Advances in medical research, the consumer empowerment, and rising cost of health care have demonstrated the need to treatment models that are holistic and client driven. Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) offers consumers choices. It includes traditional healing practices, medical systems that are thousands of years old and new or innovative treatments that may be consider unconventional. Well known examples of CAM include herbal remedies, mindfulness, meditation, manipulative/movement therapies, and Chinese Medicine. Knowledge of CAM offers social workers in all settings the opportunity to provide education and advocacy in seeking client centered and culturally competent treatment options.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Can Compassion and meditation improve your immune system?

Mindfulness meditations (MMs) and mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) include a broad range of meditation practices and psychological interventions linked by the concept of “mindfulness” (Chiesa & Serretti, 2010).  Mindfulness involves awareness of one's inner and outer worlds, including thoughts, sensations, emotions, actions, or surroundings as they exist at any given moment.  The purpose of these practices is to increase positive emotions, like happiness and compassion, and decrease negative or destructive ones such as anger and hate.  According to Chiesa and Malinowski (2011) mmindfulness is based on the sati, memory, which has its origins in Buddhist philosophy.  These include Vipassana and Zen meditations, rooted in Tibetan Buddhism.  Other  mindfulness practices include Theravada Buddhism, mainly based on the Satipatthana Sutta, Anapanasati Sutta, , Mahasatipatthana Sutta, and Kayagata-Sati Sutta are rooted in a continuum of phases and practice.  Given the diversity of mindfulness meditation practices it is important to bear in mind the philosophical basis and practice that underlies research studies that evaluate the efficacy of mindfulness.
Pace, et al (2009) completed a study of the impact of compassion meditation on the immune system.  The long-term goal of compassion meditation is to develop altruistic feelings and behavior towards others.   Pace, et al designed a random control trial (RCT) which consisted of sixty-one participants with an intervention group of thirty-three and a control group of twenty-eight.  The intervention consisted of consisted of Tibetan lojong compassion meditation.  The training consisted of two fifty minute sessions a week for a total of 6 weeks, with a CD to help guide meditation practice at home.   The first 2 weeks consisted of training in concentrative (i.e. shamatha) and mindfulness (i.e. vipassana) meditation for focus and awareness.  Week 3 to 6 consists of compassion meditation training.  At the end of the 6 weeks the participants are expected to practice on a daily basis.  The control groups’ intervention involved weekly health discussions lasting twelve hours throughout the duration of the study and home practice consisting of reviewing self-improvement papers on health related topics.  All participants were given the Trier social stress test (TSST), a standardized laboratory psychosocial stress test that activates the hypothalamic—pituitary—adrenal (HPA) axis and sympathetic nervous system.  Participants were also given the Profile of Mood States (POMS) to evaluate general distress levels.   The researchers found that there was no main effect of the intervention on innate immune, HPA axis or behavioral responses to laboratory psychosocial stressors.  Pace et al concluded that it was possible that compassion mediation may have a limited impact on behavioral responses to psychosocial stress.  Participants may need to increase the amount of meditation in order to obtain benefits, or that the training and study duration may need to increase in order to see benefits.  This study has both strengths and limitations. The researchers were unable to demonstrate a main effect.  The researchers designed an interesting intervention which incorporated aspects of mindfulness and awareness with a form of meditation that had not been researched.  Researchers cited other factors which might have affected the outcome of the study which include biases of the participants in deciding to participate in a study utilizing meditation, the quality of the instructors or trainers and the commitment of the participants to practice at home.  One factor not mentioned by the researchers is the importance of cultural competence. 
Although meditation is gaining popularity in mainstream American culture as a desirable complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), it is difficult to ascertain whether Americans reap the same benefit from meditation than Tibetan or members of other groups were meditation is part of the cultural practices.  Even within those cultures, it is well established that there are levels of meditation practice that are outside the realm of the lay person. 

Chiesa, A., & Malinowski, P. (2011). Mindfulness-based approaches: are they all the same?. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 67(4), 404-424. doi:10.1002/jclp.20776
Chiesa, A., & Serretti, A. (2009). Mindfulness-based stress reduction for stress management in healthy people: A review and meta-analysis. Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine, 15, 593600.
 Pace, T. W.W., Negi, L. T., Adame, D. D., Cole, S. P., Sivilli, T. I., Brown, T.D., Issa, M. J. & Raison, C. L. (2009).  Effect of compassion meditation on neuroendocrine, innate immune and behavioral responses to psychosocial stress.  Psychoneuroendocrinology, 34, 87-98.  doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2008.08.011


  1. I have always thought laughter was a cure all,because in my family laughter and love was a given. I can remember as a child when my family of 100 plus would get together, all we did was laugh, and make light of a bad situations. Over the years the family has grown into 500 plus and the laughter and love is still there. Personally I always feel better after good laugh.

    A good laugh is always waiting,even with hardship,challenges and disappointments, you just have to laugh deep. YIPPIE

    Deirdre Coleman, MSW

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