Contemplative Neurosciences Research

About Mindfulness & Contemplative Neuroscience

Brigham and Women's Hospital

Contemplative neurosciences
refer to an emerging field of research that focuses on the changes within the mind, brain, and body as a result of contemplative practices, such as mindfulness-based meditation, tai chi, or yoga. The science is interdisciplinary and attempts to clarify such mind-brain-body changes across emotional, behavioral, cognitive, and perceptual domains with an emphasis for relating such changes to neurobiology and first-person experience.

Contemplative practice, in general, refers to

a particular form of observation in which there is a total devotion to revealing, clarifying, and making manifest the nature of reality.

“Contemplation” also refers to a reflective style of cognition that can enable individuals to engage in action that is deeply meaningful – serving one’s self and others in society.

Most broadly speaking contemplative practices are secular in nature, cultivate a critical, first-person focus, sometimes with direct experience as the object, while at other times concentrating on complex ideas or situations 

(see for further description of contemplative practices).

Principles of Contemplative science

[Link] by Alan Wallace

What is Mindfulness?

Contemporary usage of the term mindfulness has its roots in Buddhist contemplative practices that outline a systematic form of training of the mind involving meditation. In the classical Buddhist context, the term meditation is used to translate the Sanskrit term bhävana and its Tibetan equivalent, sgoms. Etymologically, the Sanskrit term connotes the notion of “cultivation,” or “causing to become” and the Tibetan equivalent, refers to “development of familiarity”. Thus, mindfulness is originally conceptualized through a framework for developing familiarity with one’s mind.

In the last two decades, the concept of mindfulness as a state, trait, process, and intervention has been successfully adapted in contexts of clinical health and psychology, especially with relation to treating stress and targeting emotion dysregulation. Yet, two important questions remain unanswered: (1) What brain changes occur during the practice of mindfulness over the course of training and across the spectrum of experience? And (2) What is the therapeutic relevance of mindfulness and its associated practices across the neuropsychiatric spectrum?

Within the Functional Neuroimaging Laboratory, Dr. David Vago and a team of researchers focus on clarifying the construct of mindfulness and its therapeutic relevance in psychiatric disorders and conditions. These research questions can be broken down into two concentrations:

  1. Basic neuroscience of mindfulness and
  2. The clinical applications and optimization of mindfulness. [See Research]

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