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Heart health – Is meditation more than deep breathing?

Posted 09.26.2017 | by AMRA

Many forms of meditation, including mindfulness meditation, make use of the breath as a point of attentional focus. Research has shown that meditation on the breath reduces respiration rate, heart rate and blood pressure, and increases heart rate variability. Are these physiological changes the result of the cognitive and affective aspects of maintaining a meditative focus, or are they simply the consequences of breathing more slowly?

Bernardi et al. [Psychophysiology] investigated the long- and short-term respiratory and cardiovascular effects of meditation in experienced meditators and controls. In so doing, the researchers hoped to disentangle the physiological effects of slowed breathing from those of a maintained meditative focus.

The researchers recruited 41 participants (22% male, average age = 34 years) with prior meditation experience and 39 meditation-naive (54% male, average age = 25 years) controls. All of the meditators were beginning-to-intermediate yoga practitioners, although some had additional experience with vipassana, mindfulness, transcendental, or mantra meditation.

The researchers instructed participants to lie down quietly on their backs with eyes closed while their heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, and arterial, tissue, and brain oxygen levels were monitored under a series of different conditions. The conditions were: 1) baseline measures of normal respiration, 2) two different periods of “paced breathing” during which participants synchronized their breathing to the beats of a metronome to achieve rates of 15 and 6 breaths per minute, 3) two different periods of metronome-paced breathing while silently reciting a mantra, known as “mantra meditation” (also at 15 and 6 breaths per minute), and 4) a five-minute body scan meditation.

The meditators differed from the controls on a variety of measures across all conditions. They tended to […]

September 26th, 2017|News|

Brief guided mindfulness meditation aids heart health

Posted 03.23.2016 | by AMRA

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Heart disease is the largest cause of death among men and women in the United States. Lifestyle changes in smoking, diet, and exercise can help lower heart disease risk. Further, mindfulness has proposed stress-reducing effects and thus may have its own role to play in heart health.

In two separate studies, May et al. [Stress] examined the association between trait mindfulness and markers of cardiovascular health and state mindfulness and fluctuations in heart rhythm and blood pressure, which are modulated by the sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is the part of the nervous system responsible for the “fight-or-flight” stress response.

The studies employed two samples of predominantly female, Caucasian undergraduate students. All participants were assessed for self-reported trait mindfulness using the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale. In the first study, 185 participants had their cardiovascular functioning assessed by a computer-assisted method of estimating central blood pressure from peripheral arterial activity. The researchers used an estimate of central blood pressure because it is a better indicator of cardiovascular risk than the usual peripheral blood pressure measures obtained using a blood pressure cuff. This method also provided estimates of how hard the heart was working, how much oxygen it consumed, and how much blood it received through the cardiac arteries.

The first study found that while trait mindfulness wasn’t associated with blood pressure and heart rate, it was significantly associated with improved hemodynamic functioning in terms of decreased cardiac oxygen consumption and left ventricular workload. Simply put, the heart didn’t have to work as hard for those with higher levels of trait mindfulness.

In the second study, 124 participants were randomly assigned to either a mindfulness or […]

March 23rd, 2016|News|

High mindfulness linked to heart health

Posted: 11.12.2014 | by AMRA

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The American Heart Association has identified several factors that protect against cardiovascular disease (CVD). Some of these CVD factors (smoking, diet, exercise) are behaviorally modifiable, but change requires a heightened degree of self-monitoring and self-control.

In an effort to discover whether mindfulness may support better cardiovascular health by its potential to enhance self-monitoring and self-control, Loucks et al. [International Journal of Behavioral Medicine] investigated whether CVD protective factors, as measured by blood tests (glucose and cholesterol), blood pressure cuff, and self-report measures, were associated with levels of dispositional mindfulness (as measured by the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale, MAAS).

Data were collected from 382 participants (66% Caucasian, 57% female, average age = 47 years) in the New England Family Study, a large longitudinal study of the causes of neuropsychiatric and cardiovascular disease. The researchers examined the associations between mindfulness and “good” and “bad” cardiovascular health (“good” defined as 4 or more protective factors against cardiovascular disease; “bad” as fewer than 4).

Highly mindful participants were almost twice as likely (prevalence ratio=1.86) to have “good” cardiovascular health profiles as compared to less mindful participants. Highly mindful participants were significantly more likely to be nonsmokers, have untreated fasting blood glucose below 100 mg/dL, have BMIs under the cutoff for “normal,” be physically active, have stronger feelings of personal mastery, and have fewer depressive symptoms.

The relationship between mindfulness and cardiovascular health was mediated, to a large degree, through its association with fewer depressive symptoms and a higher sense of mastery.

Although the implications of these findings are limited by data collected from one point in time, this study suggests that people with high levels of mindfulness in daily life […]

November 21st, 2014|News|

10-day Vipassana Retreat Improves Wellness

Posted from archive: 07.04.2013 | by AMRA

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Krygier et al. [International Journal of Psychophysiology] studied the effects of a 10-day Goenka Vipassana retreat on heart rate variability (HRV) in 36 first-time retreat participants. HRV is a measure of parasympathetic activity that is also a biomarker for subjective well-being, cardiovascular health, and reduced all-cause mortality. Retreat participants completed pre- and post- self-report measures of psychological well-being as well as HRV during mindful attention to their breathing and during a resting baseline.

HRV measures included absolute, normalized, and log transformed measures of high frequency power, along with a measure of low frequency Traube-Hering-Meyer wave (THM) power. High frequency power reflects vagal tone, whereas low frequency THM power reflects baroreceptor activity.

Participants reported significant improvements in satisfaction with life, mindfulness (as measured by the MAAS), and positive affect, and significantly decreased depression, stress and negative affect from pretest to posttest. Effect sizes were all moderate to large. Participants with greater HRV high frequency power had less negative affect, and those with lower THM power had less negative affect, stress, and depression. Absolute high frequency power was greater during meditation than while at rest, but there was no effect of meditation on either normalized high frequency power or THM power.

The Vipassana retreat had a complicated interaction effect on the difference between HRV during meditation and while at rest. Log transformed High Frequency power was higher during meditation than at rest before the retreat, but not after. Conversely, THM power was lower (and normalized high frequency power higher) during meditation compared to at rest after the retreat, but not before. A profound loss in THM power during post-retreat meditation accounts for this, and probably reflects […]

January 5th, 2014|News|