University of Massachusetts Medical School

Mindfulness meditation aids health – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

June 29, 2013 12:12 am
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From the Beatles’ bouts with Transcendental Meditation to brand names such as lululemon and YogaRat, mind-body relaxation methods have long been pop-culture staples. But ongoing studies aim to show that a calmer mind and a more acute awareness of one’s surroundings can improve physical health, according to research based at Carnegie Mellon University.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction, a 12-week program developed in the 1970s by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, uses techniques from Buddhism to train participants in skills they can apply to their everyday lives, to help them deal with stress, pain and illness. The skills involve finely tuned attention to thoughts and emotions and their bodies’ reactions to physical sensations.

Loneliness and stress have been found to increase risk for medical conditions such as heart disease and Alzheimer’s. Last year, in a published study of 40 healthy adults, mindfulness meditation in the MBSR model seemed to reduce loneliness and stress. In addition, it was linked to reducing inflammation throughout the body, which scientists say promotes the progression of diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases.

The loneliness research is among several small studies conducted by Carnegie Mellon assistant professor of psychology J. David Creswell. One study from 2006-08 focused directly on the body’s immune response to the human immunodeficiency virus. It indicated that mindfulness meditation could prevent the decline of the type of white blood cell that is specifically targeted and killed by HIV. Known as CD4 cells, they are counted in people infected with HIV to analyze the extent of the disease. They are a type of T-cell, cells that send signals to activate the body’s immune response when they detect virus or bacteria infections.

“It was one of the first studies to show that mindfulness meditation could actually have a direct impact on a clinically relevant disease marker,” Mr. Creswell said. “In this case it was delaying disease progression in the context of HIV infection.”

Conducted in Los Angeles at the University of California and HIV/AIDS clinics around the city, Mr. Creswell recruited for his study through newspapers and community agencies that catered to the city’s HIV/AIDS population. The 33 participants all had HIV, but not AIDS. Most were male, African-American, homosexual and low-income. All experienced moderate to high levels of stress in their daily lives, Mr. Creswell said.

In blood tests at the start, each participant had CD4 counts above 200. The HIV virus slowly deteriorates the infected individual’s immune system, particularly CD4 cells. Once the CD4 count drops below 200, the infection advances from HIV to AIDS.

For the study, half of the participants were randomly assigned to an eight-week mindfulness meditation program or a similar program condensed to one day. Those assigned to the eight-week program attended weekly classes where they learned meditation practices and were also expected to practice these techniques at home. By contrast, those in the one-day program received the same training, but did not practice meditation regularly. Average age for the eight-week program was 40 and average age for the control group was 42.

Mr. Creswell said the study’s results indicated more meditating brought more benefit, what he called a “dose-response effect.”

During the eight weeks, two individuals in the control group, which received only one day of mindfulness training, progressed from HIV to AIDS. No one who underwent the eight-week program developed AIDS.

“The more classes you were attending or the more mindfulness meditation home practice you were doing, the better your CD4 T-cell counts were at post-test,” Mr. Creswell said. “The more mindfulness practices you were doing, the better your immune outcome is going to be at post-test.”

Previously, most mindfulness meditation studies had been conducted among more affluent, female individuals. Mr. Creswell said the results from his study show that mindfulness meditation can also be applied to more “hard-to-reach” populations who also have high amounts of stress.

More recently, a similar study was conducted from 2008-10 in Tehran, Iran, on 173 HIV-positive patients, who were mostly male. The study also found that CD4 counts in participants practicing mindfulness-based stress reduction remained stable over time. Those not practicing MBSR experienced declines in their CD4 count.

The Iranian study, Mr. Creswell said, shows mindfulness meditation has similar effects in a sample from a different population in another country.

Mr. Creswell’s latest research is assessing how well people perform in stressful situations after undergoing mindfulness meditation training. In a laboratory, people who have received the training perform tasks such as giving a speech or doing mental math under pressure. The aim is to discern whether or not mindfulness can build resilience in stressful situations.

And yet, according to Carol Schramke, Ph.D., director of behavioral neurology at Allegheny General Hospital, such research is still in the beginning stage.

Ms. Schramke, a clinical psychologist who treats patients with neurological problems, frequently advises different relaxation strategies to patients, including mindfulness meditation. She says it is widely known people need to reduce stress and to relax, but most studies examining the health impacts of relaxation techniques are underpowered and underfunded.

“In a lot of these areas the research is in very preliminary stages, and there haven’t been really well-controlled, well-designed studies yet,” she said.

She cited the disease multiple sclerosis, which, in contrast to HIV, causes an overactive, rather than underactive, immune system. While there has been research examining the effects of stress in T cells among people with MS, the disease acts over decades, not days or weeks. Consequently, “these things are pretty expensive to study,” she said.

But Hilary Tindle, associate professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, believes there is sufficient evidence that mindfulness can improve chronic conditions such as pain, anxiety, depression or addiction. She added, however, that mindfulness is most helpful when used with existing therapies like prescription medications.

Dr. Tindle, who published a book on mindfulness called “Up: How Positive Outlook Can Transform Our Health and Aging” last month, said mindfulness research is spreading throughout the country. She said the majority of mindfulness studies were initially funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. But the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute on Drug Abuse have since funded additional studies.

Although Dr. Tindle advises mindfulness to patients in her everyday practice, she says they’re often resistant. Some people are confused by mindfulness. Others have never heard of it or assume it must be religious, Dr. Tindle said. She said the field can continue to grow by holding larger studies with more funding and more subjects.

“That’s when people really start to stand up and notice it because they understand how it may be working,” she said. “It ceases to be voodoo.”

For phone-based training on mindfulness, go to

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Mindfulness meditation aids health – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The stress of not meditating, when you know you should – Lifestyle – The Boston Globe

I want to meditate. I do. I want to be calm and happy and live in the now. I want to try to deactivate genes associated with stress and inflammation and turn on those associated with mitochondrial function and telomere maintenance. I want to be mindful, darn it. And yet, like George Costanza, who wanted to be a Civil War buff without the bother of actually learning about the Civil War, I’ve yet to put tush to cushion.

“You want to meditate like you want to wear a bikini,” a friend observed. “You want to change your life, but only if no effort is involved.”

Who has 20 minutes a day to spare? There are detailed analyses of “Mad Men” to devour, photos of friends’ meals to “like” on Facebook, computer passwords to remember. Please don’t throw that Gandhi quote in my face — “I have so much to do today, I will need to medidate twice as long.” I’m busy.

And yet, the studies showing the benefits of mindfulness and meditation are so relentless that I need to retreat to a monastery just to get away from the news. Nothing’s more stressful than hearing about the advantages of something you’re not doing.

Researchers published almost 600 studies on the subject last year, according to the editor of a new high-end magazine sold at Whole Foods called — what else? — Mindful. That’s up from 10 in 1993, when meditation was more associated with incense than with the US Marine Corps, which recently ran a pilot Mindfulness-Based Mind Fitness Training program.

These days, top money managers are meditating. So is US Representative Tim Ryan (D-Ohio). He wrote a book on the subject, “A Mindful Meditation,” and says that to his knowledge, no colleagues have accused him of going New Age. Eager to lower stress-related business costs — $300 billion annually in the United States, according to the World Health Organization — corporate America is getting in on the action. At Google, employees can take a “Search Inside Yourself” course.

From a merchandising perspective, meditation has a lot to learn from yoga, but it’s making progress. In Lawrence, DharmaCrafts sells $349 Sherpa meditation cloaks and $59 zabutons (meditation cushions) for kids. Earlier this year, Electrolux tried to use meditation to promote its new ultra-quiet vacuum. “In an age of anxiety every opportunity to reduce stress matters,” the press release read. “Electrolux is now transforming the chore of vacuum cleaning into a resource for personal well-being, with a meditation program developed especially for vacuuming; an opportunity to clean your home — and your mind.”

The well-off are building meditation rooms and taking luxury meditation retreats. At the Esalen Institute, in Big Sur, Calif., a single suite perched at cliff’s edge with a stunning view of the Pacific, and Internet access, goes for $1,750 per weekend.

Katie Boyd, a pageant-fitness guru, at her gym the Miss Fit Club, where she has started teaching meditation.

Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Katie Boyd, a pageant-fitness guru, at her gym the Miss Fit Club, where she has started teaching meditation.

In Hudson, N.H., former Miss Taunton Katie Boyd, a pageant-fitness guru, recently started teaching meditation at her Miss Fit Club. “It’s not always about are my boobs perky enough? How does my [rear end] look in this swimsuit?” she said, noting that meditating gets rid of negative energy.

“When these girls walk into the judging room, they’re nervous nellies, and the judges can feel it.” Now that they’ve started meditating, she added, she gets pageant-day calls from clients who are nervous because they are not nervous.

A pastry shop selling “mindful cupcakes” has yet to open, but it can’t be far off. No less a trend omnivore than Arianna Huffington is all over it (in tweets and blog posts, on TV, and at her company’s New York headquarters, where employees can participate in breathing and meditation sessions). In January, a meditation workshop debuted at the buzzy Davos World Economic Forum meeting. Perhaps most significant, the movement has crossed over to the pet world. In the book “How to Meditate With Your Dog,” the authors James Jacobson and Kristine Chandler Madera explain that “meditating with our dogs is one of the most caring things we can do for them.”

NKate Conti does PR for clients in the health and fitness fields and enjoys running, yoga, and beaches like this one on Nantucket. But she struggled with staying focused on meditation.


Kate Conti does PR for clients in the health and fitness fields and enjoys running, yoga, and beaches like this one on Nantucket. But she struggled with staying focused on meditation.

How did we get here? Barry Boyce, the editor in chief of the new Mindful magazine, said a key moment came in a 1993, when Bill Moyers’s “Healing and the Mind” series featured the groundbreaking stress-reduction work Jon Kabat-Zinn was doing at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Before that, the word “mindful wasn’t really in play,” Boyce said. “I’m 57, and when I was in college, [meditation] was considered religious and a little weird. Everyone seemed to think you had to have a beatific smile on your face and a chant going through your head. Now, 40 years later, there has been a health revolution that emphasizes self-care. Mindfulness can be a religious thing but it doesn’t have to be.”

Despite all the evidence of its benefits, most people don’t meditate, but the numbers of those who do are growing, according to the National Institutes of Health. In 2007, the most recent year for which statistics are available, 9.4 percent of American adults had meditated within the past 12 months, up from 7.6 percent in 2002.

To her dismay, Monika Lutz is not one of them. “I always seem to find an excuse,” said Lutz, a junior at the Harvard Extension School and the vice president of its student association. “If I’ve got 15 minutes free, I think I could go for a quick run or finish some task or call this professor or work on my resume. I think that if I could just get it all done then I’ll reduce my stress and I won’t need meditation.

“But when I do get it done, something new always pops up.”

Lutz went on a 10-day meditation retreat after high school, and she’s been unable to incorporate mindful meditation in her everyday life. “To say that I can only relax my mind when I’m four states away in complete silence surrounded by strangers — it’s not sustainable,” she said. “I need to be able to do it on the Red Line.”

Author Elizabeth Gilbert (“Eat, Pray, Love” ) says she is not good at meditating.

Tom White for The New York Times

Author Elizabeth Gilbert (“Eat, Pray, Love” ) says she is not good at meditating.

Boston-based publicist Kate Conti is also in what might be called a pre-meditative state. With clients in the health and fitness field, she and her firm, KC Public Relations, have promoted meditation’s benefits, yet Conti is unable to reap them for herself. “I even have gone through a yoga teacher training program where we had a special session on meditation, and I struggled with being able to stay focused for a short 10 minutes,” she said. “I signed up for a Deepak Chopra online mediation e-mail, but I didn’t stick with it.”

You know who else doesn’t meditate? Elizabeth Gilbert , the author of “Eat, Pray, Love,” a travelogue of spiritual seeking. Even so, people regularly ask her for advice on how they can do it. “What they forget about ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ is how poorly I did it,” she said. “Even when I was in the ashram, it was hard for me. If you live in New Jersey” — where she does — “it’s even harder.”

Gilbert, also the author of the forthcoming novel “The Signature of All Things,” says she has a “pretty religious yoga practice” and finds peace in gardening. “But I completely intend to begin a disciplined meditation program,” she said. “Probably tomorrow.”

She paused, and then gave me some advice. “You should meditate,” she said.

I plan to.


Getting started is the hardest part

Everyone knows that. OK, sometimes with dieting — and exercise and dense nonfiction and house cleaning and just about everything else — the middle also presents a challenge. And the end can be tough, too. But if you’ve been wanting to try meditation but are unsure how to begin, here are tips from Barry Boyce, the editor in chief of the new Mindful magazine:

1. Go online to get a clearer picture of just what mindfulness meditation is, anyway. Mind the Moment at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care offers a series of short, fun, and accessible videos. A YouTube video called “What Is Mindfulness?” with Jon Kabat-Zinn is also a great place to start.

2. Learn how to do mindfulness practice online: A great resource is — in particular the section called “Mindfulness: The Basics.”

3. Read a short book such as “Mindfulness for Beginners,” by Kabat-Zinn, or “A Mindful Nation” by congressman Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), an avid meditator.

4. Find a local group and set up an appointment to meet someone who can teach you face-to-face how to meditate. Mindful Boston offers drop-in classes.

Beth Teitell can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @bethteitell.

The stress of not meditating, when you know you should – Lifestyle – The Boston Globe.