On November 15 and 16, Headspace is bringing mindfulness, meditation, and more to the people of Pittsburgh. This free two day event is full of activities to help make you feel happier and less stressed. There’ll be meditation, food, sleep stories, plenty of play, and even a famous face or two. Go to Headspace Pittsburgh to find out more and to RSVP.
From the Harvard Gazette…
In 2015, 16.1 million Americans reported experiencing major depression during the previous year, often struggling to function while grappling with crippling darkness and despair.
There’s an arsenal of treatments at hand, including talk therapy and antidepressant medications, but what’s depressing in itself is that they don’t work for every patient.
“Many people don’t respond to the frontline interventions,” said Benjamin Shapero, an instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School (HMS) and a psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital’s (MGH) Depression Clinical and Research Program. “Individual cognitive behavioral therapy is helpful for many people; antidepressant medications help many people. But it’s also the case that many people don’t benefit from them as well. There’s a great need for alternative approaches.”
Shapero is working with Gaëlle Desbordes, an instructor in radiology at HMS and a neuroscientist at MGH’s Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, to explore one alternative approach: mindfulness-based meditation.
In recent decades, public interest in mindfulness meditation has soared. Paralleling, and perhaps feeding, the growing popular acceptance has been rising scientific attention. The number of randomized controlled trials — the gold standard for clinical study — involving mindfulness has jumped from one in the period from 1995‒1997 to 11 from 2004‒2006, to a whopping 216 from 2013‒2015, according to a recent article summarizing scientific findings on the subject.
Studies have shown benefits against an array of conditions both physical and mental, including irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, psoriasis, anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. But some of those findings have been called into question because studies had small sample sizes or problematic experimental designs. Still, there are a handful of key areas — including depression, chronic pain, and anxiety — in which well-designed, well-run studies have shown benefits for patients engaging in a mindfulness meditation program, with effects similar to other existing treatments.
“There are a few applications where the evidence is believable. But the effects are by no means earth-shattering,” Desbordes said. “We’re talking about moderate effect size, on par with other treatments, not better. And then there’s a bunch of other things under study with preliminary evidence that is encouraging but by no means conclusive. I think that’s where it’s at. I’m not sure that is exactly how the public understands it at this point.”
From the Dailystar.net…
Linda Larkey, a professor at Arizona State University’s College of Nursing and Health Innovation, defines mindfulness as being present in the current moment and aware of our inner and outer environments, as well as being aware of the movement of the body.
She states that practicing mindfulness activities such as qigong and tai chi, traditional Chinese exercises which focus on posture, movement, breathing and meditation, can help to relieve symptoms and improve overall quality of life for breast cancer survivors by having an effect on the body’s usual responses to stress.
By using these methods to calm the mind, deepen the breath and relax the muscles through gentle movement, the biochemicals in the body that support health and immune function increase, while the biochemicals that produce inflammation, pain and depression/anxiety are decreased.
Her own research is also backed up by other studies, with a UCLA study published earlier this year also finding that tai chi could be beneficial for breast cancer survivors by helping to relieve insomnia as well as feelings of depression and fatigue, common problems for the 30 percent of breast cancer survivors who suffer from the sleep condition. A lack of sleep can also lead to an increased risk of disease.
The team found that after participants had completed weekly tai chi classes for three months, nearly 46.7 percent showed a strong, clinically significant improvement in insomnia symptoms as well as improvements in symptoms of depression and fatigue.
The team also found in their previous research that tai chi could help reduce inflammation in breast cancer survivors and may have potential to help lower the risk of the disease and its recurrence.
Research looking at the effects of practicing mindfulness using methods such as yoga and meditation as part of a mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program also revealed positive results, helping to improve the cognitive impairment that often occurs as a result of cancer treatment.
Practicing Hatha yoga or mindfulness meditation for just 25 minutes can significantly improve brain function and energy levels, compared with spending 25 minutes quietly reading, according to new research from Canada.
Of the many styles of yoga, the one most commonly practiced in the West is Hatha yoga, which combines breathing with meditation and movement and concludes with relaxation. Ashtanga and Iyengar yoga are examples of Hatha yoga.
Mindfulness meditation is an approach that emphasizes paying attention to what is going on in the mind without evaluating or judging it. While yoga often includes some aspects of mindfulness, it can also be practiced on its own.
Prof. Hall explains, “Hatha yoga and mindfulness meditation both focus the brain’s conscious processing power on a limited number of targets like breathing and posing, and also reduce processing of nonessential information.”
From NPR… (Allison Aubrey reporting on Morning Addition)
[…] The aim of forest bathing, Choukas-Bradley [certified Forest Therapy guide] explained, is to slow down and become immersed in the natural environment. She helped us tune in to the smells, textures, tastes and sights of the forest. We took in our surroundings by using all our senses.
“Close your eyes and just breathe, just breathe,” Choukas-Bradley intoned. It felt a bit like a meditation retreat.
It took me a few minutes to clear out the clutter in my brain, and tune in to the natural world. “When you open your eyes, imagine you’re seeing the world for the very first time,” Choukas-Bradley told us.
[…] The Associations of Nature & Forest Therapy plans to train and certify about 250 new guides next year. “We’re aiming to have 1,000 trained guides within three years,” Clifford says.
There’s a growing body of evidence that the practice can help boost immunity and mood and help reduce stress. “Medical researchers in Japan have studied forest bathing and have demonstrated several benefits to our health,” says Philip Barr, a physician who specializes in integrative medicine at Duke University.
One study published in 2011 compared the effects of walking in the city to taking a forest walk. Both activities required the same amount of physical activity, but researchers found that the forest environment led to more significant reductions in blood pressure and certain stress hormones.
On average, the forest walkers — who ranged in age from 36 to 77 — saw a reduction in their systolic blood pressure from 141 mmHg down to 134 mmHg after four hours in the forest.
From the New York Times…
If athletes practice meditation for a few minutes a day, they may become better able to withstand the mental demands of hours of strenuous physical training, according to an interesting new study of Division I college football players.
The study, which compared different types of mental training for stress resilience, could have relevance for anyone planning to start exercising or competing more intensely this summer.
Exercise, as most of us know, is a form of stress. The demands of exercise require our bodies to respond and adapt, and the greater the intensity of the exercise relative to our current fitness, the greater the level of stress it generates.
Much of this strain is physical, but some of it also involves the mind, says Amishi Jha, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Miami in Florida, who led the new study. Prolonged, strenuous training “requires attention,” she says, and a stern focus on continuing to exercise when it might be more pleasant to stop.
From the New York Times…
Many expectant mothers worry about the physical pain that accompanies labor and childbirth. New research suggests that including mindfulness skills in childbirth education can help first-time mothers cope with their fears.
The study, published in the journal BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, also indicates that mindfulness may help decrease women’s symptoms of prenatal and postpartum depression.
Mindfulness, defined as the awareness that arises from paying attention in the present moment, has been shown to help manage chronic pain, depression and anxiety. This study, although small, is one of the first to look at how these skills might benefit pregnant women.
“Fear of the unknown affects everyone, and this may be particularly true for pregnant women,” said Larissa Duncan, lead researcher in the study and an associate professor of human development and family studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
From Vox online (by )…
The companies and foundations largely responsible for introducing mindfulness programing into schools tout its psychological benefits — such as reduced stress and increased attention. And they say the evidence for mindfulness is based on decades of scientific research.
But research quality is not the same as quantity. And considering that more and more US schools are embracing it, I decided to take a look through the literature: What does the science actually say about mindfulness in kids?
I read more than a dozen studies — including systematic meta-reviews, which account for thousands of other papers — analyzing the best available research on mindfulness (in both students and adults) and talked to researchers and advocates involved in the work. I asked these experts what questions and concerns parents should have when they hear mindfulness is coming to their schools. (Scroll down for those questions.)
The short of it: The relatively few studies we have on mindfulness in schools suggest a generally positive effect on decreasing anxiety and increasing cognitive performance. But the hype around mindfulness also seems to be outpacing the science, especially when it comes to teaching these practices to children.
When Rob Stephens, a 22-year-old senior, walks into the Mindfulness Room at Carnegie Mellon University, he leaves his homework and stress at the door. He is surrounded by a waterfall wall, plants, lots of natural light and an open space with cushions on the floor — a 24/7 space is set aside for meditation or just peaceful thinking.
“I definitely think it helps to de-stress,” said Stephens, a global studies major from Atlanta, Georgia. “It’s the time I spend making sure I am OK.” Rob Stephens visits the Mindfulness Room at Carnegie Mellon, where he can meditate, bond with dogs or just chill out. Sara Jahanian
Mindfulness is as popular at colleges nationwide as it is now at CMU. “It’s someone giving themselves uninterrupted mental space,” said Stephens. “Some focus on themselves or others. 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.
The American College Health Association found in a 2015 study that more than 85 percent said they “felt overwhelmed” by the demands of college. And a third of all student said stress had a negative effect on their overall academic performance.
Recently, Stephens enjoyed playing with therapy dogs in the mindfulness room. Students bond with a dog in Carnegie Mellon’s Mindfulness Room. Courtesy of Carnegie Mellon University
Some use the time to take a nap, “to reset their brain,” he said. For others it might include meditation, or focused time at the gym or in yoga. “People can do a lot of mindful things,” Stephens said. “For me, it was time to be with another creature. It doesn’t necessarily have to be in a [yoga] child’s pose.”
From the New York Times…
“Anger is a natural, life-affirming emotion. It lets us know when a boundary has been crossed, when our needs are not being met, or when someone we care about is in danger. But when misdirected, anger can harm our physical health and our relationships. Being mindful of anger means not suppressing, denying or avoiding it and also not acting out in harmful ways. Instead, connect with the direct experience of the anger, and then decide what action you want to take.” — Jessica Morey, executive director of Inward Bound Mindfulness Education