At the SEMA Lab (Sonication Enhanced Mindful Awareness), we seek to solve a common obstacle faced when applying mindfulness practice to clinical populations: Mindfulness meditation is sometimes simply too difficult for those that could benefit the most from it.
Mindfulness has been shown to improve outcomes for a whole host of disorders, such as chronic pain, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, addiction... the list goes on. Despite its effectiveness, compliance with mindfulness protocols in clinical populations tends to be low, perhaps due to the immense effort and time it takes to start seeing benefits of the practice. This is an unfortunate paradox keeping these populations from experiencing the life-changing effects the practice can have: In essence, mindfulness can free someone of their disorder, but the disorder keeps them from committing to the practice.
How do we solve this problem? With SEMA, we can make mindfulness more rewarding at the beginning of the practice, so that the practitioner continues to apply meditation training. With this approach, the barriers to commitment and consistent practice become lessened, and the practitioner is free to explore the life-changing effects that mindfulness has to offer.
How can we make mindfulness more rewarding? We're using a new form of noninvasive brain stimulation called transcranial ultrasound (TUS). TUS uses low-intensity ultrasound to safely and reversibly modulate brain activity and is quickly gaining traction as a tool for neuroscience. When we ultrasound a part of the brain, we call that "sonicating" the brain. TUS can be focused, allowing us to sonicate relatively specific parts of the brain. We are aiming the ultrasound to a part of the brain that we think should help enhance the acquisition of meditation skills (like equanimity, concentration, and sensory clarity) and participants will receive sonication while they meditate. Thus, we are not seeking to replace meditation -- participants will still have to do the hard work. But we hope this paradigm will help them learn the meditation techniques quicker and benefit from the practice sooner.
This research is in the early stages. So far, we have run pilot experiments that have been encouraging, but we must do more to validate these results. In SEMA lab at the University of Arizona, we are currently launching several experiments to examine the efficacy and safety of the sonication enhanced mindfulness. We will be submitting these results to peer-reviewed journals as soon as the experiments are completed. Check back soon for updates.