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Mindful : August 2014
contrast, is inviting us all to actually take more responsibility for our minds and our brains.” So what ’s being measured and how? Fortunately, technology is steadily providing non-invasive ways to observe the human brain at work. CIHM relies on some of the best tech available: mag netic resonance imag ing, or MRI, a nd positron emission tomogra- phy, or PET-CT scanner, which generates 3D images of functional processes in the body and brain. The elegantly shaped, massive machinery sits in the CIHM’s dimly lit, cooled rooms. The ceiling above the MRI is removable: A crane can lift one out and lower a new one in whenever a replacement is deemed necessar y. That is, of course, after millions of dollars have been raised to procure such a thing. Just one of the ways CIHM is putting that tech- nology to use is by exploring how the brain affects the body—and vice versa. Davidson underscores that “these pathways a re bidirectional.” Essentially, changing our brain can change our body, and chang- ing our body can change our brain. “One of the important foci in our resea rch is look- ing at inflammation, which has been implicated in many chronic illnesses,” Davidson says. “And there’s now increasing evidence to suggest that at a very basic biological level, certain kinds of meditation practices seem to modulate inflammatory systems. They down-regulate par ticula r molecules—we call these proinfla mmatory cytokines—which are directly implicated in inflammation.” He cites a CIHM study that was published in the Februar y, 2014 issue of Psychoneuroendocrinol- ogy—“we looked at gene expression in peripheral blood lymphocytes—looking specifically at genes that have been implicated in inflammation.” For that study, Davidson and others, including scientist Melissa Rosenkranz, exa mined partici- pa nts who, over the course of one day engaged in intensive meditation practice. They were, as David- son describes them, “people like us, with day jobs” and reg ular lives—a lbeit people who were familiar enough with meditation practice that doing it for a day in the lab was feasible. These were not, however, the long-term meditators Davidson studied in the ea rly 2000s, monks whom he had hooked up to elec- trodes in order to study brain function both during and after meditation. Above: Davidson at ease in the hallway of the center he helped to build—and where he spends his time when he’s not traveling the world sharing the results of his work. Right: Just a few minutes spent meditating in the center’s fMRI will yield voluminous amounts of brain data that can be studied for months to come. Researchers are able to look at what are essentially movies of the brain at work. “Our brains are constantly being shaped, wittingly or unwittingly— mostly unwittingly. We tend to be pawns of the forces around us. Our work, by contrast, is inviting us all to actually take more responsibility for our minds and our brains.” 56 mindful August 2014