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Stanford University’s Robert Sapolsky and others have shown how chronic stress may contribute to the death of neurons in our brains.
The question is, with all the thousands of courses and products out there that promise stress management miracles, how can one evaluate them? how do we know which ones are science-based and have shown results?
Probably the most promising area of scientific inquiry for stress management is Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). You may have read about it in Sharon Begley’s Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain book.
An increasing number of neuroscientists (such as UMass Medical School’s Jon Kabat-Zinn and University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Richard Davidson) have been investigating the ability of trained meditators to develop and sustain attention and visualizations and to work positively with powerful emotional states and stress through the directed mental processes of meditation practices. And have put their research into practice for the benefit of many hospital patients through their Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programs.
The Mind & Life Institute, led by Adam Engle, has provided critical support to many neuroscientists who want to study the health benefits of meditation and have developed MBSR programs.
My wife and I were fortunate to conduct recently a brain training experiment, in the form of a breathing & meditation retreat, with some neuroscientists and Adam Engle, Co-Founder and Chairman of the Mind & Life Institute.
The Mind and Life Dialogues “started in 1987 as an experiment to determine whether a scientific exchange could occur between modern science and Buddhism. MLI has now sponsored 14 dialogues (between the Dalai Lama and neuroscientists) over the last 20 years. In that time MLI has become a recognized world leader in the emerging scientific investigation of the effects of contemplative practices on the brain, behavior, and the translation of this data into effective tools to benefit all people everywhere.”
A few notes from our conversation with Adam
– He helped launch the Mind & Life Institute to build a science-based field of interdisciplinary study to investigate the applications of the “database of practices” that Buddhism and some Christian traditions have accumulated over milennia.
– From early on it became clear that they needed to engage Western neuroscientists in order to be credible and become a real East-West bridge with potential to reach mainstream society.
– They are very happy that Sharon Begley’s book Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain has become a non-fiction Bestseller, since it is based on one of the Mind & Life Dialogues.
– He is glad to see the inroads that Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is making in the medical world thanks to solid research. He believes the Corporate Training and Leadership market is also going to become very interested in this technique for stress management. The main bottleneck for growth? the existing number of qualified instructors does not meet the increasing demand.
The Institute sponsors research in a number of ways, and they just announced that the 3rd annual Scientists Retreat will take place at the Insight Meditation Society (IMS) in Barre, Massachusetts, January 8-15, 2008.
A description of the program: “This course has been organized by scientists, for scientists. Its goals are to help researchers in the mind sciences experience in-depth training in meditation and explore ways in which a rigorous and systematic approach to introspection can inform research. We consider this to be a rare opportunity to advance the scientific study of the human mind. Vipassana is an ancient method of introspection that readily conforms to the spirit of empirical science. It is simply a means of training the mind to be more keenly aware of sensory phenomena and the flow of thought.”
I hope you have enjoyed learning about this fascinating new field of research. And that next time you are looking for stress management programs, you ask your health provider whether they offer Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction courses.