Awardees of the AMRA Professional Development Grant 

Congratulations to the following recipients of the AMRA Professional Development Grant award! Recipients are selected from a competitive application process, and the award aims to promote professional development among mindfulness teachers/practitioners and researchers.

Stella Cruz – 2017 Practice Award Recipient

Medicine Pathways — Aqui y Ahora Healing Arts


Stella Cruz is a descendant of the Yaqui Nation. She grew up with a desire to serve her community. In 2007, while in the Peruvian Amazon Jungle, Stella witnessed the need for medical care. This inspired her to established a Health Care Cooperative with several villages, volunteers and the Peruvian American Medical Society (PAMS). PAMS honored her in 2012 with a Humanitarian Award. For over 20 years, she has worked to expand access to health in areas fraught with barriers. In 2011, Stella established a daily meditation practice and began a path to understanding the nature of the mind and the vastness of being in the present moment. Beginning in 2015, Stella received teacher training from Insight LA. She also enrolled in the MBSR program and the Facilitator of Mindfulness Practice course. Stella believes it is essential that mindfulness practices be made available to all communities who want them, especially those communities who experience barriers to access due to location and financial hardship. She is the founder of Medicine Pathways — Aqui y Ahora Healing Arts, and teaches mindfulness in concert with traditional practices that incorporate art and nature.

Barbara Hartigan, Ed.D. – 2016 Research Award Recipient

University of Saint Joseph, West Hartford, CT


Barbara Hartigan, Ed.D. is the program director of Early Childhood/Special Education (ECSE) at the University of Saint Joseph in West Hartford, CT. Her research revolves around the impact of mindfulness techniques on early childhood and special education pre-service teachers and their students. A longtime practitioner of mindfulness and yoga, Barbara began using mindfulness breathing with her teacher candidates as a means of relaxation prior to evening graduate-level courses. Her students arrive for class fatigued and stressed after a full day of teaching. After teacher candidates practice breathing and visualization exercises, they were encouraged to share similar techniques with their students the following week. Twenty-nine teacher candidates participated in a sixteen-week mindfulness-based stress reduction program. Participants answered survey questions, kept reflective journals, completed pre and post course evaluations (anonymously), and assessed their students’ progress. Results of her study showed personal growth in all teacher candidates’ perceived understanding, general awareness, and stress reduction as a result of the semester long training. Data from student assessments showed an average of 90% improvement in overall self-regulations skills over a sixteen-week period. Mindfulness techniques offer teachers and their students a calmer and more focused classroom environment that could potentially transfer to healthier and happier schools, families and communities. Barbara will continue her research in the urban school environment as a result of the AMRA Research Award.

Michael Li, M.P.H. – 2016 Research Award Recipient

University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA


Michael Li, M.P.H. is a Ph.D. candidate in Health Behavior Research and Preventive Medicine at the University of Southern California. His current research interests encompass understanding the effects of dispositional mindfulness and mindfulness practice on minority psychological stress and related health disparities. For his dissertation, he is conducting three studies: (a) a qualitative, phenomenological exploration of dispositional mindfulness and experiences of minority stress throughout the life course of Latino/a sexual minority young adults; (b) a pilot study examining the effects of a community-derived mindfulness-based intervention on multiple psychosocial health outcomes in Latino/a children and their parents; and (c) test of an analytic model of mindfulness practice, dispositional mindfulness, and their differential effects on psychological symptoms (stress, depressed mood, and anxiety) and concentration among participants in a university-wide mindfulness class. Michael hopes to use the AMRA award to carry his findings into future research on development and evaluation of mindfulness-based interventions tailored to meet the unique needs of various minority communities.

Tsu-Yin Chang –  2015 Practice Award Recipient
Spirit Rock Meditation Center, Woodacre, CA, USA


Tsu-Yin Chang began studying the benefits of mindfulness meditation as an undergraduate psychology major at Duke University. Her cultivation of mindfulness practice began in 2006 while training at the University of Washington’s Psychotherapy Clinic at Harborview Medical Center. She has practiced with highly respected Western teachers including Rodney Smith, Joseph Goldstein, Guy Armstrong, and Steve Armstrong. She attended a three month-long retreat at Insight Meditation Society in 2013. Her cultural competency research conducted at Smith College School for Social Work allows her to identify potential issues in bringing mindfulness to greater society. To meet the challenge of offering mindfulness to the increasingly diverse populations drawn to community-oriented practice organizations including young adults, people of color, and socially-engaged practitioners, she believes the foundation of her training must reflect the grounding of the original source of mindfulness practice — the ancient lineage of Theravada Buddhism — and at the same time encourage intuitive and innovative response in the application of these traditional teachings to modern life. Tsu-Yin was invited to join the current international cohort of Community Dharma Leaders at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, CA. In addition to teaching mindfulness in her psychotherapy practice, she leads sits at the Seattle Insight Meditation Society and the People of Color and Allies Sangha, employing self-reflective experiential learning processes to engage others in exploration of their lives and practices. Because she believes that the efficacy of the mindfulness movement rests in the embodied realization of mindfulness principles, the AMRA Practice Award will assist Tsu-Yin as she travels to Myanmar for intensive, long-term mindfulness practice with highly esteemed monastics, including Burmese meditation master Sayadaw U Pandita. Through this immersion and cultivation of emotional and relational intelligence, including traits of compassion and equanimity, Tsu-Yin aims to expand her capacity to work with personal and interpersonal suffering. Rooting creative expression and the discernment of ethical values in foundational Buddhist perspectives, Tsu-Yin hopes to maximize the fluidity with which she is able to connect classical teachings to contemporary life.

Hana Villar – 2015 Research Award Recipient
City University London, London, United Kingdom


Hana Villar began to develop her personal and clinical interest in Mindfulness-based therapies while training at the San Francisco’s Community Behavioral Health Services. Through her own regular mindfulness practice and completion of formal mindfulness trainings over the past decade, Hana has experienced the first-hand benefits of mindfulness in terms of her own wellbeing and resilience as well as the enrichment of her psychotherapeutic relationships with her clients. This has led to a lifelong commitment to using mindfulness in her own daily life as well as to adapting mindfulness techniques to benefit people with severe mental health difficulties. Upon moving to London in 2009, Hana became the Clinical Director of City and Hackney Mind. She specializes in complex trauma and severe mental health disorders, using Mindfulness interventions and other evidence-based psychological therapies to improve clinical outcomes. Hana became interested in psychological research on mindfulness in 2011 and completed her MSc in Psychology and Research Methods (with Distinction) from City University London. Her research involved investigating the mechanisms of change and neural bases of mindfulness therapies on mental health populations. Hana subsequently won a scholarship from City University to undertake her PhD research into the neuroscience of mindfulness. In her research, Hana seeks to develop more accurate measurement tools to measure changes in brain functioning via Mindfulness training in mental health populations. In particular, her aim is to substantiate the theory that mindfulness meditation reduces mental health symptoms, in the first instance by changing the way our brains process bodily information, then by improving attentional control and self-awareness. The outcome of her doctoral research will be an original contribution to neurophysiological research into mindfulness, improving the understanding and measurement of mindfulness changes induced on a brain and experiential level. Her research involves taking self-report measures as well as response speed and accuracy changes in brain activity (via electroencephalography) in bodily self-awareness and attention tasks. Hana will use the AMRA Research Award to engage in wide-scale neuroscientific research, with the ultimate aim of informing mindfulness practice and thus contributing to its refinement in clinical practice.

Caitlin Conner – 2015 Research Award Recipient
Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA, USA


Caitlin Conner is a doctoral candidate in the Clinical Science program at Virginia Tech. She is interested in how mindfulness- and acceptance-based therapies can be adapted and used to improve the lives of individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their families. Given the chronicity of the diagnosis and the effects on individuals and their families (comorbid psychiatric conditions and stress), such interventions may be particularly helpful for this population in improving overall quality of life. Her thesis study looked at the relationships between maternal trait mindfulness, stress, and child and maternal psychopathology among mothers of children either with or without ASD. She is also interested in mechanisms of these treatments. Her dissertation is focusing on a pilot program of adapted Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) for young adults with ASD for emotion dysregulation. This work will add to the extant research on using mindfulness with individuals with ASD, as well as better understand the potential processes of change for these interventions.

Eric Lopez Maya – 2014 Practice Award Recipient
Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico City, Mexico


Eric Lopez Maya began his mindfulness meditation practice in 1999 at a meditation center in Mexico City. He began his professional training in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) at the University of Massachusetts Medical School Center for Mindfulness in 2003, and then completed his supervision process in 2007. He has taught MBSR in Mexico since 2003, including the general public, medical patients, and companies. In 2012, he enrolled in the Certification in Mindfulness Facilitation at the Mindful Awareness Research Center at the University of California at Los Angeles. He works with a research team to investigate the health effects of Vipassana meditation at a hospital in Berlin, Germany. He goes on retreats at a minimum length of 1 week each year, and he soon will be completing his first month-long retreat at Spirit Rock. Regarding long-term teaching goals, he aims to further grow his teaching organization in Mexico called REDEA, and further develop mindfulness practice teaching materials in Spanish.

Gillian O’Reilly – 2014 Research Award Recipient

University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, USA


Gillian O’Reilly is a National Cancer Institute Predoctoral Fellow at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California. Her dissertation will focus on the links between mindfulness, stress, and obesity-related behaviors. She will investigate the influence of mindfulness and stress on hunger and satiety over time during a controlled feeding study in a sample of overweight Hispanic adolescents, examine the moderating effects of eating styles on these relationships, and will address the potential for mindfulness training to mitigate the impact of stress on eating behaviors in the current obesogenic environment. This dissertation work will contribute to the field by advancing our understanding of how mindfulness-based interventions can possibly protect against obesity-related behaviors.