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ASC Science Sundays: Ruchika Prakash – Mindfulness for the Aging Brain

Welcome to Science Sundays. Science Sundays, as you know,
is a free lecture series that’s open to the public. It provides a wide range of
current and emerging topics in science that relate to our lives. And our speakers are
experts in their own fields that are from either Ohio
State or around the globe. We try very hard to make
every topic accessible to all age groups, with and
without the science background. And as you know, that Science Sunday happens every month on a Sunday
from three to four o’clock, followed by a free informal
reception after the lectures. I’m the host of today’s event. My name’s Zhong-Lin Lu, I’m the Director of the Center for Cognitive
and Behavioral Brain Imaging. It’s on page 17 of your field
guide, and that’s our center. Our Center is state-of-the-art
interdisciplinary facility that’s dedicated to the study
of structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging
of the human brain. I’m proud to introduce today’s
speaker, Dr. Ruchika Prakash. She’s a colleague of mine
and a tenured professor in the Department of Psychology, and also the Associate Director for the Center of Cognitive
and Behavioral Brain Imaging in the Arts and Science
of Ohio State University. Ruchika received her doctors
training in clinical psychology in 2009 from the University of
Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her laboratory has been
the lead laboratory in studying the mindfulness meditation as a cognitive and emotional
rehabilitation tool for the elderly. In her short academic
career she has published over 60 peer-reviewed articles, often in top-tier journals in
psychology and neuroscience. Dr. Prakash is funded by the
National Institute of Health and the National Multiple
Sclerosis Society. And she received the
Rising Star designation given by the American Association
for Psychological Science in 2013. And the Early Career Award by the Division of Adult
Development and Aging of American Psychological
Association in 2016. So please join me to welcome Dr. Prakash. (audience clapping) All right, good afternoon, everyone. How are we all doing? (many speak at once)
Doing great. Well, thank you so much for being here. I have to say it takes a
certain level of awesomeness to get out on a cold Sunday afternoon and go learn about science, so good for you guys.
(audience chuckles) Well, it really is a great
honor and a privilege to be here and talk about my research program, talk a lot about the
laboratory-based studies that we do, and bring it to an audience that actually funds our research. So it’s really a great
professional honor to be here. Personally, I’m very grateful as well to talk about this research
and have this experience. Now you see, my husband
and I are both academics. And as part of our jobs, we tend to give a lot of these public engagement talks. Now one of the things, we have a one-year-old and a six-year-old. And we had a deal when the kids were not sleeping through the night and one of us had to give a talk, is that we would get five
nights of uninterrupted sleep. Right, now anyone who’s been a parent knows how important that is
and how critical that is. So last year I emailed all of
my academic friends and said, “Please invite me to give talks “’cause that’s the only way I can get “five night of sleep.”
(audience laughing) The problem was that he
did the same ’cause he is an academic as well.
(audience laughing) So it averaged out,
but we felt really good when we had to go give out a talk ’cause we got uninterrupted sleep. But now that the kids
are a little bit older, they sleep through the
night, our deal now, especially if we’re
doing this on a weekend, we get the morning off of child care. So this morning, my
husband took the kids off and I had the most amazing
slice of banana bread and vanilla latte from Starbucks. So it really, personally,
I’m very grateful. In that moment I wanted to thank Zhong-Lin and all of you for inviting
me to come and give this talk, so I appreciate that.
(audience laughing) So on that note from a
mindful cup of coffee, I’m gonna tell you today
about my research program, that I have been
developing since I got here to Ohio State in 2009, on
mindfulness and the aging brain. Now, I have two goals for today’s talk. One is, of course, to talk
about this area of research, which I really see in three phases. So the phase one, which
we’ve been working on for more than about a decade or so, really looks at what
changes as we get older. So what changes happen in
the structure of our brain, as well as in the
functioning of our brain? And how does that translate to behavior? So how do our cognitive faculties, all of the mental
processes that are involved in learning, remembering
and using knowledge, how does that change as we get older? And we’ve done a lot of
work within this phase one. I’m gonna present to you our
pilot study of the phase two, where we basically designed
this mindfulness intervention to enhance cognitive functioning in our older adult participants. We took this pilot data that
I’m gonna tell you today and went to the National
Institute of Health, who have now funded our
large five-year study which we’re gonna be
starting up in January. And the goal of all of
this research really is to take this research
and develop this app, which I’ve been calling
the Mindful Agers app, which will hopefully
happen in a few years, is to take all of our
evidence-based science and basically come up
with this application with the goal of worldwide dissemination. So that’s our goal for
this part of the talk. My second goal is to really talk about what does it take to
do a good trial, right? Now, you open up “Washington Post,” you open up “New York Times,”
there’s lots of information about you should be doing
this for your health, you should be taking in vitamin D, you should be having a good diet, social support, exercise,
mindfulness meditation. And so to address the
question, what should we trust? What does it take to make a good trial? And I’ll walk you guys through
this concentric spheres towards the end of my talk. So that’s my goal for today, is to have this
two-purpose, two-fold talk. So before I get into any
data, I would like to start by saying that the simplest of our studies takes about a year or a
year and a half to complete, it really does take a
village to do this work. This is my laboratory here,
which really comprises of extremely motivated,
hard-working undergraduate students, graduate students, postdocs,
and full time research staff that conduct a lot of this research. This research is expensive, especially when you try
to do brain imaging. We have one of our real strong supporters of the Center for Cognitive
and Behavioral Brain Imaging, Susan and Dean Gibson,
they’re here with us. And I really want, from
the bottom of my heart wanna thank them and the National
Multiple Sclerosis Society and the National Institute of Health. So promoting cognitive health, this has been a topic that has
been the focus of my research since I started graduate school. I’ve looked at computerized
cognitive training. So you all have heard about
brain training games, right? So I’ve looked at how does that impact cognitive functioning and
health in older adults? I’ve looked at the effects
of exercise training. And then now much more recently, the effects of mindfulness meditation, and how does that impact
brain structure and function? Now, with the exception of
computerized cognitive training, exercise training and
mindfulness meditation, I really see them as
lifestyle interventions that require change in our everyday lives. And I think a lot of people get that for exercise training, right? If our goal is to become fit,
we can’t just go to the gym for about eight weeks or so,
engage in about two hours of exercise a day, and then assume that we’re gonna be fit for
the rest of our lives, right? Anyone thinking that here? No?
(audience laughing) Yeah, perfect. So the same thing with
mindfulness meditation as well. It’s a lifestyle-based intervention. So you can engage in formal practices, you can go through formal practices, but it’s about adopting these principles and these skills in our everyday lives. And that’s what we’re
gonna talk about today. Now, mindfulness is really
quite the buzzword, right? Especially when you hear
TSA agents at airports talking about being mindful,
you first think to yourself, well, TSA and mindfulness
doesn’t really go together. But it’s become quite the buzzword. You know, we have our
congressman, Tim Ryan from Ohio, who wrote a book, “A Mindful Nation.” He was here a couple of years ago, and we organized an entire
day around mindful at OSU. So he’s written on that,
it was on the cover of “Time” magazine saying
“The Mindful Revolution.” But now we’re a Buckeye land, right? So O-H. – [Audience] I-O I-O, right? So we only believe things
when football players endorse them, right?
(audience laughing) So Pete Carroll’s team apparently was practicing mindfulness. And it is around that time, my
then Dean called me and said, “Tell me about your research,
it looks interesting.” So yes, football is what we’re about. On that note, we did great yesterday. So what I wanna start by talking about is what is mindfulness? It’s really a buzzword,
people have been using it in all different
ways, so what do I mean when I say mindfulness? So let me start by giving you
a definition of mindfulness by Jon Kabat-Zinn, he’s the
person who is responsible for bringing a lot of this
from the Buddhist tradition and placing it in our Western world in a very secular context. And approaching it from
a scientific perspective. Here’s the definition that he gives. “It’s an inherent human characteristic “to bring one’s complete attention “to the experiences occurring
in the present moment “in a nonjudgmental or accepting way.” I’ll give you another
definition by Pema Chodron. “Mindfulness is an open
attentiveness to whatever arises. “It is basically a development of trust “in the present moment and the willingness “to contact it directly,
be it coldness or hotness, “hardness or softness, gloom or happiness, “darkness or brightness.” Essentially, it boils
down to paying attention on purpose with non-judgment. It really is this conscious
commitment to awaken ourselves up to the experiences
of the present moment, whatever is happening in this moment, whether it’s about attending this lecture, we’re fully present, we’re
sustaining our attention on what is happening with us this moment. And all of that really is done in a soil with an attitude of
non-judgment and acceptance. I do a lot of work with
patient populations, individuals who suffer from
depression and anxiety, and they’re often talking about past, things that happened in
the past or future worries. And we all have them. The idea is, can we let go of that and be in this present
moment for whatever it is and not all times? And letting go of the judgment,
the evaluation of that, it’s a bare registering of facts as they’re happening in this moment. You know, one example
that I always like to give from my life, and this
was a few years ago, is, it was around this time, I think, right around Thanksgiving or so, and we got our first snow
of the season, right? And my daughter is just standing there and having the snowflakes
drop on her face. She was about a year and
a half or two years old. And she was completely
taken aback by that, just was so, that moment
was everything for her. And this was again before
my practice of mindfulness, and all that I could
think about is like God, it’s gonna get so cold tomorrow, and oh, my God, it’s gonna be slushy. And do I have the winter coats out? What about my boots? And that moment is when I let go of that and just notice what
was happening with her and how she was really
enjoying that moment. From my clinic, I work a lot with people who suffer from chronic pain
for one reason or another. And every time that pain comes up, we talk about experiencing the
bare sensation of that pain. When that pain comes up, are
we actually experiencing pain? Or is it the story around the pain? How did I get that injury? Why me? Why did that happen to me? And build this entire weave of a story, and that’s what we end up focusing on. The idea with mindfulness,
with a lot of hard work, none of this comes to say that it’s easy, with a lot of hard work is this idea of dropping the narrative and focusing on the present moment, whatever
that present moment is. Now, a lot of people ask me, “Well, what constitutes
mindfulness practice?” Right? “Is it doing these convoluted yoga poses?” ‘Cause I sure as hope to
God that this is not it, ’cause I cannot do that,
especially having a baby last year. Is it going on these calm walks? Is it smelling an orange and not roses? In fact, it’s all of these. It’s really about our
commitment to be present, whether it’s in this room,
whether it’s in a lecture hall, whether it’s watching the football game. In all of these experiences, we can bring mindful attention to it. And so from a scientific perspective, I think it really boils
down to two things. One is can mindfulness help us improve our sustained attention capabilities? And then the second is can it
help us regulate our emotions? So that we may respond to our emotions, as opposed to reacting to our emotions. And this has become much and much more true in this era of connectivity, right? We get that text message or
that email where you’re like, I’m gonna react to it right now. And just take a step back and respond to it rather than react. So there are these two components of it, sustained attention and
regulation of emotions. Today, I’ll speak to you a little bit about just sustained attention. And regulation of emotions
is talk for another day. So cognition and aging, right. So I think I mentioned this,
cognition really refers to mental processes that are involved in learning, in remembering
in using your knowledge. Sitting here in this lecture hall and paying attention to what
is going on in the screen, what I’m talking, registering
that, comprehending that and then tomorrow, if someone asks you, “What did you do on Sunday?” You can talk to them about
you learned about mindfulness and how it impacts the brain. Now I’m gonna show a slide that might be a little disappointing for
anyone over 25 in this room, anyone who’s under 25,
please don’t look at me. There is a well documented
cognitive decline in aging. So this graph, basically, here, you see all of these different
domains of cognition that I was telling you about. How fast do we react to things? Or how much do we remember? Or how well can we pay
attention to things? As you can see, the
majority of these abilities start declining in your mid 20s. And I was just finishing up my
PhD when the study came out. And I was like, well, wasn’t I just taught that everything matures
by the time you’re 21? So you only have about four
good years before things start, like, declining?
(audience laughing) I’m like, “Thanks!” Now, that cognition,
this change in cognition that happens as a function of aging, also is accompanied by changes in brain structure and function. So right here, the study that you see, this is a side 3D view of our brain. And this region right here is what’s called the prefrontal cortex. It’s the seat of higher
level cognition, right? So it’s the area that gets activated when you’re planning for things. when you’re doing multitasking, you’re going back and forth
between different things. And the volume, how thick this area is, declines as we get older. And you see this nice
graph of declining, right, nice graph, that’s a
good way of putting it. So brain structure declines
and changes as we get older. Another thing that I
tend to study a lot more at our state-of-the-art technology at the Department of Psychology is what we call brain function. So now we have technology
where we can put people inside an MRI scanner and
basically look at the blood flow that happens in the brain when
certain areas of the brain get recruited to do certain tasks. What you see are these blobs
of activation in those areas. So this red network, which is called the frontoparietal network, basically frontal part and
then top part right here, that’s the network that gets engaged when you’re focusing your
attention on something. So right now, for those of
you who are not engaging in mind-wandering, this is what
needs to be going on, right? So that’s what’s activating. The blue is what’s called,
it’s a network of regions that are called the default mode network. This is the network that gets suppressed of as a function of
focusing your attention. So the red network should
be activated right now, the blue network should be deactivated, or basically there should be
less blood flow in that region. What’s really cool about this is that you can take the timecourse of
activity of these regions. And basically, you can see as red goes up, blue goes down, as blue
goes up, red goes down. And now we have the technology
and the analyses strength to be able to basically
look at the connections of the different parts of the brain, especially both this
frontoparietal network and default mode network, right? So the idea would be so how does mindfulness meditation
actually end up changing the strength of connections
of these different networks? Now, since we just talked
about mind-wandering, let’s do a show of hands. How many of you are entirely
attending the lecture? A few of you there, okay. How many of you were, are thinking about what you’re going
to do after the lecture? I can raise my hand, there’s
no shame in mind-wandering. I just thought about oh,
my student had to send me a conference extract
and hasn’t done that yet so I gotta email them. How many of you were,
are thinking about events that just happened earlier in the day or about the game yesterday? A couple of you, right. And that’s what’s called mind-wandering. It’s this psychological phenomena, it’s a shift in attention
away from the task at hand and towards internal thoughts. Now, mind-wandering is something that we as humans engage in a lot of, I think all of us can sit
here and attest to the fact that we’ve had our fair share
of mind-wandering, right? In fact, research suggests that about 50% of our lives are spent in mind-wandering. Now, none of this is to say
mind-wandering is bad for us. That’s what I was saying, no
shame in mind-wandering, right? I always say I get my best research ideas when I’m at a talk and
thinking about my own talk, about my own line of research. But mind-wandering, and
so we can assess that. So for example you’re
attending a lecture like that. You can say, okay,
“Aging results in changes “of the structure and
function of the brain. “Now, we’re talking about mind-wandering.” This is what’s called on-task taught, so you’re with me, you’re
following the lecture, and you are not engaging
in mind-wandering. So we’re doing that. The second instant could be you’re like, you’re still with me in the lecture, but you’re like, “I don’t get this talk. “What was that slide with
all of the brain pictures?” “What was she talking about “‘the network’s going up and down’?” So that’s called
task-related interference. So you’re on the task but
you’re still off there. The third one, which
again is not not happening to any of you, ’cause this
is such an engaging lecture. (audience chuckles) Is “Man, all this health talk, “and I have a steak and
potato dinner planned.” Oh, this is something that I always talk to graduate students about, “I
wonder if my advisor is here, “and can totally see I’m
attending this talk?” (audience laughing)
Right. And that’s what’s called
task-unrelated thought. Now, in our studies, those
are the kind of probes that we embed within our
computerized cognitive tasks. So we basically have our
participants sit next to a computer screen and do
really these long, boring tests where they have to respond to an X or an M on the screen for about 30
minutes, so hat’s boring. And then we assess for
whether they’re engaging in task-related interference
or task-unrelated thoughts. And this is how the probes show up. So they’re doing this long,
boring test for 30 minutes and quasi-randomly they’ll
have a probe come up that asks them, “What were
you thinking immediately “before the task?” Press one if your mind was on the task. Press two if you were thinking about performance on the test. Press three if you were
thinking about personal worries, daydreaming, fantasizing,
or just lost in thought. And that is what we
call as mind-wandering. So here’s our more, a classic
kind of a test, right? It’s called what’s called a go/no go task. So basically, they have
really fast-presenting stimuli come up on the screen, either M or an X, and their job is to tell
us whether it’s an M or X. So they go really fast,
unless they hear a beep. And if they hear that
beep, then they’re supposed to not respond, they’re supposed
to withhold the response. And the beep goes like. Let’s see if I can get this to work. Nope. Oh, oh, well. So they have a loud sound, beep. And then basically they’re supposed to withhold their response. It’s a classic go/no go kind of a test. And what we do see, so on this graph, you see when people are on test, that is when they report
that they’re focusing their attention on test,
their accuracy is pretty high. This is both for old and
young adults right here. But if they’re evaluating
their performance on the test, when they were like, oh,
am I doing this right? Am I doing this accurately? That’s when their
performance really suffers, both during task-related interference as well as task-unrelated thought. So there are costs of mind-wandering. As a clinical psychologist,
another finding that’s really important when I look at it is there was a study that came
out of Harvard University, where they basically looked at how was mind-wandering
related to happiness? And on average, what they
did find was that individuals who were engaging in mind-wandering, or who were engaging in a
lot more mind-wandering, were the ones who were unhappy. So there’s both a cognitive cost to it as well as affective cost to it. So what we were interested in doing was designing this study, we called it the Health Education and
Lifestyle Training Study, the HEALTH Study. And the idea was, can we look
at mindfulness meditation and see if it helps helps reduce
the rates of mind-wandering and also improve attentional control in our older adult participants? So we got a number of older adults, we had, I think, 75 older
adults in this study. And then what we did was
we did randomization, which basically amounts
to flipping a coin, and having people be
in group A or group B, so half people get our mindfulness
meditation intervention, the other half get another intervention, which we call the lifestyle
education intervention. So these are two groups,
the mindfulness meditation and the lifestyle education. Now in from a lot of drug
trials, you might be familiar with the real drug and
the fake drug, right? This is our version of the, and again, I don’t wanna say real
intervention and fake intervention, ’cause it’s not true. This, our control group
did really well, too. So I’ll tell you about that. But it’s not dissimilar, but the idea is that this is what we were testing. And then we developed a
control group right here. And so participants came to
the Department of Psychology, they engaged in practices with us. So this was a four-week intervention. This was a pilot study, and
they met with our facilitator once a week for about two hours, and we give them audio CDs of practices and we requested them to engage in these practices for
between 30 to 45 minutes, not just the mindfulness meditation group, but also the lifestyle education group. So both of the groups
were doing something. So what did we find? So we did find that there was a reduction of mind-wandering in
our mindfulness group. And that there was actually
a reduction in both groups, but much more in the mindfulness group compared to our lifestyle education group, which suggests that there’s some evidence for the fact that mindfulness training can reduce mind-wandering
in our participants. But I think as someone who really wants to improve cognitive
health, my question was does it improve cognitive performance? Does it improve their actual attention? And the answer to that was
that not for everybody, not for everybody in the mindfulness group did it improve cognitive functioning. What we did find, and this is
a bit of a complicated graph, but if you just focus right here, we found that our participants who were in the mindfulness group but were really performing well, had high cognitive capacity at baseline, were the ones who benefited the
most from this intervention. So you know, mindfulness
meditation is really being pitched to try and see if it
can be used to prevent Alzheimer’s disease or
mild cognitive impairment. But what these results show
is that we cannot do it in individuals who already
have mild cognitive impairment, we cannot do it for individuals who are already suffering
from Alzheimer’s disease. This is a preventative intervention, we need to engage in this when we have good working-memory capacity,
good baseline capacity. And that’s when we can get
the most benefit out of this. The other thing that we did, which was not part of this study, was that we also looked
at brain imaging scans of people who had high mindfulness. So when you have higher mindfulness, and we basically plotted the connections between the different brain regions, and what we were able to find, and this is just a cross sectional study so it doesn’t mean that
mindfulness training improves the connections,
but it shows an association, is that mindfulness was associated with greater integrity of
that default mode network that I spoke to you about. And in older adults, that’s the network that’s really important
for cognitive performance. In our longitudinal study that’s funded by the National Institute of Health, that’s what we’re hoping to test, is can mindfulness training change the connections of this through a trial? You guys with me so far? Awesome. Sounds good. So to conclude this part of my talk, really we have some preliminary evidence that mindfulness training can
benefit both mind-wandering as well as attentional performance. But I am a firm believer
that no one intervention is the be all or the end all. In May, we had a Global
Brain Health Summit here at Ohio State where
we had Deepak Chopra. For those of you who don’t
know him, he’s a big force and he’s a big motivational speaker on the benefits of meditation. And he was of the opinion that yes, mindfulness meditation is
the be all and the end all. And as a clinical
psychologist, I was like, “Nope, multiple pathways
to good cognitive health.” And what this research suggests that, yes, it may be beneficial for some people, but it’s not beneficial for others. And so if this is something
that doesn’t work for you, there’s other avenues
for intervention as well. So how do you evaluate? When is the study a good study? What should you trust? So that leads me to the
second part of my talk, which is about ingredients
of a solid trial. So what my students and
I did is we went back to this literature, you know mindfulness has been on the cover
of lots of magazines. Lots of newspaper
articles that talks about, “Mindfulness improves attention.” Do we have evidence that it
actually does improve attention? So what you see in this
is that we evaluated all of these studies
that have been published within the mindfulness literature to say, do they meet these basic criterion? And what I want you to take away from here is the next time you read
that popular media article, you get reminded of this talk and say, “Hey, I’m gonna see if they
do meet these criteria, “and if they don’t, they
can’t establish causality.” And that’s what we’re seeing, right? Mindfulness intervention
improves X, Y, and Z. How can we say that? And that’s what I’m gonna
walk you through right now. So the one idea, so the
reason why this is becoming important is when I asked you guys, “Oh, have you guys heard
of brain training?” Right? Brain training became really
popular in the last five years. Have you guys heard about
this company, Lumosity? Right, they probably are
gonna sue me very soon ’cause I keep talking them.
(audience chuckles) Lumosity just was asked to pay $2 million to settle an FTC deceptive
advertising charges for its brain training programs. They were advertising on their website, “Hey, if you have a
parent with Alzheimer’s, “have them play this game,
they’re gonna get better. “If you have a child with
ADHD, have them play our games, “they’re gonna get better.” There was no evidence for that. There’s absolutely no evidence for that. In fact, I remember visiting
my grandmother a few years ago, and she was playing some games
on the Lumosity on her iPad, and I was like, “Stop that,
go talk to your friends “and go take a walk in the
park, and it’s gonna be “much better than playing
those video games.” And there’s a long, now the
FTC is really coming down hard on these companies for making
these false advertisements. But as the public, it’s
really sometimes left upon us to evaluate a number of
these studies to make sure that they can actually
prove what they’re claiming. So I’ll identify three
important metrics for you that I think are really critical in evaluating these studies. So the first one is, right,
we have a bunch of people that come in, and I
spoke about this briefly, is we randomize people, we flipped people, well, we flip a coin, we
don’t flip people. (chuckles) (audience laughing) We flip a coin and basically
divide people into two groups. What flipping does, it ensures that people are randomly divided into the two groups, If we don’t do that, now imagine here, the color depicts mixture,
that there’s a green figure in here, a blue and a gray one here. If you don’t do randomization,
you could end up in groups that differ on different characteristics. You could have one group just with males and one group just with females. You could have one group just
with retired older adults, another group with
non-retired older adults. And you could see some dramatic
differences in your studies. So the randomization is really critical. And then you can randomize
them into the two groups. The second thing which is really important and often gets missed in studies is having active control groups. This becomes really
important when you’re working with older adult
population, with children, with clinical populations, right? Like I said, a lot of my
participants were retired. Sometimes people get
better, and not sometimes I think a lot of times, people get better just because they get out of the house, they come to Ohio State campus and drive around this crazy campus where undergraduates are
walking everywhere, right? And then they interact with other people. So social support makes a big difference. Driving and having those
visual spatial skills makes a big difference,
interacting with these experts, that makes a big difference. So how do we know that when people are getting better, they’re getting better because of the mindfulness intervention, and not because of all of
these X, Y and Z reasons? So having an active control group. A number of the studies
within this literature, and all of the literatures really, were focusing on comparing
your active intervention with a group that doesn’t do anything. So what do we know? How can we say that our intervention is the one that’s actually
making the difference? So in all of our studies, we
have an active control group. Another reason is that, believe it or not, because of these non-specific factors like social support, driving
and coming to campus, interacting with experimenters, interacting with facilitators,
we show a lot of improvements in our lifestyle education group, marked improvement on
attentional controls, good improvements on emotional health. So they do make a difference, and that’s why you have to
compare your mindfulness or your active group with
another active group. And we’ve done this in all of our studies. In this study, in another study that we’re just, we started
up, we’re having people wear a Fitbit and seeing how
much physical activity tracking can improve their overall health. But our other group is then tracking water so it’s another active group. The third thing, this is a thing that also gets often overlooked. Do our participants, not
just in our treatment group but even in our control group,
do we expect to get better? Or do they expect to get better? ‘Cause guess what? People get better because they think that they’re gonna get better,
right, the power of placebos. As a clinician, I love
the power of placebo. As a scientist, I’m like,
I need to disentangle my mindfulness intervention
with the placebo effects. So we ask people, and so
you have to advertise, so if I keep talking about
mindfulness meditation, and I only advertise
mindfulness meditation, I have older adults coming to my lab, and then I put them in what I call the lifestyle education
group, they’re gonna be like, “We’re in the bad group,
I’m not gonna get better, “no matter how much I work.” So we try and design our interventions and even our control group is
a very active control group. We often talk to them about how we see all of these improvements
and how we see these changes. So people have to think that
they’re gonna get better. And in our study we
were able to ask people, “Did you did you think
that the intervention that you just did is
gonna make you better?” And even though we tried to
control for a lot of things, it still seems like the mindfulness group thinks that they were gonna get better slightly more than the
nutrition education group. This wasn’t concerning because it wasn’t statistically significant. But about 65% of mindfulness participants and about 43% of your
lifestyle education people thought that they were gonna get better. So expectations are really important. And that’s what we have
to ask in these studies, is did people expect to get better? And not just people in the active group, but people in the control group as well. So to kind of conclude this talk, what I have tried to do here is to talk about our program on
mindfulness and aging. We really have preliminary evidence that there are age-related differences in cognitive functioning,
brain structure and function. And can we use the data that
we have in those studies to design interventions that will help reduce age-related cognitive decline? We have preliminary support for that but we do need further studies, and that’s what we’re gonna
be doing starting January, we have our large
five-year study starting up where we’re gonna have about 200 people go through our interventions
and use our app and see if it works for them. And then with the eventual goal of making this app available to everybody, and disseminating our research findings to a worldwide audience. What I wanted to do next was, if you guys would engage me, is to lead you guys through a practice of
mindfulness meditation. Are you guys up for that? Okay, sounds good. So here’s what we’re gonna do, if we can dim the lights a little bit. (people chatter faintly) Okay, so what I’m gonna invite you to do is to just close your eyes. Keep your pens and papers and phones away. Take a deep inhalation, roll
your shoulders up, up, up, feeling the stretch, the tension. Exhale and relax. Inviting you here to focus on the inhalation and the exhalation of your breath. Life starts with a breath
and ends with a breath. So just focusing on your breathing. Now in the last 40 minutes,
you’ve been hearing about mindfulness, the
benefits of mindfulness. But in this moment, what
we’re gonna learn about is just being right here, right now in this moment. Because this moment is really what we have to learn and develop. What is past is in the past, and what lies ahead of us,
well, lies ahead of us. So to see if we can use this moment to develop a more deeper, a more enhanced
relationship with ourselves. You know, this work is
about a lot of things. And one of those things is developing self awareness and personal insight, learning skills to help better support us in every moment of our lives, and to help support us through the various ups and downs of our lives. So how do we learn to kind of
ride the waves of being human, so that we’re not constantly pulled in all of these different directions, but just learning to be in this moment? So what we’re gonna do here is just a little internal exploration, just checking off the landscape and exploring for ourselves what is our experience in this moment? What do I even mean by that question, your experience in this present moment? What are you aware of in this very moment? So let’s just start by
taking a look at ourselves with how are we sitting? How are we physically feeling right now? Are we sitting in a way
that causes distress? Or are we sitting in a way that makes us feel pretty
balanced, centered? There’s no shift that’s required. We’re just noticing here. How are you physically feeling right now? Are you energetic? Achy? Tired? Just noticing. Another thing that we might
be aware of any given moment is how are we feeling emotionally? Anxious? Happy? Sad? Excited? Just noticing what shows up
for us, not changing anything. And we often realize that as soon as we start attending to emotions,
thoughts start coming up. So what is the nature of
your thoughts right now? Wondering about what we’re doing? Thoughts about the past? Thoughts about the future? Worried thoughts? Concerning thoughts? But just noticing. The idea is to open up to our experiences of the present moment without judgment, being aware of how things show up for us. One other phenomena that we
can turn to is any sensations that you might be experiencing. The air on your hands, or perhaps the way your
feet touch the ground or your back touches the
chair, just noticing. These are all sensory experiences for us. We’re sitting here, opening
ourselves up to life as it’s happening in this present moment. One last thing I’ll invite
you to turn your attention to are any sounds that you may notice. Just opening up to those
sounds, noticing them. Noticing when a sound leads to a thought, a thought leads to thinking,
but letting go and coming back. And just as you would zoom
in with your camera lens, taking that camera lens and
bringing it back to your breath, where we started. Focusing on the inhalation and the exhalation of your breath. Mind wanders off, no
big deal, we pick it up. Just like we would pick
a puppy in training. And bring it back to your breathing. Your in breath and your out breath. I will end this with a poem called “Breath by Breath” by Dana Foulds. “Life proceeds breath by breath. “Deep, full and easy, shallower or uneven, “breathing is the key
to cultivating peace. “Breath by breath, choose to stay present. “It isn’t success you are seeking, “but surrender to the flow of energy. “It’s not control that matters, “but letting go, allowing life “exactly as it is in this moment “to touch and change and
breathe through you.” And then whenever you’re ready, inviting you to open up your eyes and take in the light of this room, the connections in this room. Thank you for your time. I really appreciate the invitation to come and talk about my work. And I’m happy to take any questions. (audience clapping) Right, we have about 10
minutes for questions. I can’t see, sorry.
I know lights are in your. – [Zhong-Lin] Yeah,
lights are really bright. Okay, we’ll start with you. – [Audience Member] Yes. Isn’t mind–
Shall we? – [Audience Member] Isn’t mind-wandering a type of experience? There’s thought in mind-wandering, so shouldn’t you be
mindfulness of mind-wandering? And it sounds to me like you’re saying you should intervene and bring yourself back to something else
when you’re mind-wandering. And it sounds somewhat
contradictory to me? Absolutely, that’s a good question. Isn’t mind-wandering one
of our experiences as well? It absolutely is. And this comes from the
person who really has a very active wandering mind, right? The idea with mindfulness
really is to not judge ourselves for engaging in mind-wandering. But the idea of when can we choose to engage in mind-wandering
versus when can we not choose to engage in mind-wandering? It’s being aware of
mind-wandering, oftentimes, and we’ve seen this in
fMRI studies as well, is when people are actually engaging in mind-wandering,
they’re not aware of that. So mindfulness is about
training the awareness. It’s about training
our awareness to choose to either engage in mind-wandering,
and if we don’t choose to engage in mind-wandering, coming back to what we’re doing in the present moment. – [Audience Member] So you
talked about your clinical study? Are you taking subjects? Or what are the parameters
that you’re looking at? And the age groups that you’re looking at? Thank you. So we are gonna be starting recruitment for that study in January. It’s gonna go, I say
it’s a five-year study, but we’re gonna be doing recruitment for about three years or so. We’re gonna basically
be taking older adults between the ages of 65 to 85 years old. And we’re gonna try and
relax most of the criteria so that we can try and
reach a much wider audience. And the idea would be
to include older adults who can go through an MRI environment. – [Audience Member] You
mentioned that it’s best if one’s gonna do something
like mindfulness intervention regarding cognitive function to do it before mild cognitive
impairment or dementia. Does that mean, if you need to do it when you’re healthy and at your optimal, you have a window of about
four years when you’re 21 to implement this?
(all laughing) Yeah, I think it’s too
late for all of us, right? Except for maybe May in the audience, I think it’s too late for all of us. But this is a question
and it’s interesting, ’cause I talk a lot to college
students and they always say, “Okay, so I can start
when I’m older, right? “I don’t have to do anything right now.” And I’m like, “Nope,
studies actually suggest “that it’s gonna benefit you, “and especially all of this
mind-wandering that you’re doing “while in a classroom that your parents “are paying a lot of money
for, it would be helpful “if you actually did
engage in mindfulness.” Yeah. – [Audience Member] Do your
studies show that the ability to engage in mindfulness
declines with age? It actually increases with age. So that’s the good news here. And that’s why I think
a lot of older adults tend to like these practices as well, ’cause it’s, believe it or not, really hard for younger adults
to engage in mindfulness, much more than older adults. So our research and those of others suggests that this ability to be mindful is much higher as we get older. And there aren’t
longitudinal studies on that, so they’re haven’t tracked,
’cause it’s a much recent area of study, so what would be ideal
is we took college students and followed them up for 70 years. And the same students
and did the assessments, they would love these studies,
right, why wouldn’t they? But right now, when we’ve
taken younger adults and older adults, we
do see the differences. – [Mathematician] I
wanted to ask a question about mindfulness really. What’s the difference between
what you call mindfulness and what I would call concentration? My training is mathematics
and I know by experience, if you want to have a new
result, you have to learn to concentrate very, very
sharply on what you have. Is that mindfulness? It’s definitely a part
of mindfulness for sure. – [Mathematician] Why is it a
part and not just mindfulness? Absolutely. So the idea is that can
we take that concentration that you’re engaging in
when you’re doing this work, but also apply it to all
spheres of our life, right? So it’s, you’re concentrating
not just while you’re solving that mathematical problem,
but you’re concentrating when you’re with your child? So when you’re in that
moment of spending time with your child, are
you thinking about work? Or are you thinking about
groceries that you have to do? One of the Buddhist monks
that I tend to follow, Thich Nhat Hanh, he
really speaks to this idea about washing dishes,
when we are washing dishes or engaging in tasks that we’re not very, you know I was raking leaves yesterday. And sometimes when you’re
doing those things, you’re like, I can’t
wait for this to be over. And mindfulness is about this idea of taking that moment in its entirety. So you’re raking leaves because
you want to rake leaves, and you’re in that
moment, and not thinking about the next thing that you have to do. – [Dog Owner] I wonder
if you could elaborate for a bit on a correlation
that you that you referred to, but didn’t really go into it, or at least I didn’t
understand what you did. And that is that among
the group of seniors with whom you were working,
there was a high degree of correlation between more mind-wandering and higher degrees of unhappiness. I find this personally distressing. (all laughing) Yeah, yeah. – [Dog Owner] In fact, I
spend a great deal of time trying to emulate my dog who manages to live in
the moment all the time. And I just wondered if you’d tell us a bit about how you reach this
startling conclusion. Sure, so it’s not my study,
it was a study that was done by Dan Gilbert at Harvard University. And what they basically
did, it was a study on about 800 to 1000
people, and they gave them these PalmPilots, they don’t
use PalmPilots anymore. But this was a study that
was done a while ago, they gave them PalmPilots
and in a given week, they basically randomly
messaged them and said, “Are you focused on the
tasks that you’re doing “or are you engaging in mind-wandering?” And then they had them fill
out questionnaires on happiness and unhappiness and
basically found that people, it was a correlation study, again, that people who were engaging
in more mind-wandering we’re the ones who were less happy. And so this was a study,
again, not done in my lab, but a study that was published and I think has been replicated as well. So that was there finding. And believe me, on a personal
level I was very distressed as well, about that, so.
(audience chuckles) Yes. – [Audience Member] Is
there any resources here that’s similar to what Jon
Kabat-Zinn put together, the mindful-based stress relief? Has Ohio State put anything
together like that, where the general public can sign up and go through those programs? Absolutely, so one of the
things I forgot to put is if you go in my lab website,
we’ve collected a bunch of national as well as local resources. So these are freely available podcasts, and the ones that we’ve actually used in our lab and find them to be good, as well as books and other
resources on mindfulness. So if you just Google my name, and type in Ruchika Prakash lab, that’s the first link that shows up and there’s a link on mindfulness. I also think, this was last
year, so I haven’t checked since then, the Center for
Integrative Medicine here had freely-available podcasts that were developed here
at Ohio State and taken. We haven’t done anything
like this from our app or from our studies, because, like I said, we wanna collect the
evidence and then take that evidence-based science
and put it in an app. So it’ll happen in about
four or five years, and I’ll get back to you on that. (audience laughing) – [Traveler] I’ve met, fortunately met, Buddhist monks in my travels. Now, they have been
doing it for a long time. What have they found young people being mindful for long periods of time? So I’m sorry, what’s the question? – [Traveler] Young
people starting it early, what, have they discovered anything? Yeah, so there was this really, and it speaks to this idea
of lifestyle intervention, so the question was, do young
people benefit from that? So there was a study that got published in the journal “Science” a few weeks ago. This was a study out of
Germany, the Max Planck group, and they basically took young adults and have them go through,
which I think is phenomenal, and it’s my dream study to do
if only the NIH would fund it, is have them go through nine months of mindfulness intervention. So they met once a week for
about two, two and a half hours and then engaged in these practices for 30 to 45 minutes. And so they found huge changes
for the young adult group, both in terms of brain
structure and function, but also their ability
to empathize with others, their ability to show compassion,
and improve attention. It’s a really well designed study, so if anyone is interested in that, I would definitely recommend searching, looking that study up. – [Audience Member] Have
you found differences between Eastern and Western cultures? That’s a good question. I feel like it’s out of
my area of expertise. I’m sure that there are, I, again, grew up in an Eastern culture but in a very Western town. So people always ask me, “Oh,
did you get into this work “while you were growing up in India?” And I feel like I should say yes, because it’s gonna give
me more credibility, but that’s not true.
(all laughing) I really got into a lot of this research towards the end of graduate school, when I feel like my personal levels of stress were pretty high. We were doing a long
distance relationship, trying to find a job and
finish a PhD dissertation. But I got into this when I got here, personally, and approaching it from a very secular,
scientific perspective. But I’m sure that there are differences in Eastern and Western
conceptualizations of mindfulness, but that’s probably a broader
question that I can answer. All right, we’re gonna
finish the question period. Before we finish today’s lecture,
I have two announcements. The first one is that our
next Science Sunday lecture is on December 3rd, it’s
about particle physics. And I encourage everybody to pick up the field guide outside of this room. We have future programs in
December and January and so on. The other announcement is
that we have our reception upstairs in the Traditions Room. And if you want to talk to Dr.
Prakash, she will be there. And last but not least, please
join me to thank Dr. Prakash for the wonderful lecture.
(audience clapping) And thank you very much for
attending the lecture today. (grand music)

As found on Youtube

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