We have explained before how mental stimulation is important if done in the right supportive and engaging environment. Stanford’s Robert Sapolsky and others’ have shown that chronic stress and cortical inhibition, which may be aggravated due to imposed mental stimulation, may prove counterproductive. Having the right motivation is essential.
A promising area of scientific inquiry for stress management’ is Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).’ You may have read about it in Sharon Begley’s’ Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain’ book. An increasing number of neuroscientists (such as UMass Medical School’s Jon Kabat-Zinn and University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Richard Davidson) have been investigating the ability of trained meditators to develop and sustain attention and visualizations and to work positively with powerful emotional states and stress through the directed mental processes of meditation practices. And have put their research into practice for the benefit of many hospital patients through their MSBR programs.
A Stanford psychologist and friend recently alerted me to a similar program organized by the Art of Living Foundation. She writes that “there are some really interesting science findings. The main one is that: cortisol levels decrease after practicing the Sudarshan Kriya (the breathing technique you will learn) and, over time, the baseline cortisol levels keep decreasing so, someone who has been practicing for a number of years, for example, walks around with much lower cortisol levels than a regular person.’ Also, studies on patients with cancer and depression have shown a marked increase in self-reported well-being. The course is now being taught in places of trauma such as Iraq and hard-core prisons in the US and all over the world.”
Some recent research we haven’t had the chance to go over yet:
- Gerbarg PL, Brown RP. Yoga: A breath of relief for Hurricane Katrina refugees. Current Psychiatry. 2005;4:55–67. Subtitled “Stress-management programs help relieve trauma symptoms, perhaps by stimulating the vagus nerve” Article at Current Psychiatry Online
- Brown RP, Gerbarg PL. Sudarshan Kriya Yogic Breathing in the Treatment of Stress, Anxiety, and Depression. Part II—Clinical Applications and Guidelines. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2005;11:711–7.
For anyone interested, they have an event in San Francisco in mid-March. More info here.
The more quantitatively driven can check yet another stress management approach:’ Heart Rate Variability as an Index of Regulated Emotional Responding. You can find here 2 devices that measure (and that you can use for training purposes too) HRV: Stress Management Programs: Freeze Framer and emWave.