MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction)

Meditation grows in popularity for both health and spiritual reasons

AnnArbor.com: Quakers, Buddhists, agnostics, Hindus – they’re all doing it. Over the last few decades, meditation has evolved from a fringe practice to a mainstream stress-reduction technique that might be recommended by your family doctor.

In Washtenaw County, you have your choice of a wide variety of meditation classes and settings, ranging from the Zen Buddhist Temple in Ann Arbor, to a Quaker center in Chelsea to the Washtenaw Community College Health and Fitness Center.

Nationally, meditation is among top three alternative health methods used by Americans. According to a 2007 survey sponsored by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (a division of the National Institutes of Health), more than 9 percent of Americans say they meditate. Only herbal supplements and deep-breathing exercises are more popular.

Meditation and health benefits

Carol Blotter, a meditation teacher based in Chelsea, brings to the practice both a Quaker perspective and training in techniques based in Eastern spirituality. She has led meditation workshops and retreats at the Michigan Friends Center in Chelsea and at Deep Spring Center in Ann Arbor.

Blotter pointed to author and researcher Jon Kabat-Zinn as a pivotal figure in the mainstreaming of meditation. Kabat-Zinn is the founder of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

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Blotter noted that other scientists had studied meditation, but added, “Zinn really packaged it up… Americans like something with scientific approval.”

“He created a program called mindfulness-based stress reduction,” she said. “And you’ll find it in an awful lot of hospitals these days. Statistically, it’s phenomenal the impact meditation and mindfulness have on an individual’s health.”

Kimberly Michelle Johnson has been teaching meditation at the Washtenaw Community College Health and Fitness center for about a year. Johnson also mentioned improvements in health as a major benefit of meditation.

“Stress reduction has such a big impact on overall health,” she said. “It can aid in lowering blood pressure, assist in chronic pain reduction and help to relieve insomnia.”

The Ann Arbor Zen Buddhist Temple typically attracts up to 50 area residents for meditation meetings on Sunday mornings and as many as 30 on Sunday afternoons, according to the Rev. Haju Sunim (Linda Murray), resident priest.

Haju Sunim, who helped found the local Buddhist temple in 1982, said she sees modern students use meditation as a way to survive the stresses of everyday life rather than as a route to enlightenment. She said that even with that more secular aim, meditation has benefits.

“It can be very helpful as people learn to pay attention to the myriad of things that arise in their body and mind,” she said. “People often judge themselves and say they’re no good at meditation because so many thoughts are coming up, and they can’t calm their minds. My response is that it’s part of the process. Meditation is something that allows us to see and then to work with what comes up.”

Meditation as spiritual practice

Johnson’s Thursday night classes are designed to be accessible to students from a variety of backgrounds. Participants scan the body for areas of discomfort and pay careful attention to deep breathing.

“The meditation and relaxation techniques can be helpful no matter what your religious or spiritual tradition,” Johnson said. “Students are welcome to tailor the practice to incorporate their personal spiritual beliefs.”

For example, she said, the students can express their spirituality through their choice of mantra. The mantra could be an Eastern-style “Ohm,” a Christian phrase like “God is love” or simply “Let go.”

Blotter said that what people get out of meditation depends on their motivations.

“The wording, the practices that are used and the intention are all different because there are so many different kind of people in this world,” she said.

For many who are just discovering meditation, Blotter said, the emphasis is on feeling better immediately. However, for some, meditation might morph into a more spiritual practice over time.

“The modalities of meditation really expand along that whole continuum from ‘just give me something to do to make me feel better in this moment’ to ‘help me live my life with more honesty, clarity and openness from the heart.’ Many people start with the motivation to ‘just fix this one thing right now,’ and, over time, it changes into an awareness of a spiritual nature.”

In September, Blotter helped run a fall weekend meditation retreat at the Michigan Friends Center. Blotter compared the fall retreat to polishing silver and taking away all the tarnish that can build up after time.

“They can relax into nature, relax into spirit, have time to take a breath.”

Haju Sunim said that, in a Buddhist context, meditation is much more than a coping strategy.

“We’re not meditating for the sake of meditating; we’re meditating to have some deep understanding of life and death,” she said.

She said that meditating in the Zen Buddhist Temple is qualitatively different than taking a college course or a meditation class at a recreation center.

“Something very precious about our particular place is that it is a residential temple,” she said. “Residents… keep a schedule in the mornings and evenings so members can come in and practice if they want to.”

She said that in Asia, village life is affected by proximity to Buddhist temples, where morning prayers and bells rung for evening services set the rhythm of life. She said she hopes that the Ann Arbor Temple has a similar influence on its neighbors.

“We try to set up a rhythm of morning and evening practice. I hope that just by virtue of osmosis… our presence here will be a little more helpful day by day.”

Sarah Rigg is a freelance journalist who writes regularly for AnnArbor.com.

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University studying meditation as sleep aid for cancer survivors

Salt Lake Tribune: Cancer patients who have trouble getting sleep at night are being sought for a new pilot study exploring the potential of meditation techniques as sleep aids.

The study will probe the effectiveness of “mindfulness meditation” and “mind-body bridging.”

“Awareness training using mind-body interventions is becoming increasingly popular as an alternative to pharmacotherapy, which may have many side effects,” said University of Utah researcher David Lipschitz, who along with Yoshio Nakamura, another U. researcher, will be conducting the study.

Mindfulness meditation teaches awareness and the skill of paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment. It combines basic meditation and yoga, and is based on a program called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, or MBSR.

The MBSR program was developed to treat persistent and elevated levels of stress, sleep disturbance and other behavioral problems.

“Programs such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction have shown many benefits for improvements in many different conditions, including sleep,” Lipschitz said.

Mind-body bridging is a technique developed to bring one back to the present moment, to experience thoughts, emotions and physical sensations. It aims to reduce the impact of negative thoughts that contribute to stress.

Over the last two decades, Lipschitz said, complementary alternative medicine has gained ground — and the support of The National Institutes of Health.

“Giving doctors the option of evidence-based treatments will provide both them and their patients with alternatives that can complement what their patients receive in regular care,” he said.

Cancer patients in particular may lend some important insight into how much and how well alternative therapies like these work, Lipschitz said, because they are affected physically and psychologically by the disease and its treatments.

“In many cases, these effects persist well after treatment is over since people have concerns about the cancer returning,” he said. “Sleep problems are frequent in many post-treatment cancer patients and many of them are taking medications for better sleep.”

A growing number of studies show that following a yoga or meditation program can help people catch more Z’s, Lipschitz said, but more research is needed to understand the minimum of training needed to see benefits.

One study at the George E. Wahlen Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salt Lake City showed VA patients with sleep disturbance showed improvements in their sleep after two weeks of mind-body bridging.

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Workplace yoga and meditation can lower feelings of stress

Physorg.com: Twenty minutes per day of guided workplace meditation and yoga combined with six weekly group sessions can lower feelings of stress by more than 10 percent and improve sleep quality in sedentary office employees, a pilot study suggests. The study offered participants a modified version of what is known as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), a program established in 1979 to help hospital patients in Massachusetts assist in their own healing that is now in wide use around the world. Read more here.

In this context, mindfulness refers in part to one’s heightened awareness of an external stressor as the first step toward relaxing in a way that can minimize the effects of that stress on the body.

While the traditional MBSR program practice takes up an hour per day for eight weeks supplemented by lengthy weekly sessions and a full-day retreat, the modified version developed at Ohio State University for this study was designed for office-based workers wearing professional attire.

The results of the pilot study are published in a recent issue of the journal Health Education & Behavior.

Participants attended one-hour weekly group meetings during lunch and practiced 20 minutes of meditation and yoga per day at their desks. After six weeks, program participants reported that they were more aware of external stressors, they felt less stressed by life events, and they fell asleep more easily than did a control group that did not experience the intervention.

“Because chronic stress is associated with chronic disease, I am focusing on how to reduce stress before it has a chance to contribute to disease,” said Maryanna Klatt, lead author of the study and an assistant professor of clinical allied medicine at Ohio State.

“My interest is to see whether or not we can get people to reduce their health care utilization because they’re less stressed. I want to deliver something low cost at the work site, something practical that can be sustained, that can help reduce health care costs,” Klatt said.

Klatt and colleagues are building on these preliminary findings and continuing to study the broader impact of the intervention in various populations, such as cancer survivors, intensive-care nurses and inner-city schoolchildren. In addition to gathering self-reported data from research participants, the scientists plan to collect biological samples to determine whether the intervention can lead to lower levels of stress hormones.

For the pilot study, the researchers recruited 48 adult office workers with body mass index scores lower than 30 who exercised less than 30 minutes on most days of the week. Half were randomized to the intervention and half were wait-listed to receive the intervention later. Forty-two people completed the study.

Those who received the intervention participated in weekly one-hour group sessions during which breathing, relaxation and gentle yoga movement were designed to coax participants toward a meditative state. Participants also discussed work-related stress. As part of the pursuit of mindfulness, they were coached to contemplate a specific topic in each session that explored their response to a specific type of stress over the past week.

“It doesn’t matter what the stress is, but how you change the way you perceive the stress,” Klatt noted. “I like to describe mindfulness as changing the way you see what’s already there. It’s a tool that teaches people to become aware of their options. If they can’t change the external events in their life, they can instead change the way they view the stress, which can make a difference in how they experience their day-to-day life.”

The weekly sessions were supplemented by 20 minutes each day of movement and meditation guided by verbal cues and music provided on compact discs that Klatt designed and recorded. The entire intervention lasted six weeks.

The study analyzed participants’ responses to the intervention using data from established research questionnaires that measured perceived stress, or the degree to which situations in life are considered stressful; a number of components of sleep quality; and what is called mindful attention awareness, which refers to how often a person is paying attention to and is aware of what is occurring in the present.

All participants completed the questionnaires before and after the intervention. Twenty-two adults completed the intervention. Their pre- and post-test results were compared to those reported by the 20 control participants.

Mindful attention awareness increased significantly and perceived stress decreased significantly among the intervention group when compared to the control group’s responses. Overall sleep quality increased in both groups, but three of seven components of sleep were more affected in the intervention group.

On average, mindfulness increased by about 9.7 percent and perceived stress decreased by about 11 percent among the group that experienced the intervention. These participants also reported that it took them less time to fall asleep, they had fewer sleep disturbances and they experienced less daytime dysfunction than did members of the non-intervention group.

The researchers also took saliva samples to test for the presence of cortisol, a stress hormone, but found no significant changes in average daily levels of the hormone over time for participants in both groups. Klatt said the design of this part of the pilot study could have affected the result, and the sample collection technique will be changed in subsequent studies.

Klatt said mindfulness-based stress reduction, developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, has been studied widely and determined to be useful in lowering symptoms ranging from depression and anxiety to chronic pain. But the time commitment required in the program makes it impractical for busy working professionals, and adding a stress-reduction class outside of work could add stress to these people, she said.

So Klatt set out to develop what she calls a “low dose” of the program that is suitable for the workplace and still offers stress-reduction benefits. She specifically scheduled weekly sessions during lunch to avoid interfering with work time or home time, and combined movement with verbal prompts and music that are cues for participants to relax.

“As I’ve been working on the program, I heard so many of the participants say they wish they had learned this earlier,” Klatt said.

Because the low-dose program remains a work-in-progress that is still under investigation, it is not available for public use, Klatt noted.

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“Full Catastrophe Living,” by John Kabat-Zinn

Full Catastrophe Living

Available from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, is perhaps the best-known proponent of using meditation to help patients deal with illness. (The somewhat confusing title is from a line in Zorba the Greek in which the title character refers to the ups and downs of family life as “the full catastrophe.”)

But this book is also a terrific introduction for anyone who has considered meditating but was afraid it would be too difficult or would include religious practices they found foreign. Kabat-Zinn focuses on “mindfulness,” a concept that involves living in the moment, paying attention, and simply “being” rather than “doing.” While you can practice anything “mindfully,” from taking a walk to cleaning your house, Kabat-Zinn presents several meditation techniques that focus the attention most clearly, whether it’s on a simple phrase, your breathing, or various parts of your body.

The book goes into detail about how hospital patients have either improved their health or simply come to feel better despite their illness by using these techniques, but these meditations can help anyone deal with stress and gain a calmer outlook on life. “When we use the word healing to describe the experiences of people in the stress clinic, what we mean above all is that they are undergoing a profound transformation of view,” Kabat-Zinn writes. “Out of this shift in perspective comes an ability to act with greater balance and inner security in the world.”

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“Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life,” by Jon Kabat-Zinn

Wherever You Go, There You Are- Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life

“Wherever You Go, There You Are,” by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Available from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk

Kabat-Zinn, son-in-law of historian Howard Zinn, is a true pioneer in the field of applying mindfulness to the problem of relieving psychological and physical distress. Thirty years ago at UMass Medical Center he started the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program — a program that has since spawned Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression, Mindfulness-based Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Mindfulness-based Anxiety Reduction, Mindfulness-based approaches to eating disorders, and so on.

The Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction title is arguably a misnomer, tending as it does to conjure up images of executives with ulcers. Kabat-Zinn’s field was working with people who experienced chronic pain, and whom conventional treatments had failed. In other words he took on the most difficult cases. And he was successful. Clinical trials showed long-term reduction in the amount of pain that his patients experienced, even years after they had taken a course.

To Kabat-Zinn, meditation is important because it brings about a state of “mindfulness,” a condition of “being” rather than “doing” during which you pay attention to the moment rather than the past, the future, or the multitudinous distractions of modern life.

In brief, rather poetic chapters, he describes different meditative practices and what they can do for the practitioner. The idea that meditation is “spiritual” is often confusing to people, Kabat-Zinn writes; he prefers to think of it as what you might call a workout for your consciousness. This book makes learning meditation remarkably easy (although practicing it is not). But it also makes it seem infinitely appealing.

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Buddha Lessons (Newsweek)

Claudia Kalb, Newsweek International: A technique called ‘mindfulness’ teaches how to step back from pain and the worries of life.

At the age of 39, Janet Clarke discovered that she had a benign spinal tumor, which caused her unremitting back pain. Painkillers helped, but it wasn’t until she took a meditation course in Lytham that Clarke discovered a powerful weapon inside her own body: her mind. Using a practice called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Clarke learned to acknowledge the aching, rather than fight it. “It was about getting in touch with your body, rather than your head,” she says. “Mindfulness gives you something painkillers can’t—an attitude for living your life.”

With its roots in ancient Buddhist traditions, mindfulness is now gaining ground as an antidote for everything from type-A stress to depression. At the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at the University of Massachusetts, where MBSR was developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, 15,000 people have taken an eight-week course in the practice; hundreds more have signed up at medical clinics across the United States. Now scientists are using brain imaging and blood tests to study the biological effects of meditation. The research is capturing interest at the highest levels: the Dalai Lama is so intrigued he has joined forces with the Mind & Life Institute in Boulder, Colorado, which supports research on meditation and the mind. Next month, scientists will meet with the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India, for a major conference on the neuroplasticity of the brain. “People used to think that this was a lot of mystical mumbo jumbo,” says psychologist Ruth Baer, of the University of Kentucky. “Now they’re saying, ‘Hey, we should start paying attention’.”

Paying attention is the very essence of mindfulness. In 45-minute meditations, participants learn to observe the whirring thoughts of the mind and the physical sensations in the body. The guiding principle is to be present moment to moment, to be aware of what’s happening, but without critique or judgment. It is not easy. Our “monkey mind,” as Buddhists call the internal chaos, keeps us swinging from past regrets to future worries, leaving little time for the here and now. First attempts may provoke frustration (“I’ll never be able to do this”), impatience (“When will this be over?”) and even banal mental sparks (“What am I going to make for dinner?”). The goal, however, is not to reach nirvana, but to observe the cacophony in a compassionate way, to accept it as transient, “like bubbles forming in a pot of water or weather patterns in the sky,” says Kabat-Zinn.

The keystone of mindfulness is daily meditation, but the practice is intended to become a way of life. At Stanford University, Philippe Goldin encourages patients battling social-anxiety disorder to take “meaningful pauses” throughout the day as a way to monitor and take charge of their fears and self-doubts. Inner control can be a potent tool in the fight against all sorts of chronic conditions. In a pilot study of 18 obese women, Jean Kristeller, director of the Center for the Study of Health, Religion and Spirituality at Indiana State University, found that mindfulness meditation, augmented with special eating meditations (slowly savoring the flavor of a piece of cheese, say), helped reduce binges from an average of four per week to one and a half.

Mindfulness takes you out of the same old patterns. You’re no longer battling your mind in the boxer’s ring—you’re watching, with interest, from the stands. The detachment doesn’t lead to passivity, but to new ways of thinking. This is especially helpful in depression, which plagues sufferers with relentless ruminations. University of Toronto psychiatry professor Zindel Segal, along with British colleagues John Teasdale at Oxford and Mark Williams at Cambridge, combines mindfulness with conventional cognitive behavioral therapy, teaching patients to observe sadness or unhappiness without judgment. In a study of patients who had recovered from a depressive episode, Segal and colleagues found that 66 percent of those who learned mindfulness remained stable (no relapse) over a year, compared with 34 percent in a control group.

The biological impact of mindfulness is the next frontier in scientific research. In a study published several years ago, Kabat-Zinn found that when patients with psoriasis listened to meditation tapes during ultraviolet-light therapy, they healed about four times faster than a control group. More recently, Kabat-Zinn and neuroscientist Richard Davidson, of the University of Wisconsin, found that after eight weeks of MBSR, a group of biotech employees showed a greater increase in activity in the left prefrontal cortex—the region of the brain associated with a happier state of mind—than colleagues who received no meditation training. Those with the greatest left-brain activation also mounted the most vigorous antibody assault against a flu vaccine.

There’s more in the pipeline. Stanford’s Goldin is taking brain images to see if mindfulness affects emotional trigger points, like the amygdala, which processes fear. And at the University of Maryland, Dr. Brian Berman is tracking inflammation levels in rheumatoid arthritis patients who study mindfulness. One of them, Dalia Isicoff, says the payoff is already clear: “I’m at peace,” she says. Mind and body, together.

With Clint Witchalls in London

Original article no longer available…

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Meditation and yoga help bust stress (Minnesota Daily)

Ching Lo, Minnesota Daily, University of Minnesota: A new stress-relief class is helping some students at the University ease their worries through meditation and yoga.

The Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program teaches participants how to manage stress better. The University’s Center for Spirituality and Healing organized the program, and it is open to the public.

The second group of participants began the eight-week program this week, learning how to relax more, understand stress and find peace of mind.

“It’s about learning to trust your inner resources — healing from within,” instructor Terry Pearson said.

Each course meets weekly for two hours, and participants are urged to practice meditation and yoga techniques at home.

Two sessions are offered this fall, and approximately 25 people are participating. Enrollment costs $325.

Jane Wobken, a University scientist, finished the course this summer and said it’s a good way to release stress.

“I established a routine, and I have the daily reminders to be mindful,” Wobken said.

Practicing yoga or meditation outside the class helped, she said.

“Yoga tries to get people to come into their bodies,” Pearson said. “Meditation tries to quiet the mind. You are practicing to be in this moment.”

Pearson said some participants have told her the course changed their lives.

Some take the course by request of physicians. Pearson said some patients were able to stop taking medications after taking the course.

University student Michelle Trotter said she felt satisfied after taking the first course this summer. It set a strong foundation for mindful thinking, she said.

“As a student, it offered me to be more mindful through the stress of school,” Trotter said. “I learned to turn inwards, to take time for myself and to slow down.”

She said anyone could use his or her time to be aware of occurrences around them.

“The goal is to be aware of the things happening or done, and not just doing it,” Wobken said.

The program began at the University of Massachusetts in 1979. Organizers said the class can help people with challenges varying from mental disorders to fatal diseases.

Original article no longer available…

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Mindfulness medication

ABC News: Many moons ago, a wandering Nepalese prince sat under a tree, vowing not to rise until he attained enlightenment.

After a long night of deep meditation, Siddhartha Gautama, better known as the Buddha, saw the light and declared that suffering is subjective, and can be reduced through self-awareness.

Today, 2500 years later, a growing number of American doctors and healthcare workers are teaching people who are ill how to apply Buddha’s epiphany to their lives.

In hospitals, businesses and community centers around the country, meditation is increasingly being offered as a method of stress reduction, and to help patients better cope with the physical pain and mental strain associated with many medical conditions, including heart disease and HIV infection…

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Coping with anxiety

There’s Cipro, potassium iodide and the smallpox vaccine to ward off biological agents. But is there an antidote to anxiety? “I’m very frightened,” said Julie White, as she exited Manhattan’s Sonic Yoga last week. But she has a remedy: the stretching and deep breathing of yoga. The practice is so calming that after the terror upgrade, White made an upgrade of her own–from one class a day to two. Yoga, she says, “is my tranquilizer.”

You may find the lotus pose hopelessly warm and fuzzy in the face of terror. But there are a host of activities, from working out to going for a massage, that can temper the anxiety. Many of these techniques have been used for decades, if not centuries; now advances in science are showing they can reduce the hormones associated with stress and even affect brain activity. The common trait among all: maintaining control and recognizing that our concerns are a natural response to the world we live in. “We’re justified in having this fear,” says Dr. Herbert Benson, president of the Mind/Body Medical Institute of Boston. “Life was stressful before 9-11. It’s gotten progressively worse.”

The first step toward combating fear is identifying it…

Newsweek: Read the rest of this article…

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Finding happiness: cajole your brain to lean to the left

NY Times article by Daniel Goleman (author of Emotional Intelligence) on scientific explanations of how meditation acts as an antidote to stress:

All too many years ago, while I was still a psychology graduate student, I ran an experiment to assess how well meditation might work as an antidote to stress. My professors were skeptical, my measures were weak, and my subjects were mainly college sophomores. Not surprisingly, my results were inconclusive.

But today I feel vindicated.

To be sure, over the years there have been scores of studies that have looked at meditation, some suggesting its powers to alleviate the adverse effects of stress. But only last month did what I see as a definitive study confirm my once-shaky hypothesis, by revealing the brain mechanism that may account for meditation’s singular ability to soothe.

The data has emerged as one of many experimental fruits of an unlikely research collaboration: the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan religious and political leader in exile, and some of top psychologists and neuroscientists from the United States. The scientists met with the Dalai Lama for five days in Dharamsala, India, in March 2000, to discuss how people might better control their destructive emotions.

One of my personal heroes in this rapprochement between modern science and ancient wisdom is Dr. Richard Davidson, director of the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin. Dr. Davidson, in recent research using functional M.R.I. and advanced EEG analysis, has identified an index for the brain’s set point for moods.

The functional M.R.I. images reveal that when people are emotionally distressed — anxious, angry, depressed — the most active sites in the brain are circuitry converging on the amygdala, part of the brain’s emotional centers, and the right prefrontal cortex, a brain region important for the hypervigilance typical of people under stress.

By contrast, when people are in positive moods — upbeat, enthusiastic and energized — those sites are quiet, with the heightened activity in the left prefrontal cortex.

NY Times: Read the rest of this article…

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