meditation & menopause

What is mindfulness and should we be doing it?

wildmind meditation newsRosie Hopegood, The Mirror: Everyone from Oprah Winfrey to Goldie Hawn has been dropping the buzzword ‘mindfulness’ lately.

But while celebs are only just cottoning on to the technique, it’s actually been practised for thousands of years, and is now popping up in all sorts of unlikely places – big banking and tech firms are paying for their employees to take classes in order to reduce stress and anxiety at work.

And according to mindfulness expert Will Williams, anyone can benefit from the practice. “It can be particularly helpful for middle aged women, because hormonal imbalances during or approaching the menopause can be can be helped by regularly doing this kind of meditation,” he says.

It’s a technique that encourages focusing your awareness on the present, rather than mulling over the past, or fretting about the future.

It’s a form of meditation with all religious elements stripped away. There are many classes, books and apps available, but one of the most popular is Headspace (a website and app), which has been downloaded by over three million people, including celebrity fans Emma Watson and Gwyneth Paltrow.

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Cognitive therapy, mindfulness may help with menopausal depression

wildmind meditation newsJanice Neumann, Psychotherapy and mindfulness techniques could help many women who experience depression during menopause, according to a review of existing research.

Too few studies have looked at whether cognitive therapies are good alternatives for women who can’t or don’t want to use pharmaceutical treatments, the authors conclude, but the handful that did mostly showed positive results.

“When I started work in this area, I was struck by the lack of alternative, non-pharmacological, non-hormonal treatment for menopausal symptoms, given the associated risks of hormone therapy and side effects of anti-depressants for some women,” said Sheryl Green, lead author of the study, in …

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Meditation may help women cope with hot flashes An easy-to-learn meditation technique can help ease the hot flashes, night sweats and insomnia of menopause, a new study says.

The University of Massachusetts research showed that mindfulness training, based on a Buddhist meditation concept, reduced the distress associated with hot flashes and improved physical, psychosocial and sexual functioning.

“The findings are important because hormone replacement therapy, used to treat menopause symptoms in the past, has been associated with health risks,” said study author James Carmody, an associate professor of medicine in the division of preventive and behavioral medicine.

About 40 percent of menopausal women suffer from hot flashes and night sweats, which undermine their quality of life, the researchers noted. But since hormone replacement therapy has been linked with an increased risk of heart disease, breast cancer and stroke, Carmody observed that “not only are women looking for alternative treatments, it is an NIH (National Institutes of Health) priority to find behavioral treatments.”

No other treatment has been found to substitute for hormone therapy, according to the study, but mindfulness training appears to allow women to be “less reactive” to menopausal symptoms.

Mindfulness therapy helps focus on the present. Practitioners avoid making judgments and simply accept whatever is passing through their mind while focusing on each breath. The technique is not difficult to learn, but requires some discipline Read the rest of this article…

in the beginning, experts noted.

The researchers aimed to influence women’s reaction to their symptoms, “including psychological distress, social embarrassment and anxiety.”

“We wanted to see if we could affect women’s resilience in response to these symptoms,” Carmody explained. “We were not trying to affect the symptoms themselves, although there was some effect on those as well.”

The study divided 110 women between the ages of 47 and 69 into two groups, one receiving the training, the other “waitlisted” to learn the technique.

Participants filled out questionnaires to determine factors known to influence hot flashes, such as alcohol use, yoga and exercise.

Researchers also measured four dimensions of quality of life: physical, psychosocial, vasomotor (hot flashes), and sexual function. The women rated how much they were bothered by symptoms on a four-point scale ranging from “not at all” to “extremely” bothered. They kept diaries noting the number and intensity of hot flashes and night sweats. On average, the women had five or more moderate to severe hot flashes, or night sweats, a day when the study began.

After taking classes once a week for eight weeks, and a full day of training, the training group women had an average decrease of 15 percent in how much their symptoms bothered them vs. 7 percent for the control group. While hot flash intensity did not differ significantly, the training group reported better sleep, and less anxiety and perceived stress.

At the beginning of the study, which ran from November 2005 to September 2007, participants had “clinically significant” sleep problems. Improved sleep was an important outcome, the study found.

“The thing that surprised us the most was the effect on sleep,” said Carmody, noting that mindfulness training was found to be as effective as hormone replacement therapy in reducing insomnia.

Another expert praised the study for using the “mind-body connection” to help women with serious menopause symptoms with “no side effects.”

“We’ve known about the mind-body connection,” said Dr. Jill M. Rabin. “We’re just beginning to unlock the power of the mind to have an impact on our physiological selves.”

The study authors were “self-critical regarding the limitations of the study,” said Rabin, chief of the division of ambulatory care and head of urogynecology at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center. Among other things, the study lacked an active control group program, they wrote.

Noting that the women were mostly white and had a high level of education, Rabin said more study was needed to see if the results apply to the general population.

“It’s not that the results don’t apply, or will be different for a different population,” she said. “We just don’t know.”

The research is published in the June issue of Menopause.

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Meditation helps ease hot flashes, study shows

What should menopausal women do to alleviate the agony of hot flashes, as many studies have shown that hormone therapy increases risk for breast cancer, heart attacks and strokes?

Mindfulness meditation, the mind-body therapy that refers to a state of awareness, consciousness, and immediacy, not only de-clutters the mind and helps attain inner peace but also reduces the severity of menopausal hot flashes, claims a new study.

The researchers found that mindfulness training that included meditation and stretching exercises not only enhanced sleep quality but also helped ease stress and anxiety in women during menopause.

Dr. Ellen Freeman, a menopause expert at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia, stated, “There’s a broad range of attitudes about hot flashes and how they should be treated. There are certainly many, many women who don’t want to take hormones … and don’t want to take other drugs either.

According to her, mindfulness on the other hand, “may be something that they find very acceptable.”

Trials to assess effect of meditation
In order to determine whether mindfulness training helps ease hot flashes in healthy women, the researchers conducted a eight-week trial.

They enrolled a group of 110 women, mostly white with at least five bothersome hot flashes a day.

The women were split into two groups. One group met for a 2.5-hour weekly meditating session that involved stretching, sitting quietly and simply processing whatever goes through the mind without reacting or becoming involved with thoughts, memories, worries, or images.

In addition, the participants were given audio recordings to practice meditation at home. In contrast the women in the control had no classes on mindfulness meditation.

For the study purpose, the participants were asked to record the frequency and severity of their hot flashes.

The average frequency of hot flashes reported at the onset of the study was about eight per day and three night sweats each night. The volunteers were “moderately” or “extremely” troubled by their symptoms.

They also reportedly had erratic sleep and their anxiety and stress scores were deemed higher than the normal range in healthy people.

Outcome of the study
An evaluation after eight weeks revealed that meditation helped ease stress and anxiety. Women slept better and exhibited increased levels of well being.

They were less troubled by their hot flashes and improvement persisted for over three months after they had completed the classes. The women rated their hot flashes botheration between slight to moderate.

However, there was no difference in the frequency of hot flashes in the two groups, suggesting that mindfulness meditation is technique that helps reduce the severity of hot flashes rather than eliminating them completely.

According to experts, mindfulness training provides women, especially those who want to avoid popping pills a good option for treating moderate to severe hot flashes that disrupt their quality of life.

A shorter trial in progress
The researchers are currently testing the impact of a four-week meditation training on bringing relief to menopausal women.

Lead researcher, Dr. James Carmody at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, stated, “We want to see if a shorter program would have the same effects.

“Anything that makes it more accessible for women.”

The findings of the study are published in the journal ‘Menopause.’

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Meditation as medication (CBS News)

The Saturday Early Show, CBS: More and more people are turning to alternative or non-traditional methods to treat medical conditions.

One such technique, meditation, is gaining popularity as a legitimate medical therapy.

Meditation is the practice of focusing your attention and mind on something that makes your feel calm and relaxed and gives you clarity about your life, says medical contributor Dr. Mallika Marshall.

For thousands of years, people have recognized that meditation has wonderful health and psychological benefits.

The medical community is becoming much more accepting of meditation as a legitimate treatment for many different medical problems, such as anxiety, stress and depression. It’s being used treat all kinds of chronic pain. People are using meditation to try to quit smoking. It’s also being used for alcohol and drug addiction. And the National Institutes of Health is even recommending meditation for high blood pressure. Studies have show also that it can help women who suffer from PMS, menopausal hot flashes and even infertility.

Meditation helps your enter a relaxation state that can lower your heart rate, your blood pressure, slow down your breathing and relax your muscles. Some experts have compared it to a “reset button” for your body.

Meditation is something that most people can safely try on their own, though there are many techniques out there — so you may want to read up on different ways to meditate.

Here is a basic meditation technique to get started. Sit or lie in a comfortable position with your eyes closed. Simply focus on your breathing, focusing all your attention on sensation of air moving in and out of your body. The other thing you can do is repeat a single word or phrase either silently or by whispering. Do this for about 20 minutes every day if you can.

In the beginning, your mind will wander and come back to the present, but don’t despair, simply refocus your mind and try again.

Since meditation involves sitting quietly for a period of time and simply breathing, it may be difficult for people who have breathing problems or can’t stay still. People with certain conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or psychosis may not be able to concentrate. And don’t forgo traditional medical treatments in favor or just doing meditation. It should be used to complement any other treatments your doctor has recommended for you.

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The flexible approach (Sydney Morning Herald, Australia)

Jacqueline Maley, Sydney Morning Herald, Australia: Celebrities have embraced it. Bookstores are bursting with literature about it, and converts evangelise about its benefits. The practice of yoga has taken off in the West, 5000 or so years after the philosophy was codified by the Indian scholar Patanjali.

Although many students of yoga report myriad benefits to their physical and mental health, it has yet to be embraced by mainstream medicine as a valid form of treatment.

But Dr Craig Hassed, a senior lecturer in the department of general practice at Monash University, says yoga is “one of the most, if not the most, comprehensive approach to lifestyle management of all the traditional healing systems”.

Yoga is an effective tool in maintaining the mind/body balance, which is integral to general health, he says.

“Positive emotional states are associated with greater resistance to disease, better recovery from illness and a better ability to cope with illness,” he explains.

On the other hand, he says, negative emotional states have been proven to lead to a lower resistance to infection and higher risk of illnesses, such as heart disease, auto-immune disorders and inflammatory arthritis…

As proof of yoga’s benefits, Hassed points to a pivotal 1990 study by Dr Dean Ornish in the United States. Ornish tracked two groups of heart disease patients over a period of five years. The first group took medication only, and the second group took medication and also adopted a lifestyle based on yoga principles – incorporating exercise, meditation, diet and relaxation.

The five-year follow-up study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1997, showed the medication-only group had experienced 2 times as many “major cardiac events” (ie heart attack or death) as the yoga-lifestyle group.

“He was the first person to prove heart disease is reversible,” Hassed says.

And he did it using yoga principles.

Professor Avni Sali, the foundation head of the Graduate School of Integrative Medicine at Swinburne University in Melbourne, believes the “stillness”, or meditation part of yoga, usually practised after postures have been completed, is the most beneficial part of the yoga program.

Sali has conducted studies to show yoga meditation can reduce levels in the blood of the stress hormone cortisol.

“If your stress hormones are down and your immune system is working better, you are less likely, theoretically, to get cancer,” he says.

Hassed says the reduction in stress levels, by means such as meditation, can also assist in controlling diabetes, which can be exacerbated by stress. He emphasises, however, yoga can never be a replacement for insulin.

Yoga can also be useful for treating adult diabetes.

“[Type 2] diabetes is very much an illness of modern Western lifestyle, so yoga is a powerful intervention for lifestyle diabetes,” he says.

Yoga meditation is also the basis of research conducted by Dr Ramesh Manocha, a research fellow at the Natural Therapies Unit at the Royal Hospital for Women in Randwick.

Manocha focused on sahaja yoga, a method of meditation developed by Shrimataji Nirmala Devi in India in the 1970s.

He has just finished a seven-year doctoral research project “aimed at the answering the question: does meditation work in any way – body, mind, spirit, whatever?”

“You have this discrepancy,” Manocha explains, “the public has a very positive perception about meditation but when you actually look at the scientific literature, the scientific literature doesn’t agree.”

He set out to investigate the discrepancy by taking about 60 people with severe asthma and randomly allocating them to two treatment groups. One group underwent a standard, government-approved stress management program, involving counselling, breathing techniques and relaxation. The other group were taught sahaja yoga techniques.

The findings, published in the medical journal Thorax, were that the emotional state of the sahaja group – measured using psycho-metric questionnaires – was two times better than that of the stress management group.

The sahaja group also demonstrated significantly lesser degree of irritation in the lungs. The other group showed no change.

“There was significant evidence indicating that the actual physical disease was . . . influenced, and it wasn’t just the participants’ subjective impressions which were changing,” he says.

At the Sydney Menopause Centre, Manocha has also used sahaja to treat a group of women suffering hot flushes. The women had about a 70 per cent reduction in their hot flushes over eight weeks, he says.

Last year, he tried the technique on a group of children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

“In six weeks, we had them sitting down for 20 minutes at a time and relating better to their friends and family,” he says. Three of the children were able to stop their medication after attending the clinic.

Dr Luis Vitetta, the deputy head and director of research at Swinburne’s Graduate School of Integrative Medicine, supervised another study involving yoga and children. One group of children was given reading to do and the other was led through yoga exercises.

There was a reduction in anxious mood in the yoga group, but measurements of cortisol levels in the children were inconclusive.

Vitetta says this only serves to show that yoga is not a quick fix. “You need to do yoga over a long period of time,” he says. “You don’t take yoga as you take a pill.”

Practised over long periods, there is some evidence yoga can help people with cancer, anxiety, depression, Vitetta says. It can even help you quit smoking, by “teaching people a unity of mind and body”.

“Yoga exists in the domain of mind/body medicine,” he says. “The mind/body connection is at the centre of health, whether you want to believe it or not.”

But doctors admit the benefits of yoga are not always taken seriously, especially when it comes to meditation and “mental stillness”.

Hassed says although yoga is becoming more widely accepted as a form of therapy, there is still very little about yoga in medical education. “Relative to its potential health benefits and a growing body of research, it seems to be under-represented in the health care system,” he says.

He argues governments should take notice of yoga, if not for the sake of patients, then for the cost savings it delivers.

During Ornish’s yoga/heart disease project, Hassed says an insurance company worked out that $83,000 was saved per patient, three years after they began the yoga treatment.

Avni believes it is the holistic nature of yoga which prevents it from gaining due recognition. That, and the fact that it receives minimal research funding, because there is no “product” and hence no pharmaceutical company, associated with yoga.

“You can’t put yoga in a bottle and sell it,” he says. “It’s the responsibility of the government to fund it.”
What is yoga

Yoga is a Hindu discipline and philosophy that has been practised in India for more than 5000 years. In the West, “yoga” is used to refer to the exercises only, but yoga is actually an entire lifestyle system, involving meditation, diet and good works. It was codified in the second century in a book called the Yoga Sutras.


The generic term for the physical postures and exercise part of the entire yoga philosophy. Hatha is also describe a gentle, traditional style of yoga.


Also called “hot” yoga, conducted in rooms heated to 38 degrees or more to aid muscle stretching. It is very dynamic and involves the repetition of 26 set asanas, or poses. Not for beginners.


A very physical form of “power”, yoga based on the original texts of Patanjali, the founder of yoga. Ashtanga is physically demanding, involving fast movement and breathing.


Focuses on ideal body alignment and posture. It is rigorous but gentle. Practitioners use props such as straps and wooden blocks to aid flexibility.
Roma’s a picture of health

Roma Blair spent three years in a Japanese prison camp in the Dutch East Indies in World War II. In that time, she gave birth with no doctor present, was given stitches without an anaesthetic and contracted two types of dysentery. Sometimes, she coughed up worms.

After the war, Blair was living in South Africa when her doctor referred her to a local yoga swami to help her with her ongoing health problems.

“I was nervous and in pain,” she says. “I was a very sick lady, but I’m very, very healthy today,” she says.

Blair believes yoga cured her. She was so impressed that when she returned to Australia in 1957, she established the Roma Blair yoga clubs in Sydney.

From 1959, she began filming yoga exercise shows for Channel Nine and featured in magazine lift-outs.

In 1966, she went to India and was made the first female Australian swami by Swami Satyananada.

Since then Blair, 80, has published six books on yoga, made two videos and four records.

Swarmi Sarasvati is also one of the longest-practising yoga experts in in Australia.

Sarasvati practises what she calls “complete lifestyle yoga” which is an integrated yoga, combining meditation, physical exercise and karma yoga (self reflection and doing good works).

She believes yoga can be useful in treating a range of illnesses, from stress-related complaints such as headache, insomnia and heart problems, to breathing difficulties and people with musculoskeletal pain.

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Putting Meditation Under the Microscope (Hartford Courant)

Hartford Courant: Marietta Sabetta decided that the way to make a stand against her moderately high blood pressure was to sit still.

The 52-year-old Seymour woman asked her doctor if she could try lowering her blood pressure by taking a meditation class at Griffin Hospital.

On most Wednesday evenings since last March, she has followed instructor Lauren Liberti through a series of mindfulness exercises, beginning with simple yoga positions and leading to a meditation session that might, on a given night, involve simply focusing on the breath.

“My doctor thought it was a great idea,” Sabetta said. “It feels comfortable and peaceful, and it’s very, very strengthening emotionally.”

And her blood pressure? It’s down to normal, she says, thanks to meditation.

It’s been more than three decades since Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard University and his colleagues found that meditation induces a calming state that is the opposite of the revved-up, heart-pounding “fight or flight” reaction to stress. Because everyone agreed that stress was bad, hard evidence that meditation fought stress established meditation as a healthful practice.

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Since then, meditation has moved from the ashram to the living room. Time magazine recently reported that about 10 million Americans say they practice some form of meditation. While meditation — from guided imagery to mindfulness exercises — is widely used in health care, researchers now are looking beyond meditation’s stress-relieving virtues to see how it may help rewire the brain’s circuitry and treat or prevent a host of specific ailments.

Richard J. Davidson, a research professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin and director of the university’s Keck Laboratory for Functional Brain Imaging and Behavior, is one of the leaders in this still-embryonic field. He said it is growing rapidly, thanks to recent advances in brain imaging and brain science.

“It’s an approach rooted much more [than in the past] in the neuroscience research tradition,” he said. “It is research that emphasizes the emotional benefits of meditation and corresponding changes in brain and peripheral biology that may be associated with the cultivation of certain kinds of positive emotions that meditation is said to increase.”

Davidson was the lead author of a recent, much-publicized study that measured brain activity in subjects before, immediately after and four months after they completed an eight-week training program in mindfulness meditation. A group of 25 meditators, taught to cultivate deep awareness of thoughts and feelings, showed heightened brain activity in an area associated with “positive effect,” or happiness, compared with a group of 18 non-meditators. After the study, both groups got flu shots. The meditators produced up to 25 percent more antibodies to influenza. The results suggest that the brain changes might be related to a boost in the immune system.

Davidson and his colleagues also have been using brain-imaging technology to examine the brains of some of the world’s most experienced meditators — Tibetan Buddhist monks, who are being studied with the blessing of the Dalai Lama. (Davidson helped organize a Sept. 13 meeting between leading scientists and the Dalai Lama at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.)

The work has not yet been published, but Davidson wrote last year that one monk showed intense activity in a part of the brain associated with happiness, scoring higher than nearly 200 other individuals who had been observed.

Other studies being conducted across the country are examining how various forms of meditation might help treat or prevent a number of illnesses. These include, for example, heart disease in specific populations, binge eating and recurrent abdominal pain. Other projects are evaluating meditation as a way to improve the quality of life for patients with cancer and various stages of HIV and to reduce seniors’ susceptibility to shingles.

Much of the research is being sponsored by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health. Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, said the field is expanding, thanks, in part, to the role of the NIH. Katz said the NIH has determined that practices like meditation need to be backed up with credible science, “which means that you have [scientific] outcomes that can hold their head up in public,” he said. Good science, said Katz, also makes believers of health plans, which can fold proven practices into the services they will provide to members.

Doctors who now encourage patients to meditate acknowledge that it’s often trickier than prescribing drugs.

Dr. Stephen Sinatra, a Manchester cardiologist, said that he’s not that fussy about what kind of meditation his patients take up, as long as it suits them. For example, if they’re Catholic, he’ll ask if they are adverse to prayer. “If they say, `No,’ I tell them to just say `Hail Mary, full of grace’ over and over again,” he said.

One of his patients, Jilline Miceli, 64, formerly of South Windsor and now of Bonita Springs, Fla., was diagnosed with congestive heart failure three years ago and became a heart transplant candidate in 2001. She credits meditation — along with drug treatment, yoga and her family’s and friends’ prayers — with helping to get her off the transplant list.

Dr. Karen Prestwood, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington, regularly teaches a mind-body skills group at the health center that meets for two hours a week for 10 weeks. She uses both what she calls passive forms of meditation — such as mindfully noticing thoughts that arise — and active forms, like “chaotic breathing,” which involves breathing techniques and body movement.

Lucille Meinsler of Hartford, an administrative program coordinator in the health center’s psychiatry department, took the class that began last March. Meinsler settled on using a compact disc with a narrated, guided meditation. “I found it was too hard to sit there and think,” she said of silent meditation. But her guided meditation practice — which she tries to do every other day — has helped curb sleeplessness brought on by menopause. She finds it also helps her focus in her waking life.

Prestwood observes that plenty of patients have no interest in meditation. “They would rather take a pill,” she said.

Ultimately, whether meditation is prescribed, and if so, what kind, may be dictated both by the patient’s preferences and also by the particular ailment. Davidson of the University of Wisconsin said future research may show that a particular form of meditation works best to help treat or prevent a given illness. Benson, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard who also is founding president of the Mind-Body Medical Institute, said he believes that all effective forms of meditation induce what he calls the relaxation response, characterized by lowered blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate and metabolism.

“That is simply a doorway that clears the mind,” he said, noting that the relaxation response is the starting point for advanced meditative states that may be able to address specific health problems.

Davidson cautions that the in-depth study of meditation is new. It’s too early to make any claims about physical healing. The research underway isn’t simply about proving how healthful meditation is. Some techniques, when tried out against certain maladies or as an adjunct to other therapies, will undoubtedly fail. And there is the danger, as with any self-care practice, that patients may blame themselves for not meditating well enough if their disease gets worse.

“I think there are going to be certain kinds of diseases that are completely unresponsive to anything you do with your mind,” he said, adding that certain kinds of cancer are probably among those illnesses. “This needs to be approached extremely carefully and with the utmost responsibility.”

Meditation classes are offered in area community centers, adult education programs, yoga studios, schools and through many religiously affiliated groups and centers.

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