Tag Archives: HOW MINDFULNESS WORKS

Mindfulness Training Leads to Important Changes in the Brains of World-Class BMX Cyclists

By Lori Haase, Ph.D.

mpeak-medals copyResearchers at UC San Diego School of Medicine who have been working with Olympic BMX cyclists to improve their athletic prowess have documented areas of the brain that appear to respond to mindfulness training. Specifically, recent results suggest that these peak performers were better able to appropriately anticipate challenges and found that they could remain focused and aware of their performance in the midst of the split-second stressors that arise in a BMX race that can be intense and often lasts for fewer than two minutes with multiple competitors vying for a place at the finish line. These results suggest that BMX performance may be enhanced through the regular practice of mindfulness meditation.

Reporting in a recent issue of Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience (abstact, full article) researchers show that a 8-week intensive mindfulness training course, known as mPEAK, altered the cyclists’ brain activity patterns in two performance-relevant ways:

As measured by fMRI activity in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and insula were enhanced during the anticipatory and recovery phases of a stress-provoking exercise. The ACC and insula are believed to play a strong role in interoception, the ability to sense bodily sensations such a heart rate and integrate them with external stimulation and emotional overlay.

“Prior to the test, their brains were ramping up for activity,” said first author Lori Haase, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, UC San Diego School of Medicine. “We interpret this as meaning the athletes are anticipating the stress and getting ready for it.”

The second measurable change was an apparent reduction in the level of connectivity between posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) and both the right medial frontal cortex and ACC, during the stress-evoking test, in which athletes were asked to breathe through a narrow straw that restricted air flow. The PCC is implicated in self-awareness and self-referential thoughts. A reduction in connectivity to this brain area is consistent with the idea that mindfulness training heightens a person’s awareness of bodily sensations, with less self-referential processing added to what is being experienced physically. “This can potentially help athlete stay present to their performance ,” Haase said.

Taken together, these results suggest that significant changes in the brain, directly related to performance in intense and physically demanding activities like BMX cycling or other athletic endeavors, can result from a relatively brief and focused program like the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness’ mPEAK course.

About The Author: Lori Haase is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and in addition to her clinical training, she is also a neuroscientist investigating the neural substrates of resilience and optimal performance and their modification through mindfulness training. Dr. Haase is Director, co-developer, and teacher of the Mindful Performance Enhancement, Awareness and Knowledge (mPEAK) program.​

Learn about the mPEAK 3-Day Intensive mPEAK program February 13-15, 2016  at the Catamaran Hotel in San Diego, CA. Activities include: meditation; talks on the relationship between neuroscientific findings, peak performance and mindfulness; experiential exercises; group discussion; and home practices. CE credits are available. Register here.

For our local San Diego residence you are also invited to register for the full 8-Week mPEAK program held at the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness. The next course starts in January 2016.

 

Can self-compassion improve through mindfulness?

This post originally appeared on the National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine (NICABM) blog, and is written by Ruth Buczynski, PhD

You shouldn’t kick yourself when you’re down . . .

. . . but sometimes it’s hard not to. Even if we’re compassionate toward others, we can still be our own worst critics. Mindfulness meditation really works. And self-compassion is one of its key benefits.

Kristen Neff, PhD, from the University of Texas-Austin, and Christopher Germer, PhD, from Harvard Medical School, wanted to find out whether self-compassion could be developed through training.

Mindfulness meditation and self-compassionDrs. Neff and Germer randomly assigned 54 people to either an 8-week Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) program or a waitlist control. The MSC program combined weekly 2-hour meetings with homework and a half-day meditation retreat. The program began with an explanation of what self-compassion is, and incorporated both formal and informal mindfulness practices.

Before the program, participants completed surveys to measure self-compassion, mindfulness, and other internal states. They took the same surveys immediately after the program’s completion, and then 6 months later as a follow-up. And, as it turns out, Dr. Neff and Dr. Germer have good news for people who’d like to develop self-compassion.

After taking the program, participants reported significantly greater gains in self-compassion, along with mindfulness, compassion for others, and life satisfaction when compared with the control group. What’s more, researchers found a large statistical effect size in self-compassion. This is relevant because many previous studies of mindfulness programs have found substantially smaller effect sizes – suggesting that this program might be particularly effective.

Of course, since the research involves only self-report data, we should be cautious about drawing conclusions. When people reply that they’re more compassionate or mindful on a survey, what does that really mean about their mental states? What’s more, this research involves only a waitlist control. That means we can’t be sure what made the difference. People might develop self-compassion just from getting together twice a week. Or maybe doing “mental homework” of any kind helps all sorts of internal states.

So, while I think this is a good foundation, I’d like to see more research that uses objective measures of self-compassion and an active control.

If you’d like to read the whole study, it’s currently in press in the Journal of Clinical Psychology. Of course, to see the benefits of self-compassion with your clients, you need to be able to introduce mindfulness effectively. That can be complex, depending on your client, so that’s why we’ve put together our Making Mindfulness Work webinar series. Just click here to sign up for free.

Has mindfulness training ever transformed one of your clients’ capacity for self-compassion? What about your own? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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

The first is through participating in our 8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion Program right here at our UCSD CFM Meditation Room. We are the only center currently teaching the 8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion program as originated by Drs. Neff and Germer.  The next 8-week MSC program begins in January 2013

The second way to explore self-compassion is by attending our upcoming Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) Training Retreat, May 12-17, 2013, at EarthRise Retreat Center in Petaluma, CA with Dr. Chris Germer and Dr. Kristin Neff.

This program is designed for members of the general public, as well as for professionals who wish to integrate self-compassion into their work. Participating in a MSC program satisfies a prerequisite for becoming a MSC program teacher, and teacher training will begin at the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness in 2014. A modest, regular meditation practice is required to become a MSC teacher but meditation experience is not necessary to participate in this professional training. All are welcome!