1. Yogic breathing helps fight major depression, study shows

    November 28, 2016 by Ashley

    From the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania media release:

    depressionA breathing-based meditation practice known as Sudarshan Kriya yoga helped alleviate severe depression in people who did not fully respond to antidepressant treatments, reports a new study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry from researchers in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. The study bolsters the science behind the use of controlled yogic breathing to help battle depression.

    In a randomized, controlled pilot study, led by Anup Sharma, MD, PhD, a Neuropsychiatry research fellow in the department of Psychiatry at Penn, researchers found significant improvement in symptoms of depression and anxiety in medicated patients with major depressive disorder (MDD) who participated in the breathing technique compared to medicated patients who did not partake. After two months, the yoga group cut its mean Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HDRS) score by several points, while the control group showed no improvements. HDRS is the most widely used clinician-administered depression assessment that scores mood, interest in activities, energy, suicidal thoughts, and feelings of guilt, among other symptoms.

    More than half of the 41 million Americans who take antidepressants do not fully respond. Add-on therapies are often prescribed to enhance the effects of the drugs in these patients, but they typically offer limited additional benefits and come with side effects that can curb use, prolonging the depressive episode. What’s more, patients who don’t fully respond to antidepressants are especially at risk of relapse.

    With such a large portion of patients who do not fully respond to antidepressants, it’s important we find new avenues that work best for each person to beat their depression,” Sharma said. “Here, we have a promising, lower-cost therapy that could potentially serve as an effective, non-drug approach for patients battling this disease.”

    The meditation technique, which is practiced in both a group setting and at home, includes a series of sequential, rhythm-specific breathing exercises that bring people into a deep, restful, and meditative state: slow and calm breaths alternated with fast and stimulating breaths.

    Sudarshan Kriya yoga gives people an active method to experience a deep meditative state that’s easy to learn and incorporate in diverse settings,” Sharma said.

    In past studies, the practice has demonstrated a positive response in patients with milder forms of depression, depression due to alcohol dependence, and in patients with MDD; however, there are no clinical studies investigating its use for depression in an outpatient setting. Past studies suggest that yoga and other controlled breathing techniques can potentially adjust the nervous system to reduce stress hormones. Overall, the authors also note, well-designed studies that evaluate the benefits of yoga to treat depression are lacking, despite increased interest in the ancient Indian practice. Millions of Americans participate in some form of yoga every year.

    In the study, researchers enrolled 25 patients suffering from MDD who were depressed, despite more than eight weeks of antidepressant medication treatment. The medicated patients were randomized to either the breathing intervention group or the “waitlist” control group for eight weeks. (The waitlist group was offered the yoga intervention after the study). During the first week, participants completed a six-session program, which featured Sudarshan Kriya yoga in addition to yoga postures, sitting meditation, and stress education. For weeks two through eight, participants attended weekly Sudarshan Kriya yoga follow-up sessions and completed a home practice version of the technique.

    Patients in the Sudarshan Kriya yoga group showed a significantly greater improvement in HDRS scores compared to patients in the waitlist group. With a mean baseline HDRS score of 22.0 (indicating severe depression at the beginning of the study), the group that completed the breathing technique for the full two months improved scores by 10.27 points on average, compared to the waitlist group, which showed no improvements. Patients in the yoga group also showed significant mean reductions in total scores of the self-reported Beck Depression (15.48 point improvement) and Beck Anxiety Inventories (5.19 point improvement), versus the waitlist control group.

    Results of the pilot study suggest the feasibility and promise of Sudarshan Kriya as an add-on intervention for MDD patients who have not responded to antidepressants, the authors wrote. “The next step in this research is to conduct a larger study evaluating how this intervention impacts brain structure and function in patients who have major depression,” Sharma said.

     


  2. Mindfulness in the workplace improves employee focus, attention, behavior, new management-based research concludes

    March 17, 2016 by Ashley

    From the Case Western Reserve University media release:

    senior business teacher meditatingMindfulness is often viewed as either a touchy-feely fad or valuable management tool that can lift an entire workplace.

    A new comprehensive analysis of mindfulness research, co-directed by a management scientist at Case Western Reserve University, suggests the latter — that injecting a corporate culture of mindfulness not only improves focus, but the ability to manage stress and how employees work together.

    “Historically, companies have been reticent to offer mindfulness training because it was seen as something fluffy, esoteric and spiritual,” said Christopher Lyddy, an organizational behavior doctoral candidate at Case Western Reserve’s Weatherhead School of Management. “But that’s changing.”

    Mindfulness, defined as present-centered attention and awareness, emerged from Buddhist philosophy and has been cultivated for millennia through mg{meditation} practices. Organizations such as Google, Aetna, Mayo Clinic and the United States Marine Corps use mindfulness training to improve workplace functioning. The results of this latest research indicate the approach can improve a range of workplace functions.

    When you are mindful, you can have a greater consciousness in the present,” Lyddy said. “That’s vital for any executive or manager, who, at any given moment, may be barraged with various problems that call for decisions under stress.”

    Lyddy is co-lead author of the research with Darren Good, who earned his doctorate at the Weatherhead School and is now an assistant professor at Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management. They headed an unusually interdisciplinary team that included experts in both management and mindfulness, as well as psychologists and neuroscientists.

    The researchers considered 4,000 scientific papers on various aspects of mindfulness, distilling the information into an accessible guide documenting the impact mindfulness has on how people think, feel, act, relate and perform at work.

    Their findings, Contemplating Mindfulness at Work (An Integrative Review), are recently published in the Journal of Management.

    “Remarkably, scientists have found the effects of mindfulness consistently benign,” Lyddy said. “Of the thousands of empirical studies we read, only two reported any downside to mindfulness.”

    A small but growing body of work in the management area suggests mindfulness is linked to better workplace functioning.

    Among the new study’s conclusions:

    • Mindfulness appears to positively impact human functioning overall. Research in such disciplines as psychology, neuroscience and medicine provide a wealth of evidence that mindfulness improves attention, cognition, emotions, behavior and physiology.
    • Specifically, mindfulness has been shown to improve three qualities of attention — stability, control and efficiency. The human mind is estimated to wander roughly half of our waking hours, but mindfulness can stabilize attention in the present. Individuals who completed mindfulness training were shown to remain vigilant longer on both visual and listening tasks.
    • Although mindfulness is an individual quality, initial evidence suggests that it affects interpersonal behavior and workgroup relationships.
    • Mindfulness may improve relationships through greater empathy and compassion — suggesting mindfulness training could enhance workplace processes that rely on effective leadership and teamwork.

    Lyddy said the research indicating significant and diverse benefits of mindfulness coincides with growing practical interest in mindfulness training nationally and worldwide. For example, British Parliament has recently launched a mindfulness initiative called “Mindful Nation UK” that leverages mindfulness to benefit diverse sectors and improve national health, productivity and flourishing.


  3. Study suggests time perception altered by mindfulness meditation

    June 21, 2013 by Ashley

    From the University of Kent press release via HealthCanal:

    youth_meditationNew published research from psychologists at the universities of Kent and Witten/Herdecke has shown that mindfulness meditation has the ability to temporarily alter practitioners’ perceptions of time – a finding that has wider implications for the use of mindfulness both as an everyday practice, and in clinical treatments and interventions.

    Led by Dr Robin Kramer from Kent’s School of Psychology, the research team hypothesised that, given mindfulness’ emphasis on moment-to-moment awareness, mindfulness meditation would slow down time and produce the feeling that short periods of time lasted longer.

    To test this hypothesis, they used a temporal bisection task, which allows researchers to measure where each individual subjectively splits a period of time in half. Participants’ responses to this task were collected twice, once before and then again after a listening task. By separating people into two groups, participants listened for ten minutes to either an audiobook or a meditation exercise designed to focus their attention on the movement of breath in the body. The results showed that the control group (audiobook) didn’t change in their responses after the listening task compared with before. However, meditation led to a relative overestimation of durations i.e. time periods felt longer than they had before.

    The reasons for this have been interpreted by Dr Kramer and team as the result of attentional changes, producing either improved attentional resources that allow increased attention to the processing of time, or a shift to internally-oriented attention that would have the same effect.

    Dr Kramer said: ‘Our findings represent some of the first to demonstrate how mindfulness meditation can alter the perception of time. Given the increasing popularity of mindfulness in everyday practice, its relationship with time perception may provide an important step in our understanding of this pervasive, ancient practice in our modern world.’

    Dr Kramer also explained that the benefits of mindfulness and mindfulness-based therapies in a variety of domains are now being identified. These include decreases in rumination, improvements in cognitive flexibility, working memory capacity and sustained attention, and reductions in reactivity, anxiety and depressive symptoms. Mindfulness-based treatments also appear to provide broad antidepressant and antianxiety effects, as well as decreases in general psychological distress. As such, these interventions have been applied with a variety of patients, including those suffering from fibromyalgia, psoriasis, cancer, binge eating and chronic pain.

    Dr Dinkar Sharma, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Kent, commented: ‘Demonstrating that mindfulness has an effect on time perception is important because it opens up the opportunity that mindfulness could be used to alter psychological disorders that are associated with a range of distortions in the perception of time – such as disorders of memory, emotion and addiction.’

    Dr Ulrich Weger, of Witten/Herdecke’s Department of Psychology and Psychotherapy, concluded by stating that ‘the impact of a brief mindfulness exercise on elementary processes such as time perception is remarkable’.

    ‘The effect of mindfulness meditation on time perception’ (Robin S.S. Kramer, Ulrich W. Weger, Dinkar Sharma) is published in the journal ‘Consciousness and Cognition’.

    The paper can be viewed at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1053810013000792


  4. Study suggests why meditation can help reduce anxiety

    June 10, 2013 by Ashley

    From the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center press release via ScienceDaily:

    senior meditatingScientists, like Buddhist monks and Zen masters, have known for years that meditation can reduce anxiety, but not how. Scientists at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, however, have succeeded in identifying the brain functions involved.

    “Although we’ve known that meditation can reduce anxiety, we hadn’t identified the specific brain mechanisms involved in relieving anxiety in healthy individuals,” said Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D., postdoctoral research fellow in neurobiology and anatomy at Wake Forest Baptist and lead author of the study. “In this study, we were able to see which areas of the brain were activated and which were deactivated during meditation-related anxiety relief.”

    The study is published in the current edition of the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.

    For the study, 15 healthy volunteers with normal levels of everyday anxiety were recruited for the study. These individuals had no previous meditation experience or anxiety disorders. All subjects participated in four 20-minute classes to learn a technique known as mindfulness meditation. In this form of meditation, people are taught to focus on breath and body sensations and to non-judgmentally evaluate distracting thoughts and emotions.

    Both before and after meditation training, the study participants’ brain activity was examined using a special type of imaging — arterial spin labeling magnetic resonance imaging — that is very effective at imaging brain processes, such as meditation. In addition, anxiety reports were measured before and after brain scanning.

    The majority of study participants reported decreases in anxiety. Researchers found that meditation reduced anxiety ratings by as much as 39 percent.

    “This showed that just a few minutes of mindfulness meditation can help reduce normal everyday anxiety,” Zeidan said.

    The study revealed that meditation-related anxiety relief is associated with activation of the anterior cingulate cortex and ventromedial prefrontal cortex, areas of the brain involved with executive-level function. During meditation, there was more activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that controls worrying. In addition, when activity increased in the anterior cingulate cortex — the area that governs thinking and emotion — anxiety decreased.

    “Mindfulness is premised on sustaining attention in the present moment and controlling the way we react to daily thoughts and feelings,” Zeidan said. “Interestingly, the present findings reveal that the brain regions associated with meditation-related anxiety relief are remarkably consistent with the principles of being mindful.”

    Research at other institutions has shown that meditation can significantly reduce anxiety in patients with generalized anxiety and depression disorders. The results of this neuroimaging experiment complement that body of knowledge by showing the brain mechanisms associated with meditation-related anxiety relief in healthy people, he said.

    Support for the study was provided by the Mind and Life Institute’s Francisco J. Varela Grant, the National Institutes of Health grant NS3926 and the Biomolecular Imaging Center at Wake Forest Baptist.

    Co-authors are Katherine Martucci, Ph.D., Robert Kraft, Ph.D., John McHaffie, Ph.D., and Robert Coghill, Ph.D., of Wake Forest Baptist.


  5. Study suggests meditation, stretching help ease PTSD symptoms in nurses

    June 6, 2013 by Ashley

    From the Endocrine Society press release via EurekAlert!:

    nursePracticing a form of meditation and stretching can help relieve symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and normalize stress hormone levels, according to a recent study accepted for publication in The Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM).

    More than 7 million adults nationwide are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in a typical year. The mental health condition, triggered by a traumatic event, can cause flashbacks, anxiety and other symptoms.

    PTSD patients have high levels of corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH) and unusually low levels of cortisol – two hormones used to regulate the body’s response to stress. Although levels of the stress hormone cortisol typically rise in response to pressure, PTSD patients have abnormally low levels of cortisol and benefit when these levels increase. The study found cortisol levels responded favorably in subjects who participated in mind-body exercises for an eight week-period.

    Mind-body exercise offers a low-cost approach that could be used as a complement to traditional psychotherapy or drug treatments,” said the study’s lead author, Sang H. Kim, PhD, of the National Institutes of Health. “These self-directed practices give PTSD patients control over their own treatment and have few side effects.”

    The randomized controlled clinical trial studied the impact of mind-body practices in nurses, a group at high-risk of developing PTSD due to repeated exposure to extreme stressors. Twenty-eight nurses from the University of New Mexico Hospital, including 22 experiencing PTSD symptoms, were divided into two groups. One group took 60-minute mind-body sessions where participants performed stretching, balancing and deep breathing exercises while focusing on awareness of their body’s movements, sensations and surroundings – a form of meditation called mindfulness. The control group did not participate in the twice-weekly class.

    The predominantly female participants underwent blood tests to measure their stress hormone levels and completed the government’s PTSD checklist for civilians. Among those who were enrolled in the mind-body course, cortisol levels in the blood rose 67 percent and PTSD checklist scores decreased by 41 percent, indicating the individuals were displaying fewer PTSD symptoms. In comparison, the control group had a nearly 4 percent decline in checklist scores and a 17 percent increase in blood cortisol levels during the same period.

    “Participants in the mind-body intervention reported that not only did the mind-body exercises reduce the impact of stress on their daily lives, but they also slept better, felt calmer and were motivated to resume hobbies and other enjoyable activities they had dropped,” Kim said. “This is a promising PTSD intervention worthy of further study to determine its long-term effects.”

     


  6. Study suggests brain can be trained in compassion

    May 27, 2013 by Ashley

    From the Association for Psychological Science press release:

    meditation_kidsUntil now, little was scientifically known about the human potential to cultivate compassion — the emotional state of caring for people who are suffering in a way that motivates altruistic behavior.

    A new study by researchers at the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center of the University of Wisconsin-Madison shows that adults can be trained to be more compassionate. The report, published Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, investigates whether training adults in compassion can result in greater altruistic behavior and related changes in neural systems underlying compassion.

    Our fundamental question was, ‘Can compassion be trained and learned in adults? Can we become more caring if we practice that mindset?’” says Helen Weng, lead author of the study and a graduate student in clinical psychology. “Our evidence points to yes.”

    In the study, the investigators trained young adults to engage in compassion meditation, an ancient Buddhist technique to increase caring feelings for people who are suffering. In the meditation, participants envisioned a time when someone has suffered and then practiced wishing that his or her suffering was relieved. They repeated phrases to help them focus on compassion such as, “May you be free from suffering. May you have joy and ease.”

    Participants practiced with different categories of people, first starting with a loved one, someone whom they easily felt compassion for, like a friend or family member. Then, they practiced compassion for themselves and, then, a stranger. Finally, they practiced compassion for someone they actively had conflict with called the “difficult person,” such as a troublesome coworker or roommate.

    “It’s kind of like weight training,” Weng says. “Using this systematic approach, we found that people can actually build up their compassion ‘muscle’ and respond to others’ suffering with care and a desire to help.”

    Compassion training was compared to a control group that learned cognitive reappraisal, a technique where people learn to reframe their thoughts to feel less negative. Both groups listened to guided audio instructions over the Internet for 30 minutes per day for two weeks. “We wanted to investigate whether people could begin to change their emotional habits in a relatively short period of time,” says Weng.

    The real test of whether compassion could be trained was to see if people would be willing to be more altruistic — even helping people they had never met. The research tested this by asking the participants to play a game in which they were given the opportunity to spend their own money to respond to someone in need (called the “Redistribution Game”). They played the game over the Internet with two anonymous players, the “Dictator” and the “Victim.” They watched as the Dictator shared an unfair amount of money (only $1 out of $10) with the Victim. They then decided how much of their own money to spend (out of $5) in order to equalize the unfair split and redistribute funds from the Dictator to the Victim.

    We found that people trained in compassion were more likely to spend their own money altruistically to help someone who was treated unfairly than those who were trained in cognitive reappraisal,” Weng says.

    “We wanted to see what changed inside the brains of people who gave more to someone in need. How are they responding to suffering differently now?” asks Weng. The study measured changes in brain responses using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) before and after training. In the MRI scanner, participants viewed images depicting human suffering, such as a crying child or a burn victim, and generated feelings of compassion towards the people using their practiced skills. The control group was exposed to the same images, and asked to recast them in a more positive light as in reappraisal.

    The researchers measured how much brain activity had changed from the beginning to the end of the training, and found that the people who were the most altruistic after compassion training were the ones who showed the most brain changes when viewing human suffering. They found that activity was increased in the inferior parietal cortex, a region involved in empathy and understanding others. Compassion training also increased activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the extent to which it communicated with the nucleus accumbens, brain regions involved in emotion regulation and positive emotions.

    “People seem to become more sensitive to other people’s suffering, but this is challenging emotionally. They learn to regulate their emotions so that they approach people’s suffering with caring and wanting to help rather than turning away,” explains Weng.

    Compassion, like physical and academic skills, appears to be something that is not fixed, but rather can be enhanced with training and practice. “The fact that alterations in brain function were observed after just a total of seven hours of training is remarkable,” explains UW-Madison psychology and psychiatry professor Richard J. Davidson, founder and chair of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds and senior author of the article.

    “There are many possible applications of this type of training,” Davidson says. “Compassion and kindness training in schools can help children learn to be attuned to their own emotions as well as those of others, which may decrease bullying. Compassion training also may benefit people who have social challenges such as social anxiety or antisocial behavior.”

    Weng is also excited about how compassion training can help the general population. “We studied the effects of this training with healthy participants, which demonstrated that this can help the average person. I would love for more people to access the training and try it for a week or two — what changes do they see in their own lives?

    Both compassion and reappraisal trainings are available on the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds’ website. “I think we are only scratching the surface of how compassion can transform people’s lives,” says Weng.

    Other authors on the paper were Andrew S. Fox, Alexander J. Shackman, Diane E. Stodola, Jessica Z. K. Caldwell, Matthew C. Olson, and Gregory M. Rogers.

    The work was supported by funds from the National Institutes of Health; a Hertz Award to the UW-Madison Department of Psychology; the Fetzer Institute; The John Templeton Foundation; the Impact Foundation; the J. W. Kluge Foundation; the Mental Insight Foundation; the Mind and Life Institute; and gifts from Bryant Wanguard, Ralph Robinson, and Keith and Arlene Bronstein.

     

     


  7. Study suggests brain may influence core body temperature

    April 15, 2013 by Ashley

    From the National University of Singapore press release via AlphaGalileo:

    DSI Image of human BrainA team of researchers led by Associate Professor Maria Kozhevnikov from the Department of Psychology at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences showed, for the first time, that it is possible for core body temperature to be controlled by the brain. The scientists found that core body temperature increases can be achieved using certain meditation techniques (g-tummo) which could help in boosting immunity to fight infectious diseases or immunodeficiency.

    Published in science journal PLOS ONE in March 2013, the study documented reliable core body temperature increases for the first time in Tibetan nuns practising g-tummo meditation. Previous studies on g-tummo meditators showed only increases in peripheral body temperature in the fingers and toes. The g-tummo meditative practice controls “inner energy” and is considered by Tibetan practitioners as one of the most sacred spiritual practices in the region. Monasteries maintaining g-tummo traditions are very rare and are mostly located in the remote areas of eastern Tibet.

    The researchers collected data during the unique ceremony in Tibet, where nuns were able to raise their core body temperature and dry up wet sheets wrapped around their bodies in the cold Himalayan weather (-25 degree Celsius) while meditating. Using electroencephalography (EEG) recordings and temperature measures, the team observed increases in core body temperature up to 38.3 degree Celsius.

    A second study was conducted with Western participants who used a breathing technique of the g-tummo meditative practice and they were also able to increase their core body temperature, within limits.

    Applications of the research findings

    The findings from the study showed that specific aspects of the meditation techniques can be used by non-meditators to regulate their body temperature through breathing and mental imagery. The techniques could potentially allow practitioners to adapt to and function in cold environments, improve resistance to infections, boost cognitive performance by speeding up response time and reduce performance problems associated with decreased body temperature.

    The two aspects of g-tummo meditation that lead to temperature increases are “vase breath” and concentrative visualisation. “Vase breath” is a specific breathing technique which causes thermogenesis, which is a process of heat production. The other technique, concentrative visualisation, involves focusing on a mental imagery of flames along the spinal cord in order to prevent heat losses. Both techniques work in conjunction leading to elevated temperatures up to the moderate fever zone.

    Assoc Prof Kozhevnikov explained, “Practicing vase breathing alone is a safe technique to regulate core body temperature in a normal range. The participants whom I taught this technique to were able to elevate their body temperature, within limits, and reported feeling more energised and focused. With further research, non-Tibetan meditators could use vase breathing to improve their health and regulate cognitive performance.”

    Further research into controlling body temperature

    Assoc Prof Kozhevnikov will continue to explore the effects of guided imagery on neurocognitive and physiological aspects. She is currently training a group of people to regulate their body temperature using vase breathing, which has potential applications in the field of medicine. Furthermore, the use of guided mental imagery in conjunction with vase breathing may lead to higher body temperature increases and better health.


  8. Study suggests meditating before classes may help grades

    April 13, 2013 by Ashley

    From the George Mason University press release by Tara Laskowski via ScienceDaily:

    meditation_kidsPracticing a little Zen before class can lead to better grades, according to a new experimental study by George Mason University professor Robert Youmans and University of Illinois doctoral student Jared Ramsburg.

    The pair of researchers conducted three classroom experiments at a California university to see if meditation might help students focus better and retain information. A random selection of students followed basic meditation instructions before a lecture, and the students who meditated before the lecture scored better on a quiz that followed than students who did not meditate. In one experiment, the meditation even predicted which students passed and which students failed the quiz.

    The study was published last month in the journal Mindfulness.

    Interestingly, the researchers also showed that the effect of the meditation was stronger in classes where more freshmen students were enrolled, showing that meditation might have a bigger effect on freshmen students. The researchers speculate that freshmen courses likely contain the types of students who stand to benefit the most from meditation training.

    “One difficulty for researchers who study meditation is that the supposed benefits of meditation do not always replicate across different studies or populations, and so we have been trying to figure out why. This data from this study suggest that meditation may help students who might have trouble paying attention or focusing. Sadly, freshmen classes probably contain more of these types of students than senior courses because student populations who have difficulty self-regulating are also more likely to leave the university,” says Youmans, an assistant professor of psychology.

    Youmans believes that self-reflection might therefore have an important place in freshmen seminars or institutions with high attrition rates. Their study showed a significant improvement with only six minutes of written meditation exercises — and the researchers believe with more extensive training and coaching that the results could improve.

    “Personally, I have found meditation to be helpful for mental clarity, focus and self-discipline,” says Ramsburg, lead author of the study and a practicing Buddhist. “I think that if mindfulness can improve mental clarity, focus and self-discipline, then it might be useful in a variety of settings and for a variety of goals.”

    Youmans also suggests that, in theory, other forms of active self-reflection such as prayer, taking long walks or even just taking the time to mindfully plan out your day in the morning could have some of the same positive effects as meditation. “Basically, becoming just a little bit more mindful about yourself and your place in the world might have a very important, practical benefit — in this case, doing better in college.”


  9. Study suggests meditation may help increase compassion

    April 6, 2013 by Ashley

    From the Northeastern University press release via EurekAlert!:

    athlete preparationScientists have mostly focused on the benefits of meditation for the brain and the body, but a recent study by Northeastern University’s David DeSteno, published in Psychological Science, takes a look at what impacts meditation has on interpersonal harmony and compassion.

    Several religious traditions have suggested that mediation does just that, but there has been no scientific proof—until now.

    In this study, a team of researchers from Northeastern University and Harvard University examined the effects meditation would have on compassion and virtuous behavior, and the results were fascinating.

    The study

    This study—funded by the Mind and Life Institute—invited participants to complete eight-week trainings in two types of meditation. After the sessions, they were put to the test.

    Sitting in a staged waiting room with three chairs were two actors. With one empty chair left, the participant sat down and waited to be called. Another actor using crutches and appearing to be in great physical pain, would then enter the room.  As she did, the actors in the chair would ignore her by fiddling with their phones or opening a book.

    The question DeSteno and Paul Condon – a graduate student in DeSteno’s lab who led the study – and their team wanted to answer was whether the subjects who took part in the meditation classes would be more likely to come to the aid of the person in pain, even in the face of everyone else ignoring her. “We know meditation improves a person’s own physical and psychological wellbeing,” said Condon. “We wanted to know whether it actually increases compassionate behavior.

    Meditation works

    Among the non-meditating participants, only about 15 percent of people acted to help. But among the participants who were in the meditation sessions “we were able to boost that up to 50 percent,” said DeSteno.  This result was true for both meditation groups thereby showing the effect to be consistent across different forms of meditation.

    The truly surprising aspect of this finding is that meditation made people willing to act virtuous – to help another who was suffering – even in the face of a norm not to do so,” DeSteno said, “The fact that the other actors were ignoring the pain creates as ‘bystander-effect’ that normally tends to reduce helping.  People often wonder ‘Why should I help someone if no one else is?’”

    These results appear to prove what the Buddhist theologians have long believed—that meditation is supposed to lead you to experience more compassion and love for all sentient beings.  But even for non-Buddhists, the findings offer scientific proof for meditation techniques to alter the calculus of the moral mind.


  10. Study links mindfulness meditation with lower levels of stress hormone

    March 28, 2013 by Ashley

    From the UC Davis press release via MedicalXpress:

    senior meditatingFocusing on the present rather than letting the mind drift may help to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, suggests new research from the Shamatha Project at the University of California, Davis.

    The ability to focus mental resources on immediate experience is an aspect of mindfulness, which can be improved by meditation training.

    “This is the first study to show a direct relation between resting cortisol and scores on any type of mindfulness scale,” said Tonya Jacobs, a postdoctoral researcher at the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain and first author of a paper describing the work, published this week in the journal Health Psychology.

    High levels of cortisol, a hormone produced by the adrenal gland, are associated with physical or emotional stress. Prolonged release of the hormone contributes to wide-ranging, adverse effects on a number of physiological systems.

    The new findings are the latest to come from the Shamatha Project, a comprehensive long-term, control-group study of the effects of meditation training on mind and body.

    Led by Clifford Saron, associate research scientist at the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain, the Shamatha Project has drawn the attention of both scientists and Buddhist scholars including the Dalai Lama, who has endorsed the project.

    In the new study, Jacobs, Saron and their colleagues used a questionnaire to measure aspects of mindfulness among a group of volunteers before and after an intensive, three-month meditation retreat. They also measured cortisol levels in the volunteers’ saliva.

    During the retreat, Buddhist scholar and teacher B. Alan Wallace of the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies trained participants in such attentional skills as mindfulness of breathing, observing mental events, and observing the nature of consciousness. Participants also practiced cultivating benevolent mental states, including loving kindness, compassion, empathic joy and equanimity.

    At an individual level, there was a correlation between a high score for mindfulness and a low score in cortisol both before and after the retreat. Individuals whose mindfulness score increased after the retreat showed a decrease in cortisol.

    “The more a person reported directing their cognitive resources to immediate sensory experience and the task at hand, the lower their resting cortisol,” Jacobs said.

    The research did not show a direct cause and effect, Jacobs emphasized. Indeed, she noted that the effect could run either way—reduced levels of cortisol could lead to improved mindfulness, rather than the other way around. Scores on the mindfulness questionnaire increased from pre- to post-retreat, while levels of cortisol did not change overall.

    According to Jacobs, training the mind to focus on immediate experience may reduce the propensity to ruminate about the past or worry about the future, thought processes that have been linked to cortisol release.

    “The idea that we can train our minds in a way that fosters healthy mental habits and that these habits may be reflected in mind-body relations is not new; it’s been around for thousands of years across various cultures and ideologies,” Jacobs said. “However, this idea is just beginning to be integrated into Western medicine as objective evidence accumulates. Hopefully, studies like this one will contribute to that effort.”

    Saron noted that in this study, the authors used the term “mindfulness” to refer to behaviors that are reflected in a particular mindfulness scale, which was the measure used in the study.

    “The scale measured the participants’ propensity to let go of distressing thoughts and attend to different sensory domains, daily tasks, and the current contents of their minds. However, this scale may only reflect a subset of qualities that comprise the greater quality of mindfulness, as it is conceived across various contemplative traditions,” he said.

    Previous studies from the Shamatha Project have shown that the meditation retreat had positive effects on visual perception, sustained attention, socio-emotional well-being, resting brain activity and on the activity of telomerase, an enzyme important for the long-term health of body cells.