Stage fright: don't get over it, get used to it

Many can feel empathy with the situation Banerjee describes: facing “a room full of scientists, who for whatever reason, did not look very happy that Read more

Beyond birthmarks and beta blockers, to cancer prevention

Ahead of this week’s Morningside Center conference on repurposing drugs, we wanted to highlight a recent paper in NPJ Precision Oncology by dermatologist Jack Arbiser. It may represent a new chapter in the story of the beta-blocker propranolol. Several years ago, doctors in France accidentally discovered that propranolol is effective against hemangiomas: bright red birthmarks made of extra blood vessels, which appear in infancy. Hemangiomas often don’t need treatment and regress naturally, but some can lead Read more

Drying up the HIV reservoir

Wnt is one of those funky developmental signaling pathways that gets re-used over and over again, whether it’s in the early embryo, the brain or the Read more

compassion meditation

Anticipating approval from a renowned scholar

Charles Raison, MD, with the Dalai Lama

When Charles Raison hosted a fundraising dinner for Jestun Pema, the sister of His Holiness the Dalai Lama some years ago as a faculty member at the University of California at Los Angeles, little did he know his future would become intertwined with His Holiness.

Raison, who is a psychiatrist and an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory University School of Medicine, began his career at Emory in 1999. Since that time, he has emerged as one of the leaders in Emory’s remarkable relationship with the Dalai Lama through the Emory Tibet Science Initiative (ETSI) and his research on the potential health benefits of compassion meditation.

The Dalai Lama recently visited Emory in his role as Emory Presidential Distinguished Professor and presided over a series of conferences related to ETSI.  Raison made a presentation to His Holiness during the Compassion Meditation Conference.

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Eastern and Western medicine unite for mind/body health

Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi, PhD, senior lecturer in the Department of Religion at Emory, and Charles Raison, MD, in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Emory School of Medicine, have been associates, colleagues and friends whose relationship has grown as a result of their participation in the Tibetan Studies Program at Emory. Together they have served for the last several years as co-directors of the Emory Collaborative for Contemplative Studies.

Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi

Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi, PhD

Charles Raison, MD

Charles Raison, MD

Negi and Raison recently collaborated on a study at Emory looking at the practice of compassion meditation and its effect of on inflammatory responses when people are stressed. The study required one group of college students to attend compassion meditation class sessions, while a control group attended classes on topics relevant to the mental and physical health of college students.

Negi developed and taught the compassion meditation program that was used in the study based on a thousand-year-old Tibetan Buddhist mind-training practice called “lojong” in Tibetan. Raison and his team of researchers tested the participants and analyzed the data.

The study, which has been published in two articles in the medical journal Psychoneuroendocrinology in 2009, succeeded in showing a strong relationship between time spent practicing meditation and reductions in inflammation and emotional distress in response to psychological stress.

The success of this initial study has led the pair to embark on an expanded protocol for adults called the Compassion and Attention Longitudinal Meditation study (CALM). The CALM study will compare compassion meditation with two other interventions – mindfulness training and a series of health-related lectures.

The outcome of the CALM study, combined with the data from the initial meditation study, will help neuroscientists to further expand the awareness of how mind and body are connected, and the power of the mind to effect both illness and health.

Raison is clinical director of the Emory Mind-Body Program, and director of the Behavioral Immunology Clinic at Emory’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. He specializes in scientific studies that show how stress can have a negative impact on the body’s immune system.

Negi earned the highest degree of learning in Tibetan Buddhism, the degree of Geshe Lharampa, from Drepung Loseling Monastery, and received his PhD from Emory’s Graduate Institute for the Liberal Arts in 1999. In addition to teaching at Emory, he serves as spiritual director of Drepung Loseling Monastery, Inc., which has been affiliated with Emory since 1998 and which serves as the North American seat for Drepung Loseling Monastery, one of the largest Tibetan Buddhist monastic centers in exile in India.

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Cultivating compassion while lowering stress

Charles Raison, MD

Charles Raison, MD

Charles Raison, MD, and his colleagues are studying how stress and the immune system interact to make people depressed when they’re sick and sick when they’re depressed. Yet, data show that people who practice compassion meditation may reduce their inflammatory and behavioral responses to stress, which are linked to serious illnesses. Raison is clinical director of the Emory Mind-Body Program. He also is the mental health expert on CNN’s health website, CNN Health.com.

One type of meditation, called focused meditation, aims to refine and enhance attention and calm the mind by focusing on one object such as the breath. Compassion meditation, as its name suggests, is designed to cultivate compassion—that is, enhancing one’s ability to empathize with the anguish, distress, and suffering of others.

We’re interested in how the stress system and the immune system interact to make people depressed when they’re sick and sick when they’re depressed, says Raison. There’s a circle where stress activates inflammation and inflammation activates stress pathways, Raison explains.

Secular, compassion meditation is based on a thousand-year-old Tibetan Buddhist mind-training practice called “lojong.” Lojong uses a cognitive, analytic approach to challenge a person’s unexamined thoughts and emotions towards other people, with the long-term goal of developing altruistic emotions and behavior towards all people.

To hear Raison’s own words about compassion meditation, go to “Sound Science.”

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