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Workplace Yoga And Meditation Can Lower Feelings Of Stress
ScienceDaily (Aug. 5, 2009) — Twenty minutes per day of guided workplace meditation and yoga combined with six weekly group sessions can lower feelings of stress by more than 10 percent and improve sleep quality in sedentary office employees, a pilot study suggests.
The study offered participants a modified version of what is known as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), a program established in 1979 to help hospital patients in Massachusetts assist in their own healing that is now in wide use around the world.
In this context, mindfulness refers in part to one’s heightened awareness of an external stressor as the first step toward relaxing in a way that can minimize the effects of that stress on the body.
While the traditional MBSR program practice takes up an hour per day for eight weeks supplemented by lengthy weekly sessions and a full-day retreat, the modified version developed at Ohio State University for this study was designed for office-based workers wearing professional attire.
The results of the pilot study are published in a recent issue of the journal Health Education & Behavior.
Participants attended one-hour weekly group meetings during lunch and practiced 20 minutes of meditation and yoga per day at their desks. After six weeks, program participants reported that they were more aware of external stressors, they felt less stressed by life events, and they fell asleep more easily than did a control group that did not experience the intervention.
“Because chronic stress is associated with chronic disease, I am focusing on how to reduce stress before it has a chance to contribute to disease,” said Maryanna Klatt, lead author of the study and an assistant professor of clinical allied medicine at Ohio State.
“My interest is to see whether or not we can get people to reduce their health care utilization because they’re less stressed. I want to deliver something low cost at the work site, something practical that can be sustained, that can help reduce health care costs,” Klatt said.
Klatt and colleagues are building on these preliminary findings and continuing to study the broader impact of the intervention in various populations, such as cancer survivors, intensive-care nurses and inner-city schoolchildren. In addition to gathering self-reported data from research participants, the scientists plan to collect biological samples to determine whether the intervention can lead to lower levels of stress hormones.
For the pilot study, the researchers recruited 48 adult office workers with body mass index scores lower than 30 who exercised less than 30 minutes on most days of the week. Half were randomized to the intervention and half were wait-listed to receive the intervention later. Forty-two people completed the study.
Those who received the intervention participated in weekly one-hour group sessions during which breathing, relaxation and gentle yoga movement were designed to coax participants toward a meditative state. Participants also discussed work-related stress. As part of the pursuit of mindfulness, they were coached to contemplate a specific topic in each session that explored their response to a specific type of stress over the past week.
“It doesn’t matter what the stress is, but how you change the way you perceive the stress,” Klatt noted. “I like to describe mindfulness as changing the way you see what’s already there. It’s a tool that teaches people to become aware of their options. If they can’t change the external events in their life, they can instead change the way they view the stress, which can make a difference in how they experience their day-to-day life.”
The weekly sessions were supplemented by 20 minutes each day of movement and meditation guided by verbal cues and music provided on compact discs that Klatt designed and recorded. The entire intervention lasted six weeks.
The study analyzed participants’ responses to the intervention using data from established research questionnaires that measured perceived stress, or the degree to which situations in life are considered stressful; a number of components of sleep quality; and what is called mindful attention awareness, which refers to how often a person is paying attention to and is aware of what is occurring in the present.
All participants completed the questionnaires before and after the intervention. Twenty-two adults completed the intervention. Their pre- and post-test results were compared to those reported by the 20 control participants.
Mindful attention awareness increased significantly and perceived stress decreased significantly among the intervention group when compared to the control group’s responses. Overall sleep quality increased in both groups, but three of seven components of sleep were more affected in the intervention group.
On average, mindfulness increased by about 9.7 percent and perceived stress decreased by about 11 percent among the group that experienced the intervention. These participants also reported that it took them less time to fall asleep, they had fewer sleep disturbances and they experienced less daytime dysfunction than did members of the non-intervention group.
The researchers also took saliva samples to test for the presence of cortisol, a stress hormone, but found no significant changes in average daily levels of the hormone over time for participants in both groups. Klatt said the design of this part of the pilot study could have affected the result, and the sample collection technique will be changed in subsequent studies.
Klatt said mindfulness-based stress reduction, developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, has been studied widely and determined to be useful in lowering symptoms ranging from depression and anxiety to chronic pain. But the time commitment required in the program makes it impractical for busy working professionals, and adding a stress-reduction class outside of work could add stress to these people, she said.
So Klatt set out to develop what she calls a “low dose” of the program that is suitable for the workplace and still offers stress-reduction benefits. She specifically scheduled weekly sessions during lunch to avoid interfering with work time or home time, and combined movement with verbal prompts and music that are cues for participants to relax.
“As I’ve been working on the program, I heard so many of the participants say they wish they had learned this earlier,” Klatt said.
Because the low-dose program remains a work-in-progress that is still under investigation, it is not available for public use, Klatt noted.
This work was supported by the National Institute of Health-funded General Clinical Research Center at Ohio State.
Co-authors of the study are Janet Buckworth of the College of Education and Human Ecology and William Malarkey of the College of Medicine, both at Ohio State.
Meditation 'good for brain'
Scientists say they have found evidence that meditation has a biological effect on the body. A small-scale study suggests it could boost parts of the brain and the immune system.
Meditation has been practised since ancient times, mainly in the East.
It is now catching on worldwide as a means to reduce stress or to help with pain caused by various illnesses. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the United States enrolled 41 people in a trial of so-called "mindfulness" meditation.
It is a technique developed by an American stress reduction specialist - Jon Kabat-Zinn - for helping hospital patients deal with pain and discomfort.
Twenty five of the subjects attended a weekly class and one seven-hour retreat during the study; they were also given exercises to carry out at home. The others did not receive meditation training and acted as a control group.
After eight weeks, the researchers measured electrical activity in the frontal part of the brain. They say this region was more active on the left side in the individuals who meditated and was associated with lower anxiety and a more positive emotional state.
Participants were also given a flu jab at the start of the study and those who meditated had higher levels of antibody, say the researchers, led by Dr Richard Davidson.
"Although our study is preliminary and more research clearly is warranted we are very encouraged by these results," he said.
A British expert says the results - published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine - are interesting but need further scrutiny.
"There is increasing evidence that meditation is a useful and, for some people, a powerful therapy," said Dr Adrian White of the department of Complementary Medicine at the University of Exeter.
"But we still need more information to determine who it helps and precisely what its benefits are."
Courtesy BBC News
Meditation has long been lauded. Now science has shown that deep relaxation changes our bodies on a genetic level - for the better. Anastasia Stephens reports: Courtesy smh.com.au
It's a piece of advice yogis have given for thousands of years: take a deep breath and relax. Watch the tension melt from your muscles and all your niggling worries vanish. Somehow we all know that relaxation is good for us.
Now the hard science has caught up: a comprehensive scientific study showing that deep relaxation changes our bodies on a genetic level has just been published.
What researchers at Harvard Medical School discovered is that, in long-term practitioners of relaxation methods such as yoga and meditation, far more ''disease-fighting genes'' were active, compared to those who practised no form of relaxation.
In particular, they found genes that protect from disorders such as pain, infertility, high blood pressure and even rheumatoid arthritis were switched on. The changes, say the researchers, were induced by what they call ''the relaxation effect'', a phenomenon that could be just as powerful as any medical drug but without the side effects.
''We found a range of disease-fighting genes were active in the relaxation practitioners that were not active in the control group,'' Dr Herbert Benson, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, who led the research, says.
The good news for the control group with the less-healthy genes is that the research didn't stop there.
The experiment, which showed just how responsive genes are to behaviour, mood and environment, revealed that genes can switch on, just as easily as they switch off.
''Harvard researchers asked the control group to start practising relaxation methods every day,'' says Jake Toby, hypnotherapist at London's BodyMind Medicine Centre, who teaches clients how to induce the relaxation effect.
''After two months, their bodies began to change: the genes that help fight inflammation, kill diseased cells and protect the body from cancer all began to switch on.''
More encouraging still, the benefits of the relaxation effect were found to increase with regular practice: the more people practised relaxation methods such as meditation or deep breathing, the greater their chances of remaining free of arthritis and joint pain with stronger immunity, healthier hormone levels and lower blood pressure.
Benson believes the research is pivotal because it shows how a person's state of mind affects the body on a physical and genetic level. It might also explain why relaxation induced by meditation or repetitive mantras is considered to be a powerful remedy in traditions such as Ayurveda in India or Tibetan medicine.
But just how can relaxation have such wide-ranging and powerful effects? Research has described the negative effects of stress on the body. Linked to the release of the stress-hormones adrenalin and cortisol, stress raises the heart rate and blood pressure, weakens immunity and lowers fertility.
By contrast, the state of relaxation is linked to higher levels of feel-good chemicals such as serotonin and to the growth hormone which repairs cells and tissue. Indeed, studies show that relaxation has virtually the opposite effect, lowering heart rate, boosting immunity and enabling the body to thrive.
''On a biological level, stress is linked to fight-flight and danger,'' Dr Jane Flemming, a London GP, says. ''In survival mode, heart rate rises and blood pressure shoots up. Meanwhile muscles, preparing for danger, contract and tighten. And non-essential functions such as immunity and digestion go by the wayside.''
Relaxation, on the other hand, is a state of rest, enjoyment and physical renewal. Free of danger, muscles can relax and food can be digested. The heart can slow and blood circulation flows freely to the body's tissues, feeding it with nutrients and oxygen. This restful state is good for fertility, as the body is able to conserve the resources it needs to generate new life.
While relaxation techniques can be very different, their biological effects are essentially similar. ''When you relax, the parasympathetic nervous system switches on. That is linked to better digestion, memory and immunity, among other things,'' Toby says. ''As long as you relax deeply, you'll reap the rewards.''
But, he warns, deep relaxation isn't the sort of switching off you do relaxing with a cup of tea or lounging on the sofa.
''What you're looking for is a state of deep relaxation where tension is released from the body on a physical level and your mind completely switches off,'' he says. ''The effect won't be achieved by lounging round in an everyday way, nor can you force yourself to relax. You can only really achieve it by learning a specific technique such as self-hypnosis, guided imagery or meditation.''
The relaxation effect, however, may not be as pronounced on everyone. ''Some people are more susceptible to relaxation methods than others,'' says Joan Borysenko, director of a relaxation program for outpatients at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre in Boston. ''Through relaxation, we find some people experience a little improvement, others a lot. And there are a few whose lives turn around totally.''
The health benefits of deep relaxation
The next time you tune out and switch off and let yourself melt, remind yourself of all the good work the relaxation effect is doing on your body. These are just some of the scientifically proven benefits …
Relaxation appears to boost immunity in recovering cancer patients. A study at the Ohio State University found that progressive muscular relaxation, when practised daily, reduced the risk of breast cancer recurrence. In another study at Ohio State, a month of relaxation exercises boosted natural killer cells in the elderly, giving them a greater resistance to tumours and to viruses.
A study at the University of Western Australia found that women are more likely to conceive during periods when they are relaxed rather than stressed. A study at Trakya University, in Turkey, also found that stress reduces sperm count and motility, suggesting relaxation may also boost male fertility.
Irritable bowel syndrome
When patients suffering from irritable bowel syndrome began practising a relaxation meditation twice daily, their symptoms of bloating, diarrhoea and constipation improved significantly. The meditation was so effective the researchers at the State University of New York recommended it as an effective treatment.
A study at Harvard Medical School found that meditation lowered blood pressure by making the body less responsive to stress hormones, in a similar way to blood pressure-lowering medication. Meanwhile a British Medical Journal report found that patients trained how to relax had significantly lower blood pressure.
Stress leads to inflammation, a state linked to heart disease, arthritis, asthma and skin conditions such as psoriasis, say researchers at Emory University in the US. Relaxation can help prevent and treat such symptoms by switching off the stress response. In this way, one study at McGill University in Canada found that meditation clinically improved the symptoms of psoriasis.
Switch off stress
How can you use relaxation's healing powers? Harvard researchers found that yoga, meditation and even repetitive prayer and mantras all induced the relaxation effect. ''The more regularly these techniques are practised, the more deeply rooted the benefits will be,'' Jake Toby says. Try one or more of these techniques for 15 minutes once or twice a day.
Body scan Starting with your head and working down to your arms and feet, notice how you feel in your body. Taking in your head and neck, simply notice if you feel tense, relaxed, calm or anxious. See how much you can spread any sensations of softness and relaxation to areas of your body that feel tense. Once your reach your feet, work back up your body.
Breath focus Sit comfortably. Tune into your breath, follow the sensation of inhaling from your nose to abdomen and out again. Let tension go with each exhalation. When you notice your mind wandering, return to your breath.
Mantra repetition The relaxation response can be evoked by sitting quietly with eyes closed for 15 minutes twice a day, and mentally repeating a simple word or sound such as ''Om''.
Guided imagery Imagine a wonderfully relaxing light or a soothing waterfall washing away tension from your body and mind. Make your image vivid, imagining texture, colour and any fragrance as the image washes over you.