An Oct. 14, 2014 CBC The Current podcast is entitled: “Mindfulness meditation moves into the classroom.” This CBC item about mindfulness, and mindfulness meditation, offers an excellent overview of the value of mindfulness meditation, and highlights research that provides evidence concerning the benefits of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.
An October 15, 2014 post at the Scientific American website refers to a an article in Volume 311, Issue 5, entitled: “Neuroscience Reveals the Secrets of Meditation’s Benefits: Contemplative practices that extend back thousands of years show a multitude of benefits for both body and mind.” I bought a print version of the magazine to ensure that I could read the full article.
A Nov. 27, 2014 Globe and Mail article is entitled: “Meditation eases rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.”
A June 12, 2015 CBC article is entitled: “Can mindfulness meditation have negative side effects?”
The article mentions a recent study entitled: The Buddha Pill (2015).
A blurb at the Toronto Public Library website (I’ve broken the text into shorter paragraphs) notes:
“Millions of people meditate daily. Many believe it affects how we feel and behave. But can we actually change through meditation? Does it work like a pill to alleviate stress? Can it put us on the path to personal transformation?
“Psychologists Dr. Miguel Farias and Catherine Wikholm explore the human ambition for personal change and its possible illusions, with a focus on yoga and meditation. They examine the psychological and biological evidence, from early research on Transcendental Meditation to recent brain-imaging studies on mindfulness. They also include personal accounts from practitioners, as well as recounting their own experiences of testing the effects of meditation and yoga on incarcerated criminals.
“This isn’t simply another book about the route to enlightenment and happiness, nor is it a ‘how to.’ Farias and Wikholm challenge assumptions about the uses and effects of meditation and yoga.
“Controversially, The Buddha Pill argues that personal change effected by these spiritual practices can vary widely from one individual to another, and that peace and compassion may not always be the end result. Combining insights from decades of scientific research with fascinating accounts from gurus and prisoners, The Buddha Pill weaves together a unique story about the science and the delusions of personal change.”
[End of text]
It’s not clear how controversial the assertion that is referred to, in the blurb, actually is.
The copy of The Buddha Pill (2015) that I’ve borrowed from the Toronto Public Library has an interesting DIY quality, by way of the typography and graphic design. The body text is not easy to read; it’s a little hard on the eyes.
White lettering on a coloured ground, on the back cover, is similarly difficult to read. Wider spacing and a change in font or font size would ensure a sufficiently strong contrast between the text and background. Greater attention to the reading experience of the end user would improve the production value of the book.
As well, the text, from my perspective as a reader, would benefit from a bit of tightening up, as it has qualities that are characteristic of an early draft of some essay.
These technical points aside, The Buddha Pill (2015) is strong on content. It’s worth a close read; it adds to the quality of the ongoing conversations regarding the topics at hand.
Previous posts addressing themes of relevance to the current post include:
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One of my volunteer projects has involved publicizing the work of the work of Roy Hintsa, who for some years has been teaching mindfulness meditation to Ontario high school students, thereby helping them to deal with test anxiety and similar concerns. I’ve recently (February 2014) heard from Roy Hintsa that the work he began in this area is now being done by Everyday Mindfulness, whose website is at www.mindfulnesseveryday.com
[As an Oct. 14, 2014 CBC podcast – see link at the start of this post – notes, mindfulness meditation is now taught widely in schools in Toronto and elsewhere in Canada such as in British Columbia.]
A key feature of Roy Hintsa’s work is that he’s been following an evidence-based approach to the effective teaching of mindfulness meditation in public school settings.
Lucinda Sykes introduced me to the practice of mindfulness meditation in 2004 when I was teaching elementary school at the Peel District School Board.
MBSR: Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction
I enrolled in an eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course that I found beneficial in dealing with the stress responses I was experiencing in my work as a teacher. Had I not been experiencing stress in my job, it’s unlikely I would have gotten around to learning how to mediate.
Learning to meditate, and learning about the pleasures of teaching role play and drama, as a way for students to show understanding of Language and Social Studies concepts, are among the things I remember the best from my previous career as a teacher.
I’ve been meditating regularly since 2004 and have achieved gains in learning to apply mindfulness in my everyday life. I’m a beginner practitioner of mindfulness.
Mindfulness meditation, in my experience, is easy to practice as part of a secular lifestyle.
Methodologically sound research
An increasing number of methodologically sound research studies have been published in recent years in peer-reviewed professional journals regarding the benefits of regular meditation.
For example, the enhanced emotional control provided by meditation may give a person a measure of protection against secondhand stress.
My own anecdotal experience is as follows.
In 2004, I enrolled in a mindfulness-based stress reduction course in Toronto. There was a class one evening per week, and an hour of practice per day. Certain situations, in my work as a teacher, used to be a source of strong stress-related responses for me. In the months and years that followed the above-mentioned course, I’ve been meditating regularly every day.
Over that time since 2004, the stress-related responses have been reduced significantly. The kinds of stress I was experiencing several times a day now occur once or twice every several months. The intervals between such responses have been growing progressively longer over the years.
The experience of stress has been a great way for me to learn how to meditate. I would not have learned this skill had I not been in a line of work that can at times be very stressful.
University of Massachusetts Medical School
The above-mentioned courses of instruction in mindfulness are based on the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn of the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
A December 2012 CBC report about research regarding mindfulness meditation can be found at this link. A draft version of the research report, and of the appendix, can be accessed through the link noted in the previous sentence.
The report notes that a research review found moderate strength of evidence that mindfulness meditation programs are beneficial for reducing pain severity.
The report adds that the study also looked at whether meditation helps reduce anxiety, depression, and stress, and concluded there’s little evidence. A report on CBC Radio about the same topic said more research is required regarding the effect of mindfulness meditation on anxiety and stress.
A report on the same research appeared in December 2012 in the Los Angeles Times.
The opening sentence in the latter article notes that:
“Meditation this week won the scientific stamp of approval from a federal panel as a means of reducing the severity of chronic and acute pain. The influential committee also concluded the practice of mindfulness has demonstrated effectiveness in reducing stress and anxiety, but it found the scientific evidence for that claim weaker and more inconsistent.”
An article by Daphne M. Davis and Jeffrey A. Hayes of Pennsylvania State University, entitled “What are the Benefits of Mindfulness? A Practice Review of Psychotherapy-Related Research,” originally published in 2011, can be accessed here.
A May 12, 2014 New York Times article is entitled: “Exercising the Mind to Treat Attention Deficits.”
An excerpt from the article notes:
- Such quotidian decisions test a mental ability called cognitive control, the capacity to maintain focus on an important choice while ignoring other impulses. Poor planning, wandering attention and trouble inhibiting impulses all signify lapses in cognitive control. Now a growing stream of research suggests that strengthening this mental muscle, usually with exercises in so-called mindfulness, may help children and adults cope with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and its adult equivalent, attention deficit disorder.
- The studies come amid growing disenchantment with the first-line treatment for these conditions: drugs.
- In 2007, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, published a study finding that the incidence of A.D.H.D. among teenagers in Finland, along with difficulties in cognitive functioning and related emotional disorders like depression, were virtually identical to rates among teenagers in the United States. The real difference? Most adolescents with A.D.H.D. in the United States were taking medication; most in Finland were not.
The capacity to make more effective use of one’s central nervous system as a result of ongoing meditative practices appears to be an outcome or concomitant of evolutionary biology.
It may be tempting to associate mindfulness meditation with “spirituality,” and for some of us such a connection is a given, but I do not see the association as an inevitability. Mindfulness meditation is a technique that can also be applied in the pursuit of corporate profit and the conduct of war, all of which in turn has associations with particular belief systems – including ideologies, religious beliefs – and “spirituality.”
The assumption that this or that person is an “expert” with regard to mindfulness meditation underlines the fact that any form of reporting must of necessity proceed according to the level of awareness of the reporter.
The belief system that accords with my own assumptions is one that is based upon evidence and evidence-based practice.