Log-on for Less Anxiety with Mindfulness

“Needless anxiety and stress cannot burden us if the thoughts don’t enter our mind. And fortunately, we are only capable of focusing on one thing at a time. When you’re aware of only what you’re working on and the sensations of your body, conscious worry is not possible.” – Jordan Bates


Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million adults, or 18% of the population. (Source: National Institute of Mental Health). Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) affects about 3.1% of the U.S. population. GAD involves excessive worry about everyday problems. People with GAD may excessively worry about and anticipate problems with their finances, health, employment, and relationships. They typically have difficulty calming their concerns, even though they realize that their anxiety is more intense than the situation warrants. Physically, GAD sufferers will often show excessive fatigue, irritability, muscle tension or muscle aches, trembling, feeling twitchy, being easily startled, trouble sleeping, sweating, nausea, diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome, and headaches.


Anxiety disorders are not only a torment for the victims but they also place tremendous pressure on the health care system. People with an anxiety disorder are three to five times more likely to go to the doctor and six times more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric disorders. Anxiety disorders are treatable but only about a third of the sufferers get treatment. The most common treatment for GAD is drugs. Anxiolytic drugs are some of the most prescribed drugs in the U.S. Psychotherapy is another common form of treatment with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy particularly effective. Mindfulness practices are known to reduce anxiety (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/11/02/be-open-or-focused-in-meditation-to-reduce-anxiety/http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/the-mindfulness-cure-for-social-anxiety/, http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/stop-worrying/), and appear to do so by altering brain activity (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/08/13/get-the-brain-to-reduce-anxiety-with-meditation/).


The problems with these treatments is that drugs can have very troublesome side effects and psychotherapy can be expensive and time consuming. Therapy also demands that there be a qualified professional in the immediate area and the patient has the time and transportation available to attend therapy sessions. So, there is a need for cost-effective, convenient, and safe alternative treatments.


One way to lower costs and make therapy available for patients over wide geographical areas is to deliver therapy over the internet. In today’s Research News article “Internet-delivered acceptance-based behaviour therapy for generalized anxiety disorder: A randomized controlled trial”


Dahlin and colleagues developed a form of mindfulness based Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) for delivery by a therapist over the internet. They recruited participants with GAD over the internet and assigned them randomly to either receive therapy for 9-weeks or to a waiting list control condition. They found significant improvement in Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and depression for the therapy group with large to moderate effect sizes. These improvements were still present 34-weeks later.


These are exciting results. Anxiety disorders are so prevalent and so infrequently treated that it’s important to demonstrate that a safe and effective therapy can be inexpensively delivered over the internet. This opens the door to widespread access to safe, convenient, effective, and inexpensive treatment. Future trials should employ a more active control condition and open up treatment to a wider array of GAD sufferers.


Mindfulness practices have a number of effects that appear to be helpful with anxiety disorders. They have been shown to improve emotion regulation. This allows the individual to experience the anxiety but react to it in a constructive way and thereby preventing an upward spiraling of anxiety as the patient becomes more anxious of becoming more anxious. Mindfulness practices also appear to blunt physiological and psychological reactions to stress. Since, high levels of anxiety are stressful, mindfulness practices may reduce the reactions to this stress, making the anxiety more bearable. Finally, anxiety involves worries about the future. By focusing the individual on the present, mindfulness practices interrupt worries about the future.


Regardless of the explanation, it is clear that mindfulness based Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is effective for Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) even when delivered over the internet.


So log-on for less anxiety with mindfulness.


“I confessed to him that I saw breathing exercises as an attempt to distract. He said, “Yes. It’s a tool. Mindfulness is all in the subtleties.” Then he paused and told me, “Instead, when thoughts and feelings come, you simply say to them ‘Hello. I see you. Welcome.’”” – Lucy Roleff

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Yoga Helps the Blind Maintain Balance

“One of the many misconceptions about the blind is that they have greater hearing, sense of smell and sense of touch than sighted people. This is not strictly true. Their blindness simply forces them to recognize gifts they always had but had heretofore largely ignored. – Rosemary Mahoney
Falls are a standard of slapstick comedy and Americas Funniest Home Videos. But, falls are far from funny. They can cause serious injury and even death. “One out of five falls causes a serious injury such as broken bones or a head injury. Each year, 2.5 million older people are treated in emergency departments for fall injuries. Over 700,000 patients a year are hospitalized because of a fall injury, most often because of a head injury or hip fracture. Each year at least 250,000 older people are hospitalized for hip fractures. More than 95% of hip fractures are caused by falling,6 usually by falling sideways. Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries (TBI). Adjusted for inflation, the direct medical costs for fall injuries are $34 billion annually.” (Centers for Disease Control). Approximately 9,500 deaths in older Americans are associated with falls each year, making falls the leading cause of death from injury among people 65 and older.


Physical and sensory fitness and balance are important for the prevention of falls. The visual system is particularly important for maintaining balance and avoiding obstacles. Hence, it is not surprising that the visually impaired are 1.7 times more likely to have a fall and 1.9 times more likely to have multiple falls compared with fully sighted populations. The odds of a hip fracture are between 1.3 and 1.9 times greater for those with reduced visual acuity. So, finding methods to improve balance in the visually impaired may greatly reduce falls and subsequent injury.


Yoga has been shown to improve muscular strength, endurance, and flexibility (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/08/11/improve-physical-health-with-yoga/) and to improve balance (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/12/26/improve-physical-well-being-with-bikram-yoga/). So, it would seem reasonable to predict that yoga training may improve coordination, flexibility, and balance in the visually impaired and as a result reduce injuries.


In today’s Research News article “Ashtanga-Based Yoga Therapy Increases the Sensory Contribution to Postural Stability in Visually-Impaired Persons at Risk for Falls as Measured by the Wii Balance Board: A Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial”



Jeter and colleagues developed and pilot tested a yoga program for the legally blind and compared the results to those obtained from a wait-list control group. The participants practiced yoga once a week with an instructor and twice a week at home for eight weeks. As expected yoga produced an increase in lower body strength and flexibility. Using a balance on an unstable platform test they found that after yoga training the blind participants were better able to use somatosensory and vestibular information to maintain balance.


These findings suggest that yoga improves blind individuals physically and increases their balance by making them more sensitive to the information provided by touch and by the balance (vestibular) system. There was no direct test of propensity to fall, but the results suggest that the yoga training would improve balance and thereby lower the likelihood of a fall. It will take further research to directly test this conclusion.


It is clear, however, that yoga can improve sensitivity of the tactile and vestibular stimuli that are important for balance. So, practice yoga to improve balance in the blind.
“To be blind is not miserable; not to be able to bear blindness, that is miserable.”

John Milton
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Disrupt Suicidal Thoughts with Mindfulness  

“Did you really want to die?”
“No one commits suicide because they want to die.”
“Then why do they do it?”
“Because they want to stop the pain.”
  ― Tiffanie DeBartolo


After cancer and heart disease, suicide accounts for more years of life lost than any other cause. Around 43,000 people take their own lives each year in the US. Someone dies from suicide every 12.3 minutes. Worldwide over 800,000 people die by suicide every year. (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education). It is much more prevalent with males who account for 79% of suicides. The problem is far worse than these statistics suggest as it has been estimated that for every completed suicide there were 12 unsuccessful attempts. In other words, about a half a million people in the U.S. attempt suicide each year. Yet compared with other life threatening conditions there has been scant research on how to identify potential suicide attempters, intervene, and reduce suicidality.


Depression and other mood disorders are the number-one risk factor for suicide. More than 90% of people who kill themselves have a mental disorder, whether depression, bipolar disorder or some other diagnosis, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). So, the best way to prevent suicide may be to treat the underlying cause. For many this means treating depression. Mindfulness training has been shown to reduce suicidality in substance abusers (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/11/30/decrease-suicidality-with-mindfulness/). Mindfulness training has also been shown to be effective for treating depression (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/depression/). Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) was developed specifically to treat depression and prevent relapse. So, it would seem reasonable to expect that MBCT would be effective in suicide prevention.


In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) Reduces the Association Between Depressive Symptoms and Suicidal Cognitions in Patients with a History of Suicidal Depression”



Barnhofer and colleagues treated patients with a history of suicidal depression with eight weeks of either MBCT, Cognitive Psychoeducation (CE), or Treatment as Usual (TAU). They found that at the end of treatment the participants treated with MBCT had a significant reduction in suicidal thoughts while the other groups did not. For the CE and TAU groups there were strong and significant correlations between depression and suicidal thoughts. That is, for these groups, the higher the level of depression the higher the levels of suicidal thought. In contrast for the MBCT group the correlations were significantly weaker That is, there was a much weaker relationship between depression and suicidal thoughts after Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) than Cognitive Psychoeducation (CE), or Treatment as Usual (TAU).


These are interesting and potentially important findings that MBCT can reduce suicidal thoughts and that it weakens the link between depression and suicidal thoughts. This makes sense as MBCT is designed to reprogram depressive thought processes, helping the patient to see that their typical ways of thinking about and assessing their experiences are faulty and tend to heighten depression and that looking at and interpreting their experiences in a more rational way can reduce depression. This, in turn, appears to reduce suicidal thinking.


These results clearly suggest that Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) may be an effective program to prevent suicide in people with high levels of suicidal thinking. Since mindfulness training has been shown to reduce suicidality in drug abusers, the second most likely group to commit suicide, it would appear that mindfulness training is potentially an important method to prevent suicide.


So, disrupt suicidal thoughts with mindfulness.


“The thought of suicide is a great consolation: by means of it one gets through many a dark night.” 
― Friedrich Nietzsche
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Improve Diabetes with Yoga

“Many people with diabetes have found relief by incorporating yoga into their routine, and it can help at any stage.” –  Jasmine Lieb


It is estimated that 30 million people in the United States have diabetes and the numbers are growing. Diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death in the United States. It is estimated that worldwide around 3.5 million deaths per year are attributable to diabetes. 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. Obviously, diabetes is a major health problem.


Type 2 diabetes is also known as adult onset diabetes, although it has recently surged in children. It involves not a lack of insulin but insulin resistance in tissues which become deficient in absorbing glucose from the blood. This results in high blood glucose levels. Most type 2 diabetes is preventable as it is associated with poor diet, overweight, and lack of exercise. Obviously, improved diet, exercise, and weight loss are helpful in treating type 2 diabetes.


Mindfulness practices have been shown to be effective for diabetes treatment (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/diabetes/) and yoga practice has been shown to help with weight control in diabetic patients (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/08/24/control-weight-in-diabetes-with-yoga/). Since yoga is both a contemplative practice and an exercise, it would seem to be an excellent alternative practice for the treatment of type 2 diabetes. It would seem especially appropriate for elderly diabetes patients as it has other benefits for the health of the elderly (see links below).


In today’s Research News article “Yogic practice and diabetes mellitus in geriatric patients”



Beena and colleagues examined the effectiveness of yoga practice for the treatment of type 2 diabetes in 60 to 70 year olds. Yoga was practiced 90 minutes per day for 6 days a week for 3 months. The yoga group was compared to a treatment as usual control group. They found that the yoga group had a significant increase in blood glucose control as measured by plasma HbA1c and fasting glucose. Yoga also produced a significant improvement in blood fat levels including decreases in total cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol, triglyceride and T.chol/HDL ratio and a significant increase in HDL cholesterol. There was also a significant decline in markers of stress in the yoga group including a decrease in the stress hormone, cortisol, and MDA, a marker of oxidative stress. There was also a significant increase in catalase, an antioxidant enzyme that protects against damage caused by free radicals in the yoga group. Finally, the yoga practice produced a decrease in Ferritin levels, a marker of inflammation. So, yoga practice was found to significantly improve plasma indicators of glucose control, blood fat levels, stress, and inflammation in elderly type 2 diabetes patients.


These results are impressive and strongly suggest that yoga practice is an excellent treatment for type 2 diabetes in the elderly. It produces major improvements in many different aspects of physical health in patients with diabetes. Yoga improves diabetes both by its exercise properties and also by its ability to reduce the physiological and psychological responses to stress. Since it is known to be safe, with few if any negative side effects, and also have other physical and psychological benefits, it would seem to be an ideal treatment.


So, improve diabetes with yoga.


“The yogic treatment restores the normal functioning of the pancreas and other glands of the endocrinal system. When these glands begin to function properly, the individual is fully cured of the diabetic disorders and his health is restored to normal level.” – Dr. Phulgenda Sinha
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Yoga for the Elderly Links


Age Healthily – Yoga for Arthritis



Aging Healthily – Yoga and Cellular Aging



Age Healthily – Protect the Brain with Yoga



Age Healthily – Yoga


What is it that you really want?


To clarify your aspiration means knowing exactly what it is that your spiritual life aspires to, not as a future goal but in each moment. In other words, what do you value most in your life—not in the sense of moral values, but in the sense of what is most important to you.” – Adyashanti


Most people do not know what they really want from life in general or contemplative practice specifically. In terms of life, people will tell you that they want a successful career, a new home, to find someone to love and be loved by, etc. but their actions suggest that they really want something else, power, a status symbol, a sex partner. In terms of contemplative practice, they will tell you that they want to be closer to god, understand themselves, become enlightened etc., but again their actions suggest that they really want to appear to others as a spiritual person, create a desirable self-image, add a major item to their spiritual resume.


Discovering what you really want requires contemplation and ruthless honesty with yourself. The best way to begin to investigate your true desires is very simple; just see where you invest your time and energy. Don’t think about your ideas about what are your aspirations. Rather simply look at what you do to truly reveal them. What you truly value is what you invest in your precious time in. So, look at that, but above all be honest with yourself.


If you spend a large amount of time simply watching TV shows or movies, or listening to music that’s perfectly fine. But ask yourself exactly why are you doing this? Is this for relaxation and entertainment or are you escaping from confronting or dealing with deeper and more important issues. What is it you’re trying to accomplish or not accomplish? Look at this deeply. If you spend a lot of time with friends, that’s perfectly fine. But ask yourself exactly why are you doing this? Do you do this out of love for them or do you do this to obtain their approval and love? Look deeply and honestly.


When there is a mismatch between what you say you want and what you do, it is a formula for unhappiness. In psychology it is called cognitive dissonance and it produces an uncomfortable state with a diffuse anxiety. This is why it is so important to clarify what you really want. There is no need to judge one aspiration as good and another as bad. That is counterproductive. What you want, is simply what you want, and it’s neither right nor wrong. But knowing it is the route to aligning your actions with your desires. This allows you to pursue your goals with direction and clarity. But more importantly, this signals that you’re seeing yourself as you really are and acting with coherence and integrity.


This seems to be such an easy question to answer, but it’s not. The ego is devious and clever in inventing seemingly reasonable and innocuous reasons and excuses to explain what you’re doing. So, spend some time with this issue. Don’t believe your minds first responses. Investigate them. See if they match up to what you’re actually doing. Then contemplate it further. It’s much harder than you think and may actually upset you as answers start to emerge that may not be exactly aligned with your beliefs about yourself. But, this is actually a good thing signaling an opportunity to grow and develop. The one prerequisite though is that you must be completely honest with yourself.


It is very important to understand that there are not right or wrong answers. Whatever you discover are just what they are and perfectly OK. But, identifying them is the start to actually satisfying these needs and desires. You may be surprised. If you are, that’s great. It means that you’ve spent some very productive time that can lead to a much happier life.


So, for life and general and for your contemplative practice invest in identifying what it is that you really want.


“When we take our attention off the chatter of our mind and put our intention onto developing our intuition, we learn to play with much subtler dimensions. Listening and moving from the heart instead of the intellect, we make wiser choices rather than smarter ones, which can serve us better in the end.” Lynn Newman


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

Mindfully Control Inflammation


“I don’t think anybody would argue that fact that we know inflammation in the body, which comes from a lot of different sources, is the basis for a lot of chronic health problems, so by controlling that, we would expect to see increased life expectancy … but if we’re not changing those things and just taking ibuprofen, I don’t know if we’re really going to make any headway in that, I feel like there are probably a lot of factors that we could change without medicating with risk.”– Josie Znidarsic


The immune system is designed to protect the body from threats like stress, infection, injury, and toxic chemicals. One of its tools is the Inflammatory response. Its primary effect is to increase blood circulation around the infected area, dilating the blood vessels around the site of inflammation. It also produces gaps in the cell walls surrounding the infected area, allowing the larger immune cells, to pass. It also tends to increase body temperature to further fight infection. This response works quite well for short-term infections and injuries and as such is an important defense mechanism for the body. But when inflammation is protracted and becomes chronic, it can itself become a threat to health.


Chronic inflammation can produce autoimmune diseases such as colitis, Chron’s disease, arthritis, heart disease, increased cancer risk, lung disease, sleep disruption, gum disease, decreased bone health, psoriasis, and depression. Needless to say chronic inflammation can create major health problems. Indeed, the presence of chronic inflammation is associated with reduced longevity. So, it is important for health to control the inflammatory response, allowing it to do its job in fighting off infection but then reducing its activity when no external threat is apparent.


Contemplative practices appear to relax the physical systems of the body including the immune system, reducing inflammation. Mind-body techniques such as yoga, Tai Chi and meditation have been shown to adaptively reduce the inflammatory response (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/inflammatory-response/). In today’s Research News article “Mind-body therapies and control of inflammatory biology: A descriptive review”


Bower and colleagues review the published research literature on the effects of mind-body practices on the inflammatory response. They found mixed and inconclusive results for circulating and cellular markers of inflammation but consistent findings for gene expression inflammatory pathways. These studies consistently demonstrated that mind-body practices including tai chi, yoga, and meditation produced a decrease in inflammatory gene expressions and does so in diverse populations of practitioners.


Bower and colleagues suggest that mind-body practices alter gene expression through their well-documented effects on the neuroendocrine system. These techniques are known to reduce the activity of the activating portion of the peripheral nervous system, the sympathetic system, to reduce the release of stress hormones, particularly cortisol, and to lower perceived stress (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/stress/).  Mind-body practices are also known to improve emotion regulation (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/emotions/) and reduce depression (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/depression/), and anxiety (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2016/01/02/distress-produces-less-stress-with-mindfulness/). All of these effects occur via alterations of the nervous system by mind-body practices. The reduced activation and heightened relaxation then reduce the inflammatory response.


Regardless of the explanation, it is clear that mindfulness practices reduce potentially harmful inflammatory responses. So, mindfully control inflammation.



“The mindfulness-based approach to stress reduction may offer a lower-cost alternative or complement to standard treatment, and it can be practiced easily by patients in their own homes, whenever they need.” – Melissa Rosenkranz


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Antisocial Prisoners Lack Mindfulness


“There are only two kinds of people in this world; those who have a conscience and those who do not.” ― P.A. Speers


Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD) is a problem not only for the individual but also for society. Individuals with this disorder tend to demonstrate a “disregard for right and wrong, persistent lying or deceit to exploit others, using charm or wit to manipulate others for personal gain or for sheer personal pleasure, intense egocentrism, sense of superiority and exhibitionism, recurring difficulties with the law, repeatedly violating the rights of others by the use of intimidation, dishonesty and misrepresentation, child abuse or neglect, hostility, significant irritability, agitation, impulsiveness, aggression or violence, lack of empathy for others and lack of remorse about harming others, unnecessary risk-taking or dangerous behaviors, poor or abusive relationships, irresponsible work behavior, and failure to learn from the negative consequences of behavior” (Mayo Clinic).


Needless to say that this disorder is found to be quite prevalent in prison populations. As much as 80% of male and 65% of female prison inmates exhibit signs and symptoms of antisocial personality disorder. But, it is also common in the general population. Around 3.6% of adults in the United States, equal to about 7.6 million people, have antisocial personality disorder affecting about 3% of adult males and 1% of adult females. To make matters worse, APD is very difficult to treat as it frequently does not respond to psychotherapy and there are no drugs that have been approved to treat it.


In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness moderates the relationship between aggression and Antisocial Personality Disorder traits: Preliminary investigation with an offender sample”


Velotti and colleagues investigate the relationship of mindfulness to aggression and Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD) with 83 imprisoned violent offenders. They verified the positive relationship between APD and aggressive behavior including physical and verbal aggression, anger, and hostility. But they also found a strong and significant negative relationship between APD and the mindfulness facets of describing, acting with awareness, and non-judging. That is high APD was associated with low mindfulness. In addition, mindfulness was negatively related to physical aggression, anger, and hostility. This was particularly true for acting with awareness. In other words, the lower the level of mindfulness, particularly acting with awareness, the greater the levels of aggressive behavior.


It is interesting that the key component of mindfulness that appears to be deficient in individuals with APD is acting with awareness. This facet involves paying attention to one’s current activities. It’s deficiency in APD implies that these individuals are lacking in awareness of what they are doing while they are doing it. In other words, as they are engaged in hostile, aggressive, and even violent activities, they may be acting without conscious thought. Rather they may be responding reflexively to immediate situations and the emotions produced. This further suggests that training to improve real time awareness of actions may be effective in treating APD.
Personality Disorders in general including APD are notoriously resistant to treatment. So, Velotti and colleagues’ findings are potentially important. They suggest that increasing mindfulness may be a way to treat Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD). Although there have not been controlled clinical trials training individuals with APD in mindfulness, mindfulness training is included in Dialectic Behavior Therapy which has been shown to be helpful with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). There are a number of overlapping characteristics in common to both APD and BPD. So, it is possible that mindfulness training may be important in treating Personality Disorders in general. Obviously more research is needed.


It should be kept in mind that Velotti and colleagues obtained their findings with prisoners who were convicted of violent crimes. It will be important to also study non-violent APD patients to determine the general applicability of the results. Regardless, it appears that at least in violent prisoners, that mindfulness, especially acting with awareness, is a clear deficiency in Antisocial Personality Disorder.


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Meditate to Respond More Effectively to Self-Praise and Criticism


 “If you’ve ever felt too depressed to solve a problem, it might be because your brain is having a hard time regulating your emotions. One solution? Mindfulness training.” – Ruth Buczynsk


Meditation is known to improve the physical and mental health of practitioners. To some extent, it does so by improving emotion regulation (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/emotions/). This improvement involves fully experiencing emotions, not suppressing them, and responding to them in a rational and adaptive fashion. In other words, meditators appear to be able to feel and work with their emotions responsibly, non-judgmentally, and with acceptance, and not react in ways that are harmful to themselves and others.


Emotion regulation is in part improved in meditators by helping them to take things less personally. Meditation tends to reduce self-referential thinking (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/self/). Mindfulness tends to reduce self-critical thinking and their emotional aftermaths and improve self-esteem. As a result, meditation tends to reduce responses to self-related thoughts, ideas, and stimuli. This improved emotion regulation contributes to many facets of the individual’s mental health.


Meditation is also known to alter the nervous system. Actions that are repeated often tend to produce changes in the nervous system in a process called neuroplasticity and meditation is no exception. It tends to increase the size, activity, and connectivity of structures in the nervous system that are involved in attention and emotion regulation, frontal cortex regions, and decrease the size, activity, and connectivity of structures involved in mind wandering, self-referential thinking, and stress, the so called default mode network  (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/neuroplasticity/).


In today’s Research News article “Altered processing of self-related emotional stimuli in mindfulness meditators”



Lutz and colleagues investigate emotional regulation responses in the nervous system of long term meditators (> a year of regular practice) in comparison to meditation naïve participants. As expected the meditators were higher in mindfulness especially in observing and non-reacting, self-compassion, and emotional awareness. The participants were then presented with personality descriptor adjectives that were either positive (attractive, handsome, funny) or negative (unattractive, unsightly, ugly) and recorded the responses of the nervous system to the stimuli.


Self-relevant items either positive or negative, but particularly positive, produced greater activation of the Dorsomedial Prefrontal Cortex in the meditators. The mindfulness component of non-reacting was positively correlated with activation of the Dorsomedial Prefrontal Cortex in the meditators but not the naïve participants. Finally, they found lower functional connectivity to posterior midline and parietal regions in the meditators compared to the naïve participants during both types of self-relevant items.


The meditators stronger activations of the frontal regions suggest that they have stronger self-awareness and focus on inner feelings. It also suggests that they have greater emotion regulation with non-reactive attitudes towards these experiences. Since the posterior structures of the default mode network in the nervous system are associated with self-referential thinking, the decreased connectivity to these regions in the meditators suggest that they have lesser self-focus than meditation naïve participants.


In sum, these results indicate that meditation produces changes in the brain that allows for greater emotion regulation and less thinking about self. These neural changes may in part account for the improved mental health in meditators. They are better able to cope with emotions and respond to them constructively and take everything less personally. So, meditation appears to change the brain making it better able to respond more constructively and less personally to emption laden events.


So, meditate to respond more effectively to self-praise and criticism.


“mindful attention does not inhibit initial evaluations insomuch as it limits the automatic expansion of initial evaluative reactions into activation of a broader set of implications about the self and the world.” – Norman Farb
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Meditate to Improve Attention by Changing the Brain


“meditation may increase our control over our limited brain resources. To anyone who knows what it’s like to feel scattered or overwhelmed, this is an appealing benefit indeed. Even though your attention is a limited resource, you can learn to do more with the mental energy you already have.” – Kelly McGonigal


Meditation practice has many psychological, cognitive, and physical benefits. It has been shown to improve attentional abilities so that we can better maintain our attention when needed and reduce the strong human tendency for mind wandering (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/attention/), the enemy of focused attention. This allows us to better attend to the present moment, what’s happening now, rather than be dominated by thought, memories, and plans for the future.


In the last few decades, scientists have discovered that the brain is far more malleable than previously thought. Areas in the brain can change, either increase or decrease in size, connectivity, and activity in response to changes in our environment or the behaviors we engage in. This process is referred to as neuroplasticity. Alterations in the brain can be produced by contemplative practices. The brain appears to change in response to meditation and other contemplative practices. Indeed, mindfulness practices have been shown to not only alter how we think and feel but also to alter the nervous system (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/neuroplasticity/).


In today’s Research News article “Increases in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and decreases the rostral prefrontal cortex activation after-8 weeks of focused attention based mindfulness meditation”


Tomasino and colleagues investigate neuroplastic changes to the brain when individuals who have no experience with meditation engage in an 8-week meditation program. The participants’ brain activity during meditation was measured with functional magnetic resonance imaging (f-MRI) before and after the meditation training. They found that at the end of training the participants showed greater activation of the right middle frontal gyrus and the left caudate/anterior insular cortex. They also found that the practice decreased activation in the rostral prefrontal cortex and in right parietal cortex. They further demonstrated that these altered brain activities were produced by the focused meditation component and not a body scan component of the practice.


The increased activity observed in the prefrontal areas makes perfect sense as meditation is an attentional practice and the prefrontal areas have been previously shown to be associated with attention. So, practicing attention alters the brain areas responsible for attention. The decreased activity observed in the rostral prefrontal cortex also makes perfect sense as focused attention is antithetical to mind wandering and the rostral prefrontal cortex has been shown to be involved in the “default mode network” that is activated during mind wandering. So, practicing attention also decreases activity in the brain areas responsible for its opposite, mind wandering. So, meditation practice was found to strengthen the activity of the exact areas of the brain that are known to be increased by attentional activity and reduced activity of the areas known to be increased during mind wandering.


Hence, meditation practice by naive individuals appears to alter their brains to better maintain attention and restrain mind wandering. The fact that the brain has been changes suggests that the improved attentional ability will be maintained even when the individuals are not actively meditating. This make the practice far more useful as it has more long-lasting effects.


So, meditate to improve attention by changing the brain.


“Meditation provides experiences that the mind can achieve no other way, such as inner silence and expanded awareness. And as the mind gains experience, the brain shows physical activity as well—sometimes profound changes. . . . the research has begun to show that meditation can also produce long-term structural changes in the brain. No longer is the “hard wiring” of neural circuits so dominant. The brain can alter its wiring in “soft” ways, thanks to a trait known as neuroplasticity, which allows new pathways and even new brain cells to appear.” – Deepak Chopra


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Reduce Discrimination Produced Depression with Mindfulness

“The stigmatized individual is asked to act so as to imply neither that his burden is heavy nor that bearing it has made him different from us; … he is advised to reciprocate naturally with an acceptance of himself and us, an acceptance of him that we have not quite extended to him in the first place. A PHANTOM ACCEPTANCE is thus allowed to provide the base for a PHANTOM NORMALCY.” ― Erving Goffman


Discrimination based upon race, religion, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, etc. has been going on since the beginning of recorded history. Even though quite common it can have considerable negative impact for all who are involved but especially for the subject of the discrimination. General well-being, self-esteem, self-worth, and social relations can be severely impacted as a result of discrimination. This can, in turn, result in depression.


In the U.S. discrimination against African Americans is very common. In a recent poll, 51% of Americans expressed anti-black sentiments which was increased from four years ago, African-Americans comprise only 13% of the U.S. population and 14% of the monthly drug users, but are 37% of the people arrested for drug-related offenses in America, and African Americans receive 10% longer sentences than whites for the same crimes. Discrimination against women is also common. Women on average earn 22.5% less than men, have to work for more years before receiving promotion, the greater the education level the greater the disparity, and minority women fare even worse. In addition, women are 10 times more likely to be exposed to high levels of domestic violence and are nearly 4 times more likely to be exposed to sexual harassment than men. As a society we should do everything in our power to fight against discrimination in any form. But, we also need to deal with the consequences of discrimination when it occurs.


Mindfulness practices have been shown to reduce prejudice (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/prejudice/). It has also been shown to reduce depression (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/depression/). Mindfulness has also is known to enhance positive emotions (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/emotions/) and positive emotions reduce the negative effects of discrimination. So perhaps mindfulness is related to the impact of discrimination on the individual. In today’s Research News article “Discrimination hurts, but mindfulness may help: Trait mindfulness moderates the relationship between perceived discrimination and depressive symptoms”



Brown-Iannuzzi and colleagues analyzed responses on an on-line questionnaire of perceived racism, mindfulness, depression, and positive emotions completed by community participants.


They found that “the most common source of discrimination was gender (19.7%), followed by race or ethnicity (17%), body weight (14.4%) and age (14.3%).” They also found that high levels of discrimination were accompanied by high levels of depression while high levels of positive emotions and mindfulness were accompanied by low levels of depression. In addition, high levels of mindfulness were found to mitigate the effects of discrimination on depression. Participants high in mindfulness showed less of an increase in depression when exposed to discrimination.


Mindfulness has been repeatedly demonstrated to reduce the psychological and physiological responses to stress (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/stress/). So, mindfulness may reduce the negative impact of the stress produced by the discrimination thereby reducing depression. Mindfulness may also act by focusing the individual more in the present moment. Rumination about past discrimination and worries regarding future discrimination may well amplify discrimination’s impact on depression. Focusing on the present moment may make it easier to cope with the discrimination, isolating it and thereby decreasing its effects.


Regardless of its mechanism of action, it is clear the mindfulness is associated with lower depression and a lessened effect of discrimination on depression. So, reduce discrimination produced depression with mindfulness.


“One of the best ways you can fight discrimination is by taking good care of yourself. Your survival is not just important; it’s an act of revolution.” ― DaShanne Stokes
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies