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Posts Tagged ‘behavior’

6 June 2013 Meditation as a medical key for success

By Holly Glen Gearhart
June 4, 2013
The Monroe Monitor
Meditation is an ancient art of controlled thought, practiced throughout the world for centuries.

Sometimes in the form of prayer, song or guided imagery, meditation has gained respect as an important medical component in addition to traditional medical procedures. From cancer treatment to addressing PTSD, medical studies reveal that slowing the mind during treatment can and does enhance traditional medicine methodologies.

Dr Yocum’s patient studies concluded that those of his patients who set aside time for meditating had more productive responses to daily stressors. In addition, he found that this method proved to lower heart rates, “… better hormonal changes and improved immune function; and that meditation, in combination with traditional medicines, appears to help arthritis patients” adding that, “People who meditate tolerate pain better.”

Simply put, meditation is a form of conscious and focused thinking, often directed with the use of music or spoken word.

Using controlled tests, Western medical doctors have found that the use of focused thought during treatments, “…can help with a host of health problems. Relaxing and quieting your mind by focusing on your breathing can reduce stress – even the stress that comes with arthritic flares,” according to David E. Yocum, MD, director of the Arizona Arthritis Center in Tucson.

Studies at the Mayo Clinic using biofeedback have proved that there is a tangible medical benefit for patients. They studied patients who needed to focus on making physical changes to achieve results such as reducing pain.

Stopping short of calling meditation a cure for illness, the Mayo Clinic states, “Meditation can give you a sense of calm, peace and balance that benefits both your emotional wellbeing and your overall health,” adding, “ Meditation can help carry you more calmly through your day and can even improve certain medical conditions.”

They suggest that, through meditation, you can clean your mental slate of the have-tos of everyday life, which promotes emotional wellbeing. As a result you gain perspective and build skills to manage stress by focusing on the present which, in turn, reduces negative emotions. The Mayo Clinic suggests meditation as a complementary tool for traditional medical care.

Relaxation and bodily responses are not the soul benefit of taking time to “smell the roses;” there can be a spiritual function, as well. Fred Hutchinson Cancer Care Clinic of Seattle utilizes the services of reverend Stephen King, PhD, among others, in their chaplaincy services.

Using the findings from Making Health Care Whole, 2010, defined spirituality as, “the aspect of humanity that expresses and seeks meaning and purpose and the way (to feel) connectedness to the moment, to self, to others, to nature and to the significant or sacred.”

One of the positive outcomes from spiritual connectedness is a stronger relationship with God (or the God of your choice), seeking love and care from the same and working with God to seek healing.

In the United States, the practice of meditation grew enormously during the 1960s, perhaps in part because The Beatles studied transcendental meditation in India with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

Something as simple as ten minutes a day in quiet reflection is now an accepted way to begin a workday; some major corporations use meditation in team building. The onset of the technological revolution was part of this road to acceptance and may have found its way into corporate America after word spread that Steve Jobs was practicing meditation on a daily basis.

Some forms of meditation involve deep thought, breathing exercises and chanting. You don’t have to spend a lot of time on the practice in order to see results. Your day maybe filled to overflowing with little time for reflection. However, spending as little as five or 10 minutes sitting quietly, paying attention to your breathing and embracing positive feelings can be a successful tool in your survival box.

Continued research on the benefits of meditation is, “…tipping the balance in favor of implementing these therapies in the medical world to improve the lives of patients, including those who are undergoing cancer treatment. Physicians and academic researchers finally have the science to understand the connection between the brain and the immune system, emotions and disease,” said Dr. Esther Sternberg, a National Institutes of Health senior scientist and author of  The Balance Within: The Science Connecting Health and Emotions.

The supporting evidence is coming from such places such as the Fred Hutchinson Center, where scientists are studying measurements and testing the value of meditative therapies.

These measurements are an important component, according to Dr. Karen Syrjala, head of Biobehavioral Sciences at the Hutchinson Center. “If we expect that psychological or behavioral strategies will have health outcomes, we must be able to show the pathway or mechanism through which that occurs,” she said.


9 August 2012 Behavioural and cognitive effects during vagus nerve stimulation in children with intractable epilepsy

European Journal of Paediatric Neurology

Sylvia Klinkenberg, Charlotte N.C.J. van den Bosch, H.J. Marian Majoie, Marlien W. Aalbers, Loes Leenen, Jos Hendriksen, Erwin M.J. Cornips, Kim Rijkers, Johan S.H. Vles, Albert P. Aldenkamp

Received 3 April 2012; received in revised form 8 July 2012; accepted 15 July 2012. published online 08 August 2012.



In addition to effects on seizure frequency in intractable epilepsy, multiple studies report benefits of vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) on behavioural outcomes and quality of life. The present study aims to investigate the effects of VNS on cognition, mood in general, depression, epilepsy-related restrictions and psychosocial adjustment in children with intractable epilepsy, as well as the relation between these effects and seizure reduction.


We conducted a randomized, active-controlled, double-blinded, add-on study in 41 children (age 4–18) with medically refractory epilepsy. We performed cognitive and behavioural testing at baseline (12 weeks), at the end of the blinded phase (20 weeks) in children receiving either high-output or low-output (active control) stimulation, and at the end of the open label phase (19 weeks) with all children receiving high-output stimulation. Seizure frequency was recorded using seizure diaries.


VNS did not have a negative effect on cognition nor on psychosocial adjustment. At the end of the follow-up phase we noted an improvement of mood in general and the depression subscale for the entire group, unrelated to a reduction of seizure frequency. At the end of the blinded phase a ≥50% reduction of seizure frequency occurred in 16% of the high-stimulation group and 21% of the low-stimulation group. At the end of the open-label follow-up phase, 26% of the children experienced a seizure frequency reduction of 50% or more (responders).


VNS has additional beneficial effects in children with intractable epilepsy. As opposed to anti-epileptic drugs, there are no negative effects on cognition. Moreover, we observed an improvement of mood in general and depressed feelings in particular, irrespective of a reduction in seizure frequency. These beneficial effects should be taken into account when deciding whether to initiate or continue VNS treatment in these children.




2 April 2012 Meditation Improves Emotional Behaviors in Teachers

Mar. 28, 2012

Schoolteachers who underwent a short but intensive program of meditation were less depressed, anxious or stressed — and more compassionate and aware of others’ feelings, according to a UCSF-led study that blended ancient meditation practices with the most current scientific methods for regulating emotions.

Happy effective teacher. Schoolteachers who underwent a short but intensive program of meditation were less depressed, anxious or stressed -- and more compassionate and aware of others' feelings, according to a UCSF-led study that blended ancient meditation practices with the most current scientific methods for regulating emotions. (Credit: © iofoto / Fotolia)

A core feature of many religions, meditation is practiced by tens of millions around the world as part of their spiritual beliefs as well as to alleviate psychological problems, improve self-awareness and to clear the mind. Previous research has linked meditation to positive changes in blood pressure, metabolism and pain, but less is known about the specific emotional changes that result from the practice.

The new study was designed to create new techniques to reduce destructive emotions while improving social and emotional behavior.

The study will be published in the April issue of the journal Emotion.

“The findings suggest that increased awareness of mental processes can influence emotional behavior,” said lead author Margaret Kemeny, PhD, director of the Health Psychology Program in UCSF’s Department of Psychiatry. “The study is particularly important because opportunities for reflection and contemplation seem to be fading in our fast-paced, technology-driven culture.”

Altogether, 82 female schoolteachers between the ages of 25 and 60 participated in the project. Teachers were chosen because their work is stressful and because the meditation skills they learned could be immediately useful to their daily lives, possibly trickling down to benefit their students.

Study Arose After Meeting Dalai Lama

The study arose from a meeting in 2000 between Buddhist scholars, behavioral scientists and emotion experts at the home of the Dalai Lama. There, the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman, PhD, a UCSF emeritus professor and world expert in emotions, pondered the topic of emotions, leading the Dalai Lama to pose a question: In the modern world, would a secular version of Buddhist contemplation reduce harmful emotions?

From that, Ekman and Buddhist scholar Alan Wallace developed a 42-hour, eight-week training program, integrating secular meditation practices with techniques learned from the scientific study of emotion. It incorporated three categories of meditative practice:

  • Concentration practices involving sustained, focused attention on a specific mental or sensory experience;
  • Mindfulness practices involving the close examination of one’s body and feelings;
  • Directive practices designed to promote empathy and compassion toward others.

In the randomized, controlled trial, the schoolteachers learned to better understand the relationship between emotion and cognition, and to better recognize emotions in others and their own emotional patterns so they could better resolve difficult problems in their relationships. All the teachers were new to meditation and all were involved in an intimate relationship.

“We wanted to test whether the intervention affected both personal well-being as well as behavior that would affect the well-being of their intimate partners,” said Kemeny.

As a test, the teachers and their partners underwent a “marital interaction” task measuring minute changes in facial expression while they attempted to resolve a problem in their relationship. In this type of encounter, those who express certain negative facial expressions are more likely to divorce, research has shown.

Some of the teachers’ key facial movements during the marital interaction task changed, particularly hostile looks which diminished. In addition, depressed mood levels dropped by more than half. In a follow-up assessment five months later, many of the positive changes remained, the authors said.

“We know much less about longer-term changes that occur as a result of meditation, particularly once the ‘glow’ of the experience wears off,” Kemeny said. “It’s important to know what they are because these changes probably play an important role in the longer-term effects of meditation on mental and physical health symptoms and conditions.”

The study involved researchers from a number of institutions including UCSF, UC Davis, and Stanford University.

UCSF is a leading university dedicated to promoting health worldwide through advanced biomedical research, graduate-level education in the life sciences and health professions, and excellence in patient care.

20 February 2012 Meditation helps kids pay attention, leading researcher says

By Gordon Hoekstra
February 16, 2012
 The Province
”]Simple meditation techniques, backed up with modern scientific knowledge of the brain, are helping kids hard-wire themselves to be able to better pay attention and become kinder, says neuroscientist Richard Davidson.Davidson — who will speak Friday at the University of British Columbia on his new co-authored book, The Emotional Life of Your Brain— has put his research into practice at elementary schools in Madison, Wis.About 200 students at four elementary schools have used breathing techniques to hard-wire their brains to improve their ability to focus on their work.

“It’s so widely popular and successful, the district wants us to scale it up the entire (Madison) school system,” Davidson said Wednesday in an interview.

Davidson, who was inspired by a meeting with the Dalai Lama in 1992 to research areas like kindness and compassion, heads up several laboratories at the University of Wisconsin including the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds.

In 2006, Davidson was named one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people.

Davidson said research has shown why the brain’s circuitry is important in governing a person’s resilience to stress.

Research has also shown the brain is elastic, that it can be shaped by experience and behaviour.

Research, including brain imaging studies, also shows it is possible to cultivate the mind to change brain function and structure in ways that will promote higher levels of well-being and increased resilience, said Davidson. His research is outlined in dozens of articles in scientific journals.

The techniques used with elementary schoolchildren are quite simple. To improve a child’s ability to pay attention — and also improve their studying abilities — a stone is put on a child’s belly, and they learn to focus on their breathing as the stone goes up and down.

The technique can be taught to children as young as four, said Davidson.

“A simple anchor like one’s breath is a centuries-old meditation technique, but it turns out to have some very beneficial qualities in terms of changes in both the brain and behaviour,” he said.

To foster kindness in teenagers, students are asked to visualize a loved one suffering followed by a thought that they be relieved of that suffering.

This is extended to difficult people as well, said Davidson.

This exercise has also been shown to produce meaningful changes in the brain and behaviour, he said.

Elementary schools in Vancouver have also embraced these meditation techniques as part of a program called MindUp that teaches children that it is hard to concentrate when the brain is stressed.

More than 1,000 teachers have trained in the program at the Vancouver school board, and the district has received requests from other school districts, including in Yukon, to teach the program.

9 January 2012 Simple Remedies for Stress

by Michael Cornwall PhD LLC
Emotional Intelligence Theory
January 5, 2012


Five days a week, 9 – 5, I sit in a chair at a desk by the window. I mostly talk to people; and write.  Sometimes I talk to people while I write. At the end of the day, after I am finished with all this talking and writing, sitting and listening, I walk, briskly; at least four miles. I look forward to walking. Exercise helps to maintain my emotional and physical health – especially on days when I make myself emotionally unwell.

Like most of you, on occasion, I provoke myself into some measure of the stress response.  Criticism, the ill-mannered, unfair treatment and disrespect are the perceptions I personally find most challenging.  Of course, there is no such thing as criticism, the ill-mannered, unfair treatment or disrespect.  These are my perceptions. Emotional events unto themselves are meaningless without my active interpretation of them.

If I can change my interpretation of events, I can change my response to events. Instead of perceiving my experiences as threats, I can perceive them as bothersome inconveniences, incommode, unfortunate events.

I know this.

Intellectual insight is not often enough.  Combining knowledge with new behaviors, however, is essential to changing any habit – including how we emote. Simply knowing the right thing to do is not sufficient to make any kind of real change in how we perceive adversity.  I often fail to make this connection.  My sympathetic nervous system, on the other hand, never fails.  My sympathetic nervous system does an excellent job of rapidly preparing me to deal with whatever I perceive as threatening.

I am sometimes my own worst enemy.

Within nanoseconds of nut-headed thinking, a corresponding metabolic process is begun, allowing us to cope with our perception of danger. Our adrenal glands release adrenaline (epinephrine);  our breathing increases along with our heart rate and blood pressure, moving more oxygen-rich blood faster to our brains and the muscles – the fuel needed for fighting or fleeing.  From a distance, while all of this is going on inside of me, I am just a guy sitting by the window in his chair behind his desk.  In reality I am a time bomb of neuro-chemicals and hormones, fully prepared to lead a Spartan army into battle.

The Muzak overhead has no effect on me.

While in this stressed state, our unnecessary bodily functions shut down. Growth, reproduction and our ability to fight off disease (the immune system) are all temporarily put on hold for the sake of safety.  Blood-flow to the skin is reduced. Over time, chronic stress can lead to obesity, heart disease, sexual dysfunction and various skin ailments.  Mental illness (particularly depression and anxiety) can also result. Medical conditions that are influenced by a nervous system response such as chronic pain, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), digestive disorders or headaches are likely to become exacerbated by stress.

At some point, we have to make a commitment to take an active role in how we process our unhealthy, self-defeating and irrational thoughts.  I have made a commitment to manage my automatic bio-psycho response.  And I try to keep that pledge.

So I walk, briskly and stay focused on my physical and emotional health.

I cannot expect that the way I perceive events in my environment and how I think about them can change overnight.  On the contrary, thinking differently is a demanding task, likely to last the rest of my life.  I can, however, begin every day by reminding myself of my pledge.  I have committed to being an active player in my emotional life – an aspect of my life that can never again be viewed as a passive process.

I have found two important, yet simple, steps I can take immediately to help interfere with my stress response.  These steps work wonders for me. These steps motivate me to change my nutty thinking and help return my body and mind to balance.

I walk.

I breathe.

I pardon myself and others.

Especially, I pardon myself.

Moderate exercise and deep breathing can be emotionally and physically cleansing.  Those harmful stress hormones that linger in the bloodstream can be processed and eliminated through exercise and breathing deeply.  Breathing deeply, into the lower abdomen, stimulates the vagus nerves, the longest of the cranial nerves.  The vagus nerves pass through the neck and thorax into the abdomen. We know that vagal nerve endings act as the heart’s pacemaker by promoting the release of the transmitter acetylcholine.  Acetylcholine helps reduce blood pressure and counterbalances the effects of stress. Deep breathing stimulates the vagus nerves and promotes a return to balance.

Finally, while walking and breathing, I process the day’s stressful perceptions.  Instead of looking for blame and damning others for their poor choices, I pardon myself for thinking so foolishly.  I remind myself that everyone has a perfect right to behave as foolishly as they choose to behave.  I forgive myself for thinking people have to behave according to my rules and I pardon others for making the choices they make.

I couldn’t possibly believe that my own mistakes are more pardonable than those made by others.

So, I walk, briskly.

I breathe, deeply.

And I pardon, broadly.

It takes the force of will to do this.


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