Spotlight: Dr. Claudia Aguirre, Resident Neuroscientist at Headspace

Published on Sep 23, 2015. Updated on Invalid date.

We at Osmosis understand the importance of neuroscience and have leveraged scientific research involving neuroscience and education as part of our learning platform. That is why we are excited to speak with neuroscientist, Dr. Claudia Aguirre, for a feature on our blog today. Dr. Aguirre currently serves as the Resident Neuroscientist at Headspace, a guided meditation and mindfulness startup. She is passionate about bringing science to everyone in a fun and digestible way. She received her BS in Psychology from University of California, Los Angeles and her Ph.D in Neuroscience from University of Southern California. She has previously spoken at TEDx in the past and has been involved with TED-Ed. You can follow her on twitter @doctorclaudia.

What is your academic background? How did you get interested in mindfulness meditation?I started doing neuroscience research as an undergrad at UCLA, received a training award at the National Institute of Mental Health where I studied the molecular mechanisms of schizophrenia and obtained my Ph.D. in neuroscience from the University of Southern California, where I focused my studies on learning, memory and neurodegenerative diseases. I became interested in mindfulness and meditation while lecturing on the biological effects of psychological stress on our organs, in particular the skin. As I lectured on stress, I began to dig deeper into anti-stress techniques and began my personal studies on meditation and mindfulness. I’ve recently received a certificate from Loyola Marymount University for a year-long course on mindfulness, yoga and social change. My scientific research on this area continues as I lecture on mind-body therapies globally and on the neuroscience of meditation for Headspace. I’ve also been enjoying the app for a few years now and love to incorporate it into my personal life.

Can you tell me about the Headspace app. How does it work? What is the most effective way to use it? We like to think of Headspace as a gym membership for the mind. With meditation training, individuals learn to focus their attention and gain perspective on the stream of thoughts that normally occupy the mind. Consistent practice has been shown to result in a state of greater physical relaxation, mental calmness, and psychological balance. With techniques like breath awareness, visualization, reflection and noting, Headspace provides a system designed to cultivate a greater sense of awareness, or mindfulness, and to relax the body and mind.

Take 10 is a great introduction to the service and only takes up 10 minutes of your day. You can listen to the sessions anytime, anyplace, anywhere. If you like the app, you can subscribe and have access to hundreds of unlimited hours of content. There are sections like Self-esteem, Relationships, Creativity, and the app will teach you how to apply mindfulness to your everyday activities.

What are some of the scientifically proven benefits that mindfulness meditation (and Headspace) can have for medical students?
While mindfulness training is beneficial for all walks of life, mindfulness training in the medical school or hospital setting is also beneficial for the healthcare sector. For over fifteen years, scientific studies have illustrated the benefits of meditation training for medical students, clinicians and other healthcare workers. In fact, some medical schools have even implemented a mindfulness course in their curriculum. Stress during medical school can extend into work-related problems after graduation, and thus lower quality of patient care and patient satisfaction. Generally, meditation training has been consistently shown to increase mindfulness, lower stress levels, improve focus and even boost levels of compassion. For instance, a preliminary study at USC’s Keck School of Medicine showed that medical students who used Headspace had reduced levels of perceived stress. And a study published this year found that using Headspace compared to a brain training app increased the chances of people behaving compassionately towards someone in need. Mounting evidence suggests that mindfulness meditation training can promote resiliency against stress and encourage healthy techniques for managing the emotional and physical toll of medical school training and practice. Together with cultivating an awareness of and sensitivity to patients’ needs, and a compassion for their experiences - mindfulness training in medical school is a no-brainer.

How would you respond to someone who says: "Medical school is very time-consuming. I've never been able to meditate and have heard it takes years of practice to get good at it. I just don't have the time!”We developed Take10 for people with very busy lives. It takes up less than 1% of your day, and it can be done on your way to class or at a desk over your lunch break. So there really is time to do it – you just need to allocate that time to meditation. Perhaps meditation is perceived as hard, or as needing years of practice, because people try to make something happen or force a state of relaxation. In fact, it is a natural process of unwinding which requires surprisingly little effort!

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