Nav: Home

Army study quantifies changes in stress after meditation

June 21, 2018

ADELPHI, MD. - For a thousand years, people have reported feeling better by meditating but there has never been a systematic study that quantified stress and how much stress changes as a direct result of meditation until now.

U.S. Army Research Laboratory researchers spent a year collaborating with a team of scientists from the University of North Texas to develop a new data processing technique that uses heart rate variability as a sensor to monitor the state of the brain. Their findings are reported in a paper published in the June edition of Frontiers in Physiology.

Healthy heartbeats have irregularities built into them with a slight random variation occurring in the time interval between successive beats. The sinus node, or the heart's natural pacemaker, receives signals from the autonomic or involuntary portion of the nervous system, which has two major branches: the parasympathetic, whose stimulation decreases the firing rate of the sinus node, and the sympathetic, whose stimulation increases the firing rate. These two branches produce a continual tug-of-war that generates fluctuations in the heart rate of healthy individuals.

Heart rate variability provides a window through which we can observe the heart's ability to respond to external disturbances, such as stress, said Dr. Bruce West, the Army's senior research scientist for mathematics.

He said it turns out that the HRV time series is very sensitive to changes in the physiological state of the brain and the new data processing system, called dynamic subordination technique, can quantify the changes in HRV and relate these directly to brain activity, such as produced by meditation. Thus, the DST has quantified the level of stress reduction produced by meditation and offers the potential to quantify such things as the inability to concentrate and sustain focus, impatience, impulsiveness and other dysfunctional properties that severely limit a soldier's ability to do his job.

Stress modulates the autonomic nervous system signals, which in turn disrupts normal HRV and therefore the stress level can be detected by processing HRV time series.

Through a new method of processing HRV time series data, the researchers developed a way to measure the change in the level of stress provided by meditation. This measure assigns a number to the level of variability of heartbeat interval time series before and during meditation. This number indicates precisely how much stress is alleviated by control of the heart-brain coupling through meditation.

In the article, Rohisha Tuladhar, Gyanendra Bohara, and Paolo Grigolini, all from the University of North Texas and Bruce J. West, Army Research Office, propose and successfully test a new model for the coupling between the heart and brain, along with a measure of the influence of meditation on this network. Traditional models of biofeedback focus on the coherent behavior, assuming a kind of resonance, however the new approach includes both periodicity and complexity.

The research team compared two schools of meditation and determined that Yoga, over Chi meditation, is more effective in reducing stress and can show by how much. They also found that the long-term practice of meditation has the effect of making permanent the meditation-induced physiologic changes. Moreover that meditators show a stronger executive control, that is, the ability to carry out goal-oriented behavior, using complex mental processes and cognitive abilities.

Many military historians believe battles, even wars, have been won or lost in the warrior's mind, long before any physical conflict is initiated. Learning how to circumvent the debilitating psychological influence of stress requires that we have in hand a way to quantify its influence, in order to gauge the effectiveness of any given procedure to counteract its effects, explained West, who's a Fellow with the American Physical Society, American Association for the Advancement of Science and ARL.

Historically, one purpose of meditation has been to reduce stress, however, the Army's long-term goal is to use it to mitigate the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. West said the potential for this to succeed has been dramatically increased with the new ability to quantify the degree of effectiveness in stress reduction using different meditation techniques.

From a physiological perspective, meditation constitutes a coupling of the functionalities of the heart and brain. We are only now beginning to understand how to take advantage of the coupling of the two to measure stress reduction by applying the methods of science and data analysis to HRV time series.

Our research focus is on changes in physiologic processes, such as stress level. It is the most direct measure of the effectiveness of meditation in reducing stress to date and compliments an existing ARL program on determining the efficacy of mindfulness meditation stress reduction, which quantifies the influence on different task performance measures, such as changes in PTSD symptoms, West said.

This early research could guide the design and testing of new interventions for improving warrior readiness and resilience, as well as reducing symptoms of PTSD.
-end-
The U.S. Army Research Laboratory is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to ensure decisive overmatch for unified land operations to empower the Army, the joint warfighter and our nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.

U.S. Army Research Laboratory

Related Stress Articles:

Stress in the powerhouse of the cell
University of Freiburg researchers discover a new principle -- how cells protect themselves from mitochondrial defects.
Measuring stress around cells
Tissues and organs in the human body are shaped through forces generated by cells, that push and pull, to ''sculpt'' biological structures.
Cellular stress at the movies
For the first time, biological imaging experts have used a custom fluorescence microscope and a novel antibody tagging tool to watch living cells undergoing stress.
Maternal stress at conception linked to children's stress response at age 11
A new study published in the Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease finds that mothers' stress levels at the moment they conceive their children are linked to the way children respond to life challenges at age 11.
A new way to see stress -- using supercomputers
Supercomputer simulations show that at the atomic level, material stress doesn't behave symmetrically.
Beware of evening stress
Stressful events in the evening release less of the body's stress hormones than those that happen in the morning, suggesting possible vulnerability to stress in the evening.
How plants cope with stress
With climate change comes drought, and with drought comes higher salt concentrations in the soil.
Gene which decreases risk of social network-related stress, increases finance-related stress risk
Researchers have discovered that the same gene which increases your risk of depression following financial stress as you grow older also reduces your chance of depression associated with friendship and relationships stresses when young- your social network.
Innate stress
A team of researchers from the Higher School of Economics and the RAS Vavilov Institute of General Genetics has been able to statistically monitor the impact of the monoamine oxidase A gene (MAOA) on the subjective evaluation of well-being among men.
Is a stress shot on the horizon?
Rats immunized weekly for three weeks with beneficial bacteria showed increased levels of anti-inflammatory proteins in the brain, more resilience to the physical effects of stress, and less anxiety-like behavior.
More Stress News and Stress Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Rethinking Anger
Anger is universal and complex: it can be quiet, festering, justified, vengeful, and destructive. This hour, TED speakers explore the many sides of anger, why we need it, and who's allowed to feel it. Guests include psychologists Ryan Martin and Russell Kolts, writer Soraya Chemaly, former talk radio host Lisa Fritsch, and business professor Dan Moshavi.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#538 Nobels and Astrophysics
This week we start with this year's physics Nobel Prize awarded to Jim Peebles, Michel Mayor, and Didier Queloz and finish with a discussion of the Nobel Prizes as a way to award and highlight important science. Are they still relevant? When science breakthroughs are built on the backs of hundreds -- and sometimes thousands -- of people's hard work, how do you pick just three to highlight? Join host Rachelle Saunders and astrophysicist, author, and science communicator Ethan Siegel for their chat about astrophysics and Nobel Prizes.