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Hi Everyone,

I wanted to share some great videos explaining the benefits of contemplative education and the research being conducted around the world supported by the 1440 Foundation.

David Vago on Contemplative Science from 1440 Foundation on Vimeo.

Dr. Robert Roeser on Supporting the Support System from 1440 Foundation on Vimeo.

Mark Greenberg – 1440 Interview from 1440 Foundation on Vimeo.

Amishi Jha – 1440 Interview from 1440 Foundation on Vimeo.

Some great press on why contemplative education should be a priority!

Robert Piper writes on this topic at Huffington Post [Link]

Tenzin Gyatso, the fourteenth and current Dala...

Tenzin Gyatso, the fourteenth and current Dalai Lama, is the leader of the exiled Tibetan government in India. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. Photographed during his visit in Cologno Monzese MI, Italy, on december 8th, 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mind and Life XXIV: Latest Findings in Contemplative Science

The Brochure [ML24_Brochure]

Why is this meeting interesting?

B/C we represent how the younger generation of scientists arewilling to examine some of the more difficult and even taboo aspects of deep contemplative transformation – topics the first generation of more cautious researchers were never explicit about. Friend and journalist, Jeff Warren refers to us as “The Pragmatic Dharma wing of neuroscience”. He further explains, “They are actively researching, among other things, the neural correlates of noself / Enlightenment, the Progress of Insight, the often very difficult Dark Night dissolution process some meditators go through, and much more besides. They have ambition and they plan to ask the Dalai Lama tough questions.”

Jeff comments further: “This is not another meditation and the brain story – it’s about the new age of contemplative transparency that may finally be upon us, and the radical prospect of science taking enlightenment – that multifaceted jewel – seriously. Orthodox psychology could be forced to get a whole lot deeper. What’s fascinating as well is these folks are all products of the Dalai Lama’s long-term scheme to fill all institutions of higher learning with neuroscientists who are also practitioners. Hundreds and hundreds of Phds at the Mind and Life Summer Institute every summer – a cross-diciplinary incubator. [LINK] And now they are all getting jobs at top-flight Ivy league school and determining the research agenda. They’re not looking at how meditation alleviates stress – they’re looking at how it disables the sense of a separate self. This has never before been on neuroscience’s radar and will shock the system when people realize what they are up to.”

We are:

David Vago, Ph.D., Harvard Medical SchoolBrigham & Women’s Hospital: dvago@partners.org [link]

Willoughby Britton, Ph.D., Brown University: willoughby_britton@brown.edu [Link]

Baljinder Sahdra, Ph.D., University of Waterloo: b.sahdra@uws.edu.au [Link]

Thorsten Barnhofer, Ph.D., Oxford: thorsten.barnhofer@psych.ox.ac.uk [Link]

Helen Weng, University of Wisconsin: hweng@wisc.edu [Link]

Norman Farb, Ph.D., University of Toronto: norman@aclab.ca [Link]

How did you get into this field of inquiry?

Nine years ago, I did not have Harvard Medical School letterhead, nor did I have a website dedicated to conducting contemplative neuroscience research. Nine years ago, I was a graduate student in cognitive and neural sciences in the department of psychology, University of Utah investigating the neural substrates for learning and memory using behavioral pharmacology and electrophysiology. I had a meditation practice since my first Goenka-Vipassana retreat in 1996, and practiced yoga, and tai chi, but with no expectation that I could ever fuse my interests, my practice, and my science. My graduate advisor had always referred to my interests in Buddhism as “that Zen stuff” and complained that I almost had more Buddhist books on my book shelf than neuroscience books. In 2004, I followed the dialogues with HHDL at MIT with great interest, and in 2005 was elated to realize that rigorous science was being conducted on meditation and other contemplative practice. This was my first experience of the Summer Research Institute (SRI) as a research fellow. What amazed me was that rigorous science was already being conducted on meditation and contemplative practice. Scientists and scholars like Richie Davidson, Jon Kabat-Zinn, David Meyer, Al Kaszniak, Cliff Saron, John Dunne, Alan Wallace, Evan Thompson, Joan Halifax, Sharon Salzberg, Matthieu Ricard, and others became role models, mentors, and teachers…instantly. The group at SRI really felt like a niche i could fit into, a community, a sangha. As I completed my PhD in cognitive and neural sciences, I took the leap and decided to dedicate my research interests towards investigating contemplative practices while expanding my methodological arsenal in functional neuroimaging using high density EEG, MEG, and fMRI. Fortunately, I was able to take on a part-time post-doctoral position with Yoshio Nakamura who had just received a large NIH grant to investigate mind-body interactions. With partial support from Yoshi, I applied for a Varela award to investigate the effects of mindfulness on attention and emotional processing associated with pain and anticipation of pain in fibromyalgia patients. After another 2 years of attending SRI as an awardee presenting my research findings, I was hired as the Senior Research Coordinator for MLI. As the research coordinator between 2007-2010, I provided scientific and organizational support to the Program and Research subcommittee of the MLI Board; the various program planning committees for specific programs and to the MLI staff; with regard to determining research priorities and coordinating and facilitating the various research initiatives conducted by MLI. I was directly involved in creating policy and developing guidelines and procedures for MLSRI and the Francisco J. Varela Research Award program. I spent the majority of my time being a liason for the community providing research support and monitoring the progress of research studies and publications. I supported the preparation of grant applications to Foundations (i.e., John Templeton Foundation) to support MLI research programs and also establishing and maintaining liaison with sponsoring agencies and organizations. I have also played the role of faculty member at the SRI, presenting each year an overview of the functional neuroanatomy implicated in mindfulness and other contemplative practices. Today, my enthusiasm and commitment towards the mission of Mind & Life has not changed. Rather, it has solidified. I just steer the boat with my intention and altruistic motivations, and it continues to move steadily on the path of least resistance – the path of contemplative neuroscience. I now continue to support the MLI as a research fellow (see link [LINK]) as I begin to build my own program of research at Harvard Medical School and Brigham & Women’s Hospital.

The Varela award program initiated by the MLI has been the primary catalyst for seeding the field with young scientists investigating contemplative practice. This meeting with HHDL is intended to showcase 6 young scientists (Varela awardees) that best represent the program to dialogue with the Dalai Lama. The meeting has been named, Mind and Life XIV: Latest Findings in Contemplative Neuroscience. It is significant for the reason that it is the first time that junior level investigators are given the opportunity to present research findings to His Holiness. This is sooooo cool, b/c it is the young investigators that are now immersed in this paradigm shift for science. All aspects of basic and clinical science, and society are being infused with mindfulness. Mindfulness represents more than how it is defined. It represents the paradigm shift towards re-investigating the mind from the 1st person perspective. It is the new introspection. It is the key to the door of consciousness for all scientists to explore and the public to embrace for mental health.

What does it mean to you personally to be invited to meet with the Dalai Lama?

There is such great joy and gratitude that fills my heart when I think about this opportunity. It is the greatest honor and I feel incredibly grateful and humbled everyday that I think about this meeting and my role in it. His Holiness is THE source for this emerging field of contemplative science. It is His Holiness that continues to motivate the field to investigate the mind and benefits of contemplative practice for reducing suffering in the world. His Holiness and MLI are the reason I am on the path that I am on now….investigating the mechanisms of contemplative practice and benefits such practices may have for those suffering with mental illness. It is a privilege to meet the Dalai Lama, but it is an entirely greater honor to be able to present one’s scientific research to him and dialogue about the mind. He often says that he is only a simple monk and yet he represents a 2500 year old epistemology of the mind. Well, I am only a junior level faculty member just starting my career in academia representing a 9 year old emerging science. This meeting deeply affects the direction and impact of my research through the profound nature of such an honor.
What are your hopes for the meeting?
I hope that we are able to have a fruitful dialogue that is free of much scientific ego, and full of enriching insight into the direction of all of our research. This is the first time that young investigators will have a chance to dialogue with His Holiness, a rare gem to get a sense of direction and inspiration for the new generation of researchers poised to carry the field forward with integrity and scientific rigor. I look forward to finding thought-provoking questions from His Holiness and the group.

Does being a meditation practitioner affect your research? If so, how?

The simple answer for me is that being a meditation practitioner is rather easy, but being a meditation practitioner and a meditation researcher adds complexity. I would further characterize the dual role as interdependent upon each other and involving a greater range of responsibility towards oneself and society at large. The added complexity is not necessarily complicated, it refers to the ever-expanding set of relationships that a researcher is cultivating between oneself and society. As a practitioner, one spends a lot of time cultivating a relationship with one’s own mind; this relationship has helped me personally by providing insight and motivation into how best to move forward in the newly emerging field of contemplative science and how the contemplative sciences may integrate with the rigors of the scientific method. The benefits on mental health, the body, and the brain may appear clear to most meditation and other contemplative practitioners, but it is my role as a cognitive neuroscientist to demonstrate tractable benefits from an objective, scientific perspective, while continuing to honor the interdependent and secular nature of compassion, joy, and equanimity throughout everyday experience.

Final Reflections

I woke up this morning thinking that there will not be many days like this in my life. I will be giving a talk to His Holiness The Dalai Lama on Tuesday afternoon along with 5 of my contemplative science colleagues and friends. One of the best parts of doing research in this field is that most of my colleagues are truly friends. Most of the researchers have their own contemplative practice which is probably one major reason the field is so successful. We support each other in our accolades and achievements. The competitive nature of science is miniature compared to the amount of joy and compassion that I feel safe to say, the majority of contemplative science researchers embody.

I feel that it is safe to say that the 6 of us represent 100s like ourselves all inspired by The Dalai Lama in our career and personal life….so I really speak at this conference from the heart and the mind on behalf of all young scientists in an emerging field of investigation that is putting the mind back into biomedicine.

Peace,

Dave

So….What was His Holiness’s feedback?

The six of us were meant to best represent the Francisco J. Varela grant award program, the primary catalyst for seeding the field with young scientists investigating contemplative practice. Each of us brought something unique to the table from all across the globe. The room was filled with board members and guests surrounding us like proud parents and transmitting their wisdom. His Holiness was most attentive and present with each one of us as we took turns presenting our most relevant research in the short amount of time we had his attention. Although short-lived, it was a most humbling honor. One by one, we filled our 20 minutes completely, summarizing our findings in only a few slides and such short time. The presentations all went very well and the feedback from His Holiness was invaluable. To each of us, he provided some sense of recognition and appeared to place high importance on the work we all are doing. I kept thinking that if His Holiness thought my models of Mindfulness are “quite good”, I should be able to provide my reviewers with that reference! All kidding aside, he ended our time together with a lasting set of strongly emphasized remarks that none of us will be able to dismiss. With a firm finger he pointed to each one of us and led the charge like a football coach may before the big game. He said that each one of us is responsible for reducing suffering in this world. We must continue doing the rigorous research for the benefit of the world. I guess we know what we’ll be doing for the next 35 years! Truly inspiring.

Brigham & Women’s Hospital reported on this event here. [Link] and here [Link] and through Twitter [Link]

Here is the link to the video for this dialogue: [Link] and Here: [Link]

 

 

 

His Holiness gave an interview with Piers Morgan for CNN a few hrs before our talks

Can meditation practice eliminate pain? NO, but it can it reduce the emotional intensity in which it is anticipated and experienced!

There have been a few studies up to today (jan. 4, 2012) that have investigated the effects of specific meditative practices that involve the state of mindfulness on the experience of pain. Some studies suggest that pain centers (Anterior cingulate cortex, insular cortex, sensory cortex, pre-frontal cortex) that are normally active during acute pain are significantly reduced in activity while performing specific meditative practices. Other studies show the same reduction during resting brain activity of chronic pain sufferers in response to practicing these meditative states, specifically, and in contrast to allowing one’s mind to wander. These reports typically show increased pre-frontal cortex activity as a regulatory mechanism for suppressing the sensory and affective experience of pain. See this typical report from the BBC:

BBC news on mindfulness

However, there are other reports that suggest meditators are not suppressing the sensory or affective experience of pain, but rather increasing their sensory and affective experience of pain, but without a prolonged, dull, or negative quality. In this case, research is beginning to reveal what may be more akin to equanimity and embodiment, two qualities that typically are cultivated along with mindfulness during specific meditative practices. Equanimity refers to the ability to experience the sensory event fully, with awareness, but to return back to some normative baseline rapidly once the sensory event is over. There is no ruminative quality, or perseveration of the emotion in response to the sensory event. Embodiment refers to the whole-body visceral experience of the sensory event. These studies have been showing increased activation in brain areas responsible for primary and associative sensory processing along with interoception (internal bodily experience).

———————

One example comes from a study by friend and colleague, Fadel Zeidan, who recently published in the Journal of Neuroscience, ” Brain Mechanisms Supporting the Modulation of Pain by Mindfulness Meditation” [Link]


Focused Attention meditation reduced BOLD activity related to afferent processing of pain stimulus (primary sensory cortex). Meditation was also associated with deactivations in areas related to ruminative types of thinking (Default areas).  Decreased pain intensity ratings were also found to be associated with increased activity in ACC and right anterior insula, suggesting a site for pain modulation.

the NPR story is here [Link]

The CNN-health story is here [Link]

Huffington Post [Link]

Men’s Health [Link]

Music for Meditation [Link]

Live Science [Link]

A group from Univ. of Oregon in collaboration with the Institute of Neuroinformatics and Laboratory for Body and Mind, Dalian University of Technology, Dalian, China has found more evidence (see 2007, 2009 and 2010 articles) that short-term meditation in the form of IBMT can improve self-regulation and components of attention.

What is IBMT? According to the authors, it was developed in the 1990s as a technique adopted from traditional Chinese medicine and incorporates aspects of meditation and mindfulness training. “IBMT achieves the desired state by first giving a brief instructional period on the method (we call it initial mind setting and its goal is to induce a cognitive or emotional set that will influence the training). The method stresses no effort to control thoughts, but instead a state of restful alertness that allows a high degree of awareness of body, breathing, and external instructions from a compact disc. It stresses a balanced state of relaxation while focusing attention. Thought control is achieved gradually through posture and relaxation, body–mind harmony, and balance with the help of the coach rather than by making the trainee attempt an internal struggle to control thoughts in accordance with instruction. Training is typically presented in a standardized way by compact disc and guided by a skillful IBMT coach”.

This group has been showing (2009) that Five days of integrative body–mind training (IBMT) (20 min/day) improves attention and self-regulation in comparison with the same amount of relaxation training. During and after training, the IBMT group showed significantly better physiological reactions in heart rate, respiratory amplitude and rate, and skin conductance response (SCR) than the relaxation control. Differences in heart rate variability (HRV) and EEG power suggested greater involvement of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) in the IBMT group during and after training. Imaging data demonstrated stronger subgenual and adjacent ventral anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) activity in the IBMT group. Frontal midline ACC theta was correlated with highfrequency HRV, suggesting control by the ACC over parasympathetic activity. These results indicate that after 5 days of training, the IBMT group shows better regulation of the ANS by a ventral midfrontal brain system than does the relaxation group.

The most recent 2010 article demonstrates that changes in white matter connectivity can result from small amounts of mental training. In this case, 11 h of IBMT increases fractional anisotropy (FA), an index indicating the integrity and efficiency of white matter in the corona radiata, an important white-matter tract connecting the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) to other structures. 45 undergraduates to an IBMT or relaxation group for 11 h of training, 30 min per session over a 1-mo period. Before and after training we acquired brain images from each participant at rest for analysis of white matter by diffusion tensor imaging and gray matter by voxel-based morphometry.

The group goes a little far in speculating “IBMT could provide a means for improving self-regulation and perhaps reducing or preventing various mental disorders”, but the research is certainly promising for demonstrating plasticity in response to mental training

Hi everyone,

Just a short note about the economics of Happiness. The topic has been very popular lately, more so than previously apparently. The short story is that Happiness is good business. It’s good business for your body. It’s good business for your family. It’s good business for your boss. It’s good business for your boss’ boss. It’s good business for your neighbor and your neighbor’s dog that poops on your lawn. Happiness is good business for every sentient being on our planet. Now that the trivial has been stated, is there any ‘being’ that can not benefit from happiness?

As a clinical researcher, I find legitimate biological reasons for the benefit of happiness. But I will make the strong caveat that if you try and define happiness for yourself, you’ll find two things:

1. It is easy to define happiness

2. It is difficult to define happiness

If anything, I do find that happiness is wonderful in itself. The concept before it is defined. The letters as they are perceived and the processing power, time, and space in your brain that is utilized while reading the word on this blog or on the title of a book recommended for you on amazon, HereHere…or HERE. Just reading the word is good business for YOU. Even better, is the fact that reading the word subconsciously as it becomes a word/concept/image/meme that is prevalent in the social world around you is good business. It’s all good business, because it gives YOU and the 6 billion 818 million humans a chance of experiencing it also…and even better than recently….it gives YOU the chance to experience it right NOW. This is extraordinary.

Experience Happiness. It’s good business.

HAPPINESS


I also wanted to give a shout out to the WISDOM 2.0 conference and how HAPPINESS is going viral! A lot of great people participated in this conference including the wise Roshi Joan Halifax. There was a great blog written by Maia Duerr in response to this event and I wanted to share the link with you… HERE. The tagline for the conference was, “how we can live in greater balance with, and more successfully use, the great technologies of our age.”

“We were able to show that the training improved the connection between a central nervous system structure, the anterior cingulate, and the parasympathetic part of the autonomic nervous system to help put a person into a more bodily state,” Posner said. “The results seem to show integration — a connectivity of brain and body.”

see link for study HERE.

How do these changes speak to state vs. trait-level changes in self-regulation? 5 Days of training is a short period of time to show such changes, but they are likely to disappear within the same amount of time. Continued practice is clearly essential for sustained trait-level changes.

Andrew Newberg, M.D. and Mark Robert Waldman at the Center for Spirituality and the Mind, University of Pennsylvania publish new book on beliefs of God and neuroimaging data.

REVIEWS: Library Journal: “God” can be reality or metaphor for physician Newberg and counselor Waldman (Ctr. for Spirituality and the Mind, Univ. of Pennsylvania; Born To Believe). In their latest collaboration, they encourage questioning and contact with diverse beliefs and people. Americans, they reveal, mostly view God as authoritarian, critical, or distant—only 23 percent of believers see God as gentle and forgiving, but the notable trend toward the latter should be beneficial for the individual and society. In the most provocative section, readers learn that there are regions of the brain that respond to thoughts, emotions, and experience and can be changed by willed concentration and practice. The authors present an elaborate, engaging meditation program to reduce anger and fear and increase serenity and love. They embrace faith (not necessarily religious), diversity, tolerance, and “compassionate communication.” Extensive notes—73 pages—include hundreds of recent references to neuropsychological research. Though it may seem speculative to neuroscientists and upsetting to religious conservatives, this is a substantial advance in the self-help/spirituality genre and an excellent choice for general collections.—E. James Lieberman, George Washington Univ. Sch. of Medicine, Washington, DC

What makes us happy? Are there correlates in the brain? Can positive emotions like happiness find a place in rigorous scientific research?

These were some of the questions addressed in the recent TV program, The Agenda with Steve Paikin. See description HERE. You can see the video stream HERE.

Happiness and the brain

Happiness and the Brain with Steve Paikin

Data from a new study suggests that individuals who engage in compassion meditation may benefit by reductions in inflammatory and behavioral responses to stress that have been linked to depression and a number of medical illnesses. The study’s findings are published online at www.sciencedirect.com and in the medical journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.

“While much attention has been paid to meditation practices that emphasize calming the mind, improving focused attention or developing mindfulness, less is known about meditation practices designed to specifically foster compassion,” says Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi, PhD, who designed and taught the meditation program used in the study. Negi is senior lecturer in the Department of Religion, the co-director of Emory Collaborative for Contemplative Studies and president and spiritual director of Drepung Loseling Monastery, Inc.

This study focused on the effect of compassion meditation on inflammatory, neuroendocrine and behavioral responses to psychosocial stress, and evaluated the degree to which engagement in meditation practice influenced stress reactivity.

“Our findings suggest that meditation practices designed to foster compassion may impact physiological pathways that are modulated by stress and are relevant to disease,” explains Charles L. Raison, MD, clinical director of the Mind-Body Program, Emory University’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Emory School of Medicine, and a lead author on the study.

click HERE for the original link.

The University of Liverpool is sponsoring an event concerning the science of Buddhist Meditation November 09, 2008. The Link is HERE. The abstract follows:

Increasingly scientific investigations suggest that Buddhist meditators are happier, have improved cognitive abilities and that meditation practice leads to measurable changes in brain activity. Four experts from psychology, psychotherapy, neuroscience and philosophy present and discuss the evidence from a scientific as well as Buddhist perspective, also drawing on their experience with meditation practice and as Buddhist lay teachers.

From 28 July to 01 August 2008 an International Summer School on Buddhism entitled Buddhism into the 21st Century will take place in Hamburg, organised by the prestigous Center for Buddhist Studies. This summer school is open to everybody interested in the topic. Peter Malinowski will be teaching on “Buddhism and Science – Neuroscientific and Psychological Perspectives”.
For more information visit: www.summerschool-buddhism.de/

Watch Peter talking about Meditation techniques and their relevance in everyday life on UK Future TV:
Uk Future TV
direct link to the stream [wmv 700kbps]

Giuseppe Pagnoni, a Neuroscientist in the dept. of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory University just recently published a study on Zen Meditators and fMRI.

Using fMRI and a simplified meditative condition interspersed with a lexical decision task, they investigated the neural correlates of conceptual processing during meditation in regular Zen practitioners and matched control subjects. While behavioral performance did not differ between groups, Zen practitioners displayed a reduced duration of the neural response linked to conceptual processing in regions of the default network, suggesting that meditative training may foster the ability to control the automatic cascade of semantic associations triggered by a stimulus and, by extension, to voluntarily regulate the flow of spontaneous mentation. See the entire article published in PLoS ONE HERE.

The article received press in The New Scientist. “The closest thing to Jedi Mind Tricks” See HERE.

August 17, 2008

$1 Million Endowment at UMass Dartmouth to Leverage Super Accelerated
Learning Techniques from Vedic Traditions for 21st Century Education

On Friday, August 15, as Indian students and community celebrated
India’s independence day UMass Dartmouth announced that the Three Rs
Foundation has pledged $1 million to support the university’s Center
for Indic Studies to initiate an innovative educational pedagogy
rooted in India’s Vedic traditions. The donation will support the
Center’s mission to connect the university, region and Commonwealth to
India’s growing economy and world influence.


The Center for Indic Studies was established in 2001 to disseminate
understanding of issues relating to the arts, philosophy, culture,
societal values, and customs of India. For more information, visit
http://www.umassd.edu/indic

Media coverage:
http://www.indolink.com/displayArticleS.php?id=082108063408
http://www.lokvani.com/lokvani/article.php?article_id=5106
http://www.southcoasttoday.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080816/NEWS/808160345
http://www.heraldnews.com/education/x1822517277/Indic-studies-program-receives-1M-gift
UMass Dartmouth website:
http://www.umassd.edu/communications/articles/printversion.cfm?a_key=2182

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    Beth Taylor, PayScale.com: When we think of meditation, we may think of relaxation, breathing, and emptying the mind of stressful thoughts. It may be surprising to learn that the act of quiet meditation increases mental acuity and makes us more productive at work. Instead of meditation emptying our minds, it actually helps fill them with […]

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