Meditation Research

NYT: Why Self-Compassion Beats Self-Confidence

“Be more confident,” a friend once told me as we made the rounds at a swanky networking event where I felt terribly out of place. Faking confidence is easy: I pulled my shoulders back and spoke louder and with more assertiveness.

Like many soft-spoken, mild-mannered people, I’ve spent a great deal of time trying to present myself this way. As it turns out, confidence may be overrated.

“We like confidence because it feels good and gives us a sense of control. The alternative would be constant anxiety,” said Eric Barker, author of “Barking Up the Wrong Tree.”

We live in a culture that reveres self-confidence and self-assuredness, but as it turns out, there may be a better approach to success and personal development: self-compassion. While self-confidence makes you feel better about your abilities, it can also lead you to vastly overestimate those abilities.

Self-compassion, on the other hand, encourages you to acknowledge your flaws and limitations, allowing you to look at yourself from a more objective and realistic point of view. Both have merits, but many experts believe that self-compassion includes the advantages of self-confidence without the drawbacks.

In his book, Mr. Barker asserts that productivity culture often promotes faking confidence without considering these drawbacks. Namely, when you fake it, you may start to believe your own lie, which can lead to disastrous outcomes.

Because confidence feels good “we often don’t notice when it creeps across the line to overconfidence,” Mr. Barker said. This is better known as the Dunning-Kruger effect: a cognitive bias in which you overestimate your ability in something.

For example, a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology asked people to describe themselves while being recorded on video. Those subjects were then told they would be rated on how likable, friendly and intelligent they seemed in the video. Subjects who had high levels of self-compassion had generally the same emotional reaction no matter how they were rated. By contrast, people with high levels of self-esteem had negative emotional reactions if the feedback was simply neutral and not exceptional. They were also more likely to blame unexceptional ratings on outside factors.

“In general, these studies suggest that self-compassion attenuates people’s reactions to negative events in ways that are distinct from and, in some cases, more beneficial than self-esteem,” the researchers concluded.

Without the pressure to be superhuman, it’s easier to accept feedback and criticism. It’s much harder to learn and improve when you believe you already know everything.

Dr. Neff said resilience may be the most remarkable benefit of self-compassion. In one study, she and her colleagues worked with veterans returning from war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The subjects worked with clinical psychologists who determined that nearly half of the group (42 percent) experienced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Using a 26-item self-report questionnaire that included statements like, “I’m tolerant of my own flaws and inadequacies,” Dr. Neff and her colleagues rated subjects’ level of self-compassion. The study concluded that the more self-compassionate veterans were, the less severe their PTSD symptoms were.

Dr. Neff added that self-compassionate people also tend to ruminate less because they can “break the cycle of negativity” by accepting their own imperfections.

Still, of course, there are many benefits to being confident, even if it’s a put-on. A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that simply appearing more confident makes people believe you deserve more respect and admiration, possibly helping you reach higher social status. Another study published in Plos One found that when people are overconfident, others overrate them as smarter and more skilled. In other words, there’s something to the “fake it until you make it” phenomenon.

But self-compassion and acceptance can offer a whole suite of other benefits: It’s easier for self-compassionate people to improve on those mistakes, failures or shortcomings because they view them more objectively. Research shows self-compassion is an effective motivator in this way.

Self-compassionate people are better at owning up to their mistakes. Juliana Breines and Serena Chen of the University of California at Berkeley conducted a series of experiments to measure the effect of self-compassion on personal growth. In one study, they asked people to think about something they’ve done that made them feel guilty (lying to a partner, for example). From there, subjects were assigned to a group: self-compassion, self-esteem control or positive distraction control. The self-compassion group had to write to themselves “from a compassionate and understanding perspective.”

The self-esteem group was instructed to write about their own positive qualities, and the positive distraction group was asked to write about a hobby they enjoyed. According to the study, those who practiced self-compassion were more motivated to admit and apologize for their mistake than people in the self-esteem group or positive distraction group. The self-compassion group was also more committed to not repeating their mistakes.

But this isn’t to say you have to go around feeling inadequate. Dr. Kristin Neff, an associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Texas, suggests a solution to the problem of overconfidence: self-compassion.

“Self-compassion is treating yourself with the same kindness, care and concern you show a loved one,” Dr. Neff said. “We need to frame it in terms of humanity. That’s what makes self-compassion so different: ‘I’m an imperfect human being living an imperfect life.’”

By that definition, self-compassion is the opposite of overconfidence. Admitting we have flaws just like anyone else keeps us connected to others, Dr. Neff said, and also keeps us from exaggerating our flaws or strengths. Unlike overconfidence, which attempts to hide self-doubt and other pessimistic shortcomings, self-compassion accepts them. Self-compassion, Mr. Barker writes, includes the benefits of confidence without the downside of delusion.

“A lot of people think self-compassion is weak, but it’s just the opposite,” Dr. Neff said. “When you’re in the trenches, do you want an enemy or an ally?” Whereas confidence is aimed at feeling adequate and powerful despite how adequate and powerful you actually are, self-compassion encourages you to accept a more objective reality.

What’s more, self-compassion has been shown to help people better empathize with others. Dr. Neff and her colleague, Tasha Beretvas at the University of Texas at Austin, have found that people rate self-compassionate partners as more caring and supportive than self-critical ones. So if your partner points out a flaw, you’ll do better to accept it and forgive yourself than beat yourself up and dwell on it.

Pulling your shoulders back is easy. Learning to be kind to yourself takes considerably more effort. In his book, Mr. Barker suggests a few ways to embrace self-compassion: Accept that you’re human, recognize your failures and frustrations, and avoid dwelling on mistakes.

“The first and most important thing to do is to notice that voice in your head – that running commentary we all have as we go about our lives,” Mr. Barker said. “Often that voice is way too critical. You beat yourself up for every perceived mistake. To be more self-compassionate, you need to notice that voice and correct it.”

That doesn’t mean lying to yourself, Mr. Barker says, but rather changing the way you talk to yourself. It may help to imagine the way a loved one would talk to you about your mistakes, then switch that voice out for a more supportive one. Keep in mind, however, that the harsh critic in your head is not your enemy. This is a common misconception that can make things worse, Dr. Neff said, because that voice is a survival mechanism that’s intended to keep you safe.

“Don’t beat yourself up for beating yourself up,” she said. “We just need to learn to make friends with our inner critic.”

Kristin Wong is a freelance writer and the author of “Get Money.”

Article Link: https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/12/28/smarter-living/why-self-compassion-beats-self-confidence.html?referer=https://www.google.com/

Research method integrates meditation, science: the meditation experience does not have to be subjective.

[Brown University] —

Mindfulness is always personal and often spiritual, but the meditation experience does not have to be subjective.

Advances in methodology are allowing researchers to integrate mindfulness experiences with brain imaging and neural signal data to form testable hypotheses about the science — and the reported mental health benefits — of the practice.

A team of Brown University researchers, led by junior Juan Santoyo, will present their research approach at 2:45 p.m on Saturday, April 5, 2014, at the 12th Annual International Scientific Conference of the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Their methodology employs a structured coding of the reports meditators provide about their mental experiences. That can be rigorously correlated with quantitative neurophysiological measurements.

“In the neuroscience of mindfulness and meditation, one of the problems that we’ve had is not understanding the practices from the inside out,” said co-presenter Catherine Kerr, assistant professor (research) of family medicine and director of translational neuroscience in Brown’s Contemplative Studies Initiative. “What we’ve really needed are better mechanisms for generating testable hypotheses – clinically relevant and experience-relevant hypotheses.”

Now researchers are gaining the tools to trace experiences described by meditators to specific activity in the brain.

“We’re going to [discuss] how this is applicable as a general tool for the development of targeted mental health treatments,” Santoyo said. “We can explore how certain experiences line up with certain patterns of brain activity. We know certain patterns of brain activity are associated with certain psychiatric disorders.”

Structuring the spiritual

At the conference, the team will frame these broad implications with what might seem like a small distinction: whether meditators focus on their sensations of breathing in their nose or in their belly. The two meditation techniques hail from different East Asian traditions. Carefully coded experience data gathered by Santoyo, Kerr, and Harold Roth, professor of religious studies at Brown, show that the two techniques produced significantly different mental states in student meditators.

“We found that when students focused on the breath in the belly their descriptions of experience focused on attention to specific somatic areas and body sensations,” the researchers wrote in their conference abstract. “When students described practice experiences related to a focus on the nose during meditation, they tended to describe a quality of mind, specifically how their attention ‘felt’ when they sensed it.”

The ability to distill a rigorous distinction between the experiences came not only from randomly assigning meditating students to two groups – one focused on the nose and one focused on the belly – but also by employing two independent coders to perform standardized analyses of the journal entries the students made immediately after meditating.

This kind of structured coding of self-reported personal experience is called “grounded theory methodology.” Santoyo’s application of it to meditation allows for the formation of hypotheses.

For example, Kerr said, “Based on the predominantly somatic descriptions of mindfulness experience offered by the belly-focused group, we would expect there to be more ongoing, resting-state functional connectivity in this group across different parts of a large brain region called the insula that encodes visceral, somatic sensations and also provides a readout of the emotional aspects of so-called ‘gut feelings’.”

Unifying experience and the brain

The next step is to correlate the coded experiences data with data from the brain itself. A team of researchers led by Kathleen Garrison at Yale University, including Santoyo and Kerr, did just that in a paper in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience in August 2013. The team worked with deeply experienced meditators to correlate the mental states they described during mindfulness with simultaneous activity in the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC). They measured that with real-time functional magnetic resonance imaging.

They found that when meditators of several different traditions reported feelings of “effortless doing” and “undistracted awareness” during their meditation, their PCC showed little activity, but when they reported that they felt distracted and had to work at mindfulness, their PCC was significantly more active. Given the chance to observe real-time feedback on their PCC activity, some meditators were even able to control the levels of activity there.

“You can observe both of these phenomena together and discover how they are co-determining one another,” Santoyo said. “Within 10 one-minute sessions they were able to develop certain strategies to evoke a certain experience and use it to drive the signal.”

Toward therapies

A theme of the conference, and a key motivator in Santoyo and Kerr’s research, is connecting such research to tangible medical benefits. Meditators have long espoused such benefits, but support from neuroscience and psychiatry has been considerably more recent.

In a February 2013 paper in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Kerr and colleagues proposed that much like the meditators could control activity in the PCC, mindfulness practitioners may gain enhanced control over sensory cortical alpha rhythms. Those brain waves help regulate how the brain processes and filters sensations, including pain, and memories such as depressive cognitions.

Santoyo, whose family emigrated from Colombia when he was a child, became inspired to investigate the potential of mindfulness to aid mental health beginning in high school. Growing up in Cambridge and Somerville, Mass., he observed the psychiatric difficulties of the area’s homeless population. He also encountered them while working in food service at Cambridge hospital.

“In low-income communities you always see a lot of untreated mental health disorders,” said Santoyo, who meditates regularly and helps to lead a mindfulness group at Brown. He is pursuing a degree in neuroscience and contemplative science. “The perspective of contemplative theory is that we learn about the mind by observing experience, not just to tickle our fancy but to learn how to heal the mind.”

It’s a long path, perhaps, but Santoyo and his collaborators are walking it with progress.

More doctors embrace meditation as medicine

As evidence of its effectiveness grows, more doctors are prescribing meditation to help boost the body’s healing powers.

The stress of caring for her ailing parents, then grieving their deaths eventually caught up with Sharyn Resvick.

She suffered from shooting pain in her shoulder from a pinched nerve. Worse, she could feel her heart pounding and battled feelings of panic.

“My body just crashed,” said Resvick, 55, of Plymouth.

Instead of going on medication, she took a different tack: meditation.

Her remedy of choice was endorsed by her doctor, who scanned her heart to rule out other issues, then suggested she use mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) — a popular meditation program — to manage her symptoms.

As with yoga a decade ago, meditation is slowly expanding beyond its fringe following, appealing to a wider audience, even in the data-driven medical world. More doctors are prescribing meditation to help treat anxiety and depression, lower blood pressure and manage pain, according to a recent study by the Harvard Medical School. It’s one of several studies showing that meditation can actually alter how the brain works.

“It’s that kind of scientific research that really changes physicians’ minds,” said Dr. Henry Emmons, a Minneapolis psychiatrist and author of “The Chemistry of Joy” and “The Chemistry of Calm.”

The trend has gained a foothold especially among health professionals, some of whom practice meditation themselves to cope with the demands of their stressful occupations. Ever so gradually, they’ve moved from practicing the technique to preaching it.

For a long time, doctors who meditated were quiet about it, said Dr. Selma Sroka, medical director of Hennepin County Medical Center’s Alternative Medicine Clinic.

“It wasn’t professional. It wasn’t medical to talk about it,” she said. “I think things are getting more open.”

The mindful revolution

Sroka is a big believer in meditation’s healing powers.

The body’s stress response, also known as “fight or flight,” is aggravated by emotional or physical stress, she explained. The opposite of that reaction is the body’s relaxation response. Meditation triggers that response.

“Any chronic illness can be benefited from emptying one’s mind and not thinking, and breathing more deeply,” Sroka said. “That’s all part of meditation.”

She often recommends that her patients give their minds a rest for a few minutes each day to help their bodies heal. Getting a patient who has suffered a heart attack, for example, to see the importance of the mind-body connection to their recovery is the first step.

“Then, right there in the exam room, I will teach them a simple deep-breathing technique and have them do it for three to four minutes,” Sroka said. She instructs her patients to aim for meditating for 10 minutes a day. “I’m trying to plant seeds,” she said.

Like Sroka, Dr. Debra Bell, a family medicine doctor, regularly prescribes meditation to her patients.

She works for Abbott Northwestern Hospital’s Penny George Institute for Health and Healing in Minneapolis and recommends several meditation resources to her patients. She suggests classes and books to help them learn different techniques and gives some basic instructions herself.

Researchers integrate meditation and science to develop targeted mental health treatments

Mindfulness is always personal and often spiritual, but the meditation experience does not have to be subjective.

Advances in methodology are allowing researchers to integrate mindfulness experiences with brain imaging and neural signal data to form testable hypotheses about the science – and the reported mental health benefits – of the practice.

A team of Brown University researchers, led by junior Juan Santoyo, will present their research approach at 2:45 p.m on Saturday, April 5, 2014, at the 12th Annual International Scientific Conference of the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Their methodology employs a structured coding of the reports meditators provide about their mental experiences. That can be rigorously correlated with quantitative neurophysiological measurements.

“In the neuroscience of mindfulness and meditation, one of the problems that we’ve had is not understanding the practices from the inside out,” said co-presenter Catherine Kerr, assistant professor (research) of family medicine and director of translational neuroscience in Brown’s Contemplative Studies Initiative. “What we’ve really needed are better mechanisms for generating testable hypotheses – clinically relevant and experience-relevant hypotheses.”

Now researchers are gaining the tools to trace experiences described by meditators to specific activity in the brain.

“We’re going to [discuss] how this is applicable as a general tool for the development of targeted mental health treatments,” Santoyo said. “We can explore how certain experiences line up with certain patterns of brain activity. We know certain patterns of brain activity are associated with certain psychiatric disorders.”

Structuring the spiritual

At the conference, the team will frame these broad implications with what might seem like a small distinction: whether meditators focus on their sensations of breathing in their nose or in their belly. The two meditation techniques hail from different East Asian traditions. Carefully coded experience data gathered by Santoyo, Kerr, and Harold Roth, professor of religious studies at Brown, show that the two techniques produced significantly different mental states in student meditators.

“We found that when students focused on the breath in the belly their descriptions of experience focused on attention to specific somatic areas and body sensations,” the researchers wrote in their conference abstract. “When students described practice experiences related to a focus on the nose during meditation, they tended to describe a quality of mind, specifically how their attention ‘felt’ when they sensed it.”

The ability to distill a rigorous distinction between the experiences came not only from randomly assigning meditating students to two groups – one focused on the nose and one focused on the belly – but also by employing two independent coders to perform standardized analyses of the journal entries the students made immediately after meditating.

This kind of structured coding of self-reported personal experience is called “grounded theory methodology.” Santoyo’s application of it to meditation allows for the formation of hypotheses.

For example, Kerr said, “Based on the predominantly somatic descriptions of mindfulness experience offered by the belly-focused group, we would expect there to be more ongoing, resting-state functional connectivity in this group across different parts of a large brain region called the insula that encodes visceral, somatic sensations and also provides a readout of the emotional aspects of so-called ‘gut feelings’.”

Unifying experience and the brain

The next step is to correlate the coded experiences data with data from the brain itself. A team of researchers led by Kathleen Garrison at Yale University, including Santoyo and Kerr, did just that in a paper in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience in August 2013. The team worked with deeply experienced meditators to correlate the mental states they described during mindfulness with simultaneous activity in the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC). They measured that with real-time functional magnetic resonance imaging.

Meditation study links history to science: Light experiences during meditation similar to visualizations caused by sensory deprivation

By 

Staff Writer Brown Daily Herald

Practitioners of Buddhist meditation have reported seeing globes, jewels and little stars during meditation-induced light experiences. The neurobiological explanation for these visions was the subject of a recent study led by Willoughby Britton, assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior, and Jared Lindahl, professor of religious studies at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina.

The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology Jan. 3, connects first-hand accounts of these light experiences and reports of them from Buddhist texts to scientific literature on similar light visions that occur during sensory deprivation, perceptual isolation and visual impairment.

Sensory deprivation, or the lack of input to one’s senses, and perceptual isolation, a monotonous form of input, bear similarities to certain meditation practices and can therefore be used to investigate the biology behind these light experiences, Britton said.

Buddhist meditation, said Noah Elbot ’14, a leader of the Brown Meditation Community, includes practices such as breath awareness, repetition of a particular phrase, or concentration on an image in order to bring the mind to the present.

Because the blocking of sensory input is seen in both sensory deprivation and Buddhist meditation, the authors hypothesized that the light experiences may be caused by a spontaneous firing of neurons in response to a lack of input, a phenomenon referred to as homeostatic neuroplasticity, Britton said.

“Neurons have a point of activity that they fire at,” Britton said. “If there is no input, the neurons don’t like that, and they start to fire on their own, causing hallucinations.”

These visual hallucinations  induced by meditation practice suggest that meditation may lead to increased neuroplasticity, which has been linked to cognitive improvements in learning, memory and attention, according to the study. If this hypothesis proves true, meditation could have significant cognitive benefits.

This study is one of the first that attempts to connect data from historical texts and first-hand reports from current meditation practitioners with scientific research.

“While science has been studying meditation as a way of better understanding the brain, it often overlooks the rich information that religious texts have,” Lindahl said. If people examine meditation only from a scientific perspective, their understanding will be limited, he added.

“This is a paper that respects what the humanities have to offer to science,” Britton said. While meditation is being used increasingly as a clinical practice, the tremendous amount of knowledge on meditation is not being communicated to the scientists and clinicians using it, she added.

This sort of interdisciplinary research aligns with Brown’s values, Britton said. “Really bridging humanities (and) science is necessary in order for rich new dialogues to happen.”

Original post: http://www.browndailyherald.com/2014/02/03/meditation-study-links-history-science/

Mind Over Matter Stressed out? Think it out

Maggie Flynn, CTW Features

Mind over matter is a difficult state to achieve, but according to a new study, meditation might provide some help in getting there.

Research from Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, suggests that 30 minutes of daily meditation may help alleviate the symptoms of anxiety, pain and depression.

This six-month study, led by Johns Hopkins assistant professor Dr. Madhav Goyal, found that those suffering symptoms of anxiety and depression saw “a small but consistent benefit” after an eight-week week training program in mindfulness meditation.

The research found that this type of meditation, which focuses precise attention to the present moment, had a tangible effect on symptoms of anxiety and depression, especially those associated with a clinical medical condition.

Dr. Goyal explained that while the study focused on the effect of meditation, it also examined the effectiveness of the meditation on symptoms of anxiety and depression. “We compared it to what other studies have found in similar populations using antidepressants, and the effect is about the same,” he says.

The beneficial results of meditation were consistent even when the study allowed for the placebo effect, wherein patients feel better because they perceive they are getting help. However more studies will be needed to determine just how powerful the effects of meditation are for those suffering from anxiety and depression.

Goyal says that one of the benefits of using meditation for medical therapy is that there are no side effects. For people who are already on a medical regimen, this opens up the possibility of treatment – as long as they have the time to learn and the willingness to practice.

Dr. Goyal stressed the importance of having a good instructor who can teach the appropriate techniques, and cautioned that while “historically in the eastern traditions from which these programs have evolved, meditation was not seen as a therapy for health problems – it was a means to gain an insight into one’s life.”

But patients from the study’s 47 clinical trials showed consistent improvement over the course of six months. From those results, meditation presents an intriguing option for those dealing with anxiety symptoms. And it’s open to almost everyone.

“I think future studies are needed to determine which patients would respond and which might not,” Dr. Goyal says. “But for the time being, I think anyone who is interested can try it out.”

© CTW Features

Maggie Flynn

Mindfulness Could Make You Less Swayed By Immediate Rewards

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/05/mindfulness-rewards-positive-feedback_n_4213365.html?utm_hp_ref=healthy-living

mindfulness rewards

Mindfulness could help you to be less swayed by immediate rewards, a new study suggests.

A study in the journal Emotion shows that people high in mindfulness have less brain activity in response to positive feedback. Mindfulness is the act of nonjudgmental focus on the present moment.

“These findings suggest that mindful individuals may be less affected by immediate rewards and fits well with the idea that mindful individuals are typically less impulsive,” study researcher Rimma Teper, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Toronto Scarborough, said in a statement.

For the study, researchers tracked brain activity of study participants using electroencephalography as they completed a computer task that involved receiving positive, neutral or negative feedback. Researchers found that participants high in mindfulness showed less brain response to rewarding feedback when compared with other study participants.

A study published earlier in the British Journal of Health Psychology also showed that mindfulness had benefits for self control. In that research, using mindfulness strategies seemed to help people resist sweets, Scientific American reported.

In addition, a study conducted by University of Utah researchers showed that mindfulness is associated with greater emotional stability and self-control over emotions.

Breathing exercises, meditation improved inflammatory markers, quality of life in IBD patients

Breathing exercises, meditation improved inflammatory markers, quality of life in IBD patients

 

SAN DIEGO — Patients with mild-to-moderate inflammatory bowel disease who participated in a program of breathing, movement and meditation exercises experienced significant improvement to inflammatory markers and quality of life in a study presented at the American College of Gastroenterology Annual Scientific Meeting.

Researchers randomized 30 patients with mild-to-moderate IBD to participate in either a breathing, movement and meditation workshop (BBMW) or a control group undergoing a parallel educational seminar (ES). Inflammatory and psychometric markers were assessed via brief symptom inventory (BSI), Beck anxiety inventory (BAI), Beck depression index and IBD questionnaire (IBDQ) at baseline, with changes after 6 weeks as the primary endpoint and after 6 months as the secondary endpoint. Both groups received similar access to health care professionals.

Patients in the BBMW group experienced significant improvements to BSI after 6 weeks compared with the ES group (P=.02 for difference). Similarly, quality of life as measured by the IBDQ (P=.01) was significantly improved in the BBMW group, as were symptoms of anxiety (P=.02). These improvements all persisted after 6 months (P=.04 for BSI score, P=.03 for BSAI and P=.01 for IBDQ), and investigators noted additional improvements to perceived stress (P=.01), perceived disability (P=.001) and depression (P=.01).

At 6 weeks, fecal calprotectin levels had improved significantly in the ES group (P=.04), and numerically in the BBMW group. These changes were not maintained at the 6-month evaluation.

“Many of our young patients with IBD have a decreased quality of life from many symptoms, including diarrhea, bleeding and abdominal pain,” researcher Vinita E. Jacob, MD, assistant clinical professor of medicine at New York Presbyterian Hospital, Weill Cornell Medical College, toldHealio.com. “… While we have excellent medical therapy, it’s important to be broad-minded about other techniques that can be helpful in decreasing the inflammatory state in these particular patients. There are so many young patients who do not want to be on lifelong medication therapy; there is a role for stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system in these patients to help them feel better.”

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.

For more information:

Jacob VE. P1064: Impact of Breathing and Education Programs on Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) Quality of Life (QOL) and Inflammatory Biomarkers. Presented at: The American College of Gastroenterology Annual Scientific Meeting; Oct. 11-16, San Diego.

OCD Expert Who Recommends Meditation as Therapy Is the Focus of New eBook

OCD Expert Who Recommends Meditation as Therapy Is the Focus of New eBook

by

Editor at Open Minds Magazine

Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz applies Buddhist teachings to his work with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and bucks the mainstream belief that the brain is a static organ that dictates our actions. So it is no wonder that he is a controversial figure.

The amazing thing is that he has proven to be right, and has shown that mindfulness meditation can be effective at reducing the effects of OCD. In part, by utilizing what he calls “self-directed neuroplasticity.” In other words, the idea is that we can use meditation to physically rewire our brains. A process I believe I have utilized myself to improve my outlook and health.

Steve Volk’s new book OBSESSED: The Compulsions and Creations of Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz, is the first offering by Discovery magazine’s Discovery In-Depth series. It is available via Kindle single on Amazon.

In the book, Volk examines Schwartz as a scientist and a person. He describes Schwartz as a “pariah among his academic peers,” and “a man battling demons of his own.” Schwartz is often combative, and has a tough time with personal relationships. However, Volk says Schwartz was very open and willing to let Volk spend a lot of time with him, which Volk says is rare in the scientific community. Volk believes Schwartz really just wants to be understood.

Despite his quirks, Schwartz has made substantial contributions to the understanding and treatment of OCD. Volk says his ideas used to be taken lightly, but “he helped produce this shift where now people take mindfulness very very seriously as an effective therapy.”

I find his work fascinating because it relates to the existential question of who we are. As Volk explains it, some scientists believe “our whole selves and our choices are all dictated by physical processes in the brain, and a lot of people take this to mean we don’t have any free will.”

But what if we choose to be different, and in doing so change our brain physically? It sounds fantastic to be able to change the inner workings of our brains by thought alone, but it is now believed it happens, and it is called neuroplasticity. Volk explains, “Schwartz says his therapy, which involves shifting your attention in particular ways in regard to your illness, he says this shows we do have free will and we are not our brains.”

Years ago I learned through studying meditation techniques, methods similar to what Schwartz teaches, and they have helped transform my life. Buddhists teach that in mindfulness mediation one can view their thoughts and self impartially. In doing so one can identify behaviors that are not helpful, and purposefully change the way they react to certain situations. In this way we can choose to alleviate our own suffering, which Buddhists believe we cause ourselves.

For instance, let’s say you get flipped off on the highway on the way to work. That can be kind of frustrating. Some people are prone to get really upset, and then have a terrible morning. In mindful mediation one lets go of emotional static to reflect on oneself and the ways we cause our own suffering.

In reflecting upon why we had a bad morning and realizing it was because somebody flipped us off, we can see that it was our reaction to this event that caused the suffering for the rest of the morning. We can then choose to react differently. I have chosen to smile and wave at people who flip me off, and wish them a good day. I then leave the situation chuckling, while the flipper offer continues on their grouchy way.

This is us choosing to modify our behavior. It may be difficult at first, but as we continue to act out this new behavior, neuroplasticity is at work changing our neural pathways and making this reaction easier to accomplish. One thing I remind myself in these situations is that I cannot let another’s dysfunction become my dysfunction. Just because their brain is wired to be a total jerk, doesn’t mean I have to let mine be wired that way.

In using these methods to help OCD patients alleviate their symptoms, Volk says in his book, “what Schwartz had proven was that his patients could rewire their brains (and reinvent their lives) through sheer force of will, with thought alone.”

Volk says he was inspired to write the book because he has also benefited from “self-directed neuroplasticity.” Beyond that, Volk says, “I really enjoy being able to tell the story about this guy operating on sort of the fringes of things.”  See Video: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alejandro-rojas/ocd-expert-stars-in-ebook_b_4119218.html

Not surprising coming from a guy who also authored a book called, Fringe-ology: How I Tried to Explain Away the Unexplainable — And Couldn’t.

Technique incorporating meditation and yoga lowers high blood pressure

Technique incorporating meditation and yoga lowers high blood pressure

Last Updated: Wednesday, October 16, 2013, 17:58

Washington: A new study has revealed that technique incorporating meditation and yoga can benefit patients with high blood pressure or `prehypertension`.

The study by Joel W. Hughes , PhD, of Kent State (Ohio) University included 56 women and men diagnosed with prehypertension.

One group of patients was assigned to a program of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR): eight group sessions of 2 and a half hours per week. Led by an experienced instructor, the sessions included three main types of mindfulness skills: body scan exercises, sitting meditation, and yoga exercises.

The other “comparison” group received lifestyle advice plus a muscle-relaxation activity. This “active control” treatment group was not expected to have lasting effects on blood pressure.
Researchers found that patients in the mindfulness-based intervention group had significant reductions in clinic-based blood pressure measurements. Systolic blood pressure (the first, higher number) decreased by an average of nearly 5 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg), compared to less than 1 mm Hg with in the control group who did not receive the mindfulness intervention.

Diastolic blood pressure (the second, lower number) was also lower in the mindfulness-based intervention group: a reduction of nearly 2 mm Hg, compared to an increase of 1 mm Hg in the control group.

“Mindfulness-based stress reduction is an increasingly popular practice that has been purported to alleviate stress, treat depression and anxiety, and treat certain health conditions,” Dr Hughes said.

The study is published in Psychosomatic Medicine: Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine.