The Laboratory for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies is managed by John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
It is dedicated to the academic and scientific study of mindfulness and contemplative practices, their effects on practitioners, and their application to the relief of human suffering.
The Contemplative Studies Blog was created to post information and discussion of the most recent research on contemplative practices and their impact on human health and well-being.
4 thoughts on “About Contemplative Studies”
My sister Sara is very involved in mindfulness, I wanted her to have your site.
Caroline Castillo Crimm
I’m very interested in yoga research too, because I’ve been doing yoga for 30 years. Unfortunately, Western researchers don’t seem to study authentic yoga. Yoga isn’t a kind of therapy. The true goal is to awaken Kundalini and reach the state of Samadhi (“Kundalini can be awakened by Pranayama, Asanas and Mudras by Hatha Yogis; by concentration and training of the mind by Raja Yogis; by devotion and perfect self-surrender by Bhaktas; by analytical will by the Jnanis; by Mantras by the Tantrikas; and by the grace of the Guru (Guru Kripa) through touch, sight or mere Sankalpa. Rousing of Kundalini and its union with Sivaat the Sahasrara Chakra effect the state of Samadhi and Mukti. No Samadhi is possible without awakening the Kundalini.”, Sivananda, Kundalini Yoga, pp. 35-26). I’m the director of the Kundalini Emergency Network – Portugal and I’ve received a lot of messages from people who became very ill with yoga practice. They awakened Kundalini and nobody have told them what do do when that happens, and what practices we must do to prepare the body for this process of development of consciousness.
There is no absolute truth: or so saith the Buddha. And I agree. Yoga, in my view, is at it’s best when, like most things, it is kept simple and based on concepts which most people can discern. While I understand and respect your point of view, I disagree with such a rigid outlook. The strength of yoga is its lack of dogma, pragmatism, and breadth of applications. I say this as a yoga teacher, personal trainer, and promoter of philosophical ideas that serve to help people improve their experience of life.
Wishing you well, and namaste,
Below is a novel explanation of mindfulness from the perspective of embodied cognition. It stresses the understanding of how body and mind interact to create mindful states, not just altering the mind itself, as is the focus of present neuroscientific and linguistic approaches to the topic. As such, it redefines mindfulness practices as skillful ways of enacting certain kinds of embodied states and behaviors, not as an inner observation of an elementary cognitive mental stream.
Here is my argument in a nutshell. ‘Being in the moment’ induces relaxation, which increases opioid activity, and is pleasurable. If concurrent persistent meaningful ideation occurs (meaning is defined as thinking of or doing actions that have branching novel positive implications), this induces a feeling of arousal as mediated by dopamine systems. Dopamine and opioid systems are synergistic, or when activated reciprocally stimulate each other, causing feelings of greater pleasure and arousal, or ecstatic states. This explains why ‘loving kindness’ meditation, savoring, peak, or flow experiences are affectively different from mindfulness, yet nonetheless represent unremarkable and simple neural processes that can be explained and replicated with ease by anyone.
These ideas are simple to understand, and most important, are as simple to employ as mindfulness itself. As an academically trained and published psychologist many steps away from clinical practice, perhaps the procedure is something you may wish to consider.
Many thanks for your consideration.
A. J. Marr
What meditation research neglects, the affective neuroscience of proprioception and mindfulness, and implications regarding the self-mastery of positive affective states and the etiology of affect.
Embodied cognition is the study of how body and mind interact to elicit affective states which dictate in turn how we understand the world through language. In spite of its rising influence, affective and cognitive neuroscientists continue to study the brain as a disembodied entity, or a ‘brain in a vat’, and this neglect of embodiment has resulted in convoluted explanations for mental states that would be rendered simple if we just add a body to a brain. A good example of this is the concept of mindfulness.
For affective and cognitive neuroscience, brain imaging (fmri) and ‘in vivo’ or direct stimulation of cellular arrays in the brain are the primary methods to understand how affect in instantiated in the brain, yet cannot account for how neuro-muscular or proprioceptive stimuli modulate affect. This has resulted in the general neglect of how these stimuli enhance and inhibit affective states. Below is a brief explanation and simple procedure that demonstrates the role of tension and relaxation in eliciting affect, and provides a much simpler and testable explanation of ‘unique’ affective states such as meditation, peak experience, and ‘flow’.
Proprioception and Affect
Proprioceptors (sensory receptors) are located in our muscles and joints and respond to changes in the relative activity of the overt and covert musculature. They also induce changes in affective states in the brain. An example of this is how we experience pleasure. Unlike other functions in the brain, from perception to thinking, the neural source of our pleasures are localized in the brain as specialized groups of nerve cells or ‘nuclei’, or ‘hot spots’, located in the midbrain. These nuclei receive inputs from different sources in the nervous system, from proprioceptive stimuli (neuro-muscular activity) to interoceptive stimuli (satiation and deprivation) to cognitive stimuli (novel positive or negative means-end expectancies), and all modulate the activity of these nuclei which release or inhibit endogenous opioids that elicit the rainbow of pleasures which mark our day.
For example, relaxation induces opioid activity and is pleasurable, but tension inhibits it and is painful. Similarly, satiation inhibits our pleasure when we eat, and deprivation or hunger increases it. Finally, positive novel means-ends expectancies enhance our pleasures, and negative expectancies inhibit them. Thus, for our sensory pleasures (eating, drinking), watching an exciting movie makes popcorn taste better than when watching a dull or depressing movie. This also applies to when we are relaxed, as thinking or performing meaningful activity is reflected in ‘flow’ or ‘peak’ experiences when we are engaging in highly meaningful behavior while relaxed. (Meaning will be defined as anticipated or current behavior that has branching novel positive implications, such as creating art, doing good deeds or productive work)
A simple proof from a simple self-help protocol
Just get relaxed using a relaxation protocol such as progressive muscle relaxation, eyes closed rest, or mindfulness, and then follow it by exclusively attending to or performing meaningful activity, or in other words, positive thinking, and avoiding all meaningless activity or ‘distraction’. Keep it up and you will not only stay relaxed, but continue so with a greater sense of wellbeing or pleasure. The attribution of affective value to meaningful behavior makes the latter seem ‘autotelic’, or reinforcing in itself and thus increasing self-control, and the resultant persistent attention to meaning crowds out the occasions we might have spent dwelling on other unmeaningful worries and concerns.
It is important to note that this protocol for emotional control represents sustained positive judgments in a relaxed state, whereas mindfulness represents sustained non-judgments (being in the moment) in a relaxed state. Both sustain relaxation, but only the former increases affective tone (i.e. pleasure) as well as being far easier to sustain and increasing self-control. Indeed, variants of mindfulness (e.g. loving kindness meditation, savoring) embody the same procedure but attribute enhanced affect to highly complex and disembodied (i.e. neglecting the influence or proprioceptive stimuli on neural activity) neurological processes rather than the simple neuro-dynamics of resting states, thus precluding a much simpler and parsimonious explanation of meditation that does not require the postulation of unique neurological and phenomenological states.
full references blocked due to spam filter, however web site doctormezmer links the ‘the book of rest’, a scholarly continuation of this argument. My site is a bit ironic, so beware!