Improve the Brain’s Attentional Ability with a Meditation Retreat

Improve the Brain’s Attentional Ability with a Meditation Retreat

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Here’s where meditation begins to show itself as a biohacking marvel. Learning how to interrupt one’s reaction pattern – and then doing that over and over – can reshape behaviour. And if behaviour is changing, then the brain is changing.” – Zoe Schlanger

 

Retreat can be a powerful experience. But, it is quite difficult and challenging. It can be very tiring as it can run from early in the morning till late at night every day. It can also be physically challenging as engaging in meditation repeatedly over the day is guaranteed to produce many aches and pains in the legs, back, and neck. But the real challenges are psychological, emotional, and spiritual. Retreat can be a real test.

 

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 areas. In other words, meditation practice appears to mold and change the brain, producing psychological, physical, and spiritual benefits.

 

Hence, an intensive meditation retreat would be expected to produce neuroplastic changes in the brains of the participants. In today’s Research News article “Effects of a 7-Day Meditation Retreat on the Brain Function of Meditators and Non-Meditators During an Attention Task.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6004402/ ), Kozasa and colleagues recruited meditation naïve and long-term meditators ( > 3 years of experience) and had them engage in a 7-day intensive Zen meditation retreat. Sessions of sitting and walking meditation, yoga, text reading, and meals were scheduled nearly non-stop from 5:10 in the morning till 11:30 at night each day. Before and after the retreat the participants underwent functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (f-MRI) brain scanning while performing and attention demanding task (Stroop test).

 

They did not find any difference between the novice and experienced meditators in performance of the attention task either before or after the retreat. But, they found considerable differences in their brains. Prior to the retreat during the attention task with distraction the experienced meditators and not the novices had reduced activity in the anterior cingulate, ventromedial prefrontal cortex/anterior cingulate, caudate/putamen/pallidum/temporal lobe (center), insula/putamen/temporal lobe (right) and posterior cingulate. Following the retreat, the novices evidenced similar reductions in activity in these structures.

 

These structures are for the most part components of the so-called default mode network that is activated during mind wandering and self-referential thought. So, the experienced meditators with years of meditative attention training had differences in their brains suggesting better ability to concentrate on the task at hand, with less interference from mind wandering. Surprisingly, novice meditators had similar changes after only 7-day of participation in a meditation retreat. These results suggest that meditation changes the brain to improve concentration and attention. It does so, in part, by reducing the ability of the brain to let the mind wander away from the task at hand.

 

It is interesting that the neuroplastic changes in the brains of the novices essentially caught up to those of the experienced meditators with just 7 days of meditation training. This underscores the power of retreat. It also suggests that meditation can alter the brain relatively quickly. Hence, for improvement of attention, it doesn’t take years of training, it can be accomplished in an intensive week.

 

Improve the brain’s attentional ability with a meditation retreat.

 

“One can have no smaller or greater mastery than mastery of oneself.” — Leonardo da Vinci

 

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

 

Kozasa, E. H., Balardin, J. B., Sato, J. R., Chaim, K. T., Lacerda, S. S., Radvany, J., … Amaro Jr., E. (2018). Effects of a 7-Day Meditation Retreat on the Brain Function of Meditators and Non-Meditators During an Attention Task. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 12, 222. http://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2018.00222

 

Abstract

Meditation as a cognitive enhancement technique is of growing interest in the field of health and research on brain function. The Stroop Word-Color Task (SWCT) has been adapted for neuroimaging studies as an interesting paradigm for the understanding of cognitive control mechanisms. Performance in the SWCT requires both attention and impulse control, which is trained in meditation practices. We presented SWCT inside the MRI equipment to measure the performance of meditators compared with non-meditators before and after a meditation retreat. The aim of this study was to evaluate the effects of a 7-day Zen intensive meditation training (a retreat) on meditators and non-meditators in this task on performance level and neural mechanisms. Nineteen meditators and 14 non-meditators were scanned before and after a 7-day Zen meditation retreat. No significant differences were found between meditators and non-meditators in the number of the correct responses and response time (RT) during SWCT before and after the retreat. Probably, due to meditators training in attention, their brain activity in the contrast incongruent > neutral during the SWCT in the anterior cingulate, ventromedial prefrontal cortex/anterior cingulate, caudate/putamen/pallidum/temporal lobe (center), insula/putamen/temporal lobe (right) and posterior cingulate before the retreat, were reduced compared with non-meditators. After the meditation retreat, non-meditators had reduced activation in these regions, becoming similar to meditators before the retreat. This result could be interpreted as an increase in the brain efficiency of non-meditators (less brain activation in attention-related regions and same behavioral response) promoted by their intensive training in meditation in only 7 days. On the other hand, meditators showed an increase in brain activation in these regions after the same training. Intensive meditation training (retreat) presented distinct effects on the attention-related regions in meditators and non-meditators probably due to differences in expertise, attention processing as well as neuroplasticity.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6004402/

 

Improve Attentional Focus with Meditation

Improve Attentional Focus with Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“realize that everything we think, feel, say, or do from one moment to the next all ultimately depend on the interactions between attention and awareness. Mindfulness is the optimum interaction between the two. Therefore, by skillfully working with attention and awareness to cultivate mindfulness, we can change everything we think, feel, say, and do for the better. In other words, we can completely transform who we are.” – Travis May

 

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 at work, in relationships, or simply driving a car.

 

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 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 Pd response in the evoked potential (ERP) is a positive going electrical response occurring between a tenth to 3 tenths of a second following the target stimulus presentation. The Pd (distractor positivity) component is thought to reflect an attentional suppression process involved in preventing shifts in attention. The N2pc response is a negative electrical change that occurs around 2 tenths of a second following the target stimulus presentation. The N2pc response has been associated with the engagement of visual attention, deploying attentional processes when needed. These components of the evoked potential can be used to assess the nature of attentional processing before and after meditation, reflecting how meditation might improve attention.

 

In today’s Research News article “Meditation Effects on the Control of Involuntary Contingent Reorienting Revealed With Electroencephalographic and Behavioral Evidence.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5962705/ ), Tsai and colleagues recruited a group of college students who were meditators and a group who were not. They were asked to perform a rapid serial visual presentation task before and after a 30-minute meditation or rest. Order was counterbalanced on two different days. During the task the Electroencephalogram (EEG) was recorded and event related potentials identified and recorded related to the onset of the target stimulus.

 

The rapid serial visual presentation task consisted of the rapid presentation on a computer screen of three letters on the left, center, and right of the middle of the screen. The subjects were asked to respond by pressing a key with the right hand when the central letter was red and between the letter A to J in the alphabet and with the left hand when the red letter was present and between letter Q to Z. A red letter in the center occurred only once in every 24 trials. New letters were presented very rapidly, every .067 seconds. On occasions a red letter was presented as a distractor in either the left or right position. The participants were instructed to only respond to the letter in the center.

 

They found that when the red distractor was present in the left or right positions performance was significantly less accurate than when it was absent. But, although performance significantly improved after both meditation and rest, it was significantly better after meditation than after rest. In addition, after meditation, the Pd (distractor positivity) component of the evoked potential in response to the presence of a distractor red letter was stronger than after rest.

 

These results are interesting and suggest that after meditation the individual is better able to ignore a distractor and respond more accurately to a target. The EEG results with the evoked potentials suggest that the nervous system, after meditation, becomes better able to suppress responding to distractors in the immediate environment. This suggests that meditation enhances attention by preventing a shift in attention to other stimuli in the environment and thereby maintaining attention on the intended focus. Hence, the results suggest that meditation may improve attention by altering the brain’s processing of the stimuli present making it better able to focus by preventing responding to other stimuli.

 

So, improve attentional focus with meditation.

 

“A long-term study finds that consistent and intensive meditation sessions can have a long-lasting effect on a person’s attention span and other cognitive abilities.” – Rick Nauert

 

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

 

Tsai, S.-Y., Jaiswal, S., Chang, C.-F., Liang, W.-K., Muggleton, N. G., & Juan, C.-H. (2018). Meditation Effects on the Control of Involuntary Contingent Reorienting Revealed With Electroencephalographic and Behavioral Evidence. Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience, 12, 17. http://doi.org/10.3389/fnint.2018.00017

 

Abstract

Prior studies have reported that meditation may improve cognitive functions and those related to attention in particular. Here, the dynamic process of attentional control, which allows subjects to focus attention on their current interests, was investigated. Concentrative meditation aims to cultivate the abilities of continuous focus and redirecting attention from distractions to the object of focus during meditation. However, it remains unclear how meditation may influence attentional reorientation, which involves interaction between both top-down and bottom-up processes. We aimed to investigate the modulating effect of meditation on the mechanisms of contingent reorienting by employing a rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) task in conjunction with electrophysiological recording. We recruited 26 meditators who had an average of 2.9 years of meditation experience and a control group comprising 26 individuals without any prior experience of meditation. All subjects performed a 30-min meditation and a rest condition with data collected pre- and post-intervention, with each intervention given on different days. The state effect of meditation improved overall accuracy for all subjects irrespective of their group. A group difference was observed across interventions, showing that meditators were more accurate and more efficient at attentional suppression, represented by a larger Pd (distractor positive) amplitude of event related modes (ERMs), for target-like distractors than the control group. The findings suggested that better attentional control with respect to distractors might be facilitated by acquiring experience of and skills related to meditation training.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5962705/

 

Sustain Attention, Vigilance, and Energy in Nurses with Mindfulness

Sustain Attention, Vigilance, and Energy in Nurses with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“As attention is rooted more firmly in the present and less on the past and/or future, depression, rumination, and anxiety decrease,” the article explains. “The resulting effect is energy that was once spent clinging to the past or worrying about the future can now be spent in the present.” Mindful nurse leaders are likewise aware of the employees and organizations behind their day-to-day work. They’re authentic. They connect with others. They stay in touch with their values.”

 

Medical professionals have to pay close and sustained attention to their jobs. The consequences of lapses and error can be catastrophic. Yet often their jobs are repetitive which can tax attention and reduce needed vigilance. Contemplative practices have been shown to improve attention and vigilance and to maintain high levels of performance on the job. In today’s Research News article “Positive Effects of Mindfulness-Based Training on Energy Maintenance and the EEG Correlates of Sustained Attention in a Cohort of Nurses.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5838011/ ), Wong and colleagues investigate the effectiveness of mindfulness training to improve attention and vigilance in nurses tested in a laboratory environment.

 

They recruited nurses and trained them in mindfulness with an 8-week, once a week for 90 minutes, program based upon the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, containing meditation, body scan, and yoga practices. Training attendance was monitored and recorded. They were measured before and after training with a 20-minute psychomotor task requiring sustained attention and vigilance. In addition, the nurses were measured for sleep duration for two nights. They also completed scales of energy and mood and had their brain activity monitored during rest and during meditation, and with an electroencephalogram (EEG). They also recorded the event related potentials (ERP) in the EEG evoked by stimulus presentation during the attention and vigilance task.

 

They found that following mindfulness training the nurses had significantly smaller reduction in energy during performance of the attention and vigilance task and the greater the attendance at the mindfulness training sessions, the greater the energy sustainment. This was also true for their attention and vigilance, with nurses with high training attendance having significantly smaller reductions in response speed and significantly smaller increases in attentional lapses over the 20-minute task duration. Hence, those nurses with high mindfulness training attendance sustained their energy and attention better over the task period.

 

With the electroencephalogram (EEG), they found that after mindfulness training there were significantly smaller reductions in alpha rhythm power during meditation, suggesting improved attention. These improvements were higher in nurses who attended training more regularly. Similar findings were present with the EEG event related potentials (ERP), such that P3 amplitude reductions were lower over the attention and vigilance task, indicating greater sustainment of arousal and attention. Hence, brain electrical activity also suggested greater sustainment of attention following mindfulness training.

 

The results are interesting and potentially important. They suggest that mindfulness training can improve nurses’ abilities to sustain attention and vigilance over a prolonged period. This was evidenced by both behavioral and EEG indicators of sustained attention and vigilance. This is potentially important as it may suggest that mindfulness training may improve performance on the job, reducing lapses and errors. Future research is needed to verify if, indeed, mindfulness training has similar effects on the job that it has in the laboratory.

 

So, sustain attention, vigilance, and energy in nurses with mindfulness.

 

“Burnout continues to be a significant occupational hazard in the nursing profession. Mindfulness may be the necessary approach to help combat nursing burnout, affording considerable promise for the future of the nursing profession.” – Pamela Heard

 

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

 

Wong, K. F., Teng, J., Chee, M. W. L., Doshi, K., & Lim, J. (2018). Positive Effects of Mindfulness-Based Training on Energy Maintenance and the EEG Correlates of Sustained Attention in a Cohort of Nurses. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 12, 80. http://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2018.00080

 

Abstract

Mindfulness based training (MBT) is becoming increasingly popular as a means to improve general wellbeing through developing enhanced control over metacognitive processes. In this preliminary study, we tested a cohort of 36 nurses (mean age = 30.3, SD = 8.52; 2 male) who participated in an 8-week MBT intervention to examine the improvements in sustained attention and its energetic costs that may result from MBT. Changes in sustained attention were measured using the psychomotor vigilance task (PVT) and electroencephalography (EEG) was collected both during PVT performance, and during a brief period of meditation. As there was substantial variability in training attendance, this variable was used a covariate in all analyses. Following the MBT program, we observed changes in alpha power across all scalp regions during meditation that were correlated with attendance. Similarly, PVT performance worsened over the 8-week period, but that this decline was mitigated by good attendance on the MBT program. The subjective energy depletion due to PVT performance (measured using self-report on Likert-type scales) was also less in regular attendees. Finally, changes in known EEG markers of attention during PVT performance (P300 and alpha-band event-related desynchronization) paralleled these behavioral shifts. Taken together, our data suggest that sustained attention and its associated costs may be negatively affected over time in the nursing profession, but that regular attendance of MBT may help to attenuate these effects. However, as this study contained no control condition, we cannot rule out that other factors (e.g., motivation, placebo effects) may also account for our findings.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5838011/

 

Improve Enjoyment of Exercise with Mindfulness

Improve Enjoyment of Exercise with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Kick your boring treadmill cardio up a notch with mindfulness! Practicing mindfulness while on the treadmill doubles your cardio’s health benefits without any extra work or time.” – Justin Vict

 

There are clearly established benefits to regular exercise for the health and well-being of the individual. But many people find exercise aversive and as a result do not exercise. In fact, the number of people who exercise regularly has been declining over the last few decades, while at the same time, the understanding of the health benefits of exercise has been increasing. It has been estimated that only about 20% of adults meet minimal criteria of engagement in aerobic activity. Hence, there in order to improve the health of the population, method need to be discovered to help motivate people to exercise.

 

Mindfulness practices have been shown to heighten the enjoyment of many activities and heighten positive emotional experiences and lower aversive emotional experiences. It is reasonable to expect, then, that training in mindfulness would increase the enjoyment of exercise and reduce the aversion to exercise. This would make it more likely that exercise averse people would begin and sustain an exercise program. In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness and Affective Responses to Treadmill Walking in Individuals with Low Intrinsic Motivation to Exercise.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5841682/ ), Cox and colleagues examined the effects of mindfulness instructions on participants’ feelings while exercising.

 

They recruited college students between the ages of 18 to 35 years who either engaged in no or moderate physical activity and who had low motivation to exercise. They participated in 3 30-minute sessions. In the first they performed a progressive walking exercise on a treadmill designed to bring their heart rate to 65% of their maximum heart rate for 10 minutes. In the 2nd and 3rd sessions they engaged in identical sessions while in the 3rd they also listened to a recorded mindfulness script. The script was designed to bring attention to the physical experience of walking on a treadmill during the 10-minute target heart rate period. Measurements were taken before during and after the exercise of feelings of pleasure and displeasure and perceived exertion.

 

They found that when the participants were exercising while listening to a mindfulness script their emotions were significantly more positive and their attention significantly more focused than when simply exercising. Hence, the mindfulness condition resulted in a better exercise experience for individuals who do not enjoy exercise; they had more positive feelings and were more attentive to the exercise. This suggests that mindfulness may be of assistance in motivating exercise averse people to engage in exercise. Future research should explore the long-term effects of mindfulness training on the likelihood of engaging in exercise and sustaining  participation.

 

So, improve enjoyment of exercise with mindfulness.

 

“Adding a practice of mindfulness to your workouts not only takes the dread out of exercise, but increases your connection to your body and the wisdom it has to offer.” – Sandra Pawula

 

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

 

Cox, A. E., Roberts, M. A., Cates, H. L., & Mcmahon, A. K. (2018). Mindfulness and Affective Responses to Treadmill Walking in Individuals with Low Intrinsic Motivation to Exercise. International Journal of Exercise Science, 11(5), 609–624.

 

Abstract

An aversion to the sensations of physical exertion can deter engagement in physical activity. This is due in part to an associative focus in which individuals are attending to uncomfortable interoceptive cues. The purpose of this study was to test the effect of mindfulness on affective valence, ratings of perceived exertion (RPE), and enjoyment during treadmill walking. Participants (N=23; Mage=19.26, SD = 1.14) were only included in the study if they engaged in no more than moderate levels of physical activity and reported low levels of intrinsic motivation. They completed three testing sessions including a habituation session to determine the grade needed to achieve 65% of heart rate reserve (HRR); a control condition in which they walked at 65% of HRR for 10 minutes and an experimental condition during which they listened to a mindfulness track that directed them to attend to the physical sensations of their body in a nonjudgmental manner during the 10-minute walk. ANOVA results showed that in the mindfulness condition, affective valence was significantly more positive (p = .02, ηp2 = .22), enjoyment and mindfulness of the body were higher (p < .001, ηp2 = .36 and .40, respectively), attentional focus was more associative (p < .001, ηp2 =.67) and RPE was minimally lower (p = .06, ηp2 =.15). Higher mindfulness of the body was moderately associated with higher enjoyment (p < .05, r =.44) in the mindfulness but not the control condition. Results suggest that mindfulness during exercise is associated with more positive affective responses.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5841682/

 

Improve the Regulation of Emotions in Social Anxiety Disorder with Mindfulness

Improve the Regulation of Emotions in Social Anxiety Disorder with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“One way to do this . . . is mindfulness meditation, in which you observe your thoughts and feelings with the objectivity of a disinterested, nonjudgmental witness. This form of mental training gives you the wherewithal to pause, observe how easily the mind can exaggerate the severity of a setback, note that it as an interesting mental process, and resist getting drawn into the abyss,” – Ritchie Davidson

 

Mindfulness practices have been shown to have a large number of beneficial effects on the psychological, emotional, and physical health of the individual and is helpful in the treatment of mental and physical illness. They have also been shown to effect a large number of physiological and psychological processes, including emotion regulation, attention, sensory awareness, decentering, and reappraisal. It is not known how mindfulness practices produce the myriad effects on the individual’s health and well-being, whether mindfulness has a direct effect or works through intermediary effects to produce the improved well-being.

 

There has been some research on this question, for instance mindfulness has been found to improve some symptoms of mental illness by increasing reappraisal which then affects the symptoms. In today’s Research News article “Testing the mindfulness-to-meaning theory: Evidence for mindful positive emotion regulation from a reanalysis of longitudinal data.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5718463/ ), Garland and colleagues examine the hypothesis that mindfulness practices influence social anxiety disorder (SAD) through a series of intermediaries. They postulate that mindfulness training increases attention which, in turn increases decentering, which, in turn, broadens sensory awareness, which, in turn increases reappraisal, which increases emotion regulation and reductions in social anxiety disorder (SAD).

 

To examine this idea they reanalyzed the data from a longitudinal study of the effects of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) on social anxiety disorder (SAD) to determine the temporal sequence of mindfulness effects. Participants with SAD were randomly assigned to receive either 12 weeks of MBSR or CBT group therapy or on a wait-list control condition. MBSR consists of a combination of meditation, body scanning, and yoga practices. The participants were measured pretreatment, post-treatment, and 3, 6, 9, and 12 months later for attentional control, decentering, reappraisal, sensory awareness, dispositional mindfulness, emotion regulation and positive emotions. The data were analyzed with a sophisticated multivariate path analysis.

 

The best fit path revealed by the analysis had excellent model fit. It revealed that both MBSR and CBT produced significant improvements in attentional control at the end of the 12-week treatment. These attentional improvements were significantly associated with increases in decentering 3 months later. Similarly, change in decentering was significantly associated with broadened sensory awareness at the 6-month follow-up measurement. In turn, the broadened sensory awareness was significantly associated with increases in reappraisal at the 9-month follow-up measurement. Finally, increases in reappraisal were significantly associated with increases in positive emotions at the 12-month follow-up measurement. In comparing Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) in this model, it was found that MBSR produced significantly greater decentering and broadened sensory awareness. So, both MBSR and CBT would appear effective for social anxiety disorder (SAD) but MBSR would appear to be the superior treatment.

 

These are interesting and important findings suggest the mechanism by which mindfulness training improves emotion regulation in patients with social anxiety disorder (SAD). They suggest that mindfulness training sets off a chain of events consisting of improved attention followed by increased decentering followed by broadened sensory awareness, followed by increased reappraisal, followed by increased emotion regulation and reduced social anxiety disorder (SAD). It remains for future research to determine if this sequence events accounts for any other of the mental or physical health benefits of mindfulness training.

 

So, improve the regulation of emotions in social anxiety disorder with mindfulness.

 

“Through your mindful acceptance, you can embrace or hold the feeling in your awareness– this alone can calm and soothe you. This is an act of self-compassion and responsiveness to your own distress, and it is so much more effective than punishing yourself for having this feeling.” – Melli O’Brien

 

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

 

Garland, E. L., Hanley, A. W., Goldin, P. R., & Gross, J. J. (2017). Testing the mindfulness-to-meaning theory: Evidence for mindful positive emotion regulation from a reanalysis of longitudinal data. PLoS ONE, 12(12), e0187727. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0187727

 

Abstract

Background and objective

The Mindfulness to Meaning Theory (MMT) provides a detailed process model of mindful positive emotion regulation.

Design

We conducted a post-hoc reanalysis of longitudinal data (N = 107) derived from a RCT of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) versus cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for social anxiety disorder to model the core constructs of the MMT (attentional control, decentering, broadened awareness, reappraisal, and positive affect) in a multivariate path analysis.

Results

Findings indicated that increases in attentional control from baseline to post-training predicted increases in decentering by 3 months post-treatment (p<.01) that in turn predicted increases in broadened awareness of interoceptive and exteroceptive data by 6 months post-treatment (p<.001). In turn, broadened awareness predicted increases in the use of reappraisal by 9 months post-treatment (p<.01), which culminated in greater positive affect at 12 months post-treatment (p<.001). MBSR led to significantly greater increases in decentering (p<.05) and broadened awareness than CBT (p<.05). Significant indirect effects indicated that increases in decentering mediated the effect of mindfulness training on broadening awareness, which in turn mediated enhanced reappraisal efficacy.

Conclusion

Results suggest that the mechanisms of change identified by the MMT form an iterative chain that promotes long-term increases in positive affectivity. Though these mechanisms may reflect common therapeutic factors that cut across mindfulness-based and cognitive-behavioral interventions, MBSR specifically boosts the MMT cycle by producing significantly greater increases in decentering and broadened awareness than CBT, providing support for the foundational assumption in the MMT that mindfulness training may be a key means of stimulating downstream positive psychological processes.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5718463/

Improve Behavior in the Classroom with Mindfulness

Improve Behavior in the Classroom with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Mindfulness practices help children improve their ability to pay attention, by learning to focus on one thing (e.g., breath, sound) while filtering out other stimuli. Mindfulness also provides kids with skills for understanding their emotions and how to work with them. I’m not sure if there any other skills besides these — paying attention and regulating one’s emotions — that are more important for successful human functioning, let alone education!” – Sarah Beach

 

Elementary school is an environment that has a huge effect on development. It is also an excellent time to teach children the skills to adaptively negotiate its environment. Mindfulness training in school, at all levels has been shown to have very positive effects. These include academic, cognitive, psychological, and social domains. Importantly, mindfulness training in school appears to improve the student’s self-concept. It also improves attentional ability and reduces stress, which are keys to successful learning in school. Another key is the ability of children to manage their behavior in school and remain on-task as much as possible.

 

Behavior management based upon behavior modification techniques has been shown to be very effective in promoting positive classroom behavior. It is not known, however, if mindfulness training can supplement and improve the effectiveness of the application of behavior management techniques. In today’s Research News article “Preliminary Evidence on the Efficacy of Mindfulness Combined with Traditional Classroom Management Strategies.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5622000/, Kasson and Wilson employ a multiple baseline research design to investigate the effectiveness of the combination of mindfulness and behavior management in promoting positive classroom behaviors in 3rd grade students.

 

They observed the behaviors of 6 3rd grade students in their classroom. They rated the students every 5 minutes for on-task behaviors, defined as “remaining within 1 ft. of one’s desk and interacting with materials as to participate in current classroom activity.” Students were observed initially (baseline) and under three conditions; behavior management, behavior management plus mindfulness, and self-monitoring. Behavior management consisted of “(a) use of a signal to obtain student attention (e.g., clapping sequence to be repeated by students), (b) use of a transition timer (e.g., visual countdown timer on Smart Board during activity transitions), (c) ignoring inappropriate student behavior, and (d) implementing a reinforcer incentive system.” Mindfulness exercises occurred for 15 minutes three times per week. The exercises included quiet time, deep breathing, structured breathing, present moment awareness, mindful eating, and mindful movement. Self-monitoring consisted of each student giving “himself a plus or minus during each activity throughout the day based on how well he thought he followed classroom rules.”

 

They found that during baseline the students were on task an average of 79% of the time. The behavior management phase the students increased their on-task behaviors with an average of 87% on task with an effect size of .58, while during the combined behavior management plus mindfulness phase the students further increased their on-task behaviors to 91% with an average effect size of .78. Self-monitoring produced mixed effects with most students regressing to baseline levels of on-task behaviors.

 

The study suggests that behavior management is effective in improving elementary students’ positive classroom behaviors and that mindfulness training can further improve on-task behavior. This was a short-term study and there is a need for further research to investigate if the effectiveness of behavior management and mindfulness training is sustained over longer periods up to school semesters. It is assumed but not measured that the improved attention to task translates to improved learning. This also remains for future research to investigate.

 

Nevertheless, these results suggest that mindfulness training is a positive asset in promoting attention to classroom learning tasks. It has been previously established that mindfulness training has positive benefits for children. The present study demonstrates that, mindfulness training, in school, even in young children, can be effectively implemented and can improve the students’ attention to the task at hand in the classroom.

 

So, improve behavior in the classroom with mindfulness.

 

“Students “are just craving for ways to handle and cope with their stress” in healthy and nondestructive ways. It becomes sort of like instinctive and intuitive for them to just search for alternative ways to cope with their stress that have nothing to do with drugs or alcohol or whatever destructive behavior.” – Violaine Gueritault

 

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

 

Kasson, E. M., & Wilson, A. N. (2017). Preliminary Evidence on the Efficacy of Mindfulness Combined with Traditional Classroom Management Strategies. Behavior Analysis in Practice, 10(3), 242–251. http://doi.org/10.1007/s40617-016-0160-x

 

Abstract

The current case study combined mindfulness-based strategies with a classroom behavior management treatment package, to assist teachers with managing 3rd grade student behaviors. Two teachers (Classroom teacher and Specials teacher) and six students within the same classroom were observed using a 5-min momentary time sampling procedure. A delayed multiple baseline across settings (e.g., Classroom teacher, Specials teacher) design was used to assess student behaviors across baseline (A), classroom behavior management treatment package (CBM) (B), CBM plus mindfulness (C), and CBM plus mindfulness and self-monitoring (D). Behavioral treatment alone increased on-task behaviors for four of six (66%) students compared to baseline; however, five of six (83%) students increased and sustained high rates of on-task behaviors when mindfulness exercises were added to the behavior analytic techniques. These preliminary results support the combination of mindfulness-based strategies with traditional behavior analytic interventions for increasing student on-task behaviors in classroom settings.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5622000/

What is Mindfulness

What is Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

 “Mindfulness is the aware, balanced acceptance of the present experience. It isn’t more complicated than that. It is opening to or receiving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is, without either clinging to it or rejecting it.” ~Sylvia Boorstein

 

Mindfulness has become a buzzword that is used in many contexts with many different meanings. There is no single definition that is agreed upon by the research and practitioner communities.  In fact, there are many different definitions. Arguably the most commonly used definition and the one that I prefer, is the definition proposed by Jon Kabat-Zinn. “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”

 

This definition contains a number of important components that help to better understand exactly what mindfulness is. Firstly, mindfulness is “paying attention.” But, not just letting the mind settle somewhere passively, but “on purpose.” That makes it an active process; a willful choice. With mindfulness, the mind is not aimlessly wandering. Rather it is focused.

 

The problem comes up, though, that our minds are unruly. In fact, the mind is often referred to as a “monkey mind,” implying that it jumps around in an untamed and unruly fashion. This is without a doubt true. Matt Killingsworth sampled people’s thinking at unpredictable times during the day and discovered that 47% of the time people’s minds were off-topic, that is, they were thinking about something else other than what was going on at the moment. They were not mindful almost half the time.

 

It is often a shock for people to discover that a large amount of the time they are not controlling their minds. Rather, the mind appears to be some extent controlling what they are experiencing. Most people suffer from the illusion that they are in control. So, it is eye opening to discover that frequently they are not. To get control of the mind and keep it paying attention to what is going on in the moment requires a degree of effort. But, even then the mind tends to wander off, thinking about past events, planning for the future, or simply day dreaming. Fortunately, mind wandering can be reduced with practice. But, even highly trained mindfulness practitioners have frequent lapses where the mind goes off by itself into topics far removed from the present. So, no one should expect to be able to completely control the mind, just hope to control it better.

 

A second important aspect of the definition is that, in mindfulness, attention is directed to what is occurring in the “present moment.” That seems straightforward until one tries to define exactly what portion in time is the present moment. Our first inclination is to think of the present moment as instantaneous, exactly this particular moment only. But with a little reflection it becomes obvious that what we experience as the present moment actually extends back in time a short ways and also forward slightly into the future. If it didn’t extend back in time we could never see motion, as we wouldn’t be aware of a change from a previously seen position. For that matter, we wouldn’t be able to hear a full word, only the immediate sound. Obviously this is not the case, because the present moment actually contains a little bit of the past. Demonstrating that the present actually extends a little into the future is more difficult and subtle to detect. But, if we interrupt speech in the middle of a sentence, you will find that you seemingly “hear” the next syllable or word that the mind is expecting to appear or if we interrupt a movie you seemingly “see” the next frame.

 

The total amount of time constituted by the present moment is difficult to precisely define. Marc Wittmann asserts that before we can answer that question of how long is now we must first define exactly what we mean by the present moment. He identifies three different ideas of the present moment; functional moment, experienced moment, and mental presence. The most pertinent for our discussion of mindfulness is the experienced moment, the subjective present. It is an experienced now within an ongoing stream of events. For example, while listening to music a note does not stand alone in consciousness but is joined by the prior note and the expected future note. In speech, each word is perceived in reference to past and expected words, as in the phrase “how are you”. When we hear “are” we process it recognizing that it’s in reference to a question, “How” and due to our learning we also experience the “are” with the expectation of a following word “you”. It’s been estimated that the experienced moment lasts somewhere up to 3 seconds. So, when we refer to present moment awareness we are referring not to an instant but to the approximately 3 seconds that we experience as the present.

 

A third important aspect of the definition is that, in mindfulness there is no judgment of experience. This indicates that when we are mindful we are simply experiencing things as they are without evaluation. It is important to note that it is value judgments that are absent. Making judgments about the likely course of events and what actions are needed is actually a part of mindfulness. If we’re driving mindfully we are constantly judging whether we need to slow down or turn to avoid hitting another car, whether we can safely make it through a traffic light that is about to change, whether a car may pull out in front of us. If we are driving mindfully we’re making these judgments but totally aware the whole time of what is happening.

 

The non-judgmental aspect of mindfulness involves value judgments about what we’re experiencing. Things are not good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant, liked or disliked, happy or sad, worthwhile or worthless, etc. They simply are. Although seemingly simple, this is actually devilishly difficult to do. The mind has been trained pretty much since birth to judge everything. This is actually quite good and adaptive, allowing us to decide if we should approach and acquire things we need or to avoid things that could do us harm. But, the judgment goes on even when it has little consequence toward survival. So, we see another person and classify them as attractive, or smart, or boring, or obnoxious, or rich, or a fool, or friendly, or a rival, etc. We hear a loud sound and we immediately think it’s threatening, or unnecessary noise, or enjoyable, or someone being inconsiderate, etc. We taste a food and immediately think that it’s delicious, or sour, or nauseating, or healthful, etc. We are constantly judging.

 

Being non-judgmental requires quieting the mind. If left to itself, the mind will always judge. So, to be mindful we need to shut off the evaluating chatter. Just experiencing everything as it is, as a pure and simple experience. It’s actually quite amazing what happens when judgment is turned off. Suddenly, we begin to appreciate even the simplest of things which begin to shine and stand out in their own unique way. Another person is simply seen as another human being with needs and desires, and a consciousness, just like us, a reflection of our own humanness. An odor can be experienced as a unique sensation that will never be repeated exactly the same again. Just breathing can be experienced fully as a series of movements and sensations that arise and fall away and the repeat over and over again, automatically, without direction or thought, each time revitalizing and nourishing our physical being, leading to a recognition of physiology at work. These are just some of the fruits of mindfulness.

 

It is very difficult to stop the judging even for brief periods of time. But, again practice comes to the rescue. Over time, if the effort is expended, judging slowly decreases and stops for longer and longer periods of time. Don’t expect to ever be able to stop judging completely. This would be a battle with you mind that can’t be won. Just expect that you can become better at looking at things as they are without value judgments and be able to maintain it for a longer period of time.

 

The final aspect of the definition that needs amplification and discussion is the notion that mindfulness involves paying attention in “a particular way.” Unfortunately, this is a rather ambiguous phrase that actually refers to a very important component of mindfulness. The “particular way” refers to attention primarily to immediate sensory experience. It could be focused on a particular component, aspect, or thing, or it could be broadly on all that is immediately present. The key is that it is a total appreciation of what is without any attempt to hold onto it, letting it arise, and fall away without grasping at it or attempting to change it. The experiences can include feelings, bodily sensations, and the surrounding environment and even thoughts. But observing the thoughts as just another thing arising, and falling away, with no attempt to hold onto them, elaborate on them, judge them, or associate them with any other thoughts just letting them flow through awareness and fall away like a cloud passing over the horizon. In other words, thinking can be mindful if we are completely aware of what we are doing and not getting carried away and lost in the thoughts.

 

This is a rather idealized conception of mindfulness. In practice, one can be very mindful without coming even close to this description. This discourse should be looked on as describing the model, the ideal, with it understood that reality will in fact be a diluted or compromised version of this ideal. One can be very mindful and still judge the experience, as long as there’s a recognition that that is what is happening. One can be very mindful and still bring in memories from the past or plans for the future, as long as there’s an awareness that these are not an essential part of the experience but the minds embellishments. One can be very mindful and still

Try to maintain a feeling or keep an enjoyable experience going, as long as one recognizes that what you are doing is simply another part of present moment experience. It is even possible, albeit difficult, to daydream mindfully as long as you are completely aware that this is what you’re engaging in completely under willful control. In other words, mindfulness need not be perfect, it only experiencing things as they are, in the present moment, without judgment.

 

One problem with the definition is that it specifies the processes involved in mindfulness but neglects to specify exactly what entity is being mindful. It doesn’t specify who or what is attending, who or what is producing the purpose, who or what is not judging, who or what is having the immediate experience. When these questions arise, it’s a sign that the issue has moved from mindfulness to the spiritual side of mindfulness, who or what is aware. This is not the place for a discussion of these aspects of mindfulness. But, it is important to recognize that this definition and description of mindfulness only scratches the surface. There are deeper levels to mindfulness to be explored.

 

“Mindfulness is the process of actively noticing new things. When you do that, it puts you in the present. It makes you more sensitive to context and perspective. It’s the essence of engagement.” – Ellen Langer

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

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

Improve Cognition after Cancer Recovery with Mindfulness

Improve Cognition after Cancer Recovery with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Mindfulness meditation practices enable cancer survivors to better manage cancer-related cognitive impairment. MBSR provides a creative solution for survivors whose social and occupational functioning may have been negatively impacted by cognitive difficulties.” – Shelly Johns

 

Cognitive impairments are a frequent side effect of cancer treatment. This has been dubbed “chemo brain.” Patients often refer to it as a mental cloudiness. The patients report problems including forgetting things, trouble concentrating, trouble remembering details like names and dates, trouble multi-tasking, like answering the phone while cooking, taking longer to finish things, disorganized and slower thinking, and trouble remembering common words. These cognitive impairments generally produce problems with work and even social relationships such that patients tend to isolate themselves. They can also produce treatment problems as the patients often forget to take their medications.

 

These problems result from the fact that chemotherapy, radiation therapy and many cancer drugs directly affect the nervous system. At present, there are no known treatments for these cognitive impairment side effects of chemotherapy. Contemplative practices have been shown to affect memory and have positive effects on cancer treatment and recovery.  There is some evidence that contemplative practices may be useful for the alleviation of “chemo brain” symptoms. So, it makes sense to further study the ability of mindfulness training to improve the cancer patient’s cognitive abilities.

 

In today’s Research News article “Randomized controlled pilot trial of mindfulness-based stress reduction for breast and colorectal cancer survivors: effects on cancer-related cognitive impairment.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4864185/, Johns and colleagues recruited breast cancer and colorectal cancer survivors with moderate fatigue and randomly assigned them to receive either an 8-week, once a week for 2 hours, fatigue education and support or a program of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) with home practice. MBSR contains meditation, yoga, and body scan practices. The participants were measured before and after the 8-week treatment period and 6 months later for attentional function, mindfulness, and cognitive executive function with the Stroop Test.

 

They found that compared to baseline and the fatigue education group, the participants in the MBSR program demonstrated significant improvement in attentional function, including greater effective attentional actions and fewer attentional lapses. Further mediational analysis revealed that MBSR acted by increasing the ability to act with awareness which in turn increased attentional function. In addition, the MBSR group had significantly fewer errors on the Stroop Test indicating better cognitive function.  Importantly, the benefits of the MBSR program were not only significant at the end of training but also 6 months later.

 

These are interesting and potentially important results. The “Chemo Brain” resulting from cancer treatments produces significant degradation in the patient’s cognitive abilities. The results suggest that a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program can significantly produce lasting improvements in these degraded attentional abilities and thinking. MBSR appears to work, at least in part, by increasing the patient’s ability to act with awareness, thereby decreasing distractions and intrusions of off-topic thoughts. Cancer patients have suffered terribly from their disease and the treatments for the disease. It is heartening that a mindfulness practice can be so beneficial in relieving at least residual symptoms of “Chemo Brain.”

 

So, improve cognition after cancer recovery with mindfulness.

 

“Participation in a mindfulness-based stress reduction program yields robust and sustained improvement in cancer-related cognitive impairment, a prevalent and potentially debilitating condition that affects attention, memory and executive function in survivors” – CancerCommons

 

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

 

Johns, S. A., Von Ah, D., Brown, L. F., Beck-Coon, K., Talib, T. L., Alyea, J. M., … Giesler, R. B. (2016). Randomized controlled pilot trial of mindfulness-based stress reduction for breast and colorectal cancer survivors: effects on cancer-related cognitive impairment. Journal of Cancer Survivorship : Research and Practice, 10(3), 437–448. http://doi.org/10.1007/s11764-015-0494-3

 

Abstract

Purpose

Cancer-related cognitive impairment (CRCI) is a common, fatigue-related symptom that disrupts cancer survivors’ quality of life. Few interventions for CRCI exist. As part of a randomized pilot study targeting cancer-related fatigue, the effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) on survivors’ cognitive outcomes were investigated.

Methods

Breast and colorectal cancer survivors (n=71) with moderate-to-severe fatigue were randomized to MBSR (n=35) or a fatigue education and support (ES; n=36) condition. The Attentional Function Index (AFI) and the Stroop test were used to assess survivors’ cognitive function at baseline (T1), after the 8-week intervention period (T2), and 6 months later (T3) using intent-to-treat analysis. Mediation analyses were performed to explore mechanisms of intervention effects on cognitive functioning.

Results

MBSR participants reported significantly greater improvement on the AFI total score compared to ES participants at T2 (d=0.83, p=0.001) and T3 (d=0.55, p=0.021). MBSR also significantly outperformed ES on most AFI subscales, although both groups improved over time. MBSR produced greater Stroop accuracy rates relative to ES at T2 (r=0.340, p=0.005) and T3 (r=0.280, p=0.030), with improved accuracy over time only for the MBSR group. There were no significant differences in Stroop reaction time between groups. Improvements in mindfulness mediated the effect of group (e.g., MBSR vs. ES) on AFI total score at T2 and T3.

Conclusions

Additional randomized trials with more comprehensive cognitive measures are warranted to definitively assess the efficacy of MBSR for CRCI.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4864185/

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/

Improve the Aging Brain’s Cognition with Mindfulness

Improve the Aging Brain’s Cognition with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“there is a small but growing body of evidence that regular meditation really can slow ageing – at least at the cellular level.” – James Kingsland

 

Human life is one of constant change. We revel in our increases in physical and mental capacities during development, but regret their decreases during aging. The aging process involves a systematic progressive decline in every system in the body, the brain included. This includes our mental abilities which decline with age including impairments in memory, attention, problem solving ability, and emotion regulation. It is inevitable and cannot be avoided. There is some hope for these age-related declines, however, as there is evidence that they can be slowed. There are some indications that physical and mental exercise can reduce the rate of cognitive decline and lower the chances of dementia. For example, contemplative practices such as meditation, yoga, and tai chi or qigong have all been shown to be beneficial in slowing or delaying physical and mental decline with aging.

 

Using modern neuroimaging techniques, scientists have been able to view the changes that occur in the nervous system with aging. In addition, they have been able to investigate various techniques that might slow the process of neurodegeneration that accompanies normal aging. They’ve found that mindfulness practices reduce the deterioration of the brain that occurs with aging restraining the loss of neural tissue. Indeed, the brains of mindfulness practitioners have been found to degenerate less with aging than non-practitioners.

 

Since the global population of the elderly is increasing at unprecedented rates, it is imperative to investigate methods to slow physical and mental aging and mitigate its effects. In today’s Research News article “Mindful Aging: The Effects of Regular Brief Mindfulness Practice on Electrophysiological Markers of Cognitive and Affective Processing in Older Adults.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5241348/

Malinowski and colleagues recruited individuals between the ages of 55 and 75 years and randomly assigned them to either receive mindfulness training or to an active brain training. Mindfulness training consisted of breath following meditation practice. The brain training condition involved performing mental arithmetic problems that required effortful cognitive processing. Both mindfulness and braining training groups practiced for 10 minutes, 5 days per week, for eight weeks. Before and after training participants were measured for mindfulness, self-efficacy, and mental well-being and were assessed for cognitive and emotion regulation abilities by performance of an eStroop task while their brains’ electrical responses, Electroencephalogram (EEG), were recorded. In the eStroop task the participants viewed a computer screen where one to four words were presented simultaneously. The participants were asked to simply press one of four keys to indicate the number of words presented. There were four conditions; emotionally positive words (love), emotionally negative words (sad), emotionally neutral words (box), and incongruent words. In the incongruent condition the words, one, two, three, or four were presented, with the number of words different from the meaning of the words, e.g. the word three presented two times.

 

They found that from pre-test to post-test the mindfulness training, but not the brain training group increased in mindfulness and increased their response speed (reaction time) in the eStroop task under all conditions. So, the breath meditation increased mindfulness and made for quicker reactions in the cognitive task. The N2 negative going neural response occurring 0.27 to 0.34 seconds after the presentation of the words, was significantly stronger in the mindfulness than the brain training group. The electrical response was measured over the frontal central cortex, components of the network regulating attention. This result suggests that mindfulness training improves the brains ability to regulate attention.

 

This study is particularly strong because the control condition was active and required similar commitment of time and energy and belief that the treatment would produce improvements. As a result, the conclusions from the study are very clear. The results suggest that mindfulness training produces improved attentional ability resulting from improved neural responses. These effects were produced in an older group of participants. This suggests that mindfulness training may reduce the cognitive-attentional decline that normally occurs with aging.

 

This is an exciting proposition, that mindfulness training may improve our ability to cognitively age healthily. As the population continues to live longer and the number of older and elderly individuals increases, the problem of cognitive decline will place an increasing burden on caregivers and stress the healthcare system. So, being able to delay and reduce this decline could have profound effects on individuals and society. Hence, promoting mindfulness training for the elderly could reap substantial benefits for the elderly and the system that supports them in their declining years..

 

So, improve the aging brain’s cognition with mindfulness.

 

“Our modern assumptions, ideas, beliefs, and cultural narratives about growing old are too small for us to inhabit. Our thinking about aging is often hijacked by fear, negativity, and ageism. The authentic experience of aging is a source wonder, curiosity, and fascination. Mindful aging is a skillful means to embrace the process of growing older in order to cultivate a deeper understanding and appreciation of the natural flow of all life.” – Brian Alger

 

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

Malinowski, P., Moore, A. W., Mead, B. R., & Gruber, T. (2017). Mindful Aging: The Effects of Regular Brief Mindfulness Practice on Electrophysiological Markers of Cognitive and Affective Processing in Older Adults. Mindfulness, 8(1), 78–94. http://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-015-0482-8

 

Abstract

There is growing interest in the potential benefits of mindfulness meditation practices in terms of counteracting some of the cognitive effects associated with aging. Pursuing this question, the aim of the present study was to investigate the influence of mindfulness training on executive control and emotion regulation in older adults, by means of studying behavioral and electrophysiological changes. Participants, 55 to 75 years of age, were randomly allocated to an 8-week mindful breath awareness training group or an active control group engaging in brain training exercises. Before and after the training period, participants completed an emotional-counting Stroop task, designed to measure attentional control and emotion regulation processes. Concurrently, their brain activity was measured by means of 64-channel electroencephalography. The results show that engaging in just over 10 min of mindfulness practice five times per week resulted in significant improvements in behavioral (response latency) and electrophysiological (N2 event-related potential) measures related to general task performance. Analyses of the underlying cortical sources (Variable Resolution Electromagnetic Tomography, VARETA) indicate that this N2-related effect is primarily associated with changes in the right angular gyrus and other areas of the dorsal attention network. However, the study did not find the expected specific improvements in executive control and emotion regulation, which may be due to the training instructions or the relative brevity of the intervention. Overall, the results indicate that engaging in mindfulness meditation training improves the maintenance of goal-directed visuospatial attention and may be a useful strategy for counteracting cognitive decline associated with aging.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5241348/