Now and Zen: Longwood Seminar

Now and Zen: Longwood Seminar

Good evening. Thank you for your patience. We’re starting a
little bit late tonight because as you saw we had
an extraordinary turnout for tonight’s event. So our apologies for that. But I’m thrilled to
welcome you, just thrilled, to the first Longwood
Seminar of 2016. I’m Gina Vild. I’m the Associate Dean for
Communications and External Relations at Harvard
Medical School and the Chief Communications Officer. It was 15 years ago that
Harvard Medical School first launched the Longwood Seminars,
our mini med school, because we wanted to bring the very rich
and broad science from Harvard Medical School and
all of its discoveries to the Boston community. But now, we are expanding our
audience, and we live stream. And we last year had
viewers from 36 countries. And I’m sure we’re welcoming
that many people again tonight. And also, tonight we’re
expanding our audience even more with our very first
ever Periscope broadcast via Twitter. So for all of you who are in
this room and those of you who are watching from afar, welcome. And I hope you enjoyed
tonight’s program. You may know that our
mini med school topics are chosen through crowdsourcing. If you’ve participated
in the that in the past, you will have been
asked to vote. And we also crowdsource
to social media. So this year’s topics
were chosen by you. And tonight, they
are, of course, this evening’s “Now and
Zen,” and on March 22, “A Better Ending, a New
Beginning for End of Life,” on April 5, “Taking It All In,
Environmental Toxins and Your Health,” and April 19, “The
New Old Age, How The Body Ages and How to Keep it Young.” Now just a few brief
announcements, details of which will be on the screen are
on the screen right now. Everyone is eligible for
certificates of completion. And teachers may receive
professional development points. You’ll see the URL
for our website. And if you visit it,
you’ll have access to all of our past and this
year’s Longwood Seminars, as well as additional
supplemental reading material. Finally, we always have a most
robust Twitter conversation. And we hope that
you’ll participate. So please join us on Twitter
using the hashtag #HMSMiniMed, which you’ll see on the screen. Now for tonight’s
program, “Now and Zen,” how mindfulness can change your
brain and improve your health. The idea that Eastern
meditation could be studied by Western
science was revolutionary. Born right here
in Massachusetts, did you know that in 1979,
Jon Kabat-Zinn founded the first mindfulness-based
stress reduction program. And around that time Harvard
Medical School professor Herbert Benson also began
his pioneering research into mind body medicine. Today these eastern
traditions and practices are integral to our own
culture with mindless talk to soldiers and CEOs,
athletes and students. It’s taught from
kindergarten classrooms to the halls of Harvard
Business School. Harvard neurobiologists,
clinical researchers, and mental health practitioners
have been pioneers in this newly emerging science. They’re teaching us about
how the ancient practice of mindfulness affects
medical treatments as well as mental and physical well being. Today, I am truly thrilled
to welcome three of Harvard’s experts on the topic. They’ll share with you
findings of the health benefits of meditation. I promise that what they
tell you will change the way you think about the brain. First, Sara Lazar,
who we’re always thrilled to have
speak at our events, is an HMS assistant
professor of psychology at the school and
associate researcher in the Department of Psychiatry
at Massachusetts General Hospital. David Vago is an instructor in
psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and an
associate psychologist in the functional neuroimaging
laboratory at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. But first, you’ll hear
from John Denninger. Dr. Denninger is an
instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical
School and serves as the Director of Research
at the Benson Henry Institute for Mind Body
Medicine at Mass General. His work overseeing the basic
and clinical research program there explores the relationship
between stress reduction, resiliency enhancement,
and health. He is also the associate
director of the Mass General McLean Hospital adult psychiatry
residency training program. So before he takes
the podium, I’d like to leave you with these
two thoughts from the poet and author Thich Nhat
Hanh. “Mindfulness is the miracle, which
can call back in a flash are dispersed mind and
restore it to wholeness, so that we can live
each minute of life.” And also a quote that I love,
“Only this actual moment is life.” Please welcome Dr. Denninger. And thank you for joining us. [APPLAUSE] Can you all hear me? Excellent. I can see my slides. You can see my slides. It is amazing to see a
crowd like this here. I am just thrilled. And you all should
feel very lucky to be in this room it sounds like,
because so many people were trying to get in. So welcome to all of you. I’m going to be talking today
about many, many things. I’m going to start off just by
quickly showing my disclosures for those who are interested. And then I’m going
to read you a poem. This is a poem by
William Wordsworth. “The world is too much
with us, late and soon. Getting and spending,
we lay waste our powers. Little we see in
nature that is ours. We have given our hearts
away, a sordid boon. The sea that bares who bosom
to the moon, the winds that will be howling at all
hours, are upgathered now like sleeping flowers,
for this, for everything, we are out of tune. It moves us not. Great God, I’d rather be a pagan
suckled in a creed outworn, so might I, standing
on this pleasant lea, have glimpses that would
make me less forlorn, have site of Proteus
rising from the sea, or hear old Triton blow
his wreathed horn.” That’s a fountain that
depicts Triton there, one of the gods of the
sea from the old days. So why do I read you this poem? Are people familiar
with this poem? “The World is Too Much with Us.” So Wordsworth was writing back
in 1802, more than 200 years ago, about the modern world
and noting that people were so caught up in things
that they were losing sight of what was important. And the kinds of
approaches that we’re going to be talking about
today, mind-body approaches, like mindfulness, which have
these ancient roots in just about every culture
throughout the world, these are the
kinds of techniques that provide tools for all
of us, children to adults, to people of advancing
age, all of us to deal with the stresses
that seem to be just growing every day in the modern world. And the fantastic
thing, and the thing that we’re going to
learn about today, is that these approaches now
on an almost a day-by-day basis have a growing amount of support
from cutting edge science. How many of you have ever
experienced any stress? Every day, all the time. All right, so stress,
it’s not always bad. There are good kinds of stress. Living a life without
stress would not be very wonderful either. But stress can have bad effects
on your both brain and body. Some large proportion of visits
the people make to doctors are based on illnesses that
are either caused or worsened by stress. And stress– this is
a thing that we’re all going to be having to think
about over the next 100 years– stress contributes to
non-communicable diseases. These are the things
that are going to be the things that
health care has to deal with over the next 100 years. Things like cardiovascular
disease, diabetes, respiratory diseases,
psychiatric disorders, like depression
and anxiety, these are the kinds of things that
our country and the world is going to struggle with
over the next 100 years. These are the kinds
of things that are starting to be shown to
be addressable by techniques like mindfulness,
meditation, yoga, et cetera. Things like high blood pressure,
things like depression, these are the kinds of
things that where these techniques
can have benefits for human health and disease. I’m just going to tell you
briefly about the Benson Henry Institute for Mind
Body Medicine, where I’m the director of research. So we’re an independent thematic
center at Mass General Hospital here in Boston. We do clinical practice,
research and education. We essentially
study ways in which we can reduce stress and
increase resiliency for people of all kinds using
techniques, using practices, like meditation,
yoga, and tai chi. I’ll talk about
those in a second. The important
thing to take away, if you take nothing else away
from what I’m saying today, is that these
kinds of practices, these kinds of approaches
can reduce the bad effects that stress can
have on your body and make you more resilient. One of the main focuses
is today is mindfulness. So I don’t know if
Sara remembers this, but a few years ago she
and I shared a podium with Jon Kabat-Zinn. And I actually
can’t remember if I spoke before him
or after him, but I remember him getting
up and talking about how the things
that we were teaching, these are not techniques. This is a way of life. And I felt like a
whole little jerk, because as you
heard me just say, I say techniques all the time. And I think in my talk I had
referred to them as techniques over and over and over again. But the important
thing is to remember that what we’re
talking about today, these are things
that are not just something that
you do in a moment or 20 minutes of practice. These are things that
can be integrated into your life in
a very broad way. Has anyone heard of mindless? Before you saw the
title of the symposium? Yeah. So mindfulness, this is
my favorite definition. This is Jon
Kabat-Zinn’s definition. So mindfulness is awareness that
arises through paying attention on purpose– so in a
very thoughtful way– in the present moment,
and so most importantly, non-judgmentally. There are many ways to
cultivate mindfulness. One is meditation. Does everyone know
what meditation is? Have people heard of meditation? Has anyone in the room practiced
meditation of any kind? A few, a few. Has anyone heard of yoga? Yes. Anyone in here ever done yoga? I’m pretty good at meditation? I stink at yoga. How about tai chi? Anyone heard of tai chi? Or done tai chi? That’s fantastic. So meditation and yoga are
thousands of years old. There’s debate about how
old these things are. But they seem to have arisen
very early in human society. Tai chi, there’s a
little bit of debate. Some say it’s from the 1200s. Others say, no, it’s
really from the 1700s. Also a fairly old technique
based in martial arts. Has anyone ever heard
of laughter yoga? So I assumed that laughter yoga
was thousands of years old. But it was actually invented
in the ’90s, the 1990s. Something I learned
only recently. So these are all ways that
we can cultivate mindfulness and elicit something that
Dr. Herbert Benson, who is one of the
founders of this field and is here at Harvard
Medical School, and is the founder
of our Institute, calls the relaxation response. So the relaxation
response is best thought of as the
state which is elicited by techniques like meditation,
like yoga, like tai chi. Has anyone ever experienced
the stress response, where all of a sudden you see
something or hear something or read something and your
heart starts pounding? You know, back in the old, old
days, primitive days, maybe you were being chased
by a saber-toothed tiger or something like that. Nowadays it’s like, oh, my god,
I have to prepare my taxes. My boss sent me a really snide
email, what does that mean? All right, that is
the stress response. Relaxation response can
be conceptually thought of as the opposite to that. So if the stress response
is your body going on alert because of some
perceived threat, the relaxation response
is coming down from that, backing off from that. It’s a state that is accompanied
by physiological changes like your heart
rate slowing down, your breathing slowing down. Has anyone who’s done practices
like yoga and meditation ever experienced
anything like that? So many of the positive
physiological benefits of techniques–
oops, said it again– practices like
meditation, yoga, tai chi, may come from this state,
from eliciting this state. Just to give a
quick plug, we have a program that we teach at
the Benson Henry Institute called the Stress Management
Resiliency Training Program. This is how we teach people
how to use these practices. So I originally had a slide
that was all like money up here, because I wanted
to talk about health care. Is anyone aware of the fact
that health care in this country is relatively expensive? [LAUGHTER] People
have heard that? It’s not just me? So this is to remind me to
talk about that problem. So it is a problem. We have a huge burden of health
care costs in our country. And one of the things
that we are trying to do is we’re trying to figure out
a way that we can help people to help themselves, that we can
employ greater amounts of self care. Just in the same way that
people exercise and eat right and the like, we may be
able to find ways for people to use practices like
meditation, yoga, et cetera to improve their
brain and body health. So one of the things that
we wanted to figure out, and James Stahl was the
primary mover for this work, is, is there a way to figure out
if these kinds of techniques, this kind of stuff is actually
able to save money by helping people to help themselves? By allowing people to
use more self care? So this looks busy. It really is super simple. And it’s really
just about counting. So what we did was we
took all of the people who came to our Institute and
went through our programs. And we counted. So if this is the given person
who went through the program, this is the time they
went through the program. And then we counted each
time they saw a doctor, they went to the emergency
room, they had a lab tested. And we counted both in the
year before and the year after they went
through our program. Does that make
sense to everybody? Just counting. We then totaled those all up. And there’ll be a
number of these. And I’ll just explain it here. This is what’s
called a histogram. So this is the number
of patients here. And this is a number
of billable encounters, the number of times
people went to the doctor, saw a doc in the emergency
room, had a lab test, et cetera. And so what you see
here is that there are a lot people who have
a relatively low number of billable encounters. And then there are
a few people out at the end, presumably
people who are very ill, who have a lot of
encounters, so people who see the doctor a lot. This is all the folks
over a roughly seven year period who had gone
through our program, something on the order of
4,000– 4,500 people. We then did the same thing
with a group of 13,000 people from our database who didn’t
go through our program, but who we had records
on, who we had data about. So we could do the
same kind of counting. But in this case,
the central point was just the middle of the time
that they were in our records. Does that make sense? So we counted the year
before and the year after, totalled that all up. What did we find? What we found was
in the people who had been through
our program, there was a change from– remember
this, as you go down here, these are more billable
encounters here– there was a change from a lot
of billable encounters to not so many in
the year after. Pretty impressive. Are you impressed? I was impressed. When James showed me this, I was
like, wow, that’s incredible. In the control group–
and again, these were matched for
level of illness, et cetera– there were
essentially no changes. They didn’t start out going
to the doctor very much. But there was no change
in the year after. Has anyone ever heard of
something called regression to the mean? So that basically
means when if you’ve got some extreme,
like if it’s really hot in the winter for a
while, on average things tend to regress to mean. They tend to go back to average. So if you look at a
certain population, oops– I keep pressing
the wrong button. If you look at a
certain population, this might just be that, oh,
they’re going back to average. So what we did was we
then took the people who were at the highest
end how much they were going to the doctor or
going to the emergency room, et cetera, from both
of these groups– both of the groups who had
been through our program and the groups who had
just been in our system. And so we set their level of
billable encounters the same. And what we saw is
that, yes, there was a decrease for the people
who were in the control group. But there was a more
significant decrease for the people who had
been through our program. What does that mean? That means that learning
techniques like meditation, becoming proficient at eliciting
that state I was talking about before, that that seems to
have not just an effect on you personally, how you
feel, but it actually has an effect on how much you
need to use the medical system. And what does that
mean for all of us? It means potential savings. So this is the early
part of a story. Most of what I’m going
to talk about today is an early part of a story,
not a finished answer. But this suggests that
there is the possibility to save thousands,
potentially tens of thousands of dollars of year for every
person who learns to use these kinds of techniques. That’s pretty impressive,
don’t you think? Anyone know what that is? The thing that’s
spinning around. DNA, DNA, that’s correct. That is DNA. That’s a DNA molecule, spinning
around, slowly pirouetting. So one of the
things that we have tried to understand
from the very beginning is how practices like
meditation can affect biology. And what we’ve been able to
show, us and other groups as well, is that these
kinds of practices actually can affect how
genes are turned on and off. I hasten to say we’re
not changing the genes. What we’re doing
is we’re changing how they are regulated. So how genes turn on turn off. For those who know the
terminology, how levels of messenger RNA are regulated. I sometimes use the metaphor,
the genes, which are the DNA, they’re like the blueprint. The messenger RNA is like a
photocopy of that blueprint that you give to the guy
that’s putting in the bathroom. He doesn’t need the whole thing. He just needs to
know what he’s going to put in the bathroom right. So each cell is different. Each cell, your brain cells are
different from your blood cells or different from
your liver cells. They need a different
copy, a different part of the blueprint. And so that’s what
messenger RNA is like. That’s what we are affecting
is what genes are turned on and off in a
given cell at a given time or given group of cells. And not to give you
the punchline right at the beginning, but we’ve
been able to show changes in genes that are
associated with things like energy
metabolism– does anyone know what the mitochondria are? Mitochondria are like the
powerhouses of each cell, so genes that affect how
mitochondria work. Insulin secretion, which
is important for diabetes. Telomere maintenance, have
people heard of telomeres? The telomeres are known
to be important in aging and in cellular senescence. And so these are
the kinds of things that may actually have a
long-term effect on how long people live. We’ve also been able to show
reduced expression of genes that are associated
with inflammation. So inflammation, obviously,
necessary for the body. But too much inflammation,
as anyone who’s ever had anything that was inflamed,
as you know, not good for you. And then stress related
pathways as well. Many, many potential
mechanisms for health effects. And I’m just going
to very, very quickly tell you about how we
did this experiment. I’m not going to go
over all the details. But essentially
what we did is we compared people who
had been meditating for a long time,
long-term practitioners, on average people who had been
using various practices, not just meditation, yoga
as well, repetitive prayer– I’ll show that in a
second– for on average nine years. And we compared them to
people who would never done any of this stuff. We drew blood from them. We measured their messenger RNA. We looked at up to
50,000 genes at a time and figured out
what was different. We then took the people who
had never practiced before. And we taught them
how to meditate. We did that for eight weeks. And then we measured
them at the end. So what we’re looking
at is how these groups differ in how their genes
are turned on and off. And like I said, we used a
broad variety of practices, all kinds of
different meditation, different kinds of yoga, and
repetitive prayer as well. And we saw this
common set of changes. So the first really
exciting result is that we saw distinct
differences between the people who had had many years
of practices and people who have never practiced at all. So there was
something different. Now, this is not a perfect
experiment, I hasten to add. There are all kinds
of reasons why we might not say this
is the final answer but want to do additional
studies, which we do. But that’s still a pretty
impressive results. So long-term meditation
appears to be able to change how genes
are turned on and off. More exciting than
that, I think, is that we were able to see a
subset of those same changes in the people who had
never practiced before, comparing before they
started practicing and after the eight
weeks of practicing. So eight weeks of
practiced, 20 minutes a day, led to clear changes in how
genes were turned on and off. Don’t you want to
go out and start doing this stuff right now? And those changes
in the people who had been practicing
for eight weeks, those were a subset of
the ones that we saw in the long-term
practitioners, as you might expect. All right, I’m
going to leave you with one more– I’m going
to tell you about one more study that we did. So we and a number of other
groups in this genomic stuff that we have been doing have
found that one molecule– I’ve actually shown it here. This is the molecule. This is NF kappa B.
That’s a protein. That’s DNA looking down the
long end, like looking down the axis of DNA. So this protein, NF
kappa B, is what’s called a transcription factor. This is a protein
that binds to DNA and actually acts as a switch. It turns on and off,
the genes that it is designed to regulate. Does that make
sense to everybody? It’s like when it sits on DNA,
the things that transcribe the DNA can’t get through. And so it actually can turn
that transcription on and off. It can regulate the genes. So we and others
have found a decrease in that gene, which is a central
immune modulating switch. It’s something that helps
the immune system figure out whether to be on or off, to
put it very, very crudely. We had done a lot of this work
in people who were healthy. And so we want to look in
people who had an illness where inflammation was important. And so we looked in people with
inflammatory bowel disease. So inflammatory bowel diseases
are things like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s. Have you guys heard of those? So these diseases where
basically there’s too much inflammation in the gut. I won’t go through the gory
details of the individual genes and stuff. But this is some of
the data from that. What we were able to show
is that there were changes in genes that you
see upregulated in inflammatory bowel disease,
those got down regulated. And genes that you normally
see down regulated, those got upregulated. So we were basically able
to push up or push down the genes that were
appropriate for the disease that we were talking about. What does this mean? This means that there’s a
lot more to be figured out. But we know the
difference and will be able to figure
out the difference where these kinds of
techniques are most helpful. If you have a given disorder,
you have a given predilection, you we can tell you– we will be
able to tell you in the future what kinds of techniques
you should employ, how long you should
do them for, and what they will be most helpful for. Thank you very much. [APPLAUSE] And now, I’m going
to lead a meditation. All right, who would
like to try this? Some people. Some people don’t have to. You don’t have to. I don’t know if it’s
possible, it may not be, because we’re
filming, it may not be possible to dim the lights. But if we can dim the house
lights, that would be lovely. What I’m going to
do now is a very brief– I will check my
watch– a very brief, what’s called a breath
focus meditation. You don’t have to do it. If you’re not comfortable
doing it, you don’t have to. But if you’re
comfortable doing so, you can sit with your
feet flat on the floor. You may want to put anything
that’s in your lap on the floor too. You can rest your
hands in your lap. If you’re comfortable doing
so, you can close your eyes. If you’re not comfortable
closing your eyes, you can pick a point a
little bit in front of you and just let your focus go soft. And what I’d like you to do
is just notice your breath. Notice how the breath
goes in and out. You might start noticing
the movement of air into your nostrils and out
of your nostrils, maybe the sensation of
coolness as it comes in. Warmth as it goes out. Maybe you’ll notice the gentle
swelling and then deflation of your belly as you breathe. You may notice how the
breath expands your chest and it allows it to
deflate as you exhale. And if you’re at all
like me, as you do this, things will come into your mind. And anyone who thinks that
meditation is about your mind being blank, you can dispel
that thought right now. Meditation is about noticing
when your mind comes up with something, noticing
a feeling in your body, noticing a sound in the room. And what you can
do when you notice something is in a nonjudgmental
way, see what it is. And then as you’re comfortable,
return your focus back to your breath, back to your
body, breathing at the rate and in the way that
it wants to breathe. And if, as your breathing in
and out, you notice a sensation, maybe it’s an uncomfortable one. Maybe there’s some tightness in
your neck or your lower back. Allow your awareness to just
inhabit that area for a moment just to see what’s there. No pressure to do
anything about it. Just to be aware of it. And then always as is
comfortable for you, return your focus
to your breath, to the air flowing into your
lungs, filling your being, and then leaving your body
to fill the world around you. As we come to the end of this
very brief meditation, what I’d like you to do is
expand your awareness from your breath, to take
in your whole body first. And then I’d like it to expand
to take in the room around you, the sounds you hear, the
smells, the sensations. And then knowing that you can
take this feeling of peace and awareness with you
for the rest of the day, as you’re comfortable, I’d like
you to slowly open your eyes and return to the room. I don’t have too much
time to go to every person and ask how it was. But what are experiences
is that it is likely that some people
really enjoyed that. And there are almost certainly
people in the room who did not. And that is not bad. Having things that
are difficult come up or having it be difficult to
do that, just like training for a marathon or something like
that, it’s not always pleasant, I imagine. I’ve never done it. In the same way, doing
this kind of practice is not always pleasant. But is it is often
very fulfilling. Anyone want to shout
out a response? An experience? Made me feel great. Felt great. What was that? Anxious. Anxious. Very relaxing. Very relaxing. Peaceful. Peaceful. Mindful. Very peaceful. Mindful, very peaceful. A journey. Journey. All of that experience
is worthwhile to notice. All right, I would love to
do this for another hour, but we should probably move on. We can bring up
the house lights. [APPLAUSE] Please continue for another
five minutes with the applause. No, just kidding. All right, I now have
the privilege to, if I remember who I’m
introducing first, oh, it’s David. So David, we already went
over his titles before. But I’ll just say
again that David is an instructor in
psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, an associates
psychologist in the functional neuroimaging
laboratory at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He’s done a
postdoctoral fellowship in the Department of Psychiatry
at Brigham and Women’s and also the Utah Center for Exploring
Mind Body Interactions, and the Stuart Hauser
Research Training Program in biological and
social psychology psychiatry at Judge Baker’s
Children Center. So David’s research
interests focus on using translational
models, so ways to bring discoveries in
the lab to the bedside ultimately, to understand
how the brain works, to be better able to diagnose
and treat mental illness. Ultimately, his work is
focused on finding ways to clarify how techniques like
the ones we’ve been talking about and interactions among
mind and brain and body can be used to help patients. Specifically, he
has been focusing on the study of
mindfulness-based interventions in clinical settings
and understanding the basic mechanisms that these
kinds of practices bring about. Please welcome David Vago. Thank you so much, John. Thank you, Angela. Thank you everyone
for being here today. This a great group. Thank you guy with the
big hat, love the hat. Twitter, the
Twittersphere, I love it. I love the fact that we
have a Twittersphere. Wonderful. And all the people who
are out listening globally to this great talk. So I want to start
with some broad strokes and paint some
broad strokes so we can create a framework by
which you can understand how these mindfulness based
meditation practices work, because the science of
meditation and mindfulness is a relatively young science. And we’re just
slowly approaching a level of precision in our
theoretical and mechanistic account by which these practices
reduce suffering, promote self-transformation, and
enhance human flourishing. OK, so let’s start by looking
at a single meditator. So when we talk about what’s
happening in the brain when we meditate, we want
to start with one mediator. And we want to
understand exactly what’s going on in their
mind and their brain while the practicing
meditation and maybe in the context of
dealing with stress. And we use contemporary or
modern neuroimaging techniques to do that. And through neuroimaging
and a combination of that plus first person
introspective reports, we can create what we refer
to as a neurophenomenological approach to better get assess
the landscape or the maps with certain
networks in the brain and how these networks are
affected by the meditation practice themselves. And we do this also by focusing
not only on one meditator, but by focusing on the entire
spectrum of experience. So starting with just a novice,
with what just happened today, with the nice guidance by
John of what we did, does that have an effect on your brain? Possibly. We can explore that. That’s an empirical question. We’re looking at what the
minimum amount of time required is to gain some sort of benefit. I’ll just quickly say
that that question always seems to come up. What’s the minimum amount of
time necessary to benefit? Everyone wants to
know that question. And I’ll just have to give
you this quick anecdote, because that question came up
in the presence of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. A scientist asked His Holiness,
what is the minimum benefit, do you think, to
do these practices? And he smiled, and
he said, lifetime. And as if it wasn’t clear
what the scientist was asking, she repeated, and said, no, no,
I don’t think you understood. I understand lifetime
is important. But what’s the minimum
amount of time necessary. And again, he says, lifetime. So of course, not all of us
have lifetimes to practice, to gain some sort of benefit. We all want to achieve
some benefit quickly, reduce our stresses. I think what we did today was
some sort of demonstration of the benefit that you
can have immediately. But we’re interested
in the whole spectrum. So what’s happening even in
the minds of the most advanced meditators as well? And we have to think of it
as a form of mental training. So mindfulness is
not only described as a state of
awareness, but also as a systematic
form of mental train that can help reduce
suffering and to reduce a lot of our stress, reduce
inflammation, and enhance flourishing. And that’s why you see a
brain there with weights. And this is a similar
sort of metaphor to how you think of going to the gym. You to the gym to exercise
to build your muscles. Well, in this case you’re
flexing your mental muscles by practicing
meditation practices. And by doing this, by
mapping the meditative mind, we have the ability to
create a diagnostic tool. So for diagnostic purposes, we
can determine where people are. Are they experiencing
some level of stress? By map how meditators
are handling stress, we can navigate the
progress of a practitioner. How well are you doing in
your ability to handle stress? And how much progress have you
made by sitting in meditation? And we could do this
also to create targets for therapeutic purposes. Neuroscience is now
combining in psychiatry for ways of targeting very
specific regions for feedback. There are a lot of
future applications for neurotherapeutics. So we can target
more specifically at an individualized
level very systematic ways of delivering interventions. So whether they
are pharmacotherapy augmented by meditation
practices or meditation alone, we’re going to be able
to better understand the select populations
that are going to benefit. In a laboratory
setting, we all so need to realize that there are
differences in somebody who’s a beginning meditate and
an experienced meditator, someone who’s been practicing
for a long period of time. Someone you may practice
every day and for long periods of time have different levels
of continuity and intensity in which they practice
the meditation. So this is really important
in the laboratory setting. And we have to just
note these differences that the someone who’s in it
to maybe have a goal of stress reduction, reduce
a little stress, is very different
from someone who has a goal for
enlightenment, for example. They’re kind of like
apples and oranges when we look under
the microscope. So that’s something that we
pay a lot of attention to. So in the next 15
minutes, I’m really going to try to give you a very
specific outline of the habits of mind, what mental habits look
like when people are suffering, when people are
experiencing distress. What are the brain
network underlining those habits of mind? And how those brain
networks may map onto very specific meditation
practices that we study that are considered core
mindfulness-based practices. So I will tell you a
little bit about some of the models that we’ve
created and the brain network interactions that support
the meditation process. So what you did for
those few moments when you focused
on your breath, I’m going to show you what was
going on in your brain. OK, and for those of you who
are scared of neuroscience, don’t be. I have color coded
everything for you. We’ll end up with some
take home messages. And you will alert
you leave here knowing what effects
meditation has on your brain. So given that this is
titled “Now and Zen,” I thought I’d start
with a quote by Dogen, who’s a 13th century monk, who
actually started the Soto zen tradition. And he says, “To study the
way is to study the self. And to study the self
is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be
enlightened by all things. To be enlightened
by all things is to remove the barriers
between oneself and others.” There’s so much
wisdom in this quote. But I really want to just
draw your attention to fact that he’s focusing on the self. The self is what transforms. And so that’s where we start. And I want to focus on the
self with you right now. We’re going to talk
about habits of mind because this is
what’s affected, this is where the
something transforms by doing the practice. The self, we have a picture of
me in this sort of moment here. And this is everything
that you’ve ever experienced comes down to your
moment of existence right now. Everything you’re
experiencing feeling, tasting, your whole world view comes
down to this one moment. But the idea is
that your experience of what’s happening
right now is based on a continuous string of
moments that are strung together that are conditionally
reinforced through time and that are constantly
were updating each other from your birth–
or before your birth to the point of conception– all
way to the present moment day. And you can look at
this, if we zoom in, on one moment of selfing. You can see that one
moment can be made up of not only perception,
of sensory awareness, but also of evaluation. And this has a very
specific time scale of say 500 milliseconds. Now if I took an
object– and I’m going to move out
of the zone here so cameras can try to follow me. So here’s an object, right? Boom. Everyone get a sense
of what this is? Something came to mind, right? A water bottle. That’s a water bottle. And you might say it’s
a small water bottle. It’s an Aquafina water bottle. But just to give you
a sense of what’s happening when an object
comes in front of you is that about for the
first 250 milliseconds of processing what this is
was totally unconscious. You were not aware of
what your brain was doing to orient your
attention to right here or if I move it over here
or If I move it down here, or I take it away, where is it. The point is that the
first 250 milliseconds of processing any objects, any
mental object, whether it’s in an external world or it’s
some thought image or sound is done very unconsciously. And that’s happening
at the perceptual level below sensory awareness. It’s only after 300
milliseconds do you finally start to evaluate the world. And sometimes that’s
where we get stuck. We get stuck just evaluating and
processing over and over again, or fantasizing about the future,
or reflecting on the past. But what I want
to emphasize here is that there are very
specific networks that can be mapped onto
these different elements of processing the world. And essentially what we come
down to is sort of a way that we can sort of
justify or explain how we got to the present
day by a string of moments of experiences. Now, I’ve done the math here. And it’s approximately about
42,000 moments for this guy to turn into that guy. So that’s what’s happening. It’s conditioning through life. All the things that
happen in your life are creating your
experience of the world. I want to emphasize that
because every moment becomes an opportunity to change your
mind, to change your brain, to change how you see
the world and experience the world, every moment,
every 500 milliseconds. Is that clear? Somewhat? OK. So then we’re left
with this perspective on the world with your
needs, your wants, your fears, your
expectations, your attitudes. Everything, your
entire world view is created by this string
of moments in your life. But what I want
to emphasize here is that you’re a
little perspective is very different, possibly,
from the people around you. And there may be some overlap,
you know, when you say, oh, I seem to resonate
with that person, or not. Or maybe you totally
do not resonate with the person next to you. And if you don’t, there
might not be any overlap. But the point here is that your
perspective on reality it’s completely distorted or biased. We all have distortions
in how we see the world. Our worldview is always
distorted at some level. Some of these distortions
may lead to psychopathology. Some of them may not. But we’re all biased. And we don’t all see reality in
the same way, as it truly is. We all just have a baggage, our
baggage of past experiences, to help us orient and see the
world in a particular way. So what happens when we have
anger or anxiety and fear or sadness and see
the world negatively? We have to keep in mind that
those types of experiences are negatively reinforcing
how you see the world, how you see yourself
in the world. That’s conditioning yourself
to be an angry person or to be anxious. A lot of the practices that
we’re talking about a lot to take some distance between
your emotional experiences, your thoughts, to provide some
sort of space in which you can experience these really
strong emotions and sort of disidentify from them. Because if you don’t, what
happens is it reifies yourself. You become an angry person. I’m Dave, The Angry Guy. I’m no longer Dave,
The Happy Guy. And this pervasive negative
self-focus and worldview leads to the long-term impacts
of stress on the mind and body. We know that just your
perception of your stress can leave you with inflammation. The more that you perceive
that stress is harmful, the more you have,
what we call, a threat related profile in which
you experience stress. Your blood vessels
will constrict. You get high blood pressure. You may fall to the ground
and faint in a serious way. Or you just may just have a
full blown stress response, as John was suggesting. Or you can have a
challenge related profile, in which you confront
your stresses in a way that’s a positive
light and an adaptive way. There’s a very different
profile where you see what looks like courage or joy. And your cardiac output is much
more efficient, less likely to develop the long-term
impacts of stress like cardiovascular disease,
depression, and anxiety. If you’re always feeling
anxious and fear and sadness, again, this is
conditioning yourself, all those processes of
perception, awareness, evaluation. All those networks
of brain networks that are active
during each moment are being conditioned
by those thoughts, what you fill your mind. So what do we do? How do we deal with this? Well, Thich Nhat Hanh who
was mentioned earlier, a Vietnamese Zen Master also,
who’s been treated at the MGH, who’s recently in a coma, but
he’s doing better, he said, “In order to transform the
seeds of suffering into seeds of happiness, one must only
love deeply and see clearly that both are manifestations
of our own consciousness. We need only to water
the seeds of happiness and avoid watering the
seeds of suffering.” It’s really great, really great. So how does meditation help us
water the seeds of happiness? Well, one of the most important
facets of meditation practice, what does it do? It adds another
level of selfing. What we refer to
as meta awareness, awareness of awareness. Basically, so you are
always monitoring, you’re always aware of
where you’re mind is. Is your mind wondering
right now what you’re going to do after this? Is it wandering because
you’re confused? Is it thinking about what
you’re going to have for dinner? Is it thinking that you
left something somewhere? Is it thinking
about a conversation that you had with a
colleague earlier? Where is your mind? The meditation helps strength
this particular process more than anything else,
the meta awareness. OK, so now I’m going to
walk you through the systems of the brain that are supporting
these types of processes. So Don’t. Get scared by little
letters, little acronyms that are put into the brain. If you’re familiar
with those, great. If not, pay attention
to the colors. I present the nice color coded
for four networks of the brain that are affected by selfing. Here’s the brain. So this is the blue network. It’s otherwise known as the
dorsal attention network. It’s also involves perceptual
and premotor areas. This is where you were
orienting yourself to the water bottle in
that first 250 milliseconds before you had
conscious awareness. Your brain system is working. Your eyes are
orienting in space. It’s your action tendencies. It’s the automatized
sort of ways of moving your body and
behavior without having to think about it. It also involves the skill
based network of your brain that involves getting on a bike. You don’t think
about riding a bike. You just get on and ride it. So it’s a very important network
for skill based learning. That’s the blue network. The yellow network
is also referred to as the central
executive network. Think of the little
guy inside your brain who’s sort of
monitoring the controls, making sure everything’s
going smoothly. This is your sort of
working memory system. So it’s keeping in mind
maybe some instructions that you have to do
a particular task. But it’s really focused on
present moment awareness, inside your body and out. This is the network
that’s usually active. The third network is referred
to as a default mode network. But you could think of it as the
green network or the narrative self network. This is the network
that’s active. 50% of our lives almost
is spent in this network. No matter what
you’re doing, you’re typically mind wandering. And this is the network
that comes online. It’s creating our
narrative, who we are, our autobiography,
in your own head. And it’s usually
stuck in the past thinking about what happened
or fantasizing or worrying about future. We’re never truly present. We’re never truly
here unless you’ve got that yellow network active. OK, so those are three networks. The last network is
that meta network, the network that’s
being strengthened a lot by meditation practice. This is an attentional
network, a network that’s really important
for cultivating attention. It’s otherwise known as a higher
order attentional processing, executive monitoring,
the meta awareness. It also allows you to know
where your mind is at any point and flexibly switch. If you want to be in
the narrative, great. Just know that you’re there. Don’t get caught up in it. Sometimes we get stuck
in that narrative, in that green network. We get stuck and can’t get out. Well, some of the
skills that you learn in meditation
practice is to become aware of where your mind is. Oh, it’s stuck on
something negative. So you let it go. Just let it float
down the stream. And that orange network
helps you do that. So how do these
networks map onto mindfulness-based practices. Here are the four
practices that we usually consider core to mindfulness. Focused attention, like you
just did well on the breath. This can be any object really,
but we focus on the breath. Open monitoring, or otherwise
known as a receptive form of meditation. This is referred to
in Zen as Shikantaza, choiceless awareness,
by Krishnamurti, also insight vipassana meditation. This is where you’re just
open and aware of anything that arises and passes. And you’re noting and labeling
it, or you’re just aware of it. Third practice is some sort of
ethical enhancement practice, like loving kindness. This is sending out sort of
love, kindness, and compassion towards yourself,
towards the people around, to strangers around,
people who may be suffering, and to the most difficult
people in your life. And lastly, John also mention
this, yoga, tai chi, qigong, movement-based practices. So here are the four core
mindfulness-based practices. And if you do all
these, you’re really doing the full,
what we would call, mindfulness-based
intervention, especially if you do it for eight weeks. So these are the practices
that we focus on. We’ve created models for how
all these practices work. And that means they have
very specific cognitive, psychological constructs
that underlie them with an underlying
neurobiological framework that comes from the selfing
that I described. So I’m going to just run you
through one particular style of practice that
you already did. So now you’re going
to know what you did and what happened in your
brain while you did it. So we start with this
framework of motor learning. That means the
more you practice, the better you get,
just like riding a bike. You’re going to engage that
skill based, blue network the more you practice. And that’s to make your
brain more efficient, because it allows
you to automatize a lot of the
practice, so then you can pay attention
to the other tasks that you have in front of you. You then start with
intention and motivation, the internally driven means
of why you’re practicing. Are you do this just to
reduce little stress? Or are you trying to
attain enlightenment? We can study these types
of differences in people. Then you’re given instructions. Follow your breath. Follow your breath. Keep that in your
working memory. You focus your attention. You’re alerting, your
orienting towards your breath. You’re engaged with your breath. You’re monitoring your breath. It stabilizes your mind. In Buddhist practice,
this is what we call tranquility
practice or taming the mind through stabilizing it. Of course, there’s a lot
of distraction usually. But what I want
to emphasize here, this iterative a process
of focusing on your breath, continually engaging
on it activates very specific networks. So you have your orange
and yellow networks that are activated from this
sort of executive function of forming set. When you’re focusing
attention on an object, it’s the yellow network. The early attentional
processing is the blue network. And the monitor is
the orange network. So you’re going
to be distracted. Something comes up,
unintended object, sensory or mental event. This is typically some
sort of emotional type of valence associated
with it, typically some sort of memory related. And this is very
familiar to all of us. What we do, like I said,
about half early lives is we ruminate a
lot about ourselves. And typically, any
for of rumination leads to unhappiness. This is just typical. But I will say that you can sit
in the narrative with awareness and incubate creative
ideas, plan for the future, so there’s good things about
being in the narrative. But most the time,
they just happen to be very self-critical. So how do we get out of that? So by meditating, the
idea is that we continue to strengthen the monitor. And by strengthening
the monitoring process, we learn to, what
we call, de-center. Or we recognize that
our mind is wandering. And we remove ourselves
from that stickiness. We inhibit that
kind of response. We regulate our emotions. We gain some sort of equanimity. We come back to
a nice baselines. We say, OK, we disengage
from that thought. We go back to what we’re
supposed to be doing, which is focusing on the breath. So again, we have very specific
networks, the orange network and blue networks, that can
be mapped onto this very specific process. So basically, what happens
when we look at these networks and how these processes
are functioning, we create six skills by which we
think mindfulness is improving self-awareness, self-regulation,
and self-transcendence, otherwise known as increasing
prosocial behaviors. It does this through the
intention of motivation, building and changing our
intention of motivation, regulating our attention
and stability and control and the clarity with which
we experience the world, regulating our
motions by inhibiting these sort of
impulses that we have to stick with some sort of
negative thought process. We extinguish or re-consolidate
maladaptive forms of selfing into more
adaptive forms of self. These are changing the way we
actually process the world. This is where the
rubber hits the road. This is where
transformation happens. And we’re increasing
prosociality. This is an underemphasized
part of the practice. We actually are
improving ourselves by being more
connected to others. That’s very important
for this practice. They are altruistic forms
of behavior, our empathy. These types of
brain areas are also improving, and meta awareness. So what is the basic
neuroscience research show in terms of how it maps
onto these types of models? There have been a number
of studies done now that have looked at– there’s about
26 neuroimaging studies that looked at the changes
in the brain in response to all different
styles of meditation. There’s been about 80
different neuroimaging studies from either fMRI, PET, or
SPECT, different modalities of imaging, but 80 studies. And all of these studies
show some basic changes in the brain. And I’m just color
coding them again for you by showing areas of
the yellow networks, or the experiential sort of self
network is changing in size. The orange network
is also changing in size, areas like the
dorsal anterior cingulate, the part of your brain
right behind your forehead, frontal polar cortex. That’s the part of the
brain that developed most recently in evolution. That made us more human. It’s a very interesting
part of our brain in terms of the actual space
between our synaptic boutons inside that part of your brain. There’s more space there
for more connections, more than 30 times more than
the closest non-human primate, like the bonobo. So that’s changing in size. The insula is changing in size,
which is a part of your brain responsible for awareness
of where your body is and what’s happening
in your body, and your hippocampus, which is
really important for learning and memory. And then in terms
of function, where activity is happening in
the brain during meditation, the same brain areas that
are changing in size– so that makes sense– but
also parts of your caudate are changing in
size and function. The caudate is
really responsible for skill-based learning. And then lastly, the
PCC area, right there, that’s really important
for the narrative network. And that’s decreasing
in activity. So I’m just going to
thank our lab here at Brigham and Women’s
Hospital in the neuroimaging laboratory, directed by David
Silbersweig and Emily Stern. And we work with a
lot of contemplative specifically to
study meditators. And I just want
to also thank you for your time and listening. And Sara’s going to really
point some more detail. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] Thank you, David,
that was amazing. I just want to say for
anyone who is maybe thinking about going
to medical school that the brain is not
actually color coded. [LAUGHTER] I wish for some
of my neuroanatomy grades it had been. All right, I’m very pleased now
to introduce Sara Lazar, who is a friend and collaborator. She’s an assistant professor of
psychology at Harvard Medical School and associate researcher
in the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts
General Hospital. So Sarah first discovered the
benefits of yoga back in 1994 after an injury and found
to her delight, I suspect, that after only a few
weeks of practice, she had pretty
dramatic improvement. Since that time, she has made
some outstanding breakthrough discoveries, using neuroimaging
to examine the impacts of yoga and meditation on brain
activity and on brain structure. Her research really
is looking at how to figure out what kind
of neural mechanisms underlie the benefits
of the practices that we’ve been talking about,
both in clinical settings and in healthy people as well. Her work has been featured in
The New York Times, USA Today, CNN, lots of other places. But the most important place
to me, because as a kid, I went to the Museum of
Science all the time, is she’s actually had an exhibit
there featuring her work. Please welcome Sara Lazar. [APPLAUSE] Good evening. I’m actually to skip
over some of this. John and David have given
a wonderful introduction. So I’m going to skip
some of my slides that I was planning on giving,
also get us back on track here. So as John talked about, there
have been numerous studies now over the years showing that
these meditation practices have many, many benefits. So it decreases stress. It’s very effective
for decreasing stress. And not only self report stress,
but also various biomarkers associated with stress, so
cortisol and tumor length and various other measures
that are very tightly linked to stress. It also reduces
symptoms associated with many, many diseases,
including depression, anxiety, pain, and insomnia. Also, as Dave was saying, we’re
getting a lot of the attention and executive networks,
and there’s actually been scientific studies showing
that it can actually enhance your ability to pay attention. One of the studies that gave
people incredibly boring stuff to read, and
they asked them whenever you notice your mind
has wandered hit a button. But also periodically
a screen would pop up, a pop-up would appear
on the screen saying, were you paying attention
or was your mind wandering? What they found is that after
eight weeks of training, the people, even with this
incredibly boring text, were better able to stay
focused on this text and that their mind
didn’t wander as much. And then also perhaps
most importantly, there’s increases in
self-reported quality of life. So people just say, I’m happier. I’m more relaxed, I’m more
satisfied with my life. And one thing that
I always hear when I talk to people who’ve
gone through these programs is, oh, my god, it
completely changed my life. And as John mentioned, I
went through this myself. I started doing yoga
specifically for knee problems. And I did it purely as a
form of physical therapy. And after a few weeks, I saying,
oh, my god, it changed my life. And so for me, I knew,
as David was saying, it changed how I saw
the world change, how I experienced the world. And so I knew that something
in my brain had changed. And so that’s what
I wanted to do, that’s what I set out to
do is to understand what happened in my
brain that caused me to change how I viewed things. And so as a scientist,
I said, OK, this is just neuroplasticity. So all neuroplasticity
means is something about the brain is
changing, something about how the neurons are
talking to one another is changing. And this is just sort of an
outline of how is thinking, a summary of how I was thinking. So we know behavior, our
minds have behaviors. So someone who’s
depressed, their mind tends to have to
depressive thought. Someone who’s always
anxious, their brains tend to produce
a lot of anxiety. That’s a behavior. Those behaviors are dependent
upon brain activity. So we can show that
people who are depressed or who are anxious that
their brain activity, even when they’re
just lying there, they’re not doing anything
else, their brain activity is different than people who
are not anxious or depressed. And bring activity is
dependent upon structure. And this, I just mean
something about how the neurons talk to each
other, how the neurons are wired to each other. And again, we know the people
with anxiety and depression or pain that the
structure of their brain is different than people who
are not depressed or anxious or in pain. And these differences
in brain structure are what give rise to these
differences in brain activity. And this is what gives rise
to changes in behavior. And as you can see these
arrows are bidirectional, which is important, because we
know that the brain is plastic. We can change the brain. We can change how
the brain is wired. And that then leads to
decreases in depression, decreases in anxiety,
decreases in pain, and all sorts of increases
and positive things, like the satisfaction with
life and the happiness. So that was a question
I started with. Can we take a simple
behavior, meditation, and show that it changes brain
activity in brain structure? And then that these
changes in brain structures then can lead to long lasting
changes in well being? So the first study we did
was we are here in Boston. And luckily, there’s lots
of people here in Boston who practice meditation. And we recruited 20 people
from the Boston area who regularly
practiced mediation. And we compared them to 20
people who had done little or no meditation
before in their life. And these yellow spots
and red spots in the brain indicate where in
the brain there was more gray matter in the
brains of the meditators compared to the controls. And gray matter is the part
of the brain– is the thinking part of the brain. So you’ve got gray
matter and white matter. White matter is just wiring. Gray matter is the stuff on
the outside of the brain, which is actually where all of the
thinking and the computation and the sensing and the feeling,
all that actually happens. And so we had several
brain regions here that were bigger in the
brains of the meditators compared to control. So what are these regions? So I took some images
from Dave’s slides. Color coding is useful. So the main region we found
is here, circled in green. This is the insula. And this is buried
deep in Dave’s picture. It’s in this yellow network,
which is the central executive sensory awareness system. And specifically, the
Insula is involved in awareness of the sort of
processes, such as heart rate, breathing rate. So it makes sense if you’re
sitting there spending 40 minutes a day watching your
breath, observing your breath, that the area of the brain
that’s actually observing the breath should get bigger. It’s also involved in
integrating thoughts and senses with your emotions and
recognizing facial emotions. And it’s physically smaller
in people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The other region
we found is here in the front of the brain
right behind the eye. And again, this was the
yellow and orange networks in Dave’s pictures, which
is the central executive and frontal fronto-parietal
control network. So this is the meta
awareness regions. And this region in particular
is involved in working memory and selective attention. And this region in particular,
when they give people IQ tests, this is the main region
that’s associated with IQ, which is also referred
to as fluid intelligence. And so what this means is being
able to take facts and figures and do something useful
and novel with them. And what was interesting is
then we did this first study, and then when we found that
we did a follow-up study where we again got
long-term meditators and controls and also some
long-term yoga practitioners. And we actually gave them
the standard IQ test, or the fluid intelligence test. Oops, sorry, I jumped ahead. Sorry. OK, hold that thought. All right, what was cool,
when we looked at this data was this, so the blue
are the meditators and the red are the controls. So it’s well known
that our entire brain shrinks as we get older right. And this are the reason
that as we get older, we’re not quite
as sharp sometimes as we were when we’re younger. We have a little bit
harder remembering things and keeping track of things. And so it’s well
established that, as we see in the controls, that
our brain starts to shrink. But what we see is
that in this one region that the 50-year-old
meditators had the same amount of gray matter as
the 25-year-olds, suggesting that meditation may
actually slow down or prevent normal decline in the brain,
so that it may actually slow things down and prevent
normal cognitive decline. So like I said, we
repeated the study with long-term meditators,
long-term yoga practitioners. And we gave them the
fluid intelligence test. And what we found is that
the performance on this test was similar to what we’re
seeing with the brain structure. So the solid line here,
this is the controls with little or no previous
yoga or meditation experience. And then this top line is
the yoga practitioners. And the second line is the
meditation practitioners. And the yoga practitioners
had on average twice as much practice as the
meditation practitioners. So I think that’s why
they’re being a little bit better preserved
than the meditators. But what we can see is that
both the yoga and meditation practice seems to preserve
fluid intelligence, so your cognitive
ability to stay sharp, compared to the controls. So it’s not just that your
brain is preserving the brain structure, it’s
actually also preserving the function in the
brain and helping us stay sharp as we get older. Another group out at
UCLA did a similar study. And they looked at white
matter, which again is the wiring of the brain. And again, it’s well known
as we get older that wiring starts to break down. And this a little hard to see. But she looked at
all over the brain, not just in the front of the
brain, but all over the brain. And what she found was
the same thing, that compare to the controls
who their rate of decline was pretty fast, the meditators
had much slower rates of decline in every
region that she tested. So it really does
suggest that it’s having an impact on
all of our brains and helping our entire
brains remain more youthful. But there’s, of course,
other interpretations, because in all
these studies, we’ve just looked at one time point. We took long-term meditators
and compared them to controls. And so a lot people say,
well, people who mediate, they’re different. They’re weird. And people said that
to me to my face. And they said, well, maybe
they’re just like that before they started. There’s something about
people whose brains are not going to decline
or they have lots of gray matter in these
regions that they’re just more likely to
meditate, they’re more like to continue meditating. Or maybe it’s because they take
40 minutes out of their day. I always laugh at that one. Here in America we spend
so much time watching TV. We take lots of time
out of our day to relax. It’s not just taking time
out of our day to relax. And of course, meditators
often they’re vegetarian. So perhaps it was their
diet or other something about their lifestyle. They wouldn’t believe it had
anything to do whatsoever with the meditation. And so to address
this– and those are all legitimate
complaints– so what did we do? So as John and Dave
told you, people going through these
eight week programs, even just eight weeks of these
stress reduction programs, they come out saying, oh,
my god, it changed my life. And there is some data– having
nothing to do with mediation– that suggests that
you can actually see changes in the
brain over a relatively short periods of time. So we said, OK, can we
actually show the brains are changing in eight weeks? And the short answer is yes. So this is a handful of
the regions we found. And again, we got
Dave’s handy color coding to help us out here. So the primary region
we found changing was here, what’s called the PCC. This is considered like
the seat of selfing. This is here. This is big, green area here
in the back of the brain, the posterior cingulate. And it’s the primary region
involved in mind wondering. It’s the main region
that is impacted in Alzheimer’s disease. In Alzheimer’s disease,
this is the main region that gets deteriorated. And of course, Alzheimer’s,
a hallmark of Alzheimer’s is mind wandering. It’s also involved in
self-referential processing and memories about the self. The second region
we found is here. This is the TPJ, which is
here on Dave’s map, which is in this orange network. So this is an area that’s
involved in seeing things from other people’s
point of view, which is a key component of
empathy and compassion because the best way I can
feel empathy for you is if I understand how you’re feeling. And then here, this region,
this is the hippocampus. This is one the primary
regions important for learning and memory. And this is here in this
green area in Dave’s map. So these are three the regions. Another region we found was
that the amygdala smaller. So the amygdala is the
main fight or flight part of the brain, is
the main area stress. In fact, in animals, if you
stick an electrode in you stimulate the amygdala–
they do this in cats. And the cat will
be sitting there and purring and
completely happy. They stick electrode in. And they zap the electrode. And the cat starts to hiss. And so it’s the
number one region that’s been associated with
anxiety and fear and stress. And it got smaller
pre-post eight weeks. And importantly, the
change in the amygdala correlated with changes
in self-reported stress. So people aren’t just going
through these eight week programs and saying, oh,
yeah, I feel less stressed. But there’s actual
neurological reasons why they’re feeling less
stressed because their amygdala is actually getting smaller. The final reason we found
was down in the brain stem. And this was not on Dave’s map. But this is the
area of the brain where a lot of
the mood molecules are actually produced. So the dopamine, serotonin,
and the norepinephrine are all produced in this area
where we’re finding changes. And what we found was that
the change in this region correlated with changes in
well being– so how satisfied you felt with your life. So the changes in that
correlate with changes here in this region. So altogether, this
really suggests that, yes, meditation really
can change your brain in as little as eight weeks. And so I’m just going
to leave it there. And just going to
leave it there. [APPLAUSE] Thank you, Sara,
that was amazing too. So we’re bumping
up against 7:30. So here’s what
we’re going to do. We’re going to stay. We’re going to take
questions and answers. But anyone who has to
go, feel free to go. If you’re sick of hearing
me talk, feel free to go. I won’t be insulted. But I will ask them
to take names as you. That’s a joke. I’m going to invite Dave and
Sara up to the chairs here. We’ll give folks
some time to file out while the real diehards stay
for the real learning now. More questions for me? Excellent. Because I am loud,
I’m going to start talking while you all file out. And just ask you to be
as quiet as possible as you leave so everyone who’s
remaining can hear what I say. So I’m going to start
with one question that was about to the DNA
study that I talked about. And the question basically is,
was I talking about good or bad stuff happening to the DNA? That’s a very good question. So just to remind
everyone, I was talking about not the
DNA itself changing, but good and bad genes
being turned on and off. Primarily, we were looking at
that good genes being turned on and bad genes being turned off. But talking about
good and bad genes is always kind of
simplified in that there’s no such thing really
as a good gene and a bad gene. There are times when it’s
good to have certain genes on and times when it’s good
to have certain genes off. What we were looking
at was changes that appear to suggest
positive changes for health to put it very, very simply. But like I said before,
all of this work that we’re doing
with gene expression is at very early stages. And there’s some very,
very promising things. You know, if you
talk to a journalist, for example, not
that there’s anything wrong with journalists,
but it’s very easy to want to take the
sort of the headline. It’s like, meditation is great. It does great things
for genes all the time. But of course, things
are not that simple. And what we’re trying
to do is figure out in a very, very
detailed way what are the kinds of things that
these sorts of practices are good for. What are they not good for? And in what ways are they
like stuff like exercise? In what way is
meditation like exercise in the sense that pretty much
everyone should exercise? You might want to
talk to your doctor first to make sure
that it’s OK for you to do it in the same way
probably pretty much everyone would benefit from
meditation, yoga, tai chi, those
kinds of practices. I don’t if you guys have
any other comments on that. No, OK. And this other one I like,
can we practice that breath meditation in public? And I would say absolutely. Just make sure they are no
shady characters around you if you’re closing your eyes. No seriously, this
is the kind of thing, just like the crowds of
people in China practice tai chi out in public. There’s nothing wrong with
doing this sort of thing in groups, maybe
even in large groups, out in the open, et cetera. Can I add to that? Standing in line at the store. Waiting for the bus. That’s a very, very good point. On the Storrow Drive. Yes. Waiting for a red light. OK, so this is a good question
for one of you guys to take. What is the difference between
mindfulness and meditation? I’ll say one thing. So meditation is
an English word. It’s translated from
the Sanskrit Bhavana. OK, Bhavana means cultivation. Or the Tibetan word is gom. Gom. And so from these words, the
Sanskrit and the Tibetan, meditation reflects a
cultivation, a familiarity with one’s own mind. That’s what meditation is. OK? Is that be clear? So I would say there’s many
different types of meditation. So often when people
think meditation, you think of
chanting and mantra. And so mindfulness is just
one very specific type of meditation. And it doesn’t involve
chanting or mantra. It just involves
breath awareness. And it’s also a skill. It’s a state. Mindfulness it’s sort
of a catch all word. But so there are
types of meditation that are not mindful. And mindfulness is just a very
specific type of meditation. I’ll say that in
some ways mindfulness has become so popular as a
word that some people use it when they’re
referring to not just meditation or
mindfulness mediation, but to sort of every kind of
mind body thing in general. Kind of like what zen was. Exactly. I sort of view it as have you
ever known someone who like had a name that the
other kids in school couldn’t really pronounce right,
and they started answering to any version of that
name that people said. In the same way, I think
a lot of us in the field will answer to any
word that’s commonly used for the kinds of
stuff that we work on. So there are a
couple of questions that I thought were really
good about age and meditation. And one very simple
one, very clear one, can you learn to
meditate at any age? And then following
up on that, is there a time at which
brain changes stop happening as you get older? So the first question
is– there are a couple of very well
known meditation teachers who started practicing in
their ’40s and ’50s and ’60s. So definitely you can– and
they became very good teachers and very adept at it. So definitely you
can start at any age. And then in terms of is the
brain plastic, we don’t know. Actually just got
funding– we’re actually starting a study. We’re looking for
subjects right now actually– if you’re over 65. And so that’s the question. Because my first
study was with people between the ages of 25 and 50. So now we’re going to
be looking at people between the ages of 65 and 80. And we’re going to ask
that same question. Does the brain change the
same way in these older people as it does in the
younger people? So I can answer that
in about three years. What about the
people aged 50 to 65? Yeah, so it’s probably going
to be the same, though. That’s my sense. Again, given what
they report, my sense is that it’s probably
going to be very similar. Given what we know– there was
some follow-up questions here as well– given what we know
about brain development, is there are an age
at which we think that there’s an optimal time to
start these sorts of practices if they do change the brain? Birth. Yeah, no. I’ve never tried to teach
a baby to meditate, but– I think it’s like exercise. It’s never too late to start. There’s never a good
time or a bad time. I certainly know people who have
done simple exercises with even very, very young children. And we’ve done work
with school age children from sort of the earliest
up through high school and shown clear
benefits in how kids are able to handle stress
and be more resilient. I should say one
thing because this is an important
topic in education now how a lot of these
mindfulness-based interventions are being introduced into
K through 12 curriculum. And there has been
some success in terms of doing this in
an integrated way, so transforming the entire
classroom, at all grades. But there’s no standard
model yet for what’s the best curriculum to use. There’s a lot out there. And so it’s unclear
exactly not only what’s the best
curriculum, but what age groups are going to be
best benefited from doing them. Because we know
that it’s not– I’m going to be bold enough to say
this is not good for everybody, because we know that some
people are not going to benefit from doing these practices. But the majority of people may. And so I think
we’re still trying to figure out who it benefits
most and even what age groups as well. And so we actually have a study. We just looked at
a 20-year follow-up of kids who are in third,
fourth, and fifth grade who are exposed to a whole
integrated classroom that they incorporated
mindfulness. And there seems to be
differences between them and their peers that
seem to benefit them. So the evidence seems
to be suggesting that it’s good even as
young as third grade. So there were a
number of questions essentially about controls for
the some of the experiments I and others talked
about, things like did we control for obesity? Did we control for diet? And obviously, in
some studies, there have been attempts to
do that sort of thing? In the studies that
I talked about, at least the
genomic study that I talked about, the numbers
were so small that you can’t make any kind of
inferences statistically when we looked at that. So that I really don’t
have an answer to for the genomic stuff. In the study that was on
utilization, was on health care broadly, we definitely–
there were so many people in that study that
we could control for a lot. But we were looking
at– this was what’s called a retrospective
study, where we’re looking back in a database. So the kinds of
information we had didn’t include
that kind of stuff. What was the other questions
I wanted to ask here? Oh, the other thing is, a
very astute question was asked was, in that study where we
were looking at health care utilization, could
we distinguish between people who didn’t
need health care anymore and people who decided
they just weren’t going to get help anymore? And the answer’s no. We don’t know. And that’s why we’re
starting to do studies that look instead of looking
back at a database, we’re looking forward. So we take people
at the beginning. And we track them going
forward in a way that will allow us to make
those kinds of inferences better from our data. There are a couple of
folks here either who had strokes themselves
or who had family members would had strokes who were
wondering if meditation could have positive effects even on
a brain that had the experience a stroke. So I’m not aware of
research with strokes. But there has been research
with early dementia. And even with people with early
dimension are able to benefit. And so my guess is that
if they can pay attention, they will benefit. The other thing
is there has been some work with
traumatic brain injury, specifically where
you see inflammation as a big problem
in what exacerbates the negative outcomes of
traumatic brain injury. You see meditation helps
reduce that inflammation and thus, improve outcomes. So in that regard,
you would think that stroke would be
one, at least domain, where meditation could help. But I don’t know of any studies
either on strokes specifically. Do we have time to
take one more question? Is that all right? I see the red light flashing. OK, so if I can find it here. We’re so enthusiastic
about the stuff, we can’t stop
talking that’s the– [APPLAUSE] I can’t find the card
here, but the question, and I think this is a
great one to end on, is OK we talked a lot
about individual benefit, benefit to your health,
benefit to your brain. Is there a
possibility, do we have evidence for this stuff
benefiting society? You guys want to– So one of my favorite studies
was with a group of therapists. They split the
therapist in half. And they taught half of the
therapists how to meditate. And this was in an inpatient
psychiatric unit in Europe. None of the patients
learned how to meditate. So only the therapists
were meditating. And it was a double blind study,
because neither the therapists nor the patients knew
that study was happening. It was just the training
director doing a little study behind everyone’s back. And what he found is that the
patients of the meditating therapists had better
outcome than the patience of the non-meditating
therapists. And so it suggests
that– and I’ve talked with a lot of
therapists who meditate– and what they say is that,
yes, when you meditate that you are less reactive. You’re better able
to pay attention. You have more
compassion, more empathy. And so they felt like
they were more in tune with their patients. They’re better able to
understand their patients. They’re less reactive
to their patients. And so their patients
benefited from their being more present and less reactive. And certainly again, a
lot of anecdotal evidence about this from
many of my friends, they get lots of feedback
from their family that, oh, yeah, I can tell you
meditated today, mom. That’s one of my friends. Of you didn’t meditate, mom,
because you really lost it. But there’s definitely,
you hear this a lot from the families of
people who meditated. They really notice that
there’s people change. And it does seem
to have an impact on the people around them. So I do think that that,
yes, it impacts you. It impacts the
people around you. And hopefully,
gradually, with time it can impact full societies. Let’s not forget what Dogen
was saying that in order for self to transform,
the boundary between self and other dissolves. That distinction between
self and other dissolves. It goes away. That’s was transforming. And honestly, the
evidence that we have at this point for doing
these practices, which involve a very explicit practice
of loving kindness towards yourself and others
around you– so that’s improving prosocial
types of behavior, not only your ability to connect
with others through empathy, so understanding what other people
are thinking for that matter, but also for the
sort of breaking down the barriers, for being more
altruistic in how you connect with others. So I think that’s a really
important aspect of how we can start to see
better connection, better sort of real genuine
human connection between self and other. Thank you, guys, so much. We have to wrap up now. I know I can stay a
little while longer. And folks can come down. And we can take questions
individually or in a group. Also the video will be online
in the next week or two if you want to watch
it over and over again. That’s perfectly acceptable. Thank you all very much.


  1. Could you please place a link to an 8 week program that has efficacy of working that could be completed at home by an individual.

  2. Are maha maha maha maha maha mahaa mahaa mahaaa mahaa mahaaaa mahaaa thanxxxx i will be always be indebted to you i clearedy mind

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