What are the benefits of mindfulness? (APA.org)

A wealth of new research has explored this age-old practice. Here’s a look at its benefits for both clients and psychologists.

Empirically supported benefits of mindfulness

The term “mindfulness” has been used to refer to a psychological state of awareness, the practices that promote this awareness, a mode of processing information and a character trait. To be consistent with most of the research reviewed in this article, we define mindfulness as a moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgment. In this sense, mindfulness is a state and not a trait. While it might be promoted by certain practices or activities, such as meditation, it is not equivalent to or synonymous with them.

Several disciplines and practices can cultivate mindfulness, such as yoga, tai chi and qigong, but most of the literature has focused on mindfulness that is developed through mindfulness meditation — those self-regulation practices that focus on training attention and awareness in order to bring mental processes under greater voluntary control and thereby foster general mental well-being and development and/or specific capacities such as calmness, clarity and concentration (Walsh & Shapiro, 2006).

Researchers theorize that mindfulness meditation promotes metacognitive awareness, decreases rumination via disengagement from perseverative cognitive activities and enhances attentional capacities through gains in working memory. These cognitive gains, in turn, contribute to effective emotion-regulation strategies.

More specifically, research on mindfulness has identified these benefits:

Reduced rumination. Several studies have shown that mindfulness reduces rumination. In one study, for example, Chambers et al. (2008) asked 20 novice meditators to participate in a 10-day intensive mindfulness meditation retreat. After the retreat, the meditation group had significantly higher self-reported mindfulness and a decreased negative affect compared with a control group. They also experienced fewer depressive symptoms and less rumination. In addition, the meditators had significantly better working memory capacity and were better able to sustain attention during a performance task compared with the control group.

Stress reduction. Many studies show that practicing mindfulness reduces stress. In 2010, Hoffman et al. conducted a meta-analysis of 39 studies that explored the use of mindfulness-based stress reduction and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. The researchers concluded that mindfulness-based therapy may be useful in altering affective and cognitive processes that underlie multiple clinical issues.

Read the full article at APA.org

Secrets To A Mindful Meditation Revealed (CBS-4 TV)


See the original article at Miami.Cbslocal.com Copyright © 2012 

MIAMI (CBS4) – From corporate boardrooms to NBA locker room, many are testing an emerging antidote to stress and it’s silently sweeping the nation. At the heart of the matter- is the human mind — and the mantra to unlock it may be just a breath away.

“We are all running so fast and so hard,” said Valerie York-Zimmerman, a mindful meditation instructor. “It’s very difficult to slow down.”

A growing wave of scientists say the answer and antidote is closer than you think.

“This is cutting edge science,” said Dr. Amishi Jha, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Miami.

Science that is rooted in a centuries-old movement – it’s called “mindful meditation,” a technique to live mindfully and its essence is to pay attention to the present moment.

“Yes, yes. Absolutely. It can be life transforming. It’s been for me and has for many people,” York-Zimmerman said.

In the golden light of sunset, meeting with students in a South Florida sanctuary — Valerie York- Zimmerman has been on the cutting edge of teaching mindfulness meditation.

“It’s about bringing this mindful awareness into our moment to moment experience throughout the day,” York-Zimmerman said.

It may sound simple, but it’s not. It’s a unique practice of meditation and a radical approach to life that’s blossomed since growing numbers of doctors found it dramatically helped patients living with chronic pain – for which no medicine or medication offered relief.

“In all instances what they found was that their approach to living with chronic pain, their quality of life, their ability to thrive in spite of it changed, because their relationship to pain changed,” York-Zimmerman said.

And, incredibly, that’s not all that may have changed. Studies reviewing the MRI’s of the brain of mediators are showing remarkable clues that the brain can be trained, and ultimately, even mimic and potentially look like the brain of a healthier, younger, person.

“The happy news is that we can actually track the impact of this type of training on the brain functioning. As well as the brain structure,” Jha said. “You look at their brains relative to people who haven’t been practicing mindfulness and there is a very specific set of regions that look healthier in the people that have been practicing.”

Dr. Jha says the reason the research is so exciting is that those same regions of brain, right behind the forehead are the ones that most deteriorate and degrade during aging.

The puzzle researchers are trying to unravel? How is it possible that calming the mind by being still and silent can affect the health of the brain and body?

“What our minds typically do is mental time travel,” Dr. Jha said. “So we’re usually thinking about the past and reliving experiences that have already occurred or we’re in sort of a future focused frenzy about what we’re going to do next.And so a lot of that space of being in the past or the future is tied to our experience of stress.”

And stress is increasingly linked to disease.

Those who practice – stop the time travel, by focusing on their breath.

“It’s the easiest way perhaps to connect yourself to the moment. The breath is the bridge,” York-Zimmerman said.

Added Dr. Jha: “The thing that surprised me the most is how short the time commitment is to be able to see brain changes. You can actually see structural changes in the brain in as short as eight weeks for doing something as simple as focusing on your breath for 30 minutes. And the benefits you see are very specific.”

One student of mindful meditation describes her experience this way: “It has this interesting effect of connecting you with others in a different way. Giving you compassion and making you feel connected to the world.”

Many students professionals in high stress jobs say they are attracted to the practice because they suspected there was a richer way to live life.

Taking the time, to stop time, pays off, for those who normally live by the clock.

Alexander Alembert is a long time meditation student, teacher and practitioner. A South Florida firefighter and interior designer, he sees mindful meditation as a survival tool that allows one to connect to their true essence, and live a richer life. He stops throughout his day, to pay “mindful attention” to his breath which connects him the moment. “Breath is the first act we take the moment we are born and the last act. Breath is the fuel of life,” says Alembert

“People report feeling less stressed, they report feeling like they can focus more at will,” Dr. Jha said.

See the original article at Miami.Cbslocal.com Copyright © 2013 

Stopping Teacher Burnout (Greater Good)

The SMART-in-Education program helps teachers cope with rising academic demands and falling budgets.


Joan, a Bay Area elementary school teacher, was struggling with managing her fourth grade classroom, especially a student who wouldn’t stop speaking out of turn or bullying other students. She held it together during the day and then came home and yelled at her own kids. She came to doubt her ability to meet the ever-increasing demands placed on her by the double-whammy of budget cuts and rising academic mandates.

Seeking help, she signed up for the eight-week SMART-in-Education program, which I launched in 2008 to help teachers relax and manage their stress. There she discovered that she was not alone. In fact, she was facing the same kind of stress that leads nearly half of teachers to quit within their first five years on the job.

The SMART-in-Education program takes place over nine evenings and two Saturdays. It is based primarily on Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, an evidence-based practice that emphasizes the cultivation of mindfulness, the moment-to-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations.

But SMART (which stands for Stress Management and Resilience Training) has added several components to the basic MBSR curriculum, in order to respond to the special demands put on teachers. Participants spend time exploring the inner geography of emotions, especially fear and anger. Using mindfulness tools such as meditation and body awareness, they develop the capacity to recognize, tolerate, and even transform challenging emotions into insight, self-acceptance, and vitality.

Participants also spend a great deal of time developing skills like kindnesscompassion, and forgiveness, through exercises and discussions tied into their actual experience in the classroom.

For example, when practicing with kindness and compassion, the teachers spend one week bringing to mind a challenging student and taking a few minutes in their home practice to silently send him or her wishes of kindness and well-being, such as “May Sam be happy, and feel loved,” or “May Sofi find peace in her heart, and develop her gifts.” Another week, they are invited to bring to mind a student they tend to overlook, who is neither delightful nor frustrating.

Read the full article at Greatergood.berkeley.edu

Copyright © 2012 Greater Good Magazine


Want to learn more about mindfulness in education? On February 4-5, 2012, the University of California, San Diego, Center for Mindfulness will host a conference, Bridging the Hearts & Minds of Youth: Mindfulness in Clinical Practice, Education and Research.

This is Your Brain on Mindfulness (Lion’s Roar / Shambhala Sun)

Meditators say their practice fundamentally changes the way they experience life. Michael Baime reports on how modern neuroscience is explaining this in biological terms.


Meditators find truth through carefully exploring their inner subjective experience in what some people like to call “first-person investigation.” Science looks to the external material world and relies on third-person investigation and methodologies that lead to discoveries that can be tested and replicated by peers in the scientific world. The ways that these traditions search for truth couldn’t be more different, and yet it shouldn’t surprise us to find that the two truths are actually one. Continue reading “This is Your Brain on Mindfulness (Lion’s Roar / Shambhala Sun)”

Some Reflections on the Origins of MBSR, Skillful Means, and the Trouble With Maps (PDF)

The following article by Jon Kabat-Zinn explores the foundations of MBSR and the importance of meditation practice and retreat attendance.

“As I will recount a bit further along, mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) was developed as one of a possibly infinite number of skillful means for bringing the dharma into mainstream settings.1 It has never been about MBSR for its own sake. It has always been about the M. And the M is a very big M, as I attempt to describe in this paper. That said, the quality of MBSR as an intervention is only as good as the MBSR instructor and his or her understanding of what is required to deliver a truly . . . . “

Download the original PDF article here:  kabat-zinn-on-mbsr-origins.PDF

Contemporary Buddhism, Vol. 12, No. 1, May 2011 ISSN 1463-9947 print/1476-7953 online/11/010281-306 q 2011 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10.1080/14639947.2011.564844

Buddha Lessons (Newsweek)

by Claudia Kalb, Sept. 26, 2004

For decades, Dalia Isicoff has suffered the agony of rheumatoid arthritis–joint pain, spinal fusion, multiple hip surgeries. Painkillers dull the aches, but it wasn’t until she took a course at the University of Maryland’s Center for Integrative Medicine that Isicoff discovered a powerful weapon inside her own body: her mind. Using a meditative practice called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, or MBSR, Isicoff learned to acknowledge her pain, rather than fight it. Her negative and debilitating thought patterns–“This is getting worse,” “I’m going to end up in a wheelchair”–began to dissipate, and she was able to cut back on her medication. The pain hasn’t gone away, but “I view it is an ally now,” she says. “Mindfulness is transformational.” Continue reading “Buddha Lessons (Newsweek)”

Finding Happiness: Cajole Your Brain to Lean to the Left (NY Times)

All too many years ago, while I was still a psychology graduate student, I ran an experiment to assess how well meditation might work as an antidote to stress. My professors were skeptical, my measures were weak, and my subjects were mainly college sophomores. Not surprisingly, my results were inconclusive.

But today I feel vindicated.

To be sure, over the years there have been scores of studies that have looked at meditation, some suggesting its powers to alleviate the adverse effects of stress. But only last month did what I see as a definitive study confirm my once-shaky hypothesis, by revealing the brain mechanism that may account for meditation’s singular ability to soothe.

The data has emerged as one of many experimental fruits of an unlikely research collaboration: the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan religious and political leader in exile, and some of top psychologists and neuroscientists from the United States. The scientists met with the Dalai Lama for five days in Dharamsala, India, in March 2000, to discuss how people might better control their destructive emotions.

One of my personal heroes in this rapprochement between modern science and ancient wisdom is Dr. Richard Davidson, director of the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin. Dr. Davidson, in recent research using functional M.R.I. and advanced EEG analysis, has identified an index for the brain’s set point for moods.

The functional M.R.I. images reveal that when people are emotionally distressed — anxious, angry, depressed — the most active sites in the brain are circuitry converging on the amygdala, part of the brain’s emotional centers, and the right prefrontal cortex, a brain region important for the hypervigilance typical of people under stress.