Fostering awareness of our lifestyle
Dr. Benzo's lab aims to develop interventions to improve quality of life through mindfulness, rehabilitation and behavior change. (Photograph taken before Covid-19 pandemic guidelines.)
Bridging ancient knowledge with new science, the Mindful Breathing Laboratory of Roberto P. Benzo, M.D., focuses on the study of how self-awareness, mindfulness, physical activity and self-management impact chronic diseases, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), fibrotic lung disease, lung cancer and sleep apnea.
Based at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, the Mindful Breathing Lab develops and tests interventions that empower people to be more present and open to self-awareness and self-exploration to adopt a lifestyle that provides balance (health). Dr. Benzo and his research team seek to improve the quality of life for people with chronic conditions through the use of such interventions as meditation, health coaching for lifestyle change, home-based pulmonary rehabilitation, and regular physical activity.
Dr. Benzo launched the Mindful Breathing Laboratory with funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to explore how a healthier lifestyle could impact health outcomes for people with chronic lung disease. We have expanded our scope to investigate the potential beneficial effects of purposeful attention (mindfulness) and how the willingness of patients to participate in their own health (participatory medicine) may affect disease outcomes. Our lab promotes the use of positive psychology to enhance well-being in chronic disease through health coaching based on our recent research discoveries.
In partnership with the Department of Psychiatry and Psychology at Mayo Clinic, our lab aims to understand aspects of the inner process of personal exploration to find balance in the context of chronic conditions. We do this through lifestyle modification (behavior change) using motivational interviewing as a framework for guiding conversations with patients.
Ongoing research in the Mindful Breathing Lab shows that the motivation to change best comes from within an individual, not when it's imposed from the outside. Results from several interventions in our lab indicate that a quiet and eliciting style of communication is more effective than persuasion to create the conditions for behavior change. Read more details about Dr. Benzo's approach to motivational interviewing on the COPD Foundation website.
The teachings of mindfulness by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., have been seminal to the use of participatory medicine in our laboratory. In the context of chronic health conditions, mindfulness offers the opportunity to create conditions for raising awareness of individual lifestyles, for defining what is bringing balance in the present moment and what is not, and for coming to terms with disease without focusing on the past or future.
Being positive requires hard work — particularly inner work — and willingness to carve out time each day to practice. This can be accomplished by sitting meditation, very simple movements, yoga, silent slow walking, or a meditation exercise called a body scan.
The systematic practice of paying attention can change how the brain is wired and may have the potential to change the progress of disease, perhaps leading to greater well-being and a reduced need for care.
Changing behavior requires will and motivation. Dr. Benzo postulates that increasing awareness of what you do or don't do each day in your lifestyle may trigger the intention for a behavior change.
Several research projects within the Mindful Breathing Lab use technology to increase awareness of daily events, such as physical activity, fatigue and emotions.
About Dr. Benzo
Dr. Benzo is a pulmonologist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and an associate professor of medicine at Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science. Dr. Benzo's interests focus on chronic disease management and quality of life for patients with lung cancer and COPD. As a researcher, the core of Dr. Benzo's work is investigating the beneficial effects of promoting awareness of lifestyle on balance (health). Dr Benzo's research promotes body awareness, physical activity and emotional awareness (emotional intelligence).
Health, balance & personal transformation: An interview with Dr. Benzo