Research and Science of Mindfulness

According to Mindfulness Research Monthly (Black, 2010), neuroscience research on the benefits of mindfulness has become more prolific. In recent years there has been a surge in NIH-funded research trials in the U.S. In 2008, even the U.S. Department of Defense began using mindfulness practice as part of its treatment for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). According to Black (2010), a meta-analytic review by Sawyer, Witt and Oh in 2010 found that mindfulness-based therapies had a dramatic effect on improving both depression and anxiety.

Mindfulness-Based Training for Adults

Research among the scientific community has grown exponentially with researchers from leading institutions around the world including – Harvard, Stanford, UCLA, University of Wisconsin at Madison, Oxford, Cambridge, University of Massachusetts Medical School, and others – leading the way. Numerous studies now show that mindfulness practice can have a profound impact on our emotional wellbeing, physical health, ability to cope with stress and challenges, relationships, and performance.

Brain scanning technologies reveal that not only does the activity of the brain change from moment to moment but the actual structure of the brain itself can change. New synaptic connections can form among brain cells and new brain cells can develop. Practice has been shown to lead to growth of key brain regions associated with emotional regulation, concentration and self-control, as well as reductions in grey-matter density, the area of the brain central to the stress response, fear and anxiety.

Mindfulness-Based Training for M-DCPS Teachers and Counselors

In the 2015-2016 school year a research study was conducted on a Professional Development Pilot Program for Miami-Dade County Public School Teachers and Administrators based on the Inner Journey ~ Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (IJ-MBSR) Program, the MBSR adaptation developed and taught by Valerie York-Zimmerman beginning in 2002.

As Founder of, Executive Director, and Senior Trainer for Mindful Kids Miami, from its inception through 2016, Valerie taught the 200 teachers and mental health school counselors from 100 schools who participated in the Pilot Program during the 2015-2016 school year. Miami-Dade County Public Schools (M-DCPS) is the 3rd largest and one of the most diverse districts in the U.S.

The study was a research collaboration led by David J. Lee, Ph.D., University of Miami’s Department of Public Health Sciences, Judson Brewer, M.D., Ph.D., Center for Mindfulness at University of Massachusetts School of Medicine, and Tarek Chebbi, Ed.D., Chair, Research Review Committee of M-DCPS.

Study description and conclusions were included in a project supervised by Dr. David Lee in the UM – UMass REDCap System collaborative study entitled “Effectiveness of Mindfulness Training on the Well-Being of Educators.”  It was a UM Medical School IRB and Miami-Dade County Public Schools approved study, which objective was to evaluate the effectiveness of mindfulness training on teachers and administrators that participated in the 8-week  Inner Journey ~ Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (IJ-MBSR) Program training.  The “Effectiveness of Mindfulness Training on the Well-Being of Educators” study was embedded in the IJ-MBSR Program as a pilot program for Miami-Dade County Public Schools Professional Development and Evaluation.

These results suggest improvements in self-compassion and mindfulness, and decreased levels of anxiety in individuals that participated in the IJ-MBSR 8 week program. These findings are consistent with previous research on the benefits of mindfulness practice.

Other Research Studies on the IJ-MBSR Program for Adults

During the two years prior to the M-DCPS IJ-MBSR Pilot Program, research studies with adult participants in all of the Inner Journey~ Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (IJ-MBSR) Programs taught by Valerie York-Zimmerman were overseen and evaluated by Sharon Theroux, Ph.D., neuro-psychologist and founder of the South Florida Center for Mindfulness.  Pre- and Post- Surveys which included the Five-Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ), Zung Anxiety Scale, and Self-Compassion Surveys were conducted.

Analysis of the data from all adult participants in the IJ-MBSR trainings resulted in significant improvements in each area: reduced anxiety, increased compassion, and improved mindfulness.

The Five-Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ) measures improvements associated with positive well-being something that is necessary to help reduce burnout. Higher scores in the “observing” facet are associated with good psychological adjustment. (Baer, 2008).  The five facets are:

1. Observe surroundings
2. Describe thoughts and emotions
3. Act with awareness
4. Be non-judgmental
5. Be non-reactive in day-to-day life

Mindfulness-Based Training for Children

The body of research on mindfulness training for children and teens continues to grow. There is now evidence to show the impact which mindfulness has on the prefrontal cortex and interconnections involved in attention, working memory, executive function, emotional and behavioral regulation, all of which are relevant to academic, psychological and social well-being and the success of youth today.

Several more prominent school-based interventions (Napoli, 2002; Napoli, 2004; Napoli, Rock Krech, and Holley, 2005; Flook et al. 2010;  Rechtschaffen and Cohen, 2010) focused on mindfulness training for elementary school students. Linda Lantieri’s work in New York City after 9/11 with children in crises culminated in interventions for students and teachers (Lantieri and Goleman, 2008). Willingham (2011) notes that teachers who use emotion regulation skills in their classrooms can improve the self-control capacities of their students.

In the 2011-2012 school year, Mindful Schools partnered with the University of California at Davis to conduct the largest randomized-controlled study to date on mindfulness involving 915 children and 47 teachers in 3 Oakland public elementary schools in a high crime area.  Substantive behavioral improvements were apparent after just six weeks of training.

Mindfulness teachers in the study had a strong mindfulness background, which is a key determinant of success when teaching mindfulness.

As Jon Kabat-Zinn stated in an article in Mindful, February 2014,

“The brain science has become very rigorous. A lot of credit obviously goes to Richie Davidson in his lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds. Their work is unique and focuses on both basic science and translational research, which takes place in real-life settings such as Madison’s public schools.”