February 24, 2011

Meditation alters your grey matter, studies show

From the Globe and Mail:

Move over cryptic crosswords and Sudoku, and make way for the ultimate mental workout. It’s called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, or MBSR for short. Recent neuroscience research shows that novices using the method – developed at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in the 1970s – can get results in just eight weeks.

Brain-changing results, that is.

A 2010 study found that non-meditators who had eight weeks of MBSR training were more likely than a control group to access the brain region that provides a bodily sense of the “here and now” as opposed to the region associated with worry.

In other research published in January, brain scans of MBSR participants with no previous meditation experience showed increased grey-matter density in regions involved in learning and memory, emotion regulation, self-awareness and perspective taking.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

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February 2, 2011

Brain Waves and Meditation

From: ScienceDaily.com

Forget about crystals and candles, and about sitting and breathing in awkward ways. Meditation research explores how the brain works when we refrain from concentration, rumination and intentional thinking. Electrical brain waves suggest that mental activity during meditation is wakeful and relaxed.

“Given the popularity and effectiveness of meditation as a means of alleviating stress and maintaining good health, there is a pressing need for a rigorous investigation of how it affects brain function,” says Professor Jim Lagopoulos of Sydney University, Australia. Lagopoulos is the principal investigator of a joint study between his university and researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) on changes in electrical brain activity during nondirective meditation.

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January 4, 2011

The Exploration of Meditation in the Neuroscience of Attention and Consciousness

A. Raffoneand N. Srinivasan

Article in Cognitive Processing: International Quarterly of Cognitive Science

Abstract: Many recent behavioral and neuroscientific studies have revealed the importance of investigating meditation states and traits to achieve an increased understanding of cognitive and affective neuroplasticity, attention and self-awareness, as well as for their increasingly recognized clinical relevance. The investigation of states and traits related to meditation has especially pronounced implications for the neuroscience of attention, consciousness, self-awareness, empathy and theory of mind. In this article we present the main features of meditation-based mental training and characterize the current scientific approach to meditation states and traits with special reference to attention and consciousness, in light of the articles contributed to this issue.

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December 15, 2010

Breathe In, Breathe Out, Fall in Love

emotions,meditation — alice @ 2:54 pm

From: NYTimes.com. In the front hall of the Victorian house was a laminated sign that said “Shoes,” and underneath it a row of Birkenstocks and Danskos stretched along the wall. I could hear voices coming from the meditation hall upstairs, so I figured people were already finding their seats. I sat down and pulled off my motorcycle boots, wishing every object had its own little sign. If only my ex-boyfriend had worn a sign the night before that said “ex-boyfriend,” I would not have slept with him.

I crept upstairs and tried to open the door soundlessly. Inside, two dozen people were perched on pillows. They were the same kind of people you find at a bookstore — a lot of spectacles, lumpy sweaters, laptop bags. A few were still whispering, but I sensed the room was about to fall into a trance of majestic silence. So I hurried to join them.

Sitting cross-legged, my hands cupped upward, I began to struggle with the basics of Vipassana meditation, trying to pay attention to my breath as it tickled my nostrils. “Vipassana” comes from the Pali word for “insight,” but here in Cambridge, Mass., the term connotes something else — a certain East Coast, over-educated style of sitting on a pillow.

On the dais, the teacher lounged on his meditation bench in a weathered Patagonia hoodie, his gray hair tied in a knot. “For the next eight hours, you will not say a word,” he told us brightly. “Did everyone remember to bring a bag lunch?”

At that point in my life I had never attempted a full day of meditation.

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Vital Signs; Regimes: Meditation, for the Mind and the Heart

altered states,meditation — alice @ 12:52 pm

From: NYTimes.com. Could the mental relaxation produced by transcendental meditation have physiological benefits? A study presented last week at the American Heart Association meeting in Orlando, Fla., suggests that it may, at least in the case of people with established coronary artery disease.

Researchers followed about 200 high-risk patients for an average of five years. Among the 100 who meditated, there were 20 heart attacks, strokes and deaths; in the comparison group, there were 32. The meditators tended to remain disease-free longer and also reduced their systolic blood pressure.

”We found reduced blood pressure that was significant — that was probably one important mediator,” said Dr. Robert Schneider, director of the Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention, a research institute based at the Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, who presented the findings.

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December 13, 2010

How Mindfulness Can Make for Better Doctors

meditation — alice @ 12:09 pm

From: NYTimes.com One night during my training, long after all the other doctors had fled the hospital, I found a senior surgeon still on the wards working on a patient note. He was a surgeon with extraordinary skill, a doctor of few words whose folksy quips had become the stuff of department legend. “I’m sorry you’re still stuck here,” I said, walking up to him.

He looked up from the chart. “I’m not working tomorrow, so I’m just fine.”

I had just reviewed the next day’s operating room schedule and knew he had a full day of cases. I began to contradict him, but he held his hand up to stop me.

“Time in the O.R.,” he said with a broad grin, “is not work; it’s play.”

For several years my peers and I relished anecdotes like this one because we believed we knew exactly what our mentor had meant. All of us had had the experience of “disappearing” into the meditative world of a procedure and re-emerging not exhausted, but refreshed. The ritual ablutions by the scrub sink washed away the bacteria clinging to our skin and the endless paperwork threatening to choke our enthusiasm. A single rhythmic cardiac monitor replaced the relentless calls of our beepers; and nothing would matter during the long operations except the patient under our knife.

We had entered “the zone.” We were focused on nothing else but our patients and that moment.

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November 15, 2010

Mental Training Through Meditation Enhances Attentional Stability

A. Lutz, H. Slagter, et al.
Article in Journal of Neuroscience

Abstract
The capacity to stabilize the content of attention over timevaries among individuals, and its impairment is a hallmark ofseveral mental illnesses. Impairments in sustained attentionin patients with attention disorders have been associated withincreased trial-to-trial variability in reaction time and event-relatedpotential deficits during attention tasks. At present, it isunclear whether the ability to sustain attention and its underlyingbrain circuitry are transformable through training. Here, weshow, with dichotic listening task performance and electroencephalography,that training attention, as cultivated by meditation, can improvethe ability to sustain attention. Three months of intensivemeditation training reduced variability in attentional processingof target tones, as indicated by both enhanced theta-band phaseconsistency of oscillatory neural responses over anterior brainareas and reduced reaction time variability. Furthermore, thoseindividuals who showed the greatest increase in neural responseconsistency showed the largest decrease in behavioral responsevariability. Notably, we also observed reduced variability inneural processing, in particular in low-frequency bands, regardlessof whether the deviant tone was attended or unattended. Focusedattention meditation may thus affect both distracter and targetprocessing, perhaps by enhancing entrainment of neuronal oscillationsto sensory input rhythms, a mechanism important for controllingthe content of attention. These novel findings highlight themechanisms underlying focused attention meditation and supportthe notion that mental training can significantly affect attentionand brain function.

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November 5, 2010

6 More Reasons to Meditate

From: Psychology Today

Why meditate? Outside of religious contexts, the most common reason is stress management. But as these latest research findings demonstrate, meditation is much more than just a relaxation technique. Here are a half-dozen more good reasons to take up meditation.

To enhance concentration
Meditation has an undeserved reputation for being esoteric and difficult to learn. In truth, it’s really nothing more than the practice of focusing the mind intently on a particular thing or activity. It seems logical that regular meditation would hone a person’s powers of concentration, and a recent study in the Journal of Neuroscience found just that. In the study, three months of intensive meditation training led to improvements in attentional stability – the ability to sustain attention without frequent lapses.

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October 27, 2010

Hypnosis Leads to Heightened Brain Waves and Levels of Consciousness

From: Natural News

Many people are wary of hypnosis because they are not educated on the topic. Hypnosis is a natural state and many people reach this state of consciousness every day without even realizing it. When you drive a car, you are in a light state of hypnosis. You are in control, you have an increased ability to concentrate, and you are operating on autopilot without really realizing it. A great deal of research has been conducted on the hypnotic state and various states of consciousness.

Your brain has four different brain wave states: beta, alpha, theta, and delta. While you are reading this article, you are in the state of beta. You are alert and able to concentrate on this article. The beta state is normal wakening state. Alpha state is a relaxed state. You are able to access creativity and visualization. Theta state is a deeper state of relaxation; this is a common state of hypnosis and meditation. Theta allows you to access memories. You experience theta as you fall asleep and wake up every day. Lastly is delta, which occurs while sleeping. Delta allows your body to heal. You are able to access your subconscious mind during alpha, theta, and delta states and can also reach various depths of hypnosis (Tools for Wellness).

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February 9, 2009

Interoceptive Awareness in Experienced Meditators

cognition,meditation,perception — alice @ 2:39 am

Meditation can be conceptualized as a complex form of attentional and emotional training that promotes well-being and emotional balance.  In most meditation traditions, a common practice is to focus one’s attention to internal body sensations, and many traditions state that this practice results in an increased awareness of internal body sensations.  In a study by Khalsa and colleagues, two groups of meditators (Tibetan Buddhist and Kundalini) were compared to a group of nonmeditators on their ability to detect their own heartbeat.  (The meditators and nonmeditators were matched for age and body mass index.)  Although the investigators predicted that the experienced meditators would outperform the nonmeditators, no such evidence was found.  Compared to the nonmeditators, however, the experienced meditators consistently rated the difficulty of the heartbeat detection task as easier and their interoceptive performance as superior.  These results suggest that the practice of focusing one’s attention to internal body sensations (a core feature of meditation) does not enhance the ability to sense the heartbeat at rest, but it alters the subjective experience of it.

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November 2, 2008

Theta phase synchrony and conscious target perception: Impact of intensive mental training

Heleen A. Slagter, Antoine Lutz, Lawrence L. Greischar, Sander Nieuwenhuis, and Richard J. Davidson.
Article in Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

Abstract
The information processing capacity of the human mind is limited, as is evidenced by the attentional blink-a deficit in identifying the second of two targets (T1 and T2) presented in close succession. This deficit is thought to result from an overinvestment of limited resources in T1 processing. We previously reported that intensive mental training in a style of meditation aimed at reducing elaborate object processing, reduced brain resource allocation to T1, and improved T2 accuracy [Slagter, H. A., Lutz, A., Greisschar, L. L., Frances, A. D., Nieuwenhuis, S., Davis, J., et al. Mental training affects distribution of limited brain resources. PloS Biology, 5, e138, 2007]. Here we report EEG spectral analyses to examine the possibility that this reduction in elaborate T1 processing rendered the system more available to process new target information, as indexed by T2-locked phase variability. Intensive mental training was associated with decreased cross-trial variability in the phase of oscillatory theta activity after successfully detected T2s, in particular, for those individuals who showed the greatest reduction in brain resource allocation to T1. These data implicate theta phase locking in conscious target perception, and suggest that after mental training the cognitive system is more rapidly available to process new target information. Mental training was not associated with changes in the amplitude of T2-induced responses or oscillatory activity before task onset. In combination, these findings illustrate the usefulness of systematic mental training in the study of the human mind by revealing the neural mechanisms that enable the brain to successfully represent target information.

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October 26, 2008

Attention regulation and monitoring in meditation

attention,emotions,meditation,reviews — alice @ 12:41 am

Antoine Lutz, Heleen A. Slagter, John D. Dunne and Richard J. Davidson
Review article in Trends in Cognitive Sciences, click here for full article

Abstract:
Meditation can be conceptualized as a family of complex emotional and attentional regulatory training regimes developed for various ends, including the cultivation of well-being and emotional balance. Among these various practices, there are two styles that are commonly studied. One style, focused attention meditation, entails the voluntary focusing of attention on a chosen object. The other style, open monitoring meditation, involves nonreactive monitoring of the content of experience from moment to moment. The potential regulatory functions of these practices on attention and emotion processes could have a long-term impact on the brain and behavior.

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