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Mindfulness meditation can offset the worry of waiting -- ScienceDaily

"We try to predict our fate and regain a sense of certainty and control over our life," said Sweeny, who is an associate professor of psychology at UCR. "We know from lots of research that rumination (repetitive thoughts about the past) and worry (repetitive thoughts about the future) are quite unpleasant and even harmful to our health and well-being, so it's important to seek solutions to this painful form of mental time-travel." Better to focus on the present, Sweeny said, and accept your thoughts and feelings as they arise rather than engage in tactics to avoid them. It means you'll process your emotions differently and -- Sweeny argues -- more effectively. The study was performed using 150 California law students who had taken the bar exam and were awaiting the exam results. It takes four months after taking the exam before results are posted online. The students completed a series of questionnaires in that four-month waiting period. There are few "waiting" scenarios more stressful than the potentially career-killing bar exam. The magnitude of the distress is represented in several sample statements Sweeny and her team collected. Among them: I had a nightmare where I couldn't determine whether I had passed or failed the bar exam and I spent the entire dream trying to find out my results. I have these sort of bar exam nightmares once every couple weeks. I got sick, like fever flu sick, and I think it's because my anxiety levels have slowly been building up to today!! I was constantly thinking and thinking about the results. During the four-month waiting period, the students were asked to participate in a 15-minute audio-guided meditation session at least once a week. Sweeny found the mindfulness meditation served to postpone the phenomenon of "bracing." Bracing is essentially preparing for the worst. Previous research by Sweeny and others shows bracing can be an effective technique for managing expectations, but its benefits erode when it occurs too early in the waiting process. "Optimism feels good; it just does a poor job of preparing us for the blow of bad news," Sweeny said. "That's where bracing comes in. In a perfect world, we'd be optimistic as long as possible to get all the good feelings we can from assuming the best, and then we'd brace for the worst at the moment of truth to make sure we're prepared for bad news." The benefits of mindfulness meditation have long been asserted, but Sweeny said this is the first research to demonstrate its effectiveness coping with waiting. "We know that meditation is a great way to reduce everyday stress, but our study is the first to see if it also makes it easier to wait for personally significant news. This study is also one of the first to identify any strategy that helps people wait better, and it also shows that even brief and infrequent meditation can be helpful," Sweeny said.

Researchers 'dismantle' mindfulness intervention to see how each component works -- ScienceDaily

As health interventions based on mindfulness have grown in popularity, some of the field's leading researchers have become concerned that the evidence base for such practices is not yet robust enough. A new study shows how a rigorous approach to studying mindfulness-based interventions can help ensure that claims are backed by science. One problem is that mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) sometimes blend practices, which makes it difficult to measure how each of those practices affects participants. To address that issue, the researchers took a common intervention for mood disorders -- mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) -- and created a controlled study that isolated, or dismantled, its two main ingredients. Those include open monitoring (OM) -- noticing and acknowledging negative feelings without judgment or an emotional secondary reaction to them; and focused attention (FA) -- maintaining focus on or shifting it toward a neutral sensation, such as breathing, to disengage from negative emotions or distractions. "It has long been hypothesized that focused attention practice improves attentional control while open-monitoring promotes emotional non-reactivity -- two aspects of mindfulness thought to contribute its therapeutic effects," said study lead and corresponding author Willoughby Britton, an assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior in the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. "However, because these two practices are almost always delivered in combination, it is difficult to assess their purported differential effects. By creating separate, validated, single-ingredient training programs for each practice, the current project provides researchers with a tool to test the individual contributions of each component and mechanism to clinical endpoints." In the study, the researchers randomized more than 100 individuals with mild-to-severe depression, anxiety and stress to take one of three eight-week courses: one set of classes provided a standardized MBCT that incorporated the typical blend of OM and FA. The two other classes each provided an intervention that employed only OM or only FA. In every other respect -- time spent in class, time practicing at home, instructor training and skill, participant characteristics, number of handouts -- each class was comparable by design. At the beginning and end of the classes, the researchers asked the volunteers to answer a variety of standardized questionnaires, including scales that measure their self-reported ability to achieve some of the key skills each practice is assumed to improve. If the researchers saw significant differences between the FA group and the OM group on the skills each was supposed to affect, then there would be evidence that the practices uniquely improve those skills as intervention providers often claim. Sure enough, the different practices engaged different skills and mechanisms as predicted. The FA-only group, for example, reported much greater improvement in the ability to willfully shift or focus attention than the OM-only group (but not the MBCT group, which also received FA training). Meanwhile, the OM-only group was significantly more improved than the FA-only group (but not the MBCT group) in the skill of being non-reactive to negative thoughts.

How Exercise Might Increase Your Self-Control - The New York Times

Most of the women gained a notable degree of self-control, based on their questionnaires, after completing the walking and jogging program. (In this experiment, they were told they were training for better fitness.) But the increases were proportional; the more sessions a woman attended or the more her average jogging pace increased, the greater the improvement in her delay-discounting score. These gains lingered a month after the training had ended, although most of the women had tapered off their exercise routines by then.

Yoga, meditation improve brain function and energy levels, study shows -- ScienceDaily

Thirty-one study participants completed 25 minutes of Hatha yoga, 25 minutes of mindfulness meditation, and 25 minutes of quiet reading (a control task) in randomized order. Following both the yoga and meditation activities, participants performed significantly better on executive function tasks compared to the reading task. "This finding suggests that there may be something special about meditation -- as opposed to the physical posing -- that carries a lot of the cognitive benefits of yoga," said Kimberley Luu, lead author on the paper. The study also found that mindfulness meditation and Hatha yoga were both effective for improving energy levels, but Hatha yoga had significantly more powerful effects than meditation alone.