stress

Happy Spring! Meditation and Breathing Exercises May Help Allergy Flare Ups, Research Shows

Hay fever and other allergies could be made worse by stress, and some scientists believe meditation and breathing exercises may be the key to relieving flare ups, according to a report by the Daily Mail.

“Stress can cause several negative effects on the body, including causing more symptoms for allergy sufferers,” Dr Amber Patterson, from the Ohio State University Medical Centre said in the report. “Our study also found those with more frequent allergy flares also have a greater negative mood, which may be leading to these flares.”

Researchers looked at 179 patients over 12 weeks and monitored their allergies, and the study was published in the journal “Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology,” revealing the 39 percent who had more than one allergy flare-up had higher stress levels than the rest of the group.

Also, a number of those tested said they had allergy flare-ups that coincided with how stressed they were feeling. Researchers suggested meditation, deep breathing, and avoiding smoking and coffee could help keep stress levels down, and a healthy diet and regular exercise may also reduce symptoms.

“Symptoms, such as sneezing, runny nose and watery eyes can cause added stress for allergy sufferers, and may even be the root of stress for some,” said Dr. Patterson. “While alleviating stress won’t cure allergies, it may help decrease episodes of intense symptoms.”

– See more at: http://www.elevatedexistence.com/blog/2014/04/23/meditation-breathing-exercises-may-help-allergy-flare-ups-research-shows/#sthash.nloFNi05.dpuf

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

Opinion: Meditation can remedy your sleepless nights

Opinion: Meditation can remedy your sleepless nights

From the series Working Out Happiness
Andrew Fleming, Columnist
Fri Sep 27, 2013
Andrew Fleming

Your prefrontal cortex is a blessing and a curse.

Located under your forehead, mankind’s hugely developed prefrontal cortex enables creativity, foresight and strategy. However, that same prefrontal cortex is responsible for those nagging thoughts that keep you up at night – the “what if” scenarios that become increasingly terrifying as their exigency approaches.

While these imaginary situations where you fail the test and lose the girl – or boy, depending on your anatomical preference – may not ever play out, the long term effects on your body from these thoughts actually can. When the brain invents a stressful situation (or replays something horrific that just happened), the sympathetic nervous system engages in very real fight-or-flight responses. These adrenaline pumping, heart-racing reactions are great at making you jump away from a moving car, but they can have incredibly detrimental effects in the long run. Our bodies are incapable of sustaining the stress we are capable of providing it. Stress can eventually lead to organ failure and death in mysterious and insidious ways.

Whether an increased risk for heart attack, coronary heart disease, arrhythmias or even just “sudden death,” you can, quite literally, stress yourself to death.

Hopefully you’re still reading, because there is hope. Now, meditation has long been frowned upon by Western culture as some sort of Eastern cultish religious nonsense. That being said, quieting your thoughts has nothing to do with religion, chi, Zen or anything else on a physiological level (and I mean that with absolutely no ill-words towards religions of any kind).

It has come to light in recent years that meditation is one of the healthiest things you can do for your brain, and subsequently, the rest of your body. This is coming from real neuroscientists doing real research on real brains – this is not the hippie stuff your parents warned you about.

The Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin produced hard data that short amounts of mindfulness meditation lead to increased influenza resistance. Akira Kasamatsu, M.D., went as far as monitoring the electronic activity of 48 priests and disciples of Zen Buddhism, a religious sect known for meditation. Their brain activity showed increased levels of what are known as alpha waves. These waves are heavily associated with being relaxed.

These long-time practitioners of meditation were literally able to tune their brains to a relaxed wavelength, regardless of how stressful a situation may be. Imagine being able to make stress go away with a conscious decision – these individuals don’t have to imagine that power. They already have it.

Countless scholarly articles reinforce this sentiment, explaining how mindful meditation can be used to manage chronic pain and reign in anxiety disorders.

To approach “mindfulness” from ground zero can seem difficult. The whole point of the exercise is to quiet the mind – something I struggle with on a daily basis. To begin, you need a mental focal point. Some people like to use the word “mantra,” but if that seems hokey, call it a focal point. Sometimes I just use the word “focus” as a constant reminder of what I’m trying to do. Relax every muscle in your body. Sit upright so you don’t fall asleep. See if you can sit there and do nothing but think less and less for 10 minutes. Use a timer on your phone so you don’t feel the need to peek at the time. It takes practice, but even if you don’t get it your first time, you’ll be amazed how good quiet time feels. It’s the kind of habit that takes little time and less planning. Do it in the library if you’re stressed and until you fall asleep when you’re antsy.

It’s your brain; learn to make it work for you.

Andrew Fleming is a junior in neuroscience. He can be reached at aflemin8@utk.edu.

Buddhist practises with monks have become key feature of employee training in most cos – Economic Times

(The vision behind wisdom…)

The un informed visitor at Googleplex may find himself perplexed when he sees the presentation room filled with techies perched in half-lotus position, meditating. His confusion is justified since it is hard to imagine that the corporation that prides itself in thinking ahead of tomorrow is now looking back at centuries-old traditions to bring out the best in its employees.

Google is embracing Buddhist meditative practices in a big way. Zen masters and monks routinely tour the campus, the company has instituted self-awareness courses like Search Inside Yourself, Neural Self-Hacking and Managing Your Energy, designed to teach people to manage their emotions through meditation, and Googlers are signing up for these classes in droves.

No, Google isn’t renouncing its worldly searches. Quiet contemplation is the new buzzword in Silicon Valley, with the region’s heavyweights like Twitter and Facebook jumping aboard the neo-spiritual bandwagon.

Contemplative practices and meditation sessions has become key features of employee training in most firms. As in all things in the Valley, the centuries-old practices has been innovated to suit the Valley’s goal-oriented culture. Forget Nirvana, the not-so-lofty aim of these endeavours is all about training the brain to unleash productivity.

Research suggests that meditation can rewire the brain’s response to stress and helps improve memory and executive functions. Exercises in ‘ mindfulness’ – paying close, nonjudgmental attention – help understand a coworkers’ motivations and cultivate emotional intelligence. In the hyper-kinetic Silicon Valley, these self-regulation practices strengthen emotional resilience, and is a better coping mechanism than fast-food therapy.

Chade-Meng Tan, a Google employee and creator of the Search Inside Yourself programme, defines it as the Zen of Google. The course is a series of meditation exercises wrapped in the package of emotional intelligence. “The other-centricity that meditation breeds can boost your trajectory,” says Meng ,who believes that in a place like Google, where there is no dearth of high intelligence quotient, the differentiating factor that sets you apart from the rest is having high emotional intelligence.

Frustrated by his divorce, work stress and twitter addiction, Soren Gordhamer wrote a book – Wisdom 2.0: Ancient Secrets for the Creative and Constantly Connected. The book was no bestseller, but its message of living mindfully, wisely and compassionately in the digital age set off ripples of introspection in the tech community that culminated in the launch of the annual conference Wisdom 2.0.

The event serves as a connector of the technology and contemplative communities. The vision behind wisdom being, tapping our inner wisdom even as we integrate more and more technology into our lives, and keep them from taking over.

Wisdom 2013 drew huge crowds and the attendees included headliners like Jeff Weiner, Twitter co-founder Evan Williams, and, Arianna Huffington, who describes the event as her version of Disneyland.

Meditation therapy is growing deep roots in the Valley which is no stranger to New Age fad cycles. The tech biz is taking periodic pauses in the rat race, trying to connect the dots between spirituality and technology, to find the bigger picture.

Global India Newswire

via Buddhist practises with monks have become key feature of employee training in most cos – Economic Times.

Work Stress: An Email Meditation To Reduce Tension At Your Desk

Checking your overflowing Gmail inbox — or sending out a message to an important business contact — is a pretty surefire way to make your pulse quicken and your mind start racing with worries about deadlines and obligations. In fact, one study actually found that checking and sending email at work can increase your blood pressure and heart rate, and cause levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body to spike.

“People expect us to respond within 24 hours … just handling the amount of email we get can be stressful,” Dr. Lillian Cheung, mindfulness expert and editorial director of The Nutrition Source at Harvard, tells the Huffington Post. “But instead of getting stressed and overwhelmed with emails, I think it’s an opportunity for us to refresh and restore ourselves.”

Taking a moment to perform a short meditation before sending an email can be an easy way to lower your stress levels and integrate mindfulness into your everyday work life. Before sending out your next message, try a simple breathing exercise outlined by Cheung and zen master Thich Nhat Hahn in their book “Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life.”

After writing an email, stop and take three deep breathes, focusing on each inhale and exhale. You can repeat to yourself, “Breathing in, I thank the power of the Internet. Breathing out, I am fully conscious of my current email actions.” Then, input your recipient and cc-recipient addresses, and click send on the email.

“Not only are you helping yourself to calm down, but you’re also preventing yourself from making mistakes,” says Cheung. “It’s just a moment of pause and it doesn’t take long.”

Read the original instructions from “Savor,” and click here for more ways to de-stress at your desk.

via Work Stress: An Email Meditation To Reduce Tension At Your Desk.

 

Bill George: The Tipping Point for Mindfulness

The Tipping Point for Mindfulness

Posted: 06/21/2013 8:32 am

Mindfulness practices like meditation have been in existence for thousands of years, but only now are they reaching the tipping point in the Western world. Today’s pace and stress are so great that people are searching for new practices to find resilience in the midst of chaos, and mindfulness programs are helping them find better ways to live.

Mindfulness, the practice of self-observation without judgment, encompasses an array of activities in which we focus inward on our minds and our inner voices. New research studies are demonstrating conclusively that meditation and mindfulness are good for your health — and for your soul. This is why each of us should consider balancing the fast-paced nature of our lives with individual practices that cultivate mindfulness.

My Experiences with Meditation

I began meditating thirty-seven years ago after my wife Penny dragged me “kicking and screaming” to a weekend training program in transcendental meditation at the University of Minnesota. I started meditating twenty minutes, twice a day, and stayed with the practice because I felt better and was more effective at work and at home. Meditation helps me relieve the stress of the day, gain clarity about what’s important, open up creative ideas, and find added energy and a deep sense of well-being. For a practice that costs nothing and doesn’t involve medication, that’s a good bargain.

For years I was reluctant to talk about meditating, as it sounded too “new age,” especially to the media. Today, mindfulness is becoming mainstream, no longer confined to closed-door meditation circles and therapy sessions. Public interest in mindfulness is increasing, as evidenced by the proliferation of literature on the subject; an Amazon search for “mindfulness” brings up 4,006 books.

Let me describe how meditation works in my daily life. When I open my emails, I am bombarded with requests and information. There are packages to read from the boards on which I serve, messages from Harvard colleagues, inquiries about speaking, and an unending stream of requests. Meanwhile, the phone is ringing, people are stopping by my office with questions, and I am trying to prepare to teach my next class. Navigating through these issues requires constant context shifting, which can leave me mentally drained.

After I meditate, I feel calm and centered, having slowed my mind from the adrenalin-fueled, frenetic workday pace. Consequently, I am able to focus deeply on the big questions and do my most productive thinking. The clarity that comes with meditation enables me to escape from my never-ending “to do” list and concentrate on my most important priorities, not letting them be overtaken by the urgent, less important tasks that can be delegated. The self-awareness that comes from meditation helps me understand how others perceive me and how to empower them.

The Science of Meditation

Research has shown that meditation is powerful enough to alter the makeup of the human mind. Thanks to the personal dedication of the Dalai Lama and the Mind and Life Institute he founded in the U.S., neuro science researchers are studying mindfulness meditation. Breakthrough research using fMRI technology conducted by Dr. Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison have demonstrated the correlation between mindfulness and changes in the regions of the brain related to learning, memory, and emotion. Other studies have shown that mindfulness is as effective for treating depression as antidepressant drugs.

A Massachusetts General Hospital study discovered that meditation has the ability to change one’s gene expression (which genes are turned “on” or “off”) in as little as six weeks, based on blood samples before and after meditation. Genes associated with energy metabolism, mitochondrial function, insulin secretion and telomere maintenance were enhanced while genes linked to inflammatory response and stress-related pathways were reduced. Another Massachusetts General Hospital study showed that eight weeks of meditation shrunk the amygdala, the portion of the brain modulating response to fear and stress.

Meditation and its Applications

In a recent Huffington Post article, my wife Penny highlighted the importance of mindfulness in integrative medicine in connecting the mind, body, and spirit. Integrative medicine encourages patients to practice inexpensive and non-toxic activities such as yoga, massage, healthy eating, and mindfulness meditation in combination with conventional Western medicine. Mindfulness is also practiced by health professionals in order to cope with the immense stress of their work. Allina Health, the largest health system in Minnesota, offers resilience-training programs for employees that encourage mindfulness, nutrition, and exercise to manage anxiety and depression.

Most leaders do everything they can to shape their enterprises, but if they don’t step back from constant action, they lose perspective and their sense of priority, as well as their ability to create original solutions. That’s why many companies like Walt Disney, General Mills, and Google have made mindfulness an important element of their company cultures by offering it to their employees.

Thirty years ago, Disney brought in Ron Alexander, a meditation teacher, to teach seminars to inspire their creative teams. Following the meditation seminars, Disney’s teams dreamed up Tokyo Disney, Disneyland Paris, and Hong Kong Disneyland. Today, the company incorporates meditative practice into its workplace and is regarded as one of the world’s most innovative companies.

For the past seven years, General Mills employees have engaged in meditation, yoga, and mindfulness practices while at work. General Mills reports that 80 percent of employees practicing mindfulness were able to make better decisions with greater clarity and 89 percent reported enhanced ability in listening to others. Marturano recently formed the Institute for Mindful Leadership to bring mindfulness training to corporate executives.

In April 2012, Google announced a new program titled “Search Inside Yourself,” a free course for employees designed to teach emotional intelligence through the practice of meditation. The program was designed by Chade-Meng Tan, a Google engineer looking for a way to ease the burden of Google’s fast-paced, demanding environment. Mr. Tan’s program is very popular among employees, generating a waiting list each time it’s offered.

Cultivating mindfulness takes daily practice. Mindfulness allows us to live in the present, bringing a deeper understanding of what is happening and how we respond to it. I urge you to give it a try. You will be glad you did, and so will those around you.

Bill George is professor of management practice at Harvard Business School and author of True North and Authentic Leadership. He is the former chair and CEO of Medtronic. Read more at www.BillGeorge.org, or follow him on Twitter @Bill_George.

Bill George: The Tipping Point for Mindfulness.

 

“Unwinding the Mind” Meditation Technique: Responding creatively to stress by Karah Pino, MAcOM

Responding creatively to stress.

Instead of reacting to situations with our old  instincts, we can learn to respond thoughtfully and creatively. When we practice observing our own reactions, we can better understand the nature of our old instinctual patterns.  After allowing our initial, instinctive reaction to pass by,  we then have more time to choose how to respond with intention and care.

The experience of being in a meditative state is one of calmness, peacefulness and a sense of well-being.  After meditating, this sense of well-being will continue for a half a day (or until the next stressful event).  Research has shown that 20 minutes of meditation can lower cortisol stress hormone levels for 12 hours.  This helps us to understand why meditation traditions around the world encourage meditation twice a day!

After meditating regularly, you will find that you are able to regain your calm more and more easily after a stressful event.  You will also find that the feeling of peace gives your creative mind more space to find solutions to problems and this leads to less worry because you begin to trust in your abilities more and more.

Download this guided meditation for free:

20 minute Guided Meditation: Observation of the Breath MP3

Watching our thoughts and feelings as children on the playground of our imagination.

Unwind your Mind

Meditation Instruction and CD

Know as children know, that these thoughts and feelings are temporary.  Know that you are free to leave the playground game sat any time.  Watch as the spinning wheels and grinding gears slow to a stop.  Feel the peaceful stillness of a mind unwound.

Karah Pino, MAcOM is the creator and instructor of Unwind your Mind, a meditation course designed to help you discover for yourself the benefits of meditation and choose the style best suited to you.

 

Mindfulness from meditation associated with lower stress hormone :: UC Davis News and Information

Focusing 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.

Co-authors on the paper, in addition to Jacobs, Saron and Wallace, are: UC Davis graduate students Stephen Aichele, Anthony Zanesco and Brandon King; Associate Professor Emilio Ferrer and Distinguished Professor Phillip Shaver from the UC Davis Department of Psychology; Baljinder Sahdra, lecturer in psychology at the University of Western Sydney; consulting scientist Erika Rosenberg from the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain; Katherine MacLean, instructor in psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine; David Bridwell, postdoctoral fellow at the Mind Research Network in Albuquerque, N.M.; and Associate Professor Elissa Epel and Professor Margaret Kemeny, from the UCSF Department of Psychiatry.

Major support for the Shamatha Project has come from the Fetzer Institute and the Hershey Family Foundation. Additional support has come from numerous private foundations including the Baumann Foundation; the Tan Teo Charitable Foundation; the Yoga Research and Education Foundation; and individual donors. Individual researchers also received fellowship and other support from the National Science Foundation; the Social Sciences, Humanities Research Council of Canada; and the Barney and Barbro Fund. The project recently won support from the John Templeton Foundation to continue and extend the work.

The Center for Mind and Brain is one of three overlapping research centers at UC Davis that bring together researchers from the School of Medicine, College of Biological Sciences, and College of Letters and Science to work on the function of the brain. Founded in 2002, the Center for Mind and Brain studies cognition, vision, language, meditation and music. The Center for Neuroscience, established in 1990, investigates brain structure, memory, and the genes and molecules involved in conditions such as schizophrenia and depression. The MIND Institute was founded in 1998 with the support of six local families, five of whom have children with autism. It works with autistic children and their families, and on fragile X syndrome, Tourette’s syndrome and other neurodevelopmental disorders.

About UC Davis

For more than 100 years, UC Davis has engaged in teaching, research and public service that matter to California and transform the world. Located close to the state capital, UC Davis has more than 33,000 students, more than 2,500 faculty and more than 21,000 staff, an annual research budget of nearly $750 million, a comprehensive health system and 13 specialized research centers. The university offers interdisciplinary graduate study and more than 100 undergraduate majors in four colleges — Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Biological Sciences, Engineering, and Letters and Science. It also houses six professional schools — Education, Law, Management, Medicine, Veterinary Medicine and the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing.

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Mindfulness from meditation associated with lower stress hormone :: UC Davis News & Information.

 

Colleges Begin To Offer Meditation 101 « Annie Murphy Paul

While universities teach many things, there are some things that they do not traditionally cover—like how to effectively handle stress and emotions—that are important elements of learning and living, notes a statement from the University of Virginia:

“Filling that gap was one goal of a new January Term course at UVA: ‘Mindfulness as a Tool for Learning and Living,’ taught by Susanna Williams, an instructor at the Mindfulness Center in the School of Medicine, and Lynne Crotts, a doctoral student at the Curry School of Education, which offered the course.

The course offered an ‘authentic exploration of unexamined thoughts and behaviors that are obstacles to students’ effectiveness in learning,’ as the syllabus explains. Along with reading and writing assignments, the students learned a wide range of contemplative exercises that cultivate emotional balance, concentration and the ability to cope with stress, Crotts said. Mindfulness is ‘paying attention, in the moment, without judgment,’ she explained. Over the 10 days of the course, students heard from almost a dozen guest speakers who taught the class a variety of contemplative practices, including yoga, nia and t’ai chi.

There is a growing movement to teach mindfulness and growing student interest in the topic, Williams said. (UVA’s new Contemplative Sciences Center, launched in April, will offer a 180-person class this spring on ‘Buddhist Meditation and Modernity’ that will cover mindfulness. There are 50 students on the waitlist.) Interest is being spurred in part by research in recent years that is validating the connections between stress and learning.

‘Stress decreases cognitive potential,’ Williams said. ‘So mindfulness is not just a nice thing to do. It actually has very concrete, positive cognitive results,’ including sustained attention span, improved listening skills and increased emotional intelligence.” (Read more here.)

My favorite part of the statement is a comment from a student named Alan Zhao, a third-year math and statistics major:

“‘I’ve been going through a lot of stress,” said Zhao. ‘I think everyone does. It’s not easy going to this school,’ he added, noting that the average GPA at UVA is 3.2. ‘That’s sad after going through high school with a 4.0. Everyone here was taught that you always need to excel.’”

Meditation: it’s how to deal with the end of grade inflation. (But seriously, this class sounds like a great idea.)

via Colleges Begin To Offer Meditation 101 « Annie Murphy Paul.

 

UW study shows benefits of mindfulness meditation for inflammation

While interest in mindfulness meditation as a stress reliever has grown through the years, there’s been little evidence to support that it helps those suffering from chronic inflammation conditions in which psychological stress plays a major role.

Until now.

A new study by University of Wisconsin-Madison neuroscientists suggests mindfulness meditation techniques may help people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and asthma.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction, originally designed for patients with chronic pain, consists of continuously focusing attention on the breath, bodily sensations and mental content while seated, walking or practicing yoga.

The study by UW neuroscientists with the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center was the first designed to control for other therapeutic mechanisms, such as supportive social interaction, expert instruction or learning new skills, according to a UW news release.

The mindfulness-based approach is not a magic bullet, said Melissa Rosenkranz, assistant scientist at the center and lead author of the paper, which was published recently in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity.

But the study does show that there are ways that mindfulness can be beneficial, and that some people may be more likely to benefit from this approach than other interventions, she said.

Significant portions of the population do not benefit from available pharmaceutical treatment options, for example. Some of these patients suffer from negative side effects of the drugs or simply do not respond to the standard of care for treatment of the disorder.

“The mindfulness-based approach to stress reduction may offer a lower-cost alternative or complement to standard treatment, and it can be practiced easily by patients in their own homes, whenever they need,” Rosenkranz said.

The study compared two methods of reducing stress: a mindfulness meditation-based approach and a program designed to enhance health in ways unrelated to mindfulness.

According to the news release:

The comparison group participated in the Health Enhancement Program, which consisted of nutritional education; physical activity, such as walking; balance, agility and core strengthening; and music therapy. The content of the program was meant to match aspects of the mindfulness instruction in some way. For example, physical exercise was meant to match walking meditation, without the mindfulness component. Both groups had the same amount of training, the same level of expertise in the instructors, and the same amount of home practice required of participants.

Using a tool called the Trier Social Stress Test to induce psychological stress and a capsaicin cream to produce inflammation on the skin, immune and endocrine measures were collected before and after training in the two methods. While both techniques were proven effective in reducing stress, the mindfulness-based stress reduction approach was more effective at reducing stress-induced inflammation.

The results show that behavioral interventions designed to reduce emotional reactivity are beneficial to people suffering from chronic inflammatory conditions. The study also suggests that mindfulness techniques may be more effective in relieving inflammatory symptoms than other activities that promote well-being.

via UW study shows benefits of mindfulness meditation for inflammation.