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Hedy Kober: "What we can accomplish with mindfulness"
At the end of this talk,
I'm going to ask you a very important question.
But before I do that
I'm going to give you some good news,
and some bad news.
I'm going to start with the bad news:
and the bad news
is that shit happens.
And you might have had an intuitive understanding of this
or the selling, less known,
is the good news,
which is that each and every one of you
has the power
to control
and change
your experience
of this shit when it happens.
That you can learn and train yourself
to have a better attitude about it.
And today I'm not only going to tell you how,
but I'm also going to show you
neuroscientific evidence
from my laboratory at Yale University
and also from other labs
that suggests that
this kind of training
can help you feel less stressed,
less pain,
and change the way your brain works.
So let's start.
What did I mean when I said 'shit happens'?
What I meant is whether we like it or not,
at some point in life
you will experience some kind of pain.
For example physical pain,
and this can be anything from getting a paper cut
or walking into something with a sharp corner
- which if you are me you do quite frequently -
but also major things.
Sometimes we get into accidents, we break bones, we need surgery,
but is not only that, there is also emotional pain.
And this again can start from minor annoyances,
like when you are stuck in traffic,
when you are late for an important meeting or a flight
or may be when you spill coffee on yourself right before you have to walk on stage.
- That didn't actually happen to me -
- luckily -
But of course there is also more serious forms
like when someone we love leaves us
or passes away.
Either way,
the insight here
is that even if we are incredibly lucky individuals,
even if most things are going our way,
sometimes life deviates from our plan
and things break, and our expectations are violated.
And it's just like that famous Rolling Stones' song:
"You can't always get what you want"
And so the idea that I want to suggest to all of you today
is that whether or not you can get what you want,
your overall experience of life in general
is influenced not only by the events that happen to you,
but also, and perhaps more profoundly,
by how we perceive and how we react to them.
So our response here is really key.
Now William Shakespeare fed this really well in his play 'Hamlet'.
He said: 'For there is nothing either good or bad
but thinking makes it so'.
Viktor Frankl is a Holocoust survivor who wrote a memoir about his experiences.
And he called this 'The last of Human freedoms-
To choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances'.
Now what does that really mean? Let's imagine for a second
that you've just cut yourself petty severely.
No attitude that you will adopt will change the fact that you were cut,
and it probably won't change the fact that you need to go to a hospital.
But the question is: does it ever really help you to feel annoyed about it?
Does it ever really help you to spend the entire way to the hospital being really really upset?
Choosing to have a good attitude can profoundly alter your experience.
And make it better or at least not make it worse.
So how do we do this?
There are many ways to do this.
The first thing to realize
is that you have the power to choose.
And the second is to start practicing the kind of response that you actually like to have.
And there are many kind of responses,
and there are many kind of strategies.
But one that I am going to talk about today
is called Mindfulness.
Now, what is mindfulness?
You can think about it as a technique or as a skill.
You can think about it as a kind of attitude that some people have actually more than others.
But the way we think about it in Psychology
or the operationalization of it,
is as having two components:
a component of attitude
and a component of attention.
Now the component of attention,
is the first one.
And is an attention that is directed to your moment to moment experience.
So in the present moment,
any sensations that you have, any emotions that you have and any thoughts that you have,
you're just paying attention to them.
But you're paying attention to them with a particular kind of attitude
and that is an attitude that is open,
that is curious,
and that has an element of acceptance.
Without judging your experience as good or bad,
may be you can ask yourself: 'Can I be OK with this exactly like it is?'
Now mindful as a concept
comes from a long history in buddhist philosophy
where is part of a much larger set of practices
that all have a similar aim of reducing suffering
and increasing enduring happiness.
And where mindfulness is cultivated
- the state of mindfulness is cultivated -
through the practice of mindfulness meditation.
Now, as some of you might know,
mindful meditation can be practiced in different ways,
and I don't have time to give you a full demonstration,
but I do want to give you a little taste.
And for that I'm going to ask you to trust me for a moment
and close your eyes.
As you close your eyes, I want to direct your attention to the physical sensation of your breath
as it comes in and out of your nostrils
and just notice how it moves spontaneously,
and don't try to change it in any way.
Just pay attention to it.
Now you can open your eyes
and I know you only did this for a few seconds,
but if you did this for longer
what you'd probably notice is that as you try to meditate
and as you try to notice your breath,
whether you like it or not,
your mind will wander.
Now your mind will wander uncontrollably because is what minds do:
they wander.
And what you'll notice is that it will wander to some familiar places.
Sometimes memories will come up,
of things that you did earlier or things you wish you had done.
Many of us start planning,
I know that I always have a running to-do list in my head.
People often find themselves judging the fact that their minds have wandered
and judging their own experience.
May be you even get distracted to the e-mails you want to send later.
Either way,
is exactly those moments when you wake and find yourself mind-wandering,
they are the perfect opportunity to practice minfulness,
noticing and accepting the fact that your mind wanders.
And is exactly the place where you can practice and develop the skill of mindfulness
so that you can later transfer it and apply it to everyday events,
which are uncontrollable and sometimes unpleasant.
And before I move on,
I want to make a little disclaimer.
I'm not a buddhist evangelist.
First and foremost because this practice of mindfulness
has been imported into psychological and medical treatments in the West
over 30 years ago where it's been investigated systematically.
But I want to say also,
that the important disclaimer is that I myself
meditate and have been meditating for quite some time.
This is actually me in Costa Rica a few years ago.
But I actually started meditating 10 years ago
and I started meditating because my heart was broken.
I lived with someone sometime and we had to part ways
and I definitely judge it as 'bad',
and I felt like that I didn't have that freedom Viktor Frankl was talking about
to choose my response.
And so I started practicing.
And what I found after a while is that it did to mind what going to the gym does to my body,
it makes it both more stronger and more flexible.
And with time I learned to have better responses not only about the break up itself,
but, about other things including for example my fear of public speaking
which you can see is much better now.
It also help me deal with other things like physical injuries,
even cancer and surgery.
And so I stand here today
feeling like a much better person
for this practice.
Not perfectly calm by any means but much more calmer than I would be otherwise.
But of course the scientist they have to tell you that I may not be representative.
I am what we call and 'n of 1'.
Just one of me, many of you: your experiences might be different.
But luckily science is on my side:
there are now close to 100 studies
that have investigated the effect of meditation.
And there are likely much more representative of what may happen to you if you start meditating.
And these studies have consistently shown
that meditation is associated with improvement of a variety of psychological and physiological functions
including stress, anxiety, cognitive function including attention, depression, addiction or drug use,
and even chronic pain.
More recently there is also evidence for biological markers that improve
like blood pressure, stress markers like cortisol
that is a hormone that is associated with stress,
and even markers of cellular health.
But importantly,
individuals who learn how to meditate
often report an increase in overall well-being.
They are happier.
Now you may ask at this point
'how is it what seems like a fairly simple practice
has such a profound effect on people's lives?
Well, the answer to that is that it changes our brain.
Now we've know that for sometime
that every moment our brain makes new connections.
The neurons in our brain - the cells in our brain -
make some connections and break other ones.
Strengthen some connections and weakens other ones.
And we call this 'Experience-Based Neuroplasticity'.
And the idea here is that the brain is not made of plastic, like a bucket,
but rather, that like plastic it can be molded into different shapes.
And so the question of course here is 'how does mindful meditation change your brain?'
So we wanted to specifically test whether
it changes the brain experience of stress.
And along with my coleagues at Yale University we recruted a group of cigarrettte smokers
and we randomized them to either receive mindful's training
doing 8 sessions over a month,
or the leading treatment for smoking cessation
And then we measured their smoking.
First we discovered that everybody smoked less in the end
so not only was the leading treatment good,
but also mindful's training was good for smoking cessation.
But more importantly we measured their brain activity during stress.
And how did we do that?
We used funcional magnetic resonance imaging, which is one of the leading ways to look at brain activity
and we also stressed people out
while they were in the scanner
by asking them to recolect
the most intensive negative memories in their lives
and to imagine them vividly.
And people told stories like
the day that their son was in an accident,
the day that their brother was shot...
so really emotionally evocative stuff.
And of course what we expected or what we were wondering
is whether training in meditation
reduces the brain response to stress.
And what did we find?
We found that there were indeed differences.
I'm just showing you here one brain region called the amygdala
and you are looking at a coronal slide of the brain
which is, imagine an axe murder
chop my face off
and my face fells forward and you are looking straight at me like this.
So this brain region, the amygdala, is really important:
we know that is involved in the experience of negative emotion,
we know that is important for stress.
In animal studies when you chronically stress them
not only is the amygdala more active,
but it often grows over time
as a result of stress.
So here what we found
is that those individuals who learned mindful meditation
showed decreased activity in the amygdala during stress.
Now this is brain function, what about the structure?
Britta Hölzel and Sara Lazar and their colleagues at Harvard
studied exactly that:
they recruited individuals who were stressed but otherwise healthy,
and they measured their stress and their brain structure
before training them in how to meditate
- again 8 sessions this time over 8 weeks -.
And when they looked both at brain structure and these individuals' stress
after learning to meditate
they looked for the relationship between those two things.
And what they found is again
a relationship that is centered in the amygdala.
And specifically what they saw
is that reduction in stress
was associated or correlated with reduction in the density of the amygdala.
So those individuals who reported the greatest reduction in stress
were also those individuals
who showed the greatest increase in the density of the amygdala.
So what do these two studies tell us together?
That learning how to meditate
can significantly alter your experience of stress,
it can change not only the way your brain functions during stress,
but also the way that it's structured over time.
Now at this point even though this is quite striking
you might be asking yourselves:
'What about physical pain?'
That's a slightly more objective thing than stress.
Well, we ask the exact same question.
And there is already some evidence that learning how to meditate
helps with chronic pain
and even helps with the experience of pain.
But what we wanted to know,
what happens if we just tell people a little about what mindfulness is
and then cause them some pain.
Will that change their experience of pain?
Is that possible?
Well, to test that we recruited healthy adults,
people just like you,
and then we introduced them to this device:
we call it a thermod.
It's really just a square attached to a machine.
We put it on people's forearm, right here
and then we apply different kinds of temperatures.
We can apply warm temperatures which feel fine,
we can also apply hot temperatures which people rate as quite painful,
and then we told them to respond naturally as they would normally would,
or we asked them to be mindfully accepting of the pain.
So we told them about mindfulness in the same way as I just told you,
and then we told them how to orient with it around pain specifically.
So we told them to attend to and accept any sensation they experienced in response to the heat
without making any judgement of the goodness or the badness of that sensation.
So is kind of asking yourself:
'Yeah I'm feeling pain right now, but can I be OK with this feeling?"
And what did we find?
First in terms of people's experience of pain
what we found is that when we just applied one temperature to their arm
they did really report high pain intensity.
When we applied hot temperature to their arm
and asked them to respond naturally
they reported a lot of pain.
But what happened when we applied the same exact hot temperatures,
but asked them to be mindful and accepting of this pain?
What we saw is a significant decrease in pain ratings.
This is specifically a 27% drop in pain rating
which is a lot.
Now this is just people's pain ratings,
what about their brain activity?
Well, what we wanted to know...
There are regions in the brain that we know are responsive to physical pain.
We call them 'the pain matrix',
they include regions like the insula,
the thalamus, the dorso cingulate;
and what we wanted to know whether activity in these regions that process pain differed
during mindfulness versus natural reaction.
So what I'm plotting right here is brain activity from the moment that we applied pain
and for the next 20 seconds.
And we saw
- and this is extracted from one of those regions,
but really the patterns were the same across the brain -
is that when we applied warm temperatures
there wasn't really a significant increase in activity.
When we applied hot temperatures
and as these individuals reacted naturally,
we saw a significant increase in their brain response to pain.
But when we applied the same exact temperatures
and asked them to mindfully accept the experience of pain
even their brain responded less.
So we saw a significant decrease in their brain response to pain.
What I'm showing here is around a 45% drop,
but across the entire brain we saw between 40 and 68% drop
in the neural response to pain,
and that is a lot.
Now remember: this is with just half an hour of training
and what that suggests
-this is quite profound- is that a little bit of midfulness
applied in the right moment
can go a very long way.
Of course, that doesn't mean that practice doesn't make it better.
It does.
There is a really nice study by Joshua Grant and Peter Rainville
and what they did is they did the exact same thing that we did with this thermod,
this time on people's ancles,
with individuals who have been meditating for many many years.
And what they found similar to our results.
Is that when these individuals applied mindfulness in moments of pain
they reported much less pain.
But, when they looked at how many hours these individuals had practiced through out their lives,
and looked at the relationship between that and the drops in pain,
they found a positive relation or positive correlation.
So what that suggests is the more people practiced over time
the greatest their drop in pain rating.
So what does all of this mean?
So life will present you with many challenges,
and I hope that you will carry from this talk today
that you have the power to choose your response,
or at least practice getting better over time.
Mindfulness is only one kind of orientation
but is one that, as I've shown you
will have a good chance of reducing your stress and reducing your pain
and even changing your brain response.
And of course I'm not trying to suggest that
mindfulness will cure everything: it won't.
And is not for everybody.
And I can also tell you from experience
that the practice of mindful meditation
is quite difficult.
But I wanted to tell you about this today
because I wanted you to have a chance of try it out for yourselves.
Because even if this practice will help you just a little bit, right?
- and here is my question that I promised you at the end of this talk -
the next time that something challenging happens to you:
why not try it?
Thank you very much.
Dan Ariely: So...
DA: I don't know if you know but I'm actually have been
an expert meditator for a long time, did you know that?
Hedy Kober: I heard that rumor.
DA: Yes.
So I want to try and do something with you.
So would you please take the meditation position?
HK: Oh!
DA: OK, so please.
Breath slowly,
you have to focus,
pay attention to your breath...
that comes in and out...
ignore everything else...
try to focus and empty your mind.
Do not let your mind think about anything else.
And now very slowly...
I'm going to try and levitate you.
(Laughter and applause)


【TEDx】Lo que podemos lograr con conciencia plena (mindfulness): Hedy Kober at TEDxRiodelaPlata

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Hhart Budha 2014 年 6 月 14 日 に公開
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