. Interestingly they also found a large gender difference in the relationship of spirituality with sexual attitudes. High levels of spirituality were associated with less conservative sexual attitudes in men but more conservative sexual attitudes in women.


It is not surprising that the true believers (intrinsic religiosity) would be more conservative in sexual attitudes. This simply reflects the teachings of most religions. Hence those that are sincere and devout in their religion would be expected to follow those teachings regarding sex. Unlike religiosity, high levels of spirituality had gender specific associations, with men more liberal and women more conservative in their sexual attitudes. But when intrinsic religiosity was considered along with spirituality the results were more straightforward with spirituality associated with more liberal sexual attitudes across all participants.


It’s interesting that spirituality and intrinsic religiosity appeared to act in different directions. “Whereas religiosity refers to importance of an organized belief system” its effects line up with the teachings of the religion. On the other hand, “spirituality refers to the subjective, experiential relationship with or understanding of a divine being or force.” This does not produce clear teachings and dogma; thus allowing for more liberal interpretations as to what behaviors and attitudes are appropriate to be expressed (see Katehakis quote above).


Regardless, it is clear that religion and spirituality play a powerful role in shaping sexual attitudes.


“A man’s eroticism is a woman’s sexuality.” ~ Karl Kraus


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Enhance Enjoyment of the Holidays with Mindfulness

Heart-shaped candle in her hands

“Many Americans celebrate both Christmas and Xmas. Others celebrate one or the other. And some of us celebrate holidays that, although unconnected with the [winter] solstice, occur near it: Ramadan, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.” – John Silber:


The end of December marks transitions. It marks the new year, transition from 2015 to 2016. It’s also the time of the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, transitioning from shortening days to elongating days. Since the beginning of recorded history the solstice has been a time of celebration and merriment. For most of that time it was an extremely popular pagan celebration. The Christians tried to suppress it, but were unsuccessful. So, instead they coopted it, turning it into a celebration of Jesus’ birth. There are no records of the actual date of Jesus’ birth, so any day could be chosen, and the time of the pagan solstice celebration was perfect. There are still many remnants of that pagan celebration carried into the Christmas celebration, including the tree, wreaths, mistletoe, holly, and even the name yule, the yule log, and the use of the word “jolly”.


Regardless of the purported reason, the end of December is a time of celebration. We now look on it as a time for giving, but the gifts are a relatively new addition that has been enthusiastically promoted by merchants. Should we be jaundiced about the celebration because of it’s confusing history, its crass commercialism, and varied religious meanings or should we participate with enthusiasm? Mindfulness tells us not to judge, just to experience what life has to offer in the moment. The holiday season has much to offer us. So, mindfulness would suggest that we don’t judge or criticize but engage mindfully in whatever way is appropriate for us.


Perhaps the greatest gift we can give to our family and friends at any time but especially during the holidays is our presence, not just our physical presence but our mindful attentive presence. We give to them when we deeply listen. So many conversations are superficial. So, engaging deeply with others is a special gift. It involves employing an underused skill of true listen with full attention to another, not listening on the surface while composing the next communication, but just listening with mindfulness. We in effect give to them our most precious gift, our fully engaged selves. We may be surprised by what we now hear that we may have been missing for years, and what reactions occur. Just know that you’re giving what most people need most, to feel listened to, respected, valued and cared about.


The holidays are a time to focus on children. Here, also, mindfulness can improve the experience. If we mindfully observe and truly listen, we can see that what children desire most is our attention and love. Presents of toys and gadgets are opened with enthusiasm and glee. But the joy is short-lived. As with most things the happiness produced is fleeting. But, if you engage with the child, playing and giving your full attention to him/her the happiness is much more enduring. Doing this mindfully, without expectations or judgment will bring a joy and happiness to you that will also be enduring. Don’t engage with the child for personal gain, but enjoy the gain when it happens.


The holidays are also a time of revelry, with abundant parties and celebrations at work, with friends, and with family. Once again, engaging mindfully can improve the experience and help prevent excess. Being mindful can help us keep alcohol intake under control. By being aware of our state in the present moment we are better able to know when we reached our limit and especially, to know when to refrain from driving. Mindful eating can also help us enjoy all of the wonderful foods presented during the holidays while being aware of our actual physical state. It can help us to eat slowly, savoring the exquisite flavors, without overindulging. Engage socially mindfully without judging and you’ll enjoy the interactions all the more.


Mindfulness can also help with holiday depression. Because of the high expectations of what the holidays should be like in contrast to the experienced reality, many people get depressed. It is the time of the highest suicide rates of the year. Mindfulness is known to combat depression in ourselves. But, for the holidays we could use our mindfulness skills, particularly listening, to help vulnerable people deal with the holidays. Our compassion and loving kindness can go a long way toward helping people overcome negative mood states. Just a genuine smile can sometimes be a great mood enhancer. Mindfully give of yourself, without expectation of getting anything back. You’ll be amazed at how much good it does for others and at the benefit you will receive.


Finally, the underlying theme of the holidays is transformation and renewal. Just as the slow decent into the short days of winter ends the slow ascent to the long days of summer begins. We can use this time to begin to transform and renew ourselves. New year’s resolutions are a common tradition in this regard but few are entered into with sufficient dedication and energy to actually carry them out. We should use this holiday season to reflect mindfully on our own lives, looking deeply at what will truly help us to thrive physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually in the coming year. Then set realistic goals and concrete plans to fulfill them. A good one that can help to lead us to a more fulfilling life is to simply make a commitment to be more mindful in the coming year. Thus should include a plan for engaging in regular practice and working to transfer mindfulness skills obtained outside of the practice. But, be realistic as to what can actually be accomplished and then set a firm concrete plan to achieve it.


So, enhance the enjoyment of the holidays with mindfulness.


“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.” – Neil Gaiman
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

Reduce Symptoms in Breast Cancer Survivors with Mindfulness


“Health is a state of complete harmony of the body, mind and spirit. When one is free from physical disabilities and mental distractions, the gates of the soul open.”  ~B.K.S. Iyengar


About 12.5% of women in the U.S. develop invasive breast cancer over their lifetimes and every year about 40,000 women die. Indeed, more women in the U.S. die from breast cancer than from any other cancer, besides lung cancer. It is encouraging, however, that the death rates have been decreasing for decades from improved detection and treatment of breast cancer. Five-year survival rates are now at around 95%.


The improved survival rates mean that more women are now living with cancer. This can be difficult as breast cancer survivors can have to deal with the consequences of chemotherapy, and often experience increased fatigue, pain, and bone loss, reduced fertility, difficulty with weight maintenance, damage to the lymphatic system, heightened fear of reoccurrence, and an alteration of their body image. With the loss of a breast or breasts, scars, hair shedding, complexion changes and weight gain or loss many young women feel ashamed or afraid that others will reject or feel sorry for them. As a result, survivors often develop psychological symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression, and impaired cognitive functioning. These consequences of breast cancer can be grouped into three categories, gastrointestinal, cognitive/psychological, and pain and fatigue.


Mindfulness practices have been shown to be beneficial in cancer recovery (see and particularly with recovery from breast cancer (see and But, these practices can produce varying results depending upon the peculiarities of the patient. It would be helpful for potentiating the effectiveness of mindfulness practices applied to breast cancer survivors if markers could be found which could identify those who were likely to respond favorably to mindfulness training from those who would not. Markers in the immune system are likely candidates. Breast cancer treatment and the sequela produce considerable stress in the survivor. Stress produces a robust response in the immune system and mindfulness training has been shown to reduce stress and the immune system response. So, it would make sense that immune system markers of the stress response might be predictors of mindfulness training efficacy.


In today’s Research News article “Immune Biomarkers as Predictors of MBSR(BC) Treatment Success in Off-Treatment Breast Cancer Patients”

Reich and colleagues looked for immune system markers which identify mindfulness training responders among breast cancer survivors. They took blood samples for lymphocyte analysis and then trained half the women with a modified Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program that was specifically designed to be appropriate for breast cancer (MBSR)[BC]. The second half of the women were used as a wait list control group. They found that the mindfulness training produced decreases in all three symptom clusters, gastrointestinal, cognitive/psychological, and pain and fatigue. They found that there were significant immune system markers. But, they were different for the three symptom clusters. B-lymphocytes and interferon-γ were the strongest predictors of gastrointestinal improvement, +CD4+CD8 were the strongest predictor of cognitive/psychological improvement, while lymphocytes and interleukin (IL)-4 were the strongest predictors of fatigue improvement.


These results are interesting and potentially important. They are further evidence that the stress reduction produced by mindfulness training is important in dealing with the symptoms of breast cancer survival. They also suggest that immune system markers may be significant predictors for response to mindfulness training. The fact that there were different markers for different symptom clusters, however, muddies the waters, making the markers useful for certain women who have heightened symptoms in particular areas. Regardless, it is clear that mindfulness training is an effective treatment for the symptoms present after successful treatment of breast cancer and potentially markers which can identify potential responders may be possible.


So, it is increasing clear that mindfulness is an effective treatment for residual symptoms in breast cancer survivors.


“The root of all health is in the brain. The trunk of it is in emotion. The branches and leaves are the body. The flower of health blooms when all parts work together.” ~Kurdish Saying


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

Age Healthily – Beat Increased Worry and Decreased Cognitive Ability with Mindfulness


Aging has a wonderful beauty and we should have respect for that. – Eartha Kitt


Worry and anxiety are associated with aging. These increases in the elderly can occur for very logical reasons. The elderly have to cope with increasing loss of friends and family, deteriorating health, as well as concerns regarding finances on fixed incomes. All of these are legitimate sources of worry. But, no matter how reasonable, the increased worry and anxiety add extra stress that can impact on the elderly’s already deteriorating physical and psychological health. So, clearly ameliorating the worry and anxiety could be highly beneficial to the well-being of the elderly.


Cognitive decline is also a problem with aging. There are reductions in memory ability, crystalized intelligence, reasoning and problem solving, attention, and processing speed that normally occur even with healthy aging. These changes can be slowed by reducing stress, improving health, and staying mentally active. One way to do this is with contemplative practices. Indeed, a variety of these practices have been shown to be helpful with the mental and physical changes associated with aging (see


In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for older adults with worry symptoms and co-occurring cognitive dysfunction”

Lenze and colleagues tested the ability of a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program to reduce worry and anxiety and the mental decline in individuals over 65-years of age who had significant difficulties with worry and anxiety. They found that the MBSR program produced improvements in both cognitive abilities and worry and anxiety. In particular, the MBSR program improved memory ability, verbal fluency, speed of processing, and the ability to screen out interference during processing. They also found a large, clinically significant reduction in worry and anxiety severity and a large significant increase in mindfulness after the MBSR training in the elderly participants. Further they found that the participants continued to practice mindfulness techniques six and twelve months after the endo of formal training.


These are very promising results and suggest that mindfulness training might be an effective program to assist with successful, healthy aging. It has been shown that mindfulness training reduces the physical and psychological responses to stress (see This by itself could be responsible to the positive effects of MBSR on the elderly. But mindfulness practice has also been shown to reduce worry (see and anxiety (see directly, which could also account for, the results with the elderly. This, however, may be a subcategory of mindfulness effects as mindfulness has been shown to improve emotion regulation in general (see Finally, mindfulness training has been shown to help protect the aging brain from deterioration (see which might be the primary mechanism for the reduction in cognitive decline in the elderly. Regardless of the mechanism mindfulness training should be recommended to assist the elderly in aging healthily.


So, beat increased worry and decreased cognitive ability with mindfulness.


No one can avoid aging, but aging productively is something else.” – Katharine Graham


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies