Decrease Suicidality with Mindfulness


Killing yourself is a major commitment, it takes a kind of courage. Most people just lead lives of cowardly desperation. It’s kinda half suicide where you just dull yourself with substances.” – Robert Crumb


Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US for all ages. It is much more prevalent with males who account for 79% of suicides. Every day, approximately 105 Americans die by suicide. Worldwide over 800,000 people die by suicide every year. (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education). Yet compared with other life threatening conditions there has been scant research on how to identify potential suicide attempters and reduce suicidality.


Depression and other mood disorders are the number-one risk factor for suicide, but alcohol and drug abuse – even without depression – are a close second. In fact, research has shown that the strongest predictor of suicide is alcoholism, not a psychiatric diagnosis. People with substance use disorders are about six times more likely to commit suicide than the general population. To make matter worse people with substance abuse are often incarcerated. In prison suicidality is even higher than outside. It is not the primary effects of the substances that promote suicide as the likelihood of suicide does not decline after complete withdrawal from the drugs or alcohol.


So there is a great need to study suicidality especially in conjunction with substance use disorders to identify predictors and potential methods to prevent actual suicide attempts. In today’s Research News article “Trait Mindfulness, Reasons for Living and General Symptom Severity as Predictors of Suicide Probability in Males with Substance Abuse or Dependence”

Mohammadkhani and colleagues studied incarcerated and outpatient substance abusers and measured mindfulness, psychiatric symptoms, reasons for living, and suicide probability. These groups were indeed high risk as 36% of the outpatients and 42% of the incarcerated participants had attempted suicide. They found that the strongest single predictor of suicide probability was the severity of the individuals’ psychiatric symptoms and the second was fear of social disapproval. Importantly, they found that the higher the level of mindfulness, the lower the probability of suicide.


These findings are interesting and suggest that mindfulness training might be an effective intervention to lower suicidality and the risk of attempting suicide in the high risk population of substance abusers. Of course, a randomized clinical trial is needed to establish effectiveness.


The findings also raise interesting questions as to why mindfulness might be an antidote to suicidality. There are a number of known effects of mindfulness that might account for its negative association with suicidality. Mindfulness has been shown to decrease psychiatric symptoms and depression, the leading causes of suicide attempts. Indeed, they found that high mindfulness was associated with lower levels of psychiatric symptoms. Mindfulness also improves emotion regulation allowing the individual to respond more adaptively to sometimes overwhelming emotions. In addition, it is known to reduce physiological and psychological responses to stress which might lower stress’ ability to prompt a suicide attempt. In addition, suicide is often associated with hopelessness about the future. Mindfulness by increasing focus on the present moment lowers worry and rumination about the future and may thereby reduce the likelihood of a suicide attempt. Finally, mindfulness is known to help prevent relapse after successful withdrawal from addiction and this may make the individual more hopeful about the future.


Regardless of the reasons, mindfulness appears to be able to buffer the individual against the forces that can promote and prompt suicide.


Suicide is a serious thing. And if you know anyone who is suicidal, you need to get them help. No one should be in pain. Everyone should love themselves. – Gerard Way


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Lower Disordered Eating with Genuine Religion and Spirituality


“Eating disorders are like a gun that’s formed by genetics, loaded by a culture and family ideals, and triggered by unbearable distress.” – Aimee Liu


Around 30 million people in the United States of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder; either anorexia nervosa, bulimia, or binge eating disorder.  95% of those who have eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 26. Eating disorders are not just troubling psychological problems, they can be deadly, having the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Indeed, the mortality rate associated with anorexia nervosa is 12 times higher than the death rate associated with all causes of death for females 15-24 years old


Anorexia Nervosa is particular troubling as it is often fatal as sufferers literally starve themselves to death. It occurs in about 1% to 4% of women in the U.S. In binge eating disorder (BED), the initiation of eating frequently results in the ingestion of wildly excessive amounts. It is called disinhibited eating as there appears to be no restraints (inhibitions) that stop food intake. Once eating starts it goes on without anything holding it back. “Binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in the United States, affecting 3.5% of women, 2% of men, and up to 1.6% of adolescents.” – National Eating Disorders Association. Bulimia Nervosa is characterized by a cycle of binge eating followed by some form of purge, often induced vomiting. It is estimated that up to 4% of females in the United States will have bulimia during their lifetime. Tragically around 4% of the sufferers will die.


Disordered eating is difficult to deal with in part because it is frequently paired with other disorders. In fact, around 50% of people with eating disorders meet the criteria for clinical depression. Eating disorders are also difficult to treat because eating is necessary and cannot be simply stopped as in smoking cessation or abstaining from drugs or alcohol. One must learn to eat appropriately not stop. So, it is important to find methods that can help prevent and treat eating disorders. Contemplative practices, mindfulness, and mindful eating have shown promise for treating eating disorders (see


In today’s Research News article “Religiosity, spirituality in relation to disordered eating and body image concerns: A systematic review”

Akrawi and colleagues review the literature on the relationship between religiosity and eating disorders. They defined religiosity “as a system of organized beliefs, practices, rituals and symbols designed to facilitate closeness to the transcendent” and spirituality “as the personal quest for understanding answers to ultimate questions about life, meaning, and a relationship with the transcendent.” They found that an extrinsic orientation to religion and spirituality where faith was superficial and religion was “pursued for social reasons, and seen as a way of achieving status, acceptance and security,” was associated with higher levels of disordered eating. Conversely, they found that an intrinsic orientation to religion and spirituality where faith was deep and devout and religion was associated “with deeply internalized beliefs manifested through strong religious observance and commitment,” was associated with lower levels of disordered eating. So sincere spirituality but not superficial spirituality is related to low incidence of eating disorders.


Eating disorders are often driven by social concerns, particularly about how one appears to others. So, it is not surprising that superficial faith that is also pursued for social reasons would be associated with high levels of eating disorders. The individuals’ high reliance on the opinions of others is their downfall. On the other hand a deep and devout religious orientation is associated with the idea that the body is a temple of God and must be treated as a sacred object. So, it is not surprising that devout faith is associated with lower levels of eating disorders. The individual looks to a higher power for solutions to their problems.


It is not known what the causal connections might be. It is possible that the kinds of people who are sincerely religious are also the kinds of people who are resistant to eating disorders rather than spirituality being the cause of lower rates of eating disorders. But the results are promising and suggest that devout engagement in religion and spirituality may be of assistance in resisting the development of an eating disorder.


So, lower disordered eating with genuine religion and spirituality


“Most women in our culture, then, are disordered when it comes to issues of self-worth, self-entitlement, self-nourishment, and comfort with their own bodies; eating disorders, far from being ‘bizarre’ and anomalous, are utterly continuous with a dominant element of the experience of being female in this culture.” – Susan Bordo


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Mindfulness is not Always Good for Creativity


Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. – Steve Jobs


Mindfulness is the ability to focus on what is transpiring in the present moment. It involves a greater emphasis on attention to the immediate stimulus environment. Mindful people generally have better attentional abilities and have fewer intrusive thoughts and less mind wandering. As a result mindfulness has been shown to be associated with differences in thought processes (see Most of the time these differences are associated with beneficial results, but sometimes they can lead to negative outcomes including a greater tendency to have false memories (see Given the differences in thinking and attention the question arises as to the effect of mindfulness on creativity. Does it make the individual more creative or does it interfere with the creative process?


In today’s Research News article “Mind wandering “Ahas” versus mindful reasoning: alternative routes to creative solutions”

Zedelius and colleagues investigate the relationship between mindfulness and creativity. They measured mindfulness and then tested creativity with a Compound Remote Associations test. In this test the participant is asked to discover a word that connects three other words. For example the individual is given “ache, hunter, cabbage.”  An appropriate response might be “head” which links the words ‘head ache’, ‘head hunter’, and ‘head of cabbage.’ This solution can be arrived at by carefully analyzing the words and recalling words that are associated with each one to find a common associate, or it can be solved with insight where the solution just suddenly appears. After a solution was found the participants were asked to identify which of these strategies they used or a combination of both.


Zedelius and colleagues found that when the problem was solved by insight, mindfulness was associated with poorer performance. On the other hand when it was solved analytically mindfulness was associated with better performance. In other words, mindfulness improved analytic thinking but interfered with insightful thinking. These results make sense if it is considered that analytical thinking requires focused attention which is what is promoted by mindfulness. On the other hand, insightful thinking, thinking outside of the box, often involves allowing the mind to wander in different directions bringing in new and different possible solutions. Since mindfulness is associated with less mind wandering, it seems logical that it would interfere with the process of insight.


So, mindfulness is not a uniformly good thing. Although we usually think of mind wandering and being off task as a bad thing to be inhibited, that mind wandering, in fact, may be the source of insightful creativity. Our schools focus on analytical thinking and many are adopting mindfulness training into their curriculum to improve attention and school performance. But, as desirable as this may be, it may come at the cost of lowering creative insights. Perhaps, there is a need to train the student to be mindful when appropriate but to let the mind wander at other times to promote creativity.


So, practice mindfulness but realize that it may make you less insightful.


“To be and to be creative are synonymous. It is impossible to be and not to be creative. But that impossible thing has happened, that ugly phenomenon has happened, because all your creative sources have been plugged, blocked, destroyed, and your whole energy has been forced into some activity that the society thinks is going to pay.” – Osho
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Stop Making Yourself Depressed with Mindfulness

“Rumination . . . becomes the fast track to feeling helpless. Specifically, it paralyzes your problem-solving skills. You become so preoccupied with the problem that you’re unable to push past the cycle of negative thoughts.” – Margarita Tartakovsky

Depression is epidemic. Major depressive disorder affects approximately 14.8 million American adults, or about 6.7 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older, in a given year, is more prevalent in women than in men, and as one in 33 children and one in eight adolescents have clinical depression. It can be fatal as about 2/3 of suicides are caused by depression. It makes lives miserable, not only the patients but also associates and loved ones, interferes with the conduct of normal everyday activities, and can come back repeatedly. Even after complete remission, 42% have a reoccurrence.


Depression can be a downward spiral where depressed people repeatedly think about their problems which, in turn, reinforces the depression making it worse and worse. This repetitive thinking is known as rumination. It is like a record that’s stuck and keeps repeating the same lyrics. It’s replaying a dispute with a loved one in the individual’s mind. It’s going over their past mistakes, again and again. Research has shown that rumination produces a variety of negative consequences, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, binge-drinking and binge-eating.


One of the keys to dealing with depression may be addressing these repetitive thoughts. In fact, rumination may be a major contributing factor to recurrent depression. Mindfulness has been demonstrated to reduce worry and rumination (see and be effective for treating depression and preventing reoccurrence of depression (see So, it is possible that mindfulness’ beneficial effects upon depression may be mediated by its effects on worry and rumination.


In today’s Research News article “Memory Specificity and Mindfulness Jointly Moderate the Effect of Reflective Pondering on Depressive Symptoms in Individuals with a History of Recurrent Depression”

Brennan and colleagues studied adult patients with recurrent depression who had had at least three depressive episodes. They found that the more mindful the patients were the lower their depression and the lower their levels of brooding (rumination). They also found that high levels of using autobiographical memory along with low levels of mindfulness made depression worse in people who tended to think a lot. Hence high mindfulness may be protective against over thinking exacerbation of depression.


The results did not produce strong evidence that mindfulness is successful for depression by way of its effects on rumination. To a large extent each appeared to have independent effects on depression with mindfulness making it better and rumination making it worse. This may be the case for individuals with recurrent depression. More research is needed to see if it is also true for individuals with current depression or who are at-risk for depression.


Mindfulness can affect depression in a number of ways. It is known to improve emotion regulation, the ability to experience emotions and still react constructively to them. This can allow the individual to fully experience the feeling that they’re having but not overreact to them and let them dissipate. Mindfulness is also known to reduce physiological and psychological responses to stress and stress is known to be associated with depression. So, reducing it could lead to lower depression. Finally, mindfulness by focusing the individual on the present moment tends to decrease rumination about the past and worry about the future. So, there are many routes by which mindfulness may be effective for recurrent depression. But, it is clear that it is a safe and effective treatment for depression or to prevent reoccurrence of depression.


So, be mindful and stop making yourself depressed.


“Start living right here, in each present moment. When we stop dwelling on the past or worrying about the future, we’re open to rich sources of information we’ve been missing out on—information that can keep us out of the downward spiral and poised for a richer life.” ― Mark Williams


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies



Have a Mindful Thanksgiving


I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual.– Henry David Thoreau


“The greatest gift one can give is thanksgiving. In giving gifts, we give what we can spare, but in giving thanks we give ourselves.”
Br. David Steindl-Rast


Thanksgiving is a time for gratefulness. Most people, most of the time rue what they want and don’t have. So Thanksgiving is particularly important as a reminder of how lucky we are for all the blessings we have. It is a time to recognize that despite all our negative thoughts we have everything that we really need and probably much, much, more.


At this time of year the fall harvest is in and almost universally there is a celebration of the abundance provided. These crops will sustain us through the cold winter and till new crops can be planted, grow, mature, and are harvested. Hence, thanksgiving is very much a celebration of nature and all that it provides. In a modern world we lose track of all that is entailed in bringing us this food. When we are grateful for the food we need to recognize that we should be also be grateful for the seeds, the sun, the rain, the soil, the insects and birds that pollinate the crops, and even the worms and grubs that prepare the soil. Without any of these the food would not grow. In a sense, if we look carefully, we understand that our gratefulness is not just for the particular food item. It is in fact for the entire universe to which we and the food are intimately connected.


These interconnections extend into society and technology. The steel to build the plow, the engines that move the plow, the trains and trucks that transport the food, the farmers, drivers, and engineers, the fuel for the engine, the oil wells and refineries that produce the fuel, the engineers who designed and built the machinery and factories, the men and women who educated the scientists, engineers, and farmers. I’m sure by now that you’ve got the picture. A little reflection soon reveals the vast network of interconnections, even stretching back in time.


Thanksgiving is also a time to celebrate the people we are closest to, our friends and especially our family. They are our origin and our support through development. They are our connections to the past and future. They are the emotional fuel that sustains us. They give us hope and purpose. Yes, there is dysfunction. That goes with all forms of human interactions. But, should we lose any of them we will quickly realize how important they our to our flourishing and happiness.  Remember, that on the deathbed, one of the biggest regrets is not having spent more time with family and friends. Thanksgiving is a time to recognize these interconnections, to be grateful for these people and their importance to our existence.


Certainly one of the most taken for granted amazing blessings that we have is our own awareness. We’ve always been aware. We’ve never, not been aware. So, it is so easy for it to go unrecognized and unappreciated. But, reflect for a moment what a miracle it is. There is an essence to us that is forever present and unchanging. What we are aware of is constantly changing, but that which is aware is not. Without our awareness we are nothing but biological automatons, robots. With it we are suddenly human and spiritual. We would not be able to be grateful or enjoy Thanksgiving without it. So, do not forget on Thanksgiving to be grateful for this wonder that forms the essence of what we are.


There is a very subtle kind of gratefulness that we should also adopt. It’s what the great sage Thich Nhat Hahn calls our “non-toothache.” He points out that if we had a toothache we would be thinking how grateful we’d be if it ended. But once it does we take it for granted. We need to be thankful not only for what we have but also for many things that we don’t. The health of our bodies is taken for granted, but we should be intensely grateful for our non-disease. We may not be happy in our job, but if we didn’t have one we’d think how grateful we’d be to find one. We may be unhappy for the police officer who gave us a speeding ticket. But, we don’t recognize that our safety on the roads depends upon enforcement of the laws. We should be thankful for our non-accident. We are so fortunate in so many ways that we take for granted like our “non-toothache”. But, at Thanksgiving it is good to reflect upon all of these unnoticed blessings.


Finally, it is illuminating to reflect on whether you’re a source of thanksgiving for others. Specifically, what have you done that would make someone grateful to you. In other words, what have you given. This is important as it is not always what we have or what we get that’s important but what we share, what we do for others, and what we give. This is often the source of genuine happiness. The things that we have are never satisfying in a lasting way, but the things that we give forever bring joy. So, ask yourself on Thanksgiving, have you truly and sincerely given to others without expecting something in return?


It is very useful to reflect upon all of these things at Thanksgiving. The modern world, with its emphasis on self-sufficiency and individuality, produces feelings of independence and isolation. But these thanksgiving reflections soon reveal that this is an illusion. We are inextricably connected to the entire fabric of the universe, the tapestry of our physical, social, and spiritual existence. There is so much to be grateful for that upon reflection we can see that our sufferings are silly and small by comparison. We should revel in the vast interconnected blessings that make up everything about our world and ourselves. We should celebrate the miracle of life and our awareness of it.


So, eat, drink, and be merry on Thanksgiving, enjoy the wonderful celebration, but also invest a few moments in reflecting upon all that we have to be thankful for.


He who thanks but with the lips
Thanks but in part;
The full, the true Thanksgiving
Comes from the heart.

~J.A. Shedd


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Women Behind Bars Benefit from Mindfulness Training

“Prison is quite literally a ghetto in the most classic sense of the world, a place where the U.S. government now puts not only the dangerous but also the inconvenient—people who are mentally ill, people who are addicts, people who are poor and uneducated and unskilled.” — Piper Kerman

“Two hundred women, no phones, no washing machines, no hair dryers–it was like Lord of the Flies on estrogen.” — Piper Kerman


Prison is an extremely difficult environment for anyone, but especially for women. The prison population is by far majority male, but 18% are female. These women are different from their male counterparts in that they are much more likely to have experienced poverty, intimate partner violence, sexual abuse, and/or other forms of victimization often linked to their offending behavior. They are also much more likely to have co-occurring disorders—in particular, substance abuse problems interlinked with trauma and/or mental illness. In addition, they often struggle with depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress.


So, incarcerated women need to be treated differently, including mental health services, to help them move toward rehabilitation and successful reintegration into society. Education, job training, psychotherapy, addiction treatment etc. can obviously be helpful. In addition, mindfulness training may also be very helpful. It has been found to be beneficial for the treatment of mental health problems in general (see and for the treatment for substance abuse (see In addition contemplative practice has been found to be helpful for prisoners (see So, it makes sense that mindfulness training may be beneficial especially for incarcerated women.


In today’s Research News article “The Impact of a Mindfulness Based Program on Perceived Stress, Anxiety, Depression and Sleep of Incarcerated Women”

Ferszt and colleagues had incarcerated women participate in a 12-week Mindfulness Based Program called Path to Freedom. They found that the intervention produced a decrease in perceived stress, anxiety, and depression. In addition, the women who participated were consistently positive about the program and many who did not participate, but heard of the program through word of mouth, asked to be included in future programs.


It is not surprising that mindfulness training reduced stress, anxiety, and depression. There are  extensive research findings demonstrating its effectiveness for these issues (see regarding stress and regarding anxiety and regarding depression).


These are encouraging results. Stress, anxiety, and depression are difficult issues for incarcerated women. The presence of these issues can interfere with other programs designed to help in rehabilitation. In addition, they can be problematic for the women in adjusting to everyday life after release. So, relief of stress, anxiety, and depression may be very beneficial for their eventual success in prison and their reintegration into society.


So, mindfulness is beneficial for women behind bars as it is for women in all circumstances.


“The women I met in Danbury helped me to confront the things I had done wrong, as well as the wrong things I had done. It wasn’t just my choice of doing something bad and illegal that I had to own; it was also my lone-wolf style that had helped me make those mistakes and often made the aftermath of my actions worse for those I loved.”  — Piper Kerman


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Stay Mentally Fit as you Age with Tai Chi

What helps with aging is serious cognition – thinking and understanding. You have to truly grasp that everybody ages. Everybody dies. There is no turning back the clock. So the question in life becomes: What are you going to do while you’re here? – Goldie Hawn


Aging inevitably involves declining physical and mental ability. Starting in the late twenties the body, including the brain begins a process of slow deterioration. There is no known treatment to prevent this decline. There are, however, things that can be done to slow the progression. For example, a healthy diet and a regular program of exercise can slow the physical decline of the body with aging.


Our mental abilities may also decline with age including impairments in memory, attention, and problem solving ability. In sum these are called age related cognitive decline. This occurs to everyone as they age, but to varying degrees. Some deteriorate into a dementia, while others maintain high levels of cognitive capacity into very advanced ages. It is estimated that around 30% of the elderly show significant age related cognitive decline. But, remember that this also means that 70% of the elderly retain reasonable levels of cognitive ability.


There are some indications that physical and mental exercise can reduce the rate of cognitive decline and lower the chances of dementia. Tai Chi is an ancient eastern practice involving slow mindful movements. It is both a gentle exercise and a contemplative practice that improves mindfulness. Mindfulness practices have been shown to improve cognitive processes (see while Tai Chi or Qigong practice has been shown to be beneficial for healthy aging (see links below). It would seem reasonable to hypothesize that Tai Chi practice might decrease age related cognitive decline.


In today’s Research News article “The Impact of Tai Chi on Cognitive Performance in Older Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis”

Wayne and colleagues review the published research on the application of Tai Chi to reduce age related cognitive decline in both elderly individuals who have already demonstrated cognitive decline and those who have not. They found that Tai Chi practice significantly reduced declines in executive function, including working memory, reasoning, task flexibility, problem solving and planning and execution. Tai Chi practice was also found to reduce declines in overall global cognitive function, including learning and memory, mathematical ability and semantic fluency. In addition, these improvements related to Tai Chi practice occurred in both individuals who had already experienced cognitive decline and those who had not. Importantly, these benefits were provided without any significant adverse side effects.


Wayne and colleagues hypothesize that Tai Chi may be having its positive effects on cognition through a number of mechanisms. These include the exercise provided by the practice with associated improvements in agility and mobility, the learning of a new skill, the required attentional focus, shifting, and multi-tasking, the mindfulness practice, and the social context of Tai Chi. Any and all of these process involved in Tai Chi practice may be responsible for its cognitive benefits.


Regardless of the mechanism, it appears that Tai Chi is a safe and effective practice that reduces the rate of age related cognitive decline whether or not decline was already present. These are exciting findings as Tai Chi has been shown to have many physical benefits for the elderly (see links below). The fact that it also has cognitive benefits makes it an even better choice for practice by the elderly.


So practice Tai Chi and stay mentally fit as you age.


“Tai chi… 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 Medical School’s Harvard Health Publication, May, 2009

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Tai Chi and Qigong Effects on Aging Links

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are available at the Contemplative Studies Blog

Age Healthily with Qigong – Soothing Stress Responses

Don’t get Stroked Practice Tai Chi

Age Healthily – Treating Insomnia and Inflammation

Aging Healthily – Sleeping better with Mindful Movement Practice


Mindfulness Effects on Cognitive Function


Treat Back Pain with Yoga


 “Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured.” ~B.K.S. Iyengar


Low Back Pain affects a wide swath of humanity (6% to 15%) and is the leading cause of disability worldwide. It affects almost everyone with 80% of the population experiencing back pain sometime during their lives. There are varied treatments for low back pain including chiropractic care, acupuncture, biofeedback, physical therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, massage, surgery, opiate pain killing drugs, steroid injections, and muscle relaxant drugs.


The therapies are sometimes effective particularly for acute back pain. But, for chronic conditions the treatments are less effective and often require continuing treatment for years. Obviously, there is a need for effective treatments for low back pain that are low cost and don’t have troublesome side effects. Since many yoga poses focus on stretching and strengthen in the back, it makes sense that yoga practice when done properly should be helpful for low-back pain. Indeed, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) which includes yoga practice is effective for low back pain


In today’s Research News article “Evaluation of the Effectiveness and Efficacy of Iyengar Yoga Therapy on Chronic Low Back Pain”

Williams and colleagues examine the effectiveness of 24 weeks of Iyengar yoga practice on adults who have been suffering from low-back pain for longer than 3 months. They randomly assigned participants to either yoga practice or to receive standard medical care.


They found that the pain sufferers who participated in yoga had a 42% greater reduction in pain intensity than the group receiving standard medical care. This resulted in a trend toward a greater reduction in the use of pain medications in the yoga group. Importantly, the yoga participants showed a 24% greater improvement in their ability to carry on with normal activities, with a larger number of yoga participants having a clinically significant decrease in functional disability. In addition, the yoga participants showed a large, 47%, reduction in depression levels in comparison to the standard medical care participants. These effects were produced without any significant adverse effects and were still present 6-months after the conclusion of the active treatment.


These results confirm that yoga practice is a safe and effective treatment that produces long-term improvements in chronic low-back pain and in turn improves the patients’ abilities to carry on everyday activities and in turn reduces depression. This also appears to reduce the individuals use of drugs to treat their pain symptoms. Yoga has so many beneficial effects (see in addition to the assistance with pain that it would seem to be an almost ideal treatment.


So, practice yoga and improve low-back pain and disability.


“Hatha is the sanctuary for those suffering every type of pain. It is the foundation for those practicing every type of Yoga.” ~Svatmarama


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


The Made-up “Real”


“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” ~ Albert Einstein


“The light of memory, or rather the light that memory lends to things, is the palest light of all. I am not quite sure whether I am dreaming or remembering, whether I have lived my life or dreamed it. Just as dreams do, memory makes me profoundly aware of the unreality, the evanescence of the world, a fleeting image in the moving water.” – Eugene Ionesco
Dreams are purported to be not real. They are thought to be constructions of our nervous system that occur during an altered state of consciousness termed sleep. But, they appear and feel very real. While the dream is in progress we experience it as completely real. Things happen mostly in real time. We visualize people, places, and things in great detail and hear sounds and voices. We even feel emotions. What’s different about a dream in comparison to what we call reality?


In actuality, much of what we experience during so called “reality” is not real, but a construction produced by our nervous systems. We experience color in our visual world, but in fact there is nothing in the physical world that has color. Our eyes take in different wavelengths of light, electromagnetic radiation with different distances between peaks. That is all. There is nothing colored here. But our eyes have three different receptors that respond to different ranges of wavelengths. Our brain then interprets the activity of these receptors as different colors. In fact it is a complete illusion. What we think we see and experience is in fact not there.


Our everyday thoughts, day dreams, and fantasies we recognize as not a reflection of reality. But nevertheless they constitute a constructed experience. Our brain is completely capable of constructing experiences that are similar to those that we label as “reality.” Could it be that this labelled “reality” is in fact just another constructed experience?


The great physiologist and philosopher, Johannes Müller, pointed out that we are not directly aware of the natural world, but rather what we are aware of is the state of our nervous system. In other words, our awareness is simply of what is going on in our nervous system. It is constructed by brain processes. Is this any more real than the dream?


It is clear that we can make up experiences and perceive them vividly. The great question then becomes how much is “real” and how much and which ones are mental constructs. This question has had a range of answers from the materialist who suggests that there is objective reality to the Zen master who suggests that there is no reality other than pure being.


If all that we are aware of is the state of our nervous system is that, at least, an objective reality? Dreams are produced by internal brain activity that lacks an external referent. These are apparently very “real’ to the dreamer, but most would agree that they are not “real.” Drugs can produce very “real” experiences but most agree that they are not “real.” But are these experiences not just a construct of altered brain activity produced by sleep systems or altered chemistry, respectively? If our sleep systems or altered brain chemistry can produce an untrue “reality” what does this imply about the “reality” produced by our usual brain chemistry? Does it not imply that the nervous system is at best an unstable platform for the expression of “reality” or that our awareness itself does not present to us the “real?”


The only thing that we conclusively know to be real is our personal awareness of the immediate moment. Everything else is just a memory or a fantasy. That experienced moment is ever changing, mutating, arising and falling away. It cannot be held onto. So, the only thing that we know to be real is ephemeral, a puff of smoke blown in the wind. But, is this phantasm real or is it created in our awareness? Is it a reflection of an objective reality or a compelling hallucination? Does it have substance beyond experience?


We have arrived at the point of concluding that the only “reality” that we can know to be real is an ephemeral experience of a present moment and that even this is perhaps only a continuing experience of the ever changing state of our nervous system that we know is not an accurate depiction of any external physical state of environmental energies. To be sure, this is a very tenuous grasp at something “real.”


Doesn’t it make more sense to admit that awareness is the only “reality?” What enters awareness is simply what we experience regardless of its origin. Does it really matter if it is reflective of an external “reality” or simply all made up? It is simply our “reality” and it may not need to be anything more. Seeing it this way, the question becomes irrelevant.


 “I’m more convinced each day of the complete unreality of the material world and the supreme vitality of the invisible world of spirit.”- Paul Russo


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Be Less Dependent upon Others with Mindfulness


Authority refers to an interpersonal relation in which one person looks upon another as somebody superior to him. – Erich Fromm
The human being is a social animal. We need other people as the oft quoted saying goes “no man is an island.” But people vary greatly in how much they need other people. Some people are very independent and do not have a strong need to rely upon and be with others, while other people are very dependent on others for comfort and support. High interpersonal dependency is frequently related to low self-esteem, depression, and social anxiety. This can reach a level of a pathological dependence where the individual is totally dependent on others and has an impaired sense of self.


An extreme level of dependency on other people is diagnosed as dependent personality disorder. This disorder occurs in about 0.6% of the population and is characterized by an inability to make decisions alone, a need for constant reassurance, feelings of uncomfortableness and helplessness when alone, unrealistic fears of being abandoned, and excessive effort to be supported by others. The individual who is so dependent will want to pass over the responsibly for their life to other people as much as possible. They will also tend to feel helpless if other people are not around to offer guidance and support, and will not disagree with others for fear of loss of that support. Needless to say, the individual cannot function effectively and some form of therapy is needed.


Mindfulness training would in theory be helpful for interpersonal dependency. This follows from the ability of mindfulness to help improve emotion regulation, reduce depression, worry, and anxiety, and improve reappraisal skills. In today’s Research News article “The Application of Mindfulness for Interpersonal Dependency: Effects of a Brief Intervention”

McClintock and Anderson first induced a dependency mood in undergraduate students who were high in interpersonal dependency. This induction greatly increased anxiety and negative emotions in the students. They then treated the students with either a brief (20 min) mindfulness training or a similar control condition that required concentration and imagination but not mindfulness. They found that the brief mindfulness training significantly increased mindfulness, and decreased anxiety and negative emotions. They further found that the mindfulness facet of decentering was completely responsible for the effectiveness of the mindfulness training.


These results are very interesting and suggest that mindfulness training may be an effective treatment for interpersonal dependence. They further suggest that the mindfulness facet of decentering is responsible for the effectiveness. Decentering involves a change from personally identifying with thoughts and feelings to relating to one’s experience in a wider field of awareness. In other words mindfulness training produces a reduction in the personalization of experience. This allows the individual to interpret experience as not always about themselves, providing objectivity in interpreting experience. Since interpersonal dependence relies upon the individual interpreting experience as reflective of their personal ineffectualness and worthlessness, the reinterpretation allowed by decentering would be quite beneficial.


Obviously, much work needs to be done to demonstrate that mindfulness training is effective for dependent personality disorder in clinical application and over a longer period of time. But the present results suggest the more intensive investigation is warranted.


So, practice mindfulness and be less dependent on others.


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies