Neural mechanisms remain unclear (review)

Tang, Y. Y., Hölzel, B. K., & Posner, M. I. (2015). The neuroscience of mindfulness meditation. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 16, 213–225. doi:10.1038/nrn3916. Abstract (including 180 references). Full text at lead author’s website.

Research over the past two decades broadly supports the claim that mindfulness meditation — practiced widely for the reduction of stress and promotion of health — exerts beneficial effects on physical and mental health, and cognitive performance. Recent neuroimaging studies have begun to uncover the brain areas and networks that mediate these positive effects.

However, the underlying neural mechanisms remain unclear, and it is apparent that more methodologically rigorous studies are required if we are to gain a full understanding of the neuronal and molecular bases of the changes in the brain that accompany mindfulness meditation.

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Young people, mindfulness, and equine-facilitated learning

Burgon, H. L. (2013). Horses, Mindfulness and the Natural Environment: observations from a qualitative study with at-risk young people participating in Therapeutic Horsemanship. International Journal of Psychosocial Rehabilitation, 17(2) 51, 67. Full text.

integralnext-5Abstract. The field of Equine-Assisted Learning and Equine-Assisted Therapy (EAL/T) where horses are co-facilitators in therapeutic and learning interventions claims to offer valuable benefits for young people and adults experiencing psychosocial difficulties. Some of the reported positive outcomes from participating in EAL/T include growths in self-confidence and self-esteem, increasing self-awareness and behaviour modification, building trust and attachment, and a host of other physical and mental health benefits. However, the area of how being with horses may enable participants to experience benefits from the natural environment together with aspects of mindfulness has received little attention.

This paper is drawn from a qualitative, ethnographic, doctoral research study with seven “at-risk” young people aged between 11-21 years participating in a Therapeutic Horsemanship programme in the UK. In addition to similar themes identified above the study found benefits related to the mindfulness and nature therapy literature. These included “being calm” and relaxation, being “in the moment”, psychospiritual aspects of “feeling free”, and links to theories of “emotion regulation” and “authentic functioning.”

The study has clinical implications to the fields of social work and psychotherapy as it suggests that horses may offer a valuable additional intervention for “at-risk” young people who may benefit from alternative therapeutic and learning experiences.

Positive effect on attention, memory, verbal fluency, cognitive flexibility

Marciniak, R., et al. (2014). Effect of meditation on cognitive functions in context of aging and neurodegenerative diseases. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 8. Full text.

Abstract. Effect of different meditation practices on various aspects of mental and physical health is receiving growing attention. The present paper reviews evidence on the effects of several mediation practices on cognitive functions in the context of aging and neurodegenerative diseases.

The effect of meditation in this area is still poorly explored. Seven studies were detected through the databases search, which explores the effect of meditation on attention, memory, executive functions, and other miscellaneous measures of cognition in a sample of older people and people suffering from neurodegenerative diseases. Overall, reviewed studies suggested a positive effect of meditation techniques, particularly in the area of attention, as well as memory, verbal fluency, and cognitive flexibility. These findings are discussed in the context of MRI studies suggesting structural correlates of the effects.

Meditation can be a potentially suitable non-pharmacological intervention aimed at the prevention of cognitive decline in the elderly. However, the conclusions of these studies are limited by their methodological flaws and differences of various types of meditation techniques. Further research in this direction could help to verify the validity of the findings and clarify the problematic aspects.

Taming the adolescent mind

Tan, L., & Martin, G. (2014). Taming the adolescent mind: a randomised controlled trial examining clinical efficacy of an adolescent mindfulness‐based group programme. Child and Adolescent Mental Health. Published online before inclusion in an issue.

Excerpted from Abstract. Mindfulness interventions with adolescents are in the early stages of development. This study sought to establish efficacy of a mindfulness-based group intervention for adolescents with mixed mental health disorders.

One hundred and eight adolescents (ages 13–18) were recruited from community mental health clinics and randomised into two groups (control vs. treatment). All participants received treatment-as-usual (TAU) from clinic-based therapists independent of the study. Adolescents in the treatment condition received TAU plus a 5-week mindfulness-training programme (TAU+Mi); adolescents in the control group received only TAU. Assessments including parent/carer reports were conducted at baseline, postintervention and 3-month follow-up.

At postintervention, adolescents in the mindfulness condition experienced significant decrease in mental distress compared to the control group, and these gains were enhanced at 3-month follow-up. Overall outcomes at 3 months showed significant improvement for adolescents in the mindfulness condition; in self-esteem, mindfulness, psychological inflexibility and mental health, but not resilience. Parents/carers also reported significant improvement in their adolescent’s psychological functioning. Mediation analyses concluded mindfulness mediated mental health outcomes.

Increase in mindful awareness after training leads to improvement in mental health and this is consistent with mindfulness theory. The mindfulness group programme appears to be a promising adjunctive therapeutic approach for clinic-based adolescents with mental health problems.

Mindfulness in occupational therapy practice

Reid, D., Farragher, J., & Ok, C. (2013). Exploring Mindfulness With Occupational Therapists Practicing in Mental Health Contexts. Occupational Therapy in Mental Health, 29(3), 279-292. Abstract.

Mindfulness, defined as “a purposeful, non-anxious, reflective presence,” has been identified as a potentially key practice skill of effective health care practitioners working in mental-health settings. The purpose of this mixed-methods study was to explore the cultivation and use of mindfulness in the clinical practice and everyday lives of occupational therapists who practice in mental health.

Results revealed that mindfulness is perceived as being an important clinical quality, which enhances therapist well-being and effectiveness, and contributes to improved client outcomes. Relevance to occupational therapy practice philosophies and directions for future research are discussed.