Author Archives: stevepsyd

The Truly Mindful Workplace: A Reality Whose Moment Is Arriving

Christy Cassisa, J.D.

Christy Cassisa

By Christy Cassisa, J.D.
Co-Director of Workplace Initiatives and Giving
UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness

If you follow workplace mindfulness in the news, you’ve had quite a bit of reading material in the last few months. Businesses of all types have embraced the fact that the wellbeing of their employees improves the health of the company.  One quarter of large US companies have launched stress reduction programs of some sort, and many of those are also incorporating mindfulness and meditation trainings.  Many well-known names such as Google, Aetna, General Mills, AOL Time Warner and Target have brought mindfulness and meditation to their people.  Mindfulness is being hailed as the next great thing in the efforts to improve the performance, health and overall wellbeing of employees and leadership alike.

Mindfulness In Leadership
Both formal studies and informal self-reports show that leaders who practice mindfulness have more mental clarity and flexibility, are able to listen better and as a result, make better decisions.  Enhanced emotional resiliency and self-awareness arise as a natural byproduct of mindfulness practices, and these in turn can lead to more effective and inspirational leaders.

One such program you may have read about in the Financial Times (The Mind Business) was developed at General Mills.  Janice Marturano, deputy general counsel, phrased it this way: “It’s about training our minds to be more focused, to see with clarity, to have spaciousness for creativity and to feel connected. That compassion to ourselves, to everyone around us- our colleagues, customers- that’s what the training of mindfulness is really about.” More than 400 employees and 250 executives have participated in the GM program, and the results are amazing:  83% of participants reported increased personal productivity and of the senior executives who took the course, 80% reported improved decision-making and 89% reported that they had become better listeners.

For executives, learning to do nothing to achieve more is counter-intuitive. But what they often find once they begin to look is that the very drive that has lead them to success thus far blinds them to the next steps to progress further. And this clouded vision is precisely what mindfulness meditation can clear.

Employee Well-Being
When it comes to employees, the benefits are also well-documented. Company-wide stress reduction programs are nothing new, but with the addition of mindfulness and meditation, employees have shown dramatic improvements in stress levels and overall wellbeing.  Meditation programs have shown employee results such as:

  • Reduced anxiety and increased overall sense of calm
  • Enhanced ability to bounce back from emotionally charged situations
  • Enhanced coping abilities related to everyday stress as well as severe or acute stress encounters
  • Increased creativity
  • Improved memory
  • Increased focus (staying on task longer)
  • Improved teamwork, increased respect and support for colleagues
  • Strengthened immune system
  • Lowered blood pressure

And these results are simply the performance and health-related measures. At Google, employees reported improved marriages, reversed decisions to leave the company, and more. The benefits to the employee far exceed those measured by standard health and productivity scores.

Return on Investment
What, you say, is the value of this kind of program?  What does my bottom line expect to get in return for the outlay of time money and effort into a mindfulness meditation program?

According to the Gallup Business Journal, wellbeing is an employer issue. By the numbers, they reported:

  • People who have thriving wellbeing have a 35% lower turnover rate than those who are struggling; in a 10,000-person company, this represents $19.5 million.
  • Employees with high wellbeing have 41% lower health-related costs compared with employees who have lower wellbeing. In a firm that has 10,000 employees, this difference amounts to nearly $30 million​

So incorporating these measures, your ROI of each benefit may be measured as so:

  1. Stress Reduction:  As a result of reducing the stress of your employees, look for a reduction in health care costs and absenteeism rates.
  2. Improved Employee Well-being: As a result of investing in your people, look for increased retention rates, improved employee satisfaction and overall engagement measures.  And as an interesting additional measure, you might look to your customers’ experiences as a result of this investment in your employees’ health and well-being: look for increases in sales and improved customer satisfaction surveys.
  3. Strengthened Leadership: Leadership Development programs have many measures to use to evaluate the effectiveness of executives, ranging from 360 evaluations to overall company performance. When executives are operating more effectively, the entire company benefits in innumerable ways.

In case you have not been immersed in the news of mindfulness in the workplace, I’ve summarized many of the recent articles below.  Please comment on this post to contribute additional articles as you find them so that other readers can have access to all the latest information and resources!

Note: Christy Cassisa is a former attorney, turned coach, who has recently been appointed as the Co-Director of Workplace Initiatives and Giving for the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness. As she notes, “With all of the excitement surrounding mindfulness in the business community, we feel it is time to opt in. In this effort, we are thrilled to announce the launch of the UCSD Center for Mindfulness Workplace Programs.  Now you can bring the Center’s expertise to your office with a program or workshop tailored for your business or group. If you have an interest in learning more, take a look at Christy’s blog, Mindful Clarity, and/or contact Christy via the Center for Mindfulness at mindfulness@ucsd.edu

Workplace Mindfulness Articles

Developing Mindful Leaders– Harvard Business Review, Dec 2011

Meditation Makes You More Creative– Science Daily, April 2012

OK Google, Take a Deep Breath– New York Times, April 2012

How to be Happier at Work– Inc., May 2012

How to kill a thought in a good way– Forbes, June 2012

Meditation Can Keep you More Focused at Work– USAToday, July 2012

Be more mindful for a better workplace– Chicago Tribune Aug 2012

Mindfulness is not a Cure, it’s Better– HuffPost, Aug 2012

The Mind Business– Financial Times Magazine, Aug 2012

Mindfulness-based stress reduction effects on moral reasoning and decision makingJournal of Positive Psychology, Sept 2012

A Guide to Mindfulness at Work– Forbes Oct, 2012

Mindfulness Helps you become a better leader –Harvard Business Review Oct 2012

Multitasking Loses its Cool: Mindfulness is Now In – Investors.com, Oct 2012

The ROI of Practicing Mindfulness at Work– Under30CEO.com, Nov 2012

Meditation finds an ommmm in the office– Globe & Mail, Nov 2012

Mindful Multitasking– Levy, U Washington

Why Mindful Breathing Works– Huffington Post, Nov 2012

Lead by Achieving Nothing.  Seriously. Forbes, Nov 2012

Experienced Teachers Reflect on the Opportunities and Challenges of Teaching Mindfulness

With the proliferation of mindfulness and Mindfulness-Based Interventions, there is increasing demand for foundational and advanced training for teachers of these so-called “MBIs”. The UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness has partnered with Susan Woods and Char Wilkins to partially meet this demand through a 5-day program entitled: Advanced Training for MBCT and MBSR Teachers: Embodying Mindful Presence and Investigating Mindful Inquiry, June 9-14, 2013 at the EarthRise Retreat Center in Petaluma, CA. The following is the first in a series of periodic posts by Susan and Char, sharing their vision and wisdom in formulating and offering this training, and exploring the territory of teaching mindfulness in general. We invite you to get to know Susan and Char through this series and perhaps to reflect on your own relationship to mindfulness teaching.

By Susan Woods
What a true joy it is for me to anticipate this possibility of bringing MBCT and MBSR teachers together for this training. As the community of MBCT and MBSR teachers has grown in breadth and depth I believe it has become increasingly important to hold in awareness certain questions. What is it that helps sustain our teaching? What are our aspirations? How do we find ways to articulate and live inside the teaching process? How do we come to see the challenges of teaching as the wealth of continually opening landscapes of compassion, generosity and kindness?

At its core the Advanced training for MBCT and MBSR teachers is about supporting and strengthening the skills that characterize teaching mindfulness in the MBCT and MBSR programs.  At its deepest depth, it is about our relationship to the practice of mindfulness and to the articulation of that process. Collectively, it is my hope and belief we will weave a process of contemplative awareness that not only supports and strengthens our teaching, but that emphasizes embodying mindful presence as the heart of teaching with mindful reflective inquiry as the journey.  I look forward to joining you there.
Susan Woods

Susan Woods, MSW., LICSW is a psychotherapist in private practice and has been practicing mindfulness meditation and yoga since 1981.  She teaches MBSR and MBCT groups through her private practice and since 2005 has been immersed in teaching and developing mindfulness-based professional trainings.  She has presented on the clinical application of mindfulness at numerous conferences and is a published author on the training of health professionals in mindfulness-based skills.   www.slwoods.com

By Char Wilkins
As a teacher, the moments that inspire me to keep teaching are never the moments when I’ve cleared up a participant’s confusion for them or said something that a group member thought profound.  Rather, they are the times when coming from a genuinely curious and patient place within myself, I have mindfully attended as the participant found her own truth and understanding.  This relational field that is created between teacher and participant holds the potential of accessibility and possibility.

Is it possible for a teacher to cultivate patience, focus, curiosity and compassion to such an extent that it becomes an articulated and felt sense through his or her teaching?  This is the exploratory path of the Advanced Training for MBCT & MBSR Teachers that invites investigation of two important aspects of teaching MBCT and MBSR, that of embodied mindful presence and the facilitation of mindful inquiry.  I am delighted to be teaching alongside my colleague, Susan Woods, as we offer this program which is both deeply personal and universal in its intentional and heartfelt focus.
–Char Wilkins, LCSW

Char Wilkins, MSW, LCSW is a psychotherapist and certified MBSR teacher. She trains professionals in Adv. MBCT, MBSR and MECL (Mindful Eating/Conscious Living) and offers consultation to MBI teachers and in the use of mindfulness in psychotherapy. She considers her long standing meditation practice to be the foundation of all her work and continues to train in the Dhamma, Qigong and Tai Chi. In her private psychotherapy practice she specializes in working with women who suffer from the ramifications of childhood abuse, depression, anxiety and disordered eating.  www.amindfulpath.com

MBCT Ushers in the Next Era with Second Edition and Two Innovative Training Opportunities

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for DepressionFew psychological interventions have engendered so much promise and delivered on that promise with such impressive clinical outcomes and research findings as Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). The skillful “marriage” of cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness practice, MBCT has emerged as an effective treatment to prevent relapse in depression and is yielding good initial results in other settings and with other populations as well. With the imminent publication of the Second Edition of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy  (Guilford Publications), MBCT has entered it’s next generation, incorporating the ongoing work of co-founders Zindel Segal, Mark Williams and John Teasdale, with the input and efforts of numerous clinicians and researchers worldwide.

Zindel Segal, Ph.D.

Zindel Segal, Ph.D.

“Ten years have passed since the publication of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy,” noted Zindel Segal recently, “and in that time there has been a productive engagement and interchange with clinicians and researchers who have offered and studied the program with their own patients.  Mark, John and I have been fortunate to be involved in some of these discussions and have learned from many ‘early adopters’ as well as from the increasing volume of empirical work that has evaluated and stretched MBCT to novel populations.  The second edition of MBCT gives us an opportunity to embed this ‘crowd sourced’ wisdom and feedback into an updated and expanded version of the book that offers a few refinements to the 8-week program and grapples, more generally, with the question of how the delivery of mindfulness based interventions can be optimized.”

“Kindness and compassion are the ground from which we practice, the ground from which we teach, and the ground that participants may then use in cultivating their own practice.”                 (From the Second Edition)

Perhaps most notable in the new edition is a chapter solely dedicated to the topic of compassion in MBCT. Segal reports that “an oft-repeated question I hear is ‘what is the role of compassion training in MBCT?’  This reflects perhaps the pervasive interest in bringing compassion to patients who are suffering, as well as an enthusiasm for newer protocols that feature compassion training as a central intervention.  The answer with respect to MBCT is not as straightforward as checking whether formal compassion or loving kindness is or is not taught within the 8 weeks.  It revolves around the deeper question of what exactly compassion means in a clinical context and how it can help address the vulnerability or illness perpetuating factors that keep people locked into symptoms and distress.”

FREE CHAPTER PREVIEW!
In advance of the release of the Second Edition of MBCT, Chapter 8, entitled “Pausing for Reflection: Kindness and Self-Compassion in MBCT” is available for free by emailing the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness at mindfulness@ucsd.edu and requesting a copy.

Book purchasers get access to a companion Web page featuring downloadable audio recordings of the guided mindfulness practices (meditations and mindful movement), plus all of the reproducibles, ready to download and print in a convenient 8 1/2″ x 11″ size. A separate web page for use by clients features the audio recordings only.

As innovative as the MBCT program itself, the 5-day MBCT teacher training offered through the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness is a “wonderful opportunity to experience the intricate interweaving of mindfulness practice and cognitive therapy skills in the delivery of the 8 week program,” said Segal. “Our days are long and incorporate elements of personal practice and clinical training all held within a retreat framework that clarifies intention, observation and self-compassion in the learning process.  If you are interested in learning the MBCT program ‘from the inside’ this is the best vehicle for doing so.”

For those who already have experience teaching MBCT or Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) UCSD is now offering an Advanced Training for MBCT and MBSR Teachers taught by experienced teachers and trainers Susan Woods and Char Wilkins. Intended to focus upon universal principles for teaching mindfulness-based interventions. As such, the focus for this training is less about teaching to the structure of MBCT and/or MBSR and more about intentionally embodying mindful presence and strengthening the facilitation of mindful inquiry.

What Are Your Thoughts? We would love to hear your thoughts on the approach of explicitly teaching compassion and lovingkindness practice within mindfulness-based interventions like MBCT, versus the more implicit approach described by Segal et al in the new 2nd edition of the MBCT book (free pdf copy of the chapter available upon request at  mindfulness@ucsd.edu ). Please share your thoughts and opinions below.

New training pathways for MBSR and MBCT teachers now available through UC San Diego

By Steven Hickman, PsyD, Director, UCSD Center for Mindfulness

“How can I become a teacher of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction?” I cannot begin to calculate how many times I have been asked this question in the past ten years as a teacher of the MBSR program. I am constantly moved and touched by the people in my classes and the tremendous change and healing that can happen through the regular practice of mindfulness. This profound impact on people has more recently manifested in a huge demand among people touched by the practice who wish to share it with others. As MBSR programs have spread across this country and the world, there is a growing (and unprecedented) need to provide well-designed training for those who wish to teach MBSR and share this practice with a wide variety of people and groups in a whole host of settings.

Susan Woods

That is why I am particularly excited to announce that two highly qualified mindfulness teachers and trainers, Susan Woods and Char Wilkins, will be teaching our first 5-Day Foundational Training in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for professionalson June 2-7, 2013 at the Joshua Tree Retreat Center.  Intended to support and develop people along their path toward teaching MBSR, this intimate foundational training will provide attendees the opportunities to learn in depth about the program, but more importantly to explore it “from the inside out” in the role of teacher, through small group exercises, mindful feedback and reflection.

Char Wilkins

The second of our two new trainings, also taught by Susan Woods and Char Wilkins, is the 5-day Advanced Professional Training for MBCT/MBSR Teachers, June 9-14, 2013 at EarthRise Retreat Center in Petaluma, California.  The demand for advanced training in mindfulness-based interventions has grown over the years and a foundational professional training is just the beginning of becoming a skilled and knowledgeable teacher.  This ground-breaking advanced training brings together, for the first time in the U.S., both MBCT and MBSR teachers allowing for a rich learning experience.  Susan has designed a training in which there is less dependence on teaching to the curricula of either MBCT/MBSR, and greater attention to strengthening core competency skills allied with teaching mindfulness. The heart of this program lies in closely attending to and strengthening the development of universal mindfulness principles such as investigating how one comes to understand and embody mindful presence and mindful reflective inquiry.

The training model that has evolved here at UCSD has proved to be efficient and effective. By providing intense retreat-style trainings that combine personal mindfulness practice, experiential learning of the curriculum and opportunities to guide practices, engage in mindful inquiry and take part in dialogue with skilled teachers, we have found that our participants leave feeling prepared to actually begin the important work of leading Mindfulness-Based Interventions (MBI’s).

Thus begins the next phase in the development of the Professional Training programs at the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness. This new pathway toward becoming an MBSR teacher is situated alongside intensive training in Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP), Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting (MBCP), Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC), and Mindful Eating, Conscious Living (MECL). The longer-term goal is the establishment of an entire UC San Diego Mindfulness-Based Training Institute that incorporates foundational aspects of all the MBI’s, specific training in the various curricula, opportunities for live consultation and supervision, and ultimately a process of certification in specific MBI’s. The Training Institute is only in its infancy, but arises out of this increasing demand for training and the assurance of competency in delivery of these wonderful programs that are becoming increasingly popular and are being demonstrated through rigorous research to be effective. 

Registration is now open for both the Advanced Training for MBCT/MBSR Teachers and the 5-Day Foundational Training in MBSR and we expect both to fill up quickly. Plans are also in the works to offer these trainings on an ongoing basis, so if these dates don’t work for your schedule, join our mailing list on our Professional Training website to be notified of upcoming additions to the schedule.

 

Pioneering Mindfulness-Based Dementia Care Program Launched at UC San Francisco

Marguerite Manteau-Rao is a mindfulness colleague and friend, editor of the Mind Deep blog, psychotherapist and now a pioneer in bringing much-needed mindfulness training to people caring for those with dementia. 

By Marguerite Manteau-Rao

‘Mindfulness’ and ‘dementia’, two words to do with mind:
mindfulness
dementia, from Latin word demens, which means ‘without mind 

Mindfulness and dementia are not just connected in words. Mindfulness also happens to be a key element of successful dementia care, working on two fronts: 1) to reduce caregiver’s stress, 2) to help the caregiver be present for the person in their care. Facts gathered by the Alzheimer’s Association show the extraordinary stress suffered by most family caregivers:

• 61 percent of dementia caregivers suffer from high emotional stress.
• 33 percent report symptoms of depression.
• 43 percent experience high physical stress.
• 75 percent are concerned about maintaining their health.
• Dementia caregivers are more likely to have adverse physiological changes such as high levels of stress hormones, reduced immune function, increased hypertension, coronary heart disease.
• In the last year of their loved one’s life, 59 percent feel they are on duty 24 hours a day.

This goes on for an average of 4 to 8 years post-diagnosis. It is no wonder 72 percent of caregivers express relief after their loved ones die. For professional caregivers and health care providers, the stress is also intense and can lead to burnout.

Until recently, most mindfulness-based approach to dementia care referred to Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for dementia caregivers. Having observed numerous times the unique challenges as well as mindfulness practice opportunities in dementia care, I realized the need for a mindfulness-based program specially tailored to dementia caregiving. Hence began the Presence Care Project, a non-profit initiative aimed at promoting a new form of dementia care training. In the Presence Care approach,  mindfulness, informed by experiential understanding of the person with dementia, becomes the foundation upon which a caregiver can rest, moment-to-moment, day after day, during the long journey of dementia. UCSF OSHER Center for Integrative Medicine has now taken on this new approach and recently launched its new Mindfulness-Based Dementia Care (MBDC) program.

MBDC builds upon the now very well proven model of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR),  and combines solo mindfulness practices, interactive mindful care practices, lectures, and group sharing. Throughout, aspects of mindfulness practice and dementia care are interwoven. The emphasis is on practice during and between classes. The end goal is for participants to experience a radical shift in attitude from mostly doing and reacting, to being skillfully present for themselves and the person in their care. MBDC is appropriate for the whole range of persons involved in dementia care: family and friend caregivers, professional caregivers, elder care professionals, nurses, doctors, and other health care providers.

MBDC rests on this central premise: mindfulness, that which helps dementia caregivers reduce their stress, is also what can help them provide the best care for the person with dementia.

The first series of 8-week classes has started and is taught by Marguerite and Dr. Kevin Barrows, physician and director of mindfulness programs at the Osher Center.

Jon and Myla Kabat-Zinn to Present at 2013 Mindfulness & Youth Conference in San Diego

Jon & Myla Kabat-Zinn

Jon & Myla Kabat-Zinn

Conference organizers announced today that scientist, author and noted mindfulness teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn will be offering a public lecture in San Diego on Friday, Feb. 1, 2013 as part of the 2nd Annual Bridging the Hearts and Minds of Youth: Mindfulness in Clinical Practice, Education and Research conference. Jon and his wife Myla, co-authors of Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting will also present a 3-hour workshop on Mindful Parenting on Saturday afternoon, Feb. 2 as part of the conference.

“We are so excited to have Jon and Myla with us for the conference to maintain the tremendous momentum we built with last year’s inaugural event,” said Steven Hickman, Director of the UCSD Center for Mindfulness and conference organizer. “And the best news is that this is only the first of several exciting developments in the works for 2013.”

Hickman went on to note that the conference will start a half-day earlier than in 2012, largely to accommodate two research symposia, a poster session and optional pre-conference workshop. The focus will remain on the “three pillars” of clinical practice, education and research, and keynote speakers and sessions will be devoted to each of these areas of interest. “In order to assure a varied and interesting agenda for 2013, the Program Committee has opted to issue a call for submissions to fill much of the conference schedule,” Hickman reported. “We invited the people we knew doing the work we were most familiar with last year, and the result was wonderful. But this year we are casting the net much wider in hopes of involving people and programs from a much broader background and expertise.” Deadline for conference submissions is August 1, 2012, and the final conference agenda will be announced by September 1.

A number of other enhancements to the program are already underway, including a number of mechanisms by which people can be kept abreast of additions to the agenda, the latest work by conference presenters, and other activities planned to coincide with the conference. A separate “Bridging the Hearts and Minds of Youth” blog has been launched, as has a conference Facebook page as well. Those interested in following the unfolding of this groundbreaking conference are urged to subscribe to the blog and/or “Like” the Facebook page to keep in touch and be notified when registration opens.

Elisha Goldstein’s “The Now Effect” Offered Ahead of Official Release at SD Conference This Weekend

Our friend and mindfulness colleague, Dr. Elisha Goldstein’s highly praised new book The Now Effect from Simon and Schuster isn’t scheduled for release until February 21, but we have arranged a special early release so that he can offer it for sale at this weekend’s conference “Bridging the Hearts and Minds of Youth” in San Diego. Elisha will be onsite at the conference to sign copies and talk about this groundbreaking “smart book” that incorporates “smart tags” linking to videos of him leading people in mindfulness practice (electronic versions of the book will have the videos embedded right in the pages).

Early praise is stacking up for this wonderful new book and we are excited to be the first public venue where it has been offered to the public. Noted mindfulness authorities including Jack Kornfield, Tara Brach and Sharon Salzberg have already noted the book’s powerful message and practical approach. One of the co-developers of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, Dr. Zindel Segal, said “Written with a lightness of touch and chock full of practical advice, this book is a broad and generous portal for those interested in bringing the power of present moment awareness more fully into their lives”. 

A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook by Bob Stahl and Elisha is the book we use in our MBSR courses because of the clarity and practicality that it affords, and The Now Effect promises even more of that. If you are able to attend the conference this weekend, walk-in registration is still available, and be sure and take a look at The Now Effect at our bookstore (or have him sign a copy of either book).

 

New brain study sheds light on how mindfulness reduces suffering associated with pain

Mindfulness has been shown in numerous studies to effectively attenuate pain, but a new study about to be published suggested that the way in which this reduction happens is much different than other, more typical coping mechanisms. These findings go to the heart of the difference between pain and suffering, by elucidating the different patterns of brain activation associated with each and showing how suffering is reduced throughout the practice of mindfulness, even when the sensation of pain is present.

In a study comparing meditators to non-meditators by researchers from Giessen University in Germany, Maastricht University in the Netherlands, and Massachusetts General Hospital, much was learned about the neural processes involved in the reduced suffering in the face of pain experienced by meditators. The findings of this study were recently published ahead of print in the journal Cerebral Cortex.

Mindfulness refers to a specific inner stance of purposefully paying attention to experiences in the present moment in a nonjudgmental way. For example attention is focused on the sensory aspects of a sensation alone, rather than the cognitive and emotional reactions to those sensory experiences. In mindfulness, these sensory aspects are investigated with curiosity and acceptance. Instead of being reactive and judgmental of sensations, people become fully aware of the experience in the present moment and relate to it in an objective and neutral way.

Thirty-four healthy individuals participated in the study; 17 of them were experienced mindfulness meditators. While brain activation of participants was measured in the MRI scanner at Giessen University, participants received mildly painful electric shocks on the left lower arm. Participants were instructed to relate to the shocks in different ways: with mindfulness, and with a normal, daily life stance. Participants were then asked to rate the intensity and unpleasantness of the shocks, and the anticipatory anxiety in regard to receiving the shocks.

During the practice of mindfulness, experienced meditators experienced the pain as significantly less unpleasant. In addition they reported less anticipatory anxiety, even though they didn’t perceive the intensity of the sensations differently. The MRI images revealed interesting changes in brain activation during the state of mindfulness in mindfulness meditators: increased activation in brain regions that are involved in processing the sensory aspects of the pain experience (posterior insula/secondary somatosensory cortex), but decreased activation in brain regions that are involved in regulating pain through reappraisal (lateral prefrontal cortex). Thus, the meditators fully experienced the pain, but they suffered less from it.

This pattern of brain activation is in sharp contrast to other psychological pain modulation strategies: When participants reduce pain by reappraising it (i.e., a cognitive reinterpretation), there is an increase in activation in the lateral prefrontal cortex. Activation in sensory brain areas on the other hand typically decreases. While the pattern of brain activation revealed in this new study is in sharp contrast to other pain modulation strategies, it is well-aligned with theories of mindfulness.

“The increased activation in sensory pain areas in the brain, that we found during the practice of mindfulness seems to be aligned with the increased focus on the sensory aspects of the pain that meditators report”, says Tim Gard, first author of the study. “Simultaneously we saw decreased brain activation in brain regions that are involved in reappraisal. During the state of mindfulness, meditators seem to be in contact with the present moment experience as it is, without reappraising or evaluating it.”

“It is very interesting that the pattern of brain activation that we observed during the attenuation of pain in a state of mindfulness is in sharp contrast to other forms of pain modulation”, says Tim Gard. “It indicates that mindfulness really is a different way of reducing pain. These findings might have interesting clinical implications. The revealed unique mechanisms of pain modulation might be utilized to improve or develop new strategies for the management of chronic pain”, according to Tim Gard. “While the current study investigated the effects of the state of mindfulness on pain perception in healthy subjects, future studies are required to test whether the findings can be generalized to chronic pain.”

Reference:

Gard, T., Hölzel, B.K., Sack, A.T., Hempel, H., Lazar, S.W., Vaitl, D., & Ott, U.: Pain attenuation through mindfulness is associated with decreased cognitive control and increased sensory processing in the brain. Cerebral Cortex, published online on December 15 2011, doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhr352

http://cercor.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2011/12/14/cercor.bhr352.abstract

Wondering about ways that MBSR touches lives? This graduate says it beautifully and powerfully.

By Steven Hickman, Psy.D.
Director, UCSD Center for Mindfulness

In the course of teaching Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, I have had the opportunity to hear first-hand how participation in the program has had an impact on the lives of many people. I know from my own experience of mindfulness practice how powerful it can be, but I often struggle with how to put that into words that really capture the experience. Fortunately, every now and then, one of our MBSR participants articulates it so poignantly and eloquently that I get a new look at how this practice changes lives. Recently, in a class taught by my colleagues Luis Morones and Amy Holte, one of their participants (we will call her Katie to protect her privacy, but she has given us permission to quote her) offered some wonderful feedback about her experience that we felt would be helpful to anyone considering embarking on a practice of mindfulness or in taking an MBSR course. Here is what she had to say:

“Thank you … for letting me attend most of the recent class  (in which I had) a 60% attendance rate, which makes me laugh because in addition to suggesting kindness to ourselves and not always striving towards something (like counting attendance) a mere 60% of your class has changed at least 90% of my life.  Although I have read only the opening of the book and made very little time to practice outside of the class, I cling to the concept of my breath always being there for me, or my feet being planted on the ground, and that has consistently redirected my next action in every situation.  Pausing for a moment to just be present gives you the time to envision a desired outcome or at least remember your long-term goal in any given interaction.

“Always a mellow driver, I now am even more inclined to let others race along without getting upset (hard not to urge others to do the same).  When working with my children, my focus is not on being right, but on getting them to decide for themselves what is right and why.  When there is a work crisis, it is amazing how many people already have the solution but have not dared to allow themselves to solve it.  Or friends who want you to solve their problems but don’t like your solutions, you realize they want the problem, and you can let go without guilt.

“Mostly I am finding that giving myself a moment to reflect keeps me calm and much more able to enjoy everyone’s company.  Just this week, all five of my family were in 1) my bathroom, 2) my closet, 3) our bedroom, and in each instance I stopped myself from saying “why are you all here, stop following me” but thought instead, how wonderful that you want to be with me, that we trust each other and listen to each other and want to be together.”

Katie works in the same office space as that of the UCSD Center for Mindfulness, and her group recently experienced a significant reduction in their workforce. The stress of the process of “downsizing” was immense, and we were moved to extend the offer of free participation in MBSR to any of their group affected by these layoffs. Katie noted, “I know that Steve may have been thinking about laid off employees when he so generously offered us a space in your class, but for those of us left behind to pick up the pieces of the dozen or so people we’ve lost, it has been stressful in a different way – survivor guilt, maybe, and the inability to share about the quality and quantity of work when we should be grateful to still have the opportunity to serve.  If I were going through all of these changes without the anchor of this class, my flame would definitely be starting to flicker!!  It is also such a grounding experience to learn from those whose life situations harbor even darker days. I do so regret having missed the retreat, I felt like I was letting my classmates down, but it was unavoidable.

“I feel so empowered about how to live my life in a way that is healthier and happier and that has positive effects on those I love.”

When I wrote to ask Katie’s permission to share what she wrote in her email to the teachers above, she responded with still more wonderfully descriptive feedback: “. . . essentially this experience has been the best gift since my wedding and the birth of my three healthy boys.  That is really not an overstatement or overly enthusiastic – I feel so empowered about how to live my life in a way that is healthier and happier and that has positive effects on those I love, which was my original goal for joining the group.  It will obviously take a lot more practice, but I can already tell that I am making better choices and just thinking before I speak (I can have a sharp tongue) is improving many relationships.”

It seems as though there is nothing else to say, as Katie said it all quite well! If someone you know could benefit from the practice of mindfulness or may be interested in taking a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course, I highly recommend that you share this blogpost with that person. It could change their life in the way that it changed Katie’s. (NOTE: We have a morning sitting group on weekdays in our office and Katie continues to attend with us many times each week.)

The 2012 Schedule of MBSR Classes offered through the UCSD Center for Mindfulness is now online and available for online registration. Take a look at the lineup starting in mid-January and consider joining us to more fully experience the practice of mindfulness for yourself.

Teaching Doctors to be Mindful

At the risk of blogging about a blogpost, we were excited to see this piece in the New York Times on our friend and colleague Dr. Mick Krasner’s work with teaching mindfulness to physicians, with the ultimate goal of creating better doctors who communicate better, practice more effectively, are resilient and satisfied in their work and therefore, have an even more positive influence on our health and our society. Check out this piece in the New York times on Dr. Krasner and colleagues’ tremendous training program. It’s heartening and exciting to see the work that they are doing. Our own program for teaching mindfulness to medical students is based largely on Mick’s work at Rochester.

What do you think are the key things that doctors can gain from practicing mindfulness?