Symposium highlights the neuroscience of meditation and mindfulness

Meditation has long been associated with a sense of inner calm and physical relaxation. Researchers at the UO are now finding that meditation and mindfulness can lead to improved learning and attention as well as increased self-awareness, compassion, and introspection. They are applying scientific methods to better understand the neurological basis of mindfulness practices such as meditation, tai chi, and yoga.

Cris Niell, assistant professor in the University of Oregon’s Institute for Neuroscience, together with several psychology graduate students, has organized a symposium on the subject entitled “The Science of Mindfulness and Meditation,” scheduled for 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 1 in Willamette Hall, Room 110.

“I think the neuroscience of meditation and mindfulness can tell us a lot about how neural circuits control the flow of information in the brain, as well as the tangible effects that mindfulness can have on personal well-being and society” said Niell. “The symposium is a way to showcase the work that is going on at the UO, and bring together and build excitement among people who are interested in this research.”

After consulting with graduate students on the best way to highlight the research going on at the UO, Niell organized the event as part of the UO Research Excellence Award (Early Research Career Award), which he received from the UO office for Research, Innovation and Graduate Education in May. He says he wanted to focus on an area outside of his normal research on the neural circuitry of the visual system.

The afternoon symposium will feature guest speaker Dr. Sara Lazar of the Harvard Medical School, who has pioneered studies about the effects of meditation on brain structure and function. In addition to Dr. Lazar’s address, both graduate students and faculty from the University of Oregon will give presentations, including graduate students Lisa May and Robin Hertz, clinical psychology professor Heidemarie Laurent, and noted cognitive neuroscientist Michael Posner.

A reception following the symposium will provide time for further discussion among the speakers and attendees. All who are interested in the scientific underpinnings of meditation and mindfulness are welcome to attend the symposium.