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In dialogue with His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Dr Tamara Russell from the Institute of Psychiatry (IoP), King’s College London joined His Holiness the Dalai Lama in dialogue on the clinical applications of mindfulness, in a session entitled ‘States of Consciousness – Traditional knowledge meets Neuroscience’ on 17th September 2011 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Dr Tamara Russell, from the Department of Psychosis Studies at the IoP has recently been working with scientists from University of Sao Paulo and the Albert Einstein Hospital investigating what happens in the brain following extended periods of practice in meditation. Specifically, how the Zen style of meditation called “Sesshin” changes both the structure and function of the brain, a study that was published in Neuroimage.  

Dr Russell was joined by Dr Edson Amaro and Dr Elisa Kosaka from the University of Sao Paulo and Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi from Emory University for the session with His Holiness, during which they discussed the neuroplasticity of the brain, the clinical applications of mindfulness training and how these relate to brain function. The session was attended by 2,700 people.
‘I was particularly interested in His Holiness’ expertise in the nature of mind and consciousness and how this might be able to inform our understanding of what happens in reduced states of consciousness, such as coma and minimally conscious states, and in relation to altered states of consciousness, such as psychosis’, said Dr Russell. 

Before the session, His Holiness met with the Dr Russell and her Brazilian colleagues in a private audience. Dr. Russell spoke about the clinical applications of mindfulness training, highlighting the commonalities of suffering across psychiatric diagnoses, and talking about how mindfulness training can provide those suffering from psychiatric conditions with the tools to respond more skillfully to their distressing experiences.  

‘His Holiness was particularly attentive to comments relating to the use of mindfulness training to help staff who work in emotionally challenging environments, an area I am particularly passionate about.  

‘His Holiness also highlighted the importance of scientific research, and expressed his amazement at the application of new technologies such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to allow us to better understand human brain function’ said Dr Russell.

Following the meeting, Dr. Russell visited the Sao Paulo Institute of Psychiatry and a number of hospitals and out patient settings, giving talks and training on the clinical applications of mindfulness and the neuroanatomy of mindfulness. In 2008, the Sao Paulo Institute of Psychiatry opened the ‘Robin Murray Research Centre’ to support the study of genetics and brain imaging, named after Professor Robin Murray at the IoP.


From left to right: Dr Edson Amaro Jr., Albert Einstein Hospital and  Universidade Federal de São Paulo; Dr Elisa Kosaka,  Universidade Federal de São Paulo; Dr Tamara Russell, Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London;  Dr Caroline Schnakers, Coma Science Group, University of Liege (and Walter Manna Albertoni, President of the Universidade Federal de São Paulo); Prof Luiz Eugênio Mello, Universidade Federal de São Paulo;  Dr Cláudio Lottenberg, President of the Sociedade Beneficente Israelita Albert Einstein; Dr Adrian Owen, Western University, Canada; His Holiness the Dalai Lama; Cecília Mello; Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi, Emory University.

For more information, please contact Seil Collins, Press Officer, Institute of Psychiatry, email: or tel: 0207 848 5377
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