Practice Yoga in the Morning to Optimize Emotional Well-Being

Practice Yoga in the Morning to Optimize Emotional Well-Being


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“Practice when your body is most limber. Some people find their bodies are stiff in the morning, making practice more difficult. Night practice, however may limit the kinds of postures you do as some are too stimulating and affect sleep. The key is regularity. Enjoy whatever time you have set aside for practice.” – Edith Howell


Yoga practice has been shown to have a large number of beneficial effects on the psychological, emotional, and physical health of the individual and is helpful in the treatment of mental and physical illness. As a result, it has been adopted widely in western society including with children in schools. As I quipped to my spouse, “you know yoga has gone mainstream, when yoga pants have become a fashion statement!” But, there are a wide variety of different yoga practices, practiced for different amounts of time, at different number of times per week, at different times of the day. So, as the application of yoga increases, it becomes more and more important to investigate these parameters of yoga practice and their differential effectiveness; to determine the optimal practice parameters for each application.


Traditional yoga practice consists of 4-5 practice sessions per week conducted primarily in the morning. But, Western yoga practice has become much looser, with yoga practiced less frequently and often in the evening. It is not known what the impact of this pattern of yoga practice might have on its effectiveness. In today’s Research News article “Evaluating Emotional Well-Being after a Short-Term Traditional Yoga Practice Approach in Yoga Practitioners with an Existing Western-Type Yoga Practice.” See:

or below or view the full text of the study at:

Meissner and colleagues recruited Ashtanga Yoga practitioners who normally practiced in the evening for 90 minutes, twice a week. Half of the practitioners were asked to maintain their normal practice for two weeks.  The other half were asked to change their practice to the morning for 90 minutes, five times a week for two weeks. Both groups were measured for positive and negative affect, mindfulness, perceived stress, arousal states, and affective regulation style prior to and after the two-week practice period.


They found that there were no changes in the emotions, mindfulness, or arousal states of the evening practitioners. But, the morning practitioners showed significant increases in positive emotions (37%) and mindfulness (17.5%) and decreases in negative emotions (29%) and arousal states (15%). Hence, the findings indicate that switching from a twice per week, evening yoga practice to a five times per week morning practice is beneficial for the emotional well-being of the practitioners.


An obvious weakness in the study was a confounding of practice change, practice frequency, amount of practice, and time of day of practice. So, it is impossible to determine which of these variables or which combinations of these variables may be responsible for the emotional improvements. Future research should manipulate each of these variable independently and in combination to differentiate what works and what doesn’t. It should also be noted that the test was only conducted over two weeks. This leaves open the question as to whether the effects would be sustained into the future or perhaps just the novelty of change was responsible for the effects.


So, it is possible that practicing yoga in the morning improves emotional well-being.


“A morning yoga practice wakes you up, stretches stiff muscles you haven’t used all night, revs up your circulation, and breaks out a healthy sweat before your morning shower and breakfast.” – Lorraine Shea


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are available on Google+


Study Summary

Meissner, M., Cantell, M. H., Steiner, R., & Sanchez, X. (2016). Evaluating Emotional Well-Being after a Short-Term Traditional Yoga Practice Approach in Yoga Practitioners with an Existing Western-Type Yoga Practice. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM, 2016, 7216982.



The purpose of the present study was to examine the influence of a traditional yoga practice approach (morning daily practice, TY) compared to that of a Western yoga practice approach (once-twice weekly, evening practice, WY) on determinants of emotional well-being. To that end, in a pre/posttest between-subject design, measures of positive (PA) and negative affect (NA), mindfulness, perceived stress, and arousal states were taken in 24 healthy participants (20 women; mean age: 30.5, SD = 8.1 years) with an already existing WY practice, who either maintained WY or underwent a 2-week, five-times-per-week morning practice (TY). While WY participants maintained baseline values for all measures taken, TY participants showed significant beneficial changes for PA, NA, and mindfulness and a trend for improved ability to cope with stress at the completion of the intervention. Furthermore, TY participants displayed decreased subjective energy and energetic arousal. Altogether, findings indicate that the 2-week TY is beneficial over WY for improving perceived emotional well-being. The present findings (1) undermine and inspire a careful consideration and utilization of yoga practice approach to elicit the best benefits for emotional well-being and (2) support yoga as an evidence-based practice among healthy yoga practitioners.


Mindful Memorial Day

Mindful Memorial Day


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“We who are left how shall we look again
Happily on the sun or feel the rain
Without remembering how they who went
Ungrudgingly and spent
Their lives for us loved, too, the sun and rain?

~Wilfred Wilson Gibson


Memorial Day is the unofficial start of the Summer holiday season. But, it’s primary purpose is to remember and honor those men and women who have died in wars. As such it’s a somber occasion and a reminder of the human cost of warfare. This is usually a day celebrating patriotism and the righteousness of the country’s cause. Some may think that I’m being a little discourteous to the honored dead. But, I believe that the greatest honor we can provide is to work tirelessly to insure that no one else has to die for their country in warfare.


Some wars are regrettably necessary. At times, pacifism and nonviolence just can’t work. It requires a minimally just society. For example, in 1938 Adolph Hitler advised the British government on how to protect their empire from the threat posed in India of Mahatma Gandhi: “kill Gandhi, if that isn’t enough then kill the other leaders too, if that isn’t enough then two hundred more activists, and so on until the Indian people will give up the hope of independence.” Fortunately, the British did not follow this advice and Gandhi’s nonviolence triumphed. But, if this had been Hitler’s empire, pacifism, no matter how well led or intentioned, would have failed miserably.


Even the Buddha who taught love, compassion, and nonviolence, also taught that we should defend ourselves. There are sects of Buddhist monks who practice martial arts and are celebrated for their skills. When under attack, we have a right and perhaps an obligation to stand up and resist violent assault. If non-violent means aren’t successful, then violence and aggression may be necessary. This is never a good thing, but at times necessary. There have been far too many wars, most unnecessary. We should honor the courage, valor, and commitment of those who died in war by doing our best to make sure that unnecessary wars are never fought again.


It is right that we honor those who died in warfare, not just soldiers, but also civilians and merchant marine who often perish in massive numbers. They too should be remembered. We should always remember that what we have and enjoy, including peace, was paid for dearly. But, we should honor all who perished. This doesn’t mean just those who belonged to our side. We should remember that the vast majority of combatants entered into battle with the finest of intentions, believing that their cause was right and just, and that they were fighting for their families and their countries. Regardless of whether they were misled by unscrupulous, evil, or incompetent leaders, they entered into battle honorably and deserve our respect.


It is sometimes difficult to see, but their sacrifices have paid off for the rest of us. Since World War II, European countries and similarly, the Asian countries of China, Korea, and Japan, who had been at virtually constant war among themselves for thousands of years, are now peaceful and there has not been an armed conflict between them in over 70 years. So, even with all of the conflict in the world, there is less warfare now than at any time in recorded history. We have the honored dead from the terrible conflict of World War II to thank for the peace and prosperity that has been enjoyed since. We don’t need this reason to honor them, but it is reassuring to know that their sacrifices were not in vain.


To prevent these horrors in the future and honor our dead by abolishing warfare completely, there are a number of strategies that may be helpful. We should view our past, present, and future enemies, as the great sage Thich Nhat Hahn did during the Vietnam War, as people whose lives, backgrounds, training, and beliefs put them into the roles they are playing. If we lived in their shoes, we would likely make the same choice they did. No matter how despicable we may think they are, or how horrible their deeds, we need to understand that what they experienced in life, led them there. If we truly place ourselves in the shoes of our enemy, do we honestly believe that we would make different decisions. The Islamic terrorist, so despised in the west, may have been brought up in poverty, with little education save for religious indoctrination, that taught him that his god demands that he kill the infidel and that he will be rewarded in the next life for doing so. If we were raised similarly, would we act differently. This kind of understanding can lead to actions that may help to prevent future violence. Seeing the enemy as intrinsically evil can only lead to more warfare. Seeing them as human beings whose situation dictated their behavior can lead to peace.


A key strategy for preventing future wars is forgiveness. Violence begets violence. Retribution demands that the people who killed your family members must themselves be killed. But, this is a never ending cycle as the families of those you killed now seek to kill you. The only way to break the cycle is forgiveness. This can be very difficult.  But it is the only way. Nelson Mandela, when he took over leadership of South Africa from those who oppressed and imprisoned him and his people for decades, didn’t enact retribution. Instead he launched a massive campaign of forgiveness and reconciliation. He understood that this was the only way to heal his country. He was amazingly successful and South Africa, although far from perfect, has become peaceful and prosperous working for the betterment of all of its citizens.


Most people look at creating peace and preventing war as a massively difficult task that is beyond their capabilities to resolve. As a result, they do nothing waiting for a Ghandi, Mandela, or King to lead them. But, this is a grave mistake. We can all honor our fallen by contributing to world peace. We can do this if we stop looking for grand solutions and instead, contribute in the ways that we can during every day of our lives. By leading peaceful, nonviolent lives we contribute. We create ripples on the pond of life spreading out to the far horizons. “If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it. This is the most basic kind of peace work.” ― Thich Nhat Hanh


Communications is a key to peace. By engaging in non-violent communications, what the Buddha calls “Right Speech,” we not only produce peace in ourselves but in the people we’re communicating with. Their peacefulness then affects others, who affect others, etc. interpersonal ripples of peace. We also become role models for our children who then become role models for their children, etc., producing intergenerational ripples of peace. If many of us practice non-violence the ripples will become build and sum into tidal waves of peace washing over the earth. “If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can smile and blossom like a flower, and everyone in our family, our entire society, will benefit from our peace.” ― Thich Nhat Hahn


Practicing mindfulness can similarly promote peace and create ripples. By being focused on the present moment non-judgmentally, we are fully present for those around us. This produces the deepest kinds of human communications based upon understanding and compassion. In human communications there is great power in non-judgmental listening. It has a tremendously calming effect on people, particularly when they are highly agitated. In a leadership position I once held, I would quite often have people come into my office and just rail on about the injustices they’ve experienced and the horrible people around them. I would just listen and occasionally acknowledge their emotions. At the end, they would almost inevitably thank me and tell me how much that helped. I had done nothing other than deeply listen and this by itself had dramatic effects. Over time, I could see how the ripples moved outward and affected the entire organization. Listening is a powerful tool of peace.


Another key method for promoting individual, societal, and planetal peace is practicing compassion. This is simply looking deeply at ourselves and others to understand their suffering. First we must have compassion for ourselves. Unless we do, we cannot have true compassion for others. We have to acknowledge that we are flawed human beings and not scold ourselves for it, but compassionately understand and forgive ourselves. We are essentially good. But, sometimes our background, indoctrination, humanness, and circumstances conspire to produce harmful acts. We need to understand this about ourselves, forgive ourselves with the intentions to do better, and look upon ourselves with eyes of kindness and caring. It is important to also recognize and congratulate ourselves for all of the good we do. Celebrate our goodness while having compassion for our faults. Once, we can do this. We can then move on to others. Being compassionate to our enemies involves looking deeply into their suffering, looking deeply into their background, indoctrination, humanness, and circumstances that conspire to produce harmful acts, and then being forgiving, kind, and caring about them. This is essential to healing wounds and developing world peace.


So, on this Memorial Day, let us resolve to honor the fallen for what they have done. But let us truly honor them by working to make their sacrifices not in vain, to do what we can to develop peacefulness in ourselves and others, and to let their deaths be the foundation not of more war but of lasting peace.


 “On Memorial Day, I don’t want to only remember the combatants. There were also those who came out of the trenches as writers and poets, who started preaching peace, men and women who have made this world a kinder place to live.” – Eric Burdon
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


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The Noble Eightfold Path: Right Mindfulness

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“Buddhism began by encouraging its practitioners to engage in smrti (sati) or mindfulness, that is, developing a full consciousness of all about you and within you — whether seated in a special posture, or simply going about one’s life. This is the kind of meditation that Buddha himself engaged in under the bodhi tree, and is referred to in the seventh step of the eightfold path.” – C. George Boeree
The predominant iconic image of the Buddha is of him sitting in blissful meditation. This results in the popular conception that meditation is at the center of Buddhism.  But, as is evident from the first six components of the Noble Eightfold Path, at the center is how one goes about one’s life. This is evident in Right View, Right Intentions, Right Speech, Right Actions, Right Livelihood, Right Effort and Right Concentration. The real center of Buddhism is contained in the seventh component of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path, Right Mindfulness. Mindfulness is the basis for all of the other components on the path. Unless one is mindful, there cannot be a right view, intention, speech, action, livelihood, effort, or concentration. The Buddha used meditation as a practice to develop mindfulness, thereby allowing progress on the path and eventually attaining enlightenment. So, meditation is a means to an end and that end is mindfulness and beyond.


Mindfulness is all about presence of mind or paying attention. But, it’s a particular kind of attention. We are forever paying attention to something. Mindfulness involves paying attention to what is occurring in the present moment. Paying attention to memories, daydreams, ruminations about the past, thoughts about the future, planning, problem solving, dreaming, visualizing, etc. are not mindfulness. Rather it is paying attention to the sensations from inside the body and from the outside environment, to the momentary thoughts floating through the mind, and to momentary awareness itself. In addition, it is intentional paying attention, doing so on purpose, and witnessing what is transpiring in the present moment without judgment, without consideration of it being good or bad, right or wrong, pleasant or unpleasant, or smart or stupid, rather, simply letting things be as they are. It can be thought of as thoughtless awareness, pure awareness of now, or bare attention, without reference to the past or the future or for that matter without any processing of the information whatsoever.


Mindfulness helps to lead to serenity, insight, deep concentration, or wisdom. It makes sure that the mind does not slip away and get lost in random undirected thoughts. Its primary tasks are to observe, to note, to discern phenomena with utmost precision until their fundamental characteristics and nature are brought to awareness. In order to attain these deeper understandings, the Buddha directed his followers that they should concentrate on four types of mindfulness being mindful of the body, feelings, mental states, and mental contents.


A sad aspect of our lack of mindfulness is an unawareness of the body. With the mind occupied with thoughts, ruminations, plans, etc. it is easy to lose track of the body and its physical state. It is eye opening when introducing people to a simple body scan, how amazed they are that they’re so unaware of it. So, to be truly in the present moment an acute awareness of the state of the body needs to be developed. This involves a number of components. Mindfulness of the body includes recognizing the position of the body, whether standing, sitting, lying down, and the various parts of the body, from toes to scalp and everything in between. Mindfulness of the body also includes a recognition of its composition of matter, air, and water, that are acquired from the environment, and thereby recognizing the body’s dependence and integration with the greater world. Finally, it involves a recognition of the body’s ever changing, impermanent nature, including its growth, development, deterioration, and eventual cessation in death. Yes, mindfulness of the body includes recognition of its mortality.


There is not only a lack of awareness of the body itself but also of the sensations from the body, including those associated with emotional states and how we evaluate, judge and respond to them. Mindfulness of feelings includes bring to awareness the sensations and feelings from the body and all its parts in the present moment, including feelings of temperature, pressure, pain, tingling, etc. As this awareness emerges so can an awareness of how we are judging these feelings as pleasurable, likable, distasteful, unlikable, or neutral and how we are reacting to them of doing things to develop or hold onto pleasant feelings and to eliminate or abbreviate unpleasant feelings. These are all deeply imbedded in human nature, but often appear to occur unconsciously. Mindfulness of feelings brings them into the light of awareness.


Emotions always involve both mental and physical components. Mindfulness of feelings is generally seen as pertaining to the bodily sensations accompanying emotions. It’s quite striking as mindfulness of feelings emerges and develops the degree to which they often occur without awareness or even recognition. Anger and fear are accompanied by a physiological activation, including increases in heart rate and blood pressure, muscle tone, blood moving away from the skin and gut to the muscles, and facial expressions. Yet, these are frequently not recognized. In developing mindfulness of feelings, the feelings produced by emotions are brought to awareness and felt deeply. This produces an ability to recognize the emotional state before it elicits a reaction that might harmful or regretted later. Mindfulness of feelings, then, allows for not only recognition but also the control of emotional reactions.


The mind is constantly interpreting and judging experience. These processes are responsible for forming ideas about these experiences, sometimes called mental formations, because they are formed in the mind. In psychology it is recognized that what emotion is felt is determined not only by our physical state but also how the mind interprets the environment. For example, fear is thought to occur when a physiological reaction occurs within what the mind interprets as a fearful context, e.g. the presence of a threat. Mindfulness of mental states involves firstly recognizing the state, e.g. anger, happiness, boredom, etc. and observing the workings of the mind that produce these mental formations. By watching how the mind interprets experience the practitioner becomes more and more aware of how the mind effects how experience is perceived and interpreted and the roots and conditions of these experiences. It may underline how the interpretation of the experience is based upon prior experiences or memories or how they are interconnected to other things in the environment. As the practice continues, it becomes easier and easier to see experiences in the raw, without interpretation, devoid of judgment, disconnected from prior experiences.


Every experience contains objects that are detected by our senses. Mindfulness of mental contents involves bringing these objects into awareness in all their aspects. This involves not only seeing and perceiving the object exactly as it is at the moment but also observing its impermanence and it interconnectedness to everything else. It’s seeing the object as an absolutely unique and ever changing expression of the entire universe. Deep mindfulness of an object includes perceiving how it is dynamically changing from moment to moment. An apple has a particular immediate appearance but this is just a snapshot of the apple which has changed moment to moment, from a seed, earth, and water, to a tree, to a bud, to an unripe piece of fruit, to its current state as a one of a kind apple. It is also to see that this apple will continue to change to overripe, to rotten, to garbage on the ground, to its component elements of soil and water, to its return to the earth. In other words, mindfulness of mental contents involves seeing the object as a transitory impermanent expression. In addition, it is to see how it is connected to everything else, the sunlight, the rain, the soil, the evolution of apple trees, the farmer, the machinery, the inventors of the machinery, the metal, plastics, and gasoline in the machinery, etc. In other words, it’s to see the apple as and ever changing and interconnected to all of existence. When objects are viewed in this way, they are truly seen mindfully.


So, Right Mindfulness is the development of an accurate and precise awareness of the present moment uncolored by ideas, memories, beliefs, expectations, etc., just the experience as it is. This is essential to progress on the path as it’s impossible to develop the other seven components of the path without being able to accurately perceive exactly what is actually transpiring in the present moment. It is the essential foundation for everything else. With it we have hope of progressing toward enlightenment, without it, we’re lost in delusion. So practice resolutely to develop mindfulness and move forward on the path.


 “When right mindfulness is developed and made much of, one realizes what one should do and should not do. Whether one should speak or not speak. When one speaks, what should be spoken and not spoken. Right mindfulness is the basis for the development of the right path that culminates in knowledge, wisdom, contentment and the highest happiness.” – Mithra Wettimuny


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Control Alcohol Intake by Reducing Stress with Mindfulness

Control Alcohol Intake by Reducing Stress with Mindfulness


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“It’s all about awareness and experiencing what you are doing. Enjoying powerful substances like caffeine, sugar and alcohol doesn’t have to be bad, as long as you are aware if it hurts or hinders you.” – Marc David


Inappropriate use of alcohol is a major societal problem. In fact, about 25% of US adults have engaged in binge drinking in the last month and 7% have what is termed an alcohol use disorder. Alcohol abuse is very dangerous and frequently fatal. Nearly 88,000 people in the US and 3.3 million globally die from alcohol-related causes annually, making it the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States. Drunk driving accounted for over 10,000 deaths; 31% of all driving fatalities. Excessive alcohol intake has been shown to contribute to over 200 diseases including alcohol dependence, liver cirrhosis, cancers, and injuries. It is estimated that over 5% of the burden of disease and injury worldwide is attributable to alcohol consumption.


These are striking and alarming statistics and indicate that controlling alcohol intake is an important priority for the individual and society. There are a wide range of treatment programs for alcohol abuse, with varying success. Recently, mindfulness training has been successfully applied to treatment. One attractive feature of this training is that it appears to increase the ability of the drinker to control their intake, resulting in less binge drinking and dangerous inebriation. It appears that one way that mindfulness increases the control of intake is by reducing the desire to use alcohol to cope with emotional problems. Since, mindfulness appears to hold promise as a treatment for excessive alcohol intake, there is a need to better understand its mechanisms of action in order to maximize its effectiveness.


Cigarette smoking is highly linked to alcohol intake and stress is a known trigger for alcohol intake. So, in today’s Research News article “Testing a Moderated Mediation Model of Mindfulness, Psychosocial Stress, and Alcohol Use among African American Smokers.” See:

or below or view the full text of the study at:

Adams and colleagues investigate the relationship of stress to drinking and how mindfulness training might affect the relationship in African American participants who are undergoing treatment to stop cigarette smoking.


They found that individuals with high mindfulness had lower perceived stress, lower quantities of alcohol consumed, less frequent binge drinking, and lower likelihood of an alcohol use disorder. Also, the higher the mindfulness score the lower the level of all of these alcohol intake measures. In addition, they found that the higher the level of perceived stress the higher the levels of alcohol intake. So, both mindfulness and stress were associated, albeit in opposite directions, with alcohol intake. To sort out their influences Adams and colleagues performed a statistical technique called a mediation analysis. They found that for participants who had low levels of perceived stress, mindfulness did not influence alcohol intake, but for those who were high in stress there was a strong relationship, with high mindfulness associated with low drinking and low mindfulness associated with high alcohol intake.


These results suggest that mindfulness moderates the relationship between stress and alcohol intake. High stress was associated with high alcohol intake and binge drinking in African American smokers who were low, but not high, in mindfulness. Indeed, nearly half (45%) of participants who were low in mindfulness showed the drinking behavior reflective of alcohol abuse and dependence on alcohol (averaging 15 drinks per week and 3.4 binge episodes in the last three months), while only one in eight (12%) who were high in mindfulness did (averaging 5 drinks per week and 1.5 binge episodes in the last three months).


These results suggest that being mindful is counter to alcohol intake and this may occur as a result of mindfulness protecting the individual from the ability of stress to induce alcohol intake. It is known that mindfulness training decreases the individuals psychological and physiological responses to stress. So, it appears that one of the responses to stress that mindfulness affects, is the intake of alcohol. It should be noted that these results were correlational and not necessarily indicative of a causation. In future research the effect of active mindfulness training on stress’ relationship to alcohol intake needs to be explored.


Regardless, it appears likely that alcohol intake can be controlled by reducing stress with mindfulness.


“A drink or two can help us enjoy social gatherings, be a pleasurable part of meals (or baseball games), and help us celebrate important events. Still, there’s something to be said for taking pleasure in the moment for the moment itself — without the help of alcohol.” – Caren Osten Gerszberg


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are available a on Google+


Study Summary

Adams, C. E., Cano, M. A., Heppner, W. L., Stewart, D. W., Correa-Fernández, V., Vidrine, J. I., … Wetter, D. W. (2015). Testing a Moderated Mediation Model of Mindfulness, Psychosocial Stress, and Alcohol Use among African American Smokers. Mindfulness, 6(2), 315–325.



Mindfulness-based strategies have received empirical support for improving coping with stress and reducing alcohol use. The present study presents a moderated mediation model to explain how mindfulness might promote healthier drinking patterns. This model posits that mindfulness reduces perceived stress, leading to less alcohol use, and also weakens the linkage between stress and alcohol use. African American smokers (N= 399, 51% female, Mage = 42) completed measures of dispositional mindfulness, perceived stress, quantity of alcohol use, frequency of binge drinking, and alcohol use disorder symptoms. Participants with higher levels of dispositional mindfulness reported less psychosocial stress and lower alcohol use on all measures. Furthermore, mindfulness moderated the relationship between perceived stress and quantity of alcohol consumption. Specifically, higher perceived stress was associated with increased alcohol use among participants low, but not high, in mindfulness. Mindfulness may be one strategy to reduce perceived stress and associated alcohol use among African American smokers.


Increase Mindfulness with a Brief On-line Training


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“The best way to capture moments is to pay attention. This is how we cultivate mindfulness. Mindfulness means being awake. It means knowing what you are doing.” ~Jon Kabat-Zinn


Over the last several decades, research and anecdotal experiences have accumulated an impressive evidential case that the development of mindfulness has positive benefits for the individual’s mental, physical, and spiritual life. Mindfulness appears to be beneficial both for healthy people and for people suffering from a myriad of illnesses. It appears to be beneficial across ages, from children to the elderly. And it appears to be beneficial across genders, personalities, race, and ethnicity. The breadth and depth of benefits is unprecedented. There is no other treatment or practice that has been shown to come anyway near the range of mindfulness’ positive benefits. With impacts so great it is important to know how to optimize the development of mindfulness.


“Mindfulness is defined as the “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally” (John Kabat-Zinn). This is the goal of mindfulness training. There are, however, a vast array of techniques for the development of mindfulness. They include a variety of forms of meditation, yoga, mindful movements, contemplative prayer, and combinations of practices. Some are recommended to be practiced for years while others are employed for only a few weeks. Regardless of the technique, they all appear to develop and increase mindfulness. It is unclear what technique may be best and what components are essential. There does appear, however, to be one central component; the practice of awareness of the present moment.


Many mindfulness practices require experienced and/or accredited instructors. This in turn requires traveling to a facility, attending sometimes lengthy classes for many weeks, and involves expense. In today’s busy world many people find that this commitment of time and resources is difficult if not impossible. So, it is important to develop simple, convenient, and efficient means to develop mindfulness. The internet holds great promise. Instruction can be delivered inexpensively and conveniently to large numbers of people spread across wide geographic areas. Mindfulness training has been successfully conducted over the internet with positive benefit. So, on-line mindfulness training appears to be a viable method for developing mindfulness.


The issue then becomes how much training is needed. In today’s Research News article “A Moment of Mindfulness: Computer-Mediated Mindfulness Practice Increases State Mindfulness.” See:

or below or view the full text of the study at:

Mahmood and colleagues examine if a very brief (5-min) instruction in mindfulness delivered on-line is sufficient to develop at least some improvement in mindfulness. They randomly assigned on-line participants to either a 5-minute body scan meditation condition or a control condition in which the participants were asked to simply sit in silence for 5-minutes. Participants levels of mindfulness were measured before and after the 5-minute training.


They found that the mindfulness condition produced significant increases in mindfulness while the control condition did not. Hence, a very brief body scan mindfulness training is capable of increasing mindfulness. It should be noted, however, that the effects were relatively small and there was no testing for how long the effects may last. It remains for future research to determine the amount of on-line practice needed to produce large and lasting increases in mindfulness. But, the fact that a brief mindfulness training can be delivered over the internet and have positive benefits is an encouraging step toward the development of a convenient and inexpensive means to deliver this beneficial training.


Regardless, it is clear that mindfulness can be increased with a brief on-line training



“Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).” ~James Baraz


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are available on Google+


Study Summary

Mahmood, L., Hopthrow, T., & Randsley de Moura, G. (2016). A Moment of Mindfulness: Computer-Mediated Mindfulness Practice Increases State Mindfulness. PLoS ONE, 11(4), e0153923.



Three studies investigated the use of a 5-minute, computer-mediated mindfulness practice in increasing levels of state mindfulness. In Study 1, 54 high school students completed the computer-mediated mindfulness practice in a lab setting and Toronto Mindfulness Scale (TMS) scores were measured before and after the practice. In Study 2 (N = 90) and Study 3 (N = 61), the mindfulness practice was tested with an entirely online sample to test the delivery of the 5-minute mindfulness practice via the internet. In Study 2 and 3, we found a significant increase in TMS scores in the mindful condition, but not in the control condition. These findings highlight the impact of a brief, mindfulness practice for single-session, computer-mediated use to increase mindfulness as a state.


Improve Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease with Mindfulness

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“Stress is a primary instigator of symptoms associated with Parkinson’s Disease. A practical and powerful way to reduce stress is to become more mindful which, simply put, means we are present in the moment rather than agonizing over the past or anticipating the future.” – Robert Rodgers


Parkinson’s Disease (PD) has received public attention because of its occurrence in a number of celebrities such as Mohammed Ali, Michael J Fox, and Linda Ronstadt. PD is an incurable disease of the central nervous system that attacks the dopamine neurotransmitter system in the brain. There are around seven million people worldwide and one million people in the U.S. living with PD and about 60,000 people are diagnosed with PD every year. PD is associated with aging as the vast majority of patients are diagnosed after age 50. In fact, it has been speculated that everyone would eventually develop PD if they lived long enough.


PD is an incurable progressive degenerative disease. The condition is caused by the death of nerve cells in the brain that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine. Its physical symptoms include resting tremor, slow movements, muscle rigidity, problems with posture and balance, loss of automatic movements, and slurring of speech. PD itself is not fatal but is often associated with related complications can reduce life expectancy, such as falls, choking, and cardiovascular problems. There are also psychological effects, especially anxiety and depression. All of these symptoms result in a marked reduction in the quality of life.


Mindfulness training has been found to improve the psychological symptoms and the quality of life with PD patients. But, because PD is caused exclusively by a physiological degeneration it would be surprising if mindfulness practice can help improve the physical symptoms. But, in today’s Research News article “Mindfulness for Motor and Nonmotor Dysfunctions in Parkinson’s Disease.” See:

or below or view the full text of the study at:

Dissanayaka and colleagues investigated if mindfulness training could improve not only the psychological symptoms and the quality of life but also the physical symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease (PD). They treated PD patients for 8 weeks with a version of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program that was adapted for PD. Measurements of physical and psychological symptoms were obtained before and after treatment and 6 months later.


They found that after mindfulness training there was a significant improvement in anxiety, depression and psychological distress. Cognitive ability also improved including improvements in memory and verbal fluency. These results are compatible with these shown in previous research on mindfulness training for PD patients. These are important effects as they reduce quality of life and can lead to suicidal thoughts. It can be speculated that these effects on psychological well-being were due to the known effects of mindfulness training on emotion regulation. These involve the full experience and recognition of the emotions, but with adaptive responses to them. So, the patients don’t deny how they feel but do not react to them negatively, instead cope with the feelings and act positively.


Of the physical symptoms, they observed improvement in postural instability gait dysfunction but not tremor. This is surprising as these motor symptoms are due to direct deterioration of the neural systems underlying movement. It is possible that the yoga component of MBSR may have improved strength, balance, and flexibility and thereby improved the posture and gait of the PD patients even though the underlying brain degeneration was not affected.


The psychological and motor improvements that were present immediately after mindfulness training were no longer present six months later. But, it should be noted that PD is a progressive disorder, with symptoms getting worse over time, which could have obscured the improvements detected after treatment. The study lacked an untreated control condition, so it is impossible to determine whether the continued deterioration produced the lack of effects at the 6-month follow-up. It should also be noted, however, that the lack of a control condition limits the conclusion that the mindfulness training was responsible for the improvements and not another confounding variable such as a placebo effect or experimenter bias.


Regardless, it is clear that both the psychological and motor symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease can be improve with mindfulness training.


“You would expect mindfulness-based interventions to alleviate the psychological symptoms of Parkinson’s – mindfulness has proved its worth at reducing both anxiety and depression – but a recent study suggests mindfulness training could also address some of the physical changes in the brain. An eight-week course of mindfulness training seemed to increase the density of grey matter in two areas of the brain associated with the disease.” – Plastic Brain


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are available on Google+


Study Summary

Dissanayaka, N. N. W., Idu Jion, F., Pachana, N. A., O’Sullivan, J. D., Marsh, R., Byrne, G. J., & Harnett, P. (2016). Mindfulness for Motor and Nonmotor Dysfunctions in Parkinson’s Disease. Parkinson’s Disease, 2016, 7109052.



Background. Motor and nonmotor symptoms negatively influence Parkinson’s disease (PD) patients’ quality of life. Mindfulness interventions have been a recent focus in PD. The present study explores effectiveness of a manualized group mindfulness intervention tailored for PD in improving both motor and neuropsychiatric deficits in PD. Methods. Fourteen PD patients completed an 8-week mindfulness intervention that included 6 sessions. The Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ), Geriatric Anxiety Inventory, Hamilton Depression Rating Scale, PD Cognitive Rating Scale, Unified PD Rating Scale, PD Quality of Life Questionnaire, and Outcome Questionnaire (OQ-45) were administered before and after the intervention. Participants also completed the FFMQ-15 at each session. Gains at postassessment and at 6-month follow-up were compared to baseline using paired t-tests and Wilcoxon nonparametric tests. Results. A significant increase in FFMQ-Observe subscale, a reduction in anxiety, depression, and OQ-45 symptom distress, an increase in PDCRS-Subcortical scores, and an improvement in postural instability, gait, and rigidity motor symptoms were observed at postassessment. Gains for the PDCRS were sustained at follow-up. Conclusion. The mindfulness intervention tailored for PD is associated with reduced anxiety and depression and improved cognitive and motor functioning. A randomised controlled trial using a large sample of PD patients is warranted.


Improve Breast Cancer Survivor Sleep with Mindfulness

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“The mindfulness elements of accepting things as they are, turning towards rather than away from difficult emotional experience, and embracing change as a constant are helpful for cancer patients who are may be facing difficult realities. The emotion-regulation strategies practiced in mindfulness interventions help to prevent worry about the future and rumination over past events, and allow patients to live more fully in the present moment, regardless of what lies ahead.” – Tracey Aaron


People who are cancer survivors face a myriad of issues including sleep difficulties. It is estimated that one third to one half of cancer survivors experience sleep problems. About 12.5% of women in the U.S. develop invasive breast cancer over their lifetimes and every year about 40,000 women die. Indeed, more women in the U.S. die from breast cancer than from any other cancer, besides lung cancer. It is encouraging, however, that the death rates have been decreasing for decades from improved detection and treatment of breast cancer. Five-year survival rates are now at around 95%.


The improved survival rates mean that more women are now living with cancer. This can be difficult as breast cancer survivors can have to deal with the consequences of chemotherapy, and often experience increased fatigue, pain, and bone loss, reduced fertility, difficulty with weight maintenance, damage to the lymphatic system, heightened fear of reoccurrence, and an alteration of their body image. As a result, survivors often develop sleep problems, including difficulties initiating and maintaining sleep. These sleep disturbances can interfere with recovery as they can contribute to stress, fatigue, depression, and poorer treatment outcomes. So, it is important to address sleep disturbance in cancer survivors.


Mindfulness training has shown promise in treating sleep disorders. It has also been shown to be helpful with cancer treatment and recovery. So, it would make sense to test whether mindfulness training might be effective in treating sleep disturbances in breast cancer survivors. In today’s Research News article “The Effects of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR(BC)) on Objective and Subjective Sleep Parameters in Women with Breast Cancer: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” See:

or below or view the full text of the study at:

Lengacher and colleagues performed a randomized controlled trial of the effects of an 8-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program on the sleep of breast cancer survivors. Patients completed a questionnaire regarding their sleep and a sleep diary. They also wore and activity monitor for three days as an objective measure of sleep. Measurements were obtained before treatment and again at 6 and 12 weeks after treatment.


They found that MBSR training produced a significant improvement in sleep as assessed with the objective measure (activity monitor) at both 6 and 12 weeks after treatment. The improvements included better sleep efficiency and percentage of time asleep, and also fewer waking bouts. The self-report measures of sleep also showed improvement but were not statistically significant. Since direct, objective measures do not rely on memory or judgement, they are considered more accurate. Thus, the results show that MBSR training improves sleep in breast cancer survivors.


These are interesting and potentially important useful results. Improving sleep in cancer survivors may contribute to their health and well-being and their ability to stay in remission. How MBSR has this effect on sleep was not investigated. It can, however, be speculated that MBSR may effect sleep by reducing the patients psychological and physiological responses to stress. This would help to relax the patients making it easier for them to fall asleep and stay asleep. Alternatively, MBSR has been shown to improve emotion regulation, improving the individual’s ability to completely feel the emotion, yet respond to it adaptively. This may help sleep by allowing the individual to better cope with the anxiety, fear, and worry associated with being a cancer survivor.


So, improve breast cancer survivor sleep with mindfulness


“I am now more easily able to mindfully feel both the difficult and the pleasant emotions of this journey—the uncertainty, the worries and the fear, the relief as I recover, the acceptance of a new normal, and noticing my strength and resilience—each informing the other. Writing about it now I see that having experienced cancer brought with it some gifts: a new sense of integration, a new sense of knowing myself—grounded in the present—with hope for the future.” – Esther Brandon


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are available on Google+


Study Summary

Lengacher, C. A., Reich, R. R., Paterson, C. L., Jim, H. S., Ramesar, S., Alinat, C. B., … Kip, K. E. (2015). The Effects of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR(BC)) on Objective and Subjective Sleep Parameters in Women with Breast Cancer: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Psycho-Oncology,24(4), 424–432.



Objective: The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of MBSR(BC) on multiple measures of objective and subjective sleep parameters among breast cancer survivors (BCS).

Methods: Data were collected using a two-armed randomized controlled design among BCS enrolled in either a six week MBSR(BC) program or a Usual Care (UC) group with a 12-week follow-up. The present analysis is a subset of the larger parent trial ( Identifier: NCT01177124). Seventy-nine BCS participants (mean age 57 years), stages 0-III, were randomly assigned to either the formal (in-class) six week MBSR(BC) program or UC. Subjective sleep parameters (SSP) (i.e., sleep diaries and the Pittsburg Sleep Quality Index (PSQI)) and objective sleep parameters (OSP) (i.e., actigraphy) were measured at baseline, six weeks and 12 weeks after completing the MBSR(BC) or UC program.

Results: Results showed indications of a positive effect of MBSR(BC) on OSP at 12 weeks on sleep efficiency (78.2% MBSR(BC) group vs. 74.6% UC group, p=0.04), percent of sleep time (81.0% MBSR(BC) vs. 77.4% UC, p=0.02) and less number waking bouts (93.5 in MBSR(BC) vs. 118.6 in the UC group, p<0.01). Small non-significant improvements were found in SSP in the MBSR(BC) group from baseline to 6 weeks (PSQI total score, p=0.09). No significant relationship was observed between minutes of MBSR(BC) practice and SSP or OSP.

Conclusions: These data suggest that MBSR(BC) may be an efficacious treatment to improve objective and subjective sleep parameters in BCS.



Promote Adaptive Emotions with Mindful Non-Judgment

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“By cultivating such mindfulness of emotions, we can build our resiliency to handle all of the intense experiences associated with urban living. We can limit our ability to get hijacked by emotions, which can carry us away to undesired places (like getting on the wrong subway).” – Jonathan Kaplan


We are very emotional creatures. Without emotion, life is flat and uninteresting. Emotions provide the spice of life. We are constantly having or reacting to emotions. We often go to great lengths in an attempt to create or keep positive emotions and conversely to avoid, mitigate, or get rid of negative emotions. They are so important to us that they affect mostly everything that we do and say and can even be determinants of life or death. Anger, fear, and hate can lead to murderous consequences. Anxiety and depression can lead to suicide. At the same time love, joy, and happiness can make life worth living. Our emotions also affect us physically with positive emotions associated with health, well-being, and longevity and negative emotions associated with stress, disease, and shorter life spans.


The importance of emotions is only surpassed by our ignorance of them. Our rational side tries to downplay their significance and as a result research studies of emotions are fairly sparse and often ridiculed by politicians. So there is a great need for research on the nature of emotions, their effects, how they are regulated or not, and what factors affect them. One important factor is mindfulness, which has been shown to affect our ability to regulate emotions. Research has demonstrated that people either spontaneously high in mindfulness or trained in mindfulness are better able to be completely in touch with their emotions and feel them completely, while being able to respond to them more appropriately and adaptively. In other words, mindful people are better able to experience yet control emotions.


In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness and Emotional Outcomes: Identifying Subgroups of College Students using Latent Profile Analysis.” See:

or below or view the full text of the study at:

Pearson and colleagues explore the components of mindfulness and how they relate to emotions in college students. They measured mindfulness with the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ) which measures the mindfulness components of observing, describing, acting with awareness, non-judging, and non-reactivity. Using sophisticated statistical analysis they were able to identify 4 distinct classes of student responses; a high mindfulness group that were relatively high on every facet of mindfulness; a low mindfulness group that were relatively low on every facet of mindfulness; a judgmentally observing group that is high in observing but very low on non-judging of inner experience and acting with awareness;  and a non-judgmentally aware group that were high on non-judging of inner experience and acting with awareness, but very low on the observing facet of mindfulness.


They found that the “high mindfulness” and “non-judgmentally aware” groups did not differ and had lower depressive symptoms, anxiety symptoms, affective lability, and distress intolerance. On the other hand, the “judgmentally observing” groups had higher depressive symptoms, anxiety symptoms, affective lability, and distress intolerance. Finally, they found that the “low mindfulness group” was in the middle significantly better than the “judgmentally observing” group, but significantly worse than the “non-judgmentally aware” and “high mindfulness groups” in adaptive emotionality. Hence, having high mindfulness and being aware without judging are associated with relatively positive emotional states while observing while judging experiences is associated with relatively negative emotional states. Simply being low in mindfulness is associated with an average emotional state.


These results suggest that mindfulness is associated with positive emotional states but judging experience is associated with poor emotional states. So, being overall mindful and particularly non-judging leads to the most adaptive emotional states. This reinforces the previous findings of mindfulness promotion emotional regulation. But, they extend this understanding to emphasize just how important judging experience is; if its judged it leads to poor emotional outcomes while if it’s not, it leads to positive emotional outcomes. Although correlational these observations suggest that emotional states can be elevated with mindful non-judgement.


So, promote adaptive emotions with mindful non-judgment.


“For many of us, instead of feeling our emotions, we criticize ourselves for having them. We call ourselves weak, dramatic, stupid, too sensitive. . . we get angry with ourselves for feeling scared or upset. We become disgusted when we’re jealous of others. We get frustrated when we’re still grieving a breakup or a fight. The key is to accept our emotions.” – Margarita Tartakovsky


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are available on Google+


Study Summary

Pearson, M. R., Lawless, A. K., Brown, D. B., & Bravo, A. J. (2015). Mindfulness and Emotional Outcomes: Identifying Subgroups of College Students using Latent Profile Analysis. Personality and Individual Differences,76, 33–38.



  • We used latent profile analysis to group college students based on mindfulness scores
  • A 4-class solution was selected, leading to four subgroups of college students
  • High mindfulness and non-judgmentally aware groups had adaptive outcomes
  • Low mindfulness and judgmentally observing groups had maladaptive outcomes
  • We discuss the implications of person-centered analyses for studying mindfulness


In non-meditating samples, distinct facets of mindfulness are found to be negatively correlated, preventing the meaningful creation of a total mindfulness score. The present study used person-centered analyses to distinguish subgroups of college students based on their mindfulness scores, which allows the examination of individuals who are high (or low) on all facets of mindfulness. Using the Lo-Mendell-Rubin Adjusted LRT test, we settled on a 4-class solution that included a high mindfulness group (high on all 5 facets, N = 245), low mindfulness group (moderately low on all 5 facets, N = 563), judgmentally observing group (high on observing, but low on non-judging and acting with awareness, N =63), and non-judgmentally aware group (low on observing, but high on non-judging and acting with awareness, N =70). Consistent across all emotional outcomes including depressive symptoms, anxiety symptoms (i.e., worry), affective instability, and distress intolerance, we found that the judgmentally observing group had the most maladaptive emotional outcomes followed by the low mindfulness group. Both the high mindfulness group and the non-judgmentally aware group had the most adaptive emotional outcomes. We discuss the implications of person-centered analyses to exploring mindfulness as it relates to important psychological health outcomes.

Make School More Effective with Mindfulness


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“Before we can teach a kid how to academically excel in school, we need to teach him how to have stillness, pay attention, stay on task, regulate, make good choices. We tell kids be quiet, calm yourself down, be still. We tell them all these things they need in the classroom, but we’re not teaching them how to do that.” – Jean-Gabrielle Larochette


Childhood is a time of tremendous learning. This is not only true in the knowledge and skills spheres, but also in attitudes, inclinations, emotion regulation, and social skills. It is also the time when the child learns self-regulation, moving from spontaneous uninhibited thoughts, behaviors, and emotions to control and restraint. Guiding much of this learning is a class of cognitive abilities called executive functions. These include inhibitory control, cognitive flexibility, and working memory.


In recent years, drug abuse education has been incorporated into grammar school curricula. Although, at the beginning of grammar school most children have negative attitudes towards drugs, as schooling continues, attitudes become less negative. The idea is to build and reinforce negative attitudes toward illicit substances, alcohol, and cigarette smoking that will help to prevent future drug abuse. The effectiveness of these programs, however, has not yet been established.


Also, in recent years, mindfulness programs in schools have been initiated with positive effects. These include developing stronger executive functions, self-regulation, and social skills. In addition, in adults mindfulness training has been found to be helpful in treating drug, alcohol, and cigarette addictions and in preventing relapse after successful treatment. But, it is not known if mindfulness training might help build anti-drug attitudes in grammar school children. In today’s Research News article “The impact of mindfulness education on elementary school students: Evaluation of the Master Mind Program.” See:

or below or view the full text of the study at:

Parker and colleagues examined this question. They implemented a 4-week, 15-minute per day, mindfulness training program called “Master Mind” that included meditation, yoga, and body scan components in two American grammar school classrooms with 4th and 5th grade children. They measured the children’s executive functions, self-regulation, and attitudes toward drugs before and after training. The results were compared between the “Master Mind” group and wait-list control classroom groups.


They found that after training the “Master Mind” group had higher levels of executive functions This was true both in comparison to before training and to the control group. Teacher ratings of the children’s behavior also indicated that the “Master Mind” group had fewer social problems and less aggressive behavior than the control group. Girls in the “Master Mind” group were found to have significantly lower anxiety levels while boys were found to have greater self-control. There were no significant differences found between the groups in future intentions to use drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes.


These results are quite impressive. They demonstrate that mindfulness training has important positive effects on grammar school children including greater executive function, emotion regulation, and self-regulation. These are important skills for children’s success in school and socially and may suggest greater academic achievement, adjustment, and later success. These results, along with previous findings, suggest that mindfulness programs have important positive effects on school-aged children and that widespread implementation of these programs in schools should be seriously considered.


The lack of effectiveness of mindfulness training on attitudes towards the future use of drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes were disappointing. The students, however, had very low intentions to use these substances to start, with very low scores in pretesting. So there was very little room to show improvement. Hence, the lack of significant improvement may well have been due to a floor effect. It would be interesting to follow these children into later adolescence to see if the training had any long term effects on subsequent drug use.


Regardless, it is clear that schools can be made more effective with mindfulness.


“Once the kids feel that they can actually calm themselves even just through breathing it’s like the ‘wow’ moment. The ultimate goal is self-awareness and self-regulation.” – Rick Kinder


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are available on Google+

Study Summary

Parker, A. E., Kupersmidt, J. B., Mathis, E. T., Scull, T. M., & Sims, C. (2014). The impact of mindfulness education on elementary school students: Evaluation of the Master Mind Program. Advances in School Mental Health Promotion, 7(3), 184–204.



Children need to be equipped with the skills to respond effectively to stress and prevent poor decision-making surrounding alcohol and tobacco use. Training and practice in mindfulness is one possible avenue for building children’s skills. Recent research has revealed that mindfulness education in the classroom may play a role in enhancing children’s self-regulatory abilities. Thus, the goal of the current study was to extend existing research in mindfulness education in classrooms and conduct an assessment of the feasibility and effectiveness of a new mindfulness education, substance abuse prevention program for 4th and 5th grade children (Master Mind). Two elementary schools were randomly assigned to be an intervention group (N = 71) or waitlist control group (N = 40). Students in the intervention group were taught the four-week Master Mind program by their regular classroom teachers. At pre- and post-intervention time points, students completed self-reports of their intentions to use substances and an executive functioning performance task. Teachers rated students on their behavior in the classroom. Findings revealed that students who participated in the Master Mind program, as compared to those in the wait-list control condition, showed significant improvements in executive functioning skills (girls and boys), as well as a marginally significant increase in self-control abilities (boys only). In addition, significant reductions were found in aggression and social problems (girls and boys), as well as anxiety (girls only). No significant differences across groups were found for intentions to use alcohol or tobacco. Teachers implemented the program with fidelity; both teachers and students positively rated the structure and content of the Master Mind program, providing evidence of program satisfaction and feasibility. Although generalization may be limited by the small sample size, the findings suggest that mindfulness education may be beneficial in increasing self-regulatory abilities, which is important for substance abuse prevention.


The Noble Eightfold Path: Right Effort

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“The Fourfold Right Diligence is nourished by joy and interest. If your practice does not bring you joy, you are not practicing correctly.” – Thich Nhat Hahn


In order to progress on the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path, effort must be exerted. One cannot simply sit back and wait for something to happen, one has to practice, one has to work at it. To some people that means working very, very, hard, perhaps meditating for hours on end, day after day. This comes from the Western work ethic that teaches that the harder you work, the more likely it is that you’ll achieve your goals. This is also the case in some Zen schools. A meditation teacher once described a Zen retreat as “Buddha boot camp,” requiring extreme endurance and perseverance. For many people this simply does not work and may lead to them abandoning practice and the path completely.


“Right Effort” sometimes called right diligence is the sixth component of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path, Right View, Right Intentions, Right Speech, Right Actions, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration.” The idea of “Right Effort” is that the effort exerted in practice and in life needs to be “Right.” It needs to be finely tuned, neither too lax, nor too effortful. The Buddha taught that practice should be like a well-tuned string instrument. If the strings are too loose, they won’t play a sound. If they are too tight, they will break. Practice should be nourishing, not draining. So, “Right Effort” actually points precisely to the Buddha’s “Middle Way.”


The notion of “Right Effort” is not just for meditation practice but for how we conduct our lives. It calls for us to develop and encourage good qualities, ones that will lead forward on the path, and reduce or discourage bad qualities, ones that interfere or block progress. There are many good qualities to be cultivated but the ones that the Buddha particularly targeted were mindfulness, investigation of phenomena, energy, joy, tranquility, concentration, and equanimity.


This suggests that we should work to develop mindfulness, paying attention, on purpose, without judgment, to what is occurring in the present moment. After all, how are we going to progress on a spiritual path if our minds are lost in thought, memories of the past or projections of the future? Only by being attentive to what is happening right now, do we have any hope of seeing things as the truly are. Mindfulness can be developed by engaging in contemplative practices such as meditation, yoga, contemplative prayer, mindful movement practices, etc. So, “Right Effort” mandates that we practice to cultivate our mindfulness, but do so with energy and striving, but not too much or too little. We need to practice on the “Middle Way.”

Investigation of phenomena needs to also be cultivated. Whereas mindfulness is observing what is, investigation is probing into the nature of what is. Investigation involves exerting concentration and energy to search out the characteristics, conditions, and consequences of the phenomena we observe with mindfulness. So, we look carefully as to what exactly composes a feeling, what leads up to the feeling arising, and what is produced by the feeling. So as anger arises, we look with mindfulness as to how exactly it feels in the body and mind, we look at what produced the anger, and we look at what consequence it might have for our actions and thoughts. If we can truly see these aspects of anger, we can better recognize it when it begins to arise, control it, and manage its consequences to lead away from harm and toward greater wisdom and happiness.


Fundamental to the entire process is energy. It must be cultivated and distributed carefully as there is only a limited amount available. We must first develop the energy to initiate mindfulness and investigation. It is impossible in real life to be constantly in the present moment and probing its nature. But, we must have the energy to return to these healthy processes whenever we have the opportunity to come back. Once mindfully engaged it is important to cultivate the energy to persevere and remain mindful as long as possible. Finally, we have to learn how to hold some energy in reserve so that when we reach a significant juncture in our practice we can focus our energy to break through and make a leap forward.


All of this energy can be built and cultivated by making our efforts joyful. Joy will replenish and charge our batteries for use when we need it. So, practice with joy, allow yourself to experience the beauty and awe available in every moment, and refrain from pushing too hard and losing the joy and happiness of practice. If we are careful and follow this joy, it will build and build and reach crescendos of bliss. This fuels our progress on the path. But, it is impossible to remain in a state of continuous bliss. Eventually the practice leads to tranquility, a peacefulness that comes from knowing the joyfulness of existence and practice. This tranquility now can allow the practice to proceed with knowing serenity. This peacefulness is the foundation for ceasing seeking and quieting the mind. Maintaining this stillness requires concentration. Once stabilized equanimity develops, an inward poise, free from the extremes of inertia and excitement. A state is reached like when driving a car with the cruise control on, neither having to press the gas peddle harder nor letting up on the peddle, just rolling along enjoying the scenery, without effort or striving, just observing things as they are. Just moving along the “Middle Way.”


It is wonderful to be cultivating positive qualities but at the same time it is necessary to prevent bad qualities from hindering progression on the path. There are also many bad qualities to be discouraged or removed but the ones that the Buddha particularly targeted were sensual desire, ill will, dullness and drowsiness, restlessness and worry, and doubt. As part of pursuing “Right Effort” on the path effort should be exerted to prevent these bad qualities from arising and if they do to refrain from pursuing or reinforcing them so that they can diminish or extinguish on their own.


Sensual desires is actually a broad category that includes cravings for all those objects or states that are pleasing, sights, sounds, emotions, feelings, tastes etc. The actual experiences are fine and need not be avoided. It’s the pursuit of them and the attempt to hold onto them that produces hindrance. “Right Effort” involves not seeking them out, but if they arise letting them come and go without striving to hold onto them. Just letting them pass by like a sunrise or a sunset, looking, seeing, appreciating, and letting go. Trying to hold on only produces unsatisfactoriness and frustration.


At times negative feeling arise toward objects or people. These can be a hindrance also if they are focused on, held onto, or pursued. Feelings such as hatred, anger, resentment, repulsion, jealousy, etc. arise at times in the normal course of life and in our practice. This is normal and need not be actively pushed aside. This will only tend to strengthen them. They should simply be let go, allowed to dissipate on their own, noticing, taking note, sensing the feelings and releasing them. Situations and people who tend to evoke these feeling should be avoided as much as possible. It is easier to handle them if they never arise. So, if someone should cause you harm and anger and resentment begin to arise, let them. Just observe them with mindfulness. Feel the feelings and the mental anguish. Don’t avoid it, but don’t pursue or react to it. This can be difficult, but the more it is practiced the easier and easier it becomes. This is how to exert “Right Effort” toward these ill feelings.


Dullness and drowsiness are often indicators of too little rest and sleep or too much exertion.  “Right Effort” involves staying on the “Middle Way” and getting sufficient rest and sleep and not overdoing anything. These states of dullness and drowsiness are actually very good indicators and guides to return to the “Middle Way.” So, when tired, rest, when sleepy, sleep, and when dull, relax and recharge. Similarly, restlessness and worry are indicators of straying from attention to the present moment and wanting things to be different than they are, ruminating about the past, or fantasizing about the future. These states can also be useful as signposts and guides leading back to the present moment. “Right Effort” is to use these states to assist in maintaining energy, staying with mindfulness, and concentrating. The more they are used in this way the easier it gets to sense straying from the path and the sooner the return can happen.


The path can be difficult and progress is haphazard, improving one day, falling back another. It can sometimes be difficult to tell that progress is actually being made. This can lead to doubt that the “Eightfold Path” is the right way toward spiritual development. When doubt arises don’t fret. This is normal. It signals that questions should be asked of others, particularly those who have navigated the path. This can help to elucidate that the up and down course of practice is normal and if energy is invested in persistence, progress will be made. Doubt also signals that studying the teachings, reading, and contemplation may be needed to strengthen resolve and provide direction. This is truly “Right Effort.”


Obviously, there’s a lot to “Right Effort.” But the keys are joyful practice and the “Middle Way.” Look carefully at discursions from the path of unhealthy desires, bad feelings toward others, sleepiness or restlessness, worry, or doubt. There’s no need to feel bad about them. They are part of being human and everyone from time to time experiences them. Rather than regretting them, let them be pointers to returning to the path. Slowly, improvement will occur and falling off the path will happen less and less often, the good qualities will be present more and more often for longer and longer periods, and forward movement will occur on the path toward awakening and enlightenment.


“Enlightenment is not your birthright.
Those who succeed do so only through proper effort.”
– Ramana Maharshi


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are available on Google+