Thursday, March 19, 2009

MBSR Conference

The Body Scan and Alpha Waves

Research at Harvard by Catherine Kerr suggests that students enrolled in an 8-week MBSR course had different brain-waves patterns than those who did not meditate after 3 weeks when they had been using a technique called the body scan. The participants showed a greater degree of separation between brain waves indicating attend versus don't attend. These results indicate that meditation practitioners get better at attending to and shifting there attention away from differaent parts of the body. This may be mportat because it show the degree to which we are able to excercise active management of our perception of events, a stated goal of the MBSR curriculum.

Mindfulness Training and Working Memory Capacity

Amishi Jha, from the University of Pennsylvania has been conducting research that demonstrates gains in working memory capacity by those who have particpated in mindfuless training. Working memory is important for execution of both "cold" cognitive tasks, those that are accomplished without emotional content, such as attention orienting and "hot" cognitive tasks such as the down-regulation of emotions. What this means is that mindlfulness training appears to be helpful in coping with stressful events by increasing the capacity of the working memory which is important in allowing trainees greater cognitive and affective control.

Some of Jha's research is quite controversial because her subjects have been soldiers heading to the Iraq war. There was concern that mindfulness was being used to train better soldiers and some questioned the ethics of this practice since it runs contrary to much of the Buddhist teachings that is dedicated to the reduction of suffering. Jha tried to justify her decision to work with this group on the basis that it may reduce the suffering of the soldiers returning and help them make better decisions when in the field. In light of the amount of suffering that this war has inflicted on the citizenry in Iraq, this argument seems a bit hollow.

Mindfulness Taining and Symptom Reduction in Social Anxiety Disorder

Phillipe Goldin has completed a study in which MBSR and CBT were compared with wellness training and a wait list control to determine what the mechanism of action for symptom reduction in people with social anxiey. Using fMRI technology the study indicated that MBSR resulted in greater activation in two brain areas; the amygdila involved with decreased emotional reactivity, and the cortical regions involved with cognitive regulation. CBT involved these two areas and additionally the language centres. While MBSR was successful in reducing symptoms, CBT emerged as the most effective treatmen strategy, likley because of the activation of the language centeres (self-talk).

Evening Keynote: Saki Santorelli

Saki gave a moving tribute to Jon in is tour through the history of the Center for Mindfulness. He concluded his address with a benediction that implored all of us to help him keep his vow to promote mindful practices in medicine, education, social work and leadership in our communities and in the world.

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