Posts Tagged ‘meditation’

Hard Evidence that Meditation Changes our Brains

Mediation and mindfulness training is a frequent topic on the Next Brain Blog.  Over the last several years we have seen studies that show a few weeks of meditation can produce measurable improvement in cognitive function and long-term practice actually makes certain brain regions larger. Now researchers at UCLA report in, Is Meditation the Push-Up for The Brain?:

“… that people who meditate also have stronger connections between brain regions and show less age-related brain atrophy. Having stronger connections influences the ability to rapidly relay electrical signals in the brain. And significantly, these effects are evident throughout the entire brain, not just in specific areas.”

Changing the physical structure of the brain to preserve and enhance function and cognitive performance makes meditation a high-value training technique.

Interested to hear from readers that use any form of meditation. What technique do you use? How long have your practice? What Next Brain benefits do you see?

1 comment - What do you think?  Posted by Mark Clare - July 24, 2011 at 8:26 pm

Categories: Cognitive Decline, Memory and Learning, Older Adult, Training   Tags: ,

The Science of Building a Better Brain

Newsweek did a great job of summarizing the findings from the cognitive enhancement strategies workshop held at the 2010 annual meeting of the Society of Neuroscience.  The article, Can You Build a Better Brain? uses the latest neuroscience to differentiate between techniques that work and those that don’t. Techniques for improving brain function and enhancing cognitive performance that have strong  scientific support include:

  • Drugs that boost dopamine levels such as caffeine
  • Regular aerobic exercise
  • Meditation training
  • Activities that boost mood and confidence
  • Action-oriented video games
  • Cognitive training software but only for the tasks done using the software

All of these techniques have been covered in the Next Brain Blog.  Techniques that don’t appear to have strong evidence include, and I quote:

“Vitamins B6, B12, and E; beta carotene; folic acid; and the trendy antioxidants called flavenoids are all busts, and the evidence for alcohol, omega-3s (the fatty acids in fish), or having a large social network is weak. The Mediterranean diet is associated with a lower risk of cognitive decline, find observational studies, but that hasn’t been confirmed in more rigorous, randomized controlled studies, and no one knows whether the benefit comes from what the diet includes (olive oil, fish, vegetables, wine) or what it excludes (red meat, refined sugars, dairy fat). Statins don’t help, and neither do estrogen or NSAIDs (aspirin, ibuprofen).”

Although some of these have supporting studies they lack a clear causal connection to brain plasticity or other currently understood mechanism of cognition.

18 comments - What do you think?  Posted by Mark Clare - January 4, 2011 at 3:48 am

Categories: Other   Tags: , , , , , ,

Get Benefits of Long-Term Meditation in Just Days?

It was about 10 years ago when research studies began to suggests that a little bit of physical activity could be good for you. Taking a short walk or even just climbing a flight of stairs might be heart-healthy. This was a big surprise for many as traditional wisdom was that you must work-out multiple times per week for many weeks to see benefits.

Now the same may be emerging for brain training at least in the area of mindfulness and meditative practice.  I am seeing studies that suggest a few days of training may produce what we once thought took months or years. The Science Daily Blog reports one such study, Brief Meditation Helps Cognition:

“Psychologists studying the effects of a meditation technique known as “mindfulness ” found that meditation-trained participants showed a significant improvement in their critical cognitive skills (and performed significantly higher in cognitive tests than a control group) after only four days of training for only 20 minutes each day.”

Specific improvements included increased mental energy, reduced anxiety and improved working memory, visual/spatial processing and executive functioning (attention, planning thinking).

Interestingly, no special training technique was used.

As described in the paper, “participants were instructed to relax, with their eyes closed, and to simply focus on the flow of their breath occurring at the tip of their nose. If a random thought arose, they were told to passively notice and acknowledge the thought and to simply let ‘it’ go, by bringing the attention back to the sensations of the breath.”  Subsequent training built on this basic model, teaching physical awareness, focus, and mindfulness with regard to distraction.

Mindfulness training is not as natural as climbing a flight of stairs or taking a walk but clearly it is something we can learn.  I am interested to hear from readers that practice mindfulness, especially how they were able to initially learn the technique.

Source: Image of Meditating Man

1 comment - What do you think?  Posted by Mark Clare - April 19, 2010 at 4:49 pm

Categories: Ancient Ways, Executive Function, Mental Focus, Training   Tags: , ,

Integrative Body-Mind Training Improves Brain Functions in Just Five Days!

There is growing evidence that a fast-track approach to mediation may in fact produce results in as little as five days. This would be a breakthrough as using mindfulness or mediative techniques to improve your cognitive functioning normally takes months or years.

The technique is called integrative body-mind training (IBMT) and requires 20 minutes per day for five days. Subjects with no previous training in mediation techniques showed significant improvements in mental focus, mood and stress.

The process involves using a number of techniques together under the guidance of a coach.   The seminal article on IBMT, Short-Term Medication Training Improves Attention and Self-Regulation, describes it this way:

“Training in this method is followed by 5 days of group practice, during which a coach answers questions and observes facial and body cues to identify those people who are struggling with the method. The trainees concentrate on achieving a balanced state of mind while being guided by the coach and the compact disc that teaches them to relax, adjust their breathing, and use mental imagery.”

A more detailed description of how this works over a five day period can be found in this Introduction to IBMT written by Dr. Yi-Yuan Tang a pioneer in the field.

I am interested to hear from readers that can recommend a coach, suggest resources or share experiences about IBMT. I’d like to try it and write additional posts for the next Brain Blog.

Source:  Image of running man.

1 comment - What do you think?  Posted by Mark Clare - March 11, 2010 at 7:01 pm

Categories: Ancient Ways, Executive Function, Memory and Learning, Mental Focus, Music and Audio, Training   Tags: ,

Want a High Performance Mind?

Combat soldiers, surgeons, ER professionals, Olympic athletes and others that face extreme-stress situations involving judgement must all develop high performance minds to be successful.   Cognitive performance in extreme circumstances has been studied closely and training programs and techniques have been developed and tested.   How to use these techniques to build a high performance mind will be a frequent topic on the Next Brain Blog.

For example, The Mind Fitness Training Institute,  is in the news for a program they have  for training the minds of US combat soldiers. They just completed a pilot study that demonstrated how mindfulness training techniques can improve working memory and affective response (or emotional control).

Soldiers in the program start by mastering attentional control and concentration using a mindfulness training technique.  A briefing document explains:

“At first, exercises emphasize building concentration by focusing on one object of attention, such as the breath, contact between the body and the floor or chair, or sensations within specific body parts. This single focus of attention is maintained throughout a practice session; when attention wanders, it is returned to the object of attention. Later in the course, exercises require attending to body sensations during movement and “shuttling” the attention between inner sensations andouter experiences (i.e., sights or sounds).”

This technique is used in many other  programs that promise to build a high performance mind.  An important finding because it tells us:

The first step in developing a high performance mind is to practice attentional control and concentration using a very simple training technique.

And you don’t need to have an extreme-stress job or attend a special training program to get started. Here is what you do:

  1. Rest comfortably by laying down or sitting
  2. Close your eyes if you want to
  3. Focus on your stomach and feel your breathing
  4. Pay attention to all your bodily sensations in your belly as  move through the complete breathing cycle of inhaling and exhaling
  5. If you mind wanders to another topic or sensation return your attention to your belly and the cycle of breath.

Your only task here is to bring your mind back to the sensation of breathing every time it wonders. Sounds simple but it takes practice.  And what you are learning is invaluable – how to control your own mind!

15 minutes per day for a week should produce a noticeable result.  At the very least you will have first hand experience in attempting to control you attention in a systematic way.  If you try it and please share your experience by leaving a comment.

1 comment - What do you think?  Posted by Mark Clare - February 20, 2010 at 5:00 pm

Categories: Ancient Ways, Manage Emotions, Mental Focus, Training   Tags: ,

Practice Mindfulness to Sharpen Mind and Perhaps Build a Bigger Brain

Studies have shown that if you spend a lot of time juggling or playing a musical instrument the parts of your brain that supports these activities grows bigger.  London taxi cab drivers that spend a decade memorizing elaborate routes experience significant brain changes.  These facts support a major premise behind this blog namely, we are far more in charge of the shape, size, longevity and performance of our brain than we realize.

It would stand to reason that people who meditated extensively should have bigger brains.  I have found a few studies that that support this idea but there is not enough data for a firm conclusion.  In one study:

“Our data suggest that meditation practice can promote cortical plasticity in adults in areas important for cognitive and emotional processing and well-being,” says Sara Lazar, leader of the study and a psychologist at Harvard Medical School. “

In a second study:

“Using MRI scans the scientists show that there was “significantly larger cerebral measurements in mediators”.

No matter, even if mediation does not grow your brain there have been studies that demonstrate improved clarity of thinking, enhance self-control, reduced stress and self-reported well being. As such it is an important option for improving cognitive performance and will be a frequent topic on the Next Brain Blog.

Buddhist insight mediation that advocates focusing on sensation rather than our thoughts of sensation seems to produce results. It is similar to the more modern movement of mindful mediation that focuses on “being in the moment”.  Finally, there is a third, non-mediative approach to mindfulness that we will explore. It is based on the contemporary work of Ellen Langer and seeks to achieve a heightened state of situational awareness of conscious control over thoughts and actions.  Insight mediation, mindful mediation and cognitive mindfulness.

If you are interested in giving it a try I suggestion action over reading. Try this simple five-step experiment in mindful meditation.

Source: Mindfulness Image

12 comments - What do you think?  Posted by Mark Clare - February 9, 2010 at 2:52 am

Categories: Ancient Ways, IQ and EQ, Manage Emotions, Mental Focus, Training   Tags: , ,