Mindfulness and Recovery from Brain Injury

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. Acquired Brain Injury is a form of brain damage caused by a number of different events from a violent blow to the head (Traumatic Brain Injury, TBI), to gunshot wounds, to tumors and strokes. There are many causes of this including car accidents, warfare, violent disputes, cancer, etc.. Regardless of the cause, the brain is damaged, and the areas that are destroyed are permanently lost.

But, we know that people can recover to some extent from brain injury.  How is it possible that recovery can occur when there is no replacement of the damaged tissue? There appears to be a number of strategies that are employed by the brain to assist in recovery. Other areas of the brain can take over some of the function, other behavioral strategies can be employed to accomplish the task, and non-injured areas of the brain can adapt and change to compensate for the lost function.

In today’s article “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Delivered Live on the Internet to Individuals Suffering from Mental Fatigue After an Acquired Brain Injuryhttps://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1016815115009081/?type=1&theater

MBSR is shown to assist in recovery from a particularly troublesome symptom of brain injury, long-lasting mental fatigue. For brain injury victims engaging in mental activities takes tremendous energy and the individual tires (fatigues) quickly. We can theorize that this fatigue comes from having to employ less efficient alternative methods to perform mental tasks that take more energy.

How does MBSR help? It can actually change the brain and make it more efficient in processing mental tasks. It has been shown that mindfulness training can increase the size and connectivity of areas of the brain responsible for focused attention while decreasing the size and connectivity of areas responsible for mind wandering and attentional lapses. By limiting intrusive thoughts, mindfulness improves attentional ability and even memory function.

MBSR can also decrease the emotional reactions of frustration and anger that can occur as a result of struggling to perform a mental task. This can remove an interfering and fatiguing consequence of the disability produced by brain injury. This in turn reduces the energy expended to accomplish the task.

So, mindfulness training can assist the brain injury sufferer by restructuring the uninjured brain tissue to allow for better focused attention and also by reducing emotional reactions to the difficulties. This allows the victim to better engage in mental activities. In essence, it doesn’t heal the damaged tissue, rather it makes the rest of the brain better able to carry out the task.


Age Healthily – Yoga


The aging process involves a progressive deterioration of the body. This cannot be stopped or reversed. But, the deterioration can be slowed and to some extent counteracted. This is true for both physical and mental deterioration. But, today’s article, “Age related differences of selected Hatha yoga practices on anthropometric characteristics, muscular strength and flexibility of healthy individuals.”



is focused on the physical deterioration in aging.

As we age we increase body fat and loose muscles mass and strength. The bones become less dense and weaker and thereby more prone to breaking. Cartilage that lines the joints tend to thin leading to arthritis and the ligaments that hold the muscles and joints together tend to harden making us less flexible and prone to injury. Inactivity in aging can exacerbate all of these musculoskeletal changes.

Yoga practice appears to help to slow or reverse these changes. Today’s article demonstrates that the increase in fat mass with aging and the consequent increase in body weight are slowed by daily Hatha yoga practice. The decreased muscle strength as well as the decreased flexibility is also slowed in yoga practitioners. Hence, yoga is an excellent practice for maintaining the individual’s strength, flexibility, and body composition all of which are important for healthy aging.

In addition to the direct benefits there are also a plethora of indirect benefits. The individual looks and feels better. This can lead to improved self-image and even higher levels of activity. These in turn can lead to more frequent and better social interactions. This in addition to the social interactions inherent in group yoga practice. The loss of these social interactions are a major contributor to loneliness and depression in aging. Hence, indirectly, yoga practice can lead to improved social and psychological health.

So, age healthily by practicing yoga!


Mindfulness is a Snooze!

Contemplative practice has many effects on the mind and body, including alterations of sleep. Today’s Research News “A Randomized Controlled Trial of Mindfulness Meditation for Chronic Insomnia.”  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4153063/pdf/aasm.37.9.1553.pdf

provides empirical evidence of the effectiveness of a mindfulness based therapy in treating insomnia.

But, how can mindfulness practice that occurs in the awake state carry over to affect the sleep state? It appears to work psychologically and also physically.

A common symptom of insomniacs is a waking psychophysiological arousal. That is the individual is in a perpetual state of heightened alertness with higher heart rate, blood pressure etc. This makes it difficult to relax to go to sleep. Mindfulness training is known to induce a state of reduced arousal. Hence, by reducing physiological arousal mindfulness training makes it easier to relax and go to sleep.

On the psychological side rumination about the past or anxiety regarding the future can interfere with sleep. Mindfulness training is known to reduce both. Worries about the past tend to subside when the individual becomes more oriented to the present moment. This is also the case for anxiety and fear about the future. So, mindfulness training tends to reduce these psychological inhibitors of sleep onset.

Finally, insomnia can lead to anxiety about sleep itself. This is stressful and can produce even more anxiety about being able to sleep. This can become a vicious cycle, where not being able to sleep induces anxiety and stress about going to sleep which in turn makes it harder to go to sleep which reinforces the anxiety and on and on. Mindfulness training appears to reduce the anxiety, breaking the cycle, making it easier to go to sleep which then further reduces the anxiety.

So, practice mindfulness even though it’s a snooze!


Activate your Buddhism!

Buddhist teachings are clear regarding the equality of all sentient beings. In fact they are seen as expressions of the same totality and are all one. Thus in Buddhism the idea of prejudice toward others makes no sense. It would effectively be being prejudiced against yourself.

Teachings are one thing, actual behavior is another. Do the ideas of Buddhism affect prejudicial thoughts and behaviors in everyday life. Today’s article “Buddhist Concepts as Implicitly Reducing Prejudice and Increasing Prosociality”


addresses this very issue. It appears that when people are subliminally exposed to the ideas of Buddhism that they demonstrate reduced prejudice and increased tolerance and prosocial behavior.

The effect of subliminally activating Buddhist ideas on prejudice is indirect. It appears to act by increasing compassion and consequently increasing tolerance. It does so not only in Buddhist practitioners but also Christians, not only westerners but also Chinese. Hence, Buddhist concepts are powerful, by increasing compassion they activate many forms of prosocial behavior.

It is remarkable that such a subtle and subconscious induction of Buddhist concepts could produce these effects cross culturally and even in non-Buddhists. This underscores the power of these concepts.

So, activate your Buddhism and be more compassionate and tolerant!


Don’t be afraid!

Fear is a worry that something dreadful will occur in the future. In the case of recovery from dire health conditions, it is the fear of reoccurrence. That worry isn’t unreasonable, but often it is excessive relative to the real danger.

When this occurs, it stresses the individual and makes them anxious. This in turn, produces physiological reactions similar to those that occur when something is truly wrong that requires a response. But nothing is really wrong. The unneeded pro-inflammatory responses when nothing is actually wrong can itself induce damage. This, to some extent makes the fears come true. This can create a self-fulfilling fear cycle.

Mindfulness shifts perspective from the future to now where everything actually is well. When we’re mindful in the present moment we are not fearing the future, we’re not ruminating about the past, instead we’re focused on how we’re feeling and what we’re experience right now. Since everything is fine at this present time, we can relax and distress.

In today’s Research News “Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR(BC)) in Breast Cancer: Evaluating Fear of Recurrence (FOR) as a Mediator of Psychological and Physical Symptoms in a Randomized Control Trial (RCT)”



it is demonstrated that Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction reduces  the fear of reoccurrence in breast cancer survivors and this, in turn, reduces stress and anxiety. This mindfulness induced reduction in the fear, stress and anxiety produces improved physical functioning.

Mind and body are amazingly interconnected. Today’s study shows how altering the mind by focusing it in the present moment with MBSR can result in favorable physical functioning. This is one of the many ways that mindfulness improves both physical and psychological health.


Let’s be Honest! 5 – Listening

Quite frequently when a companion is talking, rather than carefully listening, we are composing our response to them. This is a very human tendency. But it is a bit dishonest, pretending to listen while actually composing. True deep and honest listening to another person is a rare and valued talent.

There is an underlying fear that if we are focused on what the other is saying, then when they’ve completed their statements, we’ll not have anything to say. But this turns out not to be true. It’s amazing how when it comes our turn to speak, if we were deeply listening to our companion, uncannily appropriate responses occur almost immediately.

How many times have we heard from another that they just want to be heard? How many times have we rued that no one is hearing us? I’ve found that when someone is upset about something all I need to do is listen to them and not try to fix the problem. Often I’ll be sincerely thanked by the other even though I didn’t do anything except listen to their issues. Sometimes that’s all that is actually needed.

People love others who truly listen to them. If you want people to like you, I don’t know of a more effective method than just simply being a good listener. In your profession or business being able to deeply listen will make you much more effective. It is also almost mandatory for effective conflict resolution; as being able to clearly hear both sides is essential for finding an effective solution

Deep listening is a skill that needs to be practiced. The more you do it the better you’ll get. It is useful to contemplate on prior communications and honestly identify when you were listening and when you were not and think about how to improve. Contemplative practice itself can help to develop this skill by practicing listening to yourself deeply and nonjudgmentally.

If we listen we can learn from the other. When we’re talking we learn nothing. So, deep listening has the added benefit of learning new things.

Let’s be honest and listen to others deeply and clearly.


Let’s be Honest! 4 – Communications

In previous posts we explored the need for honesty in quieting the mind, in understanding our mental contents, and our reactions to others. Another facet that can be explored in contemplative practice is communicating with others.

We need to look very honestly and carefully at what is occurring in the process of our communicating with others. It is first imperative to take an honest look at what exactly we are trying to accomplish in the communication. On the surface it may seem obvious, but a very deep honest contemplative investigation may reveal that there are much deeper objectives.

We may think that in our communications that we’re simply responding to another’s statements or providing information that is of interest or use to another. But, ask yourself precisely why you’re transmitting this particular information or responding in this particular way. Could it be that underlying this is a desire to be liked or admired by the other, to look intelligent or wise, or perhaps a need to be agreed with, or the desire to convince the other that you are correct, or even a need to feel superior to the other person? In other words is the communication serving for you a psychological function?

If it is, don’t feel bad, this is normal and human. It’s perfectly OK. But realizing the underlying agenda will not only help us to understand our own psychology, but also perhaps change our communications, making them more honest and sincere.

Once we have identified our real objectives in the communication, we can then look at the objectives of the other person. What is it that they really want from us? The underlying needs may be similar to our own or quite different. That doesn’t matter. What makes a difference is to know what the objective is and craft our response to what it is that they are trying to accomplish.

If the other person’s objective is to be agreed with or convince you that they are correct, we can tailor our answer by recognizing and communicating what we do agree with within the communication, while holding off disagreeing with the parts we don’t. Immediately disagreeing with the other person will not result in a satisfying communication. Rather it is likely to harden the others opinion and elicit emotions that can make it even more difficult to communicate.

It is not necessary to be dishonest or manipulative. It is only necessary to understand the underlying agenda and work with it rather than causing friction by working against it. This is true both with yourself and the other person. Contemplate deeply and honestly regarding what is actually transpiring in the communication and have a much more satisfying interpersonal interaction.

Let’s be honest and look at our communications with others deeply and clearly.


Let’s be Honest! 3 – Understanding Others

In previous posts we explored the need for honesty in quieting the mind and in understanding our mental contents. These are, however, just two facets of what can be accomplished in contemplative practice. Another facet is understanding others.

During contemplative practice ours minds frequently turn to others and their relationships with us. Our minds review, interpret, and judge our interactions with others often seeing their words or behavior as reflecting something about us. This person doesn’t like me or is angry with me. That person is rude or is not listening to me. This other person is trying to manipulate me or get something from me. Our interactions with someone else from the distant past could have been different if we had acted differently, etc.

In our contemplative practice we have an opportunity to explore these thoughts and we can learn from them if we are scrupulously honest with ourselves. We should ask ourselves simply do we know these things for sure. What is the evidence we’re using and does it unambiguously prove that our conclusions are true. Most of the time we’ll find out that we’re leaping to conclusions that are not so much tied to facts as to our interpretations and judgments about those facts.

If we pursue this it will begin to dawn on us that perhaps the other person actually likes us or is not at all angry with us, or is not ignoring or manipulating us but acting out of their own issues. We can see that no matter how much we try we cannot change the past, it’s gone, and will never be repeated. An honest look at the evidence can help us to see that our interpretations reflect more our internal issues than the actual feelings or beliefs of others.

It takes honesty with ourselves but we can come to understand that others are not upsetting us, we’re upsetting ourselves, others are not hurting us we’re hurting ourselves, others can’t manipulate us unless we let them, and events in the past can’t effect us if we let them go. We are the ones in control, not others.

This can be a revolutionary insight. Once we realize that we’re in control then we understand that we can be the masters of our emotions and lives. We can then take charge.

Let’s be honest and look at our responses to others deeply and clearly.


Let’s be Honest! 2 – Investigating the Mind

In a previous post we explored the need for honesty in quieting the mind and attaining deeper states in meditation. This is, however, just one side of the coin. The other side is what we can learn about our mind and our psychology from observing the contents of our mental processes during meditation. Again though, in order to be successful, ruthless honesty is a prerequisite.

While meditating the mind frequently jumps in and usurps attention. We can try to ignore it and that is very useful, but we can also take a different tack and investigate its content. This can be revelatory. It can provide great insights into the nature of our mental processes and what is most important to us. But, we have to do it with honesty and sincerity.

When we become aware that our mind has been wandering, rather than returning to quieting the mind look at the mental content that came up during mind wandering. Investigate how you got to this particular content. Trace the train of thought that brought you to this point. What initiated the mind wandering in the first place and what were the series of associations and leaps.

Now ask yourself why was this content elicited. Why was this somehow important to the mind that it brought this particular content into awareness. Often it is simple and mundane such as an environmental sound attracting attention away from focus and the train of thought that follows is fairly linear and straightforward. But often it is not so obvious. That is where investigation can be quite revealing. Ask yourself, why did this particular content come up and why is this somehow important to the mind.

This can lead to understanding deep inner needs, unresolved issues and conflicts, and unrealized emotions. The mind is seeking them out and that is an important clue. Pursue it deeply and honestly. It can reveal much about yourself, some of which you may not like, but understanding that whatever it is, it is somehow important to you. Open to it and learn.

Most of our practice should be focused on calming the mind. But, occasionally investigating what arises even though were trying to stay quiet, can lead to greater understanding and can actually lead to a better ability to calm the mind in the future.

Let’s be honest and look at ourselves deeply and clearly.


Let’s be Honest!

Contemplative practice requires total honesty, not with others, but with ourselves. Our minds can invent all kinds of bogus reasons for anything. It takes insight and the willingness to be brutally honest to take maximum advantage of the fruits of contemplative practice.

The first honest admission is that we cannot control our minds. This is a radical idea for most as we believe that we have complete control. So we try and try and try to control it without success. A little reflection will unveil the truth. It’s not under our control. So, rather than go to war against the mind, successful contemplative practice demands that we be are completely honest with ourselves and admit, that we can’t control it.

That admission, by itself, can lead to a much more relaxed approach to our practice. In fact, the only effective way to actually quiet the mind is to stop trying to control it. Just watch it do its thing. If you do, you’ll be amazed at how thoughts just appear, seemingly from nowhere, and fade away into nothingness.

The second honest admission is that we cannot understand what it is that’s observing our mind during our practice. It’s a clear and present experience, but the mind cannot grasp it. We need to honestly admit that we just don’t know. We can then relax into the mystery that is our awareness, without constant mental chatter in a vain attempt to categorize it, explain it, theorize about it, or even clearly view it.

The third honest admission is that the past and the future are irrelevant to contemplative practice. The only thing that matters is present moment experience. If we honestly admit that everything but the now is unnecessary we can begin to stop trying to achieve something in the future or to reinstate or recover a previous experience. We can simply concentrate solely on what is our immediate experience. We can watch them arising out of nothing and falling away, into the same void. We can become enamored with the wonder of it and simply enjoy the miracle of being.

So, let’s be honest. It doesn’t hurt, but it can reveal truths beyond the mental delusions.