Contemplative Mind in Life

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Presenting to His Holiness The Dalai Lama – Probably the highlight of my life (after meeting my wife and the birth of my baby girl)

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: [link]

Willoughby Britton, Ph.D., Brown University: [Link]

Baljinder Sahdra, Ph.D., University of Waterloo: [Link]

Thorsten Barnhofer, Ph.D., Oxford: [Link]

Helen Weng, University of Wisconsin: [Link]

Norman Farb, Ph.D., University of Toronto: [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.



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

The Wandering Mind vs. Mindfulness

Neuroimaging Research has grappled with the concept of a “resting brain”. Researchers interested in Consciousness have grappled with localizing subjective states of awareness and the elusive “self”. It seems that contemplative science is bringing both concepts to the table given the profound interest in tracing neurophenomenological states associated with “the self” and intentional, meditative practices.

All functional neuroimaging research has focused on Blood-oxygenation-level-dependent (BOLD) changes in the whole brain associated with a particular active, goal-directed, cognitive or emotional function and which has shown to be statistically different from BOLD activity across the whole brain during a “passive” baseline state. The baseline state that most researchers use is typically a 5-6 min long period of passive “rest”. The instructions are typically, “Let your mind freely wander” and “try not to think of anything in particular”. These instructions sound benign and appear to be the perfect baseline state, but as it turns out, [surprise…surprise] a wandering mind is quite active. The mind in this baseline state has shown to have a tendency to wander towards self-reflection (in the past and into the future). Some researchers have called this type of wandering, “mental time travel”.

Recently, a growing body of research has investigated the nature of this resting, or “default” state, and has found that brain activation previously considered to be spontaneous noise actually reflects the operation of active and functionally connected neural networks. These patterns of activation has been termed the default mode network (DMN), have been shown to increase during passive states of rest, to diminish during tasks involving attention or goal-directed behavior, and tend to implicate brain areas associated with self-reflection, internal mentation, and narrative self-focus. In many forms of psychopathology, the DMN has been found to be more active during resting states and less likely to decrease in activation during active goal-directed tasks, suggesting a relationship between psychopathology, excessive self-reflection or rumination [about past events], and increased self-projection [into the future].

In a recent study[Link] by friend and colleague, Judson Brewer at Yale University, adept meditators trained in meditation techniques rooted mostly in Theravada (vipassana/insight) traditions actively meditated using multiple types of meditation practices (Concentration, Loving-Kindness, Choiceless Awareness) while being imaged in the MRI. A “mind-wander” rest state was the baseline state in this case, and comparisons were made also between the adepts and a group of novices who had brief instructions how to perform each meditative practice.

As seen below, Experienced meditators demonstrate decreased DMN activation during meditation. Brain activation in meditators > controls is shown, collapsed across all meditations (relative to baseline). (A and B) BOLD activations were found to be greater in the left mPFC and PCC for adepts. Although, one should take note that the % change was very minimal (about .25 % at most). The mPFC and PCC are critical nodes of activation during typical mind wandering, self-reflection, and the core areas for the DMN.

Choiceless Awareness (green bars), Loving-Kindness (red), and Concentration (blue) meditations. Note that decreased activation in PCC in meditators is common across different meditation types. n = 12 per group.

What does this mean?

You may ask what this means and how it relates to mindfulness and mind-wandering. It suggests that adept meditators spend less time using the self-reflective network or “DMN” while meditating. This makes sense given the heavy reliance on concentration in these practices. But how about when adepts are simply “wandering” during passive rest? Are they like everyone else? Do they also reflect upon themselves in the past or into the future? This study did not quite capture the phenomenological differences between the groups, but it did find that the DMN had different functional connectivity patterns.

Using mPFC as a seed region for connectivity, they found increased connectivity with the fusiform gyrus, inferior temporal and parahippocampal gyri, and left posterior insula (among other regions) in meditators relative to controls during meditation. Using the PCC as a seed region, increased connectivity (compared with controls) was found with the dorsal ACC and DLPFC during all meditative states and baseline wandering, suggesting increased cognitive monitoring and working memory across both meditative and passive resting states. It would be helpful to know if there was a qualitative aspect of “wandering” that was about equal for meditators and controls.

Similarly, David Creswell and Lisa Kilpatrick demonstrated that 8-weeks of MBSR training showed increased functional connectivity of dmPFC (an anterior DMN region) with an auditory/salience neural network (especially with BA 22/39 (associated with auditory processing) and the dorsal ACC (involved in salience) . They suggest these results indicate greater positive coherence between self-referential, attention, and auditory sensory processing and may underlie  greater attention and reflective awareness of auditory experience in MBSR trained subjects.

Again, the DMN is used here as a proxy for a “wandering mind”. Decreased activity in the cortical midline structures that make up this network reflects less self-reflection or narrative self-processing, and suggests more present-centered awareness, monitoring, and attention of interoceptive and exteroceptive stimuli in the environment and associated with the body. The reason I bring attention to this area of research is that contemplative neuroscientists will likely have to take these differences in the DMN between novices and adepts into consideration when scanning meditative states. In other words, a passive mind wandering state may be different between adepts and novices or naives. Thus, between groups comparisons should likely account for these differences and at the very least, quantify the qualitative aspects of mind wandering between groups.


There is some evidence that mind wandering is adaptive. One study (for example) by Jonathan Schooler and colleagues demonstrates that increased mind wandering during a boring task increased creativity. Schooler has previously demonstrated a correlation between daydreaming and creativity—those who are more prone to mind-wandering tend to be better at generating new ideas.

See New Yorker write up [Link]

Here are some links to press related to these studies:

psychology today [Link]

Using Mindfulness for Caregivers

The development of mindfulness as a state and trait may not only be helpful for reducing stress and improving attention-related processing, but also for improving empathic ability. This is a critical skill that all caregivers could benefit from. A recent NY Times article [Link] discusses the implications of training for caregivers like MDs and two faculty that are actively doing this in Rochester, NY: Dr. Michael S. Krasner, an associate professor of clinical medicine at Rochester and one of the study authors. He, along with his co-author Dr. Ronald Epstein, a professor of family medicine, psychiatry and oncology at Rochester,

Mechanisms of Mindfulness – Deconstructing the concept into psychological and neurobiological terms

A new paper has come out in the November issue of Perspectives in Psychological Science [Link]

This paper is one of the first to begin deconstructing the concept into component processes for investigation both at the clinical and basic science level. Previous attempts at operationalizing the concept have relied on the most widely cited definition:

paying attention in a particular way, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally. This definition comes from Jon Kabat-Zinn‘s book, “Coming to Our Senses” as:

moment-to-moment, non-judgmental awareness, cultivated by paying attention in a specific way, that is, in the present moment, and as non-reactively, as non-judgmentally, and openheartedly as possible. When it is cultivated intentionally, it is sometimes referred to as deliberate mindfulness. When it spontaneously arises, as it tends to do more and more the more it is cultivated intentionally, it is sometimes referred to as effortless mindfulness.

Other attempts at operationalizing the concept have relied on this definition for a framework. See table below

Here, we unpack the definition by illustrating very specific core neurocognitive processes that appear to be targeted in cultivating mindfulness as a state and trait. These processes are supported by the extant literature with specific neuroanatomical targets as well

I elaborate a bit more on dismantling mindfulness here [Link]

see vol 12 (2011) of Contemporary Buddhism for some great commentary on the difficulty of operationalizing mindfulness [Link]:

  • Dreyfus, G. (2011). “Is mindfulness present-centred and non-judgmental? A discussion of the cognitive dimensions of mindfulness.” Contemporary Buddhism: An Interdisciplinary Journal 12(1): 41 – 54.
  • Dunne, J. (2011). “Toward an understanding of non-dual mindfulness.” Contemporary Buddhism: An Interdisciplinary Journal 12(1): 71 – 88.
  • Williams, J. M. G. and J. Kabat-Zinn (2011). “Mindfulness: diverse perspectives on its meaning, origins, and multiple applications at the intersection of science and dharma.” Contemporary Buddhism: An Interdisciplinary Journal 12(1): 1 –
  • Gethin, R. (2011). “On some definitions of mindfulness.” Contemporary Buddhism: An Interdisciplinary Journal 12(1): 263 – 279.

Many researchers now agree that mindfulness can be thought of as multi-dimensional set of skills that can be developed through the practice of specific types of meditation; however, we need to be careful not to confuse the concept of mindfulness with the common every-day usage of the term and contextualize the concept as a state, trait, type of practice, and intervention.

Media coverage for this paper:

Psych Central: “Meditation improves quality of life” [Link]

Huffington Post: “Why Mindfulness Meditation makes us healthier” [Link]

The Secular Buddhist interviews Dr. Holzel concerning this paper here [Link]

Some Statistics RE: explosion of research in Contemplative Sciences

Hi all,

Through my work with the Mind and Life Institute, I kept some statistics on the number and types of grants that were being awarded in the area of contemplative science. I also kept track of publication records. Here are some of those statistics (through 2010) to give you a sense of where this field is coming from and the steep slope indicating where it may be going.

Allocation of Grants from NIH - keyterm "meditation"

Allocation of Grants from NIH - keyterm "mindfulness"

Allocation of Grants from NIH - keyterm "yoga"

Peer-reviewed Publications (through 2010)

Peer-reviewed publications as referenced by PubMed (through 2010) is indicated. Pubmed is a division of the US National Library of Medicine and the National Institute of Health. It comprises more than 20 million citations for biomedical literature from MEDLINE, life science journals, and online books. Citations may include links to full-text content from PubMed Central and publisher web sites. The dotted line indicates when the Mind and Life Institute’s Summer Research Institute began in 2004.

NIH Grant funding (through 2010)

The graph above represents the number of grants awarded by the NIH through 2010. The RePorter database reports data and analyses of NIH research activities

The 2011 Mind & Life Summer Research Institute

The Mind & Life Summer Research Institute was yet again a successful week-long venture into the depths of contemplative science. For a description of the program and its purpose see [Link]. For pictures see picasa [Link] or Flikr [Link] and a montage with Ottmar Liebert is on youtube [Link]. (photos by Dave Vago and Dave Womack)

This was my 7th year attending the SRI and every year since 2005, scientists in this field grapple with operationalizing and deconstructing concepts that originate from an incredibly rich and complex historical context – The Buddhist “science of mind” . With an explosion of research and interest in the domain of mindfulness, science has yet to grasp the subtleties surrounding the heterogeneity of meditation practice and specifically those that seemingly cultivate mindfulness as a state, trait, and in terms of clinical interventions.

This year’s theme was devoted to the theme of ”New Frontiers in the Contemplative Sciences.” It was also paying tribute to Franciso Varela, the pioneer of neurophenomenology and the Mind and Life dialogues. A continued in-depth tri-logue has been the prescription that emerges for pushing this emerging field of contemplative science further…a trilogue between scientists, contemplative scholars/practitioners, and academics who have the ability to translate what one perspective or source of information can benefit in dissemination or integration with the other two.  By continuing this trilogue, scientists will better be able to distinguish between what they should be studying, what they think they should be studying, and what they truly are studying….

This also translates to the practitioner him/herself who must distinguish between what he/she is doing while meditating in a specific style of practice, what they think they should be doing while practicing, and what they actually are doing.  John Dunne, a Buddhist contemplative scholar/academic provided one of the more thought provoking presentations by challenging our conceptions of meditation and mindfulness as ‘Black box’ terms. He emphasized, “Historical contexts are not important if people are practicing something else”. Essentially, as scientists in this field, we MUST be absolutely clear what states of mind we are studying when we claim to be studying mindfulness.

More about Pain and Meditation

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]

Neural targets for Depression – a Neurocircuitry Model

Hi all,

Over 3 decades of neuroimaging research has begun to reveal a distinct neurocircuitry model for depression and psychopathology that involves Cortical-Striatal-Pallido-Insular-Thalamic-Temporal connectivity and dynamic activity. Check out the link below for a recent publication that proposes this model based on decades of research from the area of neuropsychiatry.


The use of Mindfulness training for acute and chronic pain

There have been a number of studies investigating the effects of mindfulness and other forms of meditation training on the experience of pain, acutely or in chronic states. Below are just a few examples from 2009-2010

1. Brown, C. A. & Jones, A. K. P. (2010). Meditation experience predicts less negative appraisal of pain: Electrophysiological evidence for the involvement of anticipatory neural responses. Pain, 150(3), 428-438.
2. Cho, S., Heiby, E. M., McCracken, L. M., Lee, S. M., & Moon, D. E. (2010). Pain-Related anxiety as a mediator of the effects of mindfulness on physical and psychosocial functioning in chronic pain patients in Korea. The Journal of Pain, 11(8), 789-97.
3. Cusens, B., Duggan, G. B., Thorne, K., & Burch, V. (2010). Evaluation of the breathworks mindfulness-based pain management programme: Effects on well-being and multiple measures of mindfulness. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 17(1), 63-78.
4. Goyal, M., Haythornthwaite, J., Levine, D., Becker, D., Vaidya, D., Hill-Briggs, F., et al. (2010). Intensive meditation for refractory pain and symptoms. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 16(6), 627-31.
5. Grant, J. A., Courtemanche, J., Duerden, E. G., Duncan, G. H., & Rainville, P. (2010). Cortical thickness and pain sensitivity in Zen meditators. Emotion, 10(1), 43-54.
6. Perlman, D. M., Salomons, T. V., Davidson, R. J., & Lutz, A. (2010). Differential effects on pain intensity and unpleasantness of two meditation practices. Emotion, 10(1), 65-71.
7. Rosenzweig, S., Greeson, J. M., Reibel, D. K., Green, J. S., Jasser, S. A., & Beasley, D. (2010). Mindfulness-Based stress reduction for chronic pain conditions: Variation in treatment outcomes and role of home meditation practice. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 68(1), 29-36.
8. Teixeira, E. (2010). The effect of mindfulness meditation on painful diabetic peripheral neuropathy in adults older than 50 years. Holistic Nursing Practice, 24(5), 277-83.
9. Zeidan, F., Johnson, S. K., Diamond, B. J., David, Z., & Goolkasian, P. (2010). Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: Evidence of brief mental training. Consciousness and Cognition, 19(2), 597-605.
10. Grant, J. A., & Rainville, P. (2009). Pain sensitivity and analgesic effects of mindful states in zen meditators: A crosssectional study. Psychosom Med, 71(1), 106.
11. McCracken, L. M., & Keogh, E. (2009). Acceptance, mindfulness, and values-based action may counteract fear and avoidance of emotions in chronic pain: An analysis of anxiety sensitivity. Journal of Pain, 10(4), 408-415.
12. Rosenzweig, S., Greeson, J. M., Reibel, D. K., Green, J. S., Jasser, S. A., & Beasley, D. (2009). Mindfulness-Based stress reduction for chronic pain conditions: Variation in treatment outcomes and role of home meditation practice. J Psychosom Res.
13. Zeidan, F., Gordon, N. S., Merchant, J., & Goolkasian, P. (2009). The effects of brief mindfulness meditation training on experimentally induced pain. Journal of Pain.

This also brings up the issue of PLACEBO. There are plenty of studies to demonstrate that negative expectation can enhance the negative experience. For example, a recent study published in Science Translational Medicine by Bingel and colleagues (“The Effect of Treatment Expectation on Drug Efficacy: Imaging the Analgesic Benefit of the Opioid Remifentanil” – [Link]) found that the effectiveness of pain killers on thermal pain decreased with expectation of receiving pain killers, while just the expectation alone of NOT receiving pain killers exacerbated the pain. In other words, the amount of potent opioid received was constant and the reported experience of pain changed in intensity depending upon expectancy.

I bring up Placebo not to make a point that  the effects of mindfulness or meditation training can be reduced to a placebo response, but more so to emphasize the powerful capability of the mind to profoundly change experience of the world depending upon OUR EXPECTATION!

As it turns out, the mechanisms of pain may be fairly clear (see Melzack’s original 1965 SCIENCE article HERE), but the biopsychsocial influences on the interpretation of pain signals is far from being completely understood.  Although over 50 billion dollars is spent on the global pain industry in prescription and over-the-counter pills…these remedies are typically little help, while some like morphine and other opiates can be highly addictive and subject to abuse.

Contemplative Science & Mindfulness Meditation Centers Across the World

The following list includes Education, Dharma, and research-related centers across the world interested in mindfulness and meditation

Contemplative & Mindfulness-related Resources (Centers and websites)

1. Mind and Life Institute [Link]

2. UMASS – center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society (JKZ) [Link]

3. UK Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy – [Link]

2. – A Shambhala Sun publication [Link]

3. – [Link]

4. Mind Body Awareness Project [Link]

5. Mindful Research Guide (David Black) – [Link]

6. The Mindfulness Center [Link]

7. Mindsight Institute [Link]

8. Shinzen Young – Meditation in Action [Link]

9. Upaya Zen Center (Roshi Joan Halifax) [Link]

10. Metro-Area Research Group on Awareness & Meditation (MARGAM) [Link]

Mindfulness-related Research Centers

1. Harvard Medical School –

a. Functional Neuroimaging Laboratory (BWH) – [Link]

b. Benson Henry Institute for Mind-body Medicine – [Link]

c. Lazar lab (MGH) – [Link]

d. Neuroscience of Meditation, Healing, and Sense of Touch  (Kerr lab) – [Link]

e. Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders (Hoge Lab) – [Link]

f. Khalsa Lab on Yoga Research [Link]

2. Roemer Research Team at UMASS – Boston [Link]

3. Emotion, Brain & Behavior lab at Tufts University [Link]

4. Center for Investigating Healthy Minds – University of Wisconsin (Richie Davidson lab) – [Link]; Lab for Affective Neuroscience[Link]

5. Stanford cCARE – Center for Compassion & Altruism Research & Education [Link]

6. Stanford Center on Stress and Health [Link]

7. University of California, Davis Center for Mind and Brain – Saron Lab (Shamatha project) [Link]

8. Britton lab (Brown) of Contemplative, Clinical, and Affective Neuroscience [Link]

9. University of California, San Francisco Osher Center for Integrative Medicine [Link] and Department of Psychiatry [link]

9. Kent State University – Psychopathology and Emotion Regulation (Fresco) lab  [Link]

10. The Jha Lab – University of Miami – Exploring the Stability and Mutability of Attention & Working Memory [Link]

11. Penn Program for Mindfulness [Link]

12. University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill – Integrative Medicine [Link]

13. University of California – San Diego Center for Mindfulness [Link]

14. University of Toronto – dept. of psychiatry (Zindel Segal) – [Link]

15. Atlanta Mindfulness Institute [Link]

16. Institute for Mindfulness-Based Approaches (Germany) [Link]

17. Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies [Link]

18. Seattle Pacific University Lustyk Lab [link]

19. University of California, Los Angeles Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC) [link] & Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology [link]

20. University of California, San Diego Center for Mindfulness [link]

Mindfulness-related Clinical-based Research Centers

1. Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy – Boston [link]

2. Society for Clinical Mindfulness and Meditation [link]

3. Duke Integrative Medicine [link]

4. Center for Mindfulness and Psychotherapy – LA [link]

5. Center for Therapeutic Neuroscience – Yale (Jud Brewer) [Link]

6. Center for Mindful Eating [link]

7. National Center for Complimentary & Alternative Medicine [link]

7. Mindfulness Practice Center at the University of Missouri [link]

8. Mindfulness Practice Center at the University of Vermont [link]

9. Mindfulness Training Institute of Washington [link]

10. Mindfulness-based Relapse Prevention (Univ. of Washington) [Link]

11. eMindful Evidence-Based Mind Body Wellness [Link]

12. Mindful Living Center [Link]

Mindfulness-related Education Centers

1. Association for Mindfulness in Education [Link]

2. EDUTOPIA – The George Lucas Educational Foundation [Link]

3. SMART – Stress Management and Relaxation Techniques in Education [Link]

4. CASEL – Collaborative for Social and Emotional Learning [Link]

5. Brown University Contemplative Sciences Initiative [Link]

6. Center for Contemplative Mind in Society [Link]

7. Garrison Institute – CARE – Cultivating Awareness and Resilience in Education [Link]

8. Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education [Link]

9. Lifespan Learning Institute [Link]

Mindfulness-related Dharma Centers

1. Insight Meditation Society (IMS), Barre, MA  [link]

2. Spirit Rock Meditation Center [Link]

3. Cambridge Insight Meditation Society [Link]

4. Boston Rigpa Meditation Center [Link]

5. Still Quiet Place [link]

Evidence-based Mindfulness Interventions

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)

Kabat-Zinn, J. (1982). An outpatient program in behavioral medicine for chronic pain patients based on the practice of mindfulness meditation: Theoretical considerations and preliminary results. General Hospital Psychiatry, 4(1), 33-47.

Kabat-Zinn, J., Lipworth, L., & Burney, R. (1985). The clinical use of mindfulness meditation for the self-regulation of chronic pain. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 8(2), 163-90.

Kabat-Zinn, J., Lipworth, L., Burncy, R., & Sellers, W. (1986). Four-Year follow-up of a meditation-based program for the self-regulation of chronic pain: Treatment outcomes and compliance. Clinical Journal of Pain, 2(3), 159.

Kabat-Zinn, J. & Chapman-Waldrop, A. (1988). Compliance with an outpatient stress reduction program: Rates and predictors of program completion. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 11(4), 333-352.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990). Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness. New York: Dell Publishing.

Kabat-Zinn, J., Massion, A. O., Kristeller, J., Peterson, L. G., Fletcher, K. E., Pbert, L., et al. (1992). Effectiveness of a meditation-based stress reduction program in the treatment of anxiety disorders. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 149(7), 936-43.

Miller, J. J., Fletcher, K., & Kabat-Zinn, J. (1995). Three-Year follow-up and clinical implications of a mindfulness meditation-based stress reduction intervention in the treatment of anxiety disorders. General Hospital Psychiatry, 17(3), 192-200.

Kabat-Zinn, J., Wheeler, E., Light, T., Skillings, A., Scharf, M. J., Cropley, T. G., et al. (1998). Influence of a mindfulness meditation-based stress reduction intervention on rates of skin clearing in patients with moderate to severe psoriasis undergoing phototherapy (UVB) and photochemotherapy (PUVA). Psychosomatic Medicine, 60(5), 625.

Carlson, L. E., Speca, M., Patel, K. D., & Goodey, E. (2003). Mindfulness-Based stress reduction in relation to quality of life, mood, symptoms of stress, and immune parameters in breast and prostate cancer outpatients. Psychosomatic Medicine, 65(4), 571-81.

Grossman, P., Niemann, L., Schmidt, S., & Walach, H. (2004). Mindfulness-Based stress reduction and health benefits. A meta-analysis. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 57(1), 35-43.

Carlson, L. E. & Garland, S. N. (2005). Impact of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) on sleep, mood, stress and fatigue symptoms in cancer outpatients. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 12(4), 278-85.

Carlson, L. E., Speca, M., Faris, P., & Patel, K. D. (2007). One year pre-post intervention follow-up of psychological, immune, endocrine and blood pressure outcomes of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) in breast and prostate cancer outpatients. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 21(8), 1038-49.

Carmody, J. and R.A. Baer, Relationships between mindfulness practice and levels of mindfulness, medical and psychological symptoms and well-being in a mindfulness-based stress reduction program. J Behav Med, 2007.

Davis, J. M., Fleming, M. F., Bonus, K. A., & Baker, T. B. (2007). A pilot study on mindfulness based stress reduction for smokers. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 7(2), 1-7.

Biegel, G. M., Brown, K. W., Shapiro, S. L., & Schubert, C. M. (2009). Mindfulness-based stress reduction for the treatment of adolescent psychiatric outpatients: A randomized clinical trial. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 77(5), 855-66.

Chiesa, A. & Serretti, A. (2009). Mindfulness-based stress reduction for stress management in healthy people: A review and meta-analysis. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine , 15(5), 593-600.

Gross, C., Cramer-Bornemann, M., Frazier, P., Ibrahim, H., Kreitzer, M. J., Nyman, J., et al. (2009). Results of a double-controlled trial of mindfulness-based stress reduction to reduce symptoms in transplant patients. Explore, 5(3), 156-156.

Bazzano, A., Wolfe, C., Zylovska, L., Wang, S., Schuster, E., Barrett, C., et al. (2010). Stress-Reduction and improved well-being following a pilot community-based participatory mindfulness-based stress-reduction (MBSR) program for parents/caregivers of children with developmental disabilities. Disability and Health Journal, 3(2), e6-7.

Goldin, P.R. and J.J. Gross, Effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) on emotion regulation in social anxiety disorder. Emotion, 2010. 10(1): p. 83-91.

Winbush, N.Y., C.R. Gross, and M.J. Kreitzer, The effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction on sleep disturbance: a systematic review. Explore (NY), 2007. 3(6): p. 585-91.

Rosenzweig, S., et al., Mindfulness-based stress reduction for chronic pain conditions: variation in treatment outcomes and role of home meditation practice. J Psychosom Res, 2010. 68(1): p. 29-36.

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)

Heidenreich, T., Tuin, I., Pflug, B., Michal, M., & Michalak, J. (1998). Mindfulness-Based cognitive therapy for persistent insomnia: A pilot study. Movement Disorders, 32, 692-698.

Williams, J. M., Teasdale, J. D., Segal, Z. V., & Soulsby, J. (2000). Mindfulness-Based cognitive therapy reduces overgeneral autobiographical memory in formerly depressed patients. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 109(1), 150.

Teasdale, J. D., Segal, Z. V., Williams, J. M., Ridgeway, V. A., Soulsby, J. M., & Lau, M. A. (2000). Prevention of relapse/recurrence in major depression by mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 68(4), 615-23.

Teasdale, J. D., Moore, R. G., Hayhurst, H., Pope, M., Williams, S., & Segal, Z. V. (2002). Metacognitive awareness and prevention of relapse in depression: Empirical evidence. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 70(2), 275-87.

Ma, S. H. & Teasdale, J. D. (2004). Mindfulness-Based cognitive therapy for depression: Replication and exploration of differential relapse prevention effects. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 72(1), 31.

Coelho, H. F., Canter, P. H., & Ernst, E. (2007). Mindfulness-Based cognitive therapy: Evaluating current evidence and informing future research. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 75(6), 1000-1005.

Bertschy, G. B., Jermann, F., Bizzini, L., Weber-Rouget, B., Myers-Arrazola, M., & van der Linden, M. (2008). Mindfulness based cognitive therapy: A randomized controlled study on its efficiency to reduce depressive relapse/recurrence. Journal of Affective Disorders, 107, 59-60.

Kuyken, W., Byford, S., Taylor, R. S., Watkins, E., Holden, E., White, K., et al. (2008). Mindfulness-Based cognitive therapy to prevent relapse in recurrent depression. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 76(6), 966-978.

Allen, M., Bromley, A., Kuyken, W., & Sonnenberg, S. J. (2009). Participants’ experiences of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy:“It changed me in just about every way possible”. Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, 37(4), 413-430.

Barnhofer, T., Crane, C., Hargus, E., Amarasinghe, M., Winder, R., & Williams, J. M. G. (2009). Mindfulness-Based cognitive therapy as a treatment for chronic depression: A preliminary study. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 47(5), 366-373.

Bondolfi, G., Jermann, F., der Linden, M. V., Gex-Fabry, M., Bizzini, L., Rouget, B. W., et al. (2010). Depression relapse prophylaxis with mindfulness-based cognitive therapy: Replication and extension in the swiss health care system. Journal of Affective Disorders, 122(3), 224-31.

Britton, W. B., Haynes, P. L., Fridel, K. W., & Bootzin, R. R. (2010). Polysomnographic and subjective profiles of sleep continuity before and after mindfulness-based cognitive therapy in partially remitted depression. Psychosomatic Medicine, 72.

Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP)

Witkiewitz, K., Marlatt, G. A., & Walker, D. (2005). Mindfulness-Based relapse prevention for alcohol and substance use disorders. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, 19(3), 211-228.

Witkiewitz, K., Marlatt, G. A., & Walker, D. D. (2006). Mindfulness-Based relapse prevention for alcohol use disorders: The meditative tortoise wins the race. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, 19, 221-228.

Bowen, S., Chawla, N., Collins, S. E., Witkiewitz, K., Hsu, S., Grow, J., et al. (2009). Mindfulness-Based relapse prevention for substance use disorders: A pilot efficacy trial. Substance Abuse, 30(4), 295-305.

Witkiewitz, K. & Bowen, S. (2010). Depression, craving, and substance use following a randomized trial of mindfulness-based relapse prevention. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 78(3), 362-74.

Chawla, N., Collins, S., Bowen, S., Hsu, S., Grow, J., Douglass, A., et al. (2010). The mindfulness-based relapse prevention adherence and competence scale: Development, interrater reliability, and validity. Psychotherapy Research, 4, 1-10.

Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting (MBCP)

Dumas, J. E. (2005). Mindfulness-Based parent training: Strategies to lessen the grip of automaticity in families with disruptive children. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 34(4), 779.

Altmaier, E. & Maloney, R. (2007). An initial evaluation of a mindful parenting program. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 63(12), 1231-1238.

Vieten, C. & Astin, J. (2008). Effects of a mindfulness-based intervention during pregnancy on prenatal stress and mood: Results of a pilot study. Archives of Women’s Mental Health, 11(1), 67-74.

Bögels, S. M., Lehtonen, A., & Restifo, K. (2010). Mindful parenting in mental health care. Mindfulness, 9(2), 1-14.

Duncan, L. G. & Bardacke, N. (2010). Mindfulness-Based childbirth and parenting education: Promoting family mindfulness during the perinatal period. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 19(2), 190-202.

Mindfulness-Based Relationship Enhancement (MBRE)

Carson, J. W., Carson, K. M., Gil, K. M., & Baucom, D. H. (2004). Mindfulness-Based relationship enhancement. Behavior Therapy, 35(3), 471-494.

Carson, J. W., Carson, K. M., Gil, K. M., & Baucom, D. H. (2006). Mindfulness-Based relationship enhancement (MBRE) in couples. In Baer, R (ed.). Mindfulness-Based Treatment Approaches: Clinician’s Guide to Evidence Base and Applications. Burlingham, MA: Academic Press, pp. 309-31.

Other Secularized Contemplative training programs:

Basic Mindfulness Program (BMP) [Link] –  Shinzen Young leads mini retreats that emphasize a specific theme such as working with emotions, managing physical discomfort, dealing with difficulty concentrating, maintaining practice in daily life and so forth. Taken together they represent a unified ongoing curriculum covering all facets of Mindfulness practice.

Young, S. (2000)Applications of Mindfulness Meditation in the Study of Human Consciousness. Towards a Science of Consciousness Conference. Tuscon, Arizona

Cultivating Emotional Balance (CEB) – A research project at the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies

Stress Management and Relaxation Techniques in Education (SMART) [Link] – eight-week teacher renewal program, is designed specifically for (K-12) educators and administrators

Contemplation in Education – Garrison Institute Report [Link]

Davidson, RJ, Dunne, J, Eccles, JS,  Engle, A, Greenberg, M, Jennings, P, Jha, A, Jinpa, T, Lantieri, L., Meyer, D., Roeser, RW, Vago, DR. (in press) Contemplative practices and mental training: Prospects for American education. Child Development Perspectives.

Roeser, R.W. & Peck, S. (2009). An education in awareness: Self, motivation, and self-regulated learning in contemplative perspective. Educational Psychologis. [Link]

Mindsight [Link]

Integrative Program in Interpersonal Neurobiology with Dr. Dan Siegel

Siegel DJ. (2007). The mindful brain: Reflection and attunement in the cultivation of wellbeing. New York: Norton.

Benson-Henry institute for Mind-Body Medicine – Relaxation Response


The Relaxation Response (RR) is a state elicited by techniques such as meditation. RR Intervention is a program developed by BHI that includes training in RR techniques and learning about the effects of stress on health.

Being With Dying Program

Professional training program in contemplative end-of-life care from Upaya

Short term “integrative body-mind training” (IBMT) improves self- and autonomic regulation

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