Is spirituality a critical ingredient of meditation?

Wachholtz, A. B., & Pargament, K. I. (2005). Is spirituality a critical ingredient of meditation? Comparing the effects of spiritual meditation, secular meditation, and relaxation on spiritual, psychological, cardiac, and pain outcomes. Journal of behavioral medicine28(4), 369-384. Full text.

Abstract. This study compared secular and spiritual forms of meditation to assess the benefits of a spiritual intervention.

Participants were taught a meditation or relaxation technique to practice for 20 min a day for two weeks. After two weeks, participants returned to the lab, practiced their technique for 20 min, and placed their hand in a cold-water bath of 2◦C for as long as they could endure it. The length of time that individuals kept their hand in the water bath was measured. Pain, anxiety, mood, and the spiritual health were assessed following the two-week intervention.

Significant interactions occurred (time × group); the Spiritual Meditation group had greater decreases in anxiety and more positive mood, spiritual health, and spiritual experiences than the other two groups. They also tolerated pain almost twice as long as the other two groups.

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iRest for older adults with depression

Wahbeh, H., & Nelson, M. (2018-9). iRest Meditation for Older Adults with Depression Symptoms: A Pilot Study. International Journal of Yoga Therapy, no. 29, doi: 10.17761/2019-00036. Full text.

Abstract. Older adults, a rapidly growing population in the United States, have fewer physiological reserves and are more likely to be affected by stress, making them especially susceptible to depression symptoms. Meditation offers promising potential as an effective treatment; however, few studies have evaluated meditation interventions for this demographic.

The objectives of this pilot study were to evaluate the feasibility and acceptability of an iRest meditation program in older adults with depression symptoms and to collect preliminary data on its effect on depression and depression-related symptoms compared to a vacation control.

The study occurred at the Institute of Noetic Sciences EarthRise Retreat Center and participants’ homes. Thirty generally healthy older adults, aged 55–90, with depression symptoms were recruited. Participants were randomly assigned to a 2-day retreat of either iRest meditation training or vacation. After the retreat, participants were asked to complete 20 minutes of home practice per day for 6 weeks; this consisted of either guided meditations (iRest) or music (vacation).

Data were collected pre- and post-retreat and then 6 weeks later. Measures included depression-related variables (expectancy, depression symptoms, perceived stress, resilience, pain, sleep quality, and spirituality) and biomarkers (voice stress analysis, heart rate, heart rate variability).

We found the iRest intervention for older adults with depression symptoms to be feasible and acceptable. Preliminary results at 6 weeks demonstrated improvements in sleep impairment in older adults compared to the control group and promising trends in improvements in depression symptoms and pain severity.

Neural effects on patients with major depressive disorder: systematic review

Vignaud, P., et al. (2018). Neural effects of mindfulness-based interventions on patients with major depressive disorder: A systematic review. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, vol. 88, pp. 98-105, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2018.03.004.

Abstract. Growing evidence has suggested that mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) could have beneficial effects on the acute phase of depression and on the prevention of depressive relapse or recurrence. Despite growing clinical interest, the effects of MBIs on brain functioning in patients with MDD remain unclear. The aim of this systematic review was to assess the changes in brain functioning associated with MBIs in patients with MDD.

A systematic search was conducted, and of the 56 articles found, 8 were eligible. MBIs have modulatory effects on several brain regions implicated in the pathophysiology of MDD, such as the prefrontal cortex, the basal ganglia, the anterior and posterior cingulate cortices, and the parietal cortex. These regions have been implicated in self-awareness, attention and emotion regulation.

Some of these findings were consistent with the effects of MBIs observed in healthy subjects and patients with other psychiatric disorders, especially enhanced activity in the frontal and subcortical regions related to the improved somatosensory awareness. Further studies are needed to elucidate the mechanisms of MBIs in MDD.

Interventions for psychiatric disorders

Goldberg, S. B., et al. (2018). Mindfulness-based interventions for psychiatric disorders: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Clinical psychology review, vol. 59, pp. 52-60, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2017.10.011. Full text.

Highlights —

•  We examined the relative efficacy of mindfulness-based interventions on clinical symptoms of psychiatric disorders.

•  142 randomized clinical trials were included (N = 12,005 participants). Control conditions were coded on a five-tier system.

•  At post-treatment, mindfulness interventions were equivalent to evidence-based treatments and superior to other comparisons.

•  At follow-up, mindfulness interventions were equivalent to minimal and evidence-based treatments and superior to others.

•  The most consistent evidence for mindfulness-based interventions was seen for depression, pain, smoking, and addictions.

Effectiveness of meditation retreats: meta-analysis

Khoury, B., at al. (2017). Effectiveness of traditional meditation retreats: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of psychosomatic research92, 16-25, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpsychores.2016.11.006. Taken from the Abstract.

Background. An increasing number of studies are investigating traditional retreats. Very little, however, is known about their effectiveness.

Objective. To evaluate the effectiveness of meditation retreats on improving in general population. A total of 20 papers (N = 2912) were included.

Results suggested large effects on measures of anxiety, depression, stress, and moderate effects on measures of emotional regulation and quality of life. As to potential mechanisms of actions, results showed large effects on measures of  mindfulness and compassion, and moderate effects on measures of acceptance. 

Meditation and PTSD

Hilton, L., et al. (2017). Meditation for posttraumatic stress: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy9(4), 453. From the Abstract.

Objective: We conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis that synthesized evidence from randomized controlled trials of meditation interventions to provide estimates of their efficacy and safety in treating adults diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Results: In total, 10 trials on meditation interventions for PTSD with 643 participants met inclusion criteria. Across interventions, adjunctive meditation interventions of mindfulness-based stress reduction, yoga, and the mantram repetition program improve PTSD and depression symptoms compared with control groups, but the findings are based on low and moderate quality of evidence.

Effects were positive but not statistically significant for quality of life and anxiety, and no studies addressed functional status. The variety of meditation intervention types, the short follow-up times, and the quality of studies limited analyses.

Conclusions: Meditation appears to be effective for PTSD and depression symptoms, but in order to increase confidence in findings, more high-quality studies are needed on meditation as adjunctive treatment with PTSD-diagnosed participant samples large enough to detect statistical differences in outcomes.

Beneficial for asthma?

Paudyal, P., et al. (2018). Meditation for asthma: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Asthma55(7), 771-778, https://doi.org/10.1080/02770903.2017.1365887. 

From the AbstractOur review suggests that there is some evidence that meditation is beneficial in improving quality of life in asthma patients. As two out of four studies in our review were of poor quality, further trials with better methodological quality are needed to support or refute this finding.