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Browse a few articles from respected sources such as The National Institute of Health (NIH), major hospitals and universities on the benefits of meditation, mindfulness, Qi Gong, Tai Chi and Yoga in reducing stress and anxiety.


Meditation’s positive residual effects:Imaging finds different forms of meditation may affect brain structure

Massachusetts General Hospital

November, 2012

Study participants who completed an eight-week meditation training course had reduced activity in the right amygdala — a part of the brain known for decades to be important for emotion — in response to emotional images, even when not meditating. In the mindful attention group, the after-training brain scans showed a decrease in activation in the right amygdala in response to all images, supporting the hypothesis that meditation can improve emotional stability and response to stress.

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The benefits of meditation: MIT and Harvard neuroscientists explain why the practice helps tune out distractions and relieve pain.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology News

Studies have shown that meditating regularly can help relieve symptoms in people who suffer from chronic pain, but the neural mechanisms underlying the relief were unclear. Now, MIT and Harvard researchers have found a possible explanation for this phenomenon.

In a study published online April 21 in the journal Brain Research Bulletin, the researchers found that people trained to meditate over an eight-week period were better able to control a specific type of brain waves called alpha rhythms.

“These activity patterns are thought to minimize distractions, to diminish the likelihood stimuli will grab your attention,” says Christopher Moore, an MIT neuroscientist and senior author of the paper. “Our data indicate that meditation training makes you better at focusing, in part by allowing you to better regulate how things that arise will impact you.”

There are several different types of brain waves that help regulate the flow of information between brain cells, similar to the way that radio stations broadcast at specific frequencies. Alpha waves, the focus of this study, flow through cells in the brain’s cortex, where sensory information is processed. The alpha waves help suppress irrelevant or distracting sensory information.

The subjects trained in meditation also reported that they felt less stress than the non-meditators. “Their objective condition might not have changed, but they’re not as reactive to their situation,” Kerr says. “They’re more able to handle stress.”

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Eight weeks to a better brain: Meditation study shows changes associated with awareness, stress

Massachusetts General Hospital

January, 2011

Participating in an eight-week mindfulness meditation program appears to make measurable changes in brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress. Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day. This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing.

Participant-reported reductions in stress also were correlated with decreased gray-matter density in the amygdala, which is known to play an important role in anxiety and stress. It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life.

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Research on Meditation

Wikipedia

Research on the processes and effects of meditation is a growing subfield of neurological research. Modern scientific techniques and instruments, such as fMRI and EEG, have been used to see what happens in the body of people when they meditate, and how their bodies and brain change after meditating regularly.

Dr. Herbert Benson, founder of the Mind-Body Medical Institute, which is affiliated with Harvard University and several Boston hospitals, reports that meditation induces a host of biochemical and physical changes in the body collectively referred to as the "relaxation response". The relaxation response includes changes in metabolism, heart rate, respiration, blood pressure and brain chemistry.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has written, "It is thought that some types of meditation might work by reducing activity in the sympathetic nervous system and increasing activity in the parasympathetic nervous system," or equivalently, that meditation produces a reduction in arousal and increase in relaxation.

See the full article for research by type of meditation.

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Cancer.org Research on Meditation

Meditation is one of several relaxation methods evaluated and found to be of possible benefit by an independent panel convened by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The panel found that it might be a useful complementary therapy for treating chronic pain and sleeping problems such as insomnia. Some cancer treatment centers offer meditation or relaxation therapy with standard medical care. Available scientific evidence does not suggest that meditation is effective in treating cancer or any other disease; however, it may help to improve the quality of life for people with cancer.

The NIH National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine reports that regular meditation can reduce chronic pain, anxiety, high blood pressure, cholesterol, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder in Vietnam veterans, and blood cortisol levels that are increased by stress (sometimes called “stress hormones”), as well as reducing the use of health care services. Practitioners also claim meditation improves mood, immune function, and fertility. Supporters further claim meditation increases mental efficiency and alertness and raises self-awareness, all of which contribute to relaxation.

Studies of mindfulness meditation found that it seemed to help with symptoms of anxiety. One controlled study with a group of healthy workers found more brain activity in an area linked to positive emotional states in those who meditated. The same study found that those who meditated had a better immune response to the influenza vaccine than those who did not meditate.

In a controlled study of ninety cancer patients who did mindfulness meditation for 7 weeks, 31% had fewer symptoms of stress and 65% had fewer episodes of mood disturbance than those who did not meditate. Some studies have also suggested that more meditation improves the chance of a positive outcome.

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Meditation: A simple, fast way to reduce stress.

Meditation can wipe away the day's stress, bringing with it inner peace.

Mayo Clinic

Meditation can give you a sense of calm, peace and balance that benefits both your emotional well-being and your overall health. And these benefits don't end when your meditation session ends. Meditation can help carry you more calmly through your day and can even improve certain medical conditions.

Meditation and emotional well-being

When you meditate, you clear away the information overload that builds up every day and contributes to your stress. The emotional benefits of meditation include:

Meditation and illness

Meditation also might be useful if you have a medical condition, especially one that may be worsened by stress. While a growing body of scientific research supports the health benefits of meditation, some researchers believe it's not yet possible to draw conclusions about the possible benefits of meditation. With that in mind, some research suggests that meditation may help such conditions as:

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Mind-Body Techniques

Merck Manuals

Mind-body techniques are based on the theory that mental and emotional factors can influence physical health. Behavioral, psychologic, social, and spiritual methods are used to preserve health and prevent or cure disease. Because of the abundance of scientific evidence backing the benefits of mind-body techniques, many of the approaches are now considered mainstream. Methods include the following:

Mind-body techniques can be used to treat anxiety and panic disorders, chronic pain, coronary artery disease, depression, headaches, difficulty sleeping (insomnia), and loss of urinary control (incontinence). Mind-body methods are also used as an aid in childbirth, in coping with the disease-related and treatment-related symptoms of cancer, and in preparing people for surgery.

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Cleveland Clinic Research Shows Internet-Based Program Effective in Reducing Stress

Ongoing Effort Shows Promise in Reducing Stress in the Workplace through Cost-Effective Online Tools

Cleveland Clinic

April, 2013

The use of Internet-based stress management programs (ISM) effectively reduces stress for a sustainable period, according to a Cleveland Clinic study published recently in Annals of Behavioral Medicine. Online stress management programs aim to increase accessibility for individuals affected by chronic stress at a lesser cost than traditional methods. Data suggest that stress reduction using ISM is comparable to face-to-face stress management.

Three-hundred study participants completed an eight-week ISM program where they received online relaxation practice materials, strategies to help cope with life’s stressors, stress assessments at the beginning and end of the program, and daily topics to inspire participants to continue the meditation and relaxation techniques.

Program participants, who were compared with a control group, showed a significant decrease in perceived stress from high levels to average, as well as greatly improved emotional wellbeing, compared with the pre-program results and to participants of the control group. Results confirmed a positive correlation between the number of meditations completed per week and perceived stress reduction.

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Health Benefits of Tai Chi and Qigong

WebMD

Large, clinical studies on the health benefits of tai chi and qigong are lacking. But many who practice tai chi and qigong report heightened feelings of well-being along with a variety of other health benefits. A few studies are beginning to support some of these claims.

Tai chi is a type of low-impact, weight-bearing, and aerobic -- yet relaxing -- exercise. It began as a martial art. As it developed, it took on the purpose of enhancing physical and mental health. Practiced in a variety of styles, tai chi involves slow, gentle movements, deep breathing, and meditation. The meditation is sometimes called "moving meditation."

Some people believe that tai chi improves the flow of energy through the body, leading to better wellness and a wide range of potential benefits. Those benefits include:

Qigong—pronounced chee gong—is a practice that involves a series of postures and exercises—including slow, circular movements—regulated breathing, focused meditation, and self-massage.

One unique feature of qigong is its ability to train the mind to direct the body’s energy, or chi, to any part of the body. Some believe that, when moved correctly, chi can bring your body to a natural state of balance. Qigong is believed to relax the mind, muscles, tendons, joints, and inner organs -- helping to improve circulation, relieve stress and pain, and restore health.

As with tai chi, a variety of benefits have been linked to qigong. They include:

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A Comprehensive Review of Health Benefits of Qigong and Tai Chi

NIH

A substantial body of published research has examined the health benefits of Tai Chi (also called Taiji) a traditional Chinese wellness practice. In addition, a strong body of research is also emerging for Qigong, an even more ancient traditional Chinese wellness practice that has similar characteristics to Tai Chi. Qigong and Tai Chi have been proposed, along with Yoga and Pranayama from India, to constitute a unique category or type of exercise referred to currently as meditative movement.

In the ancient teachings of health-oriented Qigong and Tai Chi, the instructions for attaining the state of enhanced Qi capacity and function point to the purposeful coordination of body, breath and mind (paraphrased here): “Mind the body and the breath, and then clear the mind to distill the Heavenly elixir within.” This combination of self-awareness with self-correction of the posture and movement of the body, the flow of breath, and stilling of the mind, are thought to comprise a state which activates the natural self-regulatory (self-healing) capacity, stimulating the balanced release of endogenous neurohormones and a wide array of natural health recovery mechanisms which are evoked by the intentful integration of body and mind.

Twenty-seven articles (Qigong, n=7 and Tai Chi, n=19 and one study using both Qigong and Tai Chi) reported on psychological factors such as anxiety, depression, stress, mood, fear of falling, and self-esteem. Most of these studies examined psychological factors as secondary goals of the study, and consequently, they often did not intentionally recruit participants with appreciable psychological distress. Nevertheless, a number of substantial findings dominate this category.

Anxiety decreased significantly for participants practicing Qigong compared to an active exercise group. Depression was shown to improve significantly in studies comparing Qigong to an inactive control, newspaper reading and for Tai Chi compared to usual care, psychosocial support or stretching/education controls.

General measures of mood (e.g, Profile of Mood States) were improved significantly for participants practicing Tai Chi compared to usual care controls. Depression improved, but not significantly, for both Qigong and exercise comparison groups and for Tai Chi compared to an educational intervention.

One study reported improved depression, anxiety, and stress among patients with osteoarthritis for both Tai Chi and hydrotherapy groups compared to a wait-list control, but only significantly so for hydrotherapy.

Non-significant changes in anxiety were reported in a study of Tai Chi compared to a relaxation intervention and two other studies did not detect significant differences in depression in response to Tai Chi or Qigong compared to usual care or inactive controls. Fear of falling decreased significantly in most studies except for one that showed no change.

Reports of self-esteem significantly improved in tests of Tai Chi compared to usual care and psychosocial support, but the increase in self-esteem compared to exercise and education controls was not significant.

Jin specifically created a stressful situation and measured the response in mood, self-reported stress levels, and BP, across 4 interventions, including Tai Chi, meditation, brisk walking and neutral reading. Significant improvements were shown in adrenaline, heart rate, and noradrenaline in Tai Chi compared to a neutral reading intervention, while all groups showed improvements in cortisol. In another study examining blood markers related to stress response, norepinephrine, epinephrine and cortisol blood levels were significantly decreased in response to Qigong compared to a wait-list control group.

This category of symptoms, particularly anxiety and depression, shows fairly consistent responses to both Tai Chi and Qigong, especially when the control intervention does not include active interventions such as exercise. In particular, with a few studies indicating that there may be changes in biomarkers associated with anxiety and/or depression in response to the interventions, this category shows promise for examining potential mechanisms of action for the change in psychological state.

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Tai chi: A gentle way to fight stress

Tai chi helps reduce stress and anxiety. And it also helps increase flexibility and balance.

Mayo Clinic

If you're looking for a way to reduce stress, consider tai chi (TIE-CHEE). Originally developed for self-defense, tai chi has evolved into a graceful form of exercise that's now used for stress reduction and a variety of other health conditions. Often described as meditation in motion, tai chi promotes serenity through gentle, flowing movements.

When learned correctly and performed regularly, tai chi can be a positive part of an overall approach to improving your health. The benefits of tai chi include:

Some evidence indicates that tai chi also may help:

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Yoga: Fight stress and find serenity

Is yoga right for you? It is if you want to fight stress, get fit and stay healthy.

Mayo Clinic

Yoga is a mind-body practice that combines stretching exercises, controlled breathing and relaxation. Yoga can help reduce stress, lower blood pressure and improve heart function. And almost anyone can do it.

Yoga brings together physical and mental disciplines to achieve peacefulness of body and mind, helping you relax and manage stress and anxiety.

Yoga has many styles, forms and intensities. Hatha yoga, in particular, may be a good choice for stress management. Hatha is one of the most common styles of yoga, and beginners may like its slower pace and easier movements. But most people can benefit from any style of yoga — it's all about your personal preferences.

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Yoga for anxiety and depression: Taming the stress response

Harvard.edu news

April 2009

By reducing perceived stress and anxiety, yoga appears to modulate stress response systems. This, in turn, decreases physiological arousal — for example, reducing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and easing respiration. There is also evidence that yoga practices help increase heart rate variability, an indicator of the body's ability to respond to stress more flexibly.

Questions remain about exactly how yoga works to improve mood, but preliminary evidence suggests its benefit is similar to that of exercise and relaxation techniques. In a German study published in 2005, 24 women who described themselves as "emotionally distressed" took two 90-minute yoga classes a week for three months. Women in a control group maintained their normal activities and were asked not to begin an exercise or stress-reduction program during the study period.

Though not formally diagnosed with depression, all participants had experienced emotional distress for at least half of the previous 90 days. They were also one standard deviation above the population norm in scores for perceived stress (measured by the Cohen Perceived Stress Scale), anxiety (measured using the Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory), and depression (scored with the Profile of Mood States and the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale, or CES-D).

At the end of three months, women in the yoga group reported improvements in perceived stress, depression, anxiety, energy, fatigue, and well-being. Depression scores improved by 50%, anxiety scores by 30%, and overall well-being scores by 65%. Initial complaints of headaches, back pain, and poor sleep quality also resolved much more often in the yoga group than in the control group.

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Exercise and stress: Get moving to manage stress

Exercise in almost any form can act as a stress reliever. Being active can boost your feel-good endorphins and distract you from daily worries.

Mayo Clinic

You know that exercise does your body good, but you're too busy and stressed to fit it into your routine. Hold on a second — there's good news when it comes to exercise and stress.

Virtually any form of exercise, from aerobics to yoga, can act as a stress reliever. If you're not an athlete or even if you're downright out of shape, you can still make a little exercise go a long way toward stress management. Discover the connection between exercise and stress relief — and why exercise should be part of your stress management plan.

Exercise and stress relief

Exercise increases your overall health and your sense of well-being, which puts more pep in your step every day. But exercise also has some direct stress-busting benefits.

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