Meditation, Relaxation Work Equally Well for Anxiety Disorders

Jan 27 2006 - 8:22am


Meditation helps patients cope with anxiety disorders, but no more than other relaxation techniques, according to a new review of studies.

Although subtle differences emerged, the studies were too small to find any specific treatment superior, although all were effective.

The review appears in the current issue of The Cochrane Library, a publication of The Cochrane Collaboration, an international organization that evaluates medical research. Systematic reviews draw evidence-based conclusions about medical practice after considering both the content and quality of existing medical trials on a topic.

Only two randomized controlled studies,both from California, met criteria for inclusion in the systematic review.

One study compared transcendental meditation to relaxation therapy and electromyography (EMG) biofeedback, which measures and teaches people how to control their level of muscle relaxation. TM is a form of concentrative meditation, which emphasizes focusing attention onto an object until the mind achieves stillness.

The other study compared mindfulness meditation to Kundalini yoga, which itself includes a meditative form of breathing called pranayama. Mindfulness mediation encourages being aware of one's thoughts while maintaining detachment.

"The advantages of self-management using meditation includes the reduction in therapists' time, which has not only financial implications but also confers the ability to help large numbers of people," said the researchers, led by Thawatchai Krisanaprakornkit, who runs the Meditation Therapy Clinic at KhonKaen University in Thailand.

But the authors add that meditation has to be able to first stand up to scientific scrutiny: "It is now very necessary to confirm the effectiveness of these meditation techniques if we want to adopt their use for psychiatric patients." They urge that more objective outcomes should be used such as EMG, variability of respiratory and heart rate, and brainwave studies.

The studies comprised 76 patients, including those who dropped out before completion. Neither study reported on side effects, although meditation appears safe at "face value."

For all techniques, patients had significantly improved scores on scales rating anxiety, current mood and symptoms of distress, although sleep disturbance did not improve. Work, social functioning and family relations also improved, while marital relations and sex life were not affected.

Participants who practiced Kundalini yoga had more improvement in scores of perceived stress and purpose in life compared to those who used relaxation or biofeedback.

Treatments were similar in how long patients took to show progress and in how well they maintained improvements.



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