The effect of diaphragmatic breathing

Ma, X., et al. (2017). The effect of diaphragmatic breathing on attention, negative affect and stress in healthy adults. Frontiers in psychology, no. 8, pp. 874, Full text.

From the Abstract. A growing number of empirical studies have revealed that diaphragmatic breathing may trigger body relaxation responses and benefit both physical and mental health. However, the specific benefits of diaphragmatic breathing on mental health remain largely unknown.

The present study aimed to investigate the effect of diaphragmatic breathing on cognition, affect, and cortisol responses to stress. Forty participants were randomly assigned to either a breathing intervention group (BIG) or a control group (CG). The BIG received intensive training for 20 sessions, implemented over 8 weeks, employing a real-time feedback device, and an average respiratory rate of 4 breaths/min, while the CG did not receive this treatment. . . . 

The findings suggested that the BIG showed a significant decrease in negative affect after intervention, compared to baseline.  . . .  In conclusion, diaphragmatic breathing could improve sustained attention, affect, and cortisol levels.

Loving-kindness meditation for symptoms of depression

Hofmann, S.G. at al. (2015). Loving-Kindness Meditation to Target Affect in Mood Disorders: A Proof-of-Concept Study. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Article ID 269126, doi:10.1155/2015/269126. Full text.

Conventional treatments for mood disorders primarily focus on reducing negative affect, but little on enhancing positive affect. Loving-kindness meditation (LKM) is a traditional meditation practice directly oriented toward enhancing unconditional and positive emotional states of kindness towards oneself and others.

We report here two independent and uncontrolled studies carried out at different centers, one in Boston, USA (n = 10), and one in Frankfurt, Germany (n = 8), to examine the potential therapeutic utility of a brief LKM group intervention for symptoms of dysthymia and depression.

Results at both centers suggest that LKM was associated with large-sized effects on self-reported symptoms of depression , negative affect, and positive affect. Large effects were also found for clinician-reported changes in depression, rumination and specific positive emotions, and moderate effects for changes in adaptive emotion regulation strategies. The qualitative data analyses provide additional support for the potential clinical utility of the intervention.

Mindful­ness to address transdiagnostic mental processes

Greeson, J. M. (2015). Transtherapeutic Mindfulness. Alternative and Complementary Therapies, 21(3). Full Text.

From the Abstract: Mindfulness is a natural quality of awareness characterized by attending to the present moment, nonjudgmentally, and without reacting to negative thoughts or negative emotions im­plicated in mood disorders and other psychiatric conditions.

A relatively new clinical perspective suggests that, by specifi­cally targeting transdiagnostic processes that are shared across numerous mental disorders—such as negative thinking, the tendency to experience negative affect, and emotional reac­tivity—mindfulness training offers a viable approach to treat­ing mood disorders and a number of common, stress-related comorbidities, including sleep disturbance, chronic pain, and substance misuse. Therefore, as a clinician, using mindful­ness to address transdiagnostic mental processes that underlie mood symptoms can be quite efficient and therapeutic. . . .

Finally, research suggests that different mindfulness prac­tices, such as mindful breathing, sitting meditation, body scan, mindful yoga, and loving kindness, can produce differ­ent effects on transdiagnostic outcome measures, allowing a clinician to move toward personalized mindfulness prac­tices based on each patient’s individual needs, symptoms, and preference.

Is meditation always relaxing? Longitudinal study of 3 methods

Lumma, A. L., Kok, B. E., & Singer, T. (2015). Is Meditation always relaxing? Investigating Heart Rate, Heart Rate Variability, Experienced Effort and Likeability during Training of three types of Meditation. International Journal of Psychophysiology. Accepted manuscript in press. From the Abstract.

Meditation is often associated with a relaxed state of the body. Meditation can however also be regarded as a kind of mental task and training, which is associated with mental effort and physiological arousal. The cardiovascular effects of meditation may vary depending on the type of meditation, degree of mental effort, and amount of training.

In the current study we assessed heart rate (HR), high-frequency heart rate variability (HF-HRV) and subjective ratings of effort and likeability during three types of meditation varying in their cognitive and attentional requirements, namely breathing meditation, loving-kindness meditation and observing-thoughts meditation. In the context of [this] project, a one-year longitudinal mental training study, participants practiced each meditation exercise on a daily basis for 3 months.

Results showed that as expected HR and effort were higher during loving-kindness meditation and observing-thoughts meditation compared to breathing meditation. With training over time HR and likeability increased, while HF-HRV and the subjective experience of effort decreased. The increase in HR and decrease in HF-HRV over training was higher for loving-kindness meditation and observing-thoughts meditation compared to breathing meditation.

In contrast to implicit beliefs about meditation being always relaxing and associated with low arousal, the results show that core meditations aiming at improving compassion and meta-cognitive skills require effort and are associated with physiological arousal compared to breathing meditation. Overall these findings can be useful in making more specific suggestions about which type of meditation is most adaptive for a given context and population.