In a conference room overlooking bustling Fifth Avenue, several people gather to sit, backs straight and eyes closed, and focus on their breathing. If minds wander, these stray thoughts are acknowledged then released as attention returns to the breath. The idea is to be fully present in the moment, not thinking of the future or the past. It’s one method of mindfulness meditation, an increasingly popular modern movement with roots dating back to ancient Buddhism. A growing body of research suggests that mindfulness practice can treat a gamut of health concerns, including anxiety and addiction and can even train the brain to approach stress in new ways.
Practicing the art during the center’s March 19 Mindfulness Fair in the Frick Fine Arts Building (Photo by Emily O’Donnell)These biweekly, drop-in meditation sessions, which last for 30 minutes, are one of many offerings from Pitt’s new Center for Mindfulness and Consciousness Studies, which is housed in the Graduate School of Public Health’s Department of Infectious Diseases and Microbiology. Led by center director Anthony Silvestre, a professor of microbiology, the free sessions attract professors, staff, and students from across the University, as well as the general public.
“Mindfulness enhances one’s concentration, reduces stress, and, in general, improves cognitive skills. Research strongly suggests that any intellectual endeavor can improve with mindfulness practice,” says Silvestre. He was ordained as a meditation teacher by the famed Vietnamese Buddhist Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, whom Martin Luther King Jr. called “an apostle of peace and nonviolence” for his activism during the American war in Vietnam.
Development of the center began in late 2014 when several faculty members with an interest in mindfulness—including Silvestre—began to share ideas on how to enhance mindfulness on campus, in the Pittsburgh community, and around the world. They wrote a white paper outlining goals, which are to promote the practice and scholarship of mindfulness through three core areas: education, research, and service.
Sixty-five million Americans suffer from chronic lower back pain, and many feel they have tried it all: physical therapy, painkillers, shots. Now a new study reports many people may find relief with a form of meditation that harnesses the power of the mind to manage pain.
The technique, called mindfulness-based stress reduction, involves a combination of meditation, body awareness and yoga, and focuses on increasing awareness and acceptance of one’s experiences, whether they involve physical discomfort or emotional pain. People with lower back pain who learned the meditation technique showed greater improvements in function compared to those who had cognitive behavioral therapy, which has been shown to help ease pain, or standard back care.
Christa Turksma will present Mindfulness for Teachers: Cultivating Awareness and Resilience in Education on March 31, 4 pm – 5:15 pm. The talk will be held in room 5604 of Posvar Hall at the University of Pittsburgh. Turksma will detail the CARE Program (Cultivating Awareness and Resilience in Education) and the research that supports her approach.
The CARE Program is a professional development workshop designed to help teacher-educators reduce stress and enliven their teaching by promoting awareness, compassion, and reflection – the inner resources they need to help students excel. The audience will also participate in short mindfulness activities throughout and at the end of the program.
Adults with obesity randomly assigned to a mindfulness intervention program — including sitting meditation, yoga and mindful eating practices — saw greater improvements in both fasting glucose and triglyceride levels than adults in a standard weight-loss intervention program, according to study findings published in Obesity.
“Mindful eating techniques, in combination with a regular mindfulness meditation practice, may bolster the long-term effects of diet and exercise weight-loss programs for obesity on risk factors for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, including fasting glucose levels and the ratio of triglycerides to HDL cholesterol,” Jennifer Daubenmier, PhD, assistant professor at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, told Endocrine Today.