BOSTON, MA—Achieving mindfulness through meditation has helped people maintain a healthy mind by quelling negative emotions and thoughts, such as desire, anger and anxiety, and encouraging more positive dispositions such as compassion, empathy and forgiveness. Those who have reaped the benefits of mindfulness know that it works. But how exactly does it work?
Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) have proposed a new model that shifts how we think about mindfulness. Rather than describing mindfulness as a single dimension of cognition, the researchers demonstrate that mindfulness actually involves a broad framework of complex mechanisms in the brain.
In essence, they have laid out the science behind mindfulness.
This new model of mindfulness is published in the October 25, 2012 issue of Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. The model was recently presented to His Holiness The Dalai Lama in a private meeting, entitled “Mind and Life XXIV: Latest Findings in Contemplative Neuroscience.”
The researchers identified several cognitive functions that are active in the brain during mindfulness practice. These cognitive functions help a person develop self-awareness, self-regulation, and self-transcendence (S-ART) which make up the transformative framework for the mindfulness process.
The S-ART framework explains the underlying neurobiological mechanisms by which mindfulness can facilitate self-awareness; reduce biases and negative thoughts; enhance the ability to regulate one’s behavior; and increase positive, pro-social relationships with oneself and others-all-in-all creating a sustainable healthy mind.
The researchers highlight six neuropsychological processes that are active mechanisms in the brain during mindfulness and which support S-ART. These processes include 1) intention and motivation, 2) attention regulation, 3) emotion regulation, 4) extinction and reconsolidation, 5) pro-social behavior, and 6) non-attachment and de-centering.
In other words, these processes begin with an intention and motivation to want to attain mindfulness, followed by an awareness of one’s bad habits. Once these are set, a person can begin taming him or herself to be less emotionally reactive and to recover faster from upsetting emotions.
“Through continued practice, the person can develop a psychological distance from any negative thoughts and can inhibit natural impulses that constantly fuel bad habits,” said David Vago, PhD, BWH Functional Neuroimaging Laboratory, Department of Psychiatry, and lead study author.
Vago also states that continued practice can also increase empathy and eliminate our attachments to things we like and aversions to things we don’t like.
“The result of practice is a new You with a new multidimensional skill set for reducing biases in one’s internal and external experience and sustaining a healthy mind,” said Vago.
The S-ART framework and neurobiological model proposed by the researchers differs from current popular descriptions of mindfulness as a way of paying attention, in the present moment, non-judgmentally. With the help of functional MRI, Vago and his team are currently testing the model in humans.
This research was supported by the Mind and Life Institute, Impact Foundation, and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health (5-R21AT002209-02).
- The Science Behind Good Vibes: How Mindfulness Actually Works (wakingtimes.com)
- 6 benefits of mindfulness which can support the resolution of conflict (westallen.typepad.com)
This video features the current scientific evidence for yoga as a complementary health practice, particularly for symptoms like chronic low-back pain. Viewers will also learn about research that explores the safety of yoga and how certain yoga poses can specifically affect a person’s body. The video also provides valuable “dos and don’ts” for consumers who are thinking about practicing yoga. This is the second installment in NCCAM’s The Science of Mind and Body Therapies video series.
Yoga is a mind and body practice with historical origins in ancient Indian philosophy. Like other meditative movement practices used for health purposes, various styles of yoga typically combine physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation or relaxation.
On a related note…
Twitter Chat: Yoga
The experts for this month’s chat will be Dr. Karen Sherman, senior scientific investigator at Group Health Research Institute, and NCCAM staff member and certified yoga teacher Yasmine Kloth. The chat will take place on August 21, 2012 at 1:00 p.m. ET. Join at #nccamchat.
- NIH video reveals science behind yoga (upi.com)
- NIH Video Reveals Science Behind Yoga (personalliberty.com)
- NIH video reveals the science behind yoga (medicalxpress.com)
- Using yoga to relieve low back pain: what to do, what to avoid (boston.com)
- NCCAM manipulates spinal manipulation (sciencebasedmedicine.org)
- NCCAM versus “Integrative medicine”: What’s in a word? (sciencebasedmedicine.org)
NCAAM (National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine) recently published these pages/articlers
- Director’s Page – It’s Time to Talk (March 13, 2012)
Time to Talk is a recently launched NCAAM series which encourages folks to discuss complementary health practices with their health care providers
The director notes the following
- We know that nearly 40 percent of Americans use some kind of complementary health practice. But we also know that most patients do not proactively disclose use of complementary health practices to their health care providers. Likewise, most providers don’t initiate the discussion with their patients. As a physician, I strongly believe that patients and their health care providers need to talk openly about all of their health care practices to ensure safe, coordinated care. Talking not only allows fully integrated care, but it also minimizes risks of interactions with a patient’s conventional treatments.
- This month’s Time to Talk includes these tips
- List the complementary health practices you use on your patient history form. When completing the patient history form, be sure to include everything you use—from acupuncture to zinc. It’s important to give health care providers a full picture of what you do to manage your health.
- At each visit, be sure to tell your providers about what complementary health approaches you are using. Don’t forget to include over-the-counter and prescription medicines, as well as dietary and herbal supplements. Make a list in advance, or download and print this wallet card and take it with you. Some complementary health approaches can have an effect on conventional medicine, so your provider needs to know.
- If you are considering a new complementary health practice, ask questions. Ask your health care providers about its safety, effectiveness, and possible interactions with medications (both prescription and nonprescription).
Don’t wait for your providers to ask about any complementary health practice you are using. Be proactive. Start the conversation.
NCCAM TiwtterChate – Join us for monthly Twitter Chats that cover a variety of health topics and complementary approaches. Each month, a different topic will be selected. An expert in scientific and health issues will be available to answer your questions. Most chats will occur on the last Thursday of each month at 1 p.m. ET. Dates, times, and topics may change, and will be announced on this page and through Twitter and Facebook.
Find us on Twitter: @NCCAM. To participate, use the hashtag: #nccamchat.
Upcoming ChatsMarch 30, 2012 Time to Talk
Time to Talk Campaign—an educational campaign to encourage patients and their health care providers to openly discuss the use of complementary health practices.April 26, 2012 Asthma and Complementary ApproachesMay 31, 2012 Yoga
- Is it Time to Talk? (lynnawiensmd.com)
- The Holistic Nurse: What’s So Awful About the Placebo Effect? (makingsofanurse.com)
Headaches are one of the most common forms of pain. More than 45 million Americans have headaches severe enough to require the help of a health care professional. Headaches occur when pain-sensitive nerve endings around the scalp, in the blood vessels that surround the skull, in the lining around the brain, and in other areas around the head send impulses to the part of the brain that interprets pain signals from the rest of the body. Some headaches are related to tender spots in head, neck, and shoulder muscles.
Researchers are studying treatments for different types of headaches, including a number of complementary health practices. This issue provides information on “what the science says” about the effectiveness and safety of selected complementary health practices for headaches, includingrelaxation training, biofeedback, acupuncture, tai chi, cognitive-behavioral therapy,massage, spinal manipulation, and dietary supplements.
In the News: Dietary Supplements Research (from the US National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine)
Three recently published studies have highlighted the use and research surrounding natural products.
- Vitamin E and the risk of prostate cancer: the Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT) in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
- Effect of increasing doses of saw palmetto extract on lower urinary tract symptoms: a randomized trial in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
- Monounsaturated, trans, and saturated fatty acids and cognitive decline in women in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
Many people take natural products in an effort to be well and stay healthy. In fact, according to the 2007 NHIS survey, 17.7 percent of American adults had used “natural products” (i.e., dietary supplements other than vitamins and minerals) in the past 12 months. It is important to study the safety and efficacy of widely used natural products that hold promise for treating or preventing disease or symptom management so that consumers, health care providers, and policy makers can make informed health care decisions.
NCCAM Research Spotlights
- Vitamin E Supplements Increase Incidence of Prostate Cancer, According to SELECT study (October 2011)
- Saw Palmetto Extract No More Effective Than Placebo for Urinary Symptoms in Men (September 2011)
- Study Explores Relationship Between Fatty Acids and Cognitive Decline in Women(May 2011)
Drugs, Herbs, Vitamins, and Supplements (links to reputable resources)
- US Drug Watchdog Targets Diet Pill Or Dietary Supplements Frequently Advertised On Cable TV And Consumers Who’ve Been Ripped Off For Hundreds Or Thousands Of Dollars (prweb.com)
- Dietary Supplement Company Applied Nutriceuticals Launches New Website (prweb.com)
- US Drug Watchdog Zeros In On Diet Pill Or Dietary Supplements Frequently Advertised On Cable TV And Consumers Who’ve Been Fleeced Out Of Hundreds Or Thousands Of Dollars (prweb.com)
- Dietary Supplement Study Had Serious Flaws, Alleges Alan R. Gaby, MD, Internationally Recognized Expert On Nutritional Medicine: Media and Medicine Misunderstood Research (prweb.com)
- Keime Inc dba Barry’s Vitamins Conducts a Nationwide Voluntary Recall of Virility Max Dietary Supplement (fdarecalls.wordpress.com)
- Saw palmetto no more effective than placebo for urinary symptoms (eurekalert.org)
- Nutritional Supplementation Can Improve your Mood & Relieve The Stress (bigsexymedia.com)
- Studies Consistently Fail To Show Benefits Of Dietary Supplements – Experts Think It’s Time To Reevaluate (singularityhub.com)
- Supplement Makers Choke With Vitamin E Tied to Prostate Cancer (dailyfinance.com)
- NIH: Saw palmetto no more effective than placebo for urinary symptoms (scienceblog.com)
- According to NIH, a New Study Has Provided The First Evidence That Omega-3 May Reduce Anxiety in Those Not Yet Diagnosed With The Disorder, Says Nutri-Med Logic Corp. (prweb.com)