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Scientific American Just put out a decent summary of the current neuroscience research on meditation written by friends, Matthieu Ricard, Antoine Lutz, and Richie Davidson. I enjoyed reading the article and thought I’d share it here with some commentary. The article uses the same distinctions in meditation practice we outlined in our S-ART paper – That is Focused Attention, Open Monitoring (or Mindfulness), and Loving Kindness or Compassion (or ethical enhancement practices).
Essentially, they describe the act of meditating during Focused Attention similarly to the model below – A practitioner starts with the intention, orients attention and engages on object (Breath) – the mind becomes distracted and enters the mind-wandering default mode network – it realizes there is distraction (through decentering) and activates a salience network. Reorientation of awarenesss than involves dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and anterior inferior parietal lobe. I would further argue that the larger frontoparietal control network (including nodes of the salience network and lateral frontopolar cortex and even the lateral cerebellum) all contribute to the decentering, monitoring, and reorientation process. the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex concurrently helps with response inhibition.
Interestingly, the article also points out some of the morphological changes noted in a recent meta-analyses done by Kiran Fox HERE. The study found the frontopolar cortex and anterior insula were 2 brain regions with neuroplastic changes most often found in such studies of meditators.
I wanted to share some great videos explaining the benefits of contemplative education and the research being conducted around the world supported by the 1440 Foundation.
Some great press on why contemplative education should be a priority!
Robert Piper writes on this topic at Huffington Post [Link]
Can meditation practice eliminate pain? NO, but it can it reduce the emotional intensity in which it is anticipated and experienced!
There have been a few studies up to today (jan. 4, 2012) that have investigated the effects of specific meditative practices that involve the state of mindfulness on the experience of pain. Some studies suggest that pain centers (Anterior cingulate cortex, insular cortex, sensory cortex, pre-frontal cortex) that are normally active during acute pain are significantly reduced in activity while performing specific meditative practices. Other studies show the same reduction during resting brain activity of chronic pain sufferers in response to practicing these meditative states, specifically, and in contrast to allowing one’s mind to wander. These reports typically show increased pre-frontal cortex activity as a regulatory mechanism for suppressing the sensory and affective experience of pain. See this typical report from the BBC:
However, there are other reports that suggest meditators are not suppressing the sensory or affective experience of pain, but rather increasing their sensory and affective experience of pain, but without a prolonged, dull, or negative quality. In this case, research is beginning to reveal what may be more akin to equanimity and embodiment, two qualities that typically are cultivated along with mindfulness during specific meditative practices. Equanimity refers to the ability to experience the sensory event fully, with awareness, but to return back to some normative baseline rapidly once the sensory event is over. There is no ruminative quality, or perseveration of the emotion in response to the sensory event. Embodiment refers to the whole-body visceral experience of the sensory event. These studies have been showing increased activation in brain areas responsible for primary and associative sensory processing along with interoception (internal bodily experience).
One example comes from a study by friend and colleague, Fadel Zeidan, who recently published in the Journal of Neuroscience, ” Brain Mechanisms Supporting the Modulation of Pain by Mindfulness Meditation” [Link]
Focused Attention meditation reduced BOLD activity related to afferent processing of pain stimulus (primary sensory cortex). Meditation was also associated with deactivations in areas related to ruminative types of thinking (Default areas). Decreased pain intensity ratings were also found to be associated with increased activity in ACC and right anterior insula, suggesting a site for pain modulation.
the NPR story is here [Link]
The CNN-health story is here [Link]
Huffington Post [Link]
Men’s Health [Link]
Music for Meditation [Link]
Live Science [Link]
- Meditation as Medicine (Neurology Now)
- How Mindfulness Meditation Can Help People With Rheumatoid Arthritis (huffingtonpost.com)
- How Meditation Changes Pain, Relieves Depression (psychologytoday.com)
- How Meditation Might Relieve Pain (forbes.com)
- To Soothe Chronic Pain, Meditation Proves Better Than Pills (sott.net)
A group from Univ. of Oregon in collaboration with the Institute of Neuroinformatics and Laboratory for Body and Mind, Dalian University of Technology, Dalian, China has found more evidence (see 2007, 2009 and 2010 articles) that short-term meditation in the form of IBMT can improve self-regulation and components of attention.
What is IBMT? According to the authors, it was developed in the 1990s as a technique adopted from traditional Chinese medicine and incorporates aspects of meditation and mindfulness training. “IBMT achieves the desired state by first giving a brief instructional period on the method (we call it initial mind setting and its goal is to induce a cognitive or emotional set that will influence the training). The method stresses no effort to control thoughts, but instead a state of restful alertness that allows a high degree of awareness of body, breathing, and external instructions from a compact disc. It stresses a balanced state of relaxation while focusing attention. Thought control is achieved gradually through posture and relaxation, body–mind harmony, and balance with the help of the coach rather than by making the trainee attempt an internal struggle to control thoughts in accordance with instruction. Training is typically presented in a standardized way by compact disc and guided by a skillful IBMT coach”.
This group has been showing (2009) that Five days of integrative body–mind training (IBMT) (20 min/day) improves attention and self-regulation in comparison with the same amount of relaxation training. During and after training, the IBMT group showed significantly better physiological reactions in heart rate, respiratory amplitude and rate, and skin conductance response (SCR) than the relaxation control. Differences in heart rate variability (HRV) and EEG power suggested greater involvement of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) in the IBMT group during and after training. Imaging data demonstrated stronger subgenual and adjacent ventral anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) activity in the IBMT group. Frontal midline ACC theta was correlated with highfrequency HRV, suggesting control by the ACC over parasympathetic activity. These results indicate that after 5 days of training, the IBMT group shows better regulation of the ANS by a ventral midfrontal brain system than does the relaxation group.
The most recent 2010 article demonstrates that changes in white matter connectivity can result from small amounts of mental training. In this case, 11 h of IBMT increases fractional anisotropy (FA), an index indicating the integrity and efficiency of white matter in the corona radiata, an important white-matter tract connecting the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) to other structures. 45 undergraduates to an IBMT or relaxation group for 11 h of training, 30 min per session over a 1-mo period. Before and after training we acquired brain images from each participant at rest for analysis of white matter by diffusion tensor imaging and gray matter by voxel-based morphometry.
The group goes a little far in speculating “IBMT could provide a means for improving self-regulation and perhaps reducing or preventing various mental disorders”, but the research is certainly promising for demonstrating plasticity in response to mental training
Just a short note about the economics of Happiness. The topic has been very popular lately, more so than previously apparently. The short story is that Happiness is good business. It’s good business for your body. It’s good business for your family. It’s good business for your boss. It’s good business for your boss’ boss. It’s good business for your neighbor and your neighbor’s dog that poops on your lawn. Happiness is good business for every sentient being on our planet. Now that the trivial has been stated, is there any ‘being’ that can not benefit from happiness?
As a clinical researcher, I find legitimate biological reasons for the benefit of happiness. But I will make the strong caveat that if you try and define happiness for yourself, you’ll find two things:
1. It is easy to define happiness
2. It is difficult to define happiness
If anything, I do find that happiness is wonderful in itself. The concept before it is defined. The letters as they are perceived and the processing power, time, and space in your brain that is utilized while reading the word on this blog or on the title of a book recommended for you on amazon, Here…Here…or HERE. Just reading the word is good business for YOU. Even better, is the fact that reading the word subconsciously as it becomes a word/concept/image/meme that is prevalent in the social world around you is good business. It’s all good business, because it gives YOU and the 6 billion 818 million humans a chance of experiencing it also…and even better than recently….it gives YOU the chance to experience it right NOW. This is extraordinary.
Experience Happiness. It’s good business.
I also wanted to give a shout out to the WISDOM 2.0 conference and how HAPPINESS is going viral! A lot of great people participated in this conference including the wise Roshi Joan Halifax. There was a great blog written by Maia Duerr in response to this event and I wanted to share the link with you… HERE. The tagline for the conference was, “how we can live in greater balance with, and more successfully use, the great technologies of our age.”
Integrative body-mind training (IBMT) for 5 days induces neuroplastic changes in areas of self-regulation
“We were able to show that the training improved the connection between a central nervous system structure, the anterior cingulate, and the parasympathetic part of the autonomic nervous system to help put a person into a more bodily state,” Posner said. “The results seem to show integration — a connectivity of brain and body.”
see link for study HERE.
How do these changes speak to state vs. trait-level changes in self-regulation? 5 Days of training is a short period of time to show such changes, but they are likely to disappear within the same amount of time. Continued practice is clearly essential for sustained trait-level changes.
Andrew Newberg, M.D. and Mark Robert Waldman at the Center for Spirituality and the Mind, University of Pennsylvania publish new book on beliefs of God and neuroimaging data.
REVIEWS: Library Journal: “God” can be reality or metaphor for physician Newberg and counselor Waldman (Ctr. for Spirituality and the Mind, Univ. of Pennsylvania; Born To Believe). In their latest collaboration, they encourage questioning and contact with diverse beliefs and people. Americans, they reveal, mostly view God as authoritarian, critical, or distant—only 23 percent of believers see God as gentle and forgiving, but the notable trend toward the latter should be beneficial for the individual and society. In the most provocative section, readers learn that there are regions of the brain that respond to thoughts, emotions, and experience and can be changed by willed concentration and practice. The authors present an elaborate, engaging meditation program to reduce anger and fear and increase serenity and love. They embrace faith (not necessarily religious), diversity, tolerance, and “compassionate communication.” Extensive notes—73 pages—include hundreds of recent references to neuropsychological research. Though it may seem speculative to neuroscientists and upsetting to religious conservatives, this is a substantial advance in the self-help/spirituality genre and an excellent choice for general collections.—E. James Lieberman, George Washington Univ. Sch. of Medicine, Washington, DC
What makes us happy? Are there correlates in the brain? Can positive emotions like happiness find a place in rigorous scientific research?
Data from a new study suggests that individuals who engage in compassion meditation may benefit by reductions in inflammatory and behavioral responses to stress that have been linked to depression and a number of medical illnesses. The study’s findings are published online at www.sciencedirect.com and in the medical journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.
“While much attention has been paid to meditation practices that emphasize calming the mind, improving focused attention or developing mindfulness, less is known about meditation practices designed to specifically foster compassion,” says Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi, PhD, who designed and taught the meditation program used in the study. Negi is senior lecturer in the Department of Religion, the co-director of Emory Collaborative for Contemplative Studies and president and spiritual director of Drepung Loseling Monastery, Inc.
This study focused on the effect of compassion meditation on inflammatory, neuroendocrine and behavioral responses to psychosocial stress, and evaluated the degree to which engagement in meditation practice influenced stress reactivity.
“Our findings suggest that meditation practices designed to foster compassion may impact physiological pathways that are modulated by stress and are relevant to disease,” explains Charles L. Raison, MD, clinical director of the Mind-Body Program, Emory University’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Emory School of Medicine, and a lead author on the study.
click HERE for the original link.
The University of Liverpool is sponsoring an event concerning the science of Buddhist Meditation November 09, 2008. The Link is HERE. The abstract follows:
Increasingly scientific investigations suggest that Buddhist meditators are happier, have improved cognitive abilities and that meditation practice leads to measurable changes in brain activity. Four experts from psychology, psychotherapy, neuroscience and philosophy present and discuss the evidence from a scientific as well as Buddhist perspective, also drawing on their experience with meditation practice and as Buddhist lay teachers.
From 28 July to 01 August 2008 an International Summer School on Buddhism entitled Buddhism into the 21st Century will take place in Hamburg, organised by the prestigous Center for Buddhist Studies. This summer school is open to everybody interested in the topic. Peter Malinowski will be teaching on “Buddhism and Science – Neuroscientific and Psychological Perspectives”.
For more information visit: www.summerschool-buddhism.de/
Giuseppe Pagnoni, a Neuroscientist in the dept. of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory University just recently published a study on Zen Meditators and fMRI.
Using fMRI and a simplified meditative condition interspersed with a lexical decision task, they investigated the neural correlates of conceptual processing during meditation in regular Zen practitioners and matched control subjects. While behavioral performance did not differ between groups, Zen practitioners displayed a reduced duration of the neural response linked to conceptual processing in regions of the default network, suggesting that meditative training may foster the ability to control the automatic cascade of semantic associations triggered by a stimulus and, by extension, to voluntarily regulate the flow of spontaneous mentation. See the entire article published in PLoS ONE HERE.
The article received press in The New Scientist. “The closest thing to Jedi Mind Tricks” See HERE.