In our seventh online conference, Embodied Philosophy, in collaboration with the Nalanda Institute for Contemplative Science has invited celebrated teachers, scholars and researchers to explore the exciting discovery of neuroplasticity and how it is shifting the scientific paradigm, challenging our previous notions about the brain, and transforming our understanding of the mind-body connection. Three days of talks will introduce you to research, scholarship and practices that will enrich your understanding of both science and contemplative practice.
Georgi Y. Johnson
The Polyvagal Theory
The Latest Research
The Brain on Stress
The Brain in Mystical Experience
with Stephen Porges, an Interview with Jacob Kyle
Why and how some individuals are more resilient and others more vulnerable, is a question that has perplexed me and other scientists who study trauma and the clinicians who work with the survivors. Coincident with my acknowledgment that there were variations in responses to stressful and traumatic events, Polyvagal Theory emerged. The theory was a product of a consolidation of the information I had gained from decades of questioning about how bodily state influenced our interactions with others and at times distorted our perspective.
Polyvagal Theory provided a conceptualization of how physiological state and the regulation of physiology were intertwined in both resilience and vulnerability. The theory helped fill a gap in our understanding of human behavior and provided an understanding of the mechanisms that determine vulnerability to traumatic events.
with Joe Loizzo, M.D., Ph.D.
This talk celebrates the rise of a radical new approach to the scientific study of mind and spirit as embodied, lived phenomena. Since the renaissance, modern science has dismissed the least tangible aspects of human life—mind and spirit—as mere functions of matter that can only be explained by reducing them to physical processes in the brain. This trend has unexpectedly started to shift in recent decades, thanks to the biggest revolution to hit neuroscience since its inception. The discovery of neuroplasticity, that our brains are not hard-wired but constantly sculpted by acts of mind, has been a total game-changer. By showing that mental and spiritual acts like attention and intention alter brain activity and neural structure down to the genes, neuroplasticity research effectively proves that mind and spirit do matter, challenging science to take them seriously as forces of nature. More shocking still, this radical shift has converged with research on meditation and yoga to show that attention training can rewire the brain in ways that enhance cognition, emotion, performance, health and well-being. Together these breakthroughs have sparked a transformation in science, reversing centuries of materialist bias to forge a multi-disciplinary science of embodied mind and spirit. This new science comes in the nick of time, when the widening gulf between science, technology and our inner life threatens our civilization with self-destruction. It promises to clear the way for a science of the lived experience of embodied mind which could bring together humanity’s varied contemplative traditions to help people from all walks of life cultivate the open mind, warm heart, and altruistic spirit we need to thrive in our interdependent age.
with Georgi Y. Johnson
Neuroplasticity occurs in a direct equation to the relaxation of our grasping towards known thought forms, beliefs, and experiences. When we can open the mind to the unknown and the unpredictable, fear by degrees falls away, which allows the structures of the brain to form greater connectivity and oversight. This brings feelings of reward which in turn, further relax the nerve system.
When we relax, we need to relax into something, and thus, the system of Nondual Therapy suggests the middle way of training ourselves to become more familiar with the open spaces which are not conditioned by histories - such as dimensions of peace, love, or true choice.
This reconnection with true nature in no way rejects habitual thought patterns, but rather introduces a sky of subtle experience, or higher perspective, that can loosen the belief in limitation.
In this talk, we will give some techniques to move beyond the discriminating (judgmental, dualistic, "fake choice") dimension of mind. Through unveiling the living dimension of true choice - we can begin to allow the immense power of neuroplasticity that emerges when consciousness is liberated from the judgmental shackles of identity.
with Judson Brewer, M.D., Ph.D.
We are all vulnerable to craving. Whether it’s a compulsion to constantly check social media, overeat, smoke, excessively drink, or any other behavior, we may find ourselves uncontrollably repeating. Why are bad habits so hard to overcome? Can we learn how our minds work, and even tap into this very process to find a key to conquer the cravings we know are unhealthy for us and foster our natural capacities for awareness and kindness?
Drawing on his clinical work, research studies and development of next-generation therapeutics for habit change, Dr. Brewer will discuss the underlying behavioral and neurobiological mechanisms of why habits are formed and how mindfulness can paradoxically tap into these very processes to uproot them. He will also discuss how we can apply these insights to our own lives.
with Sonia Sequeira, Ph.D.
In this lecture we will explore the fundamental neurobiology of reacting and its impact on all aspects of our lives. Sourcing published scientific research and ancient Spiritual Wisdom, we will review the yogic practices that develop non-reactive awareness and a positive attitude and action that promotes peace of mind and self-healing. The techniques presented are applicable to children, teens and adults.
with Bruce McEwen, Ph.D.
The brain is the central organ for adapting to experiences whether or not we call them “stressful”. With adaptation, the brain changes its architecture and alters systemic function via regulation of neuroendocrine, autonomic, immune, and metabolic systems. Those systems, in turn, alter brain structure and function, including their effects upon higher cognitive function, mood, and self-regulation. The healthy brain has a considerable capacity for resilience in the aftermath of stressors or health damaging behaviors but when it “gets stuck” it may need external intervention. This is based upon its ability to respond to interventions designed to open “windows of plasticity” and redirect its function toward better health,. There are no magic bullets and drugs cannot substitute for targeted interventions that help an individual become resilient, of which mindfulness-based stress reduction and meditation are emerging as useful tools. Because of the multimorbidity of disorders involving both brain and body, it is urgent to incorporate into “precision medicine” a better understanding of how epigenetically-induced individual differences and current experiences affect the efficacy of pharmacological, behavioral and psychosocial interventions.
with Kenneth Rose, Ph.D.
Current research on mystical experience in neuroscience, genetics, and evolutionary cognitive science has proven that mystical experience has a real and verifiable basis in our biology. Until recently, academic religion scholars tended to side with older schools of science that dismissed mystical consciousness as a merely private experience or as an illusion. Contemplatives had to struggle against strong cultural currents to defend the value of their life-altering experiences and insights. But with the help of recent advances in the biology of meditation, we now know that the recipe for mystical experience has been engraved like a rail upon our brains. It turns out that our brains are genetically coded for transcendence.
The most basic element of this code is concentration, which is the inner door to liberative insight. Yoga, contemplation, and meditation are concentration practices that set into action a mental and biological process that leads from everyday awareness to nondual union with the whole of life. I will trace this pathway as described in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity in this talk and link it to the brain’s meditative pathway. I will also explain how to open the inner door of concentration.
One objection to the neurobiology of meditation is that it suggests that mysticism is literally all in our brains. I don’t think that this is a real problem because I see both the brain and the mind as arising in tandem from a base of immaterial intelligence and beatitude, or the sacred, which is the beginning and end of physical and mental life. I argue that the materialists’ “hard problem” of explaining how consciousness arises from the brain is solved by flipping to the idealist perspective and what I see as “the easy problem” of showing how matter and the brain emerge from consciousness. This approach is the fundamental perspective of our ancient wisdom traditions—and it is starting to change how mainstream science thinks!
with David Shannahoff-Khalsa
This talk will cover new insights to mind-body (psychophysiological) states. The underpinnings here are how the autonomic nervous system (ANS) regulates the lateralized ultradian (hourly-like range) rhythm of the central nervous system (CNS) that manifests with an alternating dominance of the two cerebral hemispheres during both waking and sleep. The hypothalamus, the brain’s brain, is the regulator and integrator for this ANS-CNS rhythm. The endogenous marker for this rhythm is called the nasal cycle. This mind-body rhythm was discovered by yogis thousands of years ago. Every major bodily rhythm is coupled to this ultradian ANS-CNS rhythm. When airflow dominates through the right nostril, the left cerebral hemisphere dominates and vice versa. This rhythm modulates all of our drives, moods, desires, cognitive abilities, sleep rhythms, and performance skills. What is called unilateral forced nostril breathing (UFNB) is one method to self-regulate these states. Various patterns were discovered by yogis to enhance mind-body activities, healing, and mental (brain) and spiritual development. Unique patterns were also discovered for selectively treating specific psychiatric disorders, including obsessive compulsive disorders (OCD) and hallucinations. Clinical trials using a disorder-specific left-nostril breathing pattern for treating OCD will be covered. Brain-imaging studies using magnetoencephalography will be presented on the brain effects of this OCD-specific pattern. A highly structured multipart UFNB technique will be presented as an example of the complexity for some of these techniques. A unique pranayam for helping to prevent and eliminate heart attacks and how it affects the heart and cardiovascular system will be presented. In addition, a number of select disorder-specific Kundalini Yoga meditation techniques will be presented that were respectively discovered for treating the addictions, depression, and anxiety. Lastly, the “ultimate pranayam,” called Sodarshan Chakra Kriya, will be presented that can help lead to enlightenment and the full activation of all 8 chakras. The latter also employs a highly specific and complex pattern of UFNB.
with Fred Travis, Ph.D.
Mystical experiences transcend the subject-object dichotomy of ordinary experiences to reveal a fundamental level of nondual awareness as the ground of thinking. Neuroscience provides an objective window to understand the character of nondual experiences and how they transform mind/body functioning over time. This talk will explore nondual experiences occurring during meditation practices, with emphasis on the experience of pure consciousness, content-free self-awareness, described during Transcendental Meditation practice.
with Zoran Josipovic, Ph.D.
Nonduality, in its many guises, can be seen as the pinnacle of the spiritual path. This experience, however brief, can usher one into the profound depths of the mystery of consciousness. This lecture will present a brief overview of the history and philosophy of nonduality, outlining the different types of nonduality as understood in contemplative traditions. A contemporary map of consciousness will be introduced, including nondual awareness (a.k.a. Clear Light, Buddha-nature, the Self), the foundational aspect of our consciousness. I will review the results of current contemplative neuroscience research. I will explore how these results can contribute to a more optimal understanding of nonduality, and the practices and methods to realize it.
Joseph (Joe) Loizzo, M.D., Ph.D. is a contemplative psychotherapist, clinical researcher, and Buddhist scholar-teacher who integrates ancient contemplative science and technology with current breakthroughs in neuroscience and optimal health. After training in psychiatry at Harvard and completing a Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies at Columbia, he founded Nalanda Institute for Contemplative Science, a non-profit that trains people from all walks of life in timeless contemplative skills informed by practical neuropsychology to empower themselves and others to cultivate a wise mind, warm heart, and altruistic way of life in our interdependent world.
On faculty at the Weill Cornell Medical College and the Columbia University Center for Buddhist Studies, Dr. Loizzo lectures widely on the role of meditative learning in the future of heath, education, and leadership, and teaches regular public classes and workshops at Nalanda Institute New York, Tibet House US, and Nalanda Institute hubs in San Francisco, Toronto, Barcelona, and Mexico. He has published frequent chapters and articles on contemplative science in the Annual Review of Psychiatry, the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Frontiers of Human Neuroscience, Biomed Central and Alternative Therapies. His books include Nagarjuna’s Reason Sixty with Chandrakirti’s Commentary; Sustainable Happiness: The Mind Science of Well-Being, Altruism, and Inspiration, and most recently an edited a volume of essays, Advances in Contemplative Psychotherapy: Accelerating Healing and Transformation. Dr. Loizzo has a private psychotherapy practice in Manhattan, where he lives with his wife, Gerardine, and their sons Maitreya and Ananda.
Georgi Y. Johnson is a pioneer of Nondual Therapy - a groundbreaking therapeutic system for inner growth that helps reframe the nature of healing through the three holistic layers of body, mind, and heart. Her first book: I AM HERE - Opening the Windows of Life & Beauty, explores the liberating effect of three dimensions of perception: consciousness (head), awareness (felt sense) and perception through emptiness (body). Her second book - Nondual Therapy: The Psychology of Awakening, explores the many ways the qualities of True Nature such as peace, freedom, and purity, become contracted into the energetic form of the psyche, and how therapy involves the invitation through consciousness of these contractions to rejoin the flow of life through the qualities of True Nature.
A member of the board of the International School of Spiritual Psychology (ISSP), Georgi gives lectures and teaches internationally. She has an active online practice that has brought relief, awakening, and freedom to hundreds across the world.
Georgi earned her first and second degrees in English Literature from Oxford University, before deepening her exploration into the language of the unconscious, transpersonal psychology, and spiritual healing. The exploration has been both an intellectual and a life journey, moving her through the depth of different cultures and forms of conditioning. She presently lives in Israel with her husband and colleague Bart ten Berge. Together, they have 10 children and a puppy called Magic.
Georgi's writings can be found on her website I AM HERE: http://www.iamhere.life
Stephen W. Porges, Ph.D. is a Distinguished University Scientist at Indiana University, where he is the founding director of the Traumatic Stress Research Consortium within the Kinsey Institute. He holds the position of Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina and Professor Emeritus at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Maryland. He served as president of both the Society for Psychophysiological Research and the Federation of Associations in Behavioral & Brain Sciences and is a former recipient of a National Institute of Mental Health Research Scientist Development Award. He has published more than 300 peer reviewed scientific papers across several disciplines including anesthesiology, biomedical engineering, critical care medicine, ergonomics, exercise physiology, gerontology, neurology, neuroscience, obstetrics, pediatrics, psychiatry, psychology, psychometrics, space medicine, and substance abuse. In 1994 he proposed the Polyvagal Theory, a theory that links the evolution of the mammalian autonomic nervous system to social behavior and emphasizes the importance of physiological state in the expression of behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders. The theory is leading to innovative treatments based on insights into the mechanisms mediating symptoms observed in several behavioral, psychiatric, and physical disorders. He is the author of The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation (Norton, 2011), The Pocket Guide to the Polyvagal Theory: The Transformative Power of Feeling Safe, (Norton, 2017) and co-editor of Clinical Applications of the Polyvagal Theory: The Emergence of Polyvagal-Informed Therapies (Norton, 2018). He is the creator of a patented music-based intervention, the Safe and Sound Protocol™, which currently is used by more than 1200 therapists to improve spontaneous social engagement, to reduce hearing sensitivities, and to improve language processing, state regulation, and spontaneous social engagement.
Judson Brewer, M.D., Ph.D. is a thought leader in the field of habit change and the “science of self-mastery”, having combined over 20 years of experience with mindfulness training with his scientific research therein. He is the Director of Research and Innovation at the Mindfulness Center and associate professor in psychiatry at the School of Medicine at Brown University. He also is a research affiliate at MIT. A psychiatrist and internationally known expert in mindfulness training for addictions, Brewer has developed and tested novel mindfulness programs for habit change, including both in-person and app-based treatments for smoking, emotional eating, and anxiety (www.goeatrightnow.com, www.unwindinganxiety.com, www.cravingtoquit.com). He has also studied the underlying neural mechanisms of mindfulness using standard and real-time fMRI and EEG neurofeedback. He has published numerous peer-reviewed articles and book chapters, trained US Olympic coaches, and his work has been featured on 60 Minutes, TED (4th most viewed talk of 2016, with 10+ Million views), Time magazine (top 100 new health discoveries of 2013), Forbes, BBC, NPR, Al Jazeera (documentary about his research), Businessweek and others. His work has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and American Heart Association, among others. Dr. Brewer founded MindSciences to move his discoveries of clinical evidence behind mindfulness for anxiety, eating, smoking and other behavior change into the hands of consumers. He is the author of The Craving Mind: from cigarettes to smartphones to love, why we get hooked and how we can break bad habits (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017).
Sonia Sequeira, Ph.D. is a neuroscientist and clinical researcher at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. She has been practicing and teaching Yoga and Meditation for 26 years with a special interest in clinical applications. Certified in Hatha, Kundalini and Naam Yoga, Sonia is the founder of the Institute for Meditation Sciences, the Advances in Meditation Sciences Conference Series and leader of pivotal clinical trials on the safety and efficacy of Meditation.
Bruce McEwen’s laboratory discovered stress hormone receptors in hippocampus and this provided a gateway to the ongoing discovery that circulating steroid hormones and other systemic mediators affect cognition, mood and many other neural processes and the further discovery that there is structural experience-driven plasticity of the adult as well as developing brain, which these hormones help mediate. Translational studies throughout the world are extending these findings to the human brain. His laboratory has also led the way in demonstrating mechanisms of action of gonadal steroids and sex differences throughout the entire brain.
As a member of the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Socioeconomic Status and Health, McEwen helped to reformulate concepts and measurements related to stress and stress hormones which led to the concepts of “allostatic load and overload”. He is now a member of the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child which focuses on biological embedding of early life experiences and promoting healthy brain development. He is the co-author of “The End of Stress as We Know It”, and “The Hostage Brain”, available as eBooks. Dr. McEwen is a member of the US National Academies of Sciences and Medicine, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Kenneth Rose, Ph.D. is Senior Research Fellow at the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California, and emeritus professor of philosophy and religion at Christopher Newport University in Virginia. He teaches and publishes in the areas of comparative religion, comparative mysticism, religious pluralism, and the philosophy of meditation. He developed and lead the online course “Wisdom from World Religions,” which is supported by a Templeton World Charity Foundation grant (archived at http://radianceofawareness.com/course/). His degrees include an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School and an M.A. and Ph.D. in the Study of Religion from Harvard University. At Harvard, he was a Fellow at the Center for the Study of World Religions. His books include Yoga, Meditation, and Mysticism: Contemplative Universals and Meditative Landmarks and Pluralism: The Future of Religion. Influenced as much by the Bhagavad Gītā as by Thomas Merton and the Buddha, Prof. Rose has engaged in a lifelong quest to understand and practice spirituality in light of the most sublime mystical texts in the world’s wisdom traditions.
More information about him is available at amazon.com/author/kennethrose
David Shannahoff-Khalsa is the Director of The Research Group for Mind-Body Dynamics at the University of California San Diego’s (UCSD) BioCircuits Institute, and a member of the UCSD Center for Integrative Medicine. Prior to coming to UCSD in 1994 he spent 23 years at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, first working on the building blocks of the genetic code, and then pioneering novel studies in the neurosciences. He has discovered a novel step in the evolution of the nervous system that gives new insights to mind-body (psychophysiological) states and how these states can be controlled. He has published widely in scientific journals and conducted three clinical trials using Kundalini Yoga meditation techniques for treating obsessive-compulsive disorders and OC spectrum disorders. He has pioneered the use of whole-head magnetoencephalography brain imaging to study these yogic meditation techniques. He has presented and taught Kundalini Yoga Meditation protocols for treating psychiatric disorders at the American Psychiatric Association Annual Meetings 13 times (including 11 full day CME courses). He has written four books that include 100+ different meditation techniques and multipart disorder-specific protocols for treating all of the major psychiatric disorders. His 3 books published by W. W. Norton and Co. include: Kundalini Yoga Meditation: Techniques Specific for Psychiatric Disorders, Couples Therapy, and Personal Growth, 2006; Kundalini Yoga Meditation for Complex Psychiatric Disorders: Techniques Specific for Treating the Psychoses, Personality, and Pervasive Developmental Disorders, 2010; and Sacred Therapies: The Kundalini Yoga Meditation Handbook for Mental Health, 2012. His 4th book is Psychophysiological States: The Ultradian Dynamics of Mind-Body Interactions, In the series “International Review of Neurobiology,” Academic Press (Elsevier Scientific Publications), vol 80, 2008.
Dr. Travis received his Masters and Ph.D. in Psychology from Maharishi University of Management in 1988. After a two-year post-doctoral position exploring brain changes during sleep, he returned to Maharishi University of Management as director of the Brain, Consciousness and Cognition Center.
He teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on brain and consciousness. He has also authored 83 papers and book chapters that investigated effects of Transcendental Meditation practice on: (1) normal child development, (2) ADHD in children, (3) posttraumatic stress in veterans and refugees, (4) brain patterns of higher states of consciousness, and (5) brain patterns of world class performers.
Zoran Josipovic, Ph.D. is a research associate at NYU Langone Medical Center, and an adjunct faculty in the Department of Psychology, New York University. With his wife, Judith Blackstone, he founded the Nonduality Institute, where he is the principal science investigator. His research interest are states of consciousness cultivated through contemplative practice, what these states can tell us about the nature of consciousness and its relation to authentic subjectivity, and what relevance this may have for understanding the global and local organization in the brain. Zoran is a long-term meditation practitioner in the Tibetan Buddhist, Zen and Advaita Vedanta traditions.
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