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Mindful meditation: Off the clock with Terry Lavender


Terry Lavender,
Senior Communications Strategist,
Strategic Communications & Marketing


Terry has been with the University of Toronto (U of T) for one and a half years.

What do you do off the clock?

I teach people mindful meditation and I do research for my PhD on how technology can be used to alleviate chronic pain.

Terry Lavender meditating at U of THow did you first become interested in meditation?

I became interested in meditation through my graduate research. My graduate advisor suffers from chronic pain and she was investigating whether meditation could be used to alleviate pain and lessen dependence on painkillers.

In order to work in her lab (which she calls the Pain Lab) I had to learn meditation. As I became more adept at meditation, I found that it led to significant improvements in my writing, in my personal life and in my work. So I took further meditation training, eventually becoming a certified mindful meditation instructor.

Tell us a bit about your PhD dissertation?

For my dissertation I am studying whether mobile devices, such as smartphones, can be immersive or absorbing. The presumption is that these devices are so small that we get easily distracted by the outside environment, but I suspect that this may not be the case.

Do you see your research and meditation working together to alleviate chronic pain?

Definitely!

Mindful meditation has been shown in a number of studies to alleviate chronic pain. However, meditation takes practice and many people find it difficult to meditate. My supervisor has shown that using technology (such as virtual reality) can help people meditate, but these technologies tend to be bulky and expensive, and not always available.

Someone with chronic pain is more likely to suffer an attack while riding on the subway than while in a controlled lab environment. However, smartphones are almost ubiquitous today, so if we can develop smartphone apps that help people meditate, we can help them manage their pain.

But there’s no point in developing a meditation app if it’s not going to work because the external environment is too distracting. So the first step is to determine whether smartphones can be absorbing enough to help induce a meditative state. And that’s what I’m trying to determine.