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  1. Dear colleagues, I've just enrolled in a program called "Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction". It's a two hour evening program, repeated weekly for six sessions. It's given at the University of Rochester, Rochester, NY, where I work. The program is only open to employees and associates of the University of Rochester and their families; so very few people in these Forums are eligible. But you might find something similar where you work. The program here at UR is outstanding. It's a wonderful program that I've taken several times, and always come back to, whenever I can find it offered. Mindfulness is defined, roughly, as "being present in the moment". The concept takes it's roots in Asian philosophies, particularly Buddism. It's too difficult to really explain in a few words. When you regard the world and your existence mindfully, it helps to enjoy every moment, even the complicated ones. Meditating is a useful practice, that I sometimes engage in. Mindful living also usually improves sleep quality. I recommend it strongly. -- Saul
  2. Dear ALL, I'll be going to Kripalu, in Stockbridge, MA, in the Berkshires, starting this Tuesday, June 21, leaving Friday, June 24. Kripalu is the largest yoga resort in the Western Hemisphere. Their meals are served buffet style, and are the most CR-friendly that I've seen anywhere. They also have wonderful yoga classes at all levels (Beginner, Gentle, Intermediate and Vigorous -- I always do Intermediate yoga) -- one in the morning, ar 6:30AM, followed by their wonderful breakfast (I usually eat steamed vegetables for breakfast -- they have many cereals, egg dishes, etc., that I avoid at breakfast. Sometimes, they have a tofu dish that I might eat.) Then there are usually two nice sessions -- varying -- in the morning, that I follow by their wonderful lunch --which is interupted by the Kripalu Yoga dance, 12:00-1:00, finish lunch, then, probably, a 2 hour guided hike in the Berkshires, which should be lovely this time of year -- just as it is now here in Rochester, NY, where I live. In the evening, I'll do their Intermediate yoga, go to dinner, and to some evening event (possibly kirtan) -- varying from day to day. If you're there during the same time interval, please introduce yourself -- or, you can contact me directly using a private message -- or by posting to this thread. -- Saul
  3. All, Over on the loneliness thread we've discussed how loneliness (or perhaps even simply living alone) can increase mortality (PMID 21834390). And as Zeta pointed out in this post about this article, loneliness can aggravate chronic viral infections, which in turn are associated with more rapid cognitive decline, as discussed in this post about PMID 26710257. So besides practicing CR, which at least in some of us seems to promote psychological resilience and a sense of "calm abiding", what can we do to avoid the apparent negative effects (esp. inflammation) resulting from loneliness, and stress/anxiety in general? This new study [1] (popular press article) from CMU1 researchers, and some of the papers it cites (see below) suggest a solution, namely mindfulness meditation, a practice I find quite helpful, as discussed here. Study [1] was a randomized control trial comparing the effects of 3-days of mindfulness training vs. relaxation training in 35 stressed and unemployed job seekers. Using FMRI brain imaging, they found that mindfulness training (vs. relaxation training) positively influenced activity in both the default mode network (the network of areas in the brain that becomes active when we aren't engaged in deliberate thought - e.g. when ruminating) and in the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a brain area involved in executive function. But most importantly for this topic, they found that four months after the intervention, those in the mindfulness meditation group had reduced levels of an important marker of inflammation, interleukin-6, relative to the relaxation training group. This effect was independent of whether during the intervening 4 months the subjects found a job or not, which half of the subjects in each group in fact did. Some of the interesting commentary on the research expressed by the authors in the popular press article : The researchers concluded that the changes in functional brain connectivity resulting from the mindfulness program seemed to help the brain manage stress (a known inflammation trigger), and therefore is responsible for the reduced levels of inflammation. Why does it seem to be more beneficial than mere relaxation for managing stress? [Lead researcher] Creswell suggests that mindfulness may have a more lasting impact. "Mindfulness meditation teaches participants how to be more open and attentive to their experiences, even difficult ones," Creswell said. "By contrast, relaxation approaches are good in the moment for making the body feel relaxed, but ... [they're] harder to translate when you are dealing with difficult stressors in your daily life." In the full text of the paper, the authors point to a number of other recent studies [2-5] that have found mindfulness meditation reduces both stress and inflammatory markers in the elderly, people experiencing job stress, as well as cancer patients and caregivers. Study [2] by this same group of researchers is particularly germane for this topic, since it investigated the effects of mindfulness meditation on feelings of loneliness and inflammation in elderly subjects. People who did 8 weeks of once-per-week mindfulness classes reported reduced loneliness and exhibited a decrease in pro-inflammatory gene expression relative to a control group from the waiting list for the mindfulness training. I resonated with this quote from the introduction of [2]: “Usually we regard loneliness as an enemy. Heartache is not something we choose to invite in. It's restless and pregnant and hot with the desire to escape and find something or someone to keep us company. When we can rest in the middle [through meditation practice], we begin to have a nonthreatening relationship with loneliness, a relaxing and cooling loneliness that completely turns our usual fearful patterns upside down” -- Pema Chodron (2000), Buddhist nun and teacher These were small studies and not without some shortcomings - e.g. the mindfulness training classes themselves might have reduced loneliness in [2]. But they are nonetheless suggestive evidence that practicing mindfulness meditation can help one deal with the negative effects of loneliness and stress in general. --Dean ----------- 1CMU is my alma mater and is located in Pittsburgh. Those Pittsburgh scientists are really churning out interesting research! -------------- [1] Biological Psychiatry, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2016.01.008 Alterations in resting state functional connectivity link mindfulness meditation with reduced interleukin-6: a randomized controlled trial, J. David Creswell PhD, Adrienne A. Taren MD, Emily K. Lindsay MA, Carol M. Greco PhD, Peter J. Gianaros PhD, April Fairgrieve BS, Anna L. Marsland PhD, Kirk Warren Brown PhD, Baldwin M. Way PhD, Rhonda K. Rosen LCSW, Jennifer L. Ferris MA Full text: http://dx.doi.org.sci-hub.io/10.1016/j.biopsych.2016.01.008 Abstract Background Mindfulness meditation training interventions have been shown to improve markers of health, but the underlying neurobiological mechanisms are not known. Building on initial cross-sectional research showing that mindfulness meditation may increase default mode network (DMN) resting state functional connectivity (rsFC) with regions important in top-down executive control (dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, dlPFC), here we test whether mindfulness meditation training increases DMN-dlPFC rsFC, and whether these rsFC alterations prospectively explain improvements in interleukin-6 (IL-6) in a randomized controlled trial. Method Stressed job-seeking unemployed community adults (N=35) were randomized to either a 3-day intensive residential mindfulness meditation or relaxation training program. Participants completed a five-minute resting state scan before and after the intervention program. Participants also provided blood samples at pre-intervention and at 4-month follow-up, which were assayed for circulating IL-6, a biomarker of systemic inflammation. Results We tested for alterations in DMN rsFC using a posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) seed-based analysis, and found that mindfulness meditation training, and not relaxation training, increased PCC rsFC with left dlPFC (p<.05, corrected). These pre-post training alterations in PCC-dlPFC rsFC statistically mediated mindfulness meditation training improvements in IL-6 at 4-month follow-up. Specifically, these alterations in rsFC statistically explained 30% of the overall mindfulness meditation training effects on IL-6 at follow-up. Conclusions These findings provide the first evidence that mindfulness meditation training functionally couples the DMN with a region known to be important in top-down executive control at rest (left dlPFC), which in turn is associated with improvements in a marker of inflammatory disease risk. Trial Registration The RCT is registered on clinicaltrials.gov (#NCT01628809) Key words: mindfulness meditation, functional connectivity, IL-6, unemployment, fMRI, stress ---------------- [2] Brain Behav Immun. 2012 Oct;26(7):1095-101. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2012.07.006. Epub 2012 Jul 20. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction training reduces loneliness and pro-inflammatory gene expression in older adults: a small randomized controlled trial. Creswell JD1, Irwin MR, Burklund LJ, Lieberman MD, Arevalo JM, Ma J, Breen EC, Cole SW. Free full text: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3635809/ Abstract Lonely older adults have increased expression of pro-inflammatory genes as well as increased risk for morbidity and mortality. Previous behavioral treatments have attempted to reduce loneliness and its concomitant health risks, but have had limited success. The present study tested whether the 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program (compared to a Wait-List control group) reduces loneliness and downregulates loneliness-related pro-inflammatory gene expression in older adults (N = 40). Consistent with study predictions, mixed effect linear models indicated that the MBSR program reduced loneliness, compared to small increases in loneliness in the control group (treatment condition × time interaction: F(1,35) = 7.86, p = .008). Moreover, at baseline, there was an association between reported loneliness and upregulated pro-inflammatory NF-κB-related gene expression in circulating leukocytes, and MBSR downregulated this NF-κB-associated gene expression profile at post-treatment. Finally, there was a trend for MBSR to reduce C Reactive Protein (treatment condition × time interaction: (F(1,33) = 3.39, p = .075). This work provides an initial indication that MBSR may be a novel treatment approach for reducing loneliness and related pro-inflammatory gene expression in older adults. PMID: 22820409 ---------- [3] Malarkey WB, Jarjoura D, Klatt M (2013): Workplace based mindfulness practice and inflammation: A randomized trial. Brain Behav Immun. 27: 145–154. --------- [4] Rosenkranz MA, Davidson RJ, MacCoon DG, Sheridan JF, Kalin NH, Lutz A (2013): A comparison of mindfulness-based stress reduction and an active control in modulation of neurogenic inflammation. Brain Behav Immun. 27C: 174–184. -------------- [5] Lengacher CA, Kip KE, Barta MK, Post-White J, Jacobsen P, Groer M, et al. (2012): A Pilot Study Evaluating the Effect of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction on Psychological Status, Physical Status, Salivary Cortisol, and Interleukin-6 Among Advanced-Stage Cancer Patients and Their Caregivers. J Holist Nurs. 30: 170–185.
  4. All, Here is an interesting article highlighting research that suggests silence (no not necessarily meditation, just quiet time) is good for the brain and cognition. Here are a couple passages I found most interesting: A 2013 study [1] on mice published in the journal Brain, Structure and Function used differed types of noise and silence and monitored the effect the sound and silence had on the brains of the mice. The silence was intended to be the control in the study but what they found was surprising. The scientists discovered that when the mice were exposed to two hours of silence per day they developed new cells in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a region of the brain associated with memory, emotion and learning. The growth of new cells in the brain does not necessarily translate to tangible health benefits. However, in this instance, researcher Imke Kirste says that the cells appeared to become functioning neurons. “We saw that silence is really helping the new generated cells to differentiate into neurons, and integrate into the system.” In this sense silence can quite literally grow your brain. The 2013 study referenced is [1]. Here is a quote from the abstract: We used the standard noise level in the animal facility as baseline and compared this condition to white noise, pup calls, and silence. In addition, as patterned auditory stimulus without ethological relevance to mice we used piano music by Mozart (KV 448). All stimuli were transposed to the frequency range of C57BL/6 and hearing was objectified with acoustic evoked potentials.... [A]fter 7 days, only silence remained associated with increased numbers of [hippocampal] cells. Compared to controls at this stage, exposure to silence had generated significantly increased numbers of [hippocampal] neurons. and again quoting from the popular press article: A study that was published in 2002 in Psychological Science (Vol. 13, No. 9) examined the effects that the relocation of Munich’s airport had on children’s health and cognition. Gary W. Evans, a professor of human ecology at Cornell University notes that children who are exposed to noise develop a stress response that causes them to ignore the noise. What is of interest is that these children not only ignored harmful stimuli they also ignored stimuli that they should be paying attention to such as speech. “This study is among the strongest, probably the most definitive proof that noise – even at levels that do not produce any hearing damage – causes stress and is harmful to humans,” Evans says. Apparently, silence may be golden when it comes to brain health. --Dean ---------- [1] Brain Struct Funct. 2015 Mar;220(2):1221-8. doi: 10.1007/s00429-013-0679-3. Epub 2013 Dec 1. Is silence golden? Effects of auditory stimuli and their absence on adult hippocampal neurogenesis. Kirste I(1), Nicola Z, Kronenberg G, Walker TL, Liu RC, Kempermann G. Author information: (1)CRTD, DFG Research Center for Regenerative Therapies Dresden, Fetscherstraße 105, 01307, Dresden, Germany. We have previously hypothesized that the reason why physical activity increases precursor cell proliferation in adult neurogenesis is that movement serves as non-specific signal to evoke the alertness required to meet cognitive demands. Thereby a pool of immature neurons is generated that are potentially recruitable by subsequent cognitive stimuli. Along these lines, we here tested whether auditory stimuli might exert a similar non-specific effect on adult neurogenesis in mice. We used the standard noise level in the animal facility as baseline and compared this condition to white noise, pup calls, and silence. In addition, as patterned auditory stimulus without ethological relevance to mice we used piano music by Mozart (KV 448). All stimuli were transposed to the frequency range of C57BL/6 and hearing was objectified with acoustic evoked potentials. We found that except for white noise all stimuli, including silence, increased precursor cell proliferation (assessed 24 h after labeling with bromodeoxyuridine, BrdU). This could be explained by significant increases in BrdU-labeled Sox2-positive cells (type-1/2a). But after 7 days, only silence remained associated with increased numbers of BrdU-labeled cells. Compared to controls at this stage, exposure to silence had generated significantly increased numbers of BrdU/NeuN-labeled neurons. Our results indicate that the unnatural absence of auditory input as well as spectrotemporally rich albeit ethological irrelevant stimuli activate precursor cells-in the case of silence also leading to greater numbers of newborn immature neurons-whereas ambient and unstructured background auditory stimuli do not. PMCID: PMC4087081 PMID: 24292324