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The purpose of this pilot study was to investigate the effects of a yoga-based program on quality of life, perceived stress, mindfulness, and self-compassion in young adults. These variables were measured in 33 self-selected participants of a four-month residential yoga intervention before and after the program. Forty-three demographically matched controls completed the same questionnaires at two time points with a four-month interval inbetween. Participation in the program predicted increases in quality of life and decreases in perceived stress, mediated by mindfulness and self-compassion. Multiple mediator models revealed that the effect of group on quality of life was simultaneously mediated by mindfulness and self-compassion, while the effect of group on perceived stress was only mediated by self-compassion. These positive effects on perceived stress and quality of life suggest that yoga-based interventions may be of value in cultivating subjective well-being in young adults. Furthermore, yoga-based and mindfulness-based interventions may share underlying mechanisms.

Cultivation of mindfulness, the nonjudgmental awareness of experiences in the present moment, produces beneficial effects on well-being and ameliorates psychiatric and stress-related symptoms. Mindfulness meditation has therefore increasingly been incorporated into psychotherapeutic interventions. Although the number of publications in the field has sharply increased over the last two decades, there is a paucity of theoretical reviews that integrate the existing literature into a comprehensive theoretical framework. In this article, we explore several components through which mindfulness meditation exerts its effects: (a) attention regulation, (b) body awareness, (c) emotion regulation (including reappraisal and exposure, extinction, and reconsolidation), and (d) change in perspective on the self. Recent empirical research, including practitioners' self-reports and experimental data, provides evidence supporting these mechanisms. Functional and structural neuroimaging studies have begun to explore the neuroscientific processes underlying these components. Evidence suggests that mindfulness practice is associated with neuroplastic changes in the anterior cingulate cortex, insula, temporo-parietal junction, fronto-limbic network, and default mode network structures. The authors suggest that the mechanisms described here work synergistically, establishing a process of enhanced self-regulation. Differentiating between these components seems useful to guide future basic research and to specifically target areas of development in the treatment of psychological disorders.

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a condition characterized by worry and physiological arousal symptoms that causes significant disabilities in patients' lives. In order to improve psychotherapeutic interventions, a careful characterization of the deficiencies of this population as well as factors that ameliorate disability is crucial. Variables that have not traditionally been the focus of research should be considered, such as trait mindfulness and self-compassion. We investigated whether GAD patients would report lower mindfulness and self-compassion levels than healthy stressed individuals. Eighty-seven GAD patients and 49 healthy controls completed the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire, the Self-Compassion Scale, and measures of anxiety. Patients with GAD also completed the Sheehan Disability Scale. Results showed that GAD patients had lower mindfulness and self-compassion than healthy stressed controls, and both were negatively correlated with levels of anxiety, worry, and anxiety sensitivity. In patients, mindfulness was a better predictor of disability than actual anxiety symptom scores. These findings highlight that in the presence of anxiety symptoms, mindfulness can be a factor that helps protect against feeling disabled by the disorder. The findings thereby add an important variable to the characterization of this disorder and should be taken into consideration for future treatment development.

Mindfulness training aims to impact emotion regulation. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) symptoms can be successfully addressed through mindfulness-based interventions. This preliminary study is the first to investigate neural mechanisms of symptom improvements in GAD following mindfulness training. Furthermore, we compared brain activation between GAD patients and healthy participants at baseline. 26 patients with a current DSM-IV GAD diagnosis were randomized to an 8-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR, N = 15) or a stress management education (SME, N = 11) active control program. 26 healthy participants were included for baseline comparisons. BOLD response was assessed with fMRI during affect labeling of angry and neutral facial expressions. At baseline, GAD patients showed higher amygdala activation than healthy participants in response to neutral, but not angry faces, suggesting that ambiguous stimuli reveal stronger reactivity in GAD patients. In patients, amygdala activation in response to neutral faces decreased following both interventions. BOLD response in ventrolateral prefrontal regions (VLPFC) showed greater increase in MBSR than SME participants. Functional connectivity between amygdala and PFC regions increased significantly pre- to post-intervention within the MBSR, but not SME group. Both, change in VLPFC activation and amygdala–prefrontal connectivity were correlated with change in Beck Anxiety Inventory (BAI) scores, suggesting clinical relevance of these changes. Amygdala–prefrontal connectivity turned from negative coupling (typically seen in down-regulation of emotions), to positive coupling; potentially suggesting a unique mechanism of mindfulness. Findings suggest that in GAD, mindfulness training leads to changes in fronto-limbic areas crucial for the regulation of emotion; these changes correspond with reported symptom improvements.

Stress has significant adverse effects on health and is a risk factor for many illnesses. Neurobiological studies have implicated the amygdala as a brain structure crucial in stress responses. Whereas hyperactive amygdala function is often observed during stress conditions, cross-sectional reports of differences in gray matter structure have been less consistent. We conducted a longitudinal MRI study to investigate the relationship between changes in perceived stress with changes in amygdala gray matter density following a stress-reduction intervention. Stressed but otherwise healthy individuals (N = 26) participated in an 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction intervention. Perceived stress was rated on the perceived stress scale (PSS) and anatomical MR images were acquired pre-and post-intervention. PSS change was used as the predictive regressor for changes in gray matter density within the bilateral amygdalae. Following the intervention, participants reported significantly reduced perceived stress. Reductions in perceived stress correlated positively with decreases in right basolateral amygdala gray matter density. Whereas prior studies found gray matter modifications resulting from acquisition of abstract information, motor and language skills, this study demonstrates that neuroplastic changes are associated with improvements in a psychological state variable. © The Author (2009). Published by Oxford University Press.