Mindfulness and the Brain: The Neuroscience of Meditation

Sitting MonksR and I attended the “Down to a Science Cafe” in San Francisco last night near her work in SOMA.

Down to a Science describes itself as “an ongoing Science Cafe, a casual forum where leading scientists discuss their research with the public. The mission is to promote civic discourse through scientific dialogue with a focus on science here in the Bay Area.”

The guest last night was Dr. Phillipe Goldin of the Department of Psychology at Stanford. (I’ve seen his name elsewhere as “Philippe Goldin,” which I actually think is correct, as his Stanford home page uses it.) Dr. Goldin’s topic was “Mindfulness and the Brain: The Neuroscience of Meditation.” Dr. Goldin and his peers and students at Stanford have been studying and using mindfulness techniques derived from Buddhist meditation practices in a clinical psychology setting. He presented an overview of some of this work, specifically in using mindfulness with anxiety disorders, and then did a Q&A around this work.

I found it interesting that Dr. Goldin is a former Gelugpa monk and spent several years living in the Dalai Lama’s main monastery in Dharamsala, India. This reminded me of Dr. Alan Wallace, who is also a former Gelugpa monk. Dr. Wallace runs the Santa Barbara Institute, which is running several research programs also focusing on an objective study and understanding of Buddhist meditation techniques and the results of practice.

The use of meditative techniques in clinical settings and the objective study of meditation practices, along with how the brain is affected by them, are areas that have been getting more study over the last few years. Dr. Goldin said that he expects quite a few more studies from a variety of institutions to be published over the next few years as this becomes a more important area of study.

With the permission of Dr. Goldin and Kishore Hari, the Down to a Science organizer, I recorded the presentation for podcasting. This is available in a variety of formats with a Creative Commons license on the Internet Archive. I’ve enclosed a lower bitrate version of the file as an enclosure in this blog post as well. Be sure to listen through to the Q&A during the second half of the lecture. Some of the answers that Dr. Goldin gives are very interesting (at least in my opinion).

Within the next week, the Down to a Science website will also have a copy of Dr. Goldin’s slides from the presentation as well so you should check that site later if you are interested in them.

I’ve also found a program on ABC National Radio of Australia, “All in the Mind,” where Dr. Goldin and others spoke. This program is “Dr Mindfulness: science and the meditation boom” and audio is available through the website.