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Lions Roar : January 2011
49 SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2011 One of the elements of research on Mindfulness-Based Stress Re- duction that i find most impressive is the work that Richie Davidson and Jon have done showing that even after one eight-week MBSR course, a “left-shift” has been noted, in which the left frontal activity of the brain is enhanced. this electrical change in brain function is thought to reflect the cultivation of an “approach state,” in which we move toward, rather than away from, a challenging external situa- tion or internal mental function such as a thought, feeling, or mem- ory. Such an approach state can be seen as the neural basis for resil- ience. With a mindful way of being, you’ve developed your skill to stay present for what you might otherwise try to escape. from that point of view, diagnosis would be enhanced, because denial would be overcome. if you think about it, this is the mind doing what is most helpful for mind and body. ignoring is maladaptive. Also imbedded within the mindful way of being is the sensory mechanism we call “interoception”—being aware of your internal bodily state. An increased capacity for interoception correlates with activity in a part of the brain called the right insula, which is in the middle prefrontal area we discussed earlier. this area has been shown to be activated by mindful awareness practices. in addition, two stud- ies out of harvard and uCLA show structural changes in the right anterior insula suggesting that the regular practice of being mindful leads to changes in the structural connectivity within the nervous system that would indicate an increase in interoceptive ability. • ninety chronic pain patients following the Mindfulness- Based Stress Reduction program at the university of Mas- sachusetts Medical School reported less present-moment pain, less difficulty with physical activity, and fewer medical symptoms than those following traditional pain treatment. • A recent Swedish study found that the practice of Mindful- ness-Based Cognitive therapy caused a 42% reduction in the primary symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. • Binge eaters who took part in mindful eating programs at Duke university and indiana State university reduced the frequency of their binging by approximately 75%. they also reduced their levels of insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes. • Studies from the university of Manchester and the uni- versity of Montreal found compelling evidence that people who meditate have a higher pain threshold in comparison to people who don’t meditate. a sampling of current research on the benefits of mindfulness for body and mind Good for What ails You • At the university of Washington, patients in recovery for substance abuse took part in a Mindfulness-Based Relapse prevention program. two months later, they reported 50% lower substance abuse levels and significantly less craving than the group in regular treatment. • A study from the Cleveland Clinic reported that mindfulness practice decreased negative emotions and increased well- being in people with risk-factors for coronary artery disease. • Mindfulness meditation helped people with multiple sclerosis cope with the depression, fatigue, and anxiety associated with the disease, reports a Swiss study in the September 2010 issue of Neurology. • Working with clinically depressed patients in remission, a study at Oxford university found that only 36% of patients in Mindfulness-Based Cognitive therapy eventually relapsed, compared 62% of patients in traditional cognitive therapy. JOn KABAt-Zinn: We did a study on people with psoriasis, a skin disease that is an uncontrolled cell proliferation in the epider- mis. We demonstrated that the skin of people who meditate while they’re receiving ultraviolet light therapy clears four times faster than in people who were getting the ultraviolet light by itself. that’s one example of a study suggesting how present-moment awareness can make a profound difference in the healing process. Since psoria- sis and basal cell carcinoma have kissing-cousin genes in common, maybe it’s possible for the mind to regulate in some way or other the unfolding of even an oncogenic process. We just don’t know, but it certainly would be worth doing studies on that. We’ve been discussing mindfulness and health from the perspec- tive of the patient. What role can mindfulness and awareness practices play for caregivers? DAniEL SiEGEL: there are indications that mindfulness prac- tices can be very beneficial for doctors, nurses, and other kinds of caregivers. A study by Krasner and Epstein showed that teaching primary care physicians mindfulness practices reduced burnout and maintained empathy. Work by Shauna Shapiro on medical students shows that teaching them mindfulness practices in- creases their capacity for empathy, and an empathic clinician can have a powerful effect on patient well-being. A study performed