Improve Nervous System and Cognitive Function with Tai Chi

Improve Nervous System and Cognitive Function with Tai Chi


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“tai chi appears to improve executive function—the ability to multitask, manage time, and make decisions—in people without any cognitive decline. In those with mild cognitive impairment, tai chi slowed the progression to dementia.” – Harvard Health


Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese practice involving mindfulness and gentle movements. It is easy to learn, safe, and gentle. Tai Chi has been practiced for thousands of years with benefits for health and longevityTai Chi training is designed to enhance function and regulate the activities of the body through controlled breathing, mindful concentration, and gentle movements. Only recently though have the effects of this practice been scrutinized with empirical research. This research has found that it is effective for an array of physical and psychological issues. It appears to strengthen the immune systemreduce inflammation and increase the number of cancer killing cells in the bloodstream, improve cardiovascular healthreduce arthritis painimprove balance and reduce falls. It also appears to improve attentional ability improve cognitive ability in the elderly, and relieve depression.


The nervous system is a dynamic entity, constantly changing and adapting to the environment. It will change size, activity, and connectivity in response to experience. These changes in the brain are called neuroplasticity. Over the last decade neuroscience has been studying the effects of contemplative practices on the brain and has identified neuroplastic changes in widespread areas. In other words, mindfulness practice appears to mold and change the brain, producing psychological, physical, and spiritual benefits. Hence, it would appear likely that Tai Chi practice may alter the brain networks underlying mindfulness.


In today’s Research News article “Tai Chi Chuan Alters Brain Functional Network Plasticity and Promotes Cognitive Flexibility.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: ) Cui and colleagues recruited healthy adults and randomly assigned them to either a control condition or to 3, 60 minute sessions per week for 8 weeks of aerobic exercise (Brisk walking) or Tai Chi practice. Before and after practice they were measured for cognitive flexibility and they also had their brains scanned with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI).


They found that only after Tai Chi practice there was a significant increase in cognitive flexibility. The fMRI revealed that Tai Chi practice increased brain local efficiency compared with general aerobic exercise. Local efficiency reflects brain information transmission and processing in local densely interconnected areas. Tai Chi practice also increased the clustering coefficient of brain activity which reflects how well brain areas connect with other areas. Tai Chi practice increased Nodal global efficiency which reflects the efficiency of information transmission within brain networks. Importantly, they found that the higher the Nodal global efficiency the greater the level of cognitive flexibility. These changes with Tai Chi practice suggest that it increases brain specialization and that this is related to better cognitive ability.


A strength of the present study was that Tai Chi practice was compared to another aerobic exercise, brisk walking. So, it can be concluded that the effects observed were due to Tai Chi practice per se and not to the exercise provided by Tai Chi. The findings suggest then that practicing Tai Chi changes the brain making it better interconnected with a greater ability to share information and these changes are associated with greater cognitive flexibility. This shows that Tai Chi practice changes the brain in beneficial ways. This may be responsible for the ability of Tai Chi practice to improve the physical and psychological processes especially in the elderly.


So, improve nervous system and cognitive function with Tai Chi.


Tai Chi, a multicomponent mind-body exercise, combines slow physical activity with relaxation to serve as a movement meditation. Prior trials suggested that the beneficial effects of Tai Chi are created by a physical component which capitalizes on the benefits of physical exercise and a mind component which additionally promotes psychological well-being, life satisfaction, and improved perception of health.” – Chunlin Yue


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


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


Study Summary


Cui L, Tao S, Yin H-c, Shen Q-q, Wang Y, Zhu L-n and Li X-j (2021) Tai Chi Chuan Alters Brain Functional Network Plasticity and Promotes Cognitive Flexibility. Front. Psychol. 12:665419. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.665419


Objective: This study used resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging to investigate the effects of 8 weeks of Tai Chi Chuan and general aerobic exercise on the topological parameters of brain functional networks, explored the advantages of Tai Chi Chuan for improving functional network plasticity and cognitive flexibility, and examined how changes in topological attributes of brain functional networks relate to cognitive flexibility.

Methods: Thirty-six healthy adults were grouped into Tai Chi Chuan (Bafa Wubu of Tai Chi), general aerobic exercise (brisk walking), and control groups. All of the subjects underwent fMRI and behavioral assessment before and after the exercise intervention.

Results: Tai Chi Chuan exercise significantly enhanced the clustering coefficient and local efficiency compared with general aerobic exercise. Regarding the nodal properties, Tai Chi Chuan significantly enhanced the nodal clustering coefficient of the bilateral olfactory cortex and left thalamus, significantly reduced the nodal clustering coefficient of the left inferior temporal gyrus, significantly improved the nodal efficiency of the right precuneus and bilateral posterior cingulate gyrus, and significantly improved the nodal local efficiency of the left thalamus and right olfactory cortex. Furthermore, the behavioral performance results demonstrated that cognitive flexibility was enhanced by Tai Chi Chuan. The change in the nodal clustering coefficient in the left thalamus induced by Tai Chi Chuan was a significant predictor of cognitive flexibility.

Conclusion: These findings demonstrated that Tai Chi Chuan could promote brain functional specialization. Brain functional specialization enhanced by Tai Chi Chuan exercise was a predictor of greater cognitive flexibility.


Mindfulness Improves Thinking in Children and Youths with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Mindfulness Improves Thinking in Children and Youths with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“studies indicate that people with ADHD can meditate successfully, and that meditation may have benefits for some of the behaviors associated with ADHD.” – Corey Whelan


Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is most commonly found in children, but for about half it persists into adulthood. It’s estimated that about 5% of the adult population has ADHD. Hence, this is a very large problem that can produce inattention, impulsivity, hyperactivity, and emotional issues, and reduce quality of life. The most common treatment is drugs, like methylphenidate, Ritalin, which helps reducing symptoms in about 30% of the people with ADHD. Unfortunately, the effectiveness of the drugs appears to be markedly reduced after the first year. In addition, the drugs often have troublesome side effects, can be addictive, and can readily be abused. So, drugs, at present, do not appear to be a good solution, only affecting some, only for a short time, and with unwanted side effects.


There are indications that mindfulness practices may be an effective treatment for ADHD. It makes sense that it should be, as the skills and abilities strengthened by mindfulness practices training are identical to those that are defective in ADHD,  attentionimpulse controlexecutive functionemotion control, and mood improvement. In addition, unlike drugs, they are relatively safe interventions that have minimal troublesome side effects.


In today’s Research News article “The Differential Impact of Acute Exercise and Mindfulness Meditation on Executive Functioning and Psycho-Emotional Well-Being in Children and Youth With ADHD.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: ) Bigelow and colleagues recruited children aged 10-14 years who were diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). They completed 3 sessions in random order of 10 minutes of either aerobic cycling, mindfulness meditation, or magazine reading. They were measured before and after each session and 10 minutes later for inhibitory control, short-term memory, task switching, mood, and self-efficacy.


They found that in comparison to baseline and the magazine reading control condition only mindfulness meditation produced an increase in inhibitory control, short-term memory, and task switching. The improvement in inhibitory control and short-term memory were still present 10 minutes later. On the other hand, in comparison to baseline and the magazine reading control condition only aerobic exercise produced an improvement in mood and self-efficacy.


These results suggest that brief mindfulness meditation produces short-term improvements in executive function (thinking) in children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) while aerobic exercise produces mood improvements in these children. These are acute effects of brief interventions and do not demonstrate lasting effects. But previous research has shown that mindfulness training produces lasting improvements in ADHD and executive function and that yoga practice, a form of exercise and mindfulness practice also produces lasting improvements in ADHD and executive function.


Hence, it appears that mindfulness training and exercise are both beneficial for children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) but they appear to affect different types of ADHD symptoms with mindfulness meditation improving executive function and exercise improving emotions. This suggests that a combined program or meditation and exercise may be particularly beneficial for children with ADHD. It remains for future research to examine this intriguing possibility.


So, mindfulness improves thinking in children and youths with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)



Medication and therapy are good ways to manage your ADHD symptoms. But they’re not your only options. Research now shows that mindfulness meditation — where you actively observe your moment-to-moment thoughts and feelings- — may also be a good way to calm your mind and improve your focus.” – WebMD


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


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


Study Summary


Bigelow H, Gottlieb MD, Ogrodnik M, Graham JD and Fenesi B (2021) The Differential Impact of Acute Exercise and Mindfulness Meditation on Executive Functioning and Psycho-Emotional Well-Being in Children and Youth With ADHD. Front. Psychol. 12:660845. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.660845


This study investigated how acute exercise and mindfulness meditation impacts executive functioning and psycho-emotional well-being in 16 children and youth with ADHD aged 10–14 (male = 11; White = 80%). Participants completed three interventions: 10 min of exercise, 10 min of mindfulness meditation, and 10 min of reading (control). Before and after each intervention, executive functioning (inhibitory control, working memory, task-switching) and psycho-emotional well-being (mood, self-efficacy) were assessed. Mindfulness meditation increased performance on all executive functioning tasks whereas the other interventions did not (d = 0.55–0.86). Exercise enhanced positive mood and self-efficacy whereas the other interventions did not (d = 0.22–0.35). This work provides preliminary evidence for how acute exercise and mindfulness meditation can support differential aspects of executive and psycho-emotional functioning among children and youth with ADHD.


Improve Health and Healthy Behaviors with Yoga and Pilates

Improve Health and Healthy Behaviors with Yoga and Pilates


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“Multiple studies have confirmed the many mental and physical benefits of yoga. Incorporating it into your routine can help enhance your health, increase strength and flexibility and reduce symptoms of stress, depression and anxiety.” – Rachael Link


We tend to think that illness is produced by physical causes, disease, injury, viruses, bacteria, etc. But many health problems are behavioral problems or have their origins in maladaptive behavior. This is evident in car accident injuries that are frequently due to behaviors, such as texting while driving, driving too fast or aggressively, or driving drunk. Other problematic behaviors are cigarette smoking, alcoholism, drug use, or unprotected sex. Problems can also be produced by lack of appropriate behavior such as sedentary lifestyle, not eating a healthy diet, not getting sufficient sleep or rest, or failing to take medications according to the physician’s orders. Additionally, behavioral issues can be subtle contributors to disease such as denying a problem and failing to see a physician timely or not washing hands. In fact, many modern health issues, costing the individual or society billions of dollars each year, and reducing longevity, are largely preventable. Hence, promoting healthy behaviors and eliminating unhealthy ones has the potential to markedly improve health.


Mindfulness training has been shown to promote health, healthy behaviors, and improve illness. It is well established that if patterns and habits of healthy behaviors can be promoted, ill health can be prevented. There is, however, little research on the effects of yoga and Pilates on health and healthy behaviors.


In today’s Research News article “The Impacts of Pilates and Yoga on Health-Promoting Behaviors and Subjective Health Status.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: )  Lim and colleagues recruited adults aged 30-49 years who did not have experience with yoga or Pilates and randomly assigned them to receive either no treatment or a 50 minute, 3 times per week for 8 weeks program of either yoga or Pilates. They were measured before and after training for health behaviors and health status.


They found that in comparison to baseline and the no-treatment control group both the yoga and Pilates groups had significant improvements in health status and health related behaviors including eating healthy, avoiding a sedentary lifestyle, being responsible for their own health, maintaining healthy social relationships, managing stress, and emphasizing spiritual growth. But in all cases Pilates was significantly superior to yoga.


Both Pilates and yoga are exercises. So, the results demonstrate that engaging in exercises results in improvements in health and health behaviors. Further they demonstrate that Pilates produce superior results. “Pilates focuses more on core control and posture development. In contrast, yoga focuses more on static stretching and flexibility.” These differences in the programs may be responsible for Pilates superior effects on health behaviors.


The results, however do not show that yoga and Pilates are superior to other exercises such as aerobic training. Hence, it is not clear whether components specific to yoga and Pilates are important for health or if any exercise would produce comparable results.In addition, the control condition was no treatment. This leaves open the possibility that the participants expectation about the effectiveness of exercise were responsible for the results rather than the exercises themselves. It remains for future studies to address these issues.


Nevertheless, promoting health related behaviors are important for the health and well-being of the individual. Both yoga and Pilates were effective in doing this. So, participation in these exercises should be encouraged.


So, improve health and healthy behaviors with yoga and Pilates.


The benefits of various yoga techniques have been professed to improve body flexibility, performance, stress reduction, attainment of inner peace, and self-realization.” – Manoj Sharma


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


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


Study Summary


Lim, E. J., & Hyun, E. J. (2021). The Impacts of Pilates and Yoga on Health-Promoting Behaviors and Subjective Health Status. International journal of environmental research and public health, 18(7), 3802.



This study investigates whether Pilates and yoga lead people to adopt generally health-promoting lifestyle elements and feel better about their physical and mental fitness. To this end, we designed an 8 week exercise program of Pilates and yoga reviewed by veteran practitioners and conducted an experimental study through which we collected the data from 90 volunteered adult subjects between ages 30 and 49 (mean age = 35.47), equally represented by women and men without previous experience with Pilates or yoga. In the 8 week long experiment, we assigned the subjects to three groups, where subjects in the two exercise groups regularly took part in either Pilates or yoga classes, and the control group participated in neither exercise classes. All participants completed two surveys, the Health-Promoting Lifestyle Profile (HPLP II) and the Health Self-Rating Scale (HSRS), before and after their assigned program. In our analysis of pre- and post-treatment differences across the three groups, we ran ANOVA, ANCOVA, and Sheffé test, implemented using SPSS PASW Statistics 18.00. Our results indicate that Pilates and yoga groups exhibited a higher engagement in health-promoting behaviors than the control group after the program. Subjective health status, measured with HSRS, also improved significantly among Pilates and yoga participants compared to those in the control group after the program. The supplementary analysis finds no significant gender-based difference in these impacts. Overall, our results confirm that Pilates and yoga help recruit health-promoting behaviors in participants and engender positive beliefs about their subjective health status, thereby setting a positive reinforcement cycle in motion. By providing clear evidence that the promotion of Pilates or yoga can serve as an effective intervention strategy that helps individuals change behaviors adverse to their health, this study offers practical implications for healthcare professionals and public health officials alike.


Yoga and Other Exercises Improve Body Image and Psychological Well-Being

Yoga and Other Exercises Improve Body Image and Psychological Well-Being


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“Overall, practicing yoga can have a profound impact on improving body image, but it depends how it is approached by the individual. When you treat yoga as a tool for body appreciation, healthy movement, and inner reflection, it helps improve body image and mental health.” – Tara Caguait


The media is constantly presenting idealized images of what we should look like. These are unrealistic and unattainable for the vast majority of people. But it results in most everyone being unhappy with their body.  This can lead to problematic consequences. In a number of eating disorders there’s a distorted body image. This can and does drive unhealthy behaviors. As a treatment mindfulness has been shown to improve eating disorders.


In the media, yoga is portrayed as practiced by lithe beautiful people. This is, of course, unrealistic and potentially harmful. But yoga is also an exercise that tends to improve the body and it has been shown to improve body image and psychological health. It is unclear whether it is the exercise provided by yoga practice that promotes psychological health and a healthy body image or to components specific to yoga practice.


In today’s Research News article “Yoga, Dance, Team Sports, or Individual Sports: Does the Type of Exercise Matter? An Online Study Investigating the Relationships Between Different Types of Exercise, Body Image, and Well-Being in Regular Exercise Practitioners.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: )  Marshin and colleagues recruited adults online and had them complete measures of amount and type of exercise, body size, body image, body dissatisfaction, eating disorders, physical efficacy, physical activity, positive and negative emotions, and depression.


They found that the participants who engaged in regular exercise had significantly lower body dissatisfaction, perceived body weight, and depression and significantly higher positive emotions than sedentary individuals. They also found that there were no significant differences in any of the outcome variables for regular exercise practitioners of yoga, ballroom dance, team sports, or individual sports.


These findings are correlational, so no conclusions can be reached regarding causation. But it is clear that people who exercise have a better image of their bodies and better mental health than sedentary individuals. The fact that there were no significant differences between practitioners of different types of exercise including yoga suggests that exercise of any type is associated with greater satisfaction with the body and better mood. Yoga practice has been shown to improve body image and positive emotions and lower depression. The present findings suggest that these benefits of yoga practice are due to the exercise and not to the other components of yoga practice.


So, yoga and other exercises improve body image and psychological well-being.


Individuals who are dissatisfied with their body image are at a higher risk for eating disorders, depression, and low self-esteem. When diversity and inclusivity are encouraged, yoga may have an important role to play in supporting healthy feelings toward body image.” – Lacey Gibson


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


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


Study Summary


Marschin V and Herbert C (2021) Yoga, Dance, Team Sports, or Individual Sports: Does the Type of Exercise Matter? An Online Study Investigating the Relationships Between Different Types of Exercise, Body Image, and Well-Being in Regular Exercise Practitioners. Front. Psychol. 12:621272. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.621272


Physical activity, specifically exercising, has been suggested to improve body image, mental health, and well-being. With respect to body image, previous findings highlight a general benefit of exercise. This study investigates whether the relationship between exercising and body image varies with the type of exercise that individuals preferentially and regularly engage in. In addition, physical efficacy was explored as a potential psychological mediator between type of exercise and body image. Using a cross-sectional design, healthy regular exercise practitioners of yoga, ballroom dance, team sports, or individual sports as well as healthy adults reporting no regular exercising were surveyed. Body image and its different facets were assessed by a set of standardized self-report questionnaires, covering perceptual, cognitive, and affective body image dimensions particularly related to negative body image. In addition, participants were questioned with regard to mental health. Participants were 270 healthy adults. Descriptive statistics, measures of variance (ANOVA), and multiple linear regression analysis with orthogonal contrasts were performed to investigate differences between the different exercise and non-exercise groups in the variables of interest. In line with the hypotheses and previous findings, the statistic comparisons revealed that body dissatisfaction (as one important factor of negative body image) was most pronounced in the non-exercise group compared to all exercise groups [contrast: no exercise versus exercise (all groups taken together)]. Physical efficacy, as assessed with a standardized questionnaire, mediated the difference between type of exercise (using contrasts) and body image including perceptual, cognitive, and affective body image dimensions. The findings shed light on so far less systematically investigated questions regarding the relationship between types of exercise, like yoga and ballroom dance, and body image. The results underscore the relevance of considering possible influencing factors in exercise research, such as the perception of one’s physical efficacy as a mediator of this relationship.


Mindfulness and Exercise Reduce Depression in College Students

Mindfulness and Exercise Reduce Depression in College Students


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“Mindfulness is as popular at colleges nationwide. It’s someone giving themselves uninterrupted mental space. . . It’s a time to stop and refocus your purpose. Studies show the practice may be an antidote to the high levels of stress and depression seen on college campuses.” – Susan Donaldson James


In the modern world education is a key for success. There a lot of pressure on university students to excel so that they can get the best jobs after graduation. The pressure can actually lead to stress, anxiety, and depression which can impede the student’s mental health, well-being, and school performance.


It is, for the most part, beyond the ability of the individual to change the environment to reduce stress, so it is important that methods be found to reduce the college students’ responses to stress; to make them more resilient when high levels of stress occur. Contemplative practices including meditationmindfulness training, exercise, Tai Chi and Qigong, and yoga practice have been shown to reduce the psychological and physiological responses to stress, relieve anxiety, and reduce depression So, it would seem important to examine various techniques to relieve the stress and its consequent symptoms in college students.


In today’s Research News article “Effects of aerobic exercise, traditional Chinese exercises, and meditation on depressive symptoms of college student: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: ) Song and colleagues reviewed, summarized, and performed a meta-analysis of the published randomized controlled trials of the effects of aerobic exercise, meditation, or traditional Chinese exercises on depression, anxiety, and stress in college students. traditional Chinese exercises included tai chi, Baduanjin, qigong, and other mind-body therapies. They identified 44 published trials.


They report that the published trials found that aerobic exercise, meditation, and traditional Chinese exercises all improved depression in the college students. On the other hand, only aerobic exercise produced a significant reduction in anxiety levels and only aerobic exercise and traditional Chinese exercises produced significant reductions in stress.


The findings regarding depression make sense as all three types of interventions have been found to be effective in relieving depression. But previous studies with diverse groups have found that meditation is effective for anxiety and stress and traditional Chinese exercises are also effective for anxiety. So, it may well be that the review included only college students may be responsible for these failures to find significant effects. In addition, there were no studies included that involved the use of meditation for stress and only 2 for the effects of traditional Chinese exercises on anxiety. Regardless, the results clearly show that all three practices are effective in relieving depression.


So, mindfulness and exercise reduce depression in college students.


Although the research on long-term benefits is still scarce, much of it has shown that long-term mindfulness practitioners tend to have improved health outcomes, enhanced psychological well-being and better attentional function.” – Affordable College Onine


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


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


Study Summary


Song, J., Liu, Z. Z., Huang, J., Wu, J. S., & Tao, J. (2021). Effects of aerobic exercise, traditional Chinese exercises, and meditation on depressive symptoms of college student: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Medicine, 100(1), e23819.




Non-pharmacological intervention methods such as rehabilitation training or psychological treatment are mostly used in the treatment of depression owing to the limitation of adverse reactions such as drug treatment. However, the best non-pharmacological treatment strategy for depression in college students is unclear. Therefore, it is significant to discover non-drug intervention methods that can improve the depression symptoms of college students.


Electronic databases as of Sep 15, 2019, were searched, and reference lists and pharmaceutical dossiers were reviewed to detect published and unpublished studies from the date of their inception to Sep 15, 2019. With document quality evaluations and data extraction, Meta-Analysis was performed using a random effect model to evaluate the intervention effect of the aerobic exercise, traditional Chinese exercises, and meditation.


A total of 44 original studies were included. The random effect model was used to combine the effect values with Standard Mean Difference (SMD), and the results were: aerobic exercise [SMD = –0.53, 95% CI (–0.77, –0.30), I2 = 80%, P < .001], traditional Chinese exercises [SMD = –0.42, 95% CI (–0.74, –0.10), I2 = 90%, P = .01], meditation [SMD = –0.51, 95% CI (–0.90, –0.12), I2 = 79%, P = .01]. There was greater heterogeneity among the included studies: aerobic exercise (I2 = 80%, P < .001), traditional Chinese medicine methods (I2 = 90%, P < .001), and meditation (I2 = 79%, P < .001).


This study revealed that the depression symptoms of college students can be effectively improved by aerobic exercise, traditional Chinese exercises, and meditation. Aerobic exercise would have a better effect on anxiety and stress while traditional Chinese exercise would have a better effect on stress. Further research (such as high-quality randomized controlled trials and long-term follow-up) is required to evaluate the effects of aerobic exercise, traditional Chinese exercise, and meditation on the depressive symptoms of college students to further apply complementary and alternative therapies.

Ethics and dissemination:

The results of the effects of aerobic exercise, traditional Chinese exercises, and meditation on depressive symptoms for a college student will be reported in a peer-reviewed publication. Hopefully, our findings from this meta-analysis can provide the most up-to-date evidence for the contribution to preventing the occurrence of depressive symptoms in college students.


Reduce Anxiety with Mindful but not Non-Mindful Exercises

Reduce Anxiety with Mindful but not Non-Mindful Exercises


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“Yoga brings together physical and mental disciplines that may help you achieve peacefulness of body and mind. This can help you relax and manage stress and anxiety.” – Mayo Clinic


Anxiety at low levels is normal and can act to signal potential future danger. But when it is overwhelming it creates what we label as anxiety disorders. They are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million adults, or 18% of the population. It has been estimated that one out of every three absences at work are caused by high levels of anxiety. Also, it has been found to be the most common reason for chronic school absenteeism. In addition, people with high levels of anxiety are three-to-five times more likely to go to the doctor and six times more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric disorders than non-sufferers, making it a major burden on the healthcare system.


Anxiety has generally been treated with drugs. But there are considerable side effects and these drugs are often abused. There are a number of psychological therapies for anxiety. But, about 45% of the patients treated do not respond to the therapy. So, there is a need to develop alternative treatments. Recently, it has been found that mindfulness improves the regulation of  all emotions, including negative emotions like anxiety. There are a large variety of mindfulness practices. There have been a number of studies examining the effectiveness of mindfulness practices on anxiety. It’s important to take a look at what has been learned.


In today’s Research News article “Comparing Mindful and Non-Mindful Exercises on Alleviating Anxiety Symptoms: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: )  So and colleagues review, summarize, and perform a meta-analysis of the published randomized controlled trials of mindful and non-mindful practices for the treatment of non-specific anxiety.


They identified 14 published studies. The mindful practices consisted of yoga (10 studies) and qigong (4 studies) while the non-mindful practices consisted of walking, aerobic exercise, and stretching. They report that the published studies found that yoga practice produced a significant reduction in anxiety compared to non-mindful exercises while qigong practice did not.


Mindfulness practices have been routinely found to reduce anxiety in numerous other research studies. So, these results are not surprising. But yoga is both a mindfulness practice and an exercise. So, finding it effective while other non-mindful exercises were not, suggests that it is the mindfulness practice that is the key to yoga’s ability to reduce anxiety. The fact that qigong practice was not effective is surprising. The authors note that yoga but not qigong empathises breath control and speculate that this may be the critical difference explaining their differential effectiveness.


So, reduce anxiety with mindful but not non-mindful exercises.


Yoga for stress and anxiety helps to release deep holding patterns in the body and generates a state of balance to support healing.” – Melissa Mercedes


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


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


Study Summary


So, W., Lu, E. Y., Cheung, W. M., & Tsang, H. (2020). Comparing Mindful and Non-Mindful Exercises on Alleviating Anxiety Symptoms: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. International journal of environmental research and public health, 17(22), 8692.



Background: In recent years, studies and reviews have reported the therapeutic benefits of both mindful and non-mindful exercises in reducing anxiety. However, there have not been any systematic reviews to compare their relative effectiveness for therapeutic application, especially among the non-clinical population. Thus, the aim of this review is to compare the effectiveness between mindful and non-mindful exercise on treating anxiety among non-clinical samples. Methods: Potential articles were retrieved from PubMed, Embase, Academic Search Premier, and PsycInfo. Randomized controlled trials, which involved both mindful and non-mindful exercises as intervention, and the use of anxiety outcome measures were included. Results: Twenty-four studies fulfilled the inclusion criteria and were included in our systematic review. In addition, 14 studies provided sufficient data to be included in the meta-analysis. For studies that reported significant group differences at post-assessment, results showed that mindful exercise was more beneficial in reducing anxiety than non-mindful exercise. The meta-analysis reported that yoga was more effective in reducing anxiety than non-mindful exercise. Conclusions: Compared to non-mindful exercise, yoga is shown to be more effective in alleviating anxiety symptoms. It is recommended that yoga could be used as a primary healthcare intervention to help the public reduce anxiety.


Reduce Coronary Heart Disease Risk with Tai Chi

Reduce Coronary Heart Disease Risk with Tai Chi


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


tai chi is a promising and safe exercise alternative for patients with coronary heart disease who are unable or unwilling to attend traditional CR, in particular for older people, women, and deconditioned individuals.” – Elena Salmoirago‐Blotcher


Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer, claiming more lives than all forms of cancer combined. Lifestyle changes have proved to be quite effective in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. These include quitting smoking, weight reduction, improved diet, physical activity, and reducing stresses. Contemplative practices, such as meditation, tai chi, and yoga, have also been shown to be helpful for heart health. These practices have also been shown to be helpful for producing the kinds of other lifestyle changes needed such as smoking cessationweight reduction and stress reduction.


Tai Chi and Qigong are ancient mindfulness practices involving slow prescribed movements. They are gentle and completely safe, can be used with the elderly and sickly, are inexpensive to administer, can be performed in groups or alone, at home or in a facility or even public park, and can be quickly learned. In addition, they can also be practiced in social groups without professional supervision. This can make it fun, improving the likelihood of long-term engagement in the practice. Since Tai Chi and Qigong are both mindfulness practices and exercises, they are particularly acceptable and effective methods to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.


In today’s Research News article “Tai Chi Improves Coronary Heart Disease Risk by Inactivating MAPK/ERK Pathway through Serum miR-126.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: Zhang and colleagues recruited coronary heart disease patients after release from the hospital following percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI). They were randomly assigned to either receive 90-minute daily Tai Chi training for 3 months or to receive exercise training of varied exercises calibrated to be equivalent to the Tai Chi practice. They were measured before and after training for body fat, epicardial adipose tissue volume, heart rate, blood pressure, quality of life, and balance performance. In addition, they were also measured for miR-126 and Mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK)-associated molecules in peripheral blood leukocytes.


They found that in comparison to baseline and the exercise control group, the group that received Tai Chi train had significantly lower body weight and body fat, epicardial adipose tissue volume, heart rate, systolic blood pressure, Serum miR-126, and MAPK signaling, and significantly greater balance stability and quality of life.


These results are particularly strong because the comparison condition was equivalent non-Tai Chi exercises. So, the results were not due simply to exercise but specifically to the practice of Tai Chi. The results suggest that Tai Chi practice greatly reduces risk factor for Coronary Heart Disease in patients recovering from percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI). In addition, since the miR-126 modulates the Mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK)-pathway that is associated with cardiovascular risk, Tai Chi practice also reduces a molecular pathway suggestive of cardiovascular risk.


These are impressive results that suggest that Tai Chi practice has substantial benefits for patients at-risk for cardiovascular disease. It improves the patients body composition, cardiovascular function, well-being, and even biochemical pathways associate with risk for coronary heart disease. This combined with the safety, convenience, low expense, and attractiveness of Tai Chi practice, makes it an ideal practice for the reduction of risk for coronary heart disease.


So, reduce coronary heart disease risk with Tai Chi.


“Tai chi offers other benefits as well for heart patients. The deep breathing enhances oxygen uptake, reducing the shortness of breath that’s also common with heart failure.” – Harvard Health Letter


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


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


Study Summary


Zhang, G., Wang, S., Gu, Y., Song, L., Yu, S., & Feng, X. (2020). Tai Chi Improves Coronary Heart Disease Risk by Inactivating MAPK/ERK Pathway through Serum miR-126. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM, 2020, 4565438.




Tai Chi is effective in preventing heart disease (CHD) risk, but the molecular mechanism remains unclear. Mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signaling plays a critical role in the pathogenesis of CHD and can be activated by miR-126. Tai Chi may exert its protective function through the miR-126-modulated MAPK pathway.


The CHD patients after PCI were randomized into the CG group (CG) (n = 19, normal care) and Tai Chi group (TG) (Tai Chi intervention, n = 17). Epicardial adipose tissue volume (EATV) (one main adverse cardiovascular event of CHD), HR (heart rate), QoL (quality of life) scores, and balance performance were measured in the two groups. The body fat content, abdominal subcutaneous fat, and visceral fat were measured to reflect the improvement of adipose tissue dysfunction. The levels of miR-126 and MAPK-associated molecules were measured in peripheral blood leukocytes. Meanwhile, the effects of miR-126 silence and mimic on MAPK-associated molecules were also explored in cardiac cell H9C2.


After the 3-month intervention, Tai Chi reduced EATV and HR and increased QoL scores and balance performance, respectively (P < 0.05). The fat percentage, body fat mass, and BMI were also significantly reduced after Tai Chi intervention (P < 0.05). The levels of miR-126, MAPK, JNK, and ERK in the TG group were lower than those in the CG group (P < 0.05). The miR-126 levels had a strong relationship with the values of EATV, HR, and QoL scores (P < 0.05). miR-126 silence or mimic inactivated or activated MAPK-associated molecules in the cardiac cell lines.


Tai Chi improved CHD risk by inactivating the MAPK/ERK pathway via serum miR-126


Improve Health, Well-Being, and Quality of Life with Breast Cancer with an Integrative Program Including Diet, Exercise, and Mindfulness

Improve Health, Well-Being, and Quality of Life with Breast Cancer with an Integrative Program Including Diet, Exercise, and Mindfulness


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


Our cancer experiences take up a lot of energies, mental focus and can drain us emotionally. It is important to have a few tools to help us create ‘down’ and ‘out’ times, and to replenish and reconnect with who we are.  Mindfulness can also help during specific times of our cancer treatment – to prepare for surgery, while undergoing chemotherapy or radiotherapy, and before or during scans to help with scanxiety. “ – Karen Sieger


Receiving a diagnosis of cancer has a huge impact on most people. Feelings of depression, anxiety, and fear are very common and are normal responses to this life-changing and potentially life-ending experience. But cancer diagnosis is not necessarily a death sentence. Over half of the people diagnosed with cancer are still alive 10 years later and this number is rapidly increasing. But, surviving cancer carries with it a number of problems. Anxiety, depression, fatigue and insomnia are common symptoms in the aftermath of surviving breast cancer. These symptoms markedly reduce the quality of life of the patients.


Mindfulness training has been shown to help with cancer recovery and help to relieve chronic pain. It can also help treat the residual physical and psychological symptoms, including stress,  sleep disturbancefear, and anxiety and depression. Diet and exercise have also been shown to be effective for breast cancer patients who tend to become overweight or obese. The majority of research, however, explores mindfulness, diet, and exercise separately as treatments for breast cancer patients. It will be important to establish if the combination of these treatments may be especially effective.


In today’s Research News article “Influence of a Multidisciplinary Program of Diet, Exercise, and Mindfulness on the Quality of Life of Stage IIA-IIB Breast Cancer Survivors.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at:, Ruiz-Vozmediano and colleagues recruited breast cancer patients who had completed treatment at least 12 months earlier. They were randomly assigned to a no-treatment control group or to receive a 6-month program of diet, exercise, and mindfulness. The diet intervention consisted of a 5-hour workshop on healthy eating that was repeated after 2 months. Exercise consisted of 7-weeks of 3 times per week for an hour stretching and weekly 50-minutes of dancing. Mindfulness training consisted of a 4-week, twice a week for 90 minutes Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program including discussion, meditation, yoga, and body scan. They were measured before and 6 months after the intervention for body size, food intake, and cancer quality of life. They also provided a blood sample that was assayed for glucose, triglycerides, and cholesterol levels, and tumor markers.


They found that in comparison to baseline and the control group the participants who received the diet, exercise, and mindfulness intervention had significantly higher adherence to a Mediterranean diet, and greater quality of life including physical, role, and social functioning quality of life. They also had significant reductions in body weight, body mass index (BMI), blood triglycerides, and high-density lipoprotein.


The results suggest that an integrated treatment of diet, exercise, and mindfulness training produces positive changes in breast cancer survivors including improvements in their quality of life, diet, body size, and blood lipid levels. Future research should perform a component analysis to determine the effects of each treatment component and their combinations on the patients. Regardless, the effects observed in the present study tend to predict maintained psychological and physical health in these patients.


So, improve health, well-being, and quality of life with breast cancer with an integrative program including diet, exercise, and mindfulness.


“mindfulness-based stress reduction can be effective in alleviating anxiety and depression, decreasing long-term emotional and physical side effects of treatments and improving the quality of sleep in breast cancer patients.” – BCRF


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


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


Study Summary


Ruiz-Vozmediano, J., Löhnchen, S., Jurado, L., Recio, R., Rodríguez-Carrillo, A., López, M., Mustieles, V., Expósito, M., Arroyo-Morales, M., & Fernández, M. F. (2020). Influence of a Multidisciplinary Program of Diet, Exercise, and Mindfulness on the Quality of Life of Stage IIA-IIB Breast Cancer Survivors. Integrative cancer therapies, 19, 1534735420924757.



Background: Integrative oncology has proven to be a useful approach to control cancer symptoms and improve the quality of life (QoL) and overall health of patients, delivering integrated patient care at both physical and emotional levels. The objective of this randomized trial was to evaluate the effects of a triple intervention program on the QoL and lifestyle of women with breast cancer. Methods: Seventy-five survivors of stage IIA-IIB breast cancer were randomized into 2 groups. The intervention group (IG) received a 6-month dietary, exercise, and mindfulness program that was not offered to the control group (CG). Data were gathered at baseline and at 6 months postintervention on QoL and adherence to Mediterranean diet using clinical markers and validated questionnaires. Between-group differences at baseline and 3 months postintervention were analyzed using Student’s t test for related samples and the Wilcoxon and Mann-Whitney U tests. Results: At 6 months postintervention, the IG showed significant improvements versus CG in physical functioning (p = .027), role functioning (p = .028), and Mediterranean diet adherence (p = .02) and a significant reduction in body mass index (p = .04) and weight (p = .05), with a mean weight loss of 0.7 kg versus a gain of 0.55 kg by the CG (p = .05). Dyspnea symptoms were also increased in the CG versus IG (p = .066). Conclusions: These results demonstrate that an integrative dietary, physical activity, and mindfulness program enhances the QoL and healthy lifestyle of stage IIA-IIB breast cancer survivors. Cancer symptoms may be better managed by the implementation of multimodal rather than isolated interventions.


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+

Lunchtime Mindfulness and Exercise Training have only Weak Benefits for Stress and Mental Health

Lunchtime Mindfulness and Exercise Training have only Weak Benefits for Stress and Mental Health


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


The research is strong for mindfulness’ positive impact in certain areas of mental health, including stress reduction, emotion and attention regulation, reduced rumination, for reducing mild to moderate depression and anxiety, and preventing depressive relapse.” – Kelle Walsh


Over the last several decades, research and anecdotal experiences have accumulated an impressive evidential case that the development of mindfulness has positive benefits for the individual’s mental, physical, and spiritual life. Mindfulness appears to be beneficial both for healthy people and for people suffering from a myriad of mental and physical illnesses. It appears to be beneficial across ages, from children to the elderly. And it appears to be beneficial across genders, personalities, race, and ethnicity. The breadth and depth of benefits is unprecedented. There is no other treatment or practice that has been shown to come anyway near the range of mindfulness’ positive benefits.


Exercise can also improve emotions and their regulation. More and more businesses are employing mindfulness training for their employees improving their well-being and promoting creativity and productivity. So, it makes sense to study the relative abilities of exercise and mindfulness training in the workplace in promoting well-being.


In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness versus Physical Exercise: Effects of Two Recovery Strategies on Mental Health, Stress and Immunoglobulin A during Lunch Breaks. A Randomized Controlled Trial.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at:, Díaz-Silveira and colleagues recruited mid-level professionals with moderate stress levels who were nor either regularly exercising or practicing mindfulness from a large multinational company. They were randomly assigned to a no-treatment, mindfulness, or exercise group. Mindfulness training consisted of a modified Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. Exercise consisted of aerobic gym and outdoor workouts. “The intervention took place during the five working days of five consecutive weeks, during which the two active groups practiced MM or PE during the lunch break (before having lunch), with equal time intervals of 15 min in the first week, 20 min in the second week, 25 min in the third week and 30 min in the fourth and fifth weeks.” They were measured before and after training and 1 and 6 months later for perceived stress and general mental health and provided saliva samples that were assayed for immunoglobulin A.


They found that immediately after the 5-weeks of training both the mindfulness and exercise groups had significant reduction in perceived stress including harassment, overload, and irritability-tension-fatigue dimensions. But these improvements were no longer present 1 and 6 months later. They also found that at the 6-month follow up the mindfulness group had significantly improved mental health.


These are interesting but somewhat disappointing results. Mindfulness training and exercise appeared to reduce perceived stress levels but the benefits did not last. Also, the mental health benefit for mindfulness training was only apparent at the 6-month follow-up. Prior research has routinely reported lasting reductions in perceived stress and mental health. This suggests that mindfulness and exercise training during the work lunch hour is not the best way to approach mindfulness training in the workplace. The reasons for this should be explored in future research. But it is possible that the rest and relaxation during lunchtime is important for well-being and that filling this time with mindfulness and exercise practice is somewhat counterproductive.


So, lunchtime mindfulness and exercise training have only weak benefits for stress and mental health.


Mindfulness is recommended as a treatment for people with mental ill-health as well as those who want to improve their mental health and wellbeing.” – Mental Health Foundation


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


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


Study Summary


Díaz-Silveira, C., Alcover, C. M., Burgos, F., Marcos, A., & Santed, M. A. (2020). Mindfulness versus Physical Exercise: Effects of Two Recovery Strategies on Mental Health, Stress and Immunoglobulin A during Lunch Breaks. A Randomized Controlled Trial. International journal of environmental research and public health, 17(8), 2839.



This research analyses the effects of mindfulness meditation (MM) and physical exercise (PE), practised as daily recovery activities during lunch breaks, on perceived stress, general mental health, and immunoglobin A (IgA). A three-armed randomized controlled trial with 94 employees was conducted for five weeks including two follow-up sessions after one and six months. Daily practice lasted 30 min maximum. Perceived stress and general mental health questionnaires and saliva samples were used. There were significant differences in time factor comparing pre- and post-test of Perceived Stress Questionnaire (PSQ) both for PE [Mdiff = 0.10, SE = 0.03, p = 0.03], and for MM [Mdiff = 0.09, SE = 0.03, p = 0.03]. Moreover, there were significant differences of interaction factor when comparing MM vs. PE in total score at pre-post [F = −2.62 (6, 168.84), p = 0.02, ω2 = 0.09], favoring PE with medium and high effect sizes. Regarding General Health Questionnaire (GHQ) variable, practicing MM showed significant effects in time factor compared to pre-Fup2. No significant differences were found for IgA. Thus, practicing both MM and PE as recovery strategies during lunch breaks could reduce perceived stress after five weeks of practice, with better results for PE. Moreover, practicing MM could improve mental health with effects for 6 months.