Sexual Arousal and Mindfulness are Linked in Complex Ways

Sexual Arousal and Mindfulness are Linked in Complex Ways

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“mindfulness meditation” training — which teaches how to bring one’s thoughts into the present moment — can quiet the mental chatter that prevents these women from fully feeling sexual stimuli.” – Gina Silverstein

 

Problems with sex are very common, but, with the exception of male erectile dysfunction, driven by the pharmaceutical industry, it is rarely discussed and there is little research. While research suggests that sexual dysfunction is common, it is a topic that many people are hesitant or embarrassed to discuss. Women suffer from sexual dysfunction more than men with 43% of women and 31% of men reporting some degree of difficulty. These problems have major impacts on people’s lives and deserve greater research attention.

 

Problems with sex with women can involve reduced sex drive, difficulty becoming aroused, vaginal dryness, lack of orgasm and decreased sexual satisfaction. Sexual function in women involves many different systems in the body, including physical, psychological and hormonal factors. So, although, female sexual dysfunction is often caused by physical/medical problems, it is also frequently due to psychological issues. This implies that it many cases female sexual problems may be treated with therapies that are effective in working with psychological problems.

 

Mindfulness trainings have been shown to improve a variety of psychological issues including emotion regulationstress responsestraumafear and worryanxiety, and depression, and self-esteem. Mindfulness training has also been found useful in treating sexual problems. But there is little empirical research. So, it makes sense to further investigate the relationship of mindfulness with female sexual arousal.

 

In today’s Research News article “Subjective and Oxytocinergic Responses to Mindfulness Are Associated With Subjective and Oxytocinergic Responses to Sexual Arousal.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01101/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_999212_69_Psycho_20190528_arts_A), Dickinson and colleagues recruited women between the ages of 20 to 35 for a study on sexuality and stress hormones and measured them for mindfulness. They watched landscape photographs and rated their liking of the photographs and then provided salivary samples to assess oxytocin and cortisol. Oxytocin levels are a marker of sexual arousal. They then listened to 1.5-minute stories that were either neutral or erotic and provided salivary samples. They also rated their sexual arousal after each story. They then performed a breath focused meditation for 15 minutes and provided a third salivary sample. After a 15-minute quiet period they provided a fourth sample.

 

They found that the higher the women scored on mindfulness, particularly the describing facet, the higher their levels of reported arousal in response to the erotic stories. They also found that oxytocin levels did not significantly increase in response to the erotic stories, decreased significantly in response to mindful breathing, and increased during recovery. They further found that women high in the mindfulness facet of non-judging internal experience and women who were quicker in detecting mind wandering during meditation had significantly greater decreases in oxytocin during meditation. In addition, women who were quick in detecting mind wandering and women who reported large increases in sexual arousal while listening to the erotic stories had greater decreases in oxytocin while meditating.

 

These are complex results. They suggest that in women mindfulness, subjective sexual arousal, and endocrine markers of sexual arousal are all linked in complex ways. They also suggest that women who are high in mindfulness are more sexually responsive to erotic stimuli. This may suggest that mindfulness training may be effective in increasing women’s ability to be sexually aroused. Future research should investigate whether mindfulness training may be an effective treatment for women who have difficulty with sexual arousal.

 

“among women who have sexual difficulties, mindfulness not only improves their desire but improves their overall sexual satisfaction, too.” – Tracy Clark-Flory

 

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

 

Dickenson JA, Alley J and Diamond LM (2019) Subjective and Oxytocinergic Responses to Mindfulness Are Associated With Subjective and Oxytocinergic Responses to Sexual Arousal. Front. Psychol. 10:1101. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01101

 

Mindfulness – the ability to pay attention, on purpose, without judgment, and in the present moment – has consistently been shown to enhance women’s sexual arousal. As a first step toward understanding potential neuroendocrine underpinnings of mindfulness and sexual arousal, we examined whether individual differences in subjective and neuroendocrine (i.e., oxytocin) responses to mindful breathing were associated with individual differences in subjective and neuroendocrine responses to sexual arousal. To achieve this aim, 61 lesbian, bisexual, and heterosexual women completed a questionnaire assessing dispositional mindfulness, underwent an arousal task while continuously rating their sexual arousal and a mindful breathing task, after which participants reported on their ability to detect attentional shifts, and provided salivary samples after each assessment. Results indicated that women who were quicker to detect attentional shifts and women who reported greater sexual arousability reported larger changes (decreases) in oxytocin in response to mindful breathing and were the only women to report increases in oxytocin in response to the sexual arousal induction. Results further indicated that individuals who report greater subjective responsiveness to mindfulness and sexual arousal appear to have an oxytocinergic system that is also more responsive to both arousal and to mindfulness. These results make a significant contribution to our understanding of the role of attentional processes in sexual arousal, and warrant future examination of oxytocin as a potential neuroendocrine mechanism underlying the link between mindfulness and sexual arousal.

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01101/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_999212_69_Psycho_20190528_arts_A

 

Eye Movements Reveal Mind Wandering During Meditation

Eye Movements Reveal Mind Wandering During Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Distractions in the mind translate to micro movements in the eyes or eyelids, and vice-versa. Stillness of eyes brings stillness of mind, and vice-versa.” – Giovanni

 

We spend a tremendous amount of waking time with our minds wandering and not on the present environment or the task at hand. We daydream, plan for the future, review the past, ruminate on our failures, exalt in our successes. In fact, we spend almost half of our waking hours off task with our mind wandering. Mind wandering is also present even during meditation. Mind wandering interferes with our concentration on the present moment. Focused meditation, on the other hand, is the antithesis of mind wandering. Indeed, the more mindful we are the less the mind wanders.

 

A system of the brain known as the Default Mode Network (DMN) becomes active during wind wandering and relatively quiet during focused on task behavior. Meditation is known to reduce the size, connectivity, and activity of the Default Mode Network (DMN).  Hence, brain activity may help identify mind wandering when it occurs. Eye movements occur even when the eyes are closed and during meditation. They may also be indicators of mind wander in during meditation.

 

In today’s Research News article “Spontaneous eye movements during focused-attention mindfulness meditation.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6345481/), Matiz and colleagues recruited adult experienced meditators. They engaged in a 7-minute focused breath meditation or a 7-minute mind wandering where they were asked to “remember or imagine one or more events of their past or future in which they, or another person, were the protagonist.” During the session brain activity, the electroencephalogram (EEG), was recorded. They derived a measure from the EEG that indicated vertical and horizontal eye movements. They also measured the total amount of meditation experience for each participant.

 

They found that during the 7-minutes of mind wandering there were significantly more eye movements, including both vertical and horizontal movements, than during the7-minutes of  focused meditation. In addition, they found that the more meditation experience that the meditator had, the fewer the eye movements that were recorded under both conditions. Hence, experienced meditators not only move their eyes less during meditation and but also during mind wandering.

 

These are interesting findings that suggest that analysis of the brain’s electrical activity, electroencephalogram (EEG), may be able to detect when mind wandering is occurring during meditation. This could lead to the possibility of providing biofeedback to the meditator when the mind is wandering, lessening the amount of mind wandering and thereby deepening the meditative experience. This is an intriguing possibility for future research.

 

When the mind becomes steady in meditation, the eyeballs also become steady. A Yogi whose mind is calm will have a steady eye. “ – Swami Sivananda

 

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

 

Matiz, A., Crescentini, C., Fabbro, A., Budai, R., Bergamasco, M., & Fabbro, F. (2019). Spontaneous eye movements during focused-attention mindfulness meditation. PloS one, 14(1), e0210862. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0210862

 

Abstract

Oculometric measures have been proven to be useful markers of mind-wandering during visual tasks such as reading. However, little is known about ocular activity during mindfulness meditation, a mental practice naturally involving mind-wandering episodes. In order to explore this issue, we extracted closed-eyes ocular movement measurements via a covert technique (EEG recordings) from expert meditators during two repetitions of a 7-minute mindfulness meditation session, focusing on the breath, and two repetitions of a 7-minute instructed mind-wandering task. Power spectral density was estimated on both the vertical and horizontal components of eye movements. The results show a significantly smaller average amplitude of eye movements in the delta band (1–4 Hz) during mindfulness meditation than instructed mind-wandering. Moreover, participants’ meditation expertise correlated significantly with this average amplitude during both tasks, with more experienced meditators generally moving their eyes less than less experienced meditators. These findings suggest the potential use of this measure to detect mind-wandering episodes during mindfulness meditation and to assess meditation performance.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6345481/

 

Improve Psychological Adjustment with Meditation

Improve Psychological Adjustment with Meditation

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Fine-tuning which type of mindfulness or meditation someone uses as a prescriptive to treat a specific need will most likely be the next big advance in the public health revolution of mindfulness and meditation.” – Christopher Bergland

 

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. As a result, meditation training has been called the third wave of therapies. One problem with understanding meditation effects is that there are, a wide variety of meditation techniques and it is not known which work best for improving different conditions.

 

In focused attention meditation, the individual practices paying attention to a single meditation object, learns to filter out distracting stimuli, including thoughts, and learns to stay focused on the present moment, filtering out thoughts centered around the past or future. In open monitoring meditation, the individual opens up awareness to everything that’s being experienced regardless of its origin. These include bodily sensations, external stimuli, and even thoughts. The meditator just observes these thoughts and lets them arise and fall away without paying them any further attention. Loving Kindness Meditation is designed to develop kindness and compassion to oneself and others. The individual systematically pictures different individuals from self, to close friends, to enemies and wishes them happiness, well-being, safety, peace, and ease of well-being.

 

These techniques have common properties of restful attention on the present moment. They are also similar to many religious and spiritual practices. There are large differences between these practices that are likely to produce different effects on the practitioner. But what those differences are is not known. In today’s Research News article “Religiosity and Meditation Practice: Exploring Their Explanatory Power on Psychological Adjustment.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00630/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_951898_69_Psycho_20190404_arts_A), Montero-Marin and colleagues explore the different effects of these practices on the psychological well-being of practitioners.

 

They recruited adult participants online and had them complete measures of happiness, depression, positive and negative emotions, and negative psychological adjustment. They were also asked to indicate the amount of prayer, and the types and amounts of meditation practices engaged in, including open monitoring, focused, and compassion meditation types.

 

They found that positive psychological states were associated with the amount of the various meditation practices and not particularly with religiosity or prayer. They found that the amount of focused meditation practice was significantly related to all measures of psychological adjustment, including happiness, depression, positive and negative emotions, and negative psychological adjustment. On the other hand, open monitoring practice was significantly associated with self-regulation of negative emotions and compassion meditation was significantly related to positive emotions and happiness.

 

These are interesting results that are cross-sectional and correlative. So, care must be taken in concluding causation. Nevertheless, the results suggest that meditation practice has positive benefits for the psychological state of the practitioner that are superior to religious practices. It appears that focused meditation practice has the greatest benefits while compassion meditation may help increase happiness and open monitoring meditation may help with dealing with negative emotions. Previous research has indicated some additional benefits of religiosity, prayer, and focused, open monitoring, and compassion meditation techniques. It remains for future research to better clarify the advantages and disadvantages of each of these meditation types.

 

So, improve psychological adjustment with meditation.

 

”For someone who meditates, the practice offers a chance to improve physical wellbeing, as well as emotional health. However, there is no “right way” to meditate, meaning people can explore the different types until they find one that works for them.” – Zawn Villines

 

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

 

Montero-Marin J, Perez-Yus MC, Cebolla A, Soler J, Demarzo M and Garcia-Campayo J (2019) Religiosity and Meditation Practice: Exploring Their Explanatory Power on Psychological Adjustment. Front. Psychol. 10:630. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00630

 

There has been increased interest in the relationships between religiosity, meditation practice and well-being, but there is lack of understanding as to how specific religious components and distinct meditation practices could influence different positive and negative psychological adjustment outcomes. The aim of this study was to assess the explanatory power of religious beliefs and the practice of prayer, focused attention (FA), open monitoring (OM), and compassion meditation (CM) on psychological adjustment, taking into consideration a number of practice-related variables such as session length, frequency of practice and lifetime practice. Psychological adjustment was assessed by means of happiness, positive affect, depression, negative affect, and emotional overproduction. A cross-sectional design was used, with a final sample comprising 210 Spanish participants who completed an online assessment protocol. Hierarchical regressions were performed, including age, sex and psychotropic medication use in the first step as possible confounders, with the addition of religious beliefs and the practice of prayer, FA, OM, and CM in the second step. FA session length was related to all psychological adjustment outcomes: happiness (ΔR2 = 0.09, p = 0.002; β = 0.25, p = 0.001), positive affect (ΔR2 = 0.09, p = 0.002; β = 0.18, p = 0.014), depression (ΔR2 = 0.07, p = 0.004; β = -0.27, p < 0.001), negative affect (ΔR2 = 0.08, p = 0.007; β = -0.27, p < 0.001) and emotional overproduction (ΔR2 = 0.07, p = 0.013; β = -0.23, p = 0.001). CM session length was related to positive affect (β = 0.18, p = 0.011). CM practice frequency was associated with happiness (ΔR2 = 0.06, p = 0.038; β = 0.16, p = 0.041). Lifetime practice of FA was related to happiness (ΔR2 = 0.08, p = 0.007; β = 0.21, p = 0.030) and OM to emotional overproduction (ΔR2 = 0.08, p = 0.037; β = -0.19, p = 0.047). Religious beliefs and prayer seemed to be less relevant than meditation practices such as FA, OM, and CM in explaining psychological adjustment. The distinct meditation practices might be differentially related to distinct psychological adjustment outcomes through different practice-related variables. However, research into other forms of institutional religiosity integrating social aspects of religion is required.

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00630/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_951898_69_Psycho_20190404_arts_A

 

Breath Counting May Be an Objective Measure of Mindfulness

Breath Counting May Be an Objective Measure of Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

As its name implies, the ‘Mindfulness of Breathing’ uses the breath as an object of concentration. By focusing on the breath you become aware of the mind’s tendency to jump from one thing to another. The simple discipline of concentration brings us back to the present moment and all the richness of experience that it contains. It is a way to develop mindfulness, the faculty of alert and sensitive awareness.” – The Buddhist Centre

 

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. As a result, mindfulness training has been called the third wave of therapies. One problem with understanding mindfulness effects is that there are, a wide variety of methods to measure mindfulness most of which involve subjective answers to questions from the practitioner. There is a need for more objective measures.

 

Focused attention meditation is a mindfulness training technique that involves paying attention to a single meditation object, frequently the breath, counting each in breath and each out breath. This breath following meditation practice is easy to observe and quantify with a breath counting test and may serve as an objective measure of the development of mindfulness.

 

In today’s Research News article “Towards an Objective Measure of Mindfulness: Replicating and Extending the Features of the Breath-Counting Task.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6153891/  ), Wong and colleagues recruited college students and had them complete a 20-minute breath counting task, a 20-minute vigilance task, and mindfulness, cognitive failures, and mind wandering questionnaires. On a second occasion the participants completed a second 20-minute breath counting task. In the breath counting task the participants pushed a button after each breath while their actual breathing was measured.

 

They found that 72% of the breaths were accurately counted but participants were significantly poorer during the second 10 minutes of the task than the first 10 minutes. The results of the first breath counting task were highly correlated with the results of the second, suggesting high reliability of measurement with the task. They also found that the higher the breath counting accuracy, the higher was the accuracy and the fewer the errors in the vigilance (attentional) task and the fewer the cognitive failures reported in everyday life. Finally, there was a trend toward higher breath counting accuracy being associated with higher subjective mindfulness.

 

These results suggest that the breath counting task may be a useful objective measure of mindfulness that has high reliability. It correlates with sustained attentional ability (vigilance) and also with subjective mindfulness. Further research is needed to determine if this is a better measure of mindfulness for use in research and therapeutic interventions. One potential way to look at this is to see if breath counting accuracy increases after mindfulness training and better predicts other outcomes of mindfulness practice.

 

So, breath counting may be an objective measure of mindfulness.

 

“Breath-counting meditation builds on controlled breathing techniques and exercises and can alleviate stress. Breath-counting meditation is one of the most basic and commonly used forms of meditation.” – Alan Elkin

 

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

 

F Wong, K., A A Massar, S., Chee, M., & Lim, J. (2018). Towards an Objective Measure of Mindfulness: Replicating and Extending the Features of the Breath-Counting Task. Mindfulness, 9(5), 1402-1410.

 

Abstract

Despite calls for objective measures of mindfulness to be adopted in the field, such practices have not yet become established. Recently, a breath-counting task (BCT) was proposed as a reliable and valid candidate for such an instrument. In this study, we show that the psychometric properties of the BCT are reproducible in a sample of 127 Asian undergraduates. Specifically, accuracy on the BCT was associated with everyday lapses and sustained attention, and weakly associated with subjectively measured mindfulness. BCT metrics also showed good test-retest reliability. Extending the use of the paradigm, we further found that two different types of task errors—miscounts and resets—were correlated with different aspects of cognition. Miscounts, or errors made without awareness, were associated with attentional lapses, whereas resets, or self-caught errors, were associated with mind-wandering. The BCT may be a suitable candidate for the standardized measurement of mindfulness that could be used in addition to mindfulness questionnaires.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6153891/

 

Open Monitoring and Focused Meditation Alter Different Brain Systems

Open Monitoring and Focused Meditation Alter Different Brain Systems

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“…In focused attention or concentration meditation, you direct your attention to a chosen object, such as the sensation of the breath entering and leaving your nostrils, and you keep your attention focused on that object from moment to moment. 

…In open monitoring meditation — or “open awareness” meditation, as I prefer to call it — you cultivate an “objectless” awareness, which doesn’t focus on any explicit object but remains open and attentive to whatever arises in experience from moment to moment.” – Evan Thompson

 

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. As a result, meditation training has been called the third wave of therapies. One problem with understanding meditation effects is that there are, a wide variety of meditation techniques and it is not known which work best for improving different conditions.

 

Two in particular types of meditation can be characterized on a continuum with the degree and type of attentional focus. In focused attention meditation, the individual practices paying attention to a single meditation object, learns to filter out distracting stimuli, including thoughts, and learns to stay focused on the present moment, filtering out thoughts centered around the past or future. In open monitoring meditation, the individual opens up awareness to everything that’s being experienced regardless of its origin. These include bodily sensations, external stimuli, and even thoughts. The meditator just observes these thoughts and lets them arise and fall away without paying them any further attention.

 

These techniques have common properties of restful attention on the present moment, but there are large differences. These differences are likely to produce different effects on the practitioners, their psychology and their brains. The nervous system is a dynamic entity, constantly changing and adapting to the environment. It will change size, activity, and connectivity in response to experience. These changes in the brain are called neuroplasticity. Over the last decade neuroscience has been studying the effects of contemplative practices on the brain and has identified neuroplastic changes in widespread area. and has found that meditation practice appears to mold and change the brain.

 

In today’s Research News article “Open monitoring meditation reduces the involvement of brain regions related to memory function.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6028418/ ), Fujino and colleagues recruited experienced meditators and scanned their brains for functional connectivity between structures with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (f-MRI) while they were engaging in open monitoring meditation, and again when engaging in focused attention meditation. Each f-MRI session was preceded by a week of practicing the appropriate meditation type at home.

 

They found that both meditation types produced decreased functional connectivity between the striatum, a component of the attention neural network and the posterior cingulate cortex a component of the Default Mode Network that is usually active during mind wandering. These findings suggest that both techniques help keep the mind focused and successfully suppress the mind straying from the task at hand.

 

The meditation techniques also produced differences in functional connectivity with open monitoring meditation reducing functional connectivity of the ventral striatum with both the visual cortex and retrosplenial cortex while focused attention meditation increasing this connectivity. In some ways this is not surprising as the striatum – visual cortex connection is thought to be involved in intentional focused attention. It would be expected that  focused attention meditation would strengthen this while open monitoring meditation would weaken it. In addition, the visual cortex is thought to be involved in memory. This suggests that open monitoring meditation may reduce the tendency to have memories interjected into the meditation practice.

 

So, the results are suggestive of similar effects of open monitoring meditation and focused attention meditation on the brain systems maintaining attention and suppressing mind wandering and differing effects on the brain system underlying focused attention and memory. These differing neural changes suggest that the two practices produce different experiential effects on the individual during practice.

 

“Open monitoring meditation is known to make you more creative. And if you feel as though you are stuck in a rut or as though you need to find alternative solutions to problems, then this can be a very effective techniques to use.

Focused attention meditation, as you know, is all about focusing your mind on one thing at a time, often the breath. This is good for improve focus and concentration, for stopping multitasking, and also for various health reasons.” – Paul Harrison

 

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

 

Fujino, M., Ueda, Y., Mizuhara, H., Saiki, J., & Nomura, M. (2018). Open monitoring meditation reduces the involvement of brain regions related to memory function. Scientific Reports, 8, 9968. http://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-28274-4

 

Abstract

Mindfulness meditation consists of focused attention meditation (FAM) and open monitoring meditation (OMM), both of which reduce activation of the default mode network (DMN) and mind-wandering. Although it is known that FAM requires intentional focused attention, the mechanisms of OMM remain largely unknown. To investigate this, we examined striatal functional connectivity in 17 experienced meditators (mean total practice hours = 920.6) during pre-resting, meditation, and post-resting states comparing OMM with FAM, using functional magnetic resonance imaging. Both FAM and OMM reduced functional connectivity between the striatum and posterior cingulate cortex, which is a core hub region of the DMN. Furthermore, OMM reduced functional connectivity of the ventral striatum with both the visual cortex related to intentional focused attention in the attentional network and retrosplenial cortex related to memory function in the DMN. In contrast, FAM increased functional connectivity in these regions. Our findings suggest that OMM reduces intentional focused attention and increases detachment from autobiographical memory. This detachment may play an important role in non-judgmental and non-reactive attitude during OMM. These findings provide new insights into the mechanisms underlying the contribution of OMM to well-being and happiness.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6028418/

 

Different Types of Meditation Techniques Affect Neural Activity Differently

Different Types of Meditation Techniques Affect Neural Activity Differently

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“The picture we have is that mindfulness practice increases one’s ability to recruit higher order, pre-frontal cortex regions in order to down-regulate lower-order brain activity.” – Adrienne Taren

 

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. As a result, meditation training has been called the third wave of therapies. One problem with understanding meditation effects is that there are, a wide variety of meditation techniques and it is not known which work best for improving different conditions.

 

There are a number of different types of meditation. Many can be characterized on a continuum with the degree and type of attentional focus. In focused attention meditation, the individual practices paying attention to a single meditation object, learns to filter out distracting stimuli, including thoughts, and learns to stay focused on the present moment, filtering out thoughts centered around the past or future. Transcendental meditation is a silent mantra-based focused meditation in which a word or phrase is repeated over and over again with the meditator focusing attention on the mantra. This is designed to evoke the experience of pure awareness. In open monitoring meditation, the individual opens up awareness to everything that’s being experienced regardless of its origin. These include bodily sensations, external stimuli, and even thoughts. The meditator just observes these thoughts and lets them arise and fall away without paying them any further attention. Loving Kindness Meditation is designed to develop kindness and compassion to oneself and others. The individual systematically pictures different individuals from self, to close friends, to enemies and wishes them happiness, well-being, safety, peace, and ease of well-being.

 

These techniques have common properties of restful attention on the present moment, but there are large differences. These differences are likely to produce different effects on the practitioner. One way to distinguish between the effects of these different meditation techniques is to observe the effects of each technique on the brain’s activity. This can be measured by recording the electroencephalogram (EEG). The brain produces rhythmic electrical activity that can be recorded from the scalp. It is usually 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 4-7.5 cycles per second band. Alpha activity consists of oscillations in the 8-12 cycles per second band. Beta activity consists of oscillations in the 13-30 cycles per second band while Gamma activity occurs in the 30-100 cycles per second band.

 

 

In today’s Research News article “.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5890111/ ), and colleagues review and summarize the published research literature on the effects of various meditation techniques on neural activity as measured with the electroencephalogram (EEG). They report that meditation practice, in general, is associated with increased brain oscillations and the greater the amount of practice the greater the increase in oscillations. This suggests that meditation practice, regardless of type, effects neural activity.

 

Activity in the Theta band of the EEG (4-7.5 hz.) differs with the type of meditation practiced. Both, focused and open monitoring meditation increase Theta oscillations in the anterior portions of the cerebral cortex. But, focused meditation also increases Theta activity in the posterior cortex. Theta activity is associated with positive emotional states and memory.

 

Activity in the Alpha band of the EEG (6-12 hz.) differs with the type of meditation practiced. Both, focused and open monitoring meditation increase Alpha oscillations in the posterior portions of the cerebral cortex. But, focused meditation also increases Alpha activity in the anterior cortex while open monitoring meditation decreases Alpha on the left side of the frontal cortex. Alpha activity is associated with relaxation and drowsiness.

 

Activity in the Gamma band of the EEG (6-12 hz.) increases in the frontal regions with all forms of meditation. This is sometimes known as fast wave activity and is associated with sensory and cognitive processing. There is conflicting evidence regarding the effects of meditation practice on the other oscillatory bands.

 

This research makes it clear that meditation practice increases the brains electrical activity and there appears to be differences in the oscillatory patterns produced by different meditation techniques. This may help in identifying the underlying processes responsible for the differing effects of these practices. But, the research is at a very early stage of development and much more work will be required to come to any firm conclusions.

 

So, it is clear that different types of meditation techniques affect neural activity differently.

 

“It was already known that during meditation brain wave activity increases in areas like alpha waves. These MRIs showed something more permanent: denser gray matter in specific regions like the hippocampus, which is crucial for learning and memory, as well as in other areas associated with self-awareness, compassion, and reflection.” – Deepak Chopra

 

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

 

Lee, D. J., Kulubya, E., Goldin, P., Goodarzi, A., & Girgis, F. (2018). Review of the Neural Oscillations Underlying Meditation. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 12, 178. http://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2018.00178

 

Abstract

Objective: Meditation is one type of mental training that has been shown to produce many cognitive benefits. Meditation practice is associated with improvement in concentration and reduction of stress, depression, and anxiety symptoms. Furthermore, different forms of meditation training are now being used as interventions for a variety of psychological and somatic illnesses. These benefits are thought to occur as a result of neurophysiologic changes. The most commonly studied specific meditation practices are focused attention (FA), open-monitoring (OM), as well as transcendental meditation (TM), and loving-kindness (LK) meditation. In this review, we compare the neural oscillatory patterns during these forms of meditation.

Method: We performed a systematic review of neural oscillations during FA, OM, TM, and LK meditation practices, comparing meditators to meditation-naïve adults.

Results: FA, OM, TM, and LK meditation are associated with global increases in oscillatory activity in meditators compared to meditation-naïve adults, with larger changes occurring as the length of meditation training increases. While FA and OM are related to increases in anterior theta activity, only FA is associated with changes in posterior theta oscillations. Alpha activity increases in posterior brain regions during both FA and OM. In anterior regions, FA shows a bilateral increase in alpha power, while OM shows a decrease only in left-sided power. Gamma activity in these meditation practices is similar in frontal regions, but increases are variable in parietal and occipital regions.

Conclusions: The current literature suggests distinct differences in neural oscillatory activity among FA, OM, TM, and LK meditation practices. Further characterizing these oscillatory changes may better elucidate the cognitive and therapeutic effects of specific meditation practices, and potentially lead to the development of novel neuromodulation targets to take advantage of their benefits.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5890111/

 

Different Mindfulness Practices Have Differing Effects on Mindfulness and Compassion

Different Mindfulness Practices Have Differing Effects on Mindfulness and Compassion

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Last year it was mindfulness but this year, attending without judgment is out and compassion for you as an antidote to your perceived low self-worth, failure, or any other form of suffering is definitely in.“ – Patricia Rockman

 

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. As a result, meditation training has been called the third wave of therapies. One problem with understanding meditation effects is that there are, a wide variety of meditation techniques and it is not known which work best for improving different conditions.

 

There are a number of different types of meditation. Many can be characterized on a continuum with the degree and type of attentional focus. In “Presence” meditation, also known as focused attention meditation, the individual practices paying attention to a single meditation object, learns to filter out distracting stimuli, including thoughts, and learns to stay focused on the present moment, filtering out thoughts centered around the past or future. “Perspective” meditation is another different method of cultivating mindfulness. In open monitoring meditation, the individual opens up awareness to everything that’s being experienced regardless of its origin. These include bodily sensations, external stimuli, and even thoughts. The meditator just observes these thoughts and lets them arise, and fall away without paying them any further attention. A third “Affect” meditation technique, e.g. Loving Kindness Meditation is designed to develop kindness and compassion to oneself and others. The individual systematically pictures different individuals from self, to close friends, to enemies and wishes them happiness, well-being, safety, peace, and ease of well-being. Although Loving Kindness Meditation has been practiced for centuries, it has received very little scientific research attention

 

In today’s Research News article “Differential Effects of Attention-, Compassion-, and Socio-Cognitively Based Mental Practices on Self-Reports of Mindfulness and Compassion.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5693975/ ), the effects of the various meditation techniques on mindfulness and compassion were compared. Hildebrandt and colleagues recruited healthy adults without meditation experience and randomly assigned them to one of two conditions; the first practiced “Presence”, “Affect”, and “Perspective” conditions in counterbalanced order, while the second constituted a retest control. The conditions were practiced daily at home for 13 weeks and involved a weekly 2-hour training session. In the “Presence” condition the participants practiced as focused attention meditation and body scan meditation In the “Affect” condition the participants practiced Loving Kindness Meditation and engaged in affect dyads, where they were paired with another participant to discuss for 5 minutes each day something that they were grateful for, In the “Perspective” condition the participants practiced observing thoughts meditation and engaged in perspective dyads, where they were paired with another participant to discuss for 5 minutes each day “a situation from the perspective of one of one’s own inner parts.”  The retest control participants were matched on mindfulness with the practice participants. All participants were measured before and after each condition for mindfulness, compassion, fear of compassion, and self-compassion.

 

They found that, compared to the retest control condition all three meditation conditions led to increased mindfulness presence, observing, and non-reacting, but only the “Affect” and “Perspective” conditions produced significant increases in the mindfulness non-judging, accepting, and compassion scales. The “Affect” condition produced additional significant increases in the compassion scales. Hence, different mindfulness practices produced different patterns of change in mindfulness and compassion.

 

Practicing focused meditation appears to improve present moment awareness and the ability to not react to its contents. Practicing observing thoughts appeared to not only improve these mindfulness components but also improved the ability to accept and not judge what is occurring. On the other hand, practicing Loving Kindness Meditation appears to improve all of these mindfulness components and in addition improve compassion. Hence, it appears that “Affect” meditation may be a superior technique for promoting both mindfulness and compassion.

 

These results are surprising as focused attention meditation has long been the most commonly taught practice, yet it was the least effective. It should be mentioned, however, that the present study was unusual in including dyadic discussions in only the “Affect” and “Perspective” conditions and not the “Presence” condition. These dyadic discussions may have been crucial in producing the enhanced effectiveness’ of these practices. It remains for future research to investigate this possibility.

 

This study is an important beginning in documenting the different effects of different meditation techniques. This may lead to better application of meditation tailored for the specific needs of the individual, leading to improved health and well-being.

 

Mindfulness is more than just moment-to-moment awareness. It is a kind, curious awareness that helps us relate to ourselves and others with compassion.”Shauna Shapiro

 

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

 

Hildebrandt, L. K., McCall, C., & Singer, T. (2017). Differential Effects of Attention-, Compassion-, and Socio-Cognitively Based Mental Practices on Self-Reports of Mindfulness and Compassion. Mindfulness, 8(6), 1488–1512. http://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-017-0716-z

 

Abstract

Research on the effects of mindfulness- and compassion-based interventions is flourishing along with self-report scales to assess facets of these broad concepts. However, debates remain as to which mental practices are most appropriate to develop the attentional, cognitive, and socio-affective facets of mindfulness and compassion. One crucial question is whether present-moment, attention-focused mindfulness practices are sufficient to induce a cascade of changes across the different proposed facets of mindfulness, including nonjudgmental acceptance, as well as compassion or whether explicit socio-affective training is required. Here, we address these questions in the context of a 9-month longitudinal study (the ReSource Project) by examining the differential effects of three different 3-month mental training modules on subscales of mindfulness and compassion questionnaires. The “Presence” module, which aimed at cultivating present-moment-focused attention and body awareness, led to increases in the observing, nonreacting, and presence subscales, but not to increases in acceptance or nonjudging. These latter facets benefitted from specific cultivation through the socio-cognitive “Perspective” module and socio-affective, compassion-based “Affect” module, respectively. These modules also led to further increases in scores on the subscales affected by the Presence module. Moreover, scores on the compassion scales were uniquely influenced by the Affect module. Thus, whereas a present-moment attention-focused training, as implemented in many mindfulness-based programs, was indeed able to increase attentional facets of mindfulness, only socio-cognitive and compassion-based practices led to broad changes in ethical-motivational qualities like a nonjudgmental attitude, compassion, and self-compassion.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5693975/

Improve Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Symptoms with Mindfulness Meditation

Improve Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Symptoms with Mindfulness Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Regular mindfulness practice can lead to a greater present-centered awareness and nonjudgmental acceptance of potentially distressing cognitive and emotional states as well as trauma-related internal and external triggers. Awareness and acceptance of trauma-related thoughts and feelings may . . . be especially useful for individuals with PTSD, as it may help decrease experiential avoidance, reduce arousal, and foster emotion regulation.” – National Center for PTSD

 

Experiencing trauma is quite common. It has been estimated that 60% of men and 50% of women will experience a significant traumatic event during their lifetime. But, only a fraction will develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). But this still results in a frightening number of people with 7%-8% of the population developing PTSD at some point in their life. For military personnel, it’s much more likely for PTSD to develop with about 11%-20% of those who have served in a war zone developing PTSD.

 

PTSD involves a number of troubling symptoms including reliving the event with the same fear and horror in nightmares or with a flashback. PTSD sufferers avoid situations that remind them of the event this may include crowds, driving, movies, etc. and may avoid seeking help because it keeps them from having to think or talk about the event. They often experience negative changes in beliefs and feelings including difficulty experiencing positive or loving feelings toward other people, avoiding relationships, memory difficulties, or see the world as dangerous and no one can be trusted. Sufferers may feel hyperarousal, feeling keyed up and jittery, or always alert and on the lookout for danger. They may experience sudden anger or irritability, may have a hard time sleeping or concentrating, may be startled by a loud noise or surprise.

 

Obviously, these are troubling symptoms that need to be addressed. There are a number of therapies that have been developed to treat PTSD. One of which, mindfulness meditation training has been found to be particularly effective. But meditation is actually a complex practice involving many different components. One such simple non-meditative component is relaxation and slowed breathing. In addition, there are many different meditation techniques. As a result, it is difficult to know what types of meditation are most effective. It is also difficult to specify if meditation per se or the relaxation and slow breathing that occurs with meditation may be responsible for meditation effects.

 

In today’s Research News article “Mechanistic pathways of mindfulness meditation in combat veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4803530/, Wahbeh and colleagues investigate different components of meditation and the route of their effectiveness, psychological or physical. They recruited combat veterans who had an established diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and randomly allocated each to one of four conditions; body scan mindfulness meditation, slow breathing with a biofeedback device, mindful awareness of the breath with an intention to slow the breath, or 4) sitting quietly. They were trained once a week for 6 weeks and were assigned to practice 20 minutes per day between sessions. The participants were measured before and after training for mindfulness, PTSD symptoms, lifetime trauma, combat experience, perceived symptom improvement, intrusive thoughts, perceived stress, depression, positive and negative emotions, self-efficacy, sleep quality, and attentional ability. They also received physical measures with electroencephalogram (EEG), salivary cortisol, heart and respiration rates.

 

They found after training that the 2 mindfulness meditation conditions produced significantly greater mindfulness, perceived symptom improvement, the greatest improvements in PTSD symptoms, and greater reductions in respiration rates. Hence, the inclusion of meditation was critical for symptomatic improvement. But, the improvements were all psychological. In general, there were no differences in physiological measures, except for slowed breathing in meditation.

 

The study’s strength was that it separated components of meditation practice and identified the effective components. Mindfulness meditation appears to improve the psychological symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It appeared to do so, independent of relaxation and physiological changes. So, physical relaxation or physiological changes are not sufficient. The study suggests that the inclusion of meditation practice is mandatory in order to treat PTSD. Since meditation is known to improve emotion regulation and attention, reduce stress responding, and reduce worry and rumination, the study suggests that these psychological effects of meditation are crucial to symptom relief for PTSD sufferers.

 

So, improve posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms with mindfulness meditation.

 

“But new research has now demonstrated that mindfulness—a non-judgmental awareness of our thoughts and feelings—might be a useful tool for veterans battling PTSD. Rather than being stuck in disturbing memories and negative thoughts, they can use mindfulness to actively shift their attention out of ruminations and produce lasting changes in the brain.” – Adam Hoffman

 

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

 

Wahbeh, H., Goodrich, E., Goy, E., & Oken, B. S. (2016). Mechanistic pathways of mindfulness meditation in combat veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 72(4), 365–383. http://doi.org/10.1002/jclp.22255

 

Abstract

Objective

This study’s objective was to evaluate the effect of two common components of meditation (mindfulness and slow breathing) on potential mechanistic pathways.

Methods

102 combat veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were randomized to: 1) the body scan mindfulness meditation (MM), 2) slow breathing (SB) with a biofeedback device, 3) mindful awareness of the breath with an intention to slow the breath (MM+SB), or 4) sitting quietly (SQ). Participants had six weekly one-on-one sessions with 20 minutes of daily home practice. The mechanistic pathways and measures were: 1) Autonomic Nervous System: hyperarousal symptoms, heart-rate (HR), heart-rate variability (HRV); 2) Frontal Cortex Activity: Attentional Network Task (ANT) conflict effect and event-related negativity, and intrusive thoughts; and 3) Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis: awakening cortisol. PTSD measures were also evaluated.

Results

Meditation participants had significant but modest within-group improvement in PTSD and related symptoms although there were no between-group effects. Perceived impression of PTSD symptom improvement was greater in the meditation arms compared to controls. Resting respiration decreased in the meditation arms compared to SQ. For the mechanistic pathways 1) Subjective hyperarousal symptoms improved within-group (but not between-group) for MM, MM+SB, and SQ while HR and HRV did not; 2) Intrusive thoughts decreased in MM compared to MM+SB and SB while the ANT measures did not change; and 3) MM had lower awakening cortisol within-group but not between-group.

Conclusion

Treatment effects were mostly specific to self-report rather than physiological measures. Continued research is needed to further evaluate mindfulness meditation’s mechanism in people with PTSD.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4803530/

Women Benefit More than Men from Mindfulness

Women Benefit More than Men from Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

For people that tend to be willing to confront or expose themselves or turn toward the difficult, mindfulness is made for helping that process. For people who have been largely turning their attention away from the difficult, to suddenly bring all their attention to their difficulties can be somewhat counterproductive. While facing one’s difficulties and feeling one’s emotions may seem to be universally beneficial, it does not take into account that there may be different cultural expectations for men and women around emotionality.” – Willoughby Britton

 

Mindfulness training has been shown to be beneficial for a variety of mental health problems, including anxietydepressionAntisocial Personality DisorderBorderline personality disorderimpulsivityobsessive compulsive disorderphobiaspost-traumatic stress disorder, sexual dysfunction, suicidality and even with psychosis. It also improves the psychological well-being of healthy people. Interestingly, there appears to be differences between men and women in the occurrence of various mental illnesses. Women have a much higher incidence of emotional issues than men such as anxiety and depression. On the other hand, men are more likely to have conduct disorders and substance abuse.

 

One of the ways that mindfulness appears to work to improve mental health is by improving emotion regulation. This increases the individual’s ability to fully experience emotions but react to and cope with them adaptively, in other words, not to be carried away by them. Since women are more likely to have emotional issues than men, and mindfulness is particularly effective in improving emotion regulation, it would seem reasonable to hypothesize that mindfulness would have greater psychological benefits for women than for men.

 

In today’s Research News article “Women Benefit More Than Men in Response to College-based Meditation Training.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5397480/, Rojiana and colleagues recruited male and female university students and trained them for 12 weeks, 3 times per week for 1 hour, in focused and open monitoring meditation. They completed measurements before and after training of mindfulness, positive and negative emotions, and self-compassion. They then compared the effectiveness of the meditation training for men and women.

 

They found that after training both men and women improved in mindfulness and self -compassion, but women had greater improvements than men in mindfulness and the mindfulness facets of observing, describing, non-judging, and non-reacting. Women also showed greater decreases in negative emotions. For women, it was found that the greater the increase in mindfulness, the greater the decrease in negative emotions. Hence, they found that women tended to benefit more from the meditation training that the men.

 

These are interesting results that suggest that women respond to meditation training with greater improvements in emotions and mindfulness than men. This may well have occurred due to the facts that mindfulness is known to improve emotion regulation and women have greater problems with emotion regulation and thereby benefit more. The greater improvements in mindfulness in women are interesting and may be due to the fact that the women were lower in mindfulness, particularly non-reactivity, to begin with. The meditation simply increased their levels of mindfulness to those of the men. This suggests that women have a greater tendency to react emotionally and that mindfulness training by decreasing this reactivity has greater benefits for women.

 

The results might have been different had the study measured behavioral conduct and externalizing behaviors rather than emotions. In a sense, the study played right to the issues than most trouble women and didn’t measure those that are more characteristic of males. Had they measured these factors perhaps they would have seen greater improvement in men rather than women. Regardless, women appear to benefit more emotionally from mindfulness training than men.

 

“When thrown by their feelings, men tend to “externalize” their emotions by doing things like working out, playing video games or otherwise interacting with their outer worlds. Women tend to “internalize” by analyzing and ruminating over their emotional states, psychologists say. While many men go outward — and one might argue, distract themselves from their internal world — women go inward.” – Drake Baer

 

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

Rojiani, R., Santoyo, J. F., Rahrig, H., Roth, H. D., & Britton, W. B. (2017). Women Benefit More Than Men in Response to College-based Meditation Training. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 551. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00551

 

Abstract

Objectives: While recent literature has shown that mindfulness training has positive effects on treating anxiety and depression, there has been virtually no research investigating whether effects differ across genders—despite the fact that men and women differ in clinically significant ways. The current study investigated whether college-based meditation training had different effects on negative affect for men and women.

Methods: Seventy-seven university students (36 women, age = 20.7 ± 3.0 years) participated in 12-week courses with meditation training components. They completed self-report questionnaires of affect, mindfulness, and self-compassion before and after the course.

Results: Compared to men, women showed greater decreases in negative affect and greater increases on scales measuring mindfulness and self-compassion. Women’s improvements in negative affect were correlated to improvements in measures of both mindfulness skills and self-compassion. In contrast, men showed non-significant increases in negative affect, and changes in affect were only correlated with ability to describe emotions, not any measures of experiential or self-acceptance.

Conclusion: These findings suggest that women may have more favorable responses than men to school-based mindfulness training, and that the effectiveness of mindfulness-based interventions may be maximized by gender-specific modifications.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5397480/

Focus in Meditation for Cognitive Effects but Open Monitor in Meditation for Physical Effects

Focus in Meditation for Cognitive Effects but Open Monitor in Meditation for Physical Effects

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

In focused attention meditation, the focus of the mind is placed only on one thing. This implies that you have to stop everything you are doing and designate time for this type of meditation. On the other hand, in open monitoring meditation, your focus is neutral and receptive to anything that becomes present to you in the moment.” – Mind Body Vortex

 

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. As a result, meditation training has been called the third wave of therapies. One problem with understanding meditation effects is that there are, a wide variety of meditation techniques and it is not known which work best for improving different conditions.

 

Two types of meditation are the most commonly used practices for research purposes In focused attention meditation, the individual practices paying attention to a single meditation object, frequently the breath or a mantra, and learns to filter out distracting stimuli, including thoughts, to stay focused on the present moment, filtering out thoughts centered around the past or future. On the other hand, in open monitoring meditation, the individual opens up awareness to everything that’s being experienced regardless of its origin. These include bodily sensations, external stimuli, and even thoughts. The meditator just observes these stimuli and lets them arise, and fall away without paying them any further attention.

 

These techniques have common properties of restful attention on the present moment, but there are large differences. These differences are likely to produce different effects on the practitioner. In today’s Research News article “A selective review of dharana and dhyana in healthy participants.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5192286/

Telles and colleagues review the published literature (eight studies) on the differences in the effects of focused attention meditation and open monitoring meditation.

 

They found quite interesting differences. Focused attention meditation tended to produce greater improvements in attentional ability while open monitoring meditation tended to produce larger changes in the physiology, specifically decreased activity in the sympathetic division and increased activity in the parasympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system. The sympathetic division tends to produce greater physiological arousal, including heart rate and blood pressure increases while the parasympathetic division tends to produce greater physiological relaxation, including heart rate and blood pressure reductions.

 

The published research, then, reflects considerable difference in the effects of these two meditation types. It should not be surprising that practicing focusing attention results in improved attentional ability. But, the difficulty in actually focusing attention may be somewhat stressful. Simply allowing whatever arises to come into consciousness, on the other hand may be much more relaxing. The differences in the effects of these meditation techniques suggest that focused attention meditation may be more appropriate for enhancing attention and thought for perhaps the treatment of attention deficit disorder or aging produced reductions in cognition. On the other hand open monitoring meditation may be more appropriate for the treatment of stress related disorders.

 

So, focus in meditation for cognitive effects but open monitor in meditation for physical effects.

 

“Focused attention and open monitoring — these are the two flavors meditation comes in. Mix and match as you like; add whatever extra toppings you desire; you’ll still be left with focused attention and open monitoring. Sure, people claim that it is best — maybe even essential — to concentrate on this or that in order to benefit the most from meditation. Others would have us believe that open awareness/monitoring needs to be done in a certain fashion, which obviously seems to belie the point of being open to whatever.“ – Brian Hines

 

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

Telles, S., Singh, N., Gupta, R. K., & Balkrishna, A. (2016). A selective review of dharana and dhyana in healthy participants. Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, 7(4), 255–260. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaim.2016.09.004

 

Abstract

Attention is an important part of the process of meditation. Traditional Yoga texts describe two stages of meditation which follow each other in sequence. These are meditative focusing (dharana in Sanskrit) and effortless meditation (dhyana in Sanskrit). This review evaluated eight experimental studies conducted on participants in normal health, who practiced dharana and dhyana. The studies included evaluation of autonomic and respiratory variables, eLORETA and sLORETA assessments of the EEG, evoked potentials, functional magnetic resonance imaging, cancellation task performance and emotional intelligence. The studies differed in their sample size, design and the method of practicing dharana and dhyana. These factors have been detailed. The results revealed differences between dharana and dhyana, which would have been missed if the two stages of meditation had not been studied separately.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5192286/