Building a Resilient Brain with Juna Bobby M.D.

We all know how challenging it is to keep up with BUSY college lifestyles. Balancing too many credits, internships, jobs, sports, homework, and somewhere in there a life, seems OVERWHELMING and sometimes unbearable. We’re “expected” to already have the skills necessary to handle IT ALL but the fact is we don’t. All too often we end up picking up some unhelpful habits that can stick with us for the rest of our professional lives.

You brain is just as important as any other organ in your body. At a time when you’re putting in SO MUCH EFFORT to expand your knowledge, a healthy MENTAL ENVIRONMENT that creates the world you live in is paramount. The great news is that resiliency is a skill and a skill is something that can be learned.

Join me as we welcome Dr. Juna Bobby, a graduate of NYU Medical School, as she introduces a 4 part series of workshops here at Barnard on MENTAL PLASTICITY and RESILIENCY. She merges her 20+ years of experience as a clinician with her background in neuroscience and positive psychology. She teaches workshops at many institutions including NYU School of Medicine, Columbia Law School, Columbia Business School, and Juilliard School. Please join me at this event so we can make a collective effort to actively TAKE CARE OF OUR MINDS and our bodies!

Information about our event can be found Here !

Follow Dr. Bobby on twitter Here !

Follow me on twitter Here !


…^thanks google^



Neuroscience of Consciousness

“Long excluded from serious consideration within psychology and the neuroscience” indeed, thank you Anil Seth, “Professor of Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience and Founding Co-Director of the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science at the University of Sussex” for creating this blog and bringing the topic of consciousness back to the center of neuroscientific discussion and discovery!


IT’S MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS WEEK EVERYONE! Remember to take care of your brain like you take care of your bod! Mental health requires equal physical and cognitive dedication to proper care, balance, and wellness. Pay attention to how BOTH your brain and your body responds to the world around you. The worst thing you can do for yourself is be too proud to seek help. Our physical bodies are disordered and imperfect. We ALL waver in emotions. It is our duty as human beings to experience the full range of human emotions, but to recognize when one is out of tune with the rest. Then, we go and seek readjustment. There is NO shame in that. Instead, there is great strength, respect, and resilience in being attuned to yourself. Your mind and brain create a sacred space. They project the world around you. Commit to making it a good place to be.

Advancemenst in Meditation Research 2015 at MSKCC

For the past day and a half, I attended the Advancements in Meditation Research hosted at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center here in NYC. I met wonderful people, had inspiring conversations and listened to tremendous research being done on the efficacy of contemplative practices being incorporated into the clinical setting. Here, I wanted to display some notes from important lectures that I attended, as food for thought:

  1. Keynote lecture by Robert Thurman, PhD and Professor at Columbia University 
    1. We are currently amidst a new scientific and a healthcare revolution
      1. It will involve the overthrow of scientism and materialistic reductionism in health care that is driven by the economization of our society; it will follow a recognition of age old natural medicines, mind-body remedies, and the legitimate training of physicians in compassion
      2. It will involve the de-commercialization of the medical industry
      3. It will involve an introduction of the mind as a force in nature without reverting to nonrational theism, incorporating first person anecdotal evidence in addition to quantitative evidence, through critical reasoning and introspection
    2. What is the importance of the conceptual mind?
      1. The modern ideologies of Darwin, Marx, and Freud inculcate helplessness –> Darwin, we are limited by our genes, Marx, we are limited by our society, Freud, we are limited by our repressed desires; the common consensual sense within our society is that we are just a collection of neurons; this = the religion of scientism (a very American perspective in fact)
      2. The essence of the conceptual mind and the practice of mindfulness however must be mobilized now within society to reduce the suffering we feel from our contemporary setting; by pursuing mindfulness we become more aware and more conscious of the unconscious so that we can fundamentally edit the thoughts that shape our reality
      3. The belief that your energy of continuum cannot continue is the most blind form of blind faith
  2. Lecture by Sat Bir Singh Khalsa, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School 
    1. We are facing an epidemic in lifestyle, of non-communicable diseases like diabetes and obesity
    2. There is a cumulative presence of 80% of DSM-4 conditions in our youth and adolescent populations, involving conditions of stress, attention deficits, mental health and physical health issues
    3. We are facing an inability of man to cope with modern stressors and we are not taught how to confront these stressors in our schools; we are lacking the introspective skillsets needed to address risk-factors of modern society, stemming from the over-economization of our value structure and social settings
    4. The implementation of contemplative practices like yoga and meditation are useful in making people more self-aware, so that they may develop the right kind of introspection, insight and foresight to make better decisions for themselves
  1. Lecture by Mahiuddin Ahmed, PhD, Assistant Attending for Immunotherapies at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
    1. Neuroblastomas are malignant form of cancer cells that form along the sympathetic nervous system. They grow rapidly and are often malignant. Fatality is near 50% and the average age of diagnosis is 18 months.
    2. [Long story short, to avoid the specifics behind the molecular biology of it (look into an antibody called 3F8 if you are curious)], treatments have been found so that survival rate is now near 80% for neuroblastomas. Unfortunately however, the new treatment also attacks the peripheral nervous system and causes patients tremendous pain and suffering.
    3. Ahmed considered that the power of mind can drastically affect disease outcome by following a simple rationale
      1. If meditation affects stress –> and stress effects immunity –> and immunity effects disease, then shouldn’t there be a link between meditation affecting disease?
      2. The research has been completed to help patients beat the cancer. Now he will embark on a research project to investigate the role of sound meditation, using mantra recitation and instruments, to inference physiological biomarkers that are prognostics for disease states (ie. EEG, EKG, DNA, RNA etc) and see how they alter the recovery process for patients, with the aim to ultimately minimize suffering.

4. Lecture by Bruce S. McEwen, Ph.D, Alfred E. Mirsky Professor at Rockefeller University

  1. Studies the dysregulation of homeostatic functions in the body due to unhealthy lifestyle habits, poor sleep, toxic chemicals which feed into the network of allostasis
    1. Choice of lifestyle can be the result of “being stressed out”; this can be caused by environmental stressors, trauma, major life’s events, abuse
    2. Your choice of lifestyle has direct effects on which segments of your DNA get transcribed out not. This idea is called Epigenetics:
      1. Epigenetics:
        1. “the emergence of individual/species characteristics during development = Waddington 1942
        2. “above the genome” – referring to the gene/environment interactions that bring about the phenotype of individuals
        3. epigenetics investigates the physical modifications of histones (little wrapped up pearls of DNA that help condense your biological blue print, your chromosomes), the opening and closing of these segments of DNA that occur temporally in response to your life’s experiences; this includes transcription factor functioning, miRNA functioning, RNAediting, transposons and retrotransposons
      2. Epigenetic modifications can extend into your next generation. Examples of this include obesity and parental behavior.
    3. Your gene expression profiles can change with experience
      1. Specifically looking at depression, depressed patients tend to have reduced neurogenesis in the hippocampus, the brain center for memory and recognition
      2. Chronic lack of neuronal growth that results many compounded factors in depression and can influence the genetic state of your DNA as well as the prolonged phenotypic expression that manifests from the physiological imbalance –> this has effects on your outward mental state and perception of the world around you (genes <–> environment???)
    4. What can we do to improve adverse life experiences?
      1. Engage in regular physical activity – helps increase blood flow to vital organs, especially the brain + harnessing the bodies natural endorphin rush post- exercise
      2. Engage in mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques – helps to develop a critical, logical, and rational sense of introspection and self-awareness that affords physical control over the body’s natural relaxation response
      3. Social support and integration
      4. Keep looking for meaning and purpose (eudomonia)

*key point from this lecture is that your DNA physically responds to nature and what you allow or chose for your body to be subjected to. It is therefore our individual duty to 1) treat our bodies well because it has direct effects on what our DNA is doing and 2) to recognize the wisdom and power of our bodies and use them, rather than relying one-sidedly on drugs and other agents to solve our problems

Science and Perspective

From contemplative practices, to neuroscience, to business, to leadership, here are some tidbits I’ve selected for the day to let us think about a deeply permeating quality of human existence.🙂

1. “When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection – or compassionate action.”

– Dr. Daniel Goleman

2. “We can intentionally shape the direction of plasticity changes in our brain. By focusing on wholesome thoughts, for example, and directing our intentions in those ways, we can potentially influence the plasticity of our brains and shape them in ways that can be beneficial. That leads us to the inevitable conclusion that qualities like warm-heartedness and well-being should best be regarded as skills.”

– MLI Board Member Richard Davidson

3. “A human being is a part of the whole, called by us Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest-a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole nature in its beauty.”

-Albert Einstein

4. “Iron rusts from disuse; water loses its purity from stagnation…even so does inaction sap the vigor of the mind.”

-Leonardo da Vinci

5. How does the brain actually learn?  Here’s a video + many more resources!

6. On finding noble leadership:

“The positive side of these crises is the high quality of leaders who have emerged. From these debacles today’s leaders learned what not to do. They saw many of their predecessors get caught in the trap of chasing money, fame and power, and learned the perils of putting self-interest ahead of the institutions they served.”

– Bill George is senior fellow at Harvard Business School and former chair & CEO of Medtronic. He is the author of four best-selling books, including True North. His new book, Discover Your True North, will be available in late August, 2015.”

Here’s the link to the full article:

7. “What is the difference between empathy and compassion? Is it possible to train compassion? Can it be measured? How useful is compassion training in schools, clinical settings, and end-of-life care? Can the brain be transformed through mental training?”


Tania Singer is the Director of Social Neuroscience at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Germany. I saw her present research on the hormonal and neural mechanisms underlying meditation and social behavior at the International Symposium for Contemplative Studies, this past October. Very inspiring. She is well published on Pubmed for her work.

8. Also at ISCS 2014, I attended a few lectures by Elissa Epel PhD, who is an Associate Professor in the Dept of Psychiatry at USCF. I really liked her research integrating how stress, anxiety, and different coping mechanisms, can influence cellular aging and lead to either progressive or regressive mood states.

Here are some cool PubMed articles:

Needham BL, Rehkopf D, Adler N, Gregorich S, Lin J, Blackburn EH, Epel ES. Leukocyte telomere length and mortality in the national health and nutrition examination survey, 1999-2002. Epidemiology. 2015 Jul; 26(4):528-35.

Verhoeven JE, Révész D, van Oppen P, Epel ES, Wolkowitz OM, Penninx BW. Anxiety disorders and accelerated cellular ageing. Br J Psychiatry. 2015 May; 206(5):371-8.

9. “If as spiritual practitioners we ignore the discoveries of science, our practice is also impoverished, as this mind-set can lead to fundamentalism.”
Dalai Lama XIV, The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality

10. And one last big hunk of words..

“With the end of the Cold War, the threat of global nuclear destruction has receded, but many continue to endure the sufferings and tragedy of armed conflict. In many areas, too, people are having to deal with environmental problems and, with these, threats to their livelihood and worse. At the same time, many others are struggling to get by in the face of inequality, corruption and injustice.

These problems are not limited to the developing world. In the richer countries, too, there are many difficulties, including widespread social problems: alcoholism, drug abuse, domestic violence, family breakdown. People are worried about their children, about their education and what the world holds in store for them. Now, too, we have to recognize the possibility that human activity is damaging our planet beyond a point of no return, a threat which creates further fear. And all the pressures of modern life bring with them stress, anxiety, depression, and, increasingly, loneliness. As a result, everywhere I go, people are complaining. Even I find myself complaining from time to time!

It is clear that something is seriously lacking in the way we humans are going about things. But what is it that we lack? The fundamental problem, I believe, is that at every level we are giving too much attention to the external material aspects of life while neglecting moral ethics and inner values.

By inner values I mean the qualities that we all appreciate in others, and toward which we all have a natural instinct, bequeathed by our biological nature as animals that survive and thrive only in an environment of concern, affection and warmheartedness — or in a single word, compassion. The essence of compassion is a desire to alleviate the suffering of others and to promote their well-being.”

Dalai Lama XIV, Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World

Much thanks to the Mind and Life Institute for flooding me with a lot of these great quotes and links! Look for them on Facebook!