The Brain and Mindfulness Meditation

THE MINDFULNESS BASED STRESS REDUCTION PROGRAM STARTS MAY 19TH! Read to find out more about the amazing benefits! image

One student in my MBSR class recently told me that the MBSR class was truly life changing; another student who struggles with arthritis told me that thanks to mindfulness she is now able to dance, whereas a year ago she could hardly walk.  The brain is plastic and this may be partly why we find mindfulness so beneficial.  If you find yourself being a “worrier” or with a very busy mind that won’t stop,  I have good news for you! Your brain and thinking habits can change at the neurological level.  We now have evidence that the brain is plastic and that it changes in very positive ways with Mindfulness.

In a recent study, researchers looked at the brains of 16 people who signed up to do the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program by taking MRI scans (magnetic resonance images) of their brains before and after the 8 week program.  They also scanned the brains of a control group of people who did not participate in the program.

After finishing the program, all participants reported they had improved in measures of mindfulness, such as acting with awareness and in reduced judgement towards others and themselves.

What was more amazing was that the MRI scans showed that those who had taken the MBSR class had an increase in gray matter concentration within the left hippocampus, the posterior cingulate cortex, the temper-parietal junction, and the cerebellum.  Brain regions involved in learning and memory, emotion regulation, sense of self, and perspective taking (Harvard neuroscientist group, Britta Hölzel, Sarah Lazar).

This study among many others suggests that our brains are plastic and that with discipline and practice we feel better not only  because we are spending time meditating, but because our brains are changing!



Finding peace in your life….

We often imagine peace will come when things in our lives are calm and we have no problems.  If imagewe think that this is the only way we can achieve inner peace, it often feels unattainable because of the reality of our lives: work, relationships, children, financial concerns, illness, anxiety, worries, demands, obligations, and so on.  Is it possible to find inner peace even when life is full of turmoil? Can we learn to cultivate inner peace?

Yes, we can.  Mindfulness teachings do just that.  With practice, we begin to see life from a different perspective.  We begin to see that it is our interpretations of our experiences that lead us to loose our peace.  How we perceive what happens in our lives is what can make us feel lost.

We spend too much time fighting our reality, or in the past dwelling on things that we did or didn’t do, or in the future worrying about something that has not happened, imaging the worst.  If we are ill, we feel that our bodies have become our enemies.  So much of this is literally in our mind!

Mindfulness is a discipline that helps us gain mastery over our minds.  With mindfulness practice we learn how to become observers of the thoughts and stories that our minds generate.  In being able to observe our thoughts, we become able to discern which of our thoughts are useful and which are destructive and torturous.  Furthermore, we learn that thoughts are just thoughts; they do not have any power unless we give it to them.  So, we can begin to say “oh, that’s just a thought, I don’t have to believe it or get hooked by it.”

Tip: Every time you notice yourself stressed and anxious or upset, pay attention to your thoughts, observe them as if you were watching a movie.  Say, “oh there is that thought again…” or “oh, there is that awful thing I am telling myself.”  “I don’t have to identify with my thoughts.”  And then attend to what is in front of you, here in the present (for a mindfulness strategy that helps with this, click here.  Imagine being like a tree; just there, stable, grounded, accepting of what comes (weather, storms, heat, etc.), you grow leaves in the summer, lose them in the fall, welcome snow in the winter, and grow flowers in the spring.  We can cultivate our ability to be steady, grounded, and accepting of what comes with peace and acceptance.

To learn how to cultivate mindfulness and the well being that comes with it: Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program, for more information, click here  or to register click here registration

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction: Effectiveness

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR): Life Changing!image

I have been a psychologist and counsellor for over 20 years, and my work with Mindfulness Therapies has been some of the most rewarding.  But what is more, I have developed a commitment to my own practice of Mindfulness meditation and mindful living, which has been life changing!.

In order to train to become an MBSR teacher, I immersed myself in the practice of Mindfulness mediation and I attended 3 trainings and 2 retreats offered by my MBSR teachers at the Center For Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts.  Our learning paralleled the deep experience of MBSR that our clients receive when they come to our classes.

I found that during those 5 programs, the teachings of MBSR changed me in deep ways. I have learned to be more calm, to be less married to time, to slow down and not feel like I have to be productive every minute of every day.  More importantly, it has taught me to be more present and to view life’s stressors in ways that do not disturb me as much as before.  Living in the present moment has brought me much joy and happiness and, as Jon Kabat-Zinn says, I feel like I have been intensely trained in the art of living.

And I am finding that the participants who have taken my classes are finding these instructions for living present and happier life changing as well.

Here are some other stories and comments from clinicians and participants (these are extracted from an article by Brant Rogers)

Clinician and MBSR Participant Comments about their Experience of MBSR

“I find that those of my patients who participated in the MBSR course had better awareness and attitude toward their symptoms. In their own personal ways, this positive internal shift of attention helped them gain new understanding of their symptoms (i.e., pain, anxiety, etc.) and even help them in times of more severe symptomatology. In some cases, this skill has helped them become less dependent on pharmacologic therapy and more willing to adopt other self-care methods.” – MD, Internist, referring physician, Hillsboro

“The body aches and discomforts that the medical doctors couldn’t even explain, much less fix, MBSR has alleviated.” – MBSR graduate, Public School Teacher

“I had already endured years of chronic illness, multiple surgeries, and breast cancer with ever- dwindling inner resources to sustain me before discovering the MBSR 8 week course. This course gave me back my connection to healthy self that had been stripped of me over the course of my medical journey.” – Cancer Survivor, MBSR graduate

“Overall, I am calmer with my clients and sharing what I have learned with them is helping them to change their views of depression, anxiety, and other mental health challenges._ – LCSW, MBSR graduate, referring clinician, Hillsboro

“I work in palliative care and to provide the greatest benefit to patients and colleagues I need to practice effective self-care; MBSR is the center of that practice. I believe MBSR sustains me during difficult times and it allows me enjoy the bountiful times all the while helping me to remain mindful of my health and wellness.” – MSW, cancer survivor, MBSR graduate

“MBSR training gave me an exciting tool to share within the self-care opportunities offered by Occupational Therapists.” – OT and MBSR Graduate

“Due to my Crohn’s diagnosis my pregnancy was classified ‘high risk.’ MBSR was import and in my taking time to recognize and relieve the effects of daily stressors and helping to reduce inflammation. My son was born healthy and unmedicated in a natural delivery.” – MBSR Graduate

1 This presentation is part of a panel discussion at the Pain Management Options for Chronic Pain Disorders Continuing Education Interprofessional Series at Pacific University’s College of Health Professionals, October 19, 2012.


You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to sail

imageLife is like the ocean, sometimes it is calm, and sometimes it is stormy and intense.  When life gets stormy, we often feel overwhelmed and react.  When we react we often are coming at it from an automatic pilot rather than from a place of choice.

Given that life has its ups, and downs, no matter what, just like the ocean, we can equip ourselves with the tools we need to navigate it.  Like a skilled sailor navigates a boat during an intense storm.  So what are the tools?


Being in the present moment can assist us to see what is happening and to have an awareness of what is going on and what our impulses are before we act.

One way to cultivate this presence is with mindfulness practice.  When you find yourself in a stormy moment, close your eyes, and take 3 deep breaths.  Then feel your feet and the sensations of the feet touching the ground.  Spend a minute attending to these sensations.

Taking a moment to come to the present may open up the space for you to reach into your deep wisdom so that you can choose an action rather than react and cause yourself further sorrow.

3 Common Torturous Thoughts that Stressed People have – And how to free yourself from them

  • “I’m not going to get it all done!”
  • “What if _______ (worst case scenario) happens?!!!!”
  • “I’m not good enough…”

The mind is like a factory of thoughts.  It just doesn’t stop.  When you begin to practice Mindfulness, you begin to realize how the mind just won’t stop.

The problem with stress and anxiety is that the mind doesn’t stop generating torturous thoughts about what might go wrong, what is wrong, how we are not good enough or how we won’t be able to handle one thing or another.  Most of these thoughts are unhelpful and useless.

Mindfulness helps us become aware of our thoughts but more importantly it allows us to decrease the power of thoughts, and therefore, our stress and anxiety.

Tip#1: When you become aware that your mind is engaged in torturous, unhelpful thinking, bring your awareness to the present moment by finding 5 things with each of your senses (except taste).  As you find each thing, spend a few seconds paying attention to each:

  • 5 things you see
  • 5 things you touch
  • 5 things you hear
  • 5 things you smell

Doing this each time you feel stressed, anxious, worried, caught in negative thinking, you will weaken the power of the thoughts, gain mastery over your mind, and feel empowered.

Welcome to the Vancouver Centre for Mindfulness


I am very excited to embark on my dream of creating the Vancouver Centre for Mindfulness Therapies.  As a psychologist, my passion is to make a difference in the lives of others.  I am starting my dream by offering Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction programs in the community.  This program was developed at the Centre for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, where I have received my training.

Stress, Anxiety, physical or emotional distress and illness have been shown to benefit from this mindfulness program.  For more information click on Registration.

Dr. Erika Horwitz, Registered Psychologist