How mindfulness meditation prevents depression and cuts chronic pain distress

Brown University scientists have shed light on why does training in mindfulness meditation help patients manage chronic pain and depression. In a newly published neurophysiological review, the scientists have proposed that mindfulness practitioners gain enhanced control over sensory cortical alpha rhythms that help regulate how the brain processes and filters sensations, including pain, and memories such as depressive cognitions.

Meditation at Breakthrough Retreats

The proposal, based on published experimental results and a validated computer simulation of neural networks, derives its mechanistic framework from the intimate connection in mindfulness between mind and body, since standardized mindfulness meditation training begins with a highly localized focus on body and breath sensations.

This repeated localized sensory focus, the scientists said, enhances control over localized alpha rhythms in the primary somatosensory cortex where sensations from different body are “mapped” by the brain.

In effect, what the researchers propose is that by learning to control their focus on the present somatic moment, mindfulness meditators develop a more sensitive “volume knob” for controlling spatially specific, localized sensory cortical alpha rhythms. Efficient modulation of cortical alpha rhythms in turn enables optimal filtering of sensory information.

Meditators learn not only to control what specific body sensations they pay attention to, but also how to regulate attention so that it does not become biased toward negative physical sensations such as chronic pain. The localized attentional control of somatosensory alpha rhythms becomes generalized to better regulate bias toward internally focused negative thoughts, as in depression.

“We think we’re the first group to propose an underlying neurophysiological mechanism that directly links the actual practice of mindful awareness of breath and body sensations to the kinds of cognitive and emotional benefits that mindfulness confers,” said lead author Catherine Kerr, assistant professor (research) of family medicine at the Alpert Medical School and director of translational neuroscience for the Contemplative Studies Initiative at Brown.

Original Article 


2012 in Review – Thank you All!

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner can carry about 250 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,800 times in 2012. If it were a Dreamliner, it would take about 7 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

In need of a ‘psychological detox?’ The Courtney Process could change your life.

  • Out of touch with your emotions?
  • Feeling ‘blocked’ and unfulfilled?
  • Longing to experience the unfettered joys of childhood?

Here is Maureen Courtney Founder of breakthrough Retreats… She gives her tips on how to help yourself…

Maureen Courtney - Breakthrough Retreats - Founder
Maureen Courtney – Breakthrough Retreats – Founder

Exercise A short walk will get you out of the house and into the wider world, which is important, as depression thrives on isolation.

Talk Speak to trusted friends about how you are feeling. You’ll often be surprised to hear that they’ve experienced something similar.

Focus Stay in the present. Try not to project fears and worries about the future.

Ignore Tell the negative voice in your head to “shut up”. Even saying this out loud will help. Remember feelings are not facts and that voice has no authority over the truth.

Give The best way of helping yourself is by reaching out a helping hand to others. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture; it could be offering to help an elderly neighbour.


Love & Light,

Maureen x

Couple bloggers: Should you follow their lead?

Maybe something to bring couples closer together? Breakthrough Retreats investigates.

Couple Hugging: Is Couple's Blogging for You?
Couple Hugging: Is Couple’s Blogging for You?

They have been criticised as self-indulgent, over-sharing and guilty of perpetuating lifestyle envy. They are couple bloggers. But can sharing your lives with the world really bring you closer together?

For Mike and Jess, who run, their blog has been a welcome addition to their life together and has enhanced their relationship.

“Writing and editing a blog together has been a very positive experience for us,” says Jess. “Like any couple, as we learn and experience new things through our blog we naturally grow together –as individuals, and as a pair.”

The couple, who have been together since they were in school, began the blog in 2010 when they moved from Canada to Malta. Initially a platform on which to share their new life with their family and friends in other countries, their blog now attracts readers from around the world. has grown into a guide for expats and travellers with Malta in their sights, and they have a finely tuned process of working on the blog together.

“We produce content both together and separately,” explains Jess, who is tasked with managing how the blog looks whilst Mike provides practical travel advice.

For a couple living, loving and blogging together, has the project ever been a source of conflict for them? “Not yet!” says Jess. “Ensuring that our visions and expectations for our blog aligned has saved us many arguments.”

Having originally met on their school’s ‘student government’, the duo is used to working together. But Phillip Hodson, Fellow of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, says that sharing a blog may not be as easy as sharing a bed for couples that have no experience of organising and running projects together.

“Writing a mutual or common blog is like any other project undertaken by two lovers,” he explains. Its success “depends on their pre-existing attitudes and personalities.”

He warns that for some couples any hint of working together is a disaster:

“[Some couples] just cannot cope where intellectual judgements need to be shared, opinions tested or one of the parties may let slip an intimate, personal disclosure.

Deciding on where to draw the line with just how much of your personal lives you make public is paramount, agrees Jess. But once the boundaries have been agreed, blogging as a couple can have its rewards.

“Since we began, we have been presented with many opportunities that would have otherwise passed us by,” she says.

“Our blog allows us to help others with questions about traveling or relocating to Malta, and in the process we are able to connect with so many interesting people, many of whom have become ‘real-life’ friends.”

Hodson agrees that if couples can make it work, the partnership can “thrive” as the blogging project “adds to the list of reinforcers of their relationship.”

Aside from strengthening a bond between a couple, there are other plus points to adding a blog to a list of your shared assets.

“At the end of the day,” says Jess, “if nothing else, our blog is a permanent collection of the memories and stories from this exciting period of our lives.”



Original Article by FemaleFirst Natalie Littlewood

Original article here.

Boom Time For Therapists As Stress Soars Among Young City Workers

Work patterns changed beyond recognition in a decade, occupational stress the norm, few benefit from technology’s ease: can Britain ever take it easy again?

With the pressure of few shopping days till Christmas, financial worries and frantic lifestyles of expectation, social-media and the ‘now’, all ages feel under stress. In-Deed, an online conveyancing company published a November 2011 survey saying that selling or buying a house ages people by two years. They didn’t find how much stress people suffer who can’t sell their homes.

How much is healthy, creative stress and how much is destructive? More of the latter has far-reaching consequences for our legislation, legal / educational / welfare / employment / transport systems. In short, for our whole way of life.

Most employed accept some occupational stress. When a social worker’s stress is classified as ‘industrial injury’, there’s a view that pressure on caring professions may be greater than others. Or that it wasn’t recognised before.

The Prime Minister or cabinet colleagues taking a break causes criticism, as if they have abandoned their macho-credentials by having a holiday. Others think they are better at their jobs if they take regular rests. Will Britain be better for a seasonal respite from politics?

Clearly, the 24-hour world doesn’t slow, issues don’t stop piling, cries for government ‘to do something’ don’t diminish. But all things in perspective is the way to better government at home and abroad.

Pay Not Necessarily the Issue

There was widespread amazement (early November 2011) that Lloyds Banking Group chief executive Antonio Horta-Osario was taking time off, suffering ‘extreme fatigue’. People thought an £8 million salary package and only eight months into the job would mitigate his stress.

When incoming chief of Ofsted, the government’s education watchdog, Sir Michael Wilshaw, announced that teachers should be allowed sabbaticals to ‘return to the classroom refreshed’, many people outside education assumed that 13 weeks annual holiday, reasonable salary and pension would be refreshment enough.

Eyebrows were raised when Robin Henry wrote in the Sunday Times (Nov 2011) that stress was ‘soaring among young City workers’. Medics expect to diagnose burnout in midlife, now ‘twentysomethings, the cream, of the crop in top-paid jobs’ find stress levels ‘wrecking their lives’.

Salary aside, stress is a problematic issue of our times. Anhedonia is the condition that prevents, according to Henry, ‘sufferers deriving any pleasure from their lives’. Insomnia, drug abuse, anxiety and depression are increasing.

Robert Colvile highlighted the growing problem of British stress in the Daily Telegraph (November 2011), asking ‘how much more can we take?’ He showed that more than half state-sector teachers take an annual average 9 days sick: ‘they can’t all be faking it’. It was a problem he felt can’t be ‘brushed under the carpet’.

The Climate

Colvile and others cited the ‘excuse’ of the economic climate. Banking isn’t the only sector suffering uncertainties, cutbacks, media hostility and stressed staff. The Eurozone crisis, the general global economic outlook, shortage of resources, price pressures and constant demands from a data/social media/instant culture affect everybody.

Psychology Today defines stress as: ‘reaction to a stimulus that disturbs our physical or mental equilibrium’. They say it’s an omnipresent part of life. A stressful event can trigger the ‘fight-or-flight’ response, causing hormones like adrenalin and cortisol to surge through the body. ‘A little bit of stress is exciting—it keeps us active and alert. But chronic stress can have detrimental effects on health’.

Individual and family financial stress is also increasing, further affecting health. Worries about rising winter energy bills, paying mortgages/rent and job/pension insecurities increase drinking, smoking, overeating and encourage unhealthy ‘coping’ activities.

With less money, people cut corners on personal care, healthy food and quality personal/family time and may borrow beyond their means. Anxiety and sleep loss exacerbates poor cognitive abilities and immune functioning, so stress is part of a truly vicious circle. This in turn leads to more public money needed for symptom treatment.

Policy Issues

Therefore, stress is not only an economic or behavioural indicator, it’s political. More people are depressed during the darker days of winter, (Seasonal Affected Disorder), and the mood of the nation is not only an opinion poll influencing elections, but a pointer for government priorities.

The quantity of assessing/testing children and teenagers (school and national tests, exams and regular target-driven monitoring) sets some off with stress and anxiety. For most, the joys of learning for learning sake without justification by assessment are a historical quirk.

Searching for work in a shrinking economy where employers demand the sort of experience young people neither have nor can acquire without a job is also stressful. The classification of thousands of young people into ‘NEETS’ (not in education, employment or training) is damning and glib, if technically accurate.

When business leaders and politicians show signs of stress-influenced behaviour and extreme emotional and physical fatigue, what can be done? Film of haggard, drained leaders emerging punch-drunk from marathon summits to solve impossible problems, do nobody any favours. Indeed, the world is suffering ‘summit fatigue’ now.

If stress is part of life and a fast-moving, constantly changing world is where we live, there’s surely a limit to antidotes politicos can convincingly offer?

Stress Relievers

The internet is awash with sites offering methods/potions as the panacea for stress. BootsMD offer tips including: maintain a positive attitude, accept events beyond anybody’s control, be assertive instead of aggressive, express feelings/opinions/beliefs rather than become angry or defensive.

They urge people to exercise regularly, try meditation/yoga/tai-chi, eat healthily, mange time effectively, set limits, make time for interests and social support and seek mental health treatment as needed.

And of course, to book a Breakthrough Retreat!


Daily Telegraph, Robert Colvile, The stress of life takes its toll. 2 November 2011. Web 3 Nov 2011.

Sunday Times, Robin Henry, Boom time for therapists as stress soars. 6 November 2011.

BootswebMD. August 2009. Web 3 November 2011.

Stress Management Society. Web 4 November 2011.

Psychology Today. Web 7 November 2011.

Television news reports on teacher stress, April 2010. Web 7 November 2011.

Main Article By: Suite101. Stress Could Be the Next Key Factor in British Politics.