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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Mind-wandering may have positive effects on mood

Franklin, M. S., et al. (2013). The silver lining of a mind in the clouds: interesting musings are associated with positive mood while mind-wandering. Frontiers in psychology, 4. Full text.

The negative effects of mind-wandering on performance and mood have been widely documented. In a recent well-cited study, conducted a large experience sampling study revealing that all off-task episodes, regardless of content, have equal to or lower happiness ratings, than on-task episodes.

We present data from a similarly implemented experience sampling study with additional mind-wandering content categories. Our results largely conform to those of the above study, with mind-wandering generally being associated with a more negative mood.

However, subsequent analyses reveal situations in which a more positive mood is reported after being off-task. Specifically when off-task episodes are rated for interest, the high interest episodes are associated with an increase in positive mood compared to all on-task episodes. These findings both identify a situation in which mind-wandering may have positive effects on mood, and suggest the possible benefits of encouraging individuals to shift their off-task musings to the topics they find most engaging.

Efficacy of meditation on stress-related outcomes (review)

Goyal, M., et al.  (2014). Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-Being. Comparative Effectiveness Reviews, No. 124. Full text.

Objective: Meditation, a mind-body method, employs a variety of techniques designed to facilitate the mind’s capacity to affect bodily function and symptoms. An increasing number of patients are using meditation programs despite uncertainty about the evidence supporting the health benefits of meditation. We aimed to determine the efficacy and safety of meditation programs on stress-related outcomes (e.g., anxiety, depression, stress, distress, well-being, positive mood, quality of life, attention, health-related behaviors affected by stress, pain, and weight) compared with an active control in diverse adult clinical populations.

Conclusions: Meditation programs, in particular mindfulness programs, reduce multiple negative dimensions of psychological stress. Stronger study designs are needed to determine the effects of meditation programs in improving the positive dimensions of mental health as well as stress-related behavioral outcomes.

Association between acting with awareness and better sleep in cancer patients

Garland, S. N., Campbell, T., Samuels, C., & Carlson, L. E. (2013). Dispositional mindfulness, insomnia, sleep quality and dysfunctional sleep beliefs in post-treatment cancer patients. Personality and Individual Differences. In press.

Abstract. Dispositional mindfulness, or the tendency to be more mindful in daily life, has been associated with better psychological functioning and reduced overall distress. This study investigated the degree to which dispositional mindfulness was associated with sleep disturbances in cancer patients with insomnia. Further, we examined whether levels of mindfulness moderated the relationship between stress levels, mood disturbance, insomnia severity, sleep quality and dysfunctional sleep beliefs.

Participants (N = 111) were adults who had been previously treated for cancer and currently met diagnostic criteria for insomnia. Higher levels of acting with awareness, non-judging and non-reacting were associated with better sleep and psychological outcomes.

Despite these significant associations, mindfulness facets did not significantly moderate the relationship between stress, mood and sleep outcomes. This negative finding raises the possibility that increased mindfulness may not act directly to improve psychological outcomes, but rather through a series of other cognitive and affective changes. Our results emphasize the importance of addressing mood symptoms and stress appraisals as predictors of sleep disturbance in cancer patients.

Reduces perceived stress in Alzheimer’s patients and caregivers

Innes, K. E., et al. (2012). The Effects of Meditation on Perceived Stress and Related Indices of Psychological Status and Sympathetic Activation in Persons with Alzheimer’s Disease and Their Caregivers: A Pilot Study. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Go to journal and click on “Full Text.”

Conclusions (from the Abstract): Findings of this exploratory trial suggest that an 8-week meditation program* may offer an acceptable and effective intervention for reducing perceived stress and improving certain domains of sleep, mood, and memory in adults with cognitive   impairment and their caregivers.

*MBSR

Improving stress and mood in cancer patients

Garland, S.N., et al. (2012). Increased Mindfulness Is Related to Improved Stress and Mood Following Participation in a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program in Individuals With Cancer. [Abstract]. Integrated Cancer Therapies, April. e-pub ahead of print.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) has demonstrated efficacy for alleviating cancer-related distress. Although theorized to be the means by which people improve, it is yet to be determined whether outcomes are related to the development or enhancement of mindfulness among participants. This study examined the effect of participation in an MBSR program on levels of mindfulness in a heterogeneous sample of individuals with cancer, and if these changes were related to improvements in stress and mood outcomes. …

Levels of mindfulness on both measures increased significantly over the course of the program. These were accompanied by significant reductions in mood disturbance (55%) and symptoms of stress (29%). Increases in mindfulness accounted for a significant percentage of the reductions in mood disturbance (21%) and symptoms of stress (14%). Being aware of the present moment and refraining from judging inner experience were the 2 most important mindfulness skills for improvements of psychological functioning among cancer patients.

These results add to a growing literature measuring the impact of mindfulness and its relationship to improved psychological health. Moreover, specific mindfulness skills may be important in supporting these improvements.