Author Archives: blairbuckman

Putting good out, Getting good in?

By Blair Buckman


Michelle Becker, MA, LMFT, Director of Compassion Programs, Senior Teacher

Join Michelle Becker, licensed Marriage and Family Therapist for one of our Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) programs this fall. Michelle believes, “when we meet suffering with awareness and kindness it is often life-changing.”

We’ve all heard the expression that if “you put good in, you get good out,” but what about the opposite? What about putting “good” out by spreading kindness to oneself and others and seeing the benefits on your health and well-being? More and more research is pointing to the health benefits of exhibitingself-compassion-sm compassion towards oneself and others. Compassion, as defined as an affective state and subjective feeling, distinct from empathy or sympathy, it can be said to encompass three main components, which are self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness (Neff, 2003; Schzntz, 2007; Goetz, Keltner, & Simon-Thomas, 2010). Moreover pioneering compassion researcher, Kristin Neff (2003) supplements that compassion involves being understanding of oneself and one’s struggles, viewing one’s suffering in the context of the shared human condition, and being aware and nonjudgmental without over-identification, with a desire to alleviate suffering. Recent compassion research is demonstrating the positive benefits of compassion on one’s health and well-being, including less self-judgment, less isolation, lower levels of pain, anger and psychological distress (Pinto-Gouveia & Costa, 2011; Carson et al., 2005). Other studies refer to the implications of compassion on the neuroendocrine, innate immune, and behavioral responses to psychosocial stress (Pace et al, 2009).

With more research continually demonstrating compassion’s potential, perhaps it is time for you to consider taking one of our upcoming Self-Compassion Programs.

At the UCSD Center for Mindfulness we offer
two great ways to explore Mindful-Self Compassion

The first is by participating in our 8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion Program. The next 8-week MSC program begins in September 11, 2013. The second is by participating in our Two Weekend Intensive November 1-3, 2013 & November 9-10,2013.

We are proud to be the  first center teaching the 8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion program as originated by Drs. Neff and Germer.


Loneliness and Boredom “eat” at us! by Jan Chozen Bays, MD

By Jan Chozen Bays, MD
Dr. Bays is a pediatrician and Zen teacher in Oregon. She is the author of Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food.

Loneliness and boredom are often triggers for eating comfort foods, or for eating at inappropriate times.
When we feel the impulse to eat at an odd time (such as an hour after lunch or when we can’t fall asleep at night ) we can take a moment to investigate what is happening in our body, heart and mind.
We can check within our bodies to investigate if we are actually hungry. How full does our stomach feel? Empty? One quarter full? Half full? Full? Stuffed? If we realize that we’re not actually hungry, we can investigate our feelings and thoughts.
We can check in with our feelings to investigate what emotions might be present. It helps to become acquainted with the particular body sensations that accompany different emotions. For example, the body signals of loneliness in one person might be a sagging feeling in the eyelids and heaviness in the chest. We find that the body can tell us about feelings of loneliness or boredom that we are not fully aware of.
We can check the background dialogue in our minds. The mind might be subtly murmuring, “I feel so alone. I need to comfort myself with something to eat, ” or “I’m bored. I need some exciting taste sensations in my mouth.”
Once we’ve identified the emotion we are feeling, what can we do? If the discomfort we are feeling is arising from loneliness, we can reach out. We can call someone who cares for us. We can reach out to another person who might be lonely. We can play with a child or pet. We can go outdoors and open our awareness to the company of trees and birds.
If the discomfort arises from boredom, we can challenge the mind that says, “There’s nothing going on, ” by looking directly and carefully at just what actually IS going on. We can sit down for a moment and focus on the breath, curious about the thousands of tiny touches in and on our body. We can look at a flower close up, drinking in its color with our eyes. We can open our ears to the many sounds, obvious and subtle, that surround us. We can sip a cup of tea slowly, aware of changes in temperature and flavor. When we are fully present, when boredom is replaced by curiosity, when loneliness is replaced by connecting to others, our discontent can dissolve and be replaced by satisfaction and ease.

Register, and join mindfulness teachers and retreat leaders,
Jan Chozen Bays, MD and Char Wilkins, LCSW
for Mindful Eating, Conscious Living, a 5-day Professional Training Retreat, August 4-9, 2012, Chapin Mill Retreat Center, New York.

This training emphasizes experiential engagement in mindfulness meditation practices and mindful eating awareness exercises, so that the participant will be able to pass the benefit of these exercises on to clients and patients in a variety of settings. These practices and exercises are integral components of the Mindful Eating program, designed by Bays and Wilkins, which provides the organizing structure for this training.

Please click here for information on our local UCSD Center for Mindfulness 4-week Mindful Eating Conscious Living program starting June 28, 2012 6-7:30pm.

Mindfully Slowing Down, Pausing and Pacing Can Add to Your Eating Enjoyment and Better Choices

By Jan Chozen Bays, MD
Dr. Bays is a pediatrician and Zen teacher in Oregon. She is the author of Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food.

One of the simplest ways to get more enjoyment out of eating while eating more appropriate amounts of food, is to deliberately slow down. Our digestive system sends “satiety” signals to our brain when we’ve had enough to eat. These signals take about 20 minutes after we begin eating to be activated.

Americans are speedy eaters. Beginning in the elementary school lunch room, we consume our meals in about ten minutes. This means our body doesn’t have a chance to give us “feedback” about how much food is the right amount. We can easily eat too much food too quickly. Because there isn’t time to release the satiety hormones, we also miss pleasant sensation of satisfaction after our meal.

There are some simple ways to slow your eating down. Try taking a small first portion and deliberately eating it slowly, with full attention to the flavor and texture. Avoid “layering” that is, don’t put additional bites of food in on top of previous ones. Try putting down the fork or spoon between bites, and don’t pick it back up until the food in your mouth is savored and swallowed. Check-in with the sensations in your stomach a few times during the meal to see how full it is feeling.

Ordinarily our food seems to lose flavor after the first bite. When you slow down, however, pausing between bites, you will discover that each bite retains that “first bite” flavor. Your body also has a chance to register a sense of satisfaction with just the right amount of food.

Register, and join mindfulness teachers and retreat leaders,
Jan Chozen Bays, MD and Char Wilkins, LCSW
Mindful Eating, Conscious Living, a 5-day Professional Training Retreat sponsored by the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness, March 10-15, 2013, Joshua Tree Retreat Center, Yucca Valley, CA

This training emphasizes experiential engagement in mindfulness meditation practices and mindful eating awareness exercises, so that the participant will be able to pass the benefit of these exercises on to clients and patients in a variety of settings. These practices and exercises are integral components of the Mindful Eating program, designed by Bays and Wilkins, which provides the organizing structure for this training.

Please click here for information on our local UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness 6-week Mindful Eating, Conscious Living program starting January 7.

MBSR & Fibromyalgia a Preliminary Study

Mindfulness-based Contemplative Training Reduces Avoidance and Facilitates Disengagement from Threat in Women Diagnosed with Fibromyalgia
David Vargo

Eight-week courses in mindfulness-based contemplative training focusing on specific meditation and yoga practices have been shown to have explicit benefits for many clinical disorders, especially with relation to treating stress, targeting emotion dysregulation, and attentional processes, yet little research has explored the effects of these practices in the context of bias.
Attentional bias is a tendency to focus on one aspect of the environment over others. A bias may arise through varied mechanisms, but is driven by evolutionarily shaped mechanisms. Attentional bias will influence how one perceives and processes information in the present moment, from the past, and how one anticipates the future. Humans typically have their attention automatically captured by fear-relevant stimuli, and for good reason, to avoid danger and threat of harm. Persistent attentional bias to threat cues in the environment will typically result in increased perception of danger, hypervigilance, and often frequent or intense experiences of anxiety. Although it may appear that an enhanced sensitivity to detecting threat is advantageous, hypervigilance is not necessarily adaptive, as it consists of persistent intensified monitoring and attentional fixedness at the expense of ongoing cognitive demands and a continually active sympathetic nervous system. Hypervigilance may also generalize to innocuous stimuli, wherein non-threatening stimuli are determined to be threatening. Thus, bias becomes a distorted interpretation of one’s experience, with consequences that could lead to chronic anxiety and stress-mediated pathology. Interestingly, there is now evidence that hypervigilant processing could be occurring without conscious awareness, such that very early stages of sensory processing (e.g., < 300 ms from stimulus exposure) are detecting possible threat-related cues. Once a threatening cue is detected, automatic and strategic forms of emotion regulation processing typically follow. Automatic forms of processing have the potential to operate below conscious awareness as well, and are typically over-trained, habitual responses to threat. Strategic forms of processing are more volitional, and cognitive in quality. Avoidance is one emotion regulation strategy that occurs at both automatic and strategic time-courses for the purpose of reducing elaborative or evaluative processing and deflating the threat value of the stimulus. When avoidance becomes habitual, it also can be maladaptive.
Both hypervigilance and avoidance have been found to contribute to the exacerbation of chronic pain and disability, and a vulnerability to pathological emotional states in chronic pain disorders like fibromyalgia (FM). FM is a disorder characterized by diffuse tenderness and widespread chronic pain, and is often accompanied by impaired cognitive, emotional, and physical functioning. Although various external stimuli such as infection, trauma and stress may contribute to development of FM, recent studies have emphasized the role of hypervigilance and avoidance of pain-related information. Pain-related information are cues in the environment or recalled from one’s memory and can be anything from images, sounds, certain trigger words (e.g., sharp, pounding, throbbing), or even people that remind one of a past experience of pain. Because these cues have previously been associated with pain, a heightened sensitivity towards such pain-related information develops and leads to a generalized pattern of hypervigilance.
My colleagues from the Utah Center for Exploring Mind-Body Interactions and I recently published a preliminary study in Cognitive Therapy and Research that investigated attentional bias of pain-related threat between women diagnosed with FM who went through an 8-week course of mindfulness-based contemplative training and an age-matched comparison control group of female FM individuals. The mindfulness-based training program was designed to accommodate the physical limitations of the FM population, but modeled after curriculum for Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) (see paper for exact modifications). A well validated dot-probe task (see paper for methodology of task) was used to explore early versus later stages of attentional bias processing of pain-related threat words. The rapid exposure of cues at short durations (100 ms) intended to capture automatic stages of processing by limiting attention to early sensory-perceptual stages, while longer cue durations (500 ms) intended to capture initial strategic forms of cognitive processing. The data indicated that individuals from the control group appeared to be hypervigilant-avoidant in their processing of pain-related threat, such that pain-related words were rapidly detected and avoided without much time for conscious elaboration. This form of avoidance is presumed to be a highly conditioned, automatized form of processing. Individuals from the control group also appeared to have difficulty disengaging from pain-related threat once strategic, elaborative processing was possible. This lingering engagement with negative stimuli slowed their response time on the dot-probe task, such that processing of threatening stimuli was assumed to interfere with the necessary processing for the task at hand (i.e., keyboard press indicating position of dot-probe). One may speculate that the mental stickiness that is typically described as a target for Buddhist meditation practices could also be explained by disengagement difficulty. Extended elaborative processing has also been implicated in ruminative cognition, a maladaptive, repetitive evaluation of one’s experience in a negative context.
The individuals exposed to mindfulness training demonstrated significantly less avoidance of threat than individuals from the control group and also disengaged more rapidly at later stages of processing. These results suggest that mindfulness training reduces avoidance of pain-related threat at early levels of attention processing, and facilitates disengagement from threat at later stages of processing. Furthermore, it appears that effects of mindfulness training on early attentional threat processing do not remain stable after long-term follow-up. The enduring effects of mindfulness training on attentional bias were assessed 6-months after completion of the mindfulness-based program. With little to no continued meditation practice, the apparent effects on attentional bias were reduced. What did remain was a lack of attentional bias towards pain-related threat in comparison to neutral words.
The take-home message for this preliminary study is that mindfulness training for individuals diagnosed with FM appears to increase engagement with and decrease avoidance of pain-related information that normally leads to anxiety and emotion dysregulation. Furthermore, mindfulness training appears to decrease time of lingering or “mental stickiness” with pain-related information. Further studies will have to investigate whether the decreases in bias after 6 months with little to no continued practice were indicative of a linear trend towards maladaptive avoidant emotion regulation strategies, or a stabilization of attention over time, in which no bias remains between threat and neutral stimuli. This study is the first preliminary evidence for the effect of mindfulness training on attentional bias. Future studies are also needed to clarify changes from pre- to post-meditation training using a mixed level of analysis, so that within and between group comparisons can be properly made.

David R. Vago, Ph.D.
Harvard Medical School
Brigham & Women’s Hospital
Dept. of Psychiatry

Vago, D.R. & Nakamura, Y. (2011). Selective attentional bias towards pain-related threat in fibromyalgia: Preliminary evidence for effects of mindfulness meditation training. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 6(35), 581-594. doi: 10.1007/s10608-011-9391-x

Mindfulness Interventions for Bipolar Depression

Dr. Marchand is an investigator at the George E. Wahlen Veterans Administration Medical Center in Salt Lake City, Utah and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Utah.

Bipolar disorder is a severe psychiatric illness characterized by episodes of depression as well as periods of elevated mood, known as mania. This condition, previously known as manic-depressive illness, causes considerable suffering and disability. Furthermore, bipolar depression is often difficult to treat and associated with anxiety symptoms and an increased risk of suicide. Thus, additional treatment approaches are needed. Interventions that target anxiety and suicide risk, in addition to depression, could be particularly useful.

Mindfulness-based interventions have demonstrated effectiveness for symptoms of unipolar depression (major depression not associated with manic episodes) and anxiety. There is also evidence accumulating that these approaches may help reduce suicide risk. Therefore, I recently reviewed the literature to determine whether clinical trials of mindfulness-based approaches for bipolar depression are warranted. The results of that review were recently published in Depression Research and Treatment.

Several lines of evidence support studies of mindful-based interventions for bipolar depression. From a psychological perspective, bipolar depression appears to be associated with abnormal self-referential thinking, as has been established for unipolar illness. Further, ruminative analytical thinking about the self may contribute to symptom expression in both disorders. Thus, the practice of mindfulness would be expected to be beneficial for bipolar depression as a result of decreasing maladaptive self-focused thinking patterns. Similar mechanisms might also contribute to decreased suicide risk among those suffering from this condition.

Brain imaging studies also support clinical trials of mindfulness-based interventions for bipolar depression. Evidence links the function of the cortical midline structures with both emotional dysregulation and self-referential thinking in unipolar illness. Therefore, this brain region may mediate the relationship between aberrant self-referential thinking and negative emotion in major depression. Some evidence suggests that similar mechanisms may play a role in bipolar depression. Thus, while unipolar and bipolar depression are different psychiatric disorders, similar psychological and neurobiological mechanisms may underlie symptom expression in both conditions. This suggests that the response to mindfulness-based interventions may be similar across the disorders and provides a theoretical basis for the study of these approaches for bipolar depression.

A few studies (see references) have provided early evidence that mindfulness-based treatments may be useful for bipolar disorder. Moreover, diverse lines of investigation provide a conceptual background supporting continued clinical trials of mindfulness-based approaches for bipolar depression.

Please see Mindfulness Interventions for Bipolar Depression by William R. Marchand, MD for a free download of the complete review.


P. Chadwick, H. Kaur, M. Swelam, S. Ross, and L. Ellett, “Experience of mindfulness in people with bipolar disorder: a qualitative study,” Psychotherapy Research, vol. 21, no. 3, pp. 277–285, 2011.

W. R. Marchand, J. N. Lee, C. Garn et al., “Aberrant emotional processing in posterior cortical midline structures in bipolar II depression,” Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, vol. 35, no. 7, pp. 1729–1737, 1729.

W.R. Marchand, “Self-Referential Thinking, Suicide, and Function of the Cortical Midline Structures and Striatum in Mood Disorders: Possible Implications for Treatment Studies of Mindfulness-Based Interventions for Bipolar Depression,” Depression Research and Treatment, doi: 10.1155/2012/246725

B. Weber, F. Jermann, M. Gex-Fabry, A. Nallet, G. Bondolfi, and J. M. Aubry, “Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for bipolar disorder: a feasibility trial,” European Psychiatry, vol. 25, no. 6, pp. 334–337, 2010.

J. M. G. Williams, Y. Alatiq, C. Crane et al., “Mindfulness- based cognitive therapy (MBCT) in bipolar disorder: preliminary evaluation of immediate effects on between-episode functioning,” Journal of Affective Disorders, vol. 107, no. 1–3, pp. 275–279, 2008.

New Online Meditation Research Bibliography

Looking for meditation research? Well, the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) has just published an online Meditation Bibliography with over 6000 citations of published meditation studies around the world. Research at IONS focuses primarily on consciousness and healing, worldview transformation and extended human capacities. IONS views meditation through consciousness perspectives and believes meditation is integral in positively transforming consciousness. IONS defines meditation based on contemplative practices of almost all religions and traditions, which influences the focus of the research in the Bibliography. In collaboration with Steven Donovan, Michael Murphy, a cofounder of Esalen Institute, has created the largest free online resource with abstracts and full-text articles for clinicians, students, scholars, researchers, novices and those interested in learning more about meditation. The bibliography divides the modern scientific published studies on meditation into three categories: physiological studies, behavioral studies, and subjective reports. The database has a variety of search options and even allows you to see what has been added as currently as today!

Short-Term Training in Loving-Kindness Meditation Produces a State, But Not a Trait, Alteration of Attention

An article by Christopher J. May, Ph.D.
Dr. May is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Carroll University.

Among the many types of contemplative practices, some are cognition-focused, while others are emotion-focused (for a visual representation of the many types of contemplative practice, see the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society). For example, concentrative (or breath-focused) meditation is designed to strengthen attention, enabling the practitioner to remain focused on a particular object of attention. Loving-kindness meditation, on the other hand, is designed to strengthen feelings of love and kindness and enable the practitioner to intentionally direct these feelings toward other people. In a study recently published in Mindfulness, we demonstrated that loving-kindness meditation also affects cognition. Specifically, practicing this emotion-focused meditation for 15 minutes, 4 days per week, for 8 weeks, improved attention.
We measured improvements in attention with the attentional blink task. In this task, participants were shown a stream of letters, which rapidly flashed at the center of a computer screen. Each letter appeared for just 50 ms, and only 50 ms separated the presentation of letters. Within this stream, participants were asked to identify two targets: a number and the letter X. On each trial, a different number would appear as the first target, and the second target (the X) would appear half of the time. This second target could either appear fairly quickly after the first target, or after a longer delay. The attentional blink refers to a decreased ability to correctly identify whether or not the X appeared when it is presented shortly after the first target. It is as though one’s attention, caught up in processing the first target, blinks, thereby missing the second target.
In our experiment, we tested participants before and after they began loving-kindness meditation training and compared them to a non-meditating control group. After 8 weeks of training, meditators practiced loving-kindness meditation one final time before doing the attentional blink task. What we found is that these meditators had a reduced attentional blink- meaning that they were better able to identify the second target compared to their pre-training performance, and compared to the non-meditating controls. In short, loving-kindness meditation enabled the practitioners to see more! This effect validates one goal of meditation in Buddhism, which is to more accurately see reality. These results are significant in demonstrating that an emotion-focused meditation can bring about attentional changes. These changes were produced with relatively little training- meditators trained for an average of 8 hours spread out of 2 months. In addition, there is evidence that loving-kindness meditation may be more effective than concentrative meditation for some people (Barnhofer et al., 2010), thereby making these attentional improvements potentially more widely accessible. We are currently working on comparative research looking at the relative efficacy and time-courses of concentrative and loving-kindness meditation.

Barnhofer, T., Chittka, T., Nightingale, H., Cisser, C., & Crane, C. (2010). State effects
of two forms of meditation on prefrontal EEG asymmetry in previously depressed individuals. Mindful- ness, 1, 21–27. doi:10.1007/s12671-010-0004-7.
May, C.J., Burgard, M., Mena, M., Abbasi, I., Bernhardt, N., Clemens, S., Curtis, E.,
Daggett, E., Hauch, J., Housh, K., Janz, A., Lindstrum, A., Luttropp, K., & Williamson, R. (2011). Short-term practice of loving-kindness meditation produces a state, but not a trait, alteration of attention. Mindfulness, 2, 3, 143-153. doi: 10.1007/s12671-011-0053-6.

Shambhala Sun Features Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP) in latest issue

One Moment at a Time, is the title of a recent item in David Swick’s column The Mindful Society published in the most recent edition of Shambhala Sunabout the relationship between mindfulness and substance use disorders. The article specifically highlights Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP) and the work of the late G. Alan Marlatt, Sarah Bowen and colleagues at the Addictive Behaviors Research Center at the University of Washington. 

By Blair Buckman

Most of us are looking for magical solutions to solve our problems instantaneously. Some of us turn to indulgences like ice cream for a quick fix, and others habitually turn to more harmful addictive substances, like alcohol or drugs. Addiction affects millions of individuals and their families each year and can be an insurmountable obstacle for many. Dr. Lawerence Peltz, a Massachusetts psychiatrist, describes mindfulness as “the microscopic version of One Day at a Time,” adding “it’s One Moment at a Time.”

Much of the research on mindfulness and addiction is conducted at the Addictive Behaviors Research Center at the University of Washington in Seattle, established by the late Alan Marlatt. Dr. Sarah Bowen and her colleagues there have conducted a number of studies on the topic, including a study examining mindfulness implementation among previously imprisoned drug and alcohol offenders. She found that by learning mindfulness practices, they were able to recognize internal triggers without responding to them, therefore reducing the likelihood of returning to drug and alcohol use as compared to control subjects that did not receive mindfulness training. Their MBRP program was modeled after Segal, Teasdale and Williams’ Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) program and Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). MBRP assists people in developing awareness of what their triggers and habits are, in addition to changing how we respond to physical and emotional discomfort. Furthermore, MBRP assists in developing a compassionate and nonjudgmental mindset.

The program emphasizes meditation practices and implementation of mindfulness practices in daily life in order to regain control of our attention and actions. Bowen and colleagues will be integrating mindfulness meditation practices and utilizing demonstration, role-play, simulated exercises, and inquiry to teach MBRP in a 5-day intensive retreat training through the UCSD Center for Mindfulness at the EarthRise Retreat Center in Petaluma, California in April 2012. More information about the training is available through the UCSD Center for Mindfulness.

We invite you to read the full text of David Swick’s article, in the November issue of the Shambhala Sun, available on newsstands now.