Dr. Alistair Dias

Professional Biography

Dr. Dias is a long-serving member of the University of Toronto community, completing an undergraduate B.Sc. specialist degree in Biological Chemistry then both a M.Sc. and Ph.D. in the Chemistry Department at the University of Toronto, specializing in metalloprotein function and characterization. In 2009, Dr. Dias was hired as a lecturer in the Human Biology Program and in 2015 was promoted to Associate Professor, Teaching Stream. For the last 11 years, he has been teaching and developing the core third-year lab courses in various specializations, including Neuroscience, Human Biology, Health & Disease, and Fundamental Genetics and Its Applications. He has shaped these lab courses to introduce students to foundational and modern experiments in their respective fields as well as to provide students an opportunity to develop and excel in their scientific writing and literature mining skills. In addition, he is also the instructor for two 4th year lecture series courses discussing topics in Integrative and Complementary Medicine and the self created course, The Biology of the Human Metallome (the use of transition metals for human function). He has used these courses as a platform to pursue and expand upon his pedagogical interests including investigating the use and benefits of video/online content, inverted classroom environments (discussion-based) and creating innovative assignments/assessments promoting critical and analytical thinking. He currently has plans to explore the use of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) tools in teaching and developing new open access course modules which make use of this emerging and exciting technology.

Learn more at https://www.hmb.utoronto.ca/people/di….

Reflection Questions 

Take a few moments to try belly breathing as Dr. Dias described it. Do you find it challenging? Easy? What changes do you notice in your body and mind as you do it?

When do you feel that your mind and body are the most connected? What is that like?

When do you feel that your mind and body are the least connected? Why might that be?

How might understanding the brain and nervous system help us to regulate our stress levels?

Dr. Dias mentions using a ‘whole systems research’ model. What possibilities might this type of research open up for our understanding of mindfulness and the body?

In your view, what is the current value of research in understanding the mind-body connection? What are some ways (like WSR) that we might better tap into this potential?

Further Resources

De-stressing through yoga: Read this article with contribution by Dr. Dias on how a yoga practice can be a positive coping mechanism for navigating one’s academic career and beyond.

Dr. Dias’s videos discuss the HeartMath Institute‘s work on the heart-brain connection and how the heart influences perceptions, emotions, and health.

Muehsam, Lutgendorf, S., Mills, P. J., Rickhi, B., Chevalier, G., Bat, N., Chopra, D., & Gurfein, B. (2017). The embodied mind: A review on functional genomic and neurological correlates of mind-body therapies. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 73, 165–181. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2016.12.027

Cahn, Goodman, M. S., Peterson, C. T., Maturi, R., & Mills, P. J. (2017). Yoga, meditation and mind-body health: Increased BDNF, cortisol awakening response, and altered inflammatory marker expression after a 3-month yoga and meditation retreat. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 11, 315–315. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2017.00315

Tang. (2017). The Neuroscience of Mindfulness Meditation How the Body and Mind Work Together to Change Our Behaviour (1st ed. 2017.). Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-46322-3

Introducing Dr. Alistair Dias

Listen to Dr. Dias talk about his teaching and educational background at the University of Toronto.

Integrating Mind and Body

Dr. Dias discusses the way in which having a strong mind-body connection is crucial to the healing process of both physical and mental conditions. One of the ways in which mindfulness can assist in the healing process is through the limbic system of the brain, by slowing down how quickly we react to emotions. When we strengthen the mind-body connection through mindfulness, we strengthen the brain’s ability to adapt and change. 

Mindfulness-Based Practices

Dr. Dias explains some of the neuroscience behind mindfulness practices such as loving-kindness meditation. He also discusses the way in which belly breathing can engage the vagus nerve to help activate our parasympathetic nervous system, helping us to relax. 

Cultivating Attention and Flexibility

Dr. Dias discusses the importance of how we choose to use our attention. What we focus on impacts our well-being by either strengthening or weakening our mind-body connection. Our heart rate variability, for example, is a strong indicator of how well we handle stress. Focusing on our breathing can assist in building strong heart-rate variability. 

Evaluating Research on Complementary Therapies

Dr. Dias talks about the hierarchy of research studies in evidence based medicine that determines how to best evaluate the effectiveness of medical treatments. Typically, randomized control trials, double blind studies, and the like are considered the most legitimate. But when it comes to things like mindfulness, we need a new mode of evaluation. Dr. Dias proposes a model called ‘whole systems research,’ in which the entire research population is investigated, even the portion for whom the treatment was ineffective.