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Bridging ancient knowledge with new science, the Mindful Breathing Laboratory of Roberto P. Benzo, M.D., focuses on the study of how self-awareness, mindfulness and self-management impact chronic diseases, including lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Based at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, the Mindful Breathing Lab develops and tests interventions that empower people to be more present and open to living better through self-awareness and self-exploration. Dr. Benzo and his research team seek to improve the quality of life for people with life-limiting conditions through the use of such interventions as meditation, behavior change, rehabilitation and physical activity.
Dr. Benzo launched the Mindful Breathing Laboratory with initial funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to explore how a healthier lifestyle could impact health outcomes in people with chronic lung disease. The lab has expanded its scope to investigate the potential beneficial effects of purposeful attention (mindfulness) and how the willingness of patients to participate in their own health (participatory medicine) may affect disease outcomes.
In partnership with the Department of Psychiatry and Psychology at Mayo Clinic, the Mindful Breathing Lab aims to understand aspects of the inner process of personal healing, behavior change and care in chronic diseases. Motivational interviewing is used to investigate how listening aids in guiding patients.
Ongoing research in the Mindful Breathing Lab shows that the motivation to change best comes from within an individual, not when it's imposed from the outside by family, friends or the media. The results of several interventions in the lab indicate that a quiet and eliciting style of communication is more effective than persuasion to create the conditions for behavior change. Read Dr. Benzo's article for the COPD Foundation, Changing Outcomes in COPD through Motivational Interviewing, about using motivational interviewing to inspire behavior change and improve outcomes in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Research led by mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., has been seminal to the use of participatory medicine in this laboratory. In the context of chronic health conditions, mindfulness offers the opportunity to focus energy on what is right about your health in the present moment and to come to terms with your disease without focusing on the past or future.
Being positive requires hard work — particularly inner work — and willingness to carve out time each day to practice. This can be accomplished by sitting meditation, very simple movements, yoga, silent slow walking or a meditation exercise called a body scan.
The systematic practice of paying attention can change how the brain is wired and may have the potential to change the progress of disease, perhaps leading to greater well-being and a reduced need for care.
Changing behavior requires will and motivation. Dr. Benzo postulates that increasing awareness of what you do or don't do each day may trigger behavior change.
Several research projects within the lab use technology to increase awareness of daily activities, such as counting the number of steps taken, and test if that awareness, guided by motivational interviewing-based coaching, can increase physical activity in daily life.
Dr. Benzo's Mindful Breathing Lab has several Mayo Clinic research affiliations, including: