Research themes? Itching

katy steger,thru11615 with thanks, modified 11 Years ago at 7/10/12 4:39 AM
Created 11 Years ago at 7/10/12 4:39 AM

Research themes? Itching

Posts: 1740 Join Date: 10/1/11 Recent Posts
So, Daniel yesterday put up a query in regards to "Getting ready for Prime Time: a Long Term Plan" in which he points out some of his own interests in the utility of meditation and askes, "What aspects of this stuff would you like to see to make this stuff ready for Prime Time? What would it take to get there? Who will do that work? How do we get them to do it?"

A while back I read this article on deadly itching, The Itch, a journalistic report from Dr. Atul Gawande. Itchiness is a common antagonist in new meditators and in some stages of meditation.

After a bit of meditation practice, itch perception seems to transform, sometimes causing the perception of a sensation that seems to sit out in space or sometimes abating completely and sometimes existing with out the itch-and-scratch compulsion. When one learns to let itches arise and passes, some aspect of craving and gratification has also been transformed, thus the perception of the sensation changes. I've heard several practitioners mentions their itching lessens or stops completely.

The severe, even fatal, itch which Dr. Gawande describes may be of a totally different origin, however, I do wonder:
-- if there is a relationship to itching, long-term emotional profile, and the vagus nerve (emotional profile seems to be an origin of adult onset dietary allergies)
-- if perception of itch sensation diminishes for new meditators and after how much practice?
-- if histamine response to the scratch test goes down after meditation (skin that is perceived to be very itchy usually has a significant histamine response to the scratch test).

A number of meditations could be useful to a person, however, I would be curious about testing anapanasati and metta.

In both cases practitioners would need to learn what is "harvesting" a sensation from a mental state. For example, I may trigger or "re-fresh" metta practice by recalling the giggle of a childhood friend, then I look at how that sensation is diffusing, then there is cultivating that sensation to suffusion. Anapanasati can be triggered similarly (e.g., recalling a very happy, alert occasion) and then that sensation becomes associated to the breath: inhale becomes "very happy sensation" in first jhana. Each breath then takes on a habit of causing sensation associated "happiness and alertness".

Further, I wonder if another group who would practice anapanasati and would dedicate their practice efforts to the well-being of others, how that dedication of intention would also effect the anapanasati results.
This Good Self, modified 11 Years ago at 7/10/12 9:25 PM
Created 11 Years ago at 7/10/12 9:25 PM

RE: Research themes? Itching

Posts: 946 Join Date: 3/9/10 Recent Posts
hi katy,

I'm keeping Joe Public in mind, because that was the idea of going on TV and talking about meditation. For a mass audience, words like metta and anapanasati would have to go. The problem with that is that then you have to substitute metta with "think nice thoughts" and anapanasati with "paying attention to your breathing". The problem with that is that "think nice thoughts" and "watch your breathing" have no mystical otherworldly charm. These ideas are already well known to most people through popular authors/teachers like Deepak Chopra, and some of the less popular ones like Kabat Zinn and co. "Think nice thoughts" is the basis of the Law of Attraction and a million similar self-help books, which are extremely widely read.

So if someone was to go on TV and say "think nice thoughts" and "watch your breathing", the interviewer is likely to say "right ok, I think we've already done that before... thank you." If you come from the sciencey angle, Kabatt-Zinn has trodden that path, made a name for himself and some money. But I've read and practiced his book for depression and it didn't work.

A point of difference would be needed. If the point of difference is 'hardcoreism', this is just going to attract hard core self-destruct type of people who shave their heads and ride bicycles. I'd suggest leveraging off Daniel's medical background, as Dr Chopra, Dr Phil and Dr Weil have done so successfully. Credibility is built in to the "doctor" title. But then it must be made palatable. I think this is where charisma would be handy, but then of course you get followers like Osho did with his charm.

I thought I had an answer, but I can see now why Daniel declined the interview!
katy steger,thru11615 with thanks, modified 11 Years ago at 7/11/12 4:44 AM
Created 11 Years ago at 7/11/12 4:39 AM

RE: Research themes? Itching

Posts: 1740 Join Date: 10/1/11 Recent Posts
Hi C C C -

I thought I had an answer, but I can see now why Daniel declined the interview!
emoticon oh yeh. This is one reason why benevolent-ish (white hat) open source is so useful. There is no one voice, no one way, and human instincts for "good society" can percolate through the various coming/going individuals towards practical goal.

[edit: in Daniel's thread I suggested putting his interests out to the "white hat open source" community...such as the DhO in a designated area. Lacking such area I figured I'd just toss up some interests I've had from time to time. So, I'll update my threads to be clear about why they're there: pollination in case anyone resonates]
Change A, modified 11 Years ago at 7/15/12 9:55 PM
Created 11 Years ago at 7/15/12 9:55 PM

RE: Research themes? Itching

Posts: 791 Join Date: 5/24/10 Recent Posts
Hi Katy,

I read through The Itch article that you quoted and liked it. I think that "itch" in the article can be substituted by "suffering" and most of it (leaving out the real physical kind) is just produced within the mind because of the "brain's best guess" theory of perception. Meditation helps one to see what is going on and this is how suffering becomes less and less.

Thanks for the link to the article.
katy steger,thru11615 with thanks, modified 11 Years ago at 7/16/12 8:32 AM
Created 11 Years ago at 7/16/12 8:32 AM

RE: Research themes? Itching

Posts: 1740 Join Date: 10/1/11 Recent Posts
Hi Aman -

Thank you for your links elsewhere, too. I watched some of those videos last winter and found them calming and helpful.

About itching: I really don't know if the itching in Dr. Gawande's article has a physical-object underlyer (such as infection, skin complexion) or if the itching arises from a mental-object (such as anxiety).

In the late 1990s Jon Kabat-Zinn worked on treating psoriasis by combining guided meditation with patients light therapy. He concluded that his studies showed accelerated healing with the guided mindfulness during therapy. So perhaps you are right about this and itching and maybe someone will try this research.

Here is follow-up Q&A with Dr. Gawande in which he discusses his further interest in mirror therapy and something called positive mirrors. Not much detail is given, but it shows that there is interest in finding solutions based on the mind's condition.

Being tangential to itching but following Dr. Gawande, here is an excerpt from a more recent article by Dr. Gawande (again from a June issue of The New Yorker magazine for which he is a regular journalist):
[indent][indent]Instead, the critical skills of the best surgeons I saw involved the ability to handle complexity and uncertainty. They had developed judgment, mastery of teamwork, and willingness to accept responsibility for the consequences of their choices. In this respect, I realized, surgery turns out to be no different than a life in teaching, public service, business, or almost anything you may decide to pursue. We all face complexity and uncertainty no matter where our path takes us. That means we all face the risk of failure. So along the way, we all are forced to develop these critical capacities—of judgment, teamwork, and acceptance of responsibility.

In commencement addresses like this, people admonish us: take risks; be willing to fail. But this has always puzzled me. Do you want a surgeon whose motto is “I like taking risks”? We do in fact want people to take risks, to strive for difficult goals even when the possibility of failure looms. Progress cannot happen otherwise. But how they do it is what seems to matter. The key to reducing death after surgery was the introduction of ways to reduce the risk of things going wrong—through specialization, better planning, and technology. They have produced a remarkable transformation in the field. Not that long ago, surgery was so inherently dangerous that you would only consider it as a last resort. Large numbers of patients developed serious infections afterward, bleeding, and other deadly problems we euphemistically called “complications.” Now surgery has become so safe and routine that most is day surgery—you go home right afterward.

But there continue to be huge differences between hospitals in the outcomes of their care. Some places still have far higher death rates than others. And an interesting line of research has opened up asking why.
Researchers at the University of Michigan discovered the answer recently, and it has a twist I didn’t expect. I thought that the best places simply did a better job at controlling and minimizing risks—that they did a better job of preventing things from going wrong. But, to my surprise, they didn’t. Their complication rates after surgery were almost the same as others. Instead, what they proved to be really great at was rescuing people when they had a complication, preventing failures from becoming a catastrophe.

Scientists have given a new name to the deaths that occur in surgery after something goes wrong—whether it is an infection or some bizarre twist of the stomach. They call them a “failure to rescue.” More than anything, this is what distinguished the great from the mediocre. They didn’t fail less. They rescued more.
This may in fact be the real story of human and societal improvement. We talk a lot about “risk management”—a nice hygienic phrase. But in the end, risk is necessary. Things can and will go wrong. Yet some have a better capacity to prepare for the possibility, to limit the damage, and to sometimes even retrieve success from failure.
But recognizing that your expectations are proving wrong—accepting that you need a new plan—is commonly the hardest thing to do. We have this problem called confidence. To take a risk, you must have confidence in yourself. In surgery, you learn early how essential that is. You are imperfect. Your knowledge is never complete. The science is never certain. Your skills are never infallible. Yet you must act. You cannot let yourself become paralyzed by fear.
Yet you cannot blind yourself to failure, either. Indeed, you must prepare for it. For, strangely enough, only then is success possible.

Read more


His article continues.

I know I have gone tangential from "itching" here by inserting Dr. Gawande's more recent article, but I think it is quite relevant to meditation and the immense value of the pan-ethical precept of honesty.