I have been thinking a lot about alternative paths to healing recently. Last week, we talked about a study comparing the effects of Lunesta (a medication for insomnia) to meditation.
As many of readers pointed out, alternative therapies can be useful in that there are much fewer (or even no) side effects and in some cases these therapies have comparable results to pharmaceutical remedies. But what about specific effects of the individual alternative therapies? No two therapies work alike so they aren’t interchangeable.
I’d like to share with you a study out of the journal Emotion but with the caveat that it isn’t the type of Gold Standard (randomized, controlled) study that I like to see. Nonetheless, it gave me food for thought.
Researchers out of the UC Berkeley lab of Robert Levenson, PhD, recruited two teams of 21 volunteers each from San Francisco area meditation centers and dance centers using Craigslist. The participants had at least two years of training in either Vipassana (mindfulness) meditation or ballet or modern dance.
In case you haven’t studied Vipassana meditation, it focuses on introspection and self-exploration, generally during a sitting posture.
A third group of 21 volunteers formed the control group. None of the control members had experience in dance, meditation, Pilates, or professional sports.
Electrodes were used to measure body responses of all subjects while watching emotional scenes from select movies clips. Participants were also asked to rank their emotional response.
Researchers were trying to determine the role of body awareness when experiencing emotions by monitoring second-by-second coherence between subjective emotional responses and heart rate.
The results: while all participants showed similar emotional responses to the movie clips, the meditators were the ones whose heart rate also responded. Both the dance and the control group showed lower levels of coherence between heart rate and emotional responses.
Levenson and colleagues theorized that meditators were more attuned to their body sensations and thus to internal organs like their heart, while dancers were able to heighten awareness and focus to become better dancers, but not necessarily to increase mind and body emotional attunement.
More research obviously needs to be done before conclusions can definitely be made, however, for me, this was more evidence that we need to choose our alternative therapies carefully.
Sitting meditation is useful in so many situations, but experts recommend not using it right away if someone has been traumatized. Then dance or yoga may be a better match, at least initially, or perhaps walking meditation. This study may back up this thinking.
Want to find out more about the clinical application of mindfulness – including the times when it is contraindicated? Ron Siegel, PsyD hosted a program with us about just that. Ron Siegel, PsyD, is a long-time meditation practitioner who is an expert in the application of meditation in psychotherapy.
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What type of alternative therapies have you used – and under what circumstances? Please leave a comment below.