Benefits of Meditation, Mindful Breathing and taking your attention inside
For some people, they will desire to have some research and empirical evidence around new practices and what benefits they have been shown to have. If this is you please read on. If not, please scroll down to the bottom if you want to go straight to the resources.
If you are into science read on! While this does not claim to be an exhaustive literature review and critique, we do offer the findings of some key studies (mainly meta-analyses) to demonstrate that the techniques which we recommend, have a scientific base.
Meditation, mindful breathing and other related techniques and practices, have been used across a large number of areas. The focus here will be on the use of them in stress and anxiety, in relation to the 2020 situation and the other resources we are offering here for your use.
Pascoe, Thompson, Jenkins and Ski (2017) looked at the impact on the physiology of stress and found that a positive effect was shown on reducing blood pressure, reducing cortisol, reducing heart rate, and showed an impact on triglycerides and tumour necrosis factor-alpha. If we highlight just one study, on 3,500 participants (Goyal, Singh, Sibinga, Gould, Rowland-Seymour, Sharma, Berger, Sleicher, Maron, Shihab, Ranasinghe, Linn, Saha, Bass and Haythornthwaite,2014) we can begin to see the potential for stress reduction in this field. The wider implications of stress on the impact on inflammation and cytokines has also been studied by Rosenkranz, Davidson, MacCoon, Sheridan, Kalin and Lutz (2013) and shown that the inflammatory response can be reduced.
Other studies have also showed a positive impact in patients with anxiety, phobias, paranoia and obsessive-compulsive behaviours (Carmody and Baer, 2008; Miller, Fletcher, Kabat-Zinn, 2016; Chen, Berger, Manheimer, Forde, Magidson, Dachman, Lejuex, 2012).
Other studies have shown a positive impact on symptoms of depression (Goyal et al 2014; Kasala, Bodduluru, Maneti and Thipparaboina, 2014; Jain, Walsh, Eisendrath, Christensen and Cahn,2015; ).
Hilton, Maher, Colaiaco, Apaydin, Sorbero, Booth,Shanman and Hempel (2017) and Lang, Strauss, Bomyea, Bormann, Hickman, Good and Essex (2012) looked at post traumatic stress and concluded that “Meditation appears to be effective for PTSD and depression symptoms”.
Other authors have looked at stress related conditions and found improvement following meditation. For example: fibromyalgia (Kozasa, Tanaka, Monson, little, Leao and Peres (2012) and in cancer and palliative care (Ball and Vernon, 2015; Speca, Carlson, Goodey, and Angen, 2000; Ülger and Yağlı, 2009).
A recent study explored the impact of meditation on sleep quality and found it can be beneficial (Rusch, Rosario, Levison, Olivera, Livingston, Wu and Gill, 2019).
Luberto, Shinday,Song, Philpotts, Park, Fricchione and Yeh (2018) looked at wider impacts and found evidence to support the ability to increase empathy, compassion and pro-social emotions and behaviours. Galante, Galante, Bekkers and Gallacher (2014) demonstrated that loving kindness meditation improves a persons sense of compassion to themselves and to others. And, this appears to increase over time Frederickson, Cohn, Coffey, Pek, Finkel (2008).
In relation to breathing, it seems odd to have to teach adults how to breath yet it is claimed that, in part due to the way we sit and the number of hours we are seated, that we are not reaching a good lung capacity when we breathe (Lin, Parthasarathy, Taylor, Pucci, Hendrix and Makhsous (2005). The use of cell phones has also been implicated in poor posture related to breathing (https://www.thebreatheffect.com/posture-breathing-physiological-effects/). It has been reported that “most people are doing it wrong most of the time,” says Amy Crawford-Faucher, MD, a family medicine specialist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (https://www.prevention.com/fitness/a20476969/4-breathing-mistakes/). The ideal breathing rate is around 12-14 breaths per minute and ideally, the breath extends into the bottom of the lungs, where there is a greater proportion of parasympathetic nerve fibres. The primary breathing is nasal.
The diaphragm (the main muscle used in healthy breathing) contracts and moves down with each inspiration – generally increasing the lung capacity. Intercostal muscles, between your ribs, assist, helping to raise the ribs upwards on an in breathe and they allow ribs to lower on an out breath. Muscles in the neck and shoulders also assist the process.
“Shallow breathing doesn’t just make stress a response, it makes stress a habit our bodies, and therefore, our minds, are locked into,” says John Luckovich, an apprentice Integrative Breathwork facilitator in Brooklyn, New York (https://www.headspace.com/blog/2017/08/15/shallow-breathing-whole-body/)
Andre (2019) writes how the first thing we do in life is take a breath in and the last thing we do is exhale a breath out. He talks about how breath is often described as being vital for well being, linked to our life’s energy. Whether we call it qi, prana, pneuma, rûah or breath, there is something deeper than just the movement of air being alluded to, interestingly he says that “In Latin languages, spiritus is at the root of both “spirit” and “respiration.””
It has been shown that slow (and paced at 6 breaths per minute) breathing can promote changes in Heart Rate Variability and impacts on some brain structures (Zaccaro, Piarulli, Laurno, Garbella, Menicucci, Neri and Gemignani (2018). Reportedly creating positive changes in comfort, relaxation, pleasantness, vigor and alertness, while reducing symptoms of arousal, anxiety, depression, anger and confusion. In one study (Ma, Yue, Gong, Zhang, Duan, Shi, Wei and Li, 2017) they found that diaphragmatic breathing practice can be useful in “improving cognitive function and reducing negative affect and physiological responses to stress in healthy adults”.
The following are two recordings to help you learn the technique of balanced breathing. The first is a set of simple instructions on how to breathe in a way that will bring your beautifully into balance – you only need listen to this once. The second is a meditation that you can listen to again and again that utilises breathing as a way to bring your body into calm alertness.
Introduction to balanced breathing
Using breathing to take your body into calm alertness
Andre, C.(2019) Proper breathing brings better health https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/proper-breathing-brings-better-health/
Ball, MS. & Vernon, B. (2015) A review on how meditation could be used to comfort the terminally ill. Palliat Support Care. 13(5) page 1469-1472. doi: 10.1017/S1478951514001308
Carmody, J., Baer, R.A. Relationships between mindfulness practice and levels of mindfulness, medical and psychological symptoms and well-being in a mindfulness-based stress reduction program. J Behav Med 31, 23–33 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10865-007-9130-7
Chen, KW., Berger, CC., Manheimer, E., Forde, D., Magidson, J., Dachman, L. & Lejuez,CW. (2012) Meditative therapies for reducing anxiety: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Depression and Anxiety. 29(7) page 545-562 https://doi.org/10.1002/da.21964
Fredrickson, BL., Cohn, MA., Coffey, KA., Pek, J & Finkel, SM. (2008) Open Hearts Build Lives: Positive Emotions, Induced Through Loving-Kindness Meditation, Build Consequential Personal Resources J Pers Soc Psychol. 95(5): 1045–1062. doi: 10.1037/a0013262
Galante, J.,, Galante, I., Bekkers, MJ. & Gallacher, J. (2014) Effect of kindness-based meditation on health and well-being: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Consult Clin Psychol. 82(6):1101-14. doi: 10.1037/a0037249.
Goyal, M., Singh, S., Sibinga, EM., Gould, NF., Rowland-Seymour, A., Sharma, R., Berger, Z., Sleicher, D., Maron, DD., Shihab, HM., Ranasinghe, PD., Linn, S., Saha, S., Bass, EB. & Haythornthwaite, JA. (2014) Meditation programs for psychological stress and well-being: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Intern Med: 174(3) page 357-368. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.13018.
Hilton, L., Ruelaz Maher, A., Colaiaco, B., Apaydin, E., Sorbero, ME., Booth, M., Shanman, RM. & Hempel, S. (2017) Meditation for Posttraumatic Stress: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy 9(4) page 453–460
Jain, FA., Walsh, RN., Eisendrath, SJ., Christensen, S. & Rael Cahn, B. (2015) Critical analysis of the efficacy of meditation therapies for acute and subacute phase treatment of depressive disorders: a systematic review. Psychosomatics. 56(2):140-52. doi: 10.1016/j.psym.2014.10.007.
Kasala, ER., Bodduluru, LN., Maneti, Y. & Thipparaboina, R. (2014) Effect of meditation on neurophysiological changes in stress mediated depression. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 20(1):74-80. doi: 10.1016/j.ctcp.2013.10.001.
Kozasa, EH., Tanaka, LH., Monson, C., Little, S., Leao, FC. & Peres, MP. (2012) The effects of meditation- based interventions on the treatment of fibromyalgia. Curr Pain Headache Rep. 16(5) page 383-387. doi: 10.1007/s11916-012-0285-8
Lang, AJ., Strauss, JL., Bomyea, J., Bormann, JE., Hickman, SD., Good, RC. & Essex, M. (2012) The theoretical and empirical basis for meditation as an intervention for PSTD. Behav Modif. 36(6) page 7. doi: 10.1177/0145445512441200
Lin, F., Parthasarth, Tyalor, SJ., Pucci, D., Hendrix, RW. & Makhsous, M. (2006) Effect of different sitting postures on lung capacity , Expiratory flow, and lumbar lordosis. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation 87 (4)page 504-509. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apmr.2005.11.031
Luberto, CM., Shinday, N., Song, R., Philpotts, LL., Park, ER., Fricchione, GL.,& Yeh, GY. (2018) A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of the Effects of Meditation on Empathy, Compassion, and Prosocial Behaviors Mindfulness (N Y) 9(3): 708–724. doi: 10.1007/s12671-017-0841-8
Ma, X., Yue, Z., Gong, Z., Zhang, H., Duan, N., Shi, Y., Wei, G. & Li, Y. (2017) The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults. Front Psychol. 8: 874. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00874
Miller, JJ., Fletcher, K. & Kabat-Zinn, J. (2012) Three year follow-up and clinical implications of a mindfulness meditation-based stress reduction intervention in the treatment of anxiety disorders. General Hospital Psychiatry. 17(3) page 192-200. https://doi.org/10.1016/0163-8343(95)00025-M
Pascoe, MC., Thompson, DR., Jenkins, ZM., & Ski, CF. (2017) Mindfulness mediates the physiological markers of stress: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Psychiatric Research 95 page 156-178
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, behaviour, and Immunity. 27 page 174-184
Speca, M., Carlson, LE., Goodey, E. & Angen, M. (2000) A Randomized, Wait-List Controlled Clinical Trial: The Effect of a Mindfulness Meditation-Based Stress Reduction Program on Mood and Symptoms of Stress in Cancer Outpatients. Psychosomatic Medicine 62(5) page 613-622
Rusch, HL., Rosario, M. Levison, LM., Olivera, A., Livingston, WS., Wu, T. & Gill, JM. (2019) The effect of mindfulness meditation on sleep quality: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1445(1):5-16. doi: 10.1111/nyas.13996.
Zaccaro, A., Piarulli, A., Laurino, M., Garbella, E., Menicucci, D., Neri, R. & Gemignani, A. (2018). How Breath-Control Can Change Your Life: A Systematic Review on Psycho-Physiological Correlates of Slow Breathing. Front Hum Neurosci. 12: 353. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2018.00353