Dr. Crystal Park discusses emotional well-being and mind-body interventions

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This past Thursday, the InCHIP Lecture Series hosted University of Connecticut professor Dr. Crystal Park to discuss her recent research surrounding emotional well-being, which involves factors including yoga, meditation and reflective features.  

Recently, the National Institutes of Health put out a call for projects on emotional well-being. Dr. Park’s project – M3EWB – was one of six chosen to receive funding and it aims to advance the study of mechanisms underlying mind-body interventions and the measurement of emotional well-being.  

Dr. Park’s goal is “to develop our understanding of emotional well-being measurement approaches and their role in mind-body interventions.” The objectives include identifying essential components of EWB, establishing an EWB measures toolkit and identifying mechanisms.  

While many people view EWB as the opposite of being ill, it’s much more than that. Dr. Park deconstructs the concept of being either ill or not.  

“There’s this whole other side of being beyond neutral,” Dr. Park says. “You can actually flourish or have these positive aspects of well-being.”  

The research was especially challenging given the constant struggle to agree upon a definition for EWB. Dr. Park highlights the numerous hours of collaboration spent between herself and her peers to come to a general consensus. They eventually decided, “Emotional well-being encompasses how good an individual feels generally, in the moment and about life overall,” she said.  

This definition includes two different features: experientiality and reflectivity. The experiential features touch upon the emotional quality of everyday experiences, while the reflective features assess measures/factory like satisfaction, sense of meaning in life and the ability to pursue goals that can extend beyond the self.  

According to Dr. Park, to measure experiential features she and her colleagues use the Spane metric, which requires individuals to respond to questions by assessing their emotion using a range of very rarely/never to often/always. For example, respondents will be asked to rate how frequently they feel angry, positive, happy or sad, using the scale mentioned above.  

Dr. Park’s project is unique because her team is looking at EWB in the context of MBIs. It is specifically described as “behavioral interventions that purport to influence both the mind and the body.” Some examples of MBIs are yoga, breath regulation techniques, art therapy or even meditation.  

There is little research on EWB in the context of MBIs.  

“Most of the research on MBIs focuses on alleviating distress or dysfunction,” she said. “It’s easier to get a grant focused on pain or depression than on happiness or joy.”  

Dr. Park and her colleagues ran a critical trial centering specifically on Kripalu yoga.  

“What we were interested in is the extent to which yoga leads to decreased stress,” she said.  

The mediators that they looked at are mindfulness, interoceptive awareness, spiritual well-being, self-compassion and self-control.  

“In our study we found that all of the mediators except self-compassion increased, but in terms of corresponding as a mediator of yoga’s effect, the self-control did not come out, but the spiritual well-being and other mediators did,” said Dr. Park.  

Future research directions include diversity among facets of EWB, diversity among MBIs and diversity within MBIs.  

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