sealWho we are…

The Center for Mindfulness and Consciousness Studies is housed within the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health. Additional sponsorship for the Center comes from a variety of Pitt schools, including the School of Health and Rehabilitation Science and the School of Education. Click on the About Us page for more information.

The goals of the Mindfulness Center are synergistic with the University’s mission of promoting research, education, and service/clinical practice.

Scroll down to find more news and information about Mindfulness and recent Center activities…or click on the page links above.

Forest Bathing: A retreat to nature can boost immunity and mood

From NPR… (Allison Aubrey reporting on Morning Addition)

[…] The aim of forest bathing, Choukas-Bradley [certified Forest Therapy guide] explained, is to slow down and become immersed in the natural environment. She helped us tune in to the smells, textures, tastes and sights of the forest. We took in our surroundings by using all our senses.

As we passed through a stand of pawpaw trees, we touched the bark. We smelled the black walnuts, which give off a lovely citrus fragrance. We got a little shower of ripe mulberries, too.

“Close your eyes and just breathe, just breathe,” Choukas-Bradley intoned. It felt a bit like a meditation retreat.

It took me a few minutes to clear out the clutter in my brain, and tune in to the natural world. “When you open your eyes, imagine you’re seeing the world for the very first time,” Choukas-Bradley told us.

[…] The Associations of Nature & Forest Therapy plans to train and certify about 250 new guides next year. “We’re aiming to have 1,000 trained guides within three years,” Clifford says.

There’s a growing body of evidence that the practice can help boost immunity and mood and help reduce stress. “Medical researchers in Japan have studied forest bathing and have demonstrated several benefits to our health,” says Philip Barr, a physician who specializes in integrative medicine at Duke University.

One study published in 2011 compared the effects of walking in the city to taking a forest walk. Both activities required the same amount of physical activity, but researchers found that the forest environment led to more significant reductions in blood pressure and certain stress hormones.

On average, the forest walkers — who ranged in age from 36 to 77 — saw a reduction in their systolic blood pressure from 141 mmHg down to 134 mmHg after four hours in the forest.

Read the full article on NPR.

To train an athlete, add 12 minutes of meditation to the daily mix

From the New York Times

If athletes practice meditation for a few minutes a day, they may become better able to withstand the mental demands of hours of strenuous physical training, according to an interesting new study of Division I college football players.

The study, which compared different types of mental training for stress resilience, could have relevance for anyone planning to start exercising or competing more intensely this summer.

Exercise, as most of us know, is a form of stress. The demands of exercise require our bodies to respond and adapt, and the greater the intensity of the exercise relative to our current fitness, the greater the level of stress it generates.

Much of this strain is physical, but some of it also involves the mind, says Amishi Jha, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Miami in Florida, who led the new study. Prolonged, strenuous training “requires attention,” she says, and a stern focus on continuing to exercise when it might be more pleasant to stop.

Read the full article.

Meditation and Yoga may change how stress affects our DNA, study finds

From NBC News

New research published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology looked at over a decade of studies, analyzing how our genes are affected by different mind-body interventions including mindfulness, yoga, meditation and Tai Chi. What they found is that these activities don’t simply relax us — they may actually have the ability to reverse molecular reactions to stress in our DNA that can lead to poor health and depression.

When we encounter a stressful situation (or prolonged periods of stress) our sympathetic nervous system is triggered. In reaction, our genes produce proteins called cytokines that cause inflammation at a cellular level — which, over time, increases our risk of health issues like cancer, accelerated aging and psychiatric disorders like depression.

Read the full story on NBC online.

 

The benefits of a mindful pregnancy

From the New York Times

Many expectant mothers worry about the physical pain that accompanies labor and childbirth. New research suggests that including mindfulness skills in childbirth education can help first-time mothers cope with their fears.

The study, published in the journal BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, also indicates that mindfulness may help decrease women’s symptoms of prenatal and postpartum depression.

Mindfulness, defined as the awareness that arises from paying attention in the present moment, has been shown to help manage chronic pain, depression and anxiety. This study, although small, is one of the first to look at how these skills might benefit pregnant women.

“Fear of the unknown affects everyone, and this may be particularly true for pregnant women,” said Larissa Duncan, lead researcher in the study and an associate professor of human development and family studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Read the full article.

Is mindfulness meditation good for kids?

From Vox online (by )…

The companies and foundations largely responsible for introducing mindfulness programing into schools tout its psychological benefits — such as reduced stress and increased attention. And they say the evidence for mindfulness is based on decades of scientific research.

But research quality is not the same as quantity. And considering that more and more US schools are embracing it, I decided to take a look through the literature: What does the science actually say about mindfulness in kids?

I read more than a dozen studies — including systematic meta-reviews, which account for thousands of other papers — analyzing the best available research on mindfulness (in both students and adults) and talked to researchers and advocates involved in the work. I asked these experts what questions and concerns parents should have when they hear mindfulness is coming to their schools. (Scroll down for those questions.)

The short of it: The relatively few studies we have on mindfulness in schools suggest a generally positive effect on decreasing anxiety and increasing cognitive performance. But the hype around mindfulness also seems to be outpacing the science, especially when it comes to teaching these practices to children.

Read the full article on Vox.com.

More proof that mindfulness helps students combat stress, depression – just ask student Rob Stephens at CMU

From NBCnews.com

When Rob Stephens, a 22-year-old senior, walks into the Mindfulness Room at Carnegie Mellon University, he leaves his homework and stress at the door. He is surrounded by a waterfall wall, plants, lots of natural light and an open space with cushions on the floor — a 24/7 space is set aside for meditation or just peaceful thinking.

CMU student Rob Stephens

“I definitely think it helps to de-stress,” said Stephens, a global studies major from Atlanta, Georgia. “It’s the time I spend making sure I am OK.” Rob Stephens visits the Mindfulness Room at Carnegie Mellon, where he can meditate, bond with dogs or just chill out. Sara Jahanian

Mindfulness is as popular at colleges nationwide as it is now at CMU. “It’s someone giving themselves uninterrupted mental space,” said Stephens. “Some focus on themselves or others. It’s a time to stop and refocus your purpose.” Studies show the practice may be an antidote to the high levels of stress and depression seen on college campuses.

The American College Health Association found in a 2015 study that more than 85 percent said they “felt overwhelmed” by the demands of college. And a third of all student said stress had a negative effect on their overall academic performance.

Recently, Stephens enjoyed playing with therapy dogs in the mindfulness room. Students bond with a dog in Carnegie Mellon’s Mindfulness Room. Courtesy of Carnegie Mellon University

Some use the time to take a nap, “to reset their brain,” he said. For others it might include meditation, or focused time at the gym or in yoga. “People can do a lot of mindful things,” Stephens said. “For me, it was time to be with another creature. It doesn’t necessarily have to be in a [yoga] child’s pose.”

Read the full article.

How to be mindful when you are angry

From the New  York Times

“Anger is a natural, life-affirming emotion. It lets us know when a boundary has been crossed, when our needs are not being met, or when someone we care about is in danger. But when misdirected, anger can harm our physical health and our relationships. Being mindful of anger means not suppressing, denying or avoiding it and also not acting out in harmful ways. Instead, connect with the direct experience of the anger, and then decide what action you want to take.” — Jessica Morey, executive director of Inward Bound Mindfulness Education

Read the full article.

Students get their Zen on at mindfulness fair

From Pittnews.com

About 400 Pitt students and community members attended the event, which offered talks, family-friendly mindfulness activities including sculpting lotus flower tealight holders, yoga and tai-chi demonstrations as well as free food and various informational tables. The fair also included meditation lessons, a mindful eating workshop and a panel discussion between parents about how to teach children to be mindful.

David Givens, a Ph.D. candidate in Pitt’s department of religious studies and the associate director and co-founder of the Center for Mindfulness and Consciousness Studies, sat behind one of the informational tables distributing information about the CMCS.

Given the increasing proximity of finals week at Pitt, it’s a good time for students to learn to exhale.

According to the American Psychology Association, meditation is the most well-established form of mindfulness. A novice meditator might sit for just five minutes a day, eyes closed and focus their full attention on breathing in and out.

Concentrating on the simple, natural process of inhaling and exhaling diverts attention away from anxious thoughts and depressive rumination. It should come as no surprise that mindfulness and meditation can help those with mental illnesses.
“People find mindfulness personally and practically fulfilling,” Givens said. “A lot of evidence and reports indicate that practicing mindfulness helps reduce stress and helps boost energy levels, focus and concentration.”

Read the full article.