Zen meditation in the workplace

Baccarani, C., Mascherpa, V., & Minozzo, M. (2013). Zen and well-being at the workplace. The TQM Journal, 25(6), 606-624. 10.1108/TQM-07-2013-0077. Abstract.

Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to evaluate connections between the practice of mindfulness meditation and individual and organisational well-being.

Design/methodology/approach – A direct randomised study conducted on a groups of persons involved in various work activities through a programme of Zen meditation courses and a comparison between the situation of well-being found before and after taking part in the courses, assessed in the light of results obtained from a control group that had not taken part in the courses.

Findings – The comparison and analysis of results showed that the group of participants taking part in the meditation training obtained a significant increase in certain indicators relating in particular to subjectively perceived well-being, as regards attention and concentration as well as in a physiological indicator measuring stress reduction.

Originality/value – The study brought to the place of business a tool traditionally used almost exclusively in relation to the personal sphere, evaluating its potential in terms not only of individual well-being but also in terms of efficiency and productivity.

Neurobiological and clinical features of mindfulness meditations

Chiesa, A., & Serretti, A. (2010). A systematic review of neurobiological and clinical features of mindfulness meditations. Psychological medicine, 40(08), 1239-1252. Full text.

From the Abstract. Mindfulness meditation (MM) practices constitute an important group of meditative practices that have received growing attention. The aim of the present paper was to systematically review current evidence on the neurobiological changes and clinical benefits related to MM practice in psychiatric disorders, in physical illnesses and in healthy subjects.

Electroencephalographic (EEG) studies have revealed a significant increase in alpha and theta activity during meditation. Neuroimaging studies showed that MM practice activates the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and that long-term meditation practice is associated with an enhancement of cerebral areas related to attention.

From a clinical viewpoint, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) has shown efficacy for many psychiatric and physical conditions and also for healthy subjects, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is mainly efficacious in reducing relapses of depression in patients with three or more episodes, Zen meditation significantly reduces blood pressure and Vipassana meditation shows efficacy in reducing alcohol and substance abuse in prisoners. However, given the low-quality designs of current studies it is difficult to establish whether clinical outcomes are due to specific or non-specific effects of MM.

Zen meditation and pain sensitivity

Grant, J. A., & Rainville, P. (2009). Pain sensitivity and analgesic effects of mindful states in Zen meditators: a cross-sectional study. Psychosomatic Medicine, 71(1), 106-114.

From the Abstract.Objective: To investigate pain perception and the potential analgesic effects of mindful states in experienced Zen meditators.Methods: Highly trained Zen meditators (with 1000+ hours of practice) and age/gender-matched control volunteers  received individually adjusted thermal stimuli to elicit moderate pain on the calf.

Results: Meditators required significantly higher temperatures to elicit moderate pain. While attending “mindfully,” meditators reported decreases in pain intensity  whereas control subjects showed no change from baseline. The concentration condition resulted in increased pain intensity for controls but not for meditators. Changes in pain unpleasantness generally paralleled those found in pain intensity.

In meditators, pain modulation correlated with slowing of the respiratory rate and with greater meditation experience. Covariance analyses indicated that mindfulness-related changes could be partially explained by changes in respiratory rates. Finally, the meditators  reported higher tendencies to observe and be nonreactive of their own experience as measured on the Five Factor Mindfulness Questionnaire; these factors correlated with individual differences in respiration.

Conclusions: These results indicated that Zen  meditators have lower pain sensitivity and experience analgesic effects during mindful states. Results may reflect cognitive/self-regulatory skills related to the concept of mindfulness and/or altered respiratory patterns. Prospective studies investigating the effects of meditative training and respiration on pain regulation are warranted.

Beneficial for medical and psychiatric illness

Marchand, W. R. (2012). Mindfulness-based stress reduction, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, and Zen meditation for depression, anxiety, pain, and psychological distress. Journal of Psychiatric Practice, 18(4), 233-252.

Abstract: Mindfulness has been described as a practice of learning to focus attention on moment-by-moment experience with an attitude of curiosity, openness, and acceptance. Mindfulness practices have become increasingly popular as complementary therapeutic strategies for a variety of medical and psychiatric conditions.

This paper provides an overview of three mindfulness interventions that have demonstrated effectiveness for psychiatric symptoms and/or pain. The goal of this review is to provide a synopsis that practicing clinicians can use as a clinical reference concerning Zen meditation, mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT). All three approaches originated from Buddhist spiritual practices, but only Zen is an actual Buddhist tradition. MBSR and MBCT are secular, clinically based methods that employ manuals and standardized techniques.

Studies indicate that MBSR and MBCT have broad-spectrum antidepressant and antianxiety effects and decrease general psychological distress. MBCT is strongly recommended as an adjunctive treatment for unipolar depression. The evidence suggests that both MBSR and MBCT have efficacy as adjunctive interventions for anxiety symptoms. MBSR is beneficial for general psychological health and stress management in those with medical and psychiatric illness as well as in healthy individuals. Finally, MBSR and Zen meditation have a role in pain management.

Psychosomatic power on ‘in vitro’ cancer cells

Yu, T., et al. (2003). Suppressing Tumor Progression of in vitro Prostrate Cancer Cells by Emitted Psychosomatic Power Through Zen Meditation. The American Journal of Chinese Medicine, 31(3), 499–507. Full text.

Excerpt from the Abstract: Human prostate cancer PC3 cells were treated in vitro with psychosomatic power emitted by a Buddhist-Zen Master. A significant decrease of growth rate was observed. … These observations provide insight into the suppressive effects of healing power through the practice of Buddhist-Zen meditation on tumor progression. The emitted bioenergy may be suggested as an alternative and feasible approach for cancer research and patient treatment.

Zen meditation and cognitive decline

Pagnoni, G., & Cekic, M. (2007). Age effects on gray matter volume and attentional performance in Zen meditation. Neurobiology of Aging, 28, 1623–1627. Full text.

Excerpt from the Abstract: Zen meditation, a Buddhist practice centered on attentional and postural self-regulation, has been speculated to bring about beneficial long-term effects for the individual, ranging from stress reduction to improvement of cognitive function. In this study, we examined how the regular practice of meditation may affect the normal age-related decline of cerebral gray matter volume and attentional performance observed in healthy individuals. … These findings suggest that the regular practice of meditation may have neuroprotective effects and reduce the cognitive decline associated with normal aging.

Helps regulate mental activity

Pagnoni, G., et al. (2008) “Thinking about not-thinking”: Neural correlates of conceptual processing during Zen meditation. PLoS ONE 3(9). Full text.

From the abstract: “Zen practitioners displayed a reduced duration of the neural response linked to conceptual processing in regions of the default network, suggesting that meditative training may foster the ability to control the automatic cascade of semantic associations triggered by a stimulus and, by extension, to voluntarily regulate the flow of spontaneous mentation.”