Sunday, 25 January 2009

Meditation and Neuroscience - A Positive Pairing

Last year I saw a short article on www.guardian.co.uk that read 'Firms as varied as Reebok and PricewaterhouseCoopers encourage their workers to meditate.' 'The main benefit is stress release and relaxation. Once you get seriously into it, it becomes a skill, a workout for the mind.'

More recently I read this article at health.usnews.com:
There's nothing like economic calamity to focus the mind. But instead of obsessing over your job security or declining 401(k) balance, try diminishing your stress with a new assist from a very old tool: meditation.

Naturally, I explored a little further into the unfathomable data stores of the internet and here are some of the treasures I brought back.

  • Time magazine online www.time.com, reported that daily practice of meditation thickened the parts of the brain's cerebral cortex responsible for decision making, attention and memory. With advanced brainscanning technology, researchers are showing that meditation directly affects the function and structure of the brain. It changes it in ways that appear to increase attention span, sharpen focus and improve memory. By simply focussing on an image or sound or on one's breathing, the practice seems to exercise the parts of the brain that help us pay attention.
  • An interesting aspect of the next study I include, is the subjects were Boston-area workers practicing a Western-style of meditation. A research scientist at Massachusetts General Hospital, presented preliminary results that showed the gray matter of 20 men and women who meditated for just 40 minutes a day was thicker than that of people who did not.
  • Another study mentioned on the time site was of an associate professor of biology at the University of Kentucky, who had college students either meditate, sleep or watch TV. Then he tested them for what psychologists call psychomotor vigilance, asking them to hit a button when a light flashed on a screen. Those who had been taught to meditate performed 10% better—"a huge jump, statistically speaking" the professor said.
  • Finally, www.time.com also printed that meditation seems to help regulate emotions, which in turn helps people get along. 'One of the most important domains meditation acts upon is emotional intelligence—a set of skills far more consequential for life success than cognitive intelligence.'

  • At www.investigatingthemind.org, is an article upon recent studies that are showing that '...meditation can result in stable brain patterns and changes over both short and long-term intervals that have not been seen before in human beings and that suggest the potential for the systematic driving of positive neuroplastic changes via such intentional practices cultivated over time. These investigations may offer opportunities for understanding the basic unifying mechanisms of the brain, mind and body that underlie awareness and our capacity for effective adaptation to stressful and uncertain conditions.'

  • Psychology Today reported upon researchers at Harvard Medical School who used MRI technology on participants to monitor brain activity while they meditated. They found that it activates the sections of the brain in charge of the autonomic nervous system, which governs the functions in our bodies that we can't control, such as digestion and blood pressure. These are also the functions that are often compromised by stress.
  • At www.psychologytoday.com recent research indicates that meditating brings about dramatic effects in as little as a 10-minute session. Several studies have demonstrated that subjects who meditated for a short time showed increased alpha waves (the relaxed brain waves) and decreased anxiety and depression.
  • In a study published during 2000 in the journal Stroke, 60 African-Americans with atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, practiced meditation for six to nine months. (African-Americans are twice as likely to die from cardiovascular disease as are whites.) The meditators showed a marked decrease in the thickness of their artery walls, while the nonmeditators actually showed an increase. The change for the meditation group could potentially bring about an 11 percent decrease in the risk of heart attack and an 8 percent to 15 percent decrease in the risk of stroke. They looked at a group of people who had meditated for four months and found that they produced less of the stress hormone cortisol. They were therefore better able to adapt to stress in their lives, no matter what their circumstances were.
  • A second study, published last year in Psychosomatic Medicine, taught a randomized group of 90 cancer patients mindful meditation (another type of practice). After seven weeks, those who had meditated reported that they were significantly less depressed, anxious, angry and confused than the control group, which hadn't practiced meditation. The meditators also had more energy and fewer heart and gastrointestinal problems than did the other group.

I hope this is motivating news for those of you who like reading results of research into the interests you enjoy in life.

Of course, I will add that there is nothing to compare with your own experience on meditation.
Check out more of my posts on Meditation and Relaxation.
Take care and thanks for reading.

1 comment:

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