Home Health Meditation and mindfulness: how to do it and what are the benefits

Meditation and mindfulness: how to do it and what are the benefits

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Meditation and mindfulness: how to do it and what are the benefits

Let’s forget the new age, mysticism and the scent of incense. Meditation is now practiced in the hospital, and is studied in laboratories that recognize its effectiveness. In particular, mindfulness, which an important publication such as Jama has recently dedicated an editorial, on the sidelines of a study on the benefits of this practice for pregnant women at risk.

“I am very satisfied with the results obtained but also with the fact that Jama has shown interest in these issues”, explained the author of the editorial. Margareth Bublitzpsychologist and researcher at Brown University’s Center for Mindfulness Research, Rhode Island: “There is a growing interest in the scientific community in mindfulness: we are increasingly aware of the damage caused by stress, it is logical to deduce that this practice , aimed precisely at reducing stress, can contribute to the prevention and treatment of various pathologies “.

The fact is that research is increasingly rigorous and “does not present meditative techniques as a panacea, but as an important support for psychophysical well-being”, adds the neurobiologist. Valerie Olivawho works in the laboratory of Fadel Zeidan at the University of California, San Diego, another of the centers at the forefront of this issue: “It is the confirmations coming from the studies that make the attitude of the medical community more open”.

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One word, many different practices

Jon Kabat-Zinn, the “father” of modern mindfulness, defined it as an umbrella term that covers a large number of practices based on attention, awareness and acceptance. But, remember Massimo Tomassiniresearcher and author of various essays on the topic: “The definition of mindfulness offered by Kabat-Zinn, that is the awareness that emerges through paying attention intentionally, in the present moment and in a non-judgmental way, to things as they are, is substantially correct in it defines something that tends to defuse the “automatic pilot” that guides most of our actions. But it is not enough to satisfy the need of scientists and psychologists who want to “measure” the effects of mindfulness “.

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From a practical point of view, the classic model of intervention is that of MBSR – Mindfulness based stress reduction – the course for stress reduction proposed by Kabat-Zinn in the 90s of the last century, based on eight group practice sessions. weekly, a seminar day and a daily practice of forty-five minutes for six days a week.

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A model still widespread today to which specific paths have been added such as Mindfulness based cognitive therapy or interventions for organizations. “But identifying mindfulness with a technique is limiting, it is rather a way of life, an attitude towards what happens”, he points out. Franco CucchioMbsr teacher and head of the Italian mindfulness school Motus Mundi: “It is a condition of the mind that has therapeutic effects but it is not a therapy: what we define as results are beneficial side effects of a state of unconditional and open presence”.

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What the studies say

It is not surprising that it is difficult to translate such a complex subject into research, in which the variables to be taken into consideration are various, so much so that the results of the studies are often defined as encouraging but not conclusive. “Today, however, we are starting to have meta-analyzes, that is, studies that examine what has been published so far on a specific topic, which are essential to confirm the validity of the results”, emphasizes Bublitz. Difficulties remain, particularly when it comes to evaluating clinical data.

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There has been research with functional MRI to measure the differences in brain structure between novices and experienced meditators, with convincing results: “Something similar to old research on the effectiveness of cognitive behavioral therapy compared to antidepressant drugs,” explains the researcher.

But on such a complex practice it is difficult to carry out scientific studies that provide for the comparison between people who are actually treated and others only with placebos. “To solve the difficulty we have devised a” false meditation “, in which practitioners know they are doing mindfulness while in reality they are practicing a practice with no therapeutic effects,” explains Oliva. In this way, the researchers try to separate the real effects of the practice from the placebo effect linked to expectations.

Meditation versus audiobook

In other cases, different techniques are used, for example by comparing mindfulness practice with listening to an audiobook: “In any case, the participants are randomly assigned to the different groups, and the technicians who process the data do not know who belongs to the group. practice or control, so as not to influence their judgment “, recalls Oliva.

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“The problem, if anything, is that non-standard techniques are often used, which makes it difficult to reproduce the same results in different laboratories or countries. Not forgetting that the various practices can focus on different aspects, such as perceptions, compassion, focused attention, and it is not it is easy to understand which produces beneficial effects: in our laboratory we are working on solving this problem “.

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The benefits for patients

Despite the difficulties, the results come from research as well as from experience with patients. “We know that mindfulness is effective for treating stress, in particular chronic stress originating from internal causes that can have an impact on the cardiovascular and immune systems,” explains Cucchio.

By acting on various brain areas and at different levels – emotional, physiological and cognitive – it is also effective in managing chronic pain of undefined origin: “I have personally experienced it with people affected by fibromyalgia or other forms of chronic pain”, he adds: “Va remembered that mindfulness cannot be considered a painkiller, it is a way to change our attitude towards pain and improve the quality of life by regaining one’s potential “.

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An aid for pain therapy

The various techniques are thousands of years old and have often been used in the treatment of chronic, primary or secondary pain. They do not reset the pain, but, the neurologist points out Licia Thank you of the Besta Institute of Milan, author of studies on mindfulness in the treatment of migraine: “They induce a greater awareness of the symptom and help to live with it. Associating them with drugs gives more significant and lasting results”.

For both adults and children, when chronic forms are frequent and have a relevant emotional component, mindfulness helps to become more aware and to slow down the activity of the mind, the tendency to overcontrol.

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Also studies carried out in the laboratory of Fadel Zeidan show how mindfulness reduces the perception of pain, even in people whose opioid receptors are blocked with a drug. A result therefore that arises from a different mechanism from that of painkillers. “But we are also observing positive effects on depression, anxiety and related disorders”, explains Oliva: “In general, mindfulness is effective in regulating emotions and feelings, as well as acting on the immune system by reducing inflammatory markers”.

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The improvement of empathy and interpersonal skills

Other researches concern the possibility of using it to improve relationships with others by developing empathy, particularly useful for those who work in contact with others, but also for those with relationship difficulties, for example autistic people or those suffering from social anxiety .

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For those who are not suitable

Inevitably, there may also be contraindications. “Mindfulness-based practices do not work for everyone and for everything”, recalls Tomassini: “They can also be harmful, for example for fragile people who through them can come into contact with parts of themselves that they cannot manage, or for those who delude themselves that they have found a modern way to nirvana “.

On the contrary, experts recall, mindfulness is especially suitable for people who are aware of themselves and their discomfort. And, Cucchio recalls: “It does not replace psychotherapy, but it can integrate it. For those suffering from serious disorders, however, the support of a psychotherapist is needed”.

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However, there are advantages: the benefits come quickly – the MBSR program lasts two months, but some studies report improvements after a few days of practice – and its flexibility is well suited to the complications of the Covid era. A National Institutes of Health-funded study is underway to test the effectiveness of a series of phone sessions for women at risk for hypertension in pregnancy. And, explains Bublitz: “The first data show that an intervention of this type is particularly suitable for those who, for various reasons, have difficulty following sessions in the presence”.

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And also the Besta neurological institute in Milan during the lockdown activated online sessions offered to citizens: “Mindfulness – concludes Grazzi – is a precious opportunity to identify resources within us, and when necessary it can help us to enhance the effect of some therapies “.

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