Two years ago the University of Michigan and Ann Arbor VHC did a pilot study using Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy in veterans with chronic PTSD. 73% showed significant improvement including decreases in avoidance symptoms and numbing, increased ability to focus on unpleasant thoughts and memories, a decrease in self-blame, and a tendency to see the world as less dangerous.
During this study, the Mindfulness-Based sessions lasted for 8 weeks and taught mindful eating, mindful body scanning for pain and tension, mindful movement and stretching exercises, and mindfulness meditation. The veterans were also instructed to practice at home with a recorded exercise and to do mindful walking, eating, and showering.
The results were published (Depression and Anxiety, 2013), and the U of M study was expanded to larger numbers and newly returned veterans. Researchers wrote, “Mindfulness-based therapies provide a strategy that encourages active engagement without explicit cognitive restructuring or exposure to trauma memories, are relatively easy to learn, and can be administered in an efficient group format.”
What is Mindfulness?
Originally the seventh step of the eight-step Buddhist path, Mindfulness is a practice of actively focusing on the here and now with an accepting, nonjudgmental attitude. In mindfulness meditation, distracting thoughts are not suppressed but viewed with acceptance, allowing the person to observe their own thoughts without a strong emotional attachment. In daily practice of mindfulness, you focus on fully engaging in and experiencing every-day behaviors, such as breathing, walking, and eating, while focusing completely on the here and now.
Regular mindfulness practice leads to more awareness of the present and acceptance of thoughts and emotions that were previously distressing, like triggers to old trauma memories. Mindfulness practice seems especially effective in reducing avoidance and arousal, and improving your ability to regulate emotions.
1) A study of Mindfulness-Based Meditation in substance and alcohol users in a prison population, published in J. of Cognitive Psychotherapy, Vol 19, 2005 found that Vipassana meditation reduced substance abuse severity, even in those with PTSD.
2) A study of 27 adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, published in the Clinical Psychology Vol 66, 2010, used an 8-week mindfulness meditation-based stress reduction program plus daily home practice of mindfulness skills. The treatment group was followed for 24 for weeks with 3 refresher classes. A significant decrease in depressive symptoms was observed in 65% of the clients. Compliance was high, and the PTSD symptoms of avoidance and numbing also showed improvement.
3) A study of Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction in veterans with PTSD, published in J. Clinical Psychology, Vol 68, 2012, assessed the veterans before treatment, 2 months, and 6 months afterwards. They found significant improvements in PTSD symptoms, depression, behavioral activation, cognitions, acceptance, and mindfulness with 47.7% of the veterans showing clinically significant improvement in their PTSD.
4) A pilot study using Transcendental Meditation and published in Military Medicine, June 2011, showed a 50% reduction in PTSD symptoms after 8 weeks of practicing the stress-reducing technique. The researcher wrote: “These young men were in extreme distress as a direct result of trauma suffered during combat, and the simple and effortless Transcendental Meditation technique literally transformed their lives.”
A meta-review of neurobiological and clinical features of mindfulness meditators was done at the University of Bologna, Italy. They studied EEG results and found significant increases in alpha and theta activity during meditation. Neuroimaging showed activation of the Prefrontal cortex (which controls the amygdala and helps control emotions) and the Anterior Cingulate Cortex, (also involved in emotions). Long-term meditation was also associated with increased gray matter in cerebral areas related to attention.
New Studies Under Way:
All of these studies have energized researchers. Currently there are three large-scale studies underway. The first is a continuation of the U of Michigan/VA Health Center project in Ann Arbor.
The second is at the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center, U. of Wisconsin-Madison, which will investigate the impacts of Sudarshan Kriya Yoga Meditation on veterans with PTSD.
The third is at the Center for Mind-Body Medicine, and will work at the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Healthcare System. They plan to measure the effect of mind-body skills on PTSD, anger, sleep, depression, anxiety, health, and post-traumatic positive changes.
On-line sites Offering Mindfulness Meditations:
There are quite a number of online sites that offer free mindfulness meditations, including YouTube. Those listed below are only a starting place. Feel free to comment on your favorites.
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