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Adding mindfulness to diet-exercise program helps people eat for the right reasons

Posted 03.18.2016 | by AMRA

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Adults who lose weight in diet-and-exercise lifestyle change programs usually regain weight after the program. This is often blamed on the ready availability of good tasting high calorie food along with stress and individual tendencies toward reward-driven eating. Reward-driven eating is eating that meets emotional rather than nutritional needs; it’s often accompanied by food cravings and preoccupations, poor control of eating despite motivation to lose weight, and insensitivity to sensations of fullness.

Mason et al. [Appetite] investigated the degree to which reward-driven eating and stress impacted weight loss in 158 obese participants (82% female, 59% White, average age = 47, average BMI = 35) who were randomly assigned to one of two diet and exercise interventions — one of which included mindfulness training and the other of which included progressive muscle relaxation and cognitive-behavioral skill training.

Both interventions met in groups for 17 sessions spaced over the course of 6 months. Both interventions used the same diet-and-exercise regimen: participants reduced their daily intake by 500 calories, engaged in structured aerobic and anaerobic exercise, and increased their daily general activity.

The mindfulness intervention taught sitting, walking, and lovingkindness meditation and mindful yoga, and promoted awareness of hunger, fullness, taste, food cravings, and eating triggers. The comparison intervention taught progressive muscle relaxation and cognitive-behavioral skills as well as provided additional didactic instruction on nutrition and exercise.

Participants were weighed and assessed on self-reported reward-driven eating and perceived stress at baseline and 6, 12, and 18 months after baseline. The mindfulness group lost approximately 4.4 pounds more than the comparison group, but that difference didn’t reach statistical significance.

The mindfulness group experienced a significantly greater decrease in reward-driven eating than the […]

March 18th, 2016|News|

Meditation aids attention of older adults, brain regions identified

Posted 02.24.2016 | by AMRA

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As we mature into old age, our ability to remain focused and quickly choose the correct response from a set of competing responses tends to diminish. Can mindfulness training help us retain our attention, executive control and emotional regulation as we age? Malinowski, et al [Mindfulness] randomly assigned mature adults to either mindfulness training or an active comparison group, and assessed the changes in their ability to perform a task that demanded focused attention, executive control, and emotional regulation while their brain activity was measured.

The researchers assigned a predominantly female cohort of 56 British older adults (average age = 64) to either mindfulness training or a “brain training” comparison condition. Mindfulness training entailed four 90-minute group-training sessions in breath-focused concentration meditation with instructions for maintaining a non-judgmental, non-elaborative attitude. Mindfulness trainees practiced meditation at home at least 10 minutes a day, five days a week, over 8 weeks.

The comparison condition met as a group for an equivalent amount of time. Both groups entailed psychoeducation, group discussion, and skills practice, but the “brain training” group practiced mental arithmetic instead of meditation, both in the groups and at home.

All participants completed the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ) and a Stroop task, before and after training. The Stroop task required participants to count the number of words they saw that were presented on a computer screen. Sometimes the words’ meanings interfered with their counting (e.g., when the word “two” appeared three times) or had emotional connotations that could slow their processing speed. Participants needed to ignore the meanings and stay focused on the task.

Electroencephalography (EEG) concurrently measured the participants’ evoked response potentials (ERPs), which are […]

February 24th, 2016|News|

Higher mindfulness helps couples recover from stress during conflict

Posted 02.15.2016 | by AMRA

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All romantic relationships have conflicts, and resolving them requires couples to remain calm and open as they explore their differences. This is easier said than done when couples are stressed and not always on their best behavior. Can mindfulness protect us from the stress resulting from negative behaviors during disagreements? Laurent, et al. [Hormones and Behavior] investigated the relationship between state mindfulness, the stress hormone cortisol, and negative conflict behavior in couples who were discussing their differences.

The researchers recruited 88 heterosexual couples (predominantly Caucasian, average age = 21) who were in a relationship for at least 2 months, and had them engage in a 1hour 45 minute long discussion of an unresolved relationship conflict. The researchers wanted a sample of the couples’ behaviors so that the hormonal and attitudinal correlates of those behaviors could be studied. The discussions were taped and coded for control, coerciveness, anger, negativity/conflict, verbal aggression, and emotional withdrawal.

After the discussion, partners completed the Toronto Mindfulness Scale, a measure of state mindfulness comprised of Curiosity (an attitude of openness towards experience) and Decentering (dis-identifying with experience). The researchers also drew five salivary cortisol samples at fixed time intervals before and after the relationship conflict discussions. Cortisol data was analyzed in terms of overall reactivity (a measure of stress intensity) and slope of recovery (a measure of how long it takes to return to normal after stress).

When women were confronted with partner attempts at control, coercion, and negativity/conflict, their cortisol levels took significantly longer to return to normal if they reported low levels of Curiosity. The less they adopted a stance of friendly curiosity towards their experience, the longer their […]

February 15th, 2016|News|

Adding mindfulness to meds helps Alzheimer’s patients

Posted 01.22.2016 | by AMRA

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Alzheimer’s Disease is a progressive neurodegenerative illness characterized by short-term memory loss, disorientation, and impairments in socialization, self-care and behavioral regulation. It is primarily a disease of old age and affects over 5,000,000 Americans. Medications are often prescribed to manage its symptoms, but no medication has been shown to halt or delay the progression of the disease.

Given the enormous personal, social, and economic consequences of this illness, researchers are actively seeking novel ways to slow and forestall its devastating effects.

In a randomized clinical trial, Quintana-Hernández et al. [Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease] compared the effectiveness of a Mindfulness-Based Alzheimer’s Stimulation (MBAS) program in maintaining cognitive functioning in Alzheimer’s patients to that of two current non-pharmacological interventions for Alzheimer’s disease; namely, Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) and Cognitive Stimulation Therapy (CST).

The researchers randomly assigned 168 Spanish-speaking men and women with Alzheimer’s Disease who were Canary Islands residents to one of four treatment groups: 1) Medication Alone, 2) MBAS+Medication, 3) PMR+Medication, or 4) CST+Medication. The medication was donepezil, a cholinesterase inhibitor that has a small beneficial effect on cognition in Alzheimer’s patients but does not slow or halt the progression of the disease.

All of the non-pharmacological treatments were delivered three times weekly in 90-minute group sessions that continued over a two-year period.

MBAS was based on MBSR, Mindfulness-Based Elder Care, Kirtan Kriya technique, chair yoga, and multi-sensory stimulation. The MBAS patients’ caretakers also assisted the patients in brief moments of mindfulness during home practice.

The CST group employed visual imagery, errorless learning, spaced retrieval, encoding specificity, and external memory aids. The PMR group employed a standard 16 muscle group tensing and releasing sequence. Patient cognition was longitudinally assessed […]

January 22nd, 2016|News|

Fertility treatment supported by mindfulness program

Posted 01.08.2015 | by AMRA

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Infertility is a heartbreaking condition affecting approximately 6% of American married women. In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a voluntary fertility treatment that involves combining a sperm and egg outside of a woman’s body and implanting the resulting embryo in her uterus. IVF success rates vary widely depending on multiple factors including a woman’s age, general health status, and the specific IVF method used.

IVF can be emotionally and physically taxing due to the demands of the procedure and the uncertainty of success. There is currently a need to improve the quality of life of women undergoing this procedure. Li et al. [Behaviour Research and Therapy] investigated whether a mindfulness-based intervention can improve both the quality of life and pregnancy rates of women undergoing first-time IVF treatment.

The researchers assigned 108 women (average age = 30 years) seeking IVF at a Chinese medical center to either IVF plus a mindfulness-based intervention or IVF alone. Assignment was not random, but based on patient convenience in terms of time constraints and travel distance to the medical center.

The six-week mindfulness program was a group-based intervention that was specifically tailored to IVF and infertility concerns and contained elements of MBSR, MBCT, Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting, and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.

Participants completed self-report measures of mindfulness (the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire), self-compassion, fertility quality of life, difficulties in emotional regulation, and infertility coping styles both at baseline and post-intervention. Mindfulness and control participants did not differ in any of these self-report measures at baseline. Pregnancy status was assessed at six-months post-intervention.

Mindfulness participants showed significantly greater increases in self-reported levels of mindfulness (partial η2=.10), self-compassion (partial η2=.08), and quality of life […]

January 8th, 2016|News|

Teens in mindfulness program improve cognitive ability

Posted 12.26.2015 | by AMRA

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Working memory capacity is a measure of one’s ability to temporarily hold information in mind while completing a cognitive task. There seems to be some conceptual overlap between the focused attention required for working memory and the moment-to-moment attention that is an integral part of mindfulness. Working memory plays crucial roles in learning, cognitive development, reasoning, comprehension, and academic performance, and any intervention that can improve working memory is of great interest to specialists in child development. In a randomized, controlled study, Quach, et al. [Journal of Adolescent Health] investigated whether an MBI can improve working memory in adolescents.

The 186 participants, primarily Hispanic and Asian junior high students (62% female; average age = 13) from predominantly low-income households, were randomly assigned to either mindfulness meditation, hatha yoga, or a wait-list control. The active intervention participants learned and practiced either mindfulness meditation or hatha yoga during eight 45-minute twice-a-week training sessions, while control participants attended their regular physical education classes.

Mindfulness meditation training was based on a truncated, modified Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) curriculum that excluded hatha yoga. Hatha yoga training included an emphasis on non-judgmental attention to body posture and movement. Both interventions encouraged 15-30 minutes of daily home practice.

Before and after the inventions, participants completed a computerized test of working memory requiring them to memorize series of visually presented letters while simultaneously solving arithmetic equations. Working memory capacity was measured by the total number of letters participants recalled in their correct order within each presentational set, yielding a working memory score that could range from 0 to 75.

Participants also completed self-report measures of perceived stress and anxiety along with the Child […]

December 26th, 2015|News|

Pinpointing the unique impact of mindfulness meditation on pain

Posted 12.15.2015 | by AMRA

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Pain is a common and often complex medical complaint. Previous studies demonstrate the possible pain-reducing effects of mindfulness-based interventions, but little is known about how these interventions actually work. Is mindful awareness their “active ingredient,” or is it slowed breathing, or even just the expectancy of a benefit?

Zeidan et al. [The Journal of Neuroscience] compared the changes in pain sensitivity resulting from a genuine mindfulness intervention with the changes resulting from a sham mindfulness intervention and two other control conditions. Participants rated their subjective pain in response to an unpleasant heat stimulus while undergoing functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). They also completed the Freiburg Mindfulness Inventory prior to initial training and at the end of their final fMRI session.

A racially diverse cohort of 75 healthy, meditation-naive young adult men and women were randomly assigned to either mindfulness meditation, a sham mindfulness meditation, placebo conditioning, or listening to an audio book. Genuine mindfulness meditation training consisted of four 20-minute sessions involving a breath-focused sitting meditation along with didactic instruction in non-judgmental attention. Sham meditation training involved four 20-minute sessions of alleged “mindfulness meditation” that consisted of merely sitting upright and taking a deep breath every few minutes without any didactic instruction.

Placebo conditioning involved four 20-minute conditioning sessions in which an alleged “analgesic cream” (in actuality, only petrolatum jelly) was applied to the skin and participants were exposed to a series of heat stimuli that were covertly and progressively lowered in temperature over the course of the sessions. Control participants listen to four 20-minute audio recordings from a book.

In a separate final assessment session after training completion, all the participants underwent fMRI scanning while […]

December 15th, 2015|News|

Which MBSR practice is most useful for veterans with PTSD?

Posted 11.29.2015 | by AMRA

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Depending on the arena of combat in which they were deployed, up to 31% of all veterans suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The symptoms of PTSD include hyperarousal, emotional numbing, flashbacks, and nightmares coupled with avoidance of the cues that trigger them. Veterans are also at increased risk for co-morbid depression, substance abuse, relationship difficulties, and medical illness.

While the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration employ several empirically-supported PTSD treatments, less than 30% of those who start treatment complete it, and up to 60% of those who complete treatment fail to obtain significant symptom relief.

There is a growing interest in exploring mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) as integrative treatments for PTSD. MBIs are multidimensional interventions, however, and there is a lack of knowledge as to the relative benefit of their various intervention components (e.g., the body scan, breath awareness) on symptoms. Colgan et al. [Mindfulness] examined the efficacy of two stand-alone MBSR components (the body scan and mindful breathing) in a randomized controlled trial of veterans with PTSD.

The researchers randomly assigned 102 predominantly male (96%), middle-aged (average age = 52), Caucasian (77%) combat veterans with chronic PTSD to one of four treatment groups: two “mindful” conditions — either the Body Scan or Mindful Breathing, and two “non-mindful” control conditions — either Slow Breathing or Sitting Quietly.

The groups met for six one-hour sessions over a six-week period. Each group session included 20 minutes of practice in the designated technique along with reviews of home practice and, for the mindfulness groups only, discussions of the principles of mindfulness.

The Slow Breathing condition learned how to reduce their respiration rate through biofeedback, and the Sitting […]

November 29th, 2015|News|

Delivering mindfulness to employees during paid work hours

Posted 11.17.2015 | by AMRA

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Employee psychological distress negatively affects workplace productivity, absenteeism, and disability. Employers, therefore, have a financial stake in their employee’s levels of distress and emotional well-being. Mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) may have the potential to reduce job stress and improve employee psychological health in ways that benefit both employee and employer.

Huang et al. [PloS One] investigated the potential of a MBI to reduce emotional distress and job strain in a randomized controlled trial of factory employees with previously identified poor mental health.

The researchers screened almost 3,000 employees at two Taiwanese factories using self-report measures of psychological distress (anxiety, depression, sleep disturbance, relationship problems, and somatic concerns) and job strain (job demandingness and lack of personal control on the job), and then invited those workers with the highest distress and strain levels to participate in an 8-week MBI based on the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program.

A sample of 144 employees (59% male, predominantly college educated and “white-collar,” average age = 42) agreed to participate and were randomly assigned to either the MBI or a wait-list control. Participants were assessed on the original screening measures and on measures of prolonged fatigue and perceived stress (how unpredictable, uncontrollable, and overloaded they found their lives) at mid-intervention, post-intervention, and 4-week and 8-week follow-up.

The intervention groups met during paid work hours, and 78% of the participants successfully completed the program. At program’s end, MBI participants had significantly greater improvements over time in levels of psychological distress (6.3 vs. 1.4 mean change in scores), prolonged fatigue (9.6 vs. 2.0), and perceived stress (2.5 vs. 0.9) compared to controls. Those group differences persisted at 4-week and 8-week follow-up. The MBI did […]

November 17th, 2015|News|

Wearable brain feedback technology to support mindfulness practice

Posted 10.30.2015 | by AMRA

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The basic mindfulness instruction to “attend to the present moment without judgment” seems straightforward, but novices are often unsure whether they are practicing mindfulness “correctly.” There are no existing objective behavioral markers of mindfulness, and descriptions of what mindfulness “feels like” are often metaphorical (e.g., “spacious” or “intimate”) and hard to interpret.

This lends a hit-or-miss quality to training, and has led some to wonder whether neurofeedback (a form of biofeedback that uses electro-encephalogram (EEG) data to alter brain rhythms) might be a useful way to support mindfulness practice. Previous research has identified a group of EEG parameters (e.g., the appearance of alpha frequencies, increasing alpha amplitude, and a gradual shift towards lower alpha and theta frequencies) that accompany the meditative state. Neuro-feedback devices that help meditators achieve these EEG patterns may help assist in cultivating mindfulness.

Sas & Chopra [Personal and Ubiquitous Computing] developed a wearable mindfulness neurofeedback device (MeditAid) and tested it with novice and experienced meditators. The MeditAid prototype includes a wearable, wireless headset to record scalp EEGs and software to translate EEG patterns into auditory feedback. The auditory feedback is delivered as either monaural beats (sounds of differing frequencies presented to both ears simultaneously) or binaural beats (sounds of differing frequencies presented to each ear separately) through headphones. Each method produces a rhythmic pattern of beats that corresponds to the user’s EEG frequency.

The difference between monaural and binaural beats is that monaural beat perception is a function of the mechanics of the inner ear, whereas binaural beat perception is a function of the integrative activity of the brain. Listeners hear lower monaural and binaural beat frequencies as having a […]

October 30th, 2015|News|