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Comparing Mindfulness to Progressive Relaxation & Loving Kindness Meditation

12 Mar

Researchers at Simmons College in Boston compared the immediate effects of mindful breathing (MB) to two alternate stress management techniques: progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) and loving-kindness meditation (LKM) on negative reactions to repetitive thoughts.  The study tested whether decentering (a term that means gaining detached distance and perspective from thoughts and beliefs, so that one no longer adheres to them as if they were Absolute Truth) is unique to mindfulness meditation or common across all three of these approaches. (More information on the concept of decentering is found here.)

Novice meditators (190 female undergraduates) were randomly assigned to complete one of three 15-min stress-management exercises (MB, PMR, or LKM) presented by audio recording. 

Immediately after the exercise, participants completed measures of decentering, frequency of repetitive thoughts during the exercise, and degree of negative reaction to thoughts. 

As predicted, participants in the MB condition reported greater decentering relative to the other two conditions. The association between frequency of repetitive thought and negative reactions to thoughts was relatively weaker in the MB condition than in the PMR and LKM conditions, in which these two variables were strongly and positively correlated. 

Consistent with the construct of decentering, the relative independence between these two variables in the MB condition suggests that mindful breathing may help reduce reactivity to repetitive thoughts. 

Taken together, results help to provide further evidence of decentering as a potential mechanism that distinguishes mindfulness practice from other credible stress-management approaches.

Citation: Feldman G, Greeson J, Senville J. Differential effects of mindful breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and loving-kindness meditation on decentering and negative reactions to repetitive thoughts.  Behaviour, Research and Therapy. 2010 Oct; 48 (10): pages 1002-11. Epub 2010 Jun 23. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award