Mindful Movement and Deep Breathing a Self-Care Tool: MBX-12 at Harvard Part 3

Mindful Movement and Deep Breathing a Self-Care Tool: MBX-12 at Harvard Part 3

Presented for Introduction to Lifestyle Medicine, Harvard Extension School: PSYC E-1037

Notes by Sang H. Kim, Ph.D.

These notes are intended as additional resources for my brief presentation on October 21, 2014, for Introduction to Lifestyle Medicine, which is a Psychology Extension course at Harvard University. This is based on my personal notes while preparing for the research and the published research findings.

I blog about them as a series. Read Part 1, Part 2.

The Mind-body Intervention

The intervention consisted of stretching and balancing movements combined with breathing and a focus on mindfulness. Mindfulness, for our study, was defined as a quality of consciousness that is associated with control of attention and awareness, promoting a direct awareness of bodily movement, sensations, and surroundings, thus often inducing positive psychological and behavioral responses.

Meditation and mindfulness

Mindfulness enhances a quality of consciousness through control of attention and awareness. Deep rhythmic breathing, focusing on conscious regulation of inhalation, retention, and exhalation, helps to bring the mind to the present moment and connect the awareness of the inner sensations with the outer surroundings, thus often inducing a sense of oneness.

The study participants attended a series of 16 standardized, semi-weekly 60-minute MBX. During the sessions, the participants were instructed to attend to the flow of each movement at the present moment, focusing on conscious regulation of inhalation, retention, and exhalation of the breath. Over the course of 8 weeks, the intensity of the exercise increased, but the sequence of the movements was the same.

Significance of The Study

We currently lack a clear understanding of the effects of PTSD on the physiological and neurobiological dysregulation of the autonomic nervous system. Studies evaluating the effect of yoga, tai chi, and qigong exercises have demonstrated PTSD symptom reduction, including significant reductions in reported sleep disturbances, flashbacks and anger outbursts. In healthy individuals, exercise induces a transient increase in cortisol.

Yehuda (2002)

Response to Stress in a Normal Subject (Panel Left) and a Patient with PTSD (Panel Right). Yehuda (2002)

It is not yet clear if there is a link between exercise-induced PTSD symptom reduction and a change in cortisol level. The contribution of our study is a better understanding of the relationship between symptom reduction and changes in cortisol level as a result of an exercise intervention.

This contribution is significant because it advances our knowledge about the physiological and neurobiologcal regulation anomalies of the autonomic nervous system associated with PTSD and helps us better understand how exercise improves PTSD symptomology. For example, it is currently unclear whether low cortisol level is a risk factor for PTSD or is low as a result of traumatic events.

Making a connection between changes in cortisol levels and PTSD symptoms that result from an exercise intervention advances our understanding of these complex dichotomies. Establishing this link also increases the recognition of exercise as an adjunct PTSD treatment strategy, and improves patient motivation to try exercise as an adjunct to other PTSD treatments.

In addition, the research shows that exercise has the potential to positively address common comorbidities of PTSD such as depression, cardiopulmonary diseases, and metabolic syndrome. As a complementary therapy, exercise may improve current evidence-based psychotherapies and contribute to more effective treatment of PTSD and greater improvement in quality of life at minimal additional expense.

To be continued in Part 4.

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