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Ten Ways Mindfulness and Meditation Promotes Well-being
How Mindfulness Can Make for Better Doctors
Why Stress Kills – Study Shows
Regular Yoga Practice is Associated with Mindful Eating
Shifting America from Sick Care to Genuine Wellness
'Mindfulness' meditation being used in hospitals and schools

Mindfulness Training Busts Stress
How Mindfulness Meditation Can Calm You Down

 

 

 

 

January 08, 2011
|By Chris Woolston,
Special to the Los Angeles Times
 
 

Of all fields of medicine, psychology seems especially prone to fads. Freudian dream analysis, recovered memory therapy, eye movement desensitization for trauma — lots of once-hot psychological theories and treatments eventually fizzled.

Now along comes mindfulness therapy, a meditation-based treatment with foundations in Buddhism and yoga that's taking off in private practices and university psychology departments across the country.

"Mindfulness has become a buzzword, especially with younger therapists," said Stefan Hofmann, a professor of psychology at Boston University's Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders.

Mindfulness therapy encourages patients to focus on their breathing and their body, to notice but not judge their thoughts and to generally live in the moment. It may sound a bit squishy and New Agey to some, but Hofmann and other experts say mindfulness has something that discredited theories of the past never had: solid evidence that it can help.

"I was skeptical at first." Hofmann said. "I wondered, 'Why on Earth should this work?' But it seems to work quite well."

Hofmann and colleagues burnished the scientific credentials of mindfulness therapy with a review article in the April issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. After combining results of 39 previous studies involving 1,140 patients, the researchers concluded that mindfulness therapy was effective for relieving anxiety and improving mood.

The treatment seemed to help ease the mental stress of people recovering from cancer and other serious illnesses, but it had the strongest benefits for people diagnosed with mood disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder and recurring depression.

Jordan Elliott, a 26-year-old marketer for a New York publishing company, said mindfulness training had helped pushed his once-disabling anxiety — about work, the weather, the meaning of life — into the background. "The anxiety is still there, but it's not as bad as it was," he said.

Elliott started getting one-on-one therapy four years ago at the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy in New York. It was hard at first, partly because he was skeptical of the technique and partly because he didn't feel particularly mindful. "I was such a nervous wreck I could hardly sit still for three minutes," he said.

Now he starts every day with a 10-minute meditation. He sits cross-legged in his apartment, TV and music off, and thinks about his breathing.

"When a negative thought pops off in my head, I say to myself, 'There's a thought. And feelings aren't facts.' "

Elliott said he was taking Prozac before he started mindfulness therapy, but he no longer needed medication to keep his anxiety under control.


How Mindfulness Can Make for Better Doctors
October 15, 2009
By PAULINE W. CHEN, M.D.
The New York Times

One night during my training, long after all the other doctors had fled the hospital, I found a senior surgeon still on the wards working on a patient note. He was a surgeon with extraordinary skill, a doctor of few words whose folksy quips had become the stuff of department legend. “I’m sorry you’re still stuck here,” I said, walking up to him.

He looked up from the chart. “I’m not working tomorrow, so I’m just fine.”

I had just reviewed the next day’s operating room schedule and knew he had a full day of cases. I began to contradict him, but he held his hand up to stop me.

“Time in the O.R.,” he said with a broad grin, “is not work; it’s play.”

For several years my peers and I relished anecdotes like this one because we believed we knew exactly what our mentor had meant. All of us had had the experience of “disappearing” into the meditative world of a procedure and re-emerging not exhausted, but refreshed. The ritual ablutions by the scrub sink washed away the bacteria clinging to our skin and the endless paperwork threatening to choke our enthusiasm. A single rhythmic cardiac monitor replaced the relentless calls of our beepers; and nothing would matter during the long operations except the patient under our knife.

We had entered “the zone.” We were focused on nothing else but our patients and that moment.

But my more recent conversations with surgical colleagues and physicians from other specialties have had a distinctly different timbre. While we continue to deal with many of the same pressures that my mentor dealt with — decreasing autonomy, increasing administrative requirements, less control over our practice environment — the demands on our attention have gone, well, viral.

Extreme multitasking has invaded the patient-doctor relationship.

Now, along with the piles of forms to fill and blinking lights of phone calls on hold, are threads of text messages, columns of e-mails and lists of electronic medical record alerts to attend to. In this ever-widening sea of distractions, all that once gave meaning to our work and allowed us to enter the zone — the operations, the diagnostic saves, the lifetime relationships — have turned quaintly insufficient.

As one surgical colleague confided, “I still like operating, but it’s not enough. There are so many hassles it’s hardly worth practicing.”

Or as another doctor said to me recently while simultaneously typing an electronic medical record note, checking e-mail and holding a phone to his ear, “It used to never bother me to put in extra time at work. But I cannot do that anymore.”

The time pressures and demands that drive this endless multitasking and loss of focus on patients have contributed to high rates of burnout among physicians. Depending on the study, anywhere from one out of every three to more than half of all doctors is suffering from burnout, with potentially devastating clinical implications. Doctors who are burned out are more likely to depersonalize their patients and treat them as objects rather than as individuals suffering from disease. They are less professional, exhibit less empathy and are more prone to making errors. And these physicians are also more likely to become depressed, commit suicide and leave a profession that is already facing severe shortages in specialties like primary care.

As with most other occupations and aspects of our lives, it is probably impossible to hold back the rising tide of demands on our attention. But within the clinics, the wards and the operating rooms, is there a way for physicians to do all their work and maintain their focus on the patient in front of them, without accelerating the rate of burnout?

It turns out that working and living in the zone, not just getting into it on occasion, may be one solution.

Last month, The Journal of the American Medical Association published the results of a study examining the effects of a year-long course for primary care physicians on mindfulness, that ability to be in the zone and present in the moment purposefully and without judgment. Seventy physicians enrolled and participated in the four components of the course — mindfulness meditation; writing sessions; discussions; and lectures on topics like managing conflict, setting boundaries and self-care.

The effects of the sessions were dramatic. The participating doctors became more mindful, less burned out and less emotionally exhausted. But two additional findings surprised the investigators. Several of the improvements persisted even after the yearlong course ended. And, those changes correlated with a significant increase in attributes that contribute to patient-centered care, such as empathy and valuing the psychosocial factors that might affect a patient’s illness experience.

I asked Dr. Michael S. Krasner, lead author of the study and an associate professor of clinical medicine at the University of Rochester, about mindfulness and its effects on physician burnout and the patient-doctor relationship.

“We all use mindfulness at some point,” Dr. Krasner said. “It’s not something that you go out and get, but it’s something you can cultivate.” Some examples of mindfulness in everyday life include nursing a baby, attending to a young child in distress or, for surgeons, being engrossed in an operation. “Mindfulness allows us to be in a whole host of situations with a sense of equanimity. We don’t get sucked into how charged an experience is but are simply having that experience.”

While many physicians try to be present for their patients, “there are so many other distractions and traps that pull us away,” Dr. Krasner observed. Those distractions can make practicing mindfulness particularly difficult. “It’s one thing to sit and be comfortable with oneself. But trying to be mindful in a busy clinical practice can be really challenging.”

Over time, the persistent distractions of such a practice can lead to burnout. For many of the study participants, “they barely recognized certain experiences as either powerful or challenging before they moved to the next experience,” Dr. Krasner noted. The word “silo” came up again and again during the course, and the physicians recounted how they “kept their nose to the grindstone” and rarely reflected on their work. “It becomes easy to look at our patients as objects,” Dr. Krasner said, “rather than appreciating the meaning and joy of an experience, even if that experience is difficult. But lack of meaning goes hand in hand with ineffectiveness and a lack of well-being as a physician.”

Acquiring the ability to be mindful in the most challenging circumstances can do more than improve a physician’s well-being; it can also sharpen clinical skills. “If something goes wrong and you fail to notice,” said Dr. Krasner, “you end up going down one path in your care. But if you fully accept these challenges — not resign yourself to them but fully accept them — you can see more clearly and proceed down a path where you have a better chance of success.”

Dr. Krasner acknowledges that courses like his may not be helpful for every doctor. “There are people who aren’t going to be interested because it may seem different, even a little frightening, to get together with colleagues and be silent for a while, then talk about these things with one another.” Instead, he proposes offering physicians in the future a “menu of options” to choose from to help prevent burnout. “But I think mindfulness should be among the menu of educational interventions that are evidence-based.”

“Patients know when their doctors are or are not present,” Dr. Krasner said. “As a practitioner, I know when I’m really there for my patients and when other things are pulling me away and I’m not.” It seems fitting then that physicians, who are constantly asking their patients to be mindful — asking them to talk about how they feel — should also be able to do so themselves.

“One of the most wonderful things about practicing medicine,” Dr. Krasner said, “is that you have the opportunity to be in the middle of challenging events. Reflecting on those events while also holding them in your thoughts has to do with not only physician well-being but also patient healing.”

“If we can be mindful in the midst of those challenging circumstances,” Dr. Krasner reflected, “we can derive a greater sense of meaning from even the most demanding situations.”

 

Why Stress Kills – Study Shows How Stress Causes Illness
October 2, 2009
Associated Press

It’s no surprise that constant stress can make people sick, and now a team of researchers has figured out how.

A study focused on 119 men and women taking care of spouses with dementia. The health of the caregivers was compared with that of 106 people of similar ages not living under the stress of constant care giving.

Blood tests showed that a chemical called Interleukin-6 sharply increased in the blood of the stressed caregivers compared with blood of the others in the test. Previous studies have associated IL-6 with several diseases, including heart disease, arthritis, osteoporosis, type-2 diabetes and certain cancers.

The study also found the increase in IL-6 can linger in caregivers for as long as three years after a caregiver had ceased that role because of the spouse’s death. Of the test group, 78 spouses died during the survey.

“This really makes a link to why chronic stress can actually kill people,” said Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, professor of psychology and psychiatry at Ohio State University. “We haven’t had a good mechanism before.”

She explained that people under stress tend to respond by doing things that can increase their levels of IL-6.

For example, they may smoke or overeat; smoking raises IL-6 levels, and the chemical is secreted by fat cells. Stressed people also may not get enough exercise or sleep, she added. Exercise reduces IL-6, she said, and normal sleep helps regulate levels of the chemical.

It clearly points to the need to control stress better, she said.

The findings by the research group, headed by Kiecolt-Glaser and her husband, Ronald Glaser, a professor of molecular virology, immunology and medical genetics at Ohio State, appear in this week’s issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

 
 

Regular Yoga Practice is Associated with Mindful Eating
Aug. 3, 2009
by Alan Kristal, Dr.P.H.

Study suggests that mindful eating can play a key role in long-term weight maintenance

Regular yoga practice is associated with mindful eating, and people who eat mindfully are less likely to be obese, according to a study led by researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

The study was prompted by initial findings reported four years ago by Alan Kristal, Dr.P.H., and colleagues, who found that regular yoga practice may help prevent middle-age spread in normal-weight people and may promote weight loss in those who are overweight. At the time, the researchers suspected that the weight-loss effect had more to do with increased body awareness, specifically a sensitivity to hunger and satiety than the physical activity of yoga practice itself.

The follow-up study, published in the August issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, confirms their initial hunch.

“In our earlier study, we found that middle-age people who practice yoga gained less weight over a 10-year period than those who did not. This was independent of physical activity and dietary patterns. We hypothesized that mindfulness – a skill learned either directly or indirectly through yoga – could affect eating behavior,” said Kristal, associate head of the Cancer Prevention Program in the Public Health Sciences Division at the Hutchinson Center.

The researchers found that people who ate mindfully – those were aware of why they ate and stopped eating when full – weighed less than those who ate mindlessly, who ate when not hungry or in response to anxiety or depression. The researchers also found a strong association between yoga practice and mindful eating but found no association between other types of physical activity, such as walking or running, and mindful eating.

“These findings fit with our hypothesis that yoga increases mindfulness in eating and leads to less weight gain over time, independent of the physical activity aspect of yoga practice,” said Kristal, who is also a professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington School of Public Health.

Kristal, a yoga enthusiast for the past 15 years, said that yoga cultivates mindfulness in a number of ways, such as being able to hold a challenging physical pose by observing the discomfort in a non-judgmental way, with an accepting, calm mind and focus on the breath. “This ability to be calm and observant during physical discomfort teaches how to maintain calm in other challenging situations, such as not eating more even when the food tastes good and not eating when you’re not hungry,” he said.

To test whether yoga in fact increases mindfulness and mindful eating, Kristal and colleagues developed a Mindful Eating Questionnaire, a 28-item survey that measured a variety of factors:

    • disinhibition – eating even when full;
    • awareness – being aware of how food looks, tastes and smells;
    • external cues – eating in response to environmental cues, such as advertising;
    • emotional response – eating in response to sadness or stress; and
    • distraction – focusing on other things while eating.

Each question was graded on a scale of 1 to 4, in which higher scores signified more mindful eating. The questionnaire was administered to more than 300 people at Seattle-area yoga studios, fitness facilities and weight-loss programs, among other venues. More than 80 percent of the study participants were women, well-educated and Caucasian, with an average age of 42. Participants provided self-reported information on a number of factors, including weight, height, yoga practice, walking for exercise or transportation and other forms of moderate and strenuous exercise.

More than 40 percent of the participants practiced yoga more than an hour per week, 46 percent walked for exercise or transportation for at least 90 minutes per week and more than 50 percent engaged in more than 90 minutes of moderate and/or strenuous physical activity per week.

The average weight of the study participants was within the normal range – not surprising considering that the study sample intentionally consisted of people more physically active than the U.S. population in general. Body-mass index was lower among participants who practiced yoga as compared to those who did not (an average of 23.1 vs. 25.8, respectively).

Higher scores on the mindfulness questionnaire overall (and on each of the categories within the questionnaire) was associated with a lower BMI, which suggests that mindful eating may play an important role in long-term weight maintenance, Kristal said.

“Mindful eating is a skill that augments the usual approaches to weight loss, such as dieting, counting calories and limiting portion sizes. Adding yoga practice to a standard weight-loss program may make it more effective,” said Kristal, who himself scored high on the mindful-eating survey and has a BMI within the normal range.

Moving forward, Kristal and colleagues suggest that their Mindful Eating Questionnaire, the first tool of its kind to characterize and measure mindful eating, may be useful both in clinical practice and research to understand and promote healthy dietary behavior.

“Beyond calories and diets, mindful eating takes a more holistic approach that can empower individuals to build positive relationships with food and eating, said first author Celia Framson, M.P.H., R.D., C.D., a former graduate student of Kristal’s – and former yoga teacher – who now works with adolescents with eating disorders at Seattle Children’s Hospital. “The Mindful Eating Questionnaire offers a new and relevant dimension for measuring the effectiveness of dietary behavior interventions. It also encourages nutrition and medical practitioners to consider the broad scope of behavior involved in healthy eating,” she said.

Other authors on the paper included Denise Benitez, owner of Seattle Yoga Arts; Alyson Littman, Ph.D., an epidemiologist at the UW School of Public Health and Department of Veterans Affairs; Steve Zeliadt, Ph.D., of VA Puget Sound Healthcare; and Jeanette Schenk, R.D., a research dietitian in the Hutchinson Center’s Cancer Prevention Program.

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center funded the study.

 

Shifting America from Sick Care to Genuine Wellness
June 25, 2009
By Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa)
From The Yahoo! Newsroom Blog

Washington, DC — With the Senate health committee convening daily to craft a comprehensive health reform bill, the basic outline of this landmark legislation is now clear.

Yes, it will ensure access to affordable, quality care for every American.  But, just as important, it will hold down health care costs by creating a sharp new emphasis on disease prevention and public health.

As the lead Senator in drafting the Prevention and Public Health section of the bill, I view this legislation as our opportunity to recreate America as a genuine wellness society – a society that is focused on prevention, good nutrition, fitness, and public health.

The fact is, we currently do not have a health care system in the United States; we have a sick care system.  If you’re sick, you get care, whether through insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, SCHIP, community health centers, emergency rooms, or charity.  The problem is that this is all about patching things up after people develop serious illnesses and chronic conditions.

We spend a staggering $2.3 trillion annually on health care – 16.5 percent of our GDP and far more than any other country spends on health care – yet the World Health Organization ranks U.S. health care only 37th among nations, on par with Serbia.

We spend twice as much per capita on health care as European countries, but we are twice as sick with chronic disease.

How can this be so?  The problem is that we have systematically neglected wellness and disease prevention.  Currently in the United States, 95 percent of every health care dollar is spent on treating illnesses and conditions after they occur.  But we spend peanuts on prevention.

The good news in these dismal statistics is that, by reforming our system and focusing on fighting and preventing chronic disease, we have a huge opportunity.  We can not only save hundreds of billions of dollars; we can also dramatically improve the health of the American people.

Consider this:  Right now, some 75 percent of health care costs are accounted for by heart disease, diabetes, prostate cancer, breast cancer, and obesity.  What these five diseases and conditions have in common is that they are largely preventable and even reversible by changes in nutrition, physical activity, and lifestyle.

Listen to what Dr. Dean Ornish told our Senate health committee: “Studies have shown that changing lifestyle could prevent at least 90 percent of all heart disease.  Thus, the disease that accounts for more premature deaths and costs Americans more than any other illness is almost completely preventable, and even reversible, simply by changing lifestyle.”

It’s not enough to talk about how to extend insurance coverage and how to pay for health care – as important as those things are.  It makes no sense just to figure out a better way to pay the bills for a system that is dysfunctional, ineffective, and broken.  We also have to change the health care system itself, beginning with a sharp new emphasis on prevention and public health.

We also have to realize that wellness and prevention must be truly comprehensive.  It is not only about what goes on in a doctor’s office.  It encompasses workplace wellness programs, community-wide wellness programs, building bike paths and walking trails, getting junk food out of our schools, making school breakfasts and lunches more nutritious, increasing the amount of physical activity our children get, and so much more.

I am heartened by the fact that the major players in this endeavor – Democrats and Republicans alike – all “get it” when it comes to prevention and public health.  We all agree that it must be at the heart of reform legislation.

As President Obama said in his speech to Congress earlier this year: “[It is time] to make the largest investment ever in preventive care, because that’s one of the best ways to keep our people healthy and our costs under control.”

No question, comprehensive health reform is an extraordinarily ambitious undertaking.  But what makes me optimistic is that all the major groups are playing a constructive role, including those that opposed the 1993-94 heath reform effort.  Everyone agrees that the current system is broken.

Winston Churchill famously said that “Americans always do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.”  Well, we’ve tried everything else, and it has led us to bad health and the brink of bankruptcy.

Comprehensive health reform legislation is our opportunity to change the paradigm.  We are going to extend health insurance to every American.  And we are going to give our citizens access to a 21st century health care system – one that is focused on helping us to live healthy, active, happy lives.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) is a senior member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and chairs the Senate panel that funds medical research and health care..

 

'Mindfulness' meditation being used in hospitals and schools
6/8/2009
By Marilyn Elias
USA TODAY

Challenges are landing fast and furious on Capitol Hill. So Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, feels he has to arrive at the top of his game every day. And Ryan says he has found a way to do that: He meditates for at least 45 minutes before leaving home.

Ryan, 35, sits on a floor cushion, closes his eyes, focuses on his breath and tries to detach from any thoughts, just observing them like clouds moving across the sky — a practice he learned at a retreat. "I find it makes me a better listener, and my concentration is sharper. I get less distracted when I'm reading," he says. "It's like you see through the clutter of life and can penetrate to what's really going on."

Once thought of as an esoteric, mystical pursuit, meditation is going mainstream. A government survey in 2007 found that about 1 out of 11 Americans, more than 20 million, meditated in the past year. And a growing number of medical centers are teaching meditation to patients for relief of pain and stress.

More than 240 programs in clinics and hospitals teach the same type of meditation that Ryan learned, says Jon Kabat-Zinn, who developed mindfulness-based stress reduction 30 years ago at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. Other types, such as transcendental meditation, use a mantra or repeated phrase.

'A colossal shift in acceptance'

Some kind of meditative practice is found in all the world's religions, says Shauna Shapiro of Santa Clara (Calif.) University, co-author with Linda Carlson of the new book The Art and Science of Mindfulness. Most include focusing attention and letting thoughts and emotions go by without judgment or becoming involved.

Kabat-Zinn credits "a colossal shift in acceptance" to accelerating research on the benefits of meditation.

Studies suggest the practice can ease pain, improve concentration and immune function, lower blood pressure, curb anxiety and insomnia, and possibly even help prevent depression. Newer research tools, such as high-tech brain scans, show how meditation might have diverse effects.

In a brain-scan study of long-time meditators compared with a control group that never meditated, the meditators had increased thickness in parts of the brain associated with attention and with sensitivity to internal sensations of the body. "These are people who would notice their muscles tensing when they're angry or butterflies in their stomach if they're scared," says study leader Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital.

And a UCLA study out in May found that, compared with a non-meditating control group, meditators' brains have larger volume in areas important for attention, focus and regulating emotion. They also have more gray matter, which could sharpen mental function, says study leader Eileen Luders, a neuroscientist.

Of course, nobody knows whether these meditators' brains were different to begin with. And that's the problem with much of the meditation research so far. Although studies have improved, most still aren't large and lack good control groups, says Richard Davidson, a pioneering meditation researcher and neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin.

His research shows that even novice meditators have greater activation in a part of the brain tied to well-being. The more activation, the greater their antibody
response to a flu vaccine, which makes the vaccine more protective. By changing the brain, meditation could affect many biological processes, he says.

Settling down, not lashing out

A cutting-edge approach to meditation practice starts with children. In scattered pockets across the USA, students are learning meditation at school.

Steve Reidman, a fourth-grade teacher at Toluca Lake Elementary School in North Hollywood, Calif., says teaching meditation to children has curbed fighting while
sharpening their focus. "You can just watch them breathe deeply and settle down rather than lashing out."

Susan Kaiser Greenland, whose InnerKids Foundation teaches in Los Angeles-area schools, works with Reidman's class.

Preliminary research shows that Los Angeles preschoolers who were taught meditation improved in their ability to pay attention and focus. For early elementary school kids, improvement came only in those who had attention problems at the start, says Susan Smalley, a UCLA behavioral geneticist who did the research with psychologist Lisa Flook. Very young brains may be more malleable, she speculates.

As research expands, scientists expect to unlock more of the mysteries around meditation. Meanwhile, for those such as Ryan, proof of benefit is already evident. "I'm much more aware now than I used to be," he says. "I enjoy my life more because you notice, and you really appreciate."

 

Mindfulness Training Busts Stress
June 1, 2009
By Val Willingham
CNN Medical Producer

(CNN) — “Just the facts” has always been Lillian Waugh’s motto. A historian and former professor of women’s studies at West Virginia University, Waugh is a stickler for facts and details. And because she was always the “go to” person at WVU, she was constantly in demand — and busy.

“I was a multitasker at work,” she said.

Waugh’s job was so stressful it started to affect her health. So when the university began a study on how to handle stress at work, she jumped at the chance to participate.

The study included 103 participants. Half were given written instructions on how to handle stress at work; the others, including Waugh, were taught techniques to cultivate mindfulness, such as yoga poses, breathing methods, stretches and meditation — all designed to help workers cope with too many e-mails, ringing phones and the occasional nasty co-worker.

Lead investigator Kimberly Williams said the goal was to relieve stress. “Mindfulness means to pay full attention to what you are doing, moment by moment,” she said. “We taught them how to recognize sources of stress, how stress impacts them, and then what they could do to come out of the vicious cycle of stress reactivity.”

The program lasted eight weeks and participants were followed for an additional three months. Williams said they found those who received the mindfulness training “had significantly less daily hassles, psychological distress and significantly fewer medical symptoms” — like lower blood pressure and fewer aches and pains — than those who were handed a pamphlet.

Waugh says she was thrilled to find that after practicing mindfulness techniques, the back pain that had plagued her for almost a decade went away. She also said she “communicated better with fellow employees and actually had a better attitude towards my job.”

“The one thing I came away with was the ability to put myself in a place where I could gain perspective on everything I was doing at the moment,” she said.

Mindfulness is not new. It goes back to the time of Buddha, who believed that the mind should always be fully in the present — not looking back at the past or anticipating the future. Being mindful of the here-and-now, Buddha said, reduces stress and brings inner peace.

Today, mindfulness training involves learning to become aware of mind, body and emotions. Yoga, tai chi, and meditation all teach mindfulness.

 

How Mindfulness Meditation Can Calm You Down
By Deborah Kotz
US New and World Report
Posted June 5, 2008


Pay close attention to each feeling, and let it be

Let's say you slam into the back of a car that cuts you off or your boss moves your deadline up a week. How do you react? Perhaps your pulse quickens as you berate yourself for not foreseeing the circumstance. Maybe your breathing
shortens as you feel anger or panic—or both. Most people, though, don't notice such details; they react with an "Aargh!" and distract themselves with a run or a beer or a gallon of ice cream.

But researchers say one of the best ways of soothing stress is to be "mindful," to pause and actually tune in to what's going on at the moment. Being acutely aware of what you're experiencing—the racing heart, the tumbling thoughts—and accepting it without judgment, observing as it changes, has a strong calming effect, experts say. "You might have a thought like 'I'm a failure,' but you know that it's just a thought," explains researcher Elissa Epel, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of California-San Francisco School of Medicine. That will prevent you from turning those thoughts into a self-fulfilling prophecy by, say, quitting the gym or a challenging job.

Wandering thoughts. How do you get to a mindful state in the midst of a panic? Most people need to practice a form of meditation that focuses on their breathing and sensations in each body part. If your mind wanders (and it will), you just acknowledge the errant thoughts, let them go, and bring your attention back to the breath. Check out a mindfulness tape at mindfulnesstapes.com, or take a free virtual-mindfulness class on YouTube with Jon Kabat-Zinn, a professor of medicine emeritus at the University of Massachusetts and author of several books on mindfulness. "You are training your mind to be less reactive and more stable," he writes in Full Catastrophe Living. A 2007 study found that mindfulness classes gave students an improved sense of well-being—and that practicing the technique for about 30 minutes a day helped induce a mindful response when people would normally feel stress.

The practice may also help alleviate some of the physiological damage caused by chronic stress, like the tendency to store fat around abdominal organs. Epel and her colleagues are currently studying whether 50 overweight women who describe themselves as "stress eaters" can curb food cravings by practicing mindfulness—by noticing a raisin's color, texture, and smell, say, before eating it. If stress reduction practices lower cortisol levels, the body's storage of fat should shift from the abdomen to the hips and thighs, where it won't cause insulin resistance, Epel speculates. A bonus: It might get easier to stop at one Oreo.

 

MIndfulness Therapy is no Fad, Experts Say

January 08, 2011
|By Chris Woolston,
Special to the Los Angeles Times

Of all fields of medicine, psychology seems especially prone to fads. Freudian dream analysis, recovered memory therapy, eye movement desensitization for trauma — lots of once-hot psychological theories and treatments eventually fizzled.

Now along comes mindfulness therapy, a meditation-based treatment with foundations in Buddhism and yoga that's taking off in private practices and university psychology departments across the country.

"Mindfulness has become a buzzword, especially with younger therapists," said Stefan Hofmann, a professor of psychology at Boston University's Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders.

Mindfulness therapy encourages patients to focus on their breathing and their body, to notice but not judge their thoughts and to generally live in the moment. It may sound a bit squishy and New Agey to some, but Hofmann and other experts say mindfulness has something that discredited theories of the past never had: solid evidence that it can help.

"I was skeptical at first." Hofmann said. "I wondered, 'Why on Earth should this work?' But it seems to work quite well."

Hofmann and colleagues burnished the scientific credentials of mindfulness therapy with a review article in the April issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. After combining results of 39 previous studies involving 1,140 patients, the researchers concluded that mindfulness therapy was effective for relieving anxiety and improving mood.

The treatment seemed to help ease the mental stress of people recovering from cancer and other serious illnesses, but it had the strongest benefits for people diagnosed with mood disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder and recurring depression.

Jordan Elliott, a 26-year-old marketer for a New York publishing company, said mindfulness training had helped pushed his once-disabling anxiety — about work, the weather, the meaning of life — into the background. "The anxiety is still there, but it's not as bad as it was," he said.

Elliott started getting one-on-one therapy four years ago at the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy in New York. It was hard at first, partly because he was skeptical of the technique and partly because he didn't feel particularly mindful. "I was such a nervous wreck I could hardly sit still for three minutes," he said.

Now he starts every day with a 10-minute meditation. He sits cross-legged in his apartment, TV and music off, and thinks about his breathing.

"When a negative thought pops off in my head, I say to myself, 'There's a thought. And feelings aren't facts.' "

Elliott said he was taking Prozac before he started mindfulness therapy, but he no longer needed medication to keep his anxiety under control.


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