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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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. 

Online mindfulness-based intervention: feasibility and effectiveness

Cavanagh, K., et al. “A Randomised Controlled Trial of a Brief Online Mindfulness-Based Intervention in a Non-clinical Population: Replication and Extension.” Mindfulness, 2018, online, https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-017-0856-1. Full text

From the Abstract. Building on previous research, this study compared the effects of two brief, online mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs; with and without formal meditation practice) and a no intervention control group in a non-clinical sample.

One hundred and fifty-five university staff and students were randomly allocated to a 2-week, self-guided, online MBI with or without mindfulness meditation practice, or a wait list control. Measures of mindfulness, perceived stress, perseverative thinking and anxiety/depression symptoms within were administered before and after the intervention period. Intention to treat analysis identified significant differences between groups on change over time for all measured outcomes.

… Change in perseverative thinking was found to mediate the relationship between condition and improvement on perceived stress and anxiety/depression symptom outcomes. Contrary to our hypotheses, no differences between the intervention conditions were found. Limitations of the study included reliance on self-report data, a relatively high attrition rate and absence of a longer-term follow-up.

This study provides evidence in support of the feasibility and effectiveness of brief, self-guided MBIs in a non-clinical population and suggests that reduced perseverative thinking may be a mechanism of change. Our findings provide preliminary evidence for the effectiveness of a mindfulness psychoeducation condition, without an invitation to formal mindfulness meditation practice. Further research is needed to confirm and better understand these results and to test the potential of such interventions.

Reducing adverse effects of childhood Stress and trauma

Ortiz, Robin, and Erica M. Sibinga. “The Role of Mindfulness in Reducing the Adverse Effects of Childhood Stress and Trauma.” Children, vol. 4, no. 3, 2017, pp. 16. Full text.

Abstract. Research suggests that many children are exposed to adverse experiences in childhood. Such adverse childhood exposures may result in stress and trauma, which are associated with increased morbidity and mortality into adulthood.

In general populations and trauma-exposed adults, mindfulness interventions have demonstrated reduced depression and anxiety, reduced trauma-related symptoms, enhanced coping and mood, and improved quality of life. Studies in children and youth also demonstrate that mindfulness interventions improve mental, behavioral, and physical outcomes.

Taken together, this research suggests that high-quality, structured mindfulness instruction may mitigate the negative effects of stress and trauma related to adverse childhood exposures, improving short- and long-term outcomes, and potentially reducing poor health outcomes in adulthood. Future work is needed to optimize implementation of youth-based mindfulness programs and to study long-term outcomes into adulthood.

Improved visual, motor, anxiety, and mindfulness among grade 4-5 children

Tarrasch, Ricardo, Lilach Margalit-Shalom, and Rony Berger. “Enhancing Visual Perception and Motor Accuracy among School Children through a Mindfulness and Compassion Program.” Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 8, 2017, pp. 281. Full text.

From the Introduction. The present study assessed the effects of the mindfulness/compassion cultivating program on the performance in visual perception (VP) and motor accuracy, as well as on anxiety levels and self-reported mindfulness among 4th and 5th grade students.

One hundred and thirty-eight children participated in the program for 24 weekly sessions, while 78 children served as controls. . . . [T]ests revealed significant improvements in the four aforementioned measures in the experimental group only. In addition, significant correlations were obtained between the improvement in motor accuracy and the reduction in anxiety and the increase in mindfulness.

Since VP and motor accuracy are basic skills associated with quantifiable academic characteristics, such as reading and mathematical abilities, the results may suggest that mindfulness practice has the ability to improve academic achievements.

Medical imaging evidence supports meditation in the treatment of depression

Annells, S., Kho, K., & Bridge, P. (2015). Meditate don’t medicate: How medical imaging evidence supports the role of meditation in the treatment of depression. Radiography. Published prior to inclusion in an issue.

Depression is a debilitating psychiatric disorder that affects a large proportion of the population. The current treatment for depression involves anti-depressant medication which is associated with side effects and a heightened risk of relapse.

Method. A systematic literature review was performed to determine the value of medical imaging studies in measuring the impact of meditation on depression.

Results. Medical imaging studies have successfully demonstrated that meditation may counteract or prevent the physiological cause of depression by decreasing amygdala activity and increasing grey matter volume and activity of the hippocampus, prefrontal cortex and other brain regions associated with attention and emotional self-regulation.

Recent advances in functional imaging have enabled visualisation of neural plasticity within the brain. This has shown that for meditators, practice-induced alterations could be due to micro-anatomical processes that may represent an increased functional capacity within the brain regions activated. These changes within brain physiology in association with the skills gained during meditation such as self-regulation, mental processing of negative information and relaxation techniques could potentially lead to a permanent cure for depression and thus prevent relapse.

Conclusions. The results of this review suggest that medical imaging has a valuable role to play in evidencing the physiological changes within the brain caused by meditation that counteract those that cause depression. These studies indicate that meditation is a viable alternative to medication for clinical treatment of patients with depression. More rigorous longitudinal imaging studies are proposed to enhance understanding of the neural pathways and mechanisms of meditation.

Anxiety in chronic pain patients

Kim, R. O. D. (2015). Observing The Effects Of Mindfulness-Based Meditation On Anxiety And Depression In Chronic Pain Patients. International Journal of Psychology and Behavioral Sciences, 5(4), 143-147. Full text.

Background: People whose chronic pain limits their independence are especially likely to become anxious and depressed. Mindfulness training has shown promise for stress-related disorders.

Methods: Chronic pain patients who complained of anxiety and depression and who scored higher than moderate in the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HDRS) and Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) as well as moderate in Quality of Life Scale (QOLS) were observed for eight weeks, three days a week for an hour of Mindfulness Meditation training with an hour daily home Mindfulness Meditation practice. Pain was evaluated on study entry and completion, and patients were given the Patients’ Global Impression of Change (PGIC) to score at the end of the training program.

Results: Forty-seven (47) patients completed the Mindfulness Meditation Training program. Over the year-long observation, patients demonstrated noticeable improvement in depression, anxiety, pain, and global impression of change.

Conclusions: Chronic pain patients who suffer with anxiety and depression may benefit from incorporating Mindfulness Meditation into their treatment plans.