Improve Attention and the Brain Systems Underlying Attention with Meditation

Improve Attention and the Brain Systems Underlying Attention with Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

the primary outcome of meditation may be to control attention and internal state in the face of the barrage of stimuli, negative and otherwise, that we experience everyday.” – Aaron D. Nitzkin

 

One of the primary effects of mindfulness training is an improvement in the ability to pay attention to the task at hand and ignore interfering stimuli. This is an important consequence of mindfulness training and produces improvements in thinking, reasoning, and creativity. The importance of heightened attentional ability to the individual’s ability to navigate the demands of complex modern life cannot be overstated. It helps in school, at work, in relationships, or simply driving a car. As important as attention is, it’s surprising that little is known about the mechanisms by which mindfulness improves attention

 

There is evidence that mindfulness training improves attention by altering the brain. It appears That mindfulness training increases the size, connectivity, and activity of areas of the brain that are involved in paying attention. A common method to study the activity of the nervous system is to measure the electrical signal at the scalp above brain regions. Changes in this activity are measurable with mindfulness training.

 

One method to observe attentional processing in the brain is to measure the changes in the electrical activity that occur in response to specific stimuli. These are called event-related, or evoked, potentials or ERPs. The signal following a stimulus changes over time. The fluctuations of the signal after specific periods of time are thought to measure different aspects of the nervous system’s processing of the stimulus. The P3 response in the evoked potential (ERP) is a positive going electrical response occurring between a 2.5 to 5 tenths of a second following the target stimulus presentation. The P3 component is thought to reflect attentional processing.

 

In today’s Research News article “Focused attention meditation training modifies neural activity and attention: longitudinal EEG data in non-meditators.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7304517/ ) Yoshida and colleagues recruited meditation-naïve college students and randomly assigned them to receive either focused meditation training or relaxation training, listening to classical music. The training occurred once a week for 30 minutes for 8 weeks. They also practiced meditation or relaxation at home for 10 minutes per day. They were measured before and after training for mindfulness. They also had brain activity measured with an electroencephalogram (EEG) before, during and after either a 5-minute meditation or relaxation and while performing an oddball task where they were asked to respond whenever a different tone the usual was presented. The evoked potentials to the tone presentations were recorded.

 

They found that in comparison to baseline and the relaxation group, the group that received focused meditation training had significantly faster reactions to the target stimuli during the oddball task. The evoked potentials to the oddball stimuli also demonstrated significantly larger P3 potentials in the meditation group. They also report that during meditation there was a significant increase in theta rhythm power in the EEG particularly in the frontal regions of the brain. They also found that only after 8 weeks of meditation training the greater the increase in theta power during meditation the smaller the increase in P3 magnitude during the oddball task.

 

These results suggest that meditation training produces an improvement in attention both behaviorally during the oddball task and also in the brain’s response to the stimuli. The results demonstrated that these changes occurred only after 8 weeks of meditation training and not after relaxation training. That mindfulness training improves attention and the P3 response in the evoked potential has been demonstrated previously.

 

Hence, meditation training in meditation-naïve college students improves attention both in the brain and in behavior. This improved attention should, although not investigated, produce improved performance in college academics. It remains for future research to investigate this hypothesis.

 

So, improve attention and the brain systems underlying attention with meditation.

 

Nondirective meditation yields more marked changes in electrical brain wave activity associated with wakeful, relaxed attention, than just resting without any specific mental technique.” – ScienceDaily

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Yoshida, K., Takeda, K., Kasai, T., Makinae, S., Murakami, Y., Hasegawa, A., & Sakai, S. (2020). Focused attention meditation training modifies neural activity and attention: longitudinal EEG data in non-meditators. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 15(2), 215–224. https://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsaa020

 

Abstract

Focused attention meditation (FAM) is a basic meditation practice that cultivates attentional control and monitoring skills. Cross-sectional studies have highlighted high cognitive performance and discriminative neural activity in experienced meditators. However, a direct relationship between neural activity changes and improvement of attention caused by meditation training remains to be elucidated. To investigate this, we conducted a longitudinal study, which evaluated the results of electroencephalography (EEG) during three-stimulus oddball task, resting state and FAM before and after 8 weeks of FAM training in non-meditators. The FAM training group (n = 17) showed significantly higher P3 amplitude during the oddball task and shorter reaction time (RT) for target stimuli compared to that of the control group (n = 20). Furthermore, a significant negative correlation between F4-Oz theta band phase synchrony index (PSI) during FAM and P3 amplitude during the oddball task and a significant positive correlation between F4-Pz theta band PSI during FAM and P3 amplitude during the oddball task were observed. In contrast, these correlations were not observed in the control group. These findings provide direct evidence of the effectiveness of FAM training and contribute to our understanding of the mechanisms underpinning the effects of meditation on brain activity and cognitive performance.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7304517/

 

Improve Stress-Related Neuropsychiatric Disorders with Yoga and Mindfulness

Improve Stress-Related Neuropsychiatric Disorders with Yoga and Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Mindfulness training holds promise for treating mood disorders partly because it may lead to changes in patients’ brains, improving connectivity among some brain areas and changing tissue density in key regions, research suggests.” – Stacy Lu

 

Over the last several decades, research and anecdotal experiences have accumulated an impressive evidential case that the development of mindfulness has positive benefits for the individual’s mentalphysical, and spiritual life. Mindfulness appears to be beneficial both for healthy people and for people suffering from a myriad of mental and physical illnesses. It appears to be beneficial across ages, from children, to adolescents, to the elderly. And it appears to be beneficial across genders, personalitiesrace, and ethnicity. The breadth and depth of benefits is unprecedented. There is no other treatment or practice that has been shown to come anyway near the range of mindfulness’ positive benefits.

 

Meditation and yoga training have been shown to be effective for a large array of medical and psychiatric conditions, either stand-alone or in combination with more traditional therapies. Meditation and yoga appear to improve the individual’s ability to cope with stress and stress is the source of or aggravates many mental disorders. There are a number of ways that meditation and yoga practices produce these benefits, including changes to the brain and physiology. It is useful to review and summarize what has been discovered regarding how meditation and yoga practices improve mental disorders.

 

In today’s Research News article “Role of Yoga and Meditation as Complimentary Therapeutic Regime for Stress-Related Neuropsychiatric Disorders: Utilization of Brain Waves Activity as Novel Tool.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7545749/ ) Kaushik and colleagues review and summarize the published research on the effectiveness of meditation and yoga for the treatment of neuropsychiatric disorders.

 

They report that the published research finds that stress is highly related to anxiety and depression and that meditation and yoga practices, including breathing exercises and postures, significantly reduce perceived stress, anxiety, and depression. They further report that meditation and yoga may produce these improvements by increasing brain activity particularly in the frontal regions of the brain. They also report that meditation and yoga produce very few if any deleterious side effects.

 

Previous research has conclusively demonstrated that mindfulness practices in general are safe and effective in altering the electrical activity of the brain and reducing perceived stress, anxiety, and depression. It can be speculated that meditation and yoga reduce the responses to stress by altering brain activity and this, in turn, produces improvements in anxiety and depression. It remains for future research to investigate this model. Regardless, the employment of meditation and yoga practices for neuropsychiatric conditions has been shown to be safe and effective alternative treatments for the relief of the suffering of these patients.

 

So, improve stress-related neuropsychiatric disorders with yoga and mindfulness.

 

mindfulness has become a household word, and the psychiatric and psychological literature abound with publications implementing mindfulness as a treatment or self-help tool for everything that ails you.” – John J. Miller

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Kaushik, M., Jain, A., Agarwal, P., Joshi, S. D., & Parvez, S. (2020). Role of Yoga and Meditation as Complimentary Therapeutic Regime for Stress-Related Neuropsychiatric Disorders: Utilization of Brain Waves Activity as Novel Tool. Journal of evidence-based integrative medicine, 25, 2515690X20949451. https://doi.org/10.1177/2515690X20949451

 

Abstract

During recent decades, stress-related neuropsychiatric disorders such as anxiety, depression, chronic tension headache, and migraine have established their stronghold in the lives of a vast number of people worldwide. In order to address this global phenomenon, intensive studies have been carried out leading to the advancement of drugs like anti-depressants, anxiolytics, and analgesics which although help in combating the symptoms of such disorders but also create long-term side effects. Thus, as an alternative to such clinical practices, various complementary therapies such as yoga and meditation have been proved to be effective in alleviating the causes and symptoms of different neuropsychiatric disorders. The role of altered brain waves in this context has been recognized and needs to be pursued at the highest level. Thus, the current study provides a review focused on describing the effects of yoga and meditation on anxiety and depression as well as exploring brain waves as a tool for assessing the potential of these complementary therapies for such disorders.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7545749/

 

Meditation on Different States of Consciousness Produces Different Brain Activity

Meditation on Different States of Consciousness Produces Different Brain Activity

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Meditation is just self-directed neuroplasticity. In other words, you are directing the change of your brain by inwardly and consciously directing attention in a particular way. You’re using the mind to change the brain, like a child crafting a Playdough structure.” – Liam McClintock

 

Mindfulness training has been shown to improve health and well-being. It has also been found to be effective for a large array of medical and psychiatric conditions, either stand-alone or in combination with more traditional therapies. How exactly mindfulness practices produce their benefits is unknown. It is known that meditation practice alters states of consciousness and alters brain activity.

 

It is possible to investigate the relationships between consciousness and brain activity. One way is to measure changes in the electroencephalogram (EEG), the rhythmic electrical activity that can be recorded from the scalp. The recorded activity can be separated into frequency bands. Delta activity consists of oscillations in the 0.5-3 cycles per second band. Theta activity in the EEG consists of oscillations in the 4-8 cycles per second band. Alpha activity consists of oscillations in the 8-12 cycles per second band. Beta activity consists of oscillations in the 15-25 cycles per second band while Gamma activity occurs in the 35-45 cycles per second band. Changes in these brain activities can be compared during different forms of meditation with different conscious content.

 

In today’s Research News article “Large effects of brief meditation intervention on EEG spectra in meditation novices.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7649620/ ) Stapleton and colleagues recruited healthy meditation-naïve adults and had them attend a 3-day meditation training workshop where seated meditation to music was practiced 3 times per day. The participants were instructed to focus on different states (emotions, gratitude, surrendering, emotions, future events, oneness, energy, future intentions, and moving energy) during the meditations. During before, during, and after each meditation brain activity was recorded with an electroencephalogram (EEG).

 

They found that from the baseline to the end of the meditations there was a significant global increase in both Theta (4-8 hz.) and Gamma (35-45 hz.) rhythms in the EEG. These activities normally occur during information processing in the brain. They also found that different meditations produced different patterns of EEG activity. Delta activity was increased to the greatest extent by meditations on gratitude, elevated emotions, and energy. Theta activity was increased to the greatest extent by meditations on gratitude, elevated emotions, and future intention. Alpha activity was increased to the greatest extent by meditations on gratitude, oneness, and future intention. Beta activity was increased to the greatest extent by meditations on gratitude, future events, elevated emotions, and future intention. Finally, Gamma activity was increased to the greatest extent by meditations on gratitude, energy, and future intention.

 

These results suggest that different conscious content during meditation is reflected in differences in the activity of the brain in novice meditators. These understandings may be useful in identifying conscious content in real time during meditation. But these results need to be replicated in experienced meditators.

 

So, meditation on different states of consciousness produces different brain activity.

 

mindfulness . . . has come to describe a meditation-based practice whose aim is to increase one’s sense of being in the present, but it has also been used to describe a nonmeditative state in which subjects set aside their mental distractions to pay greater attention to the here and now.” – Alvin Powell

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Stapleton, P., Dispenza, J., McGill, S., Sabot, D., Peach, M., & Raynor, D. (2020). Large effects of brief meditation intervention on EEG spectra in meditation novices. IBRO reports, 9, 290–301. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ibror.2020.10.006

 

Abstract

This study investigated the impact of a brief meditation workshop on a sample of 223 novice meditators. Participants attended a three-day workshop comprising daily guided seated meditation sessions using music without vocals that focused on various emotional states and intentions (open focus). Based on the theory of integrative consciousness, it was hypothesized that altered states of consciousness would be experienced by participants during the meditation intervention as assessed using electroencephalogram (EEG). Brainwave power bands patterns were measured throughout the meditation training workshop, producing a total of 5616 EEG scans. Changes in conscious states were analysed using pre-meditation and post-meditation session measures of delta through to gamma oscillations. Results suggested the meditation intervention had large varying effects on EEG spectra (up to 50 % increase and 24 % decrease), and the speed of change from pre-meditation to post-meditation state of the EEG co-spectra was significant (with 0.76 probability of entering end-meditation state within the first minute). There was a main 5 % decrease in delta power (95 % HDI = [−0.07, −0.03]); a global increase in theta power of 29 % (95 % HDI = [0.27, 0.33]); a global increase of 16 % (95 % HDI = [0.13, 0.19]) in alpha power; a main effect of condition, with global beta power increasing by 17 % (95 % HDI = [0.15, 0.19]); and an 11 % increase (95 % HDI = [0.08, 0.14]) in gamma power from pre-meditation to end-meditation. Findings provided preliminary support for brief meditation in altering states of consciousness in novice meditators. Future clinical examination of meditation was recommended as an intervention for mental health conditions particularly associated with hippocampal impairments.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7649620/

 

Dyadic Mindfulness Training Improves the Mental Health of Metastatic Cancer Patients and their Spouses

Dyadic Mindfulness Training Improves the Mental Health of Metastatic Cancer Patients and their Spouses

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Cancer is a traumatic event that changes a person’s life. Utilizing mindfulness tools can provide peace and hope. Practicing mindfulness on a daily basis can assist with long term effects of happiness and positivity. Even occasional mindfulness practice can help provide a break from the stress of cancer and fill patients with a sense of calm to confront the challenges they face.” – Erin Murphy-Wilczek

 

Receiving a diagnosis of cancer has a huge impact on most people. Feelings of depression, anxiety, and fear are very common and are normal responses to this life-changing and potentially life-ending experience. But cancer diagnosis is not necessarily a death sentence. Over half of the people diagnosed with cancer are still alive 10 years later and this number is rapidly increasing. But, surviving cancer carries with it a number of problems. Anxiety, depression, fatigue and insomnia are common symptoms in dealing with cancer. These issues extend not just to the patient but also to their partners in life. These symptoms markedly reduce the quality of life of both.

 

Mindfulness training has been shown to help with cancer recovery and help to relieve chronic pain. It can also help treat the residual physical and psychological symptoms, including stress,  sleep disturbancefear, and anxiety and depression. But cancer does not occur in isolation. It effects both the patient but also their significant others. There has been considerable research conducted on the effectiveness of mindfulness practices in treating the psychological issues associated with cancer. But there is little research on treating the cancer patients and their spouses in mindfulness as dyads.

 

In today’s Research News article “A Mindfulness-Based Intervention as a Supportive Care Strategy for Patients with Metastatic Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer and Their Spouses: Results of a Three-Arm Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7648356/ ) Milbury and colleagues recruited adult patients undergoing treatment for metastatic non‐small cell lung cancer and their romantic partners. Couples were randomly assigned to usual care or to receive 4 one-hour sessions via videoconference of either couple-based meditation or supportive-expressive practice. Couple-based meditation incorporated meditation and couple’s emotion sharing exercises. Supportive-expressive practice involved discussion of cancer-related issues that couples share. They were measured before and after treatment and 3 months later for depression, cancer-related stress symptoms, and spiritual well-being.

 

Attendance was high in both groups but the couple-based meditation reported that the sessions were more beneficial than the supportive-expressive practice group. They found that in comparison to baseline and the other groups at the 3-month follow-up the couple-based meditation patients and their significant others had significantly lower depression and cancer-related stress symptoms and higher spiritual well-being.

 

A strength of the study is that it had an active control condition, supportive-expressive practice, that contained therapeutic elements, expectancy effects and similar attention features to the couple-based meditation practice. This reduces the possibility of confounding variable being responsible for the results and suggests that the effects were due to the nature of the therapy. Another key aspect of this study is that the therapy was delivered via videoconference which may be responsible for the high attendance rates. This form of delivery is very convenient and flexible making it more likely to be effective.

 

There are great psychological and emotional problems co-occurring with cancer treatment for the patient and also for the patient’s romantic partner. So, these results are interesting and important suggesting that couple-based meditation practice can help relieve the suffering. The fact that the romantic partner was included was very important as the cancer effects both members of the dyad. Treating both prevents the suffering of one from interfering with the therapy for the other.

 

So, dyadic mindfulness training improves the mental health of metastatic cancer patients and their spouses.

 

Being in this present moment, letting go, practicing non-attachment and acceptance are so helpful in dealing with uncertainty and fear. Mindfulness is something that they use for the rest of their lives for really great benefit.” – Linda Carlson

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Milbury, K., Li, Y., Durrani, S., Liao, Z., Tsao, A. S., Carmack, C., Cohen, L., & Bruera, E. (2020). A Mindfulness-Based Intervention as a Supportive Care Strategy for Patients with Metastatic Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer and Their Spouses: Results of a Three-Arm Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial. The oncologist, 25(11), e1794–e1802. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1634/theoncologist.2020-0125

 

Abstract

Background

Although mindfulness‐based interventions have been widely examined in patients with nonmetastatic cancer, the feasibility and efficacy of these types of programs are largely unknown for those with advanced disease. We pilot‐tested a couple‐based meditation (CBM) relative to a supportive‐expressive (SE) and a usual care (UC) arm targeting psychospiritual distress in patients with metastatic lung cancer and their spousal caregivers.

Patients and Methods

Seventy‐five patient‐caregiver dyads completed baseline self‐report measures and were then randomized to one of the three arms. Couples in the CBM and SE groups attended four 60‐minute sessions that were delivered via videoconference. All dyads were reassessed 1 and 3 months later.

Results

A priori feasibility benchmarks were met. Although attendance was high in both groups, dyads in the CBM group indicated greater benefit of the sessions than those in the SE group (patients, CBM mean = 2.63, SE mean = 2.20, p = .003; spouses, CBM mean = 2.71, SE mean = 2.00, p = .005). Compared with the UC group, patients in the CBM group reported significantly lower depressive symptoms (p = .05; d = 0.53) and marginally reduced cancer‐related stress (p = .07; d = 0.68). Medium effect sizes in favor of the CBM compared with the SE group for depressive symptoms (d = 0.59) and cancer‐related stress (d = 0.54) were found. Spouses in the CBM group reported significantly lower depressive symptoms (p < .01; d = 0.74) compared with those in the UC group.

Conclusion

It seems feasible and possibly efficacious to deliver dyadic interventions via videoconference to couples coping with metastatic lung cancer. Mindfulness‐based interventions may be of value to managing psychological symptoms in the palliative care setting

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7648356/

 

Breathing-Focused Yoga Practices Produce Greater Benefits for College Students than Meditative-Focused Practices

Breathing-Focused Yoga Practices Produce Greater Benefits for College Students than Meditative-Focused Practices

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Want to manage your anger so you don’t feel you’re always on the verge of blowing up? Want to feel less stressed and juggle all the things going on in your life? Need to focus better in class or while you do your homework? Yoga poses can help. But meditation and breathing really round out those benefits.” – Mary L. Gavin

 

Yoga training has been shown to improve health and well-being. It has also been found to be effective for a large array of medical and psychiatric conditions, either stand-alone or in combination with more traditional therapies. There are a wide variety of different yoga training techniques. Many varieties employ breath-focused practices while many others employ meditative-focused practices. Although the benefits of yoga practices in general are well studied there is little scientific research comparing breathing-focused versus meditative-focused yoga.

 

In today’s Research News article “Comparing the Psychological Effects of Meditation- and Breathing-Focused Yoga Practice in Undergraduate Students.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.560152/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_1490157_69_Psycho_20201124_arts_A ) Qi and colleagues recruited college students with no yoga experience and randomly assigned them to a once a week for 80 minutes 12-week program of either breath-focused yoga or meditation-focused yoga. During each Hatha yoga class the students received either 10 minutes of meditation practice or breathing practice. They were measured before and after the program for work intention, mindfulness, and perceived stress.

 

They found that both before and after yoga training the higher the participants’ levels of mindfulness the lower their levels of perceived stress. They further found that in comparison to baseline and the other yoga group, the breath-focused yoga group had significantly higher levels of perceived stress and mindfulness while the meditation-focused yoga group had significantly lower work intention.

 

These results are interesting and document the previously reported linkage between mindfulness and lower stress levels. But they go further in demonstrating that breath-focus is an important component of yoga practice for the improvement of mindfulness and the lowering of perceived stress. This suggests that breathing practice should be emphasized in yoga instruction. These results also suggest that yoga practice may be beneficial for college students who are routinely found to have high stress levels, reducing their stress and thereby allowing them to perform their best in their studies.

 

So, breathing-focused yoga practices produce greater benefits for college students than meditative-focused practices.

 

Mindful yoga (or the integration of yoga and mindfulness meditation techniques) provides a healthy and safe environment for individuals to practice “being with” uncomfortable emotional and physical experiences, and to eventually reunite with and fully inhabit their bodies.” – Melissa Mercedes

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Qi X, Tong J, Chen S, He Z and Zhu X (2020) Comparing the Psychological Effects of Meditation- and Breathing-Focused Yoga Practice in Undergraduate Students. Front. Psychol. 11:560152. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.560152

 

ABSTRACT

Objectives: The present study aimed to compare the psychological effects of meditation- and breathing-focused yoga practice in undergraduate students.

Methods: A 12-weeks yoga intervention was conducted among a group of undergraduate students enrolled in four yoga classes at an academically prestigious university in Beijing, China. Four classes were randomized to meditation-focused yoga or breathing-focused yoga. A total of 86 participants finished surveys before and after the 12-weeks intervention, measuring work intention, mindfulness, and perceived stress. The repeated-measure multivariate analysis of covariance (MANCOVA) followed by univariate analyses were conducted to examine the differences in work intention, mindfulness, and stress between the two yoga intervention groups over the semester, after controlling for age and gender.

Results: The repeated-measure MANCOVA revealed significant group differences with a median effect size [Wilks’ lambda, Λ = 0.90, F(3, 80) = 3.10, p = 0.031, η2 = 0.104]. Subsequent univariate analyses showed that students in the breathing-focused yoga group had significant higher work intentions [F(1, 82) = 5.22; p = 0.025; η2p = 0.060] and mindfulness [F(1, 82) = 6.33; p = 0.014; η2p = 0.072] but marginally lower stress [F(1, 82) = 4.20; p = 0.044; η2p = 0.049] than students in the meditation-focused yoga group.

Conclusion: Yoga practice with a focus on breathing is more effective than that with a focus on meditation for undergraduates to retain energy for work, keep attention and awareness, and reduce stress.

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.560152/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_1490157_69_Psycho_20201124_arts_A

 

Meditation Alters Gut Microbes for Better Health

Meditation Alters Gut Microbes for Better Health

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“In calming your stress response, meditation can help prevent the slowed digestion speed, altered gene expression, intestinal permeability, and disruptive changes to gut microbes caused by stress.” – Crystal Star

 

Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders are the most common disorders of the gastrointestinal tract in the general population. The most common disorder in this group is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders can involve the esophagus, stomach and/or intestines and are disorders of function (how these structures work), not structural or biochemical abnormalities. Estimates vary, but about 25% of people in the United States have one of these disorders. The conditions account for about 40% of GI problems seen by doctors and therapists.

 

The cause(s) of Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders are not known. But emotion dysregulation is suspected to be involved. It is clear that psychological stress exacerbates the illnesses and anxiety amplifies the symptoms. This suggests that mindfulness or the lack thereof may be involved as mindfulness is known to be helpful in reducing the psychological and physical responses to stress and mindfulness is known to improve emotion regulation. In addition, contemplative practice has been shown to improve the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

 

The GI tract contains intestinal micro-organisms, flora, bacteria, that have major effects throughout the body through the bacteria-intestinal-brain axis. This can affect overall health. So, it would make sense to investigate the relationship of meditation practice with intestinal micro-organisms.

 

In today’s Research News article “Long-Term Vegan Meditation Improved Human Gut Microbiota.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7358775/ ) Jia and colleagues recruited healthy long-term (over 3 years) vegan meditators and a group of omnivore nonmeditators. The groups were equivalent in gender, age, BMI, and most of the blood biochemical and blood routine indicators. Fecal samples were collected and subjected to 16S rDNA sequencing which measures bacteria present.

 

They found that the two groups were equivalent in fecal microbial diversity. The majority of the bacterial fell into 4 divisions, Firmicutes, Bacteroidetes, Actinobacteria, and Proteobacteria. Of those divisions the vegan meditators had significantly higher levels of Firmicutes and significantly lower levels of Actinobacteria, and Proteobacteria. They further found that there were 14 bacteria types that distinguished the groups with the vegan meditators having significantly higher levels. These bacteria types are associated with improved immunity, reduced inflammatory responses, changed intestinal endocrine activity, improved colon health, and reduced likelihood of colon cancer.

 

It should be kept in mind that the groups were naturally occurring groups and there was no random assignment. So, the groups might differ for reasons other than meditation and diet. In addition, the groups differed in both meditation and type of diet. It cannot be determined whether meditation or the vegan diet or the combination of both was responsible for the differences in intestinal bacteria. Nevertheless, the results suggest that a vegan diet and meditation may alter the intestinal flora to improve health.

 

So, meditation alters gut microbes for better health.

 

During stress, an altered gut microbial population affects the regulation of neurotransmitters mediated by the microbiome and gut barrier function. Meditation helps regulate the stress response, thereby suppressing chronic inflammation states and maintaining a healthy gut-barrier function.” – Ayman Mukerji Househam

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Jia, W., Zhen, J., Liu, A., Yuan, J., Wu, X., Zhao, P., Zhao, L., Li, X., Liu, Q., Huang, G., & Xu, A. (2020). Long-Term Vegan Meditation Improved Human Gut Microbiota. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM, 2020, 9517897. https://doi.org/10.1155/2020/9517897

 

Abstract

Objective

Meditation has been widely used for the treatment of a variety of psychological, cardiovascular, and digestive diseases as well as chronic pain. Vegetarian diets can effectively prevent hypertension, metabolic diseases such as diabetes and obesity, and certain cancers. Meditation and vegetarian diets have been recognized as components of a healthy lifestyle and have therefore attracted more people around the world. Meditation can help regulate overall health through the neural-endocrine-immune network. Changes in dietary habits can affect the composition of the intestinal flora, which in turn affects human physiology, metabolism, nutrition, and immune function through the bacteria-intestine-brain axis. Here, we aimed to investigate the effect of long-term meditation and vegan diet on human intestinal flora.

Materials and Methods

The present study used 16S rDNA sequencing technology to detect the differences in intestinal flora between 12 healthy vegan subjects receiving long-term meditation training and 12 healthy omnivorous subjects who never received any meditation training.

Results

The results showed that, compared with the subjects in the omnivorous healthy control group who had never received any meditation training, the intestinal flora structure in the people who followed the long-term vegan meditation practices changed significantly. The intersection set between the results of the LEfSe analysis and the Wilcoxon rank sum test includes 14 bacterial genera. These 14 genera are defined as the dominant genera, and the AUC value was 0.92 in the ROC curve, which demonstrates that the 14 genera can be used as a biomarker to distinguish the two groups. Three beneficial bacteria genera (Bifidobacterium, Roseburia, and Subdoligranulum) were significantly enriched in the meditation group with a threshold of 4, according to the LDAs. The functional prediction of differentially enriched intestinal flora showed that the metabolism of tyrosine, propionate, niacin, and nicotinamide in the intestinal micro-organisms in the meditation group was significantly reduced compared with those in the control group, while the biosynthesis of flavones, flavone alcohols, butosin, and neomycin; flavonoid-mediated oocyte maturation; cytoskeleton protein pathways; and antigen processing and presentation were significantly enhanced.

Conclusions

These results indicate that long-term vegan meditation plays a positive role in improving the body’s immunity and adjusting endocrine and metabolic levels, enabling the body to be in a state of good health.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7358775/

 

Improve Mindfulness and Emotion Regulation with Meditation

Improve Mindfulness and Emotion Regulation with Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

By way of mindfulness meditation, individuals can learn how to regulate their emotions in a way that aversive stimuli will be viewed objectively; thus, the person can be free of attachment from said negative feelings.” – Thomas M Jones

 

Mindfulness practice has been shown to improve emotion regulation. Practitioners demonstrate the ability to fully sense and experience emotions, but respond to them in more appropriate and adaptive ways. In other words, mindful people are better able to experience yet control their responses to emotions. This is a very important consequence of mindfulness. Humans are very emotional creatures and these emotions can be very pleasant, providing the spice of life. But when they get extreme, they can produce misery and even mental illness. The ability of mindfulness training to improve emotion regulation is thought to be the basis for a wide variety of benefits that mindfulness provides to mental health and the treatment of mental illness especially depression and anxiety disorders.

 

In today’s Research News article “Short-Term Meditation Training Fosters Mindfulness and Emotion Regulation: A Pilot Study.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.558803/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_1473550_69_Psycho_20201103_arts_A ) Fazia and colleagues conducted a pilot study in which they recruited healthy college students and provided them with meditation training in 5 1-hour weekly sessions. They were measured before and after training for well-being, problems/symptoms, life functioning, mindfulness, emotion regulation, and spirituality.

 

They found that in comparison to baseline, after meditation training there were significant increases in mindfulness, especially the acting with awareness and non-judging facets, and the cognitive reappraisal facet of emotion regulation. Hence, in this pilot study, meditation training appeared to improve mindfulness and the ability to regulate emotions.

 

This study lacks a comparison, control, condition and as a result is open to a wide variety of confounding influences. So, no definitive conclusions can be reached. But prior research in highly controlled studies have shown repeatedly that meditation training improves mindfulness and emotion regulation. So, the present results likely represent causal effects of meditation on the psychological functioning of the participants.

 

So, improve mindfulness and emotion regulation with meditation.

 

mindfulness can help patients view their emotions from a more detached perspective. . .This means that patients may be able to think more clearly and generate new strategies to resolve their issues without emotional interference.” – NICABM

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Fazia T, Bubbico F, Iliakis I, Salvato G, Berzuini G, Bruno S and Bernardinelli L (2020) Short-Term Meditation Training Fosters Mindfulness and Emotion Regulation: A Pilot Study. Front. Psychol. 11:558803. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.558803

 

ABSTRACT

The practice of meditation has been historically linked to beneficial effects, not only in terms of spirituality but also in terms of well-being, general improvement of psychophysiological conditions and quality of life. The present study aims to assess the beneficial effects of a short-term intervention (a combination of 12 practical 1-h sessions of meditation, called Integral Meditation, and lectures on neuroscience of meditation) on psychological indicators of well-being in subjects from the general population. We used a one-group pretest-posttest quasi-experimental design, in which all participants (n = 41, 17 men and 24 women, with a mean age of 41.1 years) underwent the same intervention. Out of these, 24 had already experienced meditation practice, but only 12 in a continuative way. Effects were assessed by the standardized Italian version of three self-report questionnaires: Core Outcome in Routine Evaluation-Outcome Measure (CORE-OM), Five-Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ), and Emotion Regulation Questionnaire (ERQ). The questionnaires were filled in at baseline and immediately after the last meditation session. Linear mixed effect models were used to evaluate pre-post treatment changes on each outcome. Participants showed a general, close to a statistically significant threshold, improvement in the total score of CORE-OM and its different domains. The total score of FFMQ (β = 0.154, p = 0.012) indicates a statistically significant increase in the level of mindfulness as well as in the domains acting with awareness (β = 0.212, p = 0.024), and non-judging of inner experiences (β = 0.384, p < 0.0001). Lastly, we observed a statistically significant improvement in the cognitive reappraisal ERQ domain (β = 0.541, p = 0.0003). Despite some limitations (i.e., small sample size, lack of a randomised control group and sole use of “soft” measurements, such as self-report questionnaires), this study offers promising results regarding the within-subject effectiveness of our intervention that includes a meditation practice on psychological indicators, thus providing interesting preliminary results.

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.558803/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_1473550_69_Psycho_20201103_arts_A

 

Unique Brain Activity Registers Internal Attentional States During Meditation

Unique Brain Activity Registers Internal Attentional States During Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Your brain is actually shaped by your thoughts and your behaviors. . . meditation can help boost attention and keep the brain sharp. . .  mindful breath awareness may improve attention and help curb impulsive behavior” – Grace Bullock

 

There has accumulated a large amount of research demonstrating that mindfulness has significant benefits for psychological, physical, and spiritual wellbeing. It even improves high level thinking known as executive function and emotion regulation and compassion. One of the primary effects of mindfulness training is an improvement in the ability to pay attention to the task at hand and ignore interfering stimuli. This is an important consequence of mindfulness training and produces improvements in thinking, reasoning, and creativity. The importance of heightened attentional ability to the individual’s ability to navigate the demands of complex modern life cannot be overstated. It helps in school, at work, in relationships, or simply driving a car. As important as attention is, it’s surprising that little is known about the mechanisms by which mindfulness improves attention.

 

There is evidence that mindfulness training improves attention by altering the brain. It appears That mindfulness training increases the size, connectivity, and activity of areas of the brain that are involved in paying attention. But there are various states of attention including meditation-related states: breath attention, mind wandering, and self-referential processing, and control states e.g. attention to feet and listening to ambient sounds. It is not known what changes occur in the brain during these five different modes and if they can be used to better discriminate the nature of attentional changes during meditation.

 

In today’s Research News article “Focus on the Breath: Brain Decoding Reveals Internal States of Attention During Meditation.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7483757/ ) Weng and colleagues recruited healthy adult meditators (at least 5 years of experience) and non-meditators. They were given a series of tasks while having their brains scanned with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). They were asked for 16-50 seconds to 1) pay attention to their breath, 2) let the mind wander, 3) think about past events, 4) pay attention to their feet, and 5) pay attention to ambient sounds. The 5 conditions were repeated multiple times in random orders. They then performed a 10-minute breath following meditation followed by a repeat of the premeditation tasks. Artificial intelligence was employed to determine unique neural activity associated with each of the 5 mental states for each participant.

 

They found unique individual brain activity patterns for each participant and could reliably distinguish different individual patterns for the 5 mental states. They then used these individualized patterns in an attempt to determine mental state during the breath focused meditation. They found that the individualized patterns identified for following the breath were present a greater percentage of time than the mind wandering or self-referential states when engaging in breath focused meditation. Further they found that the greater the amount of time for each participant in the breath following brain pattern the larger the rating by the participant of their engagement with breath following.

 

This was a proof of concept study. But it successfully demonstrated that unique individual patterns of brain activity can be identified for 5 mental states. These could be reliably differentiated. It also showed that these patterns could be used to identify breath following during breath following meditation. This suggests that this method may be used to identify mental states during ongoing meditation sessions. This could be a powerful research tool for future investigations of the mental states occurring during meditation.

 

So, unique brain activity registers internal attentional states during meditation.

 

Mindfulness training can help change patterns of brain activity because the synapses within these attentional networks can strengthen or weaken with use. So, join a mindful meditation class or download a mindful meditation app and train your brain to get out of the default mode network and be present!” – Mclean Bolton

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

Weng, H. Y., Lewis-Peacock, J. A., Hecht, F. M., Uncapher, M. R., Ziegler, D. A., Farb, N., Goldman, V., Skinner, S., Duncan, L. G., Chao, M. T., & Gazzaley, A. (2020). Focus on the Breath: Brain Decoding Reveals Internal States of Attention During Meditation. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 14, 336. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2020.00336

Abstract

Meditation practices are often used to cultivate interoception or internally-oriented attention to bodily sensations, which may improve health via cognitive and emotional regulation of bodily signals. However, it remains unclear how meditation impacts internal attention (IA) states due to lack of measurement tools that can objectively assess mental states during meditation practice itself, and produce time estimates of internal focus at individual or group levels. To address these measurement gaps, we tested the feasibility of applying multi-voxel pattern analysis (MVPA) to single-subject fMRI data to: (1) learn and recognize internal attentional states relevant for meditation during a directed IA task; and (2) decode or estimate the presence of those IA states during an independent meditation session. Within a mixed sample of experienced meditators and novice controls (N = 16), we first used MVPA to develop single-subject brain classifiers for five modes of attention during an IA task in which subjects were specifically instructed to engage in one of five states [i.e., meditation-related states: breath attention, mind wandering (MW), and self-referential processing, and control states: attention to feet and sounds]. Using standard cross-validation procedures, MVPA classifiers were trained in five of six IA blocks for each subject, and predictive accuracy was tested on the independent sixth block (iterated until all volumes were tested, N = 2,160). Across participants, all five IA states were significantly recognized well above chance (>41% vs. 20% chance). At the individual level, IA states were recognized in most participants (87.5%), suggesting that recognition of IA neural patterns may be generalizable for most participants, particularly experienced meditators. Next, for those who showed accurate IA neural patterns, the originally trained classifiers were applied to a separate meditation run (10-min) to make an inference about the percentage time engaged in each IA state (breath attention, MW, or self-referential processing). Preliminary group-level analyses demonstrated that during meditation practice, participants spent more time attending to breath compared to MW or self-referential processing. This paradigm established the feasibility of using MVPA classifiers to objectively assess mental states during meditation at the participant level, which holds promise for improved measurement of internal attention states cultivated by meditation.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7483757/

 

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Procedure can Alter Meditation and its Effects on the Brain

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Procedure can Alter Meditation and its Effects on the Brain

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

The nature of the high noise levels present during fMRI makes total elimination of imager noise perceived by subjects impractical at this time.” – Michael Ravicz

 

Meditation training has been shown to improve health and well-being. It has also been found to be effective for a large array of medical and psychiatric conditions, either stand-alone or in combination with more traditional therapies. There are a number of ways that meditation practices produce these benefits, including changes to the brain and physiology.

 

The premiere way of measuring brain size and function is Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). But the recording of the MRI can be difficult for the participant as they are confined in a narrow tube for an extended period of time with very high noise levels. There are attempts to mitigate the effects of this recording environment but even at best it is noxious for the participant. It is not known how this environment of MRI recording may affect the results of studies of meditation effects on the brain.

 

In today’s Research News article “Does the MRI/fMRI Procedure Itself Confound the Results of Meditation Research? An Evaluation of Subjective and Neurophysiological Measures of TM Practitioners in a Simulated MRI Environment.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7198852/ ) Travis and colleagues recruited experienced meditators and recorded their brain activity with electroencephalogram during a single session while they had their eyes closed and then meditated for 7 minutes. This sequence was repeated in counterbalanced order for sitting, lying down in the quiet, and lying down in a simulated MRI tube with 110db recording of the noise sound level of an MRI machine. The participants then completed a questionnaire about the depth of their meditation and their subjective experiences.

 

They found that the participants rated their depth of meditation and experiences of pure consciousness significantly lower and interference and distraction/agitation significantly higher during the simulated MRI condition. The power in most frequency bands significantly decreased in the EEG from sitting to lying positions and further significantly decreased during the simulated MRI condition. In addition, during the simulated MRI condition, there was a significant increase in activation of the precuneus area of the brain, a major component of the default mode network.

 

These findings are interesting and important for the interpretation of meditation research employing MRI to investigate its effects on the brain. The results suggest that the conditions of MRI recording, including confinement and loud noise levels alters the nature of the meditation and the brain’s responses to the meditation. This environment appears to interfere with the depth of the meditation and inserts greater distractions producing agitation. The MRI environment also appears to decrease the power of various waveforms in the EEG and activate the default mode network of the brain.

 

This represents a problem for interpreting MRI data recorded during meditation. Of course, the effects of the MRI recording environment would be the same during different conditions. So, differences between MRI data recorded during meditation and during other mental states should not be due to the recording environment. In addition, the disruption of the meditation produced by the environment would likely make it more difficult to detect changes produced by meditation. So, the actual observed brain changes during meditation in the MRI environment may underestimate the true effects of meditation practice on the brain.

 

So, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) procedure can alter meditation and its effects on the brain.

 

claustrophobia is common in the world of MRI. It’s so common that asking questions about it is standard in the pre-appointment screening call. “Four out of ten patients that we call will mention something about claustrophobia,” – Desiree Rckovich

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Travis, F., Nash, J., Parim, N., & Cohen, B. H. (2020). Does the MRI/fMRI Procedure Itself Confound the Results of Meditation Research? An Evaluation of Subjective and Neurophysiological Measures of TM Practitioners in a Simulated MRI Environment. Frontiers in psychology, 11, 728. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00728

 

Abstract

Early research into meditation, including Transcendental Meditation (TM), relied exclusively on EEG to measure brain activity during meditation practice. Since the advent of neural imaging, MRI, and later fMRI, have dominated this field. Unfortunately, the use of this technology rests on the questionable assumption that lying down in a confining tube while exposed to very loud sounds would not interfere with the meditation practice. The present study was designed to assess the effects of the fMRI procedure on both the subjective and neurophysiological responses of short and long-term TM practitioners. Twenty-three TM practitioners volunteered to participate in this study: 11 short-term meditators, averaging 2.2 years practice, and 12 long-term meditators, averaging 34.8 years. The repeated-measures design included two activities for each participant, eyes-closed rest, and TM practice, in each of three conditions: sitting quietly in an upright position (normal TM practice); lying quietly in a supine position; and lying, with earplugs, inside a simulated fMRI tube (simMRI), while exposed to 110 dB recordings of an actual fMRI machine. Subjective experiences were collected after each activity in each condition. Physiological arousal was recorded using skin conductance levels. Scalp EEG was averaged into eight frequency bands within frontal and parietal leads; eLORETA software was used to explore the 3-D cortical distribution of EEG sources. During the simMRI condition, participants reported having more shallow meditation experiences, and greater agitation/distraction. Skin conductance levels paralleled self-reports, decreasing least during the simMRI condition. Frontal and parietal power decreased from sitting to simMRI in the alpha2 through gamma bands. Parietal power was higher during rest compared to TM in the alpha1 through beta2 bands. Frontal and parietal alpha1 coherence were highest during the simMRI condition. The eLORETA analysis revealed that the default mode network was more active during TM when sitting compared to the simMRI condition. The responses to the supine condition were generally between sitting and simMRI, with some significant exceptions. In conclusion, these data indicate that the fMRI procedure itself (high dB noise; lying down) strongly influences subjective and neurophysiological responses during meditation practice, and may therefore confound the interpretation of results from fMRI studies.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7198852/

Improve Attention and Memory with Closed-Loop Digital Meditation

Improve Attention and Memory with Closed-Loop Digital Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“The good news is that its possible to train your attention and gain the associated benefits, and practicing mindfulness offers one of the most accessible and effective approaches.” – Deborah Schoeberlein David

 

There has accumulated a large amount of research demonstrating that mindfulness has significant benefits for psychological, physical, and spiritual wellbeing. It even improves high level thinking known as executive function and emotion regulation and compassion. One of the primary effects of mindfulness training is an improvement in the ability to pay attention to the task at hand and ignore interfering stimuli. This is an important consequence of mindfulness training and produces improvements in thinking, reasoning, and creativity. The importance of heightened attentional ability to the individual’s ability to navigate the demands of complex modern life cannot be overstated. It helps in school, at work, in relationships, or simply driving a car. As important as attention is, it’s surprising that little is known about the mechanisms by which mindfulness improves attention.

 

There is evidence that mindfulness training improves attention by altering the brain. It appears That mindfulness training increases the size, connectivity, and activity of areas of the brain that are involved in paying attention. One way to observe the effects of meditation is to measure changes in the electroencephalogram (EEG), the rhythmic electrical activity that can be recorded from the scalp. The recorded activity can be separated into frequency bands. Theta activity consists of oscillations in the 4-8 cycles per second band and it thought to measure attention. Another method to observe attentional processing in the brain is to measure the changes in the electrical activity that occur in response to paying attention. These are called event-related potentials or ERPs. The signal following a stimulus changes over time. The fluctuations of the signal after specific periods of time are thought to measure different aspects of the nervous system’s processing of the stimulus. The P300 response in the evoked potential (ERP) is a positive going electrical response occurring between a 1.5 to 5.0 tenths of a second following the target stimulus presentation. The P300 component is thought to reflect attentional processes.

 

In today’s Research News article “Closed-loop digital meditation improves sustained attention in young adults.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7534732/ ) Ziegler and colleagues recruited meditation-naïve young adults and randomly assigned them to a placebo control group or to receive 6 weeks of daily online breath following focused meditation training. Initially they meditated for 20 minutes but as they reported greater and greater ability to pay attention to their breath the duration of the meditation increased up to 30 minutes. The placebo control condition was engagement with an online app that was judged by participants to produce expectations equivalent to the meditation app for improvements in sustained attention and working memory. Three online aps were identified and self-selected by the participants of foreign language learning, Tai Chi practice, or logic games. The participants were measured before and after training for sustained attention, distraction filtering, working memory, and accuracy of working memory. They also recoded the electroencephalogram (EEG) during the sustained attention task and recorded the theta rhythm and the P300 evoked potentials to the attention stimuli.

 

They found that in comparison to the placebo group the meditation group had significant increases in sustained attention, distraction filtering, and working memory. In addition, they found that the greater the duration of the meditation practice achieved the greater the improvement in sustained attention. In the EEG they found that the meditation group had significant increases in attention-related EEG measures. In particular, they had increased frontal midline theta rhythm and earlier parietal P300 latencies in the evoked potentials.

 

Previous studies have shown that mindfulness practices produce improvements in attention and memory. An interesting and important difference between this research and prior research is that they employed a control condition that was demonstrated to produce the same degree of expectation in the participants for improvement in attention and memory. In other words. they controlled for participant expectancy, placebo, effects that were not controlled in the prior work. So, the improvements in attention and working memory were likely due to the meditation practice itself. Another interesting difference was that the present results were both in behavioral and brain activity measures. This demonstrates that the effects can be seen in objective, EEG and evoked potential data, and not just in behavioral responses that are more susceptible to bias.

 

So, improve attention and memory with closed-loop digital meditation.

 

mindful attention improves attention regulation, benefits physical and mental health, reduces stress, facilitates emotion regulation, and helps you remove those extra pounds!” – Gavin Khoury

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Ziegler, D. A., Simon, A. J., Gallen, C. L., Skinner, S., Janowich, J. R., Volponi, J. J., Rolle, C. E., Mishra, J., Kornfield, J., Anguera, J. A., & Gazzaley, A. (2019). Closed-loop digital meditation improves sustained attention in young adults. Nature human behaviour, 3(7), 746–757. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-019-0611-9

 

Abstract

Attention is a fundamental cognitive process that is critical for essentially all aspects of higher-order cognition and real-world activities. Younger generations have deeply embraced information technology and multitasking in their personal lives, school, and the workplace, creating myriad challenges to their attention. While improving sustained attention in healthy young adults would be beneficial, enhancing this ability has proven notoriously difficult in this age group. Here we show that six-weeks of engagement with a meditation-inspired, closed-loop software program (MediTrain) delivered on mobile devices led to gains in both sustained attention and working memory in healthy young adults (n = 22). These improvements were associated with positive changes in key neural signatures of attentional control (frontal theta inter-trial coherence and parietal P3b latency), as measured by electroencephalography. Our findings suggest the utility of delivering aspects of the ancient practice of focused-attention meditation in a modern, technology-based approach and its benefits on enhancing sustained attention.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7534732/