depression

Stars’ meditation technique gains mental health experts’ approval

National Health Service departments are now offering the Buddhism-inspired method of ‘mindfulness meditation’ which is favoured by celebrities such as Goldie Hawn.

A form of meditation practised by some of Hollywood’s biggest stars is becoming a major growth area within British psychology, as evidence grows of its effectiveness in dealing with anxiety and depression.

“Mindfulness meditation” was pioneered in the United States during the 1970s as a tool for alleviating stress and is practised, among others, by Meg Ryan and Goldie Hawn, who acts as an advocate for the technique. Drawing on ancient Buddhist principles to combat mental suffering, the technique encourages practitioners to slow down, “inhabit the moment” and become more accepting of their feelings. According to Ryan, “by simply refocusing our awareness, we reshape our experience”.

Although initially regarded with scepticism by mainstream psychologists, the practice has gained respectability thanks to…

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research indicating its clinical effectiveness. A new study in the American journal Archives of General Psychiatry found that the mindfulness technique was as effective as the use of anti-depressants among a controlled group in remission from major depression.

A study by researchers in Wales, Toronto and Cambridge found that in cases of recurring depression it reduced the risk of relapse by 50%. As a result, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (Nice) adopted it in its guidelines as a recommended intervention in cases of chronic depression. Recent studies have shown that the technique can have other significant benefits, including boosting the immune system and encouraging left-field brain activity – the side most associated with feelings of wellbeing.

The impressive experimental results have led to a surge in interest and increasing demand that the practice be made more widely available. Research centres have sprung up across the country and there has been an explosion of mindfulness courses in non-clinical settings.

The School of Life in central London offers a variety of classes applying mindfulness techniques, including “How to Face Death” and “How to Stay Calm”. The Mental Health Foundation has launched Be Mindful, a campaign geared to making the technique available to “everyone who wants it”, while the Mindfulness in Schools campaign has been established to encourage its adoption in classrooms.

Ed Halliwell, a teacher on mindfulness and co-author of a recent book, The Mindfulness Manifesto, attributed the popularity to the technique’s blending of age-old spirituality with modern convenience: “It’s based on thousands of years of wisdom. It is simple but not always easy to do. You don’t need any special equipment. It’s not expensive. And it seems to connect with a lot of people’s intuitive sense that slowing down, practising stillness, learning how to be with our body and mind are good things. These are ancient ways of working to develop wellbeing, but what’s happened now is that the science is catching up and showing us that this does actually work. It’s become very of the moment.”

However, some psychologists are cautious about overselling the benefits or applying mindfulness too zealously outside a clinical setting. Florian Ruths, who runs a mindfulness meditation programme at the Maudsley Hospital in south London, argues that the technique’s very success in becoming part of the psychological mainstream could lead people to view it as a quick-fix solution.

“I think we need to be cautious,” he said. “At the moment the enthusiasm is much higher than the evidence. Those who practise mindfulness meditation know it makes a huge difference to people’s lives. But there is a danger of saying it works in psychology so why not use it for almost anything in life? And suddenly having a bit of pleasure, or seeing something beautiful, becomes an act of mindfulness.

“We need to be careful that we don’t create an impression that we’ve got something proven to be effective for almost everything when we haven’t actually done the scientific work.”

According to Ruths, when practised properly in a clinical setting, mindfulness meditation has three key benefits. First, “it teaches us to immerse ourselves deeper in the present rather than worry about things we can’t control in the future – will I have a job? Will I be OK in five years’ time? – or dwell on something in the past that we can’t change either.”

Second, it “teaches us something about the validity of thoughts and emotions. When we are in a difficult state we believe several things: it will never end, it says something about us being flawed, and we need to get out of it now. Mindfulness helps us to see that emotions change and that if I have a thought, it is not necessarily the reality, it is just a thought.”

Third, he says, “mindfulness itself is an act of kindness, of compassion. It teaches us about directing the capacity for compassion that we all have at ourselves. That in itself is something new.”

One 37-year-old woman who attended a group course at the Maudsley last summer said she was encouraged to try the technique after more than 20 years of suffering acute depression, anxiety and fatigue, and more recently panic attacks. After experiencing the “recurrent corruptions of medication”, she was not hopeful that this technique would be any different. “I expected it to be merely another variation on the theme of cognitive hygiene. But I was wrong. There was no feeling of ideological imposition or the energetic tidying of my psyche. It felt respectful, gentle, patient, almost companionable.”

With time and regular practice, the techniques she learned started to make a difference. Her panic attacks ceased and she was able to cope without medication for the first time in more than two decades. One of the technique’s benefits, she said, is the ease with which she had been able to incorporate it within her busy life. “Since doing the course, I have tried to continue regularly with the various meditation practices I learned. It has made waiting, even on rowdy buses, a prized opportunity, for such practices do not rely on a quiet without, but a quiet within.”

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Meditation treament for taboo problem of self-harm

Meditation can forge lasting changes in the brain and, as an Australian experiment in the taboo area of self-harm shows, its positive effect can be life-transforming.

Researchers at the University of Melbourne conducted the ground-breaking experiment, scanning the brain of a young woman who had grappled with the problem of self-harm since her teens.

They saw positive changes in brain activity after she took part in a research-backed course in meditation and relaxation techniques.

Brisbane’s Alison Dower also meditated daily for eight weeks.

“The desire to self-harm is not particularly strong anymore due to all the work I’ve done,” Ms Dower, now aged 23, said on Wednesday.

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“I don’t know if I’d call it a cure but I would say if it works for you it is a very very potent tool to have.

“I haven’t self-harmed in over 12 months.”

Ms Dower’s initial brain scans revealed a “rightward bias” in her brain activity, known to be associated with a higher incidence of depression and negative emotion.

Professor Nick Allen, from the university’s Department of Psychological Sciences, said the scan following the meditation intervention showed a shift in brain activity “more leftwards … which is a pattern more associated with positive emotions and positive coping”.

“This is, in my opinion, one of the most exciting areas of neuroscience,” Prof Allen said, “that the brain can change in response to experiences and in response to activity”.

This experiment is the focus of a documentary, The Silent Epidemic, to be broadcast on SBS One from 8.30pm on Sunday.

In it, Ms Dower joins with other young Australians to offer a candid and at-times confronting insight into the broader issue of self-harm.

Up to eight per cent of the Australian population are thought to engage in self-harming behaviour. For some it becomes routine, often involving deliberate cutting or scratching of the arms or legs.

“We’re discovering thatit is much more widespread than we thought,” Prof Allen said.

“And it is occurring in contexts where there isn’t another formal mental health problem, therefore we do need some specific treatment approaches.

“The case study with Alison is extremely encouraging, and is a critical first step on that path.”

Prof Allen also said self-harm was a “hard issue for the health system to get its head around” and he understood that many people would find it “impossible to comprehend”.

“But all of us behave at times, in certain ways, that are self-destructive (like punching a wall or insulting a loved one) and these people have become stuck with a much more severe form of it.”

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Mindfulness therapy beats drugs in preventing depression relapse

Mindfulness therapy — in the form known as mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT)– demonstrates greater efficacy than antidepressant medications for the prevention of a depression relapse, according to new data.

MBCT combines the use of tried-and-true cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques with greater focus on self-awareness and self-reflection.

In the current study, the researchers describe how they implemented mindfulness-based therapy: “This is accomplished through daily homework exercises featuring (1) guided (taped) awareness exercises directed at increasing moment-by-moment nonjudgmental awareness of bodily sensations, thoughts, and feelings; (2) accepting difficulties with a stance of self-compassion; and (3) developing an ‘action plan’ composed of strategies for responding to early warning signs of relapse/recurrence.”

Researchers led by Zindel Segal, Ph.D., of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Canada, studied 160 adults who met major depressive disorder criteria and had at least two previous episodes of depression.

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After eight months of treatment, 84 — over half — achieved remission from depression. Patients in remission were then randomly assigned to one of three treatment groups: 28 continued taking their medication; 30 had their medication slowly replaced by placebo; and 26 tapered their medication and then received MBCT.

The mindfulness therapy group had the lowest relapse rate at the 18-month followup — 38 percent, compared with 46 percent who were on maintenance antidepressant medication, an 8 percent difference. The placebo group had the worst depression relapse rate of 60 percent.

The researchers further examined and categorized people in the study according to whether they were considered stable or unstable remitters. About half (51 percent) of patients were classified as unstable remitters — individuals who had symptom “flurries” or intermittently higher scores on depression rating scales despite having a low enough average score to qualify for remission. The other half (49 percent) were stable remitters with consistently low scores.

Among unstable remitters, those taking maintenance medication or undergoing cognitive behavioral therapy were about 73 percent less likely to relapse than those taking placebo. Among stable remitters, there were no differences between the three groups.

“Our data highlight the importance of maintaining at least one active long-term treatment in recurrently depressed patients whose remission is unstable,” the authors wrote.

“For those unwilling or unable to tolerate maintenance antidepressant treatment, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy offers equal protection from relapse during an 18-month period.”

It is unclear exactly how mindfulness-based therapy works, but it may change neural pathways to support patterns that lead to recovery instead of to deeper depression, they note.

“Relapse and recurrence after recovery from major depressive disorder are common and debilitating outcomes that carry enormous personal, familial and societal costs,” the authors wrote as background information in the article.

The current standard for preventing relapse is maintenance therapy with a single antidepressant. This regimen is generally effective if patients take their medications, but as many as 40 percent of them do not.

“Alternatives to long-term antidepressant monotherapy, especially those that address mood outcomes in a broader context of well-being, may appeal to patients wary of continued intervention,” the authors said.

The study appears in the December issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

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Warding off depression: ‘mindfulness’ therapy works as well as drugs

Meditating daily and being mindful of life events that make you happy or sad may be as effective as taking medication to prevent a relapse of depression, a new study suggests.

By undergoing what is called mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, people can learn how to meditate and pay attention to emotional triggers, said study researcher Zindel V. Segal, of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Canada.

“When you do that, you gain better control over cognitive emotions that can trigger relapse without you being aware of it,” Segal told MyHealthNewsDaily.

Antidepressants provide chemicals that impact brain regions involved in depression. Research shows that only about 40 percent of people in remission for depression adhere to their medication regimen, Segal said.

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The new finding suggests that mindfulness therapy could be used as a substitute for or addition to medication, Segal said. However, “if someone is on an antidepressant, coming off needs to be decision made with a health care professional,” he said.

The study was published in the December issue of the journal Archives of General Psychiatry.

Effects of reflection

Researchers studied 84 people ages 18 to 65 who had taken medication to treat their depression over an eight-month period, and were in remission. The researchers divided them into three groups: one continued taking medication, one underwent mindfulness-based cognitive therapy and one had their medication slowly replaced by a placebo.

“All of these patients received treatment through a hospital, so this is something that was conducted with mental health professionals keeping track of them continuously to detect possible relapse,” Segal said.

After 18 months, 38 percent of people who’d learned to meditate had relapsed, according to the study. Forty-six percent of people in the medication group relapsed, and 60 percent in the placebo group relapsed.

Because of the way the results were analyzed statistically, researchers could not conclude whether the difference between the meditation and the medication groups was due to chance, Segal said. But they could show the improvements in both of those groups over those taking the placebo was not due to chance.

The mindfulness therapy consisted of eight weeks of group training sessions, during which patients learned how to monitor their thinking patterns. They were taught to change their automatic reactions to triggers for sadness, and instead use those times as an opportunity to reflect on their feelings, Segal said. They were also taught to come up with an action plan with strategies for coping with early signs of relapse.

After the training sessions, the patients were required to set aside about 40 minutes a day for meditation and mindfulness exercises, he said.

“If you had depression triggers,” Segal said, you might turn your attention instead to the fact that “you enjoy eating your food, and that you walk outside and it’s a bright sunny day.”

Seeing results

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy can be a good alternative to medication for multiple reasons, Segal said. Although the therapy sessions cost money, the maintenance after those sessions — daily meditation and being mindful of depression triggers — doesn’t cost a dime, he said. Maintenance medication, on the other hand, is an ongoing expense.

Pregnant women and people who don’t like the side effects or don’t want to constantly be on medication may also want an alternative to maintenance antidepressants, said Elizabeth Robinson, an assistant psychiatry professor at the University of Michigan, who was not involved in the study.

By teaching someone a new skill, they have something they can carry over with them, “whether they continue taking medication or not,” she said. Robinson teaches mindfulness-based cognitive therapy classes in Michigan and sees results in her students first-hand.

“What you see with people is they take a different look, their perspective on their personal experience shifts,” she said.

Beyond dealing with depression, meditation can help people find different ways of navigating relationships, Robinson said.

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is only available in large cities or places with large medical presences. Segal is researching ways to make the therapy available to people in remote communities, possibly over the Internet.

Pass it on: The study suggests that health care providers could provide information about meditation as an option to their patients who don’t want to continue taking antidepressants to prevent relapse.

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New research: Sadness and depression with the brain in mind

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Imagine if you were sitting in your living room and when you turned on the television the movie Terms of Endearment came on. It wasn’t just any part of the movie, it was the moment where the mother watches her daughter who had been struggling with cancer pass away. If you don’t know this movie, it’s one of the greatest tearjerkers of all time.

Earlier this year, Farb and colleagues (2010) conducted research called Minding One’s Emotions: Mindfulness Training Alters the Neural Expression of Sadness that did a variation of this with two groups of people, those trained in mindfulness meditation and a waitlisted control group in order to see any different activity in their brains. Past research, along with this current study, have shown that mindfulness training has helped with depressive relapse and so the researchers simply wanted to find out if there was any correlation in brain activity that could help explain why.

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“Life Happens,” by Cheryl Rezek

Life Happens is the work of Dr. Cheryl A. Rezek, a UK-based clinical psychologist who teaches mindfulness as a way of helping her clients deal with often difficult life situations. It combines pithy insights in written form with excellent audio instructions that guide the listener through a variety of meditative exercises and even physical stretches. It’s aimed in particular at those who have problems with mental distress or physical pain, such as stress, depression, chronic pain, cancer, and addiction.

The recordings most clearly show Rezek’s strengths as a teacher. Her voice is very pleasant to listen to, and conveyed to me a sense of warmth and gentleness, combined with precision. Her instructions emphasize self-care, for example in learning to recognize when you’re trying too hard in stretching exercises. These audio guides, which span two CDs, introduce yoga-based movements that promote body awareness and also help to release tensions. They also include a number of meditation and mindfulness exercises of various lengths. The instructions are well-paced and clear.

Title: Life Happens
Author: Dr. Cheryl A. Rezek
Publisher: Leachcroft
ISBN: 978-0-9566020-0-8
Available from: Amazon.co.uk, and Amazon.com.

Rezek’s work as a clinical psychologist deeply informs her writing, which shine light on the mental processes that create much of our suffering, and which recognize our complexity as human beings. For example, she points out that many of our problems are caused by coping mechanisms that have gone astray, such as defense strategies that lead to us cutting off from others in order to protect us from harm, but end up impoverishing our lives by isolating us and removing us from sources of love and support. The book is full of such analyses, and I suspect many people who are beginning a part of spiritual exploration in order to transcend their psychological suffering will have “aha!” moments of self-recognition, and will feel relieved to have put a finger on what has been hindering their happiness.

Implicit in Rezek’s approach is not giving ourselves a hard time for being imperfect. This is heartening, since for many people beginning meditation the tendency is to see parts of themselves (their unhelpful habits) as “the enemy,” to be vanquished. Rezek’s approach is based on lovingkindness and wisdom, seeing our unhelpful habits as simply strategies that don’t work very well at accomplishing the aim of bringing about our well-being.

Rezek repeatedly points out that there are limits to the change we can bring about: “We cannot change rocks into rivers or trees into streams: we cannot change the fundamentals of who we are so we cannot be who we are not.” She stresses however that we can exercise choice and make changes in our lives, and thus bring about more balance. At the same time, she also stresses that our unhelpful ways of relating to our experience — while they may have been with us since childhood — are not integral to who we are. We don’t, in other words, have the ability to change everything about ourselves, but we can change what really matters, which is our tendency to make ourselves unhappy.

I enjoyed the fact that the final chapter of the book is called “No conclusion,” suggesting that practice is a life-long task of learning. In keeping with the principles of lovingkindness, Rezek reminds us that we will inevitably make mistakes, and that we should accept this and simply keep on making an effort to learn from them.

“Life Happens” is not perfect, and the editing leaves much to be desired. Although Rezek is generally a good writer, she would, like all good writers, have benefited from having some occasional “clunkiness” smoothed out. And there were times I wished she’d had someone on hand to encourage her to write more, or sometimes less; certain passages are a bit too brief and pithy for their own good, while others seem padded. But I am (I confess) a very critical reader as regards style, and I suspect most people for whom this book would be useful will simply be focused on, and grateful for, the content. I’d regard the CDs not so much as being a complement to the book, but the book as being a complement to the CDs. Without the guided meditations, the written descriptions of practice would be interesting but not necessarily life-changing. The combination allows for both reflection, on reading the written word, and a living engagement with experience, through following the guided meditations that Rezek so skillfully leads. “Life Happens” (the book and CDs) could potentially benefit many people, and I hope Rezek’s work finds a wide audience.

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Meditation reduces depression, fatigue, anxiety in MS patients

A new Swiss study reports that a form of meditation known as mindfulness may help patients with multiple sclerosis.
Patients with MS — a nervous system disease that typically surfaces in early adulthood and can cause muscle weakness, coordination/balance problems and thinking and memory problems, among other symptoms — often suffer from depression and anxiety.

The study compared multiple sclerosis patients who meditated to MS patients who didn’t. Dr. Moses Rodriguez, a professor of neurology and immunology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., who’s familiar with the study’s findings, said meditation is safe and cheaper than the drugs that MS patients …

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Dharma in Hell: The Prison Writings of Fleet Maull

Dharma in Hell, Fleet Maull

In a sense we all live in a prison, but a life of literal confinement can force us to confront our existential situation — and our need for change — with unflinching honesty.

As the subtitle indicates, this is a collection of writings; of the nine chapters comprising the body of this text five appear to be written while the author was still in prison. A sixth chapter appears to have been composed within two weeks of his release. The remaining three chapters recount the nature and experience of the author in relation to practicing the Buddha’s path.

Title: Dharma in Hell: The Prison Writings of Fleet Maull
Author: Fleet Maull
Publisher: Prison Dharma Network
ISBN: 0-9718143-1-7
Available from: Amazon.co.uk, and Amazon.com.

Chapter one carries the book’s title and also expands on the theme with the subheading “Practicing in Prisons and Charnel Grounds”. Here, the author compares the experience of living and practicing in prison with doctrinal reasons for and benefits of practicing in charnel grounds, a main point being that both prisons and charnel grounds thrust one directly into experience of mental poisons, that is, into direct contact with greed, anger, and ignorance. The chapter begins by explaining just what is a charnel ground, and by extension what charnel grounds represent. This makes it possible to explain, in Buddhist terms, what is a charnel ground practice, both traditionally and in contemporary terms. Lastly, the reader is given a glimpse inside Fleet Maull’s prison experience, showing just how the prison conditions, both external/physical and internal/psychological, provided him with the opportunity for charnel ground practice.

Chapter two looks at Buddhist practice in prison as a form of monasticism, particularly the author’s experience of taking and applying monastic vows in prison. First we get to see that Buddhist practice in prison is very different from its counterpart in a monastery. “Noise and chaos are a prison’s most pervasive qualities” (p.41). Eventually it becomes evident that while formal practice is very difficult the practice of mindfulness throughout daily life is crucial in prison.

See also:

Chapter three, like the previous chapter, is an edited excerpt of previously published material. It addresses “Money and Livelihood Behind Bars.” There is an economy in prison. Wages can be earned and trade does occur, and there is inevitably a black market where goods and services can be bought. While it is possible to live on very little, everything about prison life and western society at large tends to ensnare us in economic gain. With his pre-incarceration livelihood coming from drug smuggling, the author realized upon entering prison that it would be necessary for him to practice Right Livelihood, with its attendant honesty.

In chapter four the author considers “Death Without Dogma”. In this chapter Maull recounts his interaction with dying inmates while performing hospice work. The stories are very personal and give a real flavor of how he brought practice into his interactions with inmates of other faiths.

Chapter five speaks of the widespread phenomenon of depression. Although this problem is not specific to prison or charnel grounds, in this case prison is the framework for examining and understanding depression. And, although this is the shortest chapter of the book, the author makes quick work of explaining just how potent a steady meditation practice can be at dissolving the life-sapping darkness of depression and hopelessness.

In chapter six, “Rumblings from Inside,” we get a look at the psychology of the incarcerated. Emphasis is placed on considering the effects of penal methods (punishment vs. rehabilitation) for the inmate in terms of taking responsibility for his or her life. Negative mental states abound, and are structurally encouraged, in prison life. The author suggests that real change can come about when inmates learn to be of service to others. He also speaks of the value meditation offers in seeing inmates’ responsibility for their current conditions.

Chapter seven, “A Taste of Freedom” looks at the experience of stepping outside the role of prisoner for a three day unescorted furlough. The author has been in prison for thirteen years by the time we get to this chapter. The sudden shift to experiencing freedom outside of prison prompts the author to reflect on his years of prison conditioning, conditioning that he realizes can be met with mindfulness and emotional receptivity.

Chapter eight sees the author finally released from prison and embarking on life afterward, speaking to a Buddhist audience about “Transforming Obstacles into Path”, and explaining how he came to see that whatever difficulties encountered can be met without reactivity and used as fuel for practice. By this point in the book much of the material has been stated in prior chapters.

And lastly, chapter nine discusses the “Path of Service”. Here Fleet Maull explains how service to others in prison benefited him, allowing him to get beyond his own personal drama. He also explains how he thinks that service to others is offers healing to those still in prison. Getting out of the endless loops of our mind by helping others makes it possible to let go of our own self-perpetuated suffering. As is stated in the opening verse of the Dhammapada:

“Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with an impure mind a person speaks or acts suffering follows him like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox.”

Life in prison can easily be seen as life in hell, but as Fleet Maull illustrates it need not be so.

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Chinese meditation technique boosts brain function

A Chinese-influenced meditation technique appears to help the brain regulate behavior after as little as 11 hours of practice, according to a study released Monday.

Researchers at the University of Oregon and Dalian University of Technology charted the effects of integrative body-mind training (IBMT), a technique adapted in the 1990s from traditional Chinese medicine and practiced by thousands in China.

The research to be published in the upcoming issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences involved 45 test subjects, about half of whom received IBMT, while a control group received relaxation training.

Imaging tests showed a greater number of connections in the anterior cingulate — the part of the brain which regulates emotion and behavior — among those who practiced meditation compared to subjects in the control group.

“The importance of our findings relates to the ability to make structural changes in a brain network related to self-regulation,” said The University of Oregon’s Michael Posner, a lead author on the study.

“The pathway that has the largest change due to IBMT is one that previously was shown to relate to individual differences in the person’s ability to regulate conflict,” he said.

Deficits in activation of the anterior cingulate cortex also have been associated with attention deficit disorder, dementia, depression, schizophrenia and many other disorders.

And researchers said the experimental group also showed lower levels of anxiety, depression, anger and fatigue than students in the control group.

“We believe this new finding is of interest to the fields of education, health and neuroscience, as well as for the general public,” said Dalian University’s Yi-Yuan Tang, who led the team of Chinese researchers.

IBMT emphasizes body-mind awareness using breathing techniques and mental imagery to achieve a state of “restful alertness.”

Scientists hypothesized that the changes resulted from a reorganization of white-matter tracts or by an increase of myelin that surrounds the connections.

The researchers said the findings suggest that IBMT can be used as a vehicle for understanding how training influences brain plasticity.

[via AFP]
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University offers course on Buddhist depression therapy

wildmind meditation news

The first course in Scotland using a non-pharmaceutical technique to treat depression has been launched at Aberdeen University.

Doctors, nurses, psychotherapists and teachers have signed up for the part time MSc in mindfulness, a revolutionary Buddhist-based non-medication approach to dealing with the condition.

Mindfulness is based on Buddhist meditation but can also be taught in a secular way. Proponents say it is a practical method of understanding how the mind works and can provide insights into how dysfunctional thinking can lead to illness. It can also be used to treat stress and chronic pain.

Graeme Nixon, programme director of the course, said: “The University of Aberdeen’s new masters degree programme in mindfulness has been developed in order to meet the growing interest in mindfulness in many professions, in particular health and education.

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“This is the first degree programme of its kind in Scotland and it is the first in the world to offer a training that integrates compassion practices in mindfulness training.”

Mr Nixon said: “We have been inundated with applications and the course is full with 48 students enrolled to start in September. They range from health professionals, including consultants, doctors, GPs, and nurses, to teachers and sports coaches.”

The course has been created with the Samye Ling Tibetan Centre in Dumfriesshire.

Karma Choden, a South African former lawyer who is now a monk at Samye Ling, will be one of the teachers.

He said: “Mindfulness is a particular way of paying attention to one’s mind and one’s experience in a way that is non-judgemental and kind.

“So much of the time our mind just spins off in different directions. So much of our time is wasted.

“Mindfulness is training our mind to be centred so we can be more calm and effective in what we do in our life.”

Only three other UK universities currently offer courses in mindfulness: Oxford, Exeter and Bangor.

Dr Alistair Wilson, a consultant psychiatrist at Gartnavel Hospital in Glasgow, who has been an advisor to the Aberdeen course, said: “There has been a profound shift in attitudes in the last ten years towards mindfulness based cognitive therapy.

“There are very rigorous studies that show a reduction in recurrence rates with people with depression.”

He said short courses in mindfulness therapy were now among the treatments for depression recognised by SIGN, the Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network.

Rob Nairn, a former professor of criminology and law who is the director of the Samye Ling section of the course, said: “What I am trying to do is give the students a fairly thorough grounding and understanding of mindfulness with the object of them being able to take it into other areas of life.

“Mindfulness is the essence of the Buddhist teachings but we are teaching it in a secular way.

“It takes the teaching and allows people to use it in other areas – without people having to take up Buddhist beliefs.”

A report earlier this year from the Mental Health Foundation said that 72 per cent of GPs believed mindfulness and meditation could help patients with recurrent mental health problems while 93 per cent believed there should be treatments other than medication available to patients with recurrent depression.

By Claire Smith

[via news.scotsman.com]
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