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The Neuroscience Of Mindfulness – Rick Hanson

The Neuroscience Of Mindfulness With Dr Rick Hanson

Rick Hanson is a neuropsychologist and New York Times best-selling author. His books include ‘Hardwiring Happiness’, ‘Buddha’s Brain’, ‘Just One Thing’, and ‘Mother Nurture’. Founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom, he has taught in meditation centres worldwide and has created a powerful one year online course called the Foundations of Well-Being.

Today we talk about all things neuroscience and mindfulness. In this video Melli and Rick explore…

  • How mindfulness affects the body and brain, and therefore our lives.
  • What you can expect to unfold in brain and behaviour with long term practice of mindfulness.
  • The ideal amount of time per day to practice.
  • The brain based reason that mindfulness can change our sense of self.
  • The science backed benefits of mindfulness
  • Powerful tips on how to get the best out of your meditation practice

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Show Notes

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You can find a wealth of free resources as well as details about Ricks books and events on his website here. Also, you might want to check out the foundations of wellbeing program (highly recommended!) which you can see at http://fwb.rickhanson.net/




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Purchase a full access pass to unlock downloads for the full interview transcripts, audio, video and separate audio meditation tracks.

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Purchase a full access pass to unlock downloads for the full interview transcripts, audio, video and separate audio meditation tracks.

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265 Responses

  1. Zara Ellis

    Quite a dialogue on the neurophysiology of brain chemistry, for the informed lay community of mindfulness practitioners, whether more formally trained by program certification or self-healers. Thanks for sharing, Zara Ellis, QUALLA BOUNDARY, WNC

    1. Cheryl Keiper

      I am eager to get some of Rick’s books and begin building a foundation of mindfulness and how strongly it impacts the brain. This series of interviews has allowed me to see meditation and mindfulness from so many different and valuable perspectives. Thank you, Melli, and for the care you’ve taken in choosing such fascinating people to interview. This is truly life changing.

    2. Jeannine Walsh

      Thank you very much. Melli, I hope you won’t mind me asking, but would it be possible to stop saying hmmm, uh-huh, the little things we do when someone else is talking? It’s very distracting when trying to listen to the guest speaker. Thanks very much for your consideration.

      1. Krista Green

        I like hearing Melli’s involuntary vocalizations, myself. I believe it shows that she is fully engaged in what the speaker is saying and is not thinking about her next question or watching the clock. Maybe it would be less distracting if you thought of it that way?

      2. Judy Stone

        I understand, Jennine, but had a bit of a different perspective. Melli and Rick (or others) are two people having a conversation. They are interacting with each other, and this enriches the discussion. Think how uncomfortable it is when you speak to someone and get no response–you think that they are not paying attention or listening. I get mad, or put less of myself into something when that happens…so while I understand that you find Melli’s comments distracting, I find her recognition and acknowledgement of what Rick/others say improves the discussion…Just offering a different view.

      3. G’day, I appreciate your kind delivery in asking this. This was actually the very first interview I ever did in my life so I did the best I could. It’s not as easy as it looks to interview a neuroscientist although Rick is such a sweetheart that he made it fun and fascinating. These interviews were recorded some weeks ago so forgive me if you see more of this kind of thing. I’m learning and growing along the way and hopefully getting better as I go. Wishing you a wonderful summit : )

        1. Marisa A.+Prado+Vieira

          You’re just great Melli. For me, it feels like we are, the three of us, just sharing some tea and a good talk. I’m the one who’s learning so also the one who does no talking at all!! ????????????

        2. Helena Saray

          Melli, I love your thoughtful yet relaxed interview style, the way you ask your questions, your enthusiasm, your natural responses; the entire way you engage in the dialog with the speakers. Wonderful work you are doing! Truly enjoying listening to you as much as I am to the speakers…

      4. Ang Kaufman

        Jeannine from another perspective…what a wonderful opportunity for us all to practise mindful listening..concentrating on the message and the full meaning while we are fortunate to have this wonderful opportunity to be part of such an event.

        I hope you will get a lot out of this Summit.

  2. Alejandra Almada

    Excellent¡¡¡ A neuroscience explantation in simple language and short explanations, specially for those of us who don’t have English as first language. I truly enjoyed the language analogies and the sense of humor. I have really enjoyed that every day we get a different and yet similar response as to what mindfulness is. This talk was very helpful.

  3. Matt langreder

    In the US, would love it if the videos for any of these talks were ever available. I have no trouble with listening to the soundcloud link, but the video always shows a message “Sorry Because of its privacy settings, this video cannot be played here.”

  4. Kathleen Rutkowski

    “Think not lightly of good.” appropriate words of thanks for two people, Melli O’Brien and Rick Hanson who in this incredibly interesting interview and in their lives and actions are having major impact and doing major good.

  5. Gissa Israel

    Drop by drop, my heart is opening as i listen to Rick Hanson and all the other interviewees. This simple act of listening is profound. Melli you are doing a great job, thank you.

  6. Cecile Underdown

    Just waking up on the west coast of Canada. Today’s talk was great. I love hearing the science behind mindfullness…
    I guess it’s our natural drug, goodbye Prozac…LOL
    Thank you so much Melli, I look forward to waking up everyday to wonderful new thoughts from great speakers.

  7. Jane

    I loved this interview with Rick Hanson so much! That Buddhist saying at the end really got to me. Thank you, Melli, for making this summit possible globally. I’m in the Philippines!

  8. Laura Hyatt

    This summit is so exciting and thought provoking, fitting in with stuff I have recently been progressing with in my yoga and meditation class. The evidence base stuff is inspiring. Thanks for connecting us all across the world, the dream of 2 billion people will come true.

  9. Aziza Sami

    As a long-term meditator and absolute convert to the principle of mindfulness I’d like to thank you..Dr.Hanson and Melli, for bringing what I can only describe as ‘literacy’and enlightenment to the my three-decade practice. Dr.Hanson has answered in detail many questions that I have asked myself for years, over the course of my life. Once again rhank you both and thanks Melli fir this life-changing endeavour that you, Matt and your colleagues have undertaken. To be able to add to people’s lives and propel them even further along a path that they have chosen is no small thing.

  10. Beverly Perkins

    Okay, I guess it is just me who finds Melli O’Brien distracting to the process of attending to the speakers. I find her head-bobbing and constant “mmm-hmmms” and “yeahs” very annoying, but less so since I cover the left half of the screen so I don’t have to actually see her. The presenters are amazing. Rick Hanson has the ability to explain neuroscience in such a way that you don’t feel that he is ‘dumbing it down’ for the audience. Can’t wait to explore more about his work.

    1. Andy Rickford

      It’s definitely easier if you listen on Soundcloud, but I like your ingenuity with covering part of the screen.

      I’d say Melli’s “mmm-hmms” and “yeahs” have actually decreased quite a bit since the first few days (when several people left feedback that it was distracting them). I listen on audio only – for completely unrelated reasons – and hardly notice them these last few days.

    2. Gerry

      I view Melli’s head nodding in agreement & intermittent hmm, yeah etc as a sign of being fully engaged and affirming the interviewees teaching. And I find her absolutely 100%+ involved in the interview and her work to bring this for free to me & you and all who care to partake. You could actually close your eyes & maybe become more engaged in the flow of the interview.
      I’m actually surprised at myself because I find your comment to be actually rude and I’m speaking up about it. If she sat still & didn’t have any body language then it would annoy someone else. You can’t please all the people all of the time.
      I think you should open your heart & try to focus only on the positive parts of the interview & set a match to your annoyances so they drift away. Good luck!

      1. Mary Record

        I want to echo all the other positive comments about the series. Am loving them all and find myself anxious to get up in the morning and see another presentation. Thank you so much, Melli, for putting this together. I am so thankful for you and your special presence during the sessions. I want to also echo Gerry’s comments about your nodding in agreement and intermittent hmm, yeah, etc. I also see it as a sign of being fully engaged and affirming of the interviewees teaching and being involved in the interview, which is evident in the intelligent, relevant and informed questions you pose to the interviewees. Please do not change who you are. Thank you again, all the best to you.

      2. Kelley Calhoun

        Thanks Mary and Gerry! I hadn’t read any comments until today and I’m glad… I LOVE this SUMMIT and its FREE, how amazing is that!!! We all get to grow in wisdom and mindfulness due to the efforts of Mellie and her team!!
        Perhaps there should be an interview on mindfulness of speech… Going to go do a Metta now!

      3. Leslie Cullen

        I second what you said Gerry. I think what Melli is trying to do for the world is beautiful and admirable. I can only imagine how much work went into bringing it to the public for FREE for the greater good of spreading a positive message and inspiring a wonderful practice. I would challenge those who can’t seem to focus on the content to use this opportunity to practice those skills of gratitude, compassion and of finding peace and try to see the bigger picture. I also think an element of communication and respect would be lost if she we to sit still and in silence during the interviews.
        On a postive note, I am so very grateful to Melli, the team and each of the interviewees for putting this program on. I am loving every bit of it! Thanks so much!

    3. Brad Allan

      Beverly….. It’s not just you. I also cover the left side.

      One thing you forgot to mention was the incessant “yup, yup”s.

      Melli — despite the above, I love the series, and congratulate you. One very simple minor remedy might be to reduce your proximity effect by simply moving your mike some farther distance from you, to better match the distance of the guests from their mics. It sort of feels like trying to engage with and listen to someone two bar stools away, with a very interested third party (Melli) between us.

      1. Marlene Bullock

        I love the summit and this is the second time I’ve commented…Millie..could you Please let the speakers present their fascinating material WITHOUT all the ‘yup..yup..ya’..and all your commentaries..Its very distracting.. Yes, I agree with Beverly… or pause your mic while the speaker is talking and unpause it to ask a question PLEASE….

    4. sharmila

      I have to agree with Beverley, the head nodding and the small noises are very distracting. Thank you for that ingenious idea of covering the left side of the screen.

    5. Sorry mate, I did the very best I could. This was my first ever interview so hopefully i get better as time goes on but feel free to cover my noggin and just watch these amazing presenters who have much more experience at being on camera that me. I’m not a professional interviewer – I tired to get one but they weren’t up for the time commitment so you’re stuck with me I’m afraid! Wishing you all the best for the summit and beyond : )

    6. Kate

      I love this series, love the idea, especially enjoyed todays talk by Rick. But I am really struggling with the constant interruptions verbally from our very amiable interviewer too. A few friends have commented on the same so I don’t feel it is just me!

      I think it is so distracting because of the format – possibly in a live environment or if they were in the same room if t wouldn’t be quite so annoying? I’m in the flow of really concentrating on the speaker and then theres a noise from the other side of the screen which breaks the flow. Human instinct to encourage and agree but it doesn’t work for this layout and depth of subject for me.

      Anyway – the speakers are all fabulous so far and it’s a joy to be able to listen to them and participate in this great 31 days.

      1. Kate

        Oh and Melli – you are AMAZING for doing this. Really can’t thank you enough and it’s not you personally, it’s the format. Take it as a compliment that everyone loves this initiative so much, the speakers you have picked are so amazing and your viewers are so interested that anyone who finds your gentle affirmations a distraction finds it so out of a passion to really engage with a single thread without interruptions. No matter how well-intentioned, loving and authentic the interruptions are they will distract and possibly frustrate some of us.

        Looking forward to more amazing talks!

  11. Ellen Cedergreen

    My favorite! I loved Rick’s answer to the daily question. Putting it all into context of the 8 Fold Path and the 4 Noble Truths was excellent. Really, truly great interview. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

  12. Jenna Kumiega

    Day by day I am loving this ongoing conversation, in all it’s varied dimensions. The speakers have all been amazing, each in their own unique way, and having Melli there speaking for us, and asking the questions, provides a very meaningful and personal link in the process. I think Melli is doing an extraordinary job. I love the way that she interacts with each of the speakers, and she never seems at a loss for an intelligent, relevant and informed question to keep the process moving smoothly. Great job!
    I signed up for this because it sounded like a really good package, and the fact that it is free was also a big draw (I live now on a very limited pension). But the more I hear from the speakers, the more I am tempted to buy a full pass – at only just over £50, it represents very good value considering what is on offer.

  13. Jessica Arbour

    Thank you so much for this wonderful interview! There were many insightful awarenesses that came up for me. Two of those being that disturbance and deficit fuel cravings; personal core needs have to be met to sustain the brains ability to tap into safety and connectivity with self and others. Lovely!!

  14. Jen

    Powerful Ending! Wow.
    Question: how can mindfulness practice relate to positive visualization and law of attraction practices? If one can cultivate different states (kindness, compassion, etc) mindfully, can one also mindfully cultivate different circumstances? I hear this question now and again.
    Thanks for your insight 🙂

  15. Darren

    “All joy in this world comes from wanting others to be happy, and all suffering in this world comes from wanting only oneself to be happy. —Shantideva”

    ― Rick Hanson, Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom

    Thank you both so very much. In the world of ‘Type A’ Public Safety Employment, Empiricism Rules.

    Be Well

    1. Kathy Tomas

      Yes, I got quite frustrated with the audio freezing up and having to rewind and re-start constantly. This has only happened with the last two talks (Goldstein and Hanson – both excellent talks btw). Why is the audio freezing up??? Does anyone know?

  16. Jo-Anna Roberts

    Thank you. Great to have insights from neuroscience added to the mix of speakers. I feel I’m gaining a deeper appreciation of the benefits of mindfulness and feel deeply encouraged in my own fledgling practice.

  17. Chris Hunter

    Meditation like many things can be helpful but if the world around us is toxic then changing behaviour, thinking or anything else internal is not going to help raise awareness of the powers baring down on us or help us to channel appropriate anger into direct action but rather it might help defuse that appropriate anger and get us to continue to accept the unacceptable – who was it that once said ‘being well adjusted to a profoundly sick society is no measure of health’

      1. Chris Hunter

        Thanks for that Deborah – funny enough I am just reading the book we’ve had 100 years of psychotherapy, Its full of psychobabble at times and I think I prefer David Smails Works and the book The Therapy Industry by Paul Maloney is great. – what do you make of how this is being sold to people?

  18. sally ann

    Excellent! I am very interested in the idea of how mindfulness influences the brain. I think it is indeed exciting and highly encouraging that mindfulness has ‘tangible’ benefits; both brain and body wise. After all, everyone who does something wants to know that there are actual tangible benefits in doing it. Especially with this practice which shows gradual changes and develops one by allowing them to live a better and more fulfilling life from day to day moment to moment as opposed to magically so. Great job Rick! I will be checking out your online resources.

  19. Doris Hocevar

    Thank you Mellie and Rick Hanson. My heart is so full and the gratitude quotient is bursting! Great questions Mellie! To add to others comments, I really appreciated the very clear descriptions of how meditation ‘impacts’ and improves physical health, brain health, immunity, lowers heart rate/blood pressure and on the emotional spectrum cultivates emotional regulation, attunement toward others and a host of other benefits. I agree with the comments regarding the moral aspect to mindfulness. The Noble Eight-Fold Path for me is a life long process of liberation, some days are easier and others not so much [“This being human is a guest house…”] It is in those days of ‘not so much’ where I have met some of my greatest teachers. Such a wonderful interview. Thank you. Thank You. THANK YOU.

  20. Tucker Rogers

    each passing interview I would say is worth a few drops or more….cheers to critical mass:) Thanks again for another unique and powerful insight. Each speaker so diverse and timely with in the context of the lineup as it progresses.

  21. Christine Evans

    Fascinating interview and now I find that there are actual physical benefits as well I realize how much mental anguish mindfulness could have saved me over the years. Great stuff. Thank you, Melli!

  22. Chris Hunter

    I knew when I registered that the promise of this all being ‘totally free’ would be false and more a hook to get me in to the paid for parts.

    I heard many things in this discussion – I heard that the majority of studies that have found anything that might be considered beneficial change have been done on Lamas and Monks – people that have sometimes spent ’12 years in retreat’ they spoke of the research on these people showing tiny changes in thickness in certain parts of the brain and gamma wave changes – so are you saying that meditation in these cases is causal? I doubt it because how did you control for all of the other possible reasons for these changes – the most obvious being that these people are totally detached from the myriad and constant stressors that the average person has to deal with each day of their lives. The real world has many people that do not have their basic needs met and where vast swathes of people live pay day to pay in a constant state of vulnerability and fear. All the while inequality grows ever wider and the worlds power elites produce, sell and stockpile weapons of mass destruction around the globe.

    I also heard some incredibly grandiose and magical claims like ‘mindfulness can change the world by changing people from the inside out one person at a time’ they also mention the pharmaceutical industry and hint at self interest something far closer to the truth as Ricks advert at the end testifies -where he stated his program is ‘transformational and grounded in science’ sounds quite like a prozac add to me and just as unconvincing.

    They ask what it might look like in a world of 2 billion people meditating. This is horrifying to me given the state of our world today- having this many people going within rather than taking action to change the conditions of their lives is wonderful news for the powerful. We’ve now had over 100 years of psychology and psychiatry – there are dozens of brain damaging drugs marketed to all for everything – we have well over 800 different kinds of psychotherapy and yet we have more mental ill health than every before – we have a world slowly going mad, we have alienation, separation, bullying, insecurity, massive inequality, hard won rights being eroded, corporatism, mass spying, ignorance and consumerism stimulating desires and making false promises and blinding us with fairytales and nonsense.

    I hope I live to see a world where 2 billion people + are conscious and taking action to change the world for the better so as Rick points out ‘our core needs are met’ because collective action is the only thing that ever changes things for the vast majority of us.

    By all means lets do some work on ourselves but as Rick also said the Buddhas path was an 8 fold path not one – reading David Smails work and others is invaluable in helping us understand how psychology and psychiatry are more about self interest, power and control.

  23. Chris Hunter

    I am also loving the ‘donate’ button press that and you find its not a donation at all but a free –

    ‘ Make a discounted donation of USD$79 ($99 after October 15th $149 after Oct 31st’

  24. Janet Rampley

    I haven’t watched today’s interview yet, but I am looking forward to it. I just wanted to say how much I am enjoying hearing what everyone has to say. I have learnt a lot. Thanks, Melli for organising this.

  25. Madeleine Eames

    Thank you for this interview. I especially liked hearing about mindfulness as a means to an end and that it is OK to actively invite in a positive state or cultivate a certain way of being as an active participant, rather than just choiceless awareness. It can be both. I have often wondered about that.

    Thank you Melli. You are an interested, engaged and thoughtful interviewer and ask really insightful questions. I do believe the way to change the world is one brain at a time… then we are motivated to go out and take the action that is needed in the world, out of love and compassion, rather than anger and hate. I have been an activist in my life and have seen what happens when people act ‘mindlessly’ to change the world.

    1. Thanks for your kind words. I’m doing my very best : ) You and I both have seen the ‘mindless’ attempts to change things. I’m convinced that being an ‘inner peace activists’ is the kindest and most intelligent act of contribution I can offer this world and am dedicated to it. As within so without! So glad you’re here with us on this journey.

  26. Patricia Gordon

    It is so wonderful to have scientific data supporting the benefits of mindfulness. I like how down to earth Rick always is about our ubiquitous suffering. Thanks

  27. Penny moyes

    Thanks Mel for organising this summit. It truly is wonderful to be able to hear from these people . So much organising putting it together. I really appreciate it. I am getting heaps out of it. Lovely to see you again . I attended your first Mangrive Mountian mindulffness weekend and what I learnt has been so helpful.

  28. Gerri Donohue

    Much gratitude to Melli and Rick … this was some presentation. I am inspired to read more of Rick’s fascinating work. Melli … you are doing a wonderful job hosting this incredible summit for all of us. You are a richly warm and compassionate individual which is evident in all of your deeply mindful ways. Thank you both !

  29. Janet Lawrence

    I am thoroughly enjoying the summit. the speakers are varied and have all been interesting. Thank you Melli (and Matt) for putting this together. I think you are doing a great job. You keep the interview moving well whilst listening fully and engaging with speaker in an affirmative way.

  30. Shantelle Bates

    Thank you Melli and Dr Hanson for a wonderfully informative seminar today. It’s awesome to know the physical aspects of mindfulness on the brain and the benefits that Mindfulness can make within it. More than just a state of mind, it’s a state of being even for the brain. Thanks again

  31. Kelley Calhoun

    I love Rick Hanson in general and often listen to his podcasts, but I felt his answers were amazing in this interview! In particular his view on Mindfulness and it hitting critical mass was to me the most intelligent and practical thus far… “a burglar is mindful, a sniper is mindful…” you have to add a component of morality… and that mindfulness alone is not enough, the core of ones basic needs must be met to fuel the real change and stave off the “fires of desire”… AMAZING! Wait did I say that already 😉

  32. Erin L

    I enjoyed this interview and the Summit thus far. As I am new to the practice – I do have a question for you more experienced folks— how do you avoid trying to hard? That is my biggest struggle—wanting to see results? I find that to be a paradox in the practice — it can provide all of these great benefits for you – but if you want them too much it may not work? Thank you for your advice in advance.

    1. Hi Erin, They say if you’re experiencing a paradox in mindfulness then you must be close to the truth! So the paradox here is that the actual practice of mindfulness involves completely letting go of striving, controlling or wanting things to be a certain way….your just being with things as they are. Just being.

      But you want to be in this ‘just being’ mode as much a possible, which takes a continuous dedication to waking up out of autopilot…a continuous waking up out of striving, controlling and resistance.

      So knowing that benefits will come in their own time, and simply choosing again and again to be fully alive in this moment and allowing it to be as it is 🙂

      1. Erin L

        Thank you! I really appreciate your response. I am working on…not working too hard! 🙂 I struggle with anxiety, so I do find meditation to be both calming and anxiety producing at the same time (again – paradox!). I really appreciate this Summit and, particularly, this discussion re: the science that supports the potential impact of mindfulness.

  33. Liz cooper

    I’m so fortunate to have this opportunity. Thank you Melli and Matt. My mindfulness is more fully bloomed as a result of simply being present to these interviews. Melli, you are just perfect and so humble. I appreciate all you are doing to make mindfulness a practice that has the potential to change the world.

  34. Sharon Fierro

    Really interesting, thank you! Connecting the science of the brain with emotions and the body and the impact of mindfulness is facinating! Mindfulness combined with the moral dimension as a way to interconnectedness and social change/justice makes so much sense. with gratitude, Sharon

  35. Mireille Saurette

    Dear Melli and Rick – thank you both so much for yet another inspirational talk. Rick, what you said about the ethical and moral element of a mindfulness practice rang SO, SO true for me. Mindfulness, even at critical mass is not enough to positively impact the world. There needs to be the elements of social justice, kindness, loving kindness and open warmheartedness to significantly alter the world. Thankfully, there are many already engaged in such practices. I am absolutely loving the summit thus far and look forward to seeing and hearing both the interviewer and interviewee every single day. Keep up the excellent work! You are asking great questions and 100% engaged throughout. I am thoroughly impressed with all your speakers have chosen to participate in the mindfulness summit. Again – thank you, merci, murakoze cyane, gracias, toda raba!

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