Heighten Mental and Physical Well-Being with Mindfulness Training

Heighten Mental and Physical Well-Being with Mindfulness Training


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“By focusing on the here and now, many people who practice mindfulness find that they are less likely to get caught up in worries about the future or regrets over the past, are less preoccupied with concerns about success and self-esteem, and are better able to form deep connections with others. If greater well-being isn’t enough of an incentive, scientists have discovered that mindfulness techniques help improve physical health in a number of ways. Mindfulness can: help relieve stress, treat heart disease, lower blood pressure, reduce chronic pain, , improve sleep, and alleviate gastrointestinal difficulties.” – Harvard Health


Mindfulness training has been shown to be effective in improving physical and psychological health and particularly with the physical and psychological reactions to stress. Techniques such as Mindfulness Training, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) as well as Yoga practice and Tai Chi or Qigong practice have been demonstrated to be effective. This has led to an increasing adoption of these mindfulness techniques for the health and well-being of both healthy and ill individuals.


This research suggests that engaging in mindfulness practices can make you a better human being, with greater mental and physical well-being. In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness Training: Can It Create Superheroes?” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00613/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_951898_69_Psycho_20190404_arts_A), Jones and colleagues review and summarize the published research on the effects of mindfulness training on psychological and physical well-being.


They found that the published research presented substantial findings that mindfulness training enhanced physical functioning including improved health, decreased heart rate, blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood cortisol and resistance to disease, including improved stress responding, increased immune system response, and decreased inflammatory responses. They also report the mindfulness training produces tended to protect against the mental and physical effects of aging, including reduced cognitive decline and reduced brain deterioration. In addition, they report that mindfulness training produces improved cognitive processing, including improved heightened attentional ability, improved neural processing, and alterations of brain systems underlying consciousness. Mindfulness training also produced greater resilience and fearlessness, including improved emotion regulation, reduced responding to negative stimuli, lower pain responding, and lower fear conditioning. Mindfulness training also produced more self-less and pro-social behaviors, including increased altruism, increased kindness, and compassion. Finally, they report that mindfulness training can produce some control over autonomic responses.


This review suggests that people who engage in mindfulness training become superior in mental and physical health to non-practitioners and have superior cognitive abilities particularly in regard to attention and higher-level thinking. This doesn’t exactly make them “superheroes” but rather better versions of themselves.


So, heighten mental and physical well-being with mindfulness training.


Ultimately, engaging in mindfulness meditation cultivates our ability to both focus and broaden our attention, which is a practical way to elicit psychological well-being.” – Jennifer Wolkin


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch


Study Summary


Jones P (2019) Mindfulness Training: Can It Create Superheroes? Front. Psychol. 10:613. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00613


With the emergence of the science of heroism there now exists both theoretical and empirical literature on the characteristics of our everyday hero. We seek to expand this inquiry and ask what could be the causes and conditions of a superhero. To address this we investigate the origins of mindfulness, Buddhist psychology and the assertion that its practitioners who have attained expertise in mindfulness practices can develop supernormal capabilities. Examining first their foundational eight “jhana” states (levels of attention) and the six consequent “abhinnas” (siddhis or special abilities) that arise from such mental mastery, we then explore any evidence that mindfulness practices have unfolded the supernormal potential of its practitioners. We found a growing base of empirical literature suggesting some practitioners exhibit indicators of enhanced functioning including elevated physical health and resistance to disease, increased immunity to aging and improved cognitive processing, greater resilience and fearlessness, more self-less and pro-social behaviors, some control over normally autonomic responses, and possibly some paranormal functionality. These improvements in normal human functioning provide some evidence that there are practices that develop these abilities, and as such we might want to consider adopting them to develop this capability. There are however insufficient studies of expert meditators and more research of adepts is called for that explores the relationship between levels of attentional skill and increases in functionality. We propose in search of the superhero, that if conventional mindfulness training can already augment mental and physical capabilities, a more serious inquiry and translation of its advanced methods into mainstream psychological theory is warranted.


Mindful People Better Regulate Their Emotions

Mindful People Better Regulate Their Emotions


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

“With MM training or practice (even a little practice has been shown to make a difference), we become more able to allow disturbing emotions and thoughts to pass through awareness. We develop the ability to NOT act or react to every emotion or thought we have.” – Timothy Pychyl


Mindfulness practice has been shown to improve emotion regulation. Practitioners demonstrate the ability to fully sense and experience emotions, but respond to them in more appropriate and adaptive ways. In other words, mindful people are better able to experience yet control their responses to emotions. This is a very important consequence of mindfulness. Humans are very emotional creatures and these emotions can be very pleasant, providing the spice of life. But, when they get extreme they can produce misery and even mental illness. The ability of mindfulness training to improve emotion regulation is thought to be the basis for a wide variety of benefits that mindfulness provides to mental health and the treatment of mental illness especially depression and anxiety disorders.


In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness Dampens Cardiac Responses to Motion Scenes of Violence.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5866822/ ), Brzozowski and colleagues examine the relationship of mindfulness with the ability of college students to regulate emotional responses to viewing a violent video.


In the first experiment they had the students complete a mindfulness scale and then view a 5-minute violent video. Afterwards they were measured for positive and negative emotions and arousal. They found that students high in mindfulness experienced the film less negatively. In the second experiment the students completed mindfulness and anxiety scales and were measured with and electrocardiogram (ECG) for cardiovascular activity, before, during, and after viewing the 5-minute violent video. They found that students high in mindfulness had lower heart rates before watching the clip, had lower heart rate increases during the clip, and reduced their heart rates to baseline levels faster after the clip.


This is a laboratory correlational study and as such is artificial, not necessarily representative of responses to emotions in everyday contexts. It also limits causal conclusions. In addition, there wasn’t a control comparison condition so it cannot be concluded that the recorded responses were due to watching violence or the reactivity to engaging in a scientific study in a laboratory. Nevertheless, the results suggest that mindful individuals have smaller negative emotional responses and less cardiovascular reactivity to watching a violent video. This suggests that mindfulness improves both psychological and physiological responses to viewing violence. Hence, it appears that mindfulness is associated with improved emotion regulation. It remains for future research to examine causation by actively training mindfulness, having a comparison condition, and making the situation more like real life.


But, it can be tentatively concluded that mindful people better regulate their emotions.


“So rather than getting rid of emotional experience altogether, . . . we can prevent or limit the disruptive aspects of emotions, like rumination. And this can be done by monitoring your thoughts and sensations, but also by adopting a non-judgmental attitude towards them.” – Emily Nauman


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch


Study Summary


Brzozowski, A., Gillespie, S. M., Dixon, L., & Mitchell, I. J. (2018). Mindfulness Dampens Cardiac Responses to Motion Scenes of Violence. Mindfulness, 9(2), 575–584. http://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-017-0799-6



Mindfulness is linked with improved regulatory processes of attention and emotion. The potential benefits of mindfulness are vast, including more positive emotional states and diminished arousal in response to emotional stimuli. This study aims to expand of the current knowledge of the mechanisms of mindfulness by relating the latter to cardiovascular processes. The paper describes two studies which investigated the relationship of trait mindfulness to self-report measures of emotions elicited during a violent video clip and cardiovascular responses to the clip. Both studies recruited male and female participants, mainly university undergraduate students. The clip was 5-min-long and evoked mainly feelings of tension and disgust. In study 1, we found that higher scores for trait mindfulness were associated with increased scores for valence (r = .370, p = .009), indicating a more positive interpretation of the clip. In study 2, the average heart rate during the clip was lower than during the preceding (p < .05) and following (p < .01) non-exposure conditions. Higher trait mindfulness was related to diminished heart rate reactivity (r = −.364, p = .044) and recovery (r = −.415, p = .020). This latter effect was obtained only when trait anxiety was used as a statistical covariate. Additionally, increased trait mindfulness was accompanied by higher resting heart rate (r = .390, p = .027). These outcomes suggest that mindfulness is linked with reductions in negative feelings evoked by violent motion stimuli.



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 http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/contemplative-practice/yoga-contemplative-practice/). 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 http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/



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 http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/aging/). Yoga practice has many physical and mental benefits including protection of brain structures from degeneration with aging (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/age-healthily-protect-the-brain-with-yoga/). 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 http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/contemplative-practice/yoga-contemplative-practice/). 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 http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/age-healthily-yoga/

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

Yoga practice improves the symptoms of arthritis in the elderly http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/08/14/age-healthily-yoga-for-arthritis/



Control Blood Pressure with Meditation


Maintaining good control of glucose and hypertension high blood pressure limits morbidity and mortality.”Stuart Weiss

High Blood pressure (hypertension) affects about 1/3 (70 million) of American adults. Hypertension is associated with heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease. It is sometimes called a silent killer as there are rarely any overt symptoms and the individual may not be aware of the condition. Yet it is estimated to be responsible for about 360,000 deaths a year in the U.S.

Hypertension is more prevalent in African American populations particularly in association with kidney disease. African Americans are four times more likely than Caucasians to develop kidney disease. Drugs are the treatment of choice for hypertension. But they have many adverse side effects. On drugs the individual feels terrible. Without them they feel fine. As a result compliance is a major problem and large numbers of people stop taking their medications.

Obviously, there is a need to develop a safe and effective treatment for hypertension. Elevated sympathetic activity is known to be characteristic of hypertension particularly in association with kidney disease. Mindfulness meditation is known to reduce this activity of the sympathetic nervous system and is known to reduce the effects of stress. In addition, meditation has been shown to reduce blood pressure in normal and hypertensive individuals. So, meditation may be a useful technique for the control of hypertension in patients with kidney disease.

In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness meditation lowers muscle sympathetic nerve activity and blood pressure in African-American males with chronic kidney disease.”



Park and colleagues test the application of a brief mindfulness meditation on hypertension in African American patients with kidney disease. They found that a single session of guided mindfulness meditation with these patients lowered blood pressure and heart rate. This was found to be associated with a reduction in the activity of the sympathetic nervous system. They also demonstrated that the effects were not due to the reduced rate of breathing that occurs in meditation.

It should be noted that this study only looked at very short term effects and there is a need to observe whether meditation could be used over the long-term for control of hypertension. But, the findings suggest that meditation may be a safe and effective treatment for hypertension in African American patients with kidney disease. Since, long-term meditation has been repeatedly shown to produce persistent relaxation and reduce the effects of stress on the individual, it is likely that meditation would continue to be effective in these patients.

So, meditate and keep your blood pressure under control.

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies