A Mindful Halloween and Day of the Dead

For death,
Now I know, is that first breath
Which our souls draw when we enter
Life, which is of all life center.

~Edwin Arnold


The beginning of the month of November is marked by a variety of celebrations throughout the world including the Day of the Dead and Halloween, the night before All Souls Day. Halloween was actually a pagan holiday called Samhain that was coopted by the Christians. But, they are all celebrations of those who have passed away, a celebration of our ancestors, a celebration of the dead. This might seem a bit macabre to be celebrating death. And, indeed, the macabre is an integral part of the celebration.


It does seem to be strange, however, that death is celebrated when it is in fact the second most frequent fear. So why do we celebrate? Perhaps Mark Twain put his finger on it “The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time. The celebration is not really about death. It’s actually a celebration of life. Death reminds us that our lives are limited. We celebrate to help us experience life while we still have it. As pointed out by Angelina Jolie “There’s something about death that is comforting. The thought that you could die tomorrow frees you to appreciate your life now.


These ideas are well stated in the Zen Evening Gatha that is recited every evening in Buddhist monasteries.

Let me respectfully remind you,
life and death are of supreme importance.
Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost.
Each of us should strive to awaken.
Awaken.  Take heed.
Do not squander your life.


Rather than not squandering our lives, many of us live in a state of unaware numbness, going through the motions of life, but not really living. Focusing on an anticipated happiness in the future or ruminating about past issues. We seem to not comprehend that the essence of life is the present moment. That is all life is, a long-lasting present moment. It is the only time that we can actually live. So, if we do not relish what is in the present moment, we might as well already be dead. This is where contemplative practice and mindfulness comes in. These practices help us to learn to live fully in the present, experiencing what life has to offer.


Somehow, in our everyday lives we see the present as unsatisfactory or boring. But, nothing could be further from the truth. If we truly do focus on the present we are often surprised by its richness. Even focusing on something simple like our breathing, really paying attention to it in all its exquisite detail, we can see that this simple experience is replete with beauty and nuance. We can feel the delicious sensations of our body in action. We can see how remarkable this simple process really is. We can see how essential it is to our very existence, yet we take it for granted. And that is only breathing. There is so much in the present moment that when we carefully look at it we’re amazed as to how we could ever have missed it. Life is a miracle. Life is special. Only by being mindful can we deeply immerse in the wonder of life.


But what about death itself, should we be as afraid of it as we are? It is helpful to remember that life is bounded by birth and death. Do we fear the state we were in prior to birth? In fact, many psychologists think of birth, the entry into life, as a traumatic event. It involves leaving a very peaceful state for the chaos of life, what William James called the “blooming, buzzing confusion”. So, maybe we should fear birth and not fear death which may simply return us to the peaceful prebirth state. Perhaps we should look forward to it.


The important thing and the message of Halloween and the Day of the Dead is to experience this precious time of life that we’ve been given. Indeed, many have suggested that the entire purpose of life is simply to experience it. So celebrate life and don’t worry about death. Enjoy Halloween and the Day of the Dead in the present moment. Stay in the present moment and be truly alive, celebrate every experience, and when death comes welcome it having experienced life to its fullest.


 “On no subject are our ideas more warped and pitiable than on death. Instead of the sympathy, the friendly union, of life and death so apparent in Nature, we are taught that death is an accident, a deplorable punishment for the oldest sin, the arch-enemy of life, etc…. But let children walk with Nature, let them see the beautiful blendings and communions of death and life, their joyous inseparable unity, as taught in woods and meadows, plains and mountains and streams of our blessed star, and they will learn that death is stingless indeed, and as beautiful as life, and that the grave has no victory for, for it never fights. All is divine harmony.” ~John Muir


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

Strengthen the Immune System with Qigong

Qi gong is one modality of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) believed to be at least 4,000 years-old. Written records referring to Qi and its effects are thought to be as old as 3,300 years (Shang dynasty oracle bones, Zhou dynasty inscriptions).


Qigong has been practiced for thousands of years with purported benefits for health and longevity. Qigong training is designed to enhance function and regulate the functional activities of the body through regulated breathing, mindful concentration, and gentle movements. Only recently though have the effects of qigong practice been scrutinized with empirical research. It has been found to be effective for an array of physical and psychological issues (See links below).


There is evidence that Qigong practice strengthens the immune system and lowers the incidence of upper respiratory infections (colds and flu). The state of the immune system is an indicator of the state of health of the individual. Chronic inflammation is associated with a number of diseases and what’s called the innate immune response involving high levels of Natural Killer (NK) cells. On the other hand, the ability of the body to detect and fight of infections is indicated by what’s termed the adaptive immune response and involves both T and B cells lymphocytes. It follows then that if qigong practice improves general health and fights off infection and inflammation, that practice should increase T and B lymphocytes and decrease NK cells.


In today’s Research News article “Effects on the Counts of Innate and Adaptive Immune Response Cells after 1 Month of Taoist Qigong Practice”


Vera and colleagues studied the effect of one month of qigong practice on plasma levels of T, B, and NK cells. They found that qigong practice, in comparison to control participants, increased the levels of T and B lymphocytes and decreased the levels of NK cells. This indicates that engaging in qigong practice strengthens the immune system and reduces inflammation.


These results help to explain why qigong practice appears to be so beneficial for health. It strengthens the body’s critical defenses against disease and reduces the maladaptive over-activity in this system as reflected in chronic inflammation. Importantly, qigong does this with a practice that is safe, simple, easily scalable to large numbers of people, very inexpensive, and applicable to all age groups and to both healthy and ill individuals.


So, practice qigong and strengthen the immune system.


“Tai chi is often described as “meditation in motion,” but it might well be called “medication in motion.” There is growing evidence that this mind-body practice… has value in treating or preventing many health problems.” ~Harvard Women’s Health Watch


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Qigong Links

It has been shown to improve cardiac health (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/09/02/heart-health-with-tai-chi/), reduce the risk for strokes (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/09/18/dont-get-stroked-practice-tai-chi/), reduce the physical and psychological responses to stress (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/09/28/age-healthily-with-qigong-soothing-stress-responses/), improved sleep in people suffering from insomnia (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/aging-healthily-sleeping-better-with-mindful-movement-practice/ and  http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/08/06/age-healthily-treating-insomnia-and-inflammation/), helped with recovery from cancer (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/age-healthily-mindful-movement-and-cancer-recovery/) and reduced chronic inflammation (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/contemplative-practice/tai-chi-qigong/)

Make Irritable Bowel Syndrome Less Irritating with Yoga


“The word yoga comes from Sanskrit, the language of ancient India. It means union, integration, or wholeness. It is an approach to health that promotes the harmonious collaboration of the human being’s three components: body, mind, and spirit.” – Stella Weller


Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is the most common functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorder with worldwide prevalence rates ranging from 9–23% and U.S. rates generally in the area of 10–15% affecting between 25 and 45 million people. IBS is not life threatening but it is very uncomfortable producing changes in bowel movement patterns, bloating and excess gas, and pain in the lower belly. It is also a major source of absenteeism both at work and in school. At present there are no known cures for IBS and treatments involve symptomatic relief, often with fairly radical dietary changes.


It has been shown that meditation can help relieve IBS symptoms but there is a need to find more and better treatments. Yoga practice can involve particular postures that are directed at affecting the GI tract. It is also a meditative practice. So, it would seem reasonable to investigate whether yoga practice may be useful in treating IBS. In today’s Research News article “Iyengar Yoga for Adolescents and Young Adults with Irritable Bowel Syndrome”



Evans and colleagues compared 6-weeks of yoga practice to care as usual for Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in adolescents (14-17 yrs.) and young adults (18-26 yrs.).


They found that the yoga practice had a much greater impact in the young adults than in the adolescents. Yoga practice produced significant improvement in physical functioning in the adolescents but the young adults who practiced yoga showed significant improvements in IBS symptoms, global improvement, psychological distress, functional disability, fatigue, and sleep quality. These improvements were still significant 2 months after the end of yoga practice.


IBS is usually not diagnosed until adulthood. But there are a group of adolescents who also suffer from IBS. It is interesting that yoga practice for the most part did not significantly help them. This may indicate that early onset IBS may in some ways be different or more difficult to treat than adult onset IBS. It could also indicate that adolescents are not particularly good patients and due to non-compliance do not respond to otherwise effective treatments.


The effectiveness for the young adults is striking and potentially very significant. This raises the question, however, of how yoga practice might be affective with IBS symptoms. As mentioned above, there are yoga postures that target and manipulate the GI tract and these were emphasized in the yoga taught in the study. It is possible that these manipulations of the GI tract have a positive effect on regularizing GI transit. It was also mentioned above that meditation has been shown to be helpful for IBS and meditation is a component of yoga practice.


In addition, research has demonstrated that yoga decreases the inflammatory response (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/09/11/reduce-inflammation-with-yoga/ and http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/08/27/control-inflammation-with-mind-body-practices/). Since IBS involves inflammation of the GI tract it is possible that yoga is effective for IBS by reducing bowel inflammation. Future research is needed to clarify and test these ideas.


Regardless, it is clear that practicing yoga can be very beneficial for the treatment of IBS in adults. Since, yoga practice is generally safe, with few if any side effects, is generally a healthful practice for both the body and mind, and can be implemented at low cost, it would appear to be an excellent choice for the treatment of IBS.


So, practice yoga to make Irritable Bowel Syndrome less irritating.


“You cannot always control what goes on outside. But you can always control what goes on inside.” – Mr. Yoga


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Lower Substance Use with Mindfulness  

Research has demonstrated that the age when adolescents first start using alcohol, tobacco, and other illicit drugs is a predictor of later alcohol and drug problems. More than 40% of youth who start drinking at age 14 or younger develop alcohol dependence, compared with 10% of youth who begin drinking at age 20 or older.” – Erik Laursen and Paul Brasler


Adolescence is often a time of rebellion and experimentation and drug use is often the result. In a recent survey it was found that 9% of 8th graders, 23.5% of 10th graders, and 37.4% of 12th graders used alcohol in the past month and 19.4% of seniors engaged in binge drinking. These findings are particularly troubling as nearly one in four adolescents has ridden in a car with a driver who had been drinking and car accidents are the leading cause of death for adolescents. Fortunately, alcohol use by adolescents has been decreasing over the last several years.


Unlike the decline in alcohol use, marijuana use in adolescents has remained steady. Marijuana use in the preceding month was reported by 6.5% of 8th graders, 16.6% of 10th graders, and 21.2% of 12th graders with around 6% percent of 12th graders reporting daily use of marijuana.  Marijuana was reported as easy to obtain by 81% of 12th graders.


These statistics are troubling and methods to reduce the use of alcohol and marijuana among adolescents are needed. Mindfulness has been shown to help with recovery from alcohol abuse (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/08/28/kick-the-drug-habit-with-mindfulness/). This raises the question as to whether mindfulness might be useful in combating adolescent alcohol and marijuana use.


In today’s Research News article “When you see it, let it be: Urgency, mindfulness and adolescent substance use”



Robinson and colleagues studied male and female youths in the 9th through 12th grades and measured mindfulness and alcohol, substance use patterns, impulsivity, and urgency, the impulsive tendency toward rash action. They found that mindfulness was associated with lower urgency, impulsivity, and alcohol and marijuana use. They also found that urgency and impulsivity were associated with greater alcohol and marijuana use.


These results suggest that mindfulness may be useful for restraining alcohol and marijuana use in adolescents. The findings, however, are correlational and thus do not allow the conclusion that mindfulness is the cause of lower use. It could be that lack of drug use makes them more mindful or some third factor, such as attention problems is responsible for both. A study training students in mindfulness and looking at subsequent alcohol and marijuana use is needed. But, these results are an encouraging first step.


The fact that mindfulness was associated with lower urgency and impulsivity is very interesting as these traits have been previously shown to be associated with the initiation of alcohol and marijuana use in adolescents. It also may indicate that mindfulness lowers alcohol and marijuana use by lowering urgency and impulsivity which in turn results in a lowering of use. It is known that mindfulness improves emotion regulation in general (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/09/10/take-command-and-control-of-your-emotions/ and http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/08/20/regulate-emotions-with-mindfulness/) and the finding for urgency and impulsivity may be another instance. Further research is needed to clarify these ideas.


So, lower substance use with mindfulness.


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Develop a Better Brain Mindfully

The nervous system changes dramatically during development. It is a time when the brain is greatly affected by the environment and experiences of the individual. This is what neuroscientists call neuroplasticity. It is present in adulthood, but is particularly evident and important during development. The nervous system is molded to efficiently analyze the environment presented.


Studies of the development of the nervous system during adolescence have revealed marked changes occurring throughout the teen years. The brain doesn’t look like that of an adult until the early 20s. Over the course of childhood the outer layer of the nervous system, the cortex, increases in thickness and then during adolescence thins. Late adolescence is a time of brain development when the highest levels of intellectual development are being produced by refinements in the structures of the nervous system. The thinning of the cortex is thought to reflect a pruning of cortical systems making processing more and more efficient. It is making the nervous system more efficient and tuned to the environment in which it is immersed.


It is thought that many of the emotional and behavioral problems during adolescence occur due to the fact that the neural systems underlying emotional reactivity and expression are fully developed well before the development of the higher processes that regulate and control the emotions and the responses to the emotions. As a result, adolescent behavior can be overly determined by emotion. This can potentially explain the high rates of teen suicide, reckless, thrill seeking behavior, and social anxiety. The erratic emotion driven behavior of the teen years is reflected in the teen nervous system.


Mindfulness has been shown to be associated with emotion regulation. The higher the level of mindfulness the better able the individual is in experiencing emotions at a manageable level and responding to them adaptively and appropriately (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/09/10/take-command-and-control-of-your-emotions/). Hence, it makes sense to study the development of the brain, mindfulness, and emotion regulation during adolescence. Perhaps mindfulness can compensate for some of the emotional dominance of behavior in the teen.


In today’s Research News article “Dispositional mindfulness is predicted by structural development of the insula during late adolescence”


Friedel and colleagues use MRI neuroimaging to measure brain structure of males and females at age 16 and again at age 19 to view the changes occurring during late adolescence. They also measured mindfulness, emotional self-regulation, attention, inhibitory control, frustration, as well as behavioral aggression and depressive mood. High levels of mindfulness were found to be associated with higher levels of cognitive reappraisal, attention and inhibitory control, and lower levels of self-reported frustration, aggression and depressive mood. In other words, the adolescents who were very mindful were in better control of their emotions.


Friedel and colleagues then compared the brains at 16 years to those at 19 years and observed the expected thinning of cortical regions over this period. They found that mindfulness was associated with less thinning of an area called the Insula and that this was also associated with intelligence. They also found that the higher the level of mindfulness the less thinning of the Insula occurred and the higher the IQ test score.


These are intriguing findings. The Insula is an area of the cortex that has been found to be associated with interoceptive awareness, that is with the individual’s sensitivity to and awareness of their internal state. This is important for regulating emotions as the first step in regulating is actually becoming aware that they are occurring. Hence, the results suggest that the improved emotion regulation that is associated with mindfulness during late adolescence may be due to improved awareness of the emotional state and that this is due to less thinning of the Insula region of the cortex.


So, develop the brain mindfully and develop a more in-control teen.


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Improve Well-being with HIV with Mindfulness

People wait in line to see me, saying there’s plenty of living to be done even if you have an HIV diagnosis. People say they are 10- or 15-year survivors and still moving forward. – Greg Louganis


More than 35 million people worldwide and 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV infection. In 1996, the advent of the protease inhibitor and the so-called cocktail changed the prognosis for HIV. Since this development a 20 year old infected with HIV can now expect to live on average to age 69. Hence, living with HIV is a long-term reality for a very large group of people.


People living with HIV infection experience a wide array of physical and psychological symptoms which decrease their perceived quality of life. The symptoms include muscle aches, depression, weakness, fear/worries, difficulty with concentration, concerns regarding the need to interact with a complex healthcare system, stigma, and the challenge to come to terms with a new identity as someone living with HIV. Hence there is a need to find methods to improve the quality of life in people who are living with HIV infection.


Mindfulness has been shown to improve psychological and physical well-being in people suffering from a wide range of disorders (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/why-is-mindfulness-so-beneficial/ and http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/how-do-mindfulness-based-interventions-improve-mental-health/). So, it would stand to reason that mindfulness would also be beneficial for people who are living with HIV infection.


In today’s Research News article “Dispositional mindfulness in people with HIV: Associations with psychological and physical health”


Moskowitz and colleagues investigated the mindfulness, appraisal, positive and negative affect, coping, and indicators of psychological well-being and physical health of a group of primarily male HIV positive individuals. They found that mindfulness has significantly associated with a number of positive indicators of psychological well-being. HIV infected individuals who were high in mindfulness were found to have lower depression, lower perceived stress, fewer hassles, less negative affect, less escape-avoidance and self-blame forms of coping and more positive affect.


There are a number of potential explanations for the association of mindfulness with improved psychological well-being. The study demonstrated that the association between mindfulness and lower depression was mediated by lower perceived stress and negative emotions. This makes sense as mindfulness has been shown to reduce both the physical and psychological responses to stress (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/destress-with-mindfulness/) and it is also known to improve emotion regulation (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/09/10/take-command-and-control-of-your-emotions/) and stress reduction and emotion regulation are helpful in relieving depression. In addition, since mindful individuals are more attuned to the present moment they may be better able to deal with whatever symptoms are present and not worry and catastrophize about the future.

The results are impressive. They are, however, only associations and it cannot be concluded that there is a causal link between mindfulness and the improved psychological well-being. A trial where mindfulness training is actively manipulated is needed to resolve this issue. Nevertheless, these results are suggestive that mindfulness training may be a way to help the vast numbers of people living with HIV infection adapt and cope with the physical and psychological issues associated with living with infection.


So, be mindful of HIV


I’m not cured, but the HIV is asleep deep in my body.”- Magic Johnson


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

Desire Nothing

Desire Nothing


To reach satisfaction in all
desire its possession in nothing,
To come to the knowledge of all
desire the knowledge of nothing.
To come to possess all
desire the possession of nothing.
To arrive at being all
desire to be nothing.
— St. John of the Cross


The instruction to desire nothing is very common in spiritual teachings. But, it is very difficult to actually do. For one thing, desiring nothing in and of itself is a desire. So, to actually successfully follow the instruction you have to completely stop wanting anything including the desire to completely stop wanting anything.


If we desire anything it indicates that we want something other than what we have right now. It indicates unhappiness with the present moment. In other words, it suggests that we are not accepting things as they are. So, one way to begin to “desire nothing” is to simply accept everything as it is. Easier said than done! We are designed to constantly strive to change control and improve ourselves and our environment.


To “desire nothing” does not mean that we don’t seek things. Our bodies seek air, water, and food in order to survive. But, we don’t have to desire air in order to breathe. The body will take care of breathing without our paying any attention to it or feeling any desire. The difference is one of simply allowing it to be as it is and not trying to control or interfere in it. Just let nature take its’ course, without interference.


To the mind the instruction to “desire nothing” is an anathema. But, the instruction is not to the mind, it is to the awareness that underlies all. It is basically telling the mind to cease and desist and let our basic underlying nature take over. Just be! Just let everything be as it is, without thought, judgment, or control.


We can’t control the mind. It is going to attempt to control our experience regardless of our attempts to stop it. So how do we “desire nothing?” We simply let the mind do its thing and not latch onto it and believe in it. We simply let it go. We watch it but we don’t feed it. We let thoughts flow through awareness like clouds through the sky. Just experiencing them but giving them no attention. This will result in the mind slowly, slowly, slowly quieting down. It will never completely stop. It will just provide more and longer gaps between its actions. In these gaps between thoughts we can “desire nothing.”


What St. John was driving at was that in order to attain an awakening, an enlightenment, we must stop chasing after things. We must stop attaching to things. We must stop desiring them. This would suggest that “desiring nothing” is a prerequisite for enlightenment. But, could St. John have cause and effect confused. Perhaps “desiring nothing” is actually results from awakening rather than the other way around. Regardless, if “desiring nothing” is a component of enlightenment then by practicing “desiring nothing” we can move closer to an awakening.


Contemplative practices are techniques to help quiet the mind and bring about a state of “desiring nothing.” Each practice moves us towards non-judgmental awareness, towards accepting things as they are, in other words, towards “desiring nothing.” For St. John the practice was contemplative prayer, for the Buddha, it was meditation, for the yogis it’s yoga. There are many paths to the same goal. But, all involve practicing being in the present moment and accepting it just as it is.


So, engage in contemplative practice and learn to “desire nothing”


“The root of suffering is attachment.” – Buddha


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Keep Grades Up with Downward Dog.


“When you give [kids] yoga poses, use visualization, and allow them to move their bodies, their whole learning ability goes up several notches . . . When you teach kids, it’s not about telling them—it’s about creating experiences for them where they connect the dots, and create new dots.” – Marsha Wenig


Mindfulness training has been shown to have a wide range of benefits for the psychological and physical health of adults. If it is this useful for adults then it only stands to reason that mindfulness training in children might establish a permanent trait of mindfulness that could produce lifelong benefits.


On the short-term, mindfulness training has been shown to benefit elementary school children producing improvement in a wide array of academic, social, emotional, cognitive, and physical measures. (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/08/08/building-a-better-adult-with-elementary-school-mindfulness-training/). So it is clear that contemplative practice can be beneficial for children.
Yoga is not only a contemplative practice but also a physical practice that strengthens the body while stretching tendons and muscles. Its physicality might be particularly attractive to school children because of their high energy levels that lack an outlet in the school environment. Indeed, yoga has been found to be beneficial for children. So, yoga may be an excellent contemplative practice for implementation with school children.


In today’s Research News article “Yoga May Mitigate Decreases in High School Grades”



Butzer and colleagues had high school students either participate in a physical education class as usual or a class employing yoga and investigate school performance as measured by the students’ GPAs. They found that over the school year, GPA tended to decline in both groups. But the yoga group had a significantly smaller decline than the PE as usual group while the yoga was being taught. After the end of yoga instruction, the students’ GPAs declined so that by the end of the school year the yoga group’s GPAs were comparable to those of the PE as usual group.


These results suggest that yoga practice has immediate short-term benefits for the academic performance of high school students. But, the benefits do not last after yoga is terminated. This suggests that the exercise aspect of yoga was the critical component. But, the PE class was also focused on physical exercise, so it is unlikely that this accounts for the differences in the GPA declines.


A key difference between yoga and physical education is that yoga is known to improve self-regulatory processes, including emotional, cognitive, and behavioral self-regulation. This may result in a reduction in perceived stress and improve attention in the classroom which could improve academic performance. The results are intriguing and should be followed up with further research.


So, practice yoga and keep school grades up.


“Scientific evidence is mounting daily for what many have long sensed: that practices like mindfulness, meditation, and yoga can help us address certain intractable individual and societal problems . . . And, perhaps more importantly for our global health, for kids dealing with extreme stressors, traumas and abuse, putting these practices into schools could be the difference between failure and success.” – Alice G. Watson


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

“Physician, Heal Thyself” with Mindfulness


“As physicians we owe our patients two things– only two things– our time and our skill. We do not owe our patients our lives. To excessively devote our lives to the practice of medicine while we neglect other aspects of living may be tantamount to never having lived at all.” – Joseph D. Wassersug, M.D.


Primary healthcare provides are a critical component of any healthcare system. Yet there is a shortage of primary care providers. It is estimated that there is a shortage in the U.S. of over 9,000 physicians. The shortages are not just due to training insufficient numbers of healthcare provides but also due to high turnover rates. In part because of the shortage and high patient loads, primary healthcare providers experience high stress and burnout. They experience a loss of enthusiasm for work, feelings of cynicism, and a low sense of personal accomplishment.


In a recent survey 46% of all physicians responded that they had burnout. Currently, over a third of healthcare workers report that they are looking for a new job. Nearly half plan to look for a new job over the next two years and 80% expressed interest in a new position if they came across the right opportunity. Since there is such a great need to retain primary healthcare providers, it is imperative that strategies be identified to decrease stress and burnout.


Mindfulness is a possible help in reducing perceived stress and burnout. Indeed, high mindfulness has been shown to be associated with less stress and burnout in emergency medicine personnel (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/08/10/burnout-burnout-with-mindfulness/). This is promising and suggests theat there is a need for continued research into the relationship of mindfulness and stress in primary healthcare providers.

In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness, perceived stress, and subjective well-being: a correlational study in primary care health professionals”



Atanes and colleagues performed a survey of 450 primary healthcare provider in Brazil, including family physicians, registered nurses, nursing assistants, and community health workers. They measured mindfulness, perceived stress and subjective well-being and found that these groups reported high levels of perceived stress. Importantly, they found that high levels of mindfulness were associated with low levels of perceived stress and high levels of subjective well-being.


These results suggest that mindfulness is to some extent and antidote to high stress and burnout in primary healthcare providers. There are a number of benefits to mindfulness that could be responsible for the reduced perceived stress and increased well-being. In particular mindfulness has been shown to reduce both physiological and psychological responses to stress (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/destress-with-mindfulness/). Mindfulness has also been shown to increase emotion regulation which prepares the individual to experience and respond to emotional situations appropriately and thereby reduces stress (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/be-smart-about-emotions/). Finally, mindfulness is associated with higher levels of focus on the present moment. This tends to reduce catastrophizing, worry, and anxiety (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/stop-worrying/) and thereby can reduce psychological stress in primary healthcare providers.


These results are potentially important and strongly suggest that the employment of mindfulness training might help primary healthcare providers deal with the stresses of their work environments. This need to be studied with controlled trials. Additionally, the results may have more far reaching applicability than just to the healthcare field. Mindfulness may help with all kinds of stresses in all kinds of situations. Obviously more research is needed in this promising area.


So, practice mindfulness and heal thyself from stress and burnout.


“Stress, burnout and strain on the human heart are all increasingly taking their toll for millions of hardworking people. However, even someone who is working in a job that simply ‘pays the bills’ can turn mundane and stressful tasks into pleasant activities with a slight adjustment in attitude and by adopting a daily mindful practice.” ― Christopher Dines
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Get Connected with Mindfulness


The human brain has 100 billion neurons, each neuron connected to 10 thousand other neurons. Sitting on your shoulders is the most complicated object in the known universe. – Michio Kaku
There are billions of cells in the nervous system that you are born with. Since the number of cells doesn’t increase as we mature, in fact it decreases, it should be obvious that our increased mental capacity is due to the development of connections between these cells. Indeed, the intelligence of a normal individual human is not related to the number of cells in the brain, but rather to how they are connected. It should be clear that the connectivity of the brain is a key to its capacity to perform mental functions.


Mindfulness is known to increase the number of cells in certain areas of the nervous system and decrease the number of cells in other areas and also increase the connectivity of some areas to others (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/08/01/this-is-your-brain-on-meditation/). Since the interactions between neural areas is so central to determining the capabilities of the nervous system it is important to investigate exactly what areas and systems are activated together and which do not.


In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness is associated with intrinsic functional connectivity between default mode and salience networks”



Doll and colleagues investigated the relative activities of the intrinsic brain networks. Research has identified three distinct interconnected areas, networks that are associated with different mind states during meditation. When the meditator is focused on present experience the dorso-lateral prefrontal cortex, the central executive network (CEN) was activated. During mind wandering the default mode network (DMN) was activated. When the individual became aware of mind wandering the salience network (SN) was activated.


Doll and colleagues found that the higher the mindfulness of the individual the greater the inverse relationship between the networks respective activities. That is, they found that the higher the activity of one network the lower the activity of the others. In other words the three networks had tendencies to inhibit each other’s activity. So, when areas associated with increased focus on the present moment were activated there was a reduction in activity in areas associated with mind wandering and detecting salience and visa-versa. The higher the individual’s level of mindfulness the greater the negative relationship.


Hence, mindfulness is associated with greater mutual inhibition between the three neural networks. The more mindful the individual is the greater the difference between the networks’ activities. This suggests that mindfulness is associated with neural system interactions, such that their activities become more distinct. When focused on the present moment mind wandering is much less in a mindful individual. Similarly, when mind wandering is present in that mindful individual, focus on the present moment is lower.


Thus the neural systems reflect the observations that mindful people have more focused attention on their mental state than less mindful people. Their brains appear better able to separate out and focus on specific mental states. Hence the brains of mindful people are tuned to and probably underlie their abilities to pay attention in the present moment nonjudgmentally.


So, practice mindfulness and get your neural networks more connected.


The brain is like a muscle. When it is in use we feel very good. Understanding is joyous.” – Carl Sagan
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies