Change your Brain for the Better with Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“Neuroscientists have also shown that practicing mindfulness affects brain areas related to perception, body awareness, pain tolerance, emotion regulation, introspection, complex thinking, and sense of self. . . When we take a seat, take a breath, and commit to being mindful, particularly when we gather with others who are doing the same, we have the potential to be changed.” – Christina Congleton


The nervous system is a dynamic entity, constantly changing and adapting to the environment. It will change size, activity, and connectivity in response to experience. For example, the brain area that controls the right index finger has been found to be larger in blind subjects who use braille than in sighted individuals.  Similarly, cab drivers in London who navigate the twisting streets of the city, have a larger hippocampus, which is involved in spatial navigation, than predefined route bus drivers. These changes in the brain are called neuroplasticity. Over the last decade neuroscience has been studying the effects of contemplative practices on the brain and has identified neuroplastic changes in widespread areas. In other words, meditation practice appears to mold and change the brain, producing psychological, physical, and spiritual benefits.


The seemingly simple behavior of meditation is actually quite complex. Adding to the complexity is that there are a variety of different meditation techniques. To begin to understand exactly how meditation works to produce its benefit, it is important to determine what works best and what doesn’t. So, there is a need to test and compare the effects of a variety of techniques and variations. There has been some work investigating the neuroplastic changes resulting from a number of different types of meditation techniques. But more work is needed.


Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a practice widely used particularly to treat mental and physical conditions. It is, in fact, an amalgam of three mindfulness practice techniques; meditation, body scan, and yoga. It is not known if this combination of practices has the same effects on the nervous system as simple long-term meditation practice. In today’s Research News article “8-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction induces brain changes similar to traditional long-term meditation practice – A systematic review.” See:

or see summary below. Gotink and colleagues review the published research literature on the effects of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) training on the brain and compare it to the effects of long-term meditation. Participants in the studies were adults who were provided an 8-week MBSR program and had their brains scanned with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (f-MRI).


They found that the literature reported that 8 weeks of MBSR training produced changed activity and functional connectivity in the prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, insula, and cingulate cortex. These are all brain structures that are involved in emotion regulation and behavioral response inhibition and control. In addition, the studies report decreased activity and size of the amygdala. This is a structure involved in activation and emotionality. These are very similar to the neural changes that have been reported for long-term meditators. So, it would appear that and 8-week MBSR training is sufficient to produce major changes in the nervous system reflecting changes in the psychological and emotional aspects of the individual. The practitioner’s brain is changed in such a way as to make them better in charge of their emotions and behavior.


So, change your brain for the better with mindfulness based stress reduction.


“Noticing the differences between sense and story, between primary experience-dependent ‘bottom-up’ input and the secondary ‘top-down’ chatter of prior learning becomes a fundamental tool of the mindfulness approach. Once this distinction, this noticing of the contents of the mind, is readily accessible through intentional practice, the capacity to alter habitual patterns is created and the possibility becomes available for relief from self-preoccupied rumination, self-defeating thought-patterns, negative autobiographical narratives and maladaptive patterns of emotional reactivity.” – Daniel J. Siegel


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


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Study Summary

Gotink RA, Meijboom R, Vernooij MW, Smits M, Hunink MG. 8-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction induces brain changes similar to traditional long-term meditation practice – A systematic review. Brain Cogn. 2016 Jul 15;108:32-41. doi: 10.1016/j.bandc.2016.07.001. [Epub ahead of print]



  • Literature reports that long-term meditators show altered brain activations and structure.
  • Post-MBSR, prefrontal cortex, insula, cingulate cortex and hippocampus show similar results to traditional meditation.
  • In addition, the amygdala shows earlier deactivation, less gray matter and better connectivity.
  • These changes indicate a neuronal working mechanism of MBSR.

Abstract: The objective of the current study was to systematically review the evidence of the effect of secular mindfulness techniques on function and structure of the brain. Based on areas known from traditional meditation neuroimaging results, we aimed to explore a neuronal explanation of the stress-reducing effects of the 8-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) program.

Methods: We assessed the effect of MBSR and MBCT (N = 11, all MBSR), components of the programs (N = 15), and dispositional mindfulness (N = 4) on brain function and/or structure as assessed by (functional) magnetic resonance imaging. 21 fMRI studies and seven MRI studies were included (two studies performed both).

Results: The prefrontal cortex, the cingulate cortex, the insula and the hippocampus showed increased activity, connectivity and volume in stressed, anxious and healthy participants. Additionally, the amygdala showed decreased functional activity, improved functional connectivity with the prefrontal cortex, and earlier deactivation after exposure to emotional stimuli.

Conclusion: Demonstrable functional and structural changes in the prefrontal cortex, cingulate cortex, insula and hippocampus are similar to changes described in studies on traditional meditation practice. In addition, MBSR led to changes in the amygdala consistent with improved emotion regulation. These findings indicate that MBSR-induced emotional and behavioral changes are related to functional and structural changes in the brain.

Reduce Depression and PTSD Symptoms in Caregivers for Dying Children with Mindfulness


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“Mindfulness Self-Compassion turns the usual self-critical paradigm around and asks the care partner, in the midst of a difficult caregiving moment; become aware of the emotions that arise in the moment and where they reside in your body (Mindfulness), recognize that there are others who suffer in this way (Common Humanity), and then offer yourself what you need in the moment (Self-Kindness). Again, this is not to change the moment of suffering for the person you are caring for or for yourself, but because you are suffering too! In the end this supports both of you in a softer way and provides the circumstances, not necessarily for ‘cure’ but for healing.” – Sarel Rowe


Stress is epidemic in the western workplace with almost two thirds of workers reporting high levels of stress at work. In high stress occupations burnout is all too prevalent. This is the fatigue, cynicism, and professional inefficacy that comes with work-related stress. Burnout is associated with depression-like symptoms and often post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)-like symptoms. Healthcare is a high stress occupation. It is estimated that over 45% of healthcare workers experience burnout.


Providing care for the dying can be can be a very satisfying, rewarding, and even joyful experience. But, over time, caregiving can wear the caregiver out and can lead to burnout. Indeed, 62% of physicians involved with end of life care report symptoms of burnout. This is magnified many times when the patient is a child. This is supposed to be the beginning of life, not its end. It is often the case that caregivers for the dying become personally attached to their patient. With a child, that attachment becomes deep and profoundly emotional. This level of emotional stress is difficult to repeatedly endure. So, there is a need to find ways to help the healthcare professionals who provide care in general, but particularly for those working with children to cope with the stress and emotional drain.


It has recently been demonstrated that mindfulness training can help caregivers cope with the stress. It has also been shown to help to prevent burnout in multiple occupations and particularly in healthcare workers. So, it would make sense to investigate the effectiveness of mindfulness training in preventing burnout in healthcare workers providing end of life care to children. In today’s Research News article “Multimodal Mindfulness Training to Address Mental Health Symptoms in Providers Who Care for and Interact with Children in Relation to End-of-Life Care.” See:

or see summary below. O’Mahoney and colleagues recruited palliative care and other health-care professionals who were involved in caring for terminally ill children. They received a 9-week mindfulness training program meeting once a week for 2 hours in the evening. They were measured before and after training for experiential avoidance, cognitive fusion (taking thoughts as true and upsetting), depression, burnout, and PTSD symptoms.


They found that the mindfulness training resulted in significant decreases in depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. These are interesting preliminary results. But, there is a need to follow this up with a randomized controlled trial to determine unequivocally if the training was responsible for the improvements. The effects do seem reasonable as mindfulness training has been shown in different contexts to reduce depression and improve PTSD symptoms. These findings simply extend these general understandings of the effects of mindfulness training to end of life care for children. But, again demonstrate the usefulness of mindfulness training to relieve the psychological effects of caregiving.


So, reduce depression and PTSD symptoms in caregivers for dying children with mindfulness.


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


We are set up for short-term stress, but caregiving is long-term stress. Mindfulness works to inhibit the stress response. Most of us run around listening to our thoughts, and this is particularly true of caregivers, who are driven by the To-Do list. They are never at rest.” – Griffiths Vega


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Study Summary

O’Mahony S, Gerhart J, Abrams I, Greene M, McFadden R, Tamizuddin S, Levy MM. A Multimodal Mindfulness Training to Address Mental Health Symptoms in Providers Who Care for and Interact With Children in Relation to End-of-Life Care. Am J Hosp Palliat Care. 2016 Jul 21. pii: 1049909116660688. [Epub ahead of print]



AIM: Medical providers may face unique emotional challenges when confronted with the suffering of chronically ill, dying, and bereaved children. This study assessed the preliminary outcomes of participation in a group-based multimodal mindfulness training pilot designed to reduce symptoms of burnout and mental health symptoms in providers who interact with children in the context of end-of-life care.

METHODS: A total of 13 medical providers who care for children facing life-threatening illness or bereaved children participated in a 9-session multimodal mindfulness session. Mental health symptoms and burnout were assessed prior to the program, at the program midpoint, and at the conclusion of the program.

RESULTS: Participation in the pilot was associated with significant reductions in depressive and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms among providers (P < .05).

CONCLUSION: Mindfulness-based programs may help providers recognize and address symptoms of depression and PTSD. Additional research is needed to enhance access and uptake of programming among larger groups of participan

Improve Body Awareness and Reduce Depression Due to Pain with Mindfulness


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“People at risk for depression are dealing with a lot of negative thoughts, feelings and beliefs about themselves and this can easily slide into a depressive relapse. MBCT helps them to recognize that’s happening, engage with it in a different way and respond to it with equanimity and compassion.” – Willem Kuyken


We all have to deal with pain. It’s inevitable, but hopefully mild and short lived. But, for a wide swath of humanity pain is a constant in their lives. At least 100 million adult Americans have chronic pain conditions. Chronic pain accompanies a number of conditions. The most common form of chronic pain is low back pain affecting between 6% to 15% of the population. Osteoarthritis is a chronic degenerative joint disease that is the most common form of arthritis. It produces pain, swelling, and stiffness of the joints. In the U.S., osteoarthritis affects 14% of adults over 25 years of age and 34% of those over 65. Fibromyalgia is a mysterious disorder whose causes are unknown. It is characterized by widespread pain, abnormal pain processing, sleep disturbance, and fatigue that lead to psychological distress. It is very common affecting over 5 million people in the U.S., about 2% of the population.


Pain involves both physical and psychological issues. Indeed, people with chronic pain are much more likely to become depressed and people with depression are much more likely to develop chronic pain. Mindfulness practices have been shown to be safe and beneficial in pain management and to reduce depression. But, how mindfulness training may reduce the depression accompanying chronic pain is not known. Mindfulness is known to improve the awareness of the sensations from the body. It is possible then that the reduction of depression about pain is produced by making the patient more aware of their bodies and thus better able to respond to any aversive states in the body.


In today’s Research News article “Effects of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy on Body Awareness in Patients with Chronic Pain and Comorbid Depression.” See:

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

de Jong and colleagues recruited chronic pain patients with depression and randomly assigned them to receive either an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) plus the normal treatment provided to these patients or to receive only treatment as usual. They were measured for body awareness, pain catastrophizing, and depression before, during, and after the 8 weeks of treatment.


They found that the MBCT group had reduced depression and increased body awareness, especially in self-distracting and self-regulation. “Not-Distracting refers to not ignoring or distracting oneself from uncomfortable body sensations such as pain. Self-Regulation refers to the ability to control psychological distress by consciously attending to body sensations.” Hence MBCT significantly improved the chronic pain patient’s ability to control their pain by paying attention to it. Using a sophisticated statistical technique of mediation analysis, they were able to determine that the effects of mindfulness on depression were completely mediated by its effect on body awareness.


These results are interesting and important. It is well established that mindfulness training and MBCT in particular are very effective in reducing depression. The present findings, though, demonstrate that its ability to reduce the depression produced by chronic pain is due to improved body awareness. This may seem counterintuitive that increasing the awareness of body pain would improve the depression produced by the pain. But, denying pain by ignoring it or by distracting oneself from it doesn’t work and actually increases its pain’s impact by increasing worry and rumination. Directly addressing the pain and seeing it as it is, makes it easier to cope with it.


So, improve body awareness and reduce depression due to pain with mindfulness.


“MBCT helps participants learn how to recognize their sense of being and see themselves as separate from their thoughts and moods. This disconnect can allow people to become liberated from thought patterns in which the same negative messages may be replayed over and over. . . . In general, MBCT attempts to give participants the necessary tools to combat depressive symptoms as they arise. People who learn these skills may then be able to revert to these methods in times of distress or when faced with potentially overwhelming situations.” –


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


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Study Summary

de Jong M, Lazar SW, Hug K, Mehling WE, Hölzel BK, Sack AT, Peeters F, Ashih H, Mischoulon D and Gard T (2016) Effects of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy on Body Awareness in Patients with Chronic Pain and Comorbid Depression. Front. Psychol. 7:967. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00967



Body awareness has been proposed as one of the major mechanisms of mindfulness interventions, and it has been shown that chronic pain and depression are associated with decreased levels of body awareness. We investigated the effect of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) on body awareness in patients with chronic pain and comorbid active depression compared to treatment as usual (TAU; N = 31). Body awareness was measured by a subset of the Multidimensional Assessment of Interoceptive Awareness (MAIA) scales deemed most relevant for the population. These included: Noticing, Not-Distracting, Attention Regulation, Emotional Awareness, and Self-Regulation. In addition, pain catastrophizing was measured by the Pain Catastrophizing Scale (PCS). These scales had adequate to high internal consistency in the current sample. Depression severity was measured by the Quick Inventory of Depressive Symptomatology-Clinician rated (QIDS-C16). Increases in the MBCT group were significantly greater than in the TAU group on the “Self-Regulation” and “Not Distracting” scales. Furthermore, the positive effect of MBCT on depression severity was mediated by “Not Distracting.” These findings provide preliminary evidence that a mindfulness-based intervention may increase facets of body awareness as assessed with the MAIA in a population of pain patients with depression. Furthermore, they are consistent with a long hypothesized mechanism for mindfulness and emphasize the clinical relevance of body awareness.


Meditate to Pray. Pray to Meditate

Meditate to Pray. Pray to Meditate


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“Silence is God’s first language; everything else is a poor translation.” ― Thomas Keating


Prayer takes a number of different forms most of which are not meditative. Prayers of adoration are prayers focused on the worship of God, without any reference to circumstances, needs, or desires. They are often recited by rote. Prayers of thanksgiving are expressions of gratitude towards God, made in reference to specific positive life experiences. Prayers of supplication “taps requests for God’s intervention in specific life events for oneself or others”. Prayers of confession involve the admission of negative behaviors, and a request for forgiveness. Obligatory prayers are required prayers consist primarily of fixed prayers repeated at each worship time. All of these types of prayer generally don’t parallel meditation and might be characterized as self-serving.


The final type, on the other hand, prayers of reception are very similar to meditation. These are prayers in which “one more passively awaits divine wisdom, understanding, or guidance”. They are “characterized by a contemplative attitude of openness, receptivity, and surrender, resulting in experiences ranging from peaceful/quiet to rapture/ecstasy”. The following story exemplifies this form of prayer:

“Mother Theresa was once asked about her prayer life.

The interviewer asked, “When you pray, what do you say to God?”

Mother Teresa replied, “I don’t talk, I simply listen.”

Believing he understood what she had just said, the interviewer next asked, “Ah, then what is it that God says to you when you pray?”

Mother Teresa replied, “He also doesn’t talk. He also simply listens.”

There was a long silence, with the interviewer seeming a bit confused and not knowing what to ask next.

Finally, Mother Teresa breaks the silence by saying, “If you can’t understand the meaning of what I’ve just said, I’m sorry but there’s no way I can explain it any better.” –  David Matthew Brown


This is the kind of prayer described by Mother Theresa is the form of contemplative prayer engaged in by the Christian or Sufi mystics. Receptive prayer might be characterized as the deepest most profound form of prayer. In this prayer the mind is quieted and there is no specific goal as in meditation. The practitioner simply quiets the mind and patiently monitors experience, just like meditation. So, not only can contemplative prayer be viewed as a form of meditation, but meditation can be viewed as a form of prayer. Both involve quieting the mind and simply resting peacefully observing whatever transpires.


This idea is further evidenced by what is arguably the most famous definition of prayer from St John Damascene ,‘Prayer is the raising of the mind and heart to God’. It is also evident in the sermons of the highly regarded Christian mystic, Meister Eckhart. He states that

The most powerful form of prayer, and the one which can virtually gain all things and which is the worthiest work of all, is that which flows from a free mind. The freer the mind is, the more powerful and worthy, the more useful, praiseworthy and perfect the prayer and the work become. A free mind can achieve all things. But what is a free mind? A free mind is one which is untroubled and unfettered by anything, which has not bound its best part to any particular manner of being or devotion and which does not seek its own interest in anything but is always immersed in God’s most precious will, having gone out of what is its own. (Talks of Instruction 2 in Davies, 1994).”


So, prayers of reception are essentially meditations. They involve quieting the mind and simply observing what transpires. The difference is simply one of intent. In the case of prayer, the practitioner has the intent of becoming one with the Deity, while in the case of meditation the practitioner has the intent of becoming one with the universe. Simply thinking of the universe as the expression of the Devine makes contemplative prayer and meditation identical. It’s all a matter of the label put on it. The meditator calls the ultimate product of meditation as awakening or enlightenment while the contemplative prayer practitioner calls the ultimate product of the prayer Devine revelation. It could be argued that these two are identical except for the labels put on them. In fact, the mystical experiences reported by the Christian and Sufi mystics only differ from those reported by meditators in the labels put on them. In their essence they are identical and lead to effectively the same place.


So, meditate to pray and pray to meditate!


“Spiritual meditation is the pathway to Divinity. It is a mystic ladder which reaches from earth to heaven, from error to Truth, from pain to peace.” ~James Allen


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


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Reduce Fatigue After Brain Injury with Mindfulness


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“Mindfulness meditation — or mentally focusing on being in the present moment — has also proven an effective tool to help people with cognitive and behavioral issues after TBI. With meditation of all kinds — from chanting to visual imagery — people can make peace with their new self and not get swept up in the constant maelstrom of mental obsessions.” – Victoria Tilney McDonough


Brain damage is more or less permanent. The neurons and neural structures that are destroyed when the brain is damaged for the most part do not regrow. There are a number of causes of brain damage including Traumatic Brain Injury, stroke, and Multiple Sclerosis. TBI has many causes of this including car accidents, warfare, violent disputes, etc.. A stroke results from an interruption of the blood supply to the brain, depriving it of needed oxygen and nutrients. This can result in the death of brain cells and depending on the extent of the damage produce profound loss of function. Multiple Sclerosis is a progressive demyelinating disease which attacks the coating on the neural axons which send messages throughout the body and nervous system. MS is not fatal with MS patients having about the same life expectancy as the general population. Hence, most MS sufferers have to live with the disease for many years. So, quality of life becomes a major issue. Quality of life with brain injuries in general is affected by fatigue, cognitive decrements, physical impairment, depression, and poor sleep quality.


Regardless of the cause, the brain is damaged, and the areas that are destroyed are permanently lost. But, people can recover to some extent from brain injury. Fatigue is the common symptom of all of these neurological disorders and it interferes with treatment and recovery. These patients frequently lack the energy to adhere to their therapeutic regimens. So, there is a pressing need to find treatments that can reduce or eliminate fatigue in these patients. Mindfulness practices have been shown to be helpful in recovery from Traumatic Brain Injury, stroke, and Multiple Sclerosis. They have also been shown to be effective in reducing fatigue due to environmental and medical causes. Hence, mindfulness training may be an effective treatment for the fatigue following brain injury.


In today’s Research News article “Clinical Utility of Mindfulness Training in the Treatment of Fatigue After Stroke, Traumatic Brain Injury and Multiple Sclerosis: A Systematic Literature Review and Meta-analysis.” See:

or see summary below or view the full text of the study at  Ulrichsen and colleagues review the published research literature investigating the usefulness of mindfulness treatments for fatigue following brain injury. They report that the summarized results from four studies indicate that mindfulness training reduces fatigue after brain injury with a moderate but clinically significant effect size (.37). In other words, mindfulness treatment reduces fatigue, but doesn’t eliminate it.


These are promising results suggesting that one way that mindfulness training may help improve the recovery after brain injury is by reducing the fatigue that typically accompanies brain injury. This is very important as fatigue is at the center of the reduced quality of life after brain injury. Fatigue also interferes with the patient’s ability to fully engage in their rehabilitation therapy regimens. Additionally, mindfulness training is a safe treatment with no know negative side effects and many additional positive physical and psychological effects on the patients. Hence, these results suggest that mindfulness training should be employed to assist in recovery after brain injury.


So, reduce fatigue after brain injury with mindfulness.


“It seems then that exploring the benefits of mindfulness and meditation after brain injury can be worthwhile for people living with brain injury, family and supporters.  It can reduce stress and focus concentration and attention.” –  Melanie Atkins


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


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Study Summary

Ulrichsen, K. M., Kaufmann, T., Dørum, E. S., Kolskår, K. K., Richard, G., Alnæs, D., … Nordvik, J. E. (2016). Clinical Utility of Mindfulness Training in the Treatment of Fatigue After Stroke, Traumatic Brain Injury and Multiple Sclerosis: A Systematic Literature Review and Meta-analysis. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 912.



Background: Fatigue is a common symptom following neurological illnesses and injuries, and is rated as one of the most debilitating sequela in conditions such as stroke, traumatic brain injury (TBI), and multiple sclerosis (MS). Yet effective treatments are lacking, suggesting a pressing need for a better understanding of its etiology and mechanisms that may alleviate the symptoms. Recently mindfulness-based interventions have demonstrated promising results for fatigue symptom relief.

Objective: Investigate the efficacy of mindfulness-based interventions for fatigue across neurological conditions and acquired brain injuries.

Materials and Methods: Systematic literature searches were conducted in PubMed, Medline, Web of Science, and PsycINFO. We included randomized controlled trials applying mindfulness-based interventions in patients with neurological conditions or acquired brain injuries. Four studies (N = 257) were retained for meta-analysis. The studies included patients diagnosed with MS, TBI, and stroke.

Results: The estimated effect size for the total sample was -0.37 (95% CI: -0.58, -0.17).

Conclusion: The results indicate that mindfulness-based interventions may relieve fatigue in neurological conditions such as stroke, TBI, and MS. However, the effect size is moderate, and further research is needed in order to determine the effect and improve our understanding of how mindfulness-based interventions affect fatigue symptom perception in patients with neurological conditions.


Improve Employee Well-being with Mindfulness


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“Toxic emotions disrupt the workplace, and mindfulness increases your awareness of these destructive patterns, helping you recognize them before they run rampant. It’s a way of reprogramming your mind to think in healthier, less stressful, ways.” – Drew Hanson


Work is very important for our health and well-being. We spend approximately 25% of our adult lives at work. How we spend that time is immensely important for our psychological and physical health. Indeed, the work environment has even become an important part of our social lives, with friendships and leisure time activities often attached to the work environment. But, more than half of employees in the U.S. and nearly 2/3 worldwide are unhappy at work. This is partially due to work-related stress which is epidemic in the western workplace. Almost two thirds of workers reporting high levels of stress at work. This stress can result in impaired health and can result in burnout; producing fatigue, cynicism, and professional inefficacy.


To help overcome unhappiness, stress, and burnout, mindfulness practices have been implemented in the workplace. In fact, it has become very trendy for business to incorporate meditation into the workday to help improve productivity. For example, Google offers “Search Inside Yourself” classes to teach mindfulness at work. But, although there is a lot of anecdotal evidence of meditation improving work performance, there is actually very little systematic research on its effectiveness.


In today’s Research News article “Systematic review: complementary therapies and employee well-being.” See:

or see summary below. Ravalier and colleagues reviewed the published research literature on the effects of mindfulness practices implemented in the work environment. They included only full-length peer-reviewed journal articles published since 2000. They found that mindfulness practices produced significant reductions in perceived stress and improvements in vigor, psychological health, and resilience in the employees. In other words, they found very promising research findings, suggesting marked improvements in employee psychological well-being produced by mindfulness practices. They point out, however, that there is a need for longer-term follow-up studies to ascertain whether mindfulness practices have lasting effects in the workplace.


These results complement the research findings of mindfulness effects in many other contexts. It has been shown in general to reduce the psychological and physical responses to stress and to improve mental and physical health. This suggests that mindfulness practices may improve health and productivity and reduce burnout in modern workers. Beyond overcoming the negative effects of the work environment, the workplace has been postulated to be an excellent environment to practice the Buddha’s Eightfold Path for spiritual development and the relief of suffering.


So, improve employee well-being with mindfulness.


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


“By improving the way people relate to one another, ideally it can change corporate culture for the better, creating a more supportive, friendlier workplace with better relationships. In many organizations, there are bigger, systemic changes that need to be made, but I don’t think that instituting a mindfulness program will prevent those changes from happening. At the least, a mindfulness program provides workers with some relief from stress and anxiety while they campaign for systemic changes; at best, it helps to catalyze those bigger systemic changes.”Jason Marsh


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Study Summary

  1. M. Ravalier, P. Wegrzynek and S. Lawton Systematic review: complementary therapies and employee well-being. Occup Med (Lond) April 4, 2016, doi: 10.1093/occmed/kqw047



Background A variety of workplace-based interventions exist to reduce stress and increase productivity. However, the efficacy of these interventions is sometimes unclear.

Aims To determine whether complementary therapies offered in the workplace improve employee well-being.

Methods We performed a systematic literature review which involved an electronic search of articles published between January 2000 and July 2015 from the databases Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, PsycINFO, MEDLINE, AMED, CINAHL Plus, EMBASE and PubMed. We also undertook a manual search of all applicable article reference lists to ensure that no relevant studies were missed. We only selected published, full-length, English-language, peer-reviewed journal articles. Articles had to address the research objective using valid and reliable measures. We excluded articles concerning return to work or whose populations had been adversely affected by work resulting in the development of health issues.

Results We included 10 articles in the review from 131 identified. Mindfulness and meditation-based interventions were most effective in improving workplace health and work performance; the latter demonstrating some evidence of maintaining gains up to 3 months later. The evidence for relaxation interventions was inconclusive.

Conclusions Mindfulness and meditation interventions may be helpful in improving both psychosocial workplace health and work performance, but long-term efficacy has yet to be fully determined.


Improve Type II Diabetes with Yoga


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“Regular yoga practice can help reduce the level of sugar in the blood, along with lowering blood pressure, keeping a weight check, reducing the symptoms and slowing the rate of progression of diabetes, as well as lessening the severity of further complications.” – Art of Living


Type 2 diabetes is a common and increasingly prevalent illness that is largely preventable. Although this has been called adult-onset diabetes it is increasingly being diagnosed in children. It is estimated that 30 million people in the United States have diabetes and the numbers are growing. One of the reasons for the increasing incidence of Type 2 Diabetes is its association with overweight and obesity which is becoming epidemic in the industrialized world. Diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death in the United States. In addition, diabetes is heavily associated with other diseases such as cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, stroke, blindness, kidney disease, and circulatory problems leading to amputations. As a result, diabetes doubles the risk of death of any cause compared to individuals of the same age without diabetes. Type 2 Diabetes results from a resistance of tissues, especially fat tissues, to the ability of insulin to promote the uptake of glucose from the blood. As a result, blood sugar levels rise producing hyperglycemia.


A leading cause of this tissue resistance to insulin is overweight and obesity and a sedentary life style. Hence, treatment and prevention of Type 2 Diabetes focuses on diet, exercise, and weight control. Recently, mindfulness practices have been shown to be helpful in managing diabetes.

A mindfulness practice that combines mindfulness with exercise is yoga and it has been shown to be helpful in the treatment of Type II Diabetes. In today’s Research News article “Effects of Yoga in Adult Patients with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: A Meta-Analysis.” See:

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

Cui and colleagues review the published literature on the effects of yoga practice on Type II diabetes.


They found that yoga practice had significant positive effects on the patients, reducing fasting blood glucose, blood glucose after meals, glycosylated hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c), total cholesterol, and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels and increasing high- density lipoprotein cholesterol levels in the patients with Type II diabetes. In other words, yoga practice had markedly beneficial effects on blood sugar and cholesterol levels in the patient. Most of these measures are short-term indicators of the patient’s metabolic condition. HbA1c, on the other hand, is an indicator of long-term blood glucose control and suggests that yoga practice has lasting effects on the overall metabolic state of type II diabetic patients.


How yoga practice produces these effects is unknown. But, it is likely that, at least in part, the improvement is due to the fact that yoga is a moderate exercise and exercise is known to improve Type II diabetes. In addition, yoga practice reduces the physiological and psychological responses to stress and stress is known to exacerbate diabetes. Finally, yoga practice improves discipline and conscious appreciation of the bodily state. This may make it easier for the patient to successfully negotiate the rigorous dietary and lifestyle restrictions required for successful treatment of diabetes. Regardless of the mechanisms of action, it is clear that yoga practice is very helpful in controlling the metabolism of Type II diabetes patients.


So, improve type II diabetes with yoga.


“Yoga can decrease fasting blood glucose levels, lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol and triglycerides, reduce the need for diabetes medication, and lower stress hormone levels.1 What’s more, yoga increases flexibility and strength, improves balance and immune function, precipitates weight loss, relieves stress, and alleviates chronic pain.”Jennifer Van Pelt



CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


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Study Summary

Cui J, Yan JH, Yan LM, Pan L, Le JJ, Guo YZ. Effects of Yoga in Adult Patients with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: A Meta-Analysis. J Diabetes Investig. 2016 Jul 1. doi: 10.1111/jdi.12548. [Epub ahead of print]



Aims/Introduction: A meta-analysis was performed to evaluate the efficacy of yoga in adult patients with T2DM.

Materials and Methods: The PubMed, EMBASE, and Cochrane databases were searched to obtain eligible randomized controlled trials (RCTs). The primary outcome was fasting blood glucose (FBG), and the secondary outcomes included glycosylated hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c), total cholesterol (TC), high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C), low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C), triglyceride, and postprandial blood glucose (PPBG). Weighted mean differences (WMDs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) were calculated. The I2 statistic represented heterogeneity.

Results: Twelve RCTs with a total of 864 patients met the inclusion criteria. The pooled WMDs were –23.72 mg/dl (95% CI: –37.78 to –9.65; P = 0.001; I2 = 82%) for FBG and –0.47% (95% CI: –0.87 to –0.07; P = 0.02; I2 = 82%) for HbA1c. The WMDs were –17.38 mg/dl (95% CI: –27.88 to –6.89; P = 0.001; I2 = 0%) for PPBG, –18.50 mg/dl (95% CI: –29.88 to –7.11; P = 0.001; I2 = 75%) for TC, 4.30 mg/dl (95% CI: 3.25 to 5.36; P < 0.00001; I2 = 10%) for HDL-C, –12.95 mg/dl (95% CI: –18.84 to –7.06; P < 0.0001; I2 = 37%) for LDL-C, and –12.57 mg/dl (95% CI: –29.91 to 4.76; P = 0.16; I2 = 48%) for triglycerides.

Conclusions: The available evidence suggests that yoga benefits adult patients with T2DM. However, considering the limited methodology and the potential heterogeneity, further studies are necessary to support our findings and investigate the long-term effects of yoga in T2DM patients.


Reduce Aggression and Counterproductive Work in the Office with Yoga


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“Making office yoga exercises a part of your routine can work wonders as they wipe away body pain, fatigue and tension and increase overall muscle strength and flexibility, keeping you fresh and revitalized through the day.” – The Art of Living


Sometimes in the workplace employees engage in behaviors that harm the organization or other employees. These are known as counterproductive work behavior and include behaviors such as absenteeism, bullying, abuse of others, excessive use of social media, incivility, aggression, chronic lateness, sabotage, harassment, substance abuse, and theft. These behaviors are quite common as 75% of employees have reportedly stolen from their employer and 33% to 75% of all employees have engaged in fraud, sabotage, and voluntary absenteeism. In addition, it has been estimated that around 40% of employees have been bullied in the workplace. Such behaviors can cost organizations dearly. It has been estimated that in the U.S. workplace violence costs around $4.2 billion, theft costs around $80, and delinquent behavior costs around $100 billion annually. Hence, it is important to organizations to find methods to reduce or control these counterproductive work behaviors.


Mindfulness practices have been shown to be effective in promoting the work performance and the well-being of workers including the prevention and treatment of burnout. Yoga is a mindfulness practice that has been shown to have a wide range of physical and psychological benefits. It has also been used to promote health in the workplace. In today’s Research News article “Effect of yoga practices in reducing counterproductive work behavior and its predictors.” See:

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

Dwivedi and colleagues investigate whether yoga practice can reduce counterproductive work behavior. They recruited working professionals who had engaged in counterproductive work behavior and randomly assigned them to a yoga practice group or a control condition which included lectures on management and mild to moderate exercise. Both groups practiced for one hour per day, five days per week, for ten weeks. The participants were measured prior to and after the training for counterproductive work behaviors, aggression, and positive and negative emotions.


They found that after the ten-week practice the yoga practice group, but not the control group, had significant reductions of 15% in counterproductive work behaviors, 14% in aggression, and 22% in negative emotions. These are very good results and suggest that yoga practice can improve the psychological state of workers and reduce counterproductive work behaviors. This suggests that yoga practice may be of great use in organizations and improve employee behavior and the costs of wasteful counterproductive work behaviors.


It will be important to establish whether these effects are lasting with follow-up measurements. Regardless, the results suggest that yoga practice is a safe and effective method to improve employee health and reduce the negative behaviors that interfere with organizational effectiveness and add unnecessary costs.


So, reduce aggression and counterproductive work in the office with yoga.


Taking breaks in the workday with yoga has proven to be one of the most effective ways in helping employees relieve stress and become refreshed and more focused. Employees will then be able to make better decisions, be more productive, and have a more positive attitude with co-workers.” – Kreg Weiss


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


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


Study Summary

Dwivedi, U., Kumari, S., & Nagendra, H. R. (2016). Effect of yoga practices in reducing counterproductive work behavior and its predictors. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 58(2), 216–219.



Context: Aggression and negative affectivity (NA) are known for moderating relationship between job stressors and counterproductive work behavior. Yoga has been demonstrated earlier to reduce the parameters of aggression and negative emotions.

Aim: The present study examined the effectiveness of yoga practices in reducing counterproductive work behavior and its predictors such as aggression and NA.

Settings and Design: A pretest–posttest randomized controlled design.

Materials and Methods: The study sample included yoga group (n = 80) and control group (n = 80). Yoga module that included asanas, pranayama, meditation, and yogic theory were taught to the yoga group. Mild to moderate physical exercises and management theories were taught to the control group. Both groups received intervention for 10 weeks, covering 1 h daily, 5 days a week. Measurements of self-reported counterproductive work behaviors, aggression, and NA were taken as baseline and postintervention for assessment.

Results: Yoga group reported significant reductions in aggression, NA, and counterproductive work behavior in comparison with the control group after 10 weeks.

Conclusions: This study contributes by introducing a cost-effective way to prevent the heavy losses organizations are incurring due to counterproductive work behavior and its predictors. The findings support that yoga at workplace may result in positive psychological empowerment of the employees as well.


Get Mindful Before Public Speaking

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“mindfulness helps us discover a different kind of confidence.  We learn that courage isn’t the absence of fear – it’s being willing to have that fear, and knowing that we can cope, by holding it in kind awareness.” – Sheila Bayliss


It is so common to fear giving speeches in public, that it is actually less common not to. In fact, about 75% of humanity has severe anxiety about speaking in public. Indeed, people prefer to administer small but uncomfortable shocks to themselves than give a 5-min speech about their personal attributes.  Surveys suggest that people fear public speaking more than death. It’s been quipped that we would prefer to be in the coffin than giving the eulogy!


Public speaking is very stressful including physiological responses indicative of the fight or flight response such as increased cortisol (stress hormone) levels. There are, however, a variety of therapies that are effective for speech phobia. Mindfulness training would appear to be a likely candidate. It has been shown to reduce anxiety, alleviate phobias, and reduce the psychological and physiological responses to stress. In today’s Research News article ““Letting Go” (Implicitly): Priming Mindfulness Mitigates the Effects of a Moderate Social Stressor.” See:

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

Bergeron and colleagues investigate whether a brief induction of mindfulness with an implicit priming procedure can improve the recovery from the anxiety, arousal, and stress of giving a public speech.


They recruited college students and measured mindfulness prior to a laboratory session in which the students completed scales measuring self-esteem, stress, and positive and negative emotions. They then provided a saliva sample for measurement of cortisol. They were then instructed and gave a public speech and provided another saliva sample. Afterwards they were randomly separated into either an implicit mindfulness priming group was primed with mindfulness words or a control group that was primed with neutral words. Afterwards, they again competed measures of self-esteem, stress, positive and negative emotions, and physiological arousal. Finally, they provided three more saliva samples immediately after the priming, and 15 and 30 minutes later.


Bergeron and colleagues found that participants who were low to begin with in mindfulness were helped by the mindfulness priming results in higher self-esteem and lower levels of stress, physiological arousal, and negative emotions. They also found that the mindfulness priming produced a greater decrease in the indicator of stress, cortisol levels. So, a brief mindfulness induction improves recovery from the anxiety, arousal, and stress of public speaking.


These results suggest that a simple implicit priming procedure improves the recovery from stress for everyone and improves the psychological state of participants who were low in mindfulness at the outset. The findings are in line with previous studies of mindfulness training effects. But, these results are particularly interesting because they didn’t require extensive mindfulness training to produce reductions in responsiveness to stress or improve psychological well-being. It only required a brief implicit mindfulness prime. This suggests that anything that improves mindfulness can have marked effects on stress and well-being for as long as the increased mindfulness persists. Training can produce long-lasting increase in mindfulness and therefor long-lasting effects while mindfulness priming can produce brief increases in mindfulness and brief effects.


 “The power of a mindfulness practice, however, may come in the realization that one can live a meaningful life even with social anxiety. Schjerning, says that he still feels nervous in social situations but now feels compassion — not judgment — for himself, and sees that “I can be more the person I want to be.” –  Jason Drwal


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


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


Study Summary

Bergeron, C. M., Almgren-Doré, I., & Dandeneau, S. (2016). “Letting Go” (Implicitly): Priming Mindfulness Mitigates the Effects of a Moderate Social Stressor. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 872.



This experimental study investigated whether implicitly priming mindfulness would facilitate psychological and cortisol recovery after undergoing a standardized psychological stressor. After completing baseline measures of well-being, all participants (N = 91) completed a public speaking stress task, were implicitly primed with “mindfulness” or “neutral” concepts using a scrambled sentence task, and finally, reported their situational well-being and provided cortisol samples. Simple moderation regression analyses revealed that the implicit mindfulness condition had significant beneficial effects for participants with low trait mindfulness. These participants reported higher situational self-esteem as well as less negative affect, perceived stress, and self-reported physiological arousal than their counterparts in the control condition. Cortisol analyses revealed that participants in the implicit mindfulness condition, regardless of level of trait mindfulness, showed a greater decline in cortisol during the early recovery stage compared to those in the control condition. Overall, results suggest that implicitly activating mindfulness can mitigate the psychological and physiological effects of a social stressor.


Improve Health and Weight with Mindfulness

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“Applied to eating, mindfulness includes noticing the colors, smells, flavors, and textures of your food; chewing slowly; getting rid of distractions like TV or reading; and learning to cope with guilt and anxiety about food.” – Celeste Robb-Nicholson


Obesity has become an epidemic in the industrialized world. In the U.S. the incidence of obesity, defined as a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or above has more than doubled over the last 35 years to currently around 35% of the population, while two thirds of the population are considered overweight or obese (BMI > 25). Lesbian and bisexual women have even higher incidence rates of overweight and obesity that the general population. Although the incidence rates have appeared to stabilize, the fact that over a third of the population is considered obese is very troubling.


This is because of the health consequences of obesity. Obesity has been found to shorten life expectancy by eight years and extreme obesity by 14 years. This occurs because obesity is associated with cardiovascular problems such as coronary heart disease and hypertension, stroke, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, and others. Obviously there is a need for effective treatments to prevent or treat obesity. But, despite copious research and a myriad of dietary and exercise programs, there still is no safe and effective treatment.


Mindfulness is known to be associated with lower risk for obesity. Mindfulness has also been shown to make people more aware of eating and reduce intake. This suggests that mindfulness training may be an effective treatment for overeating and obesity. Hence it would seem reasonable to investigate the benefits of mindfulness training for a particular vulnerable party of the population, lesbian and bisexual older women.


In today’s Research News article “Effects of Mindfulness Interventions on Health Outcomes in Older Lesbian/Bisexual Women.” See:

or see summary below. Ingraham and colleagues examined the effectiveness for lesbian and bisexual older (>40 years of age) women of a mindfulness-based program entitled Women’s Health and Mindfulness (WHAM) program which was specifically tailored to improve mindfulness, body weight, and overall health. They compared the effectiveness of this program to a similar program designed to promote exercise and dietary restrain but did not contain a mindfulness component. The programs met once a week for 2 hours over 12 weeks. Measurements were taken before and after the programs of mindful eating, nutrition, alcohol consumption, physical activity, body size, and quality of life.


They found that the mindfulness intervention significantly increased all three components of mindful eating, emotional eating, disinhibition, and eating awareness. This was associated with healthier eating including decreased alcohol and sugar intakes. The increases in mindful eating were also associated with increased activity levels and mental health quality of life. In addition, there were small but significant decreases in weight and waist circumference.


These results are encouraging and demonstrate that a mindfulness-based training program can be effective for a population, older lesbian and bisexual women, which is highly vulnerable to overweight and obesity; improving intake, decreasing body size, and improving mental health quality of life. There is a need for a long-term follow up to examine how lasting the effects of the intervention might be.


So, improve health and weight with mindfulness.


“Mindfulness is the act of focusing attention on present-moment experiences. Apply that to a meal, and mindful eating means actually paying attention to the food you’re eating, making you less likely to thoughtlessly plow through a bag of potato chips, for instance. “The only thing you have to focus on is the food. Mindfulness brings you back to the present moment, back to the present meal.” – Mandy Oaklander


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


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


Study Summary

Ingraham N, Eliason MJ, Garbers S, Harbatkin D, Minnis AM, McElroy JA, Haynes SG. Effects of Mindfulness Interventions on Health Outcomes in Older Lesbian/Bisexual Women. Womens Health Issues. 2016 Jul 7;26 Suppl 1:S53-62. doi: 10.1016/j.whi.2016.04.002.



PURPOSE: Lesbian and bisexual (LB) women are at higher risk for obesity, but no reported interventions focus on older LB women who are overweight or obese. The Healthy Weight in Lesbian and Bisexual Women study funded five programs (n = 266 LB women age ≥40); two examined effects of mindfulness interventions on health outcomes.

METHODS: Analysis of variance and regression measured the impact of mindfulness-based programs on health behaviors and quality of life (MCS). Outcomes were also compared between intervention sites (mindfulness vs. standard weight loss approaches).

RESULTS: Mindful Eating Questionnaire (MEQ) subscale scores improved significantly from preassessment to postassessment in mindfulness interventions. LB women who reported an increase (top tertile) in mindful eating had the most significant increase in MCS scores (35.3%) compared with those with low gains (low and medium tertile) in mindfulness (3.8%). MEQ score increase predicted 40.8% of the variance (adjusted) in MCS score, R(2) = .431, F(6,145) = 18.337, p < .001. Top tertile increases in mindfulness were significantly related to increases in physical activity and some nutrition outcomes. Mindfulness intervention sites showed within-person improvements in MCS and fruit and vegetable intake, whereas standard intervention sites showed within-person decreases in alcohol intake and increases in physical activity level.

CONCLUSIONS: Although weight loss was not a primary outcome at the mindfulness sites, small but significant weight loss and weight-to-height ratio decreases were reported at all five sites. Increases in mindfulness were associated with a number of significant self-reported health improvements, including a great increase in perceived mental health quality of life. Mindfulness may be a promising practice to address health issues in aging LB women.