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

 

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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/

 

Improve Connectivity of Brain Areas Underlying Executive Cognitive Function with Mindfulness

Improve Connectivity of Brain Areas Underlying Executive Cognitive Function with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Think of mindfulness practices as short routines or “gym” sessions that exercise your executive functions. Performed consistently, mindfulness practices strengthen your executive function muscles and help you to be more mindful when you need to be. “ – Casey Dixon

 

There has accumulated a large amount of research demonstrating that mindfulness has significant benefits for psychological, physical, and spiritual wellbeing. It even improves high level thinking known as executive function. Its positive effects are so widespread that it is difficult to find any other treatment of any kind with such broad beneficial effects on everything from thinking to mood and happiness to severe mental and physical illnesses. This raises the question of how mindfulness training could produce such widespread and varied benefits. One possibility is that mindfulness practice results in beneficial changes in the nervous system.

 

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, mindfulness practice appears to mold and change the brain, producing psychological, physical, and spiritual benefits.

 

In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness Meditation Training and Executive Control Network Resting State Functional Connectivity: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5489372/ ), Taren and colleagues examine the effects of mindfulness training on the underlying brain systems responsible for high level thinking, executive function. They recruited “stressed unemployed job-seeking community adults” and randomly assigned them to participate in a 3-day residential retreat either of intensive mindfulness meditation training or of relaxation training. The meditation retreat was a condensed version of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program that contains discussion, meditation, yoga, and body scan practices. The relaxation retreat called Health Enhancement through Relaxation (HER) included walking, stretching, and didactics performed in a relaxed manner. Before and after training the participants were measured for mindfulness and underwent brain scanning with Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), while engaged in either meditation or relaxation respectively.

 

They found that following the retreat, in comparison to baseline and the relaxation group, the mindfulness group had increased functional connectivity between the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and dorsal network consisting of the superior parietal lobule and supplementary eye field, and also increased functional connectivity with the ventral network consisting of the inferior frontal gyrus and the angular gyrus. These interconnected structures have been demonstrated to be important in high level, executive function, thinking. It’s quite striking that these changes in the brain can be produced by a relatively short-term, 3-day, mindfulness retreat.

 

Hence, mindfulness training appears to strengthen the connections between the brain structures that underly the highest levels of human thinking. These results suggest that intensive mindfulness training even over a relatively short period of time can produce neuroplastic changes in the brain that improve the sharing of information between these structures and these changes, in turn, produce improved thinking. This suggests the underlying neural mechanism by which mindfulness training improves thought processes.

 

So, improve connectivity of brain areas underlying executive cognitive function with mindfulness.

 

“The impact that mindfulness exerts on our brain is borne from routine: a slow, steady, and consistent reckoning of our realities, and the ability to take a step back, become more aware, more accepting, less judgmental, and less reactive. Just as playing the piano over and over again over time strengthens and supports brain networks involved with playing music, mindfulness over time can make the brain, and thus, us, more efficient regulators, with a penchant for pausing to respond to our worlds instead of mindlessly reacting.” – Jennifer Wolkin

 

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

 

Taren, A. A., Gianaros, P. J., Greco, C. M., Lindsay, E. K., Fairgrieve, A., Brown, K. W., … Creswell, J. D. (2017). Mindfulness Meditation Training and Executive Control Network Resting State Functional Connectivity: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Psychosomatic Medicine, 79(6), 674–683. http://doi.org/10.1097/PSY.0000000000000466

 

Abstract

Objective

Mindfulness meditation training has been previously shown to enhance behavioral measures of executive control (e.g. attention, working memory, cognitive control), but the neural mechanisms underlying these improvements are largely unknown. Here, we test whether mindfulness training interventions foster executive control by strengthening functional connections between dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) – a hub of the executive control network – and frontoparietal regions that coordinate executive function.

Methods

Thirty-five adults with elevated levels of psychological distress participated in a 3 day RCT of intensive mindfulness meditation or relaxation training. Participants completed a resting state fMRI scan before and after the intervention. We tested whether mindfulness meditation training increased resting state functional connectivity (rsFC) between dlPFC and frontoparietal control network regions.

Results

Left dlPFC showed increased connectivity to the right inferior frontal gyrus (T = 3.74), right middle frontal gyrus (T = 3.98), right supplementary eye field (T = 4.29), right parietal cortex (T = 4.44), and left middle temporal gyrus (T = 3.97; all p<0.05) following mindfulness training relative to the relaxation control. Right dlPFC showed increased connectivity to right middle frontal gyrus (T = 4.97, p < 0.05).

Conclusions

We report that mindfulness training increases rsFC between dlPFC and dorsal network (superior parietal lobule, supplementary eye field, MFG) and ventral network (right IFG, middle temporal/angular gyrus) regions. These findings extend previous work showing increased functional connectivity amongst brain regions associated with executive function during active meditation by identifying specific neural circuits in which rsFC is enhanced by a mindfulness intervention in individuals with high levels of psychological distress.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5489372/

 

Brain Structures Involved in Memory are Different in Yoga Practitioners

Brain Structures Involved in Memory are Different in Yoga Practitioners

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“You may know that yoga is a good form of exercise that gets your blood circulation going, improves oxygen flow, and helps with overall health. But did you know that yoga also helps boost brain function? Research has found that regular practice of yoga increases gray matter and the size of the memory centers in the brain, increases overall brain wave activity and improves cognition, improves mood, relieves depression and anxiety, and improves stress response, and enhances focus and memory in kids (even with ADHD) and improves learning and academic performance.” Curejoy

 

The practice of yoga has many benefits for the individual’s physical and psychological health. Yoga has diverse effects because it is itself diverse having components of exercise, mindfulness meditation, and spirituality. So, yoga nourishes the body, mind, and spirit. As a result, yoga practice would be expected to produce physical changes. These include the relaxation response and stress relief. These should be obvious in the muscles, tendons and joints, but, less obvious in the nervous system. The nervous system changes in response to how it is used and how it is stimulated in a process called neuroplasticity. Highly used areas grow in size and connectivity. Mindfulness practices in general are known to produce these kinds of changes in the structure and activity of the brain. Indeed, yoga practice has been shown to protect the brain from age related degeneration.

 

In today’s Research News article “Differences in Brain Structure and Function Among Yoga Practitioners and Controls.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6023989/ ), Gothe and colleagues recruited experienced yoga practitioners who had been practicing for at least 3 years (average 9.3 years, 4.3 times for 4.4 hours per week ) and control participants who had never practiced yoga. The average age was 36 years and 92% female. Their brains were scanned with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) while they were performing a simple working memory task.

 

They found that the yoga practitioners had significantly larger left hippocampi than controls. The yoga practitioners also had significantly lower activation of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex during the memory task. Both the hippocampus and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex are associated with memory processing. Hence, yoga practitioners have altered brain structures underlying memory.

 

It should be kept in mind that the people who choose to practice yoga may be significantly different from people who choose not to in a large number of ways, including their brains. So, it is impossible to tell whether yoga practice is responsible for the differences in the brains. Future, long-term research needs to study the brain changes that occur from the beginning to long experience practicing yoga. In addition, yoga practice has a variety of components, including exercise, mindfulness meditation, and spirituality. It remains for future research to begin to identify which components or combination of components are necessary and sufficient for the neuroplastic changes in the brain.

 

Regardless, it appears that yoga practice is associated with brains that are different from non-practitioners and these differences may signify yoga produced changes in the brain that improve memory function.

 

“Yoga seems to bestow mental benefits, such as a calmer, more relaxed mind. Now research . . . may explain how. Using MRI scans, Villemure detected more gray matter—brain cells—in certain brain areas in people who regularly practiced yoga, as compared with control subjects. “We found that with more hours of practice per week, certain areas were more enlarged,” a finding that hints that yoga was a contributing factor to the brain gains.” – Stephanie Sutherland

 

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

 

Gothe, N. P., Hayes, J. M., Temali, C., & Damoiseaux, J. S. (2018). Differences in Brain Structure and Function Among Yoga Practitioners and Controls. Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience, 12, 26. http://doi.org/10.3389/fnint.2018.00026

 

Abstract

Background: Yoga is a mind-body based physical activity that has demonstrated a variety of physiological, psychological and cognitive health benefits. Although yoga practice has shown to improve cognitive performance, few studies have examined the underlying neurological correlates.

Objective: The current study aimed to determine the differences in gray matter volume of the hippocampus, thalamus and caudate nucleus and brain activation during the Sternberg working memory task.

Method: Participants were 13 experienced yoga practitioners (mean age = 35.8), defined as having more than 3 years of regular yoga practice, and 13 age- and sex-matched controls (mean age = 35.7). All participants completed a 6-min walk test to assess fitness, psychosocial and demographic questionnaires; and underwent magnetic resonance imaging to assess gray matter volume and brain activation.

Results: There were no group differences on demographic measures of income, education and on estimated VO2max or physical activity levels. Gray matter volume differences were observed in the left hippocampus, showing greater volume in experienced yoga practitioners compared to controls (p = 0.017). The functional MRI results revealed less activation in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex in yoga practitioners compared to controls during the encoding phase of the Sternberg task (p < 0.05). Reaction time and accuracy on the task did not differ between the groups.

Conclusions: Our results suggest an association between regular long-term yoga practice and differential structure and function of specific brain regions involved in executive function, specifically working memory, which has previously shown to improve with yoga practice. Future studies need to examine intervention effects of yoga and explore its potential to maintain and improve cognitive health across the lifespan through longitudinal and intervention studies.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6023989/

 

Withstand Rejection Better with Mindfulness

Withstand Rejection Better with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“People who have greater levels of mindfulness — or the tendency to maintain attention on and awareness of the present moment — are better able to cope with the pain of being rejected by others.” – Brian McNeill

 

Humans are social animals. This is a great asset for the species as the effort of the individual is amplified by cooperation. In primitive times, this cooperation was essential for survival. But in modern times it is also essential, not for survival but rather for making a living and for the happiness of the individual. This ability to cooperate is so essential to human flourishing that it is built deep into our DNA and is reflected in the structure of the human nervous system. This deep need for positive social interactions heightens the pain of social rejection.

 

Mindfulness has been found to increase prosocial behaviors such as altruism, compassion and empathy and reduce antisocial behaviors such as violence and aggression. It can also improve the individual’s ability to respond adaptively to strong emotions. So, it is possible that mindfulness may work to counter the effects of social rejection. In today’s Research News article “When less is more: mindfulness predicts adaptive affective responding to rejection via reduced prefrontal recruitment.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6022565/ ), Martelli and colleagues examine the relationship of mindfulness to the ability to cope with social rejection and its relationship to brain structure and connectivity.

 

They recruited healthy undergraduate students and measured them for mindfulness and social distress. They then played a video game while having their brain scanned with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). The game was called “Cyberball” which the participant believed they were playing on-line with others. The players tossed a “ball” to each others. After a while the participant stopped receiving the “ball” from other players simulating social rejection. They were then measured again for social distress.

 

They found that after the social “rejection” that the participants who were high in mindfulness were significantly lower in social distress. This suggests that mindfulness tends to protect the individual from the negative emotions associated with social rejection. In addition, they found that the high mindfulness was associated with lower activation of the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex and less connectivity of the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex with the Amygdala and dorsal anterior cingulate cortex. This lower activity and connectivity was associated with lower social distress following social rejection.

 

This study employs a fairly artificial method to simulate the social distress produced by rejection. But, the participants reported ignorance that the game was not actually being played socially and the “rejection” appeared to increase distress. So, the lab task appeared to be valid. It should be kept in mind, however, that the findings are correlational and as a result no conclusions can be reached regarding causation. Future research should investigate the impact of mindfulness training on the social distress produced by rejection.

 

The results of the fMRI scans suggest that activation of a brain network including the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, amygdala, and dorsal anterior cingulate cortex are involved in social distress and that mindfulness is associated with lower activity in these structures resulting in less social distress. So, mindfulness may work to dampen brain activity that’s involved in social distress helping to protect the individual from the negative emotions produced by social rejection.

 

Rejection can be devastating to an individual. It can produce strong negative emotions. The fact that mindfulness appears to help the individual cope with the rejection is and important benefit of mindfulness. It further suggests that people suffering from social anxiety might benefit from mindfulness training. Indeed, previous research indicates exactly that. Mindfulness training is an effective treatment for social anxiety disorder.

 

So, withstand rejection better with mindfulness.

 

“Mindful individuals are not as distressed by social rejection.  Mindful individuals appear to successfully regulate distressing emotions by not using effortful, inhibitory processes that suppress their feelings of social pain.” – Shawna Freshwater

 

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

 

Martelli, A. M., Chester, D. S., Warren Brown, K., Eisenberger, N. I., & DeWall, C. N. (2018). When less is more: mindfulness predicts adaptive affective responding to rejection via reduced prefrontal recruitment. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 13(6), 648–655. http://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsy037

 

Abstract

Social rejection is a distressing and painful event that many people must cope with on a frequent basis. Mindfulness—defined here as a mental state of receptive attentiveness to internal and external stimuli as they arise, moment-to-moment—may buffer such social distress. However, little research indicates whether mindful individuals adaptively regulate the distress of rejection—or the neural mechanisms underlying this potential capacity. To fill these gaps in the literature, participants reported their trait mindfulness and then completed a social rejection paradigm (Cyberball) while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging. Approximately 1 hour after the rejection incident, participants reported their level of distress during rejection (i.e. social distress). Mindfulness was associated with less distress during rejection. This relation was mediated by lower activation in the left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex during the rejection incident, a brain region reliably associated with the inhibition of negative affect. Mindfulness was also correlated with less functional connectivity between the left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex and the bilateral amygdala and the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, which play a critical role in the generation of social distress. Mindfulness may relate to effective coping with rejection by not over-activating top-down regulatory mechanisms, potentially resulting in more effective long-term emotion-regulation.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6022565/

 

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/

 

Relaxation and Mindfulness Training Have Differing Psychological and Neural Effects

Relaxation and Mindfulness Training Have Differing Psychological and Neural Effects

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“this practice of nonjudgmental self-awareness is one of the most effective ways to improve mood and anxiety.” – Neda Gould

 

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 training effects is that there are, a wide variety of mindfulness 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. 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.

 

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.  In today’s Research News article “Common and Dissociable Neural Activity After Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Relaxation Response Programs.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5976535/ ), Sevinc and colleagues recruited adults and randomly assigned them to receive 8 weekly 2-hour group sessions with 20 minutes of daily home practice with guided recordings of either a Relaxation Response program or a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program.

 

In the Relaxation Response program, the participants practiced a body scan with emphasis on relaxation and focused meditation on the breath in a 20-minute session. In the MBSR program the participants practiced body scan with focus on awareness of the sensations from the body for 2 weeks, yoga for 2 weeks, and open monitoring meditation for 2 weeks. The last 2 weeks the participants could chose whichever of the practices they wanted to perform. They were measured before and after training for perceived stress, mindfulness, self-compassion, rumination, and life stressors. They also underwent Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) while they listened to a guided recording for the body scan from their home practices.

 

They found that both practices equivalently reduced perceived stress and increased mindfulness. But the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program also significantly increased self-compassion and decreased rumination. Interestingly, although both practices produced increases functional connectivity between the prefrontal cortex and motor cortex, the two practices also produced different connectivities. When the body scan was practiced with emphasis on relaxation there was increased functional connectivity was with the right inferior frontal gyrus. This is an area that’s involved in behavioral inhibition. On the other hand, when the body scan was practiced with emphasis on awareness of sensations there was increased functional connectivity between the Insula and Cingulate Cortex, areas associated with sensory awareness.

 

Hence, although both practices were beneficial, the MBSR program appears to create better psychological well-being. In addition, the body scan technique used in the MBSR program, emphasizing sensory awareness, appears to increase the connectivity between brain areas that are involved in sensory awareness. On the other hand, a relaxation instruction with the body scan appears to produce increased brain systems devoted to restraining responses. Different mindfulness techniques produced different psychological and neural outcomes. Both appear to improve stress responding and mindfulness, but the MBSR program also produces better compassion for the self and less repetitive negative thinking, rumination.

 

So, there may be a place for the relaxation response program, but with these otherwise healthy adults, the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program appears to produce superior results.

 

 “If you have unproductive worries,” you can train yourself to experience those thoughts completely differently. “You might think ‘I’m late, I might lose my job if I don’t get there on time, and it will be a disaster!’ Mindfulness teaches you to recognize, ‘Oh, there’s that thought again. I’ve been here before. But it’s just that—a thought, and not a part of my core self,’” – Elizabeth Hoge

 

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

 

Sevinc, G., Hölzel, B. K., Hashmi, J., Greenberg, J., McCallister, A., Treadway, M., … Lazar, S. W. (2018). Common and Dissociable Neural Activity After Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Relaxation Response Programs. Psychosomatic Medicine, 80(5), 439–451. http://doi.org/10.1097/PSY.0000000000000590

 

ABSTRACT

Objective

We investigated common and dissociable neural and psychological correlates of two widely used meditation-based stress reduction programs.

Methods

Participants were randomized to the Relaxation Response (RR; n = 18; 56% female) or the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR; n = 16; 56% female) programs. Both programs use a “bodyscan” meditation; however, the RR program explicitly emphasizes physical relaxation during this practice, whereas the MBSR program emphasizes mindful awareness with no explicit relaxation instructions. After the programs, neural activity during the respective meditation was investigated using functional magnetic resonance imaging.

Results

Both programs were associated with reduced stress (for RR, from 14.1 ± 6.6 to 11.3 ± 5.5 [Cohen’s d = 0.50; for MBSR, from 17.7 ± 5.7 to 11.9 ± 5.0 [Cohen’s d = 1.02]). Conjunction analyses revealed functional coupling between ventromedial prefrontal regions and supplementary motor areas (p < .001). The disjunction analysis indicated that the RR bodyscan was associated with stronger functional connectivity of the right inferior frontal gyrus—an important hub of intentional inhibition and control—with supplementary motor areas (p < .001, family-wise error [FWE] rate corrected). The MBSR program was uniquely associated with improvements in self-compassion and rumination, and the within-group analysis of MBSR bodyscan revealed significant functional connectivity of the right anterior insula—an important hub of sensory awareness and salience—with pregenual anterior cingulate during bodyscan meditation compared with rest (p = .03, FWE corrected).

Conclusions

The bodyscan exercises in each program were associated with both overlapping and differential functional coupling patterns, which were consistent with each program’s theoretical foundation. These results may have implications for the differential effects of these programs for the treatment of diverse conditions.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5976535/

 

Improve Brain Size and Function in Healthy Elderly with Tai Chi

Improve Brain Size and Function in Healthy Elderly with Tai Chi

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Epidemiologic studies have shown repeatedly that individuals who engage in more physical exercise or are more socially active have a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease. The current findings suggest that this may be a result of growth and preservation of critical regions of the brain affected by this illness.” –  James Mortimer

 

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, and problem solving ability. It is inevitable and cannot be avoided. 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 practitioners of meditation and yoga have been found to degenerate less with aging than non-practitioners.

 

Tai Chi and Qigong have also been shown to be beneficial in slowing or delaying physical and mental decline with aging and to increase brain matter in the elderly. In today’s Research News article “The Effects of Tai Chi Intervention on Healthy Elderly by Means of Neuroimaging and EEG: A Systematic Review.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5915963/ ), Pan and colleagues review, summarize, and perform a meta-analysis of the 11 published research articles that examine the effects of Tai Chi practice on the brain of the elderly.

 

They find that there was 1 published study reporting that long-term Tai Chi practitioners have a thicker cortex in the brain. This is interesting but it cannot be determined if people who practice Tai Chi are simply people who have thicker cortexes. Other studies using functional Magnetic Imaging (fMRI) indicate that Tai Chi results in increased connectivity between brain structures and increased functional activity in the brain, so there is greater activity and signals are better sent from one area to another. Still other studies employing electroencephalographic (EEG) recordings indicate that Tai Chi produces greater electrical activity in the frontal areas of the cortex that are known to be involved in high level cognitive function (executive function)

 

One weakness in the studies is that the comparison groups are most often sedentary, not engaging in any exercise. As a result, it cannot be determined if the changes in the brain are due to Tai Chi per se or whether any form of exercise might have a similar effect. Future research should employ comparisons to groups performing other exercises.

 

Nevertheless, the results are encouraging; suggesting that Tai Chi can alter the brain in ways that may improve memory and cognitive performance. Significantly, Tai Chi practice is gentle and completely safe, can be used with the elderly and sickly, is inexpensive to administer, can be performed in groups or alone, at home or in a facility or even public park, and can be quickly learned. Also, it can be practiced in social groups without professional supervision. This can make it fun, improving the likelihood of long-term engagement in the practice. So, Tai Chi practice may be ideal for slowing or reversing age-related deterioration of the brain and the related cognitive decline.

 

So, improve brain size and function in healthy elderly with Tai Chi.

 

“The ability to reverse this trend with physical exercise and increased mental activity implies that it may be possible to delay the onset of dementia in older persons through interventions that have many physical and mental health benefits.” –  James Mortimer

 

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

 

Pan, Z., Su, X., Fang, Q., Hou, L., Lee, Y., Chen, C. C., … Kim, M.-L. (2018). The Effects of Tai Chi Intervention on Healthy Elderly by Means of Neuroimaging and EEG: A Systematic Review. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, 10, 110. http://doi.org/10.3389/fnagi.2018.00110

 

Abstract

Aging is a process associated with a decline in cognitive and motor functions, which can be attributed to neurological changes in the brain. Tai Chi, a multimodal mind-body exercise, can be practiced by people across all ages. Previous research identified effects of Tai Chi practice on delaying cognitive and motor degeneration. Benefits in behavioral performance included improved fine and gross motor skills, postural control, muscle strength, and so forth. Neural plasticity remained in the aging brain implies that Tai Chi-associated benefits may not be limited to the behavioral level. Instead, neurological changes in the human brain play a significant role in corresponding to the behavioral improvement. However, previous studies mainly focused on the effects of behavioral performance, leaving neurological changes largely unknown. This systematic review summarized extant studies that used brain imaging techniques and EEG to examine the effects of Tai Chi on older adults. Eleven articles were eligible for the final review. Three neuroimaging techniques including fMRI (N = 6), EEG (N = 4), and MRI (N = 1), were employed for different study interests. Significant changes were reported on subjects’ cortical thickness, functional connectivity and homogeneity of the brain, and executive network neural function after Tai Chi intervention. The findings suggested that Tai Chi intervention give rise to beneficial neurological changes in the human brain. Future research should develop valid and convincing study design by applying neuroimaging techniques to detect effects of Tai Chi intervention on the central nervous system of older adults. By integrating neuroimaging techniques into randomized controlled trials involved with Tai Chi intervention, researchers can extend the current research focus from behavioral domain to neurological level.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5915963/

 

Strengthen the Brain’s Interoceptive Networks with Mindfulness

Strengthen the Brain’s Interoceptive Networks with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“mindfulness strengthens interoception, operationalized here as the mean insula connection strength within the overall connectome.” – Strong et al.

 

Most of us spend the majority of our lives lost in thought. Even when we become aware of our surroundings it is principally of the sights and sounds surrounding us. It is usually only when something is very wrong that we become aware of our bodies, what is called interoceptive awareness. We are generally unaware of the signals from our bodies such as the breath, movements in the GI tract, heart beats accompanied with surges in blood pressure, the sensations from our muscles and joints, even the sensations from our skin. Adding to the lack of awareness of our bodies we are also unaware of our implicit beliefs and attitudes about our bodies and the emotions that accompany these attitudes.

 

To exemplify this, just for a moment start paying attention to the sensations coming from the contact of your clothing with your skin. You were in all probability totally unaware of these sensations until your attention was directed toward them. Now notice the feelings from your facial muscles. Are they tense, relaxed, or something in-between. You probably were not aware of their state yet they can be good indicators of stress and your emotional state. This can be a real problem as interoceptive awareness is extremely important for our awareness of our emotional state which is in turn needed to regulate and respond appropriately to the emotions. Being aware of the state of our bodies is also important for maintaining health, both for recognizing our physical state and also for making appropriate decisions about health-related behaviors. Interoceptive awareness is even fundamental to our sense of self and world view.

 

Most contemplative practices focus attention on our internal state and thus improve our body awareness. But, in fact there is little empirical evidence on how this is accomplished. The insula cortex is a large piece of cerebral cortex has been covered and is buried deep inside at the juncture of the parietal, temporal, and frontal lobes. The insula is highly interconnected with a wide variety of other cortical and subcortical areas of the brain and it has been implicated in interoceptive awareness. So, changes in the insula may well reflect changes in interoceptive awareness. This suggests that mindfulness training would produce changes in the insula cortex.

 

In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness training induces structural connectome changes in insula networks.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5962606/ ), Sharp and colleagues examined the Magnetic Resonance Images (MRIs) from two groups of participants in a larger study. Both groups had received cognitive training plus physical fitness training, while one group received an additional mindfulness training. Training consisted of 3 70-minute training sessions per week for 16 weeks. Functional Magnetic Resonance Images (f-MRIs) were obtained before and after training as well as a subjective interoceptive awareness measure.

 

They found that only after the training that included mindfulness training was there a significant increase in the strength of the connections between the insula cortex on the right side of the brain and the rest of the brain. These results suggest that mindfulness training alters the connectivity of the brain region that underlies interoceptive awareness. This may explain how mindfulness training improves body awareness and in turn the ability to sense and regulate emotions. Because emotion regulation is so fundamental to psychological health, these findings could explain how mindfulness training improves mental health and relieves mental illness.

 

So, strengthen the brain’s interoceptive networks with mindfulness.

 

“”Mindfulness” is a capacity for heightened present-moment awareness that we all possess to a greater or lesser extent. Training this capacity seems to have a quieting effect on brain areas associated with our subjective appraisal of our self. By considering thoughts and feelings as transitory mental events that occur, but are separate from the self, people are able to lessen their hold on their worries and positive mental health outcomes follow.” – Sian Bellock

 

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

 

Paul B. Sharp, Bradley P. Sutton, Erick J. Paul, Nikolai Sherepa, Charles H. Hillman, Neal J. Cohen, Arthur F. Kramer, Ruchika Shaurya Prakash, Wendy Heller, Eva H. Telzer, Aron K. Barbey. Mindfulness training induces structural connectome changes in insula networks. Sci Rep. 2018; 8: 7929. Published online 2018 May 21. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-26268-w

 

Abstract

Although mindfulness meditation is known to provide a wealth of psychological benefits, the neural mechanisms involved in these effects remain to be well characterized. A central question is whether the observed benefits of mindfulness training derive from specific changes in the structural brain connectome that do not result from alternative forms of experimental intervention. Measures of whole-brain and node-level structural connectome changes induced by mindfulness training were compared with those induced by cognitive and physical fitness training within a large, multi-group intervention protocol (n = 86). Whole-brain analyses examined global graph-theoretical changes in structural network topology. A hypothesis-driven approach was taken to investigate connectivity changes within the insula, which was predicted here to mediate interoceptive awareness skills that have been shown to improve through mindfulness training. No global changes were observed in whole-brain network topology. However, node-level results confirmed a priori hypotheses, demonstrating significant increases in mean connection strength in right insula across all of its connections. Present findings suggest that mindfulness strengthens interoception, operationalized here as the mean insula connection strength within the overall connectome. This finding further elucidates the neural mechanisms of mindfulness meditation and motivates new perspectives about the unique benefits of mindfulness training compared to contemporary cognitive and physical fitness interventions.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5962606/

 

Increase Brain Matter and Memory in Aging with Tai Chi

 

Increase Brain Matter and Memory in Aging with Tai Chi

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Tai Chi can be used as exercise to improve the body, as well as reversing the natural tendency for the brain to shrink with age.” – Functional Aging Institute

 

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, and problem solving ability. It is inevitable and cannot be avoided. 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 practitioners of meditation and yoga have been found to degenerate less with aging than non-practitioners.

 

Hence, there is some hope for age related cognitive decline, as there is evidence that it 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 meditationyoga, and Tai Chi and Qigong have all been shown to be beneficial in slowing or delaying physical and mental decline with aging. Mindfulness practices have been shown to improve cognitive processes while gentle mindful exercises such as Tai Chi and Qigong have been shown to slow age related cognitive decline. It would seem reasonable to hypothesize that Tai Chi and Baduanjin practices might decrease age related decreases in cognitive ability and degeneration of the nervous system.

 

In today’s Research News article “Tai Chi Chuan and Baduanjin increase grey matter volume in older adults: a brain imaging study.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5659386/ ), Tao and colleagues recruited healthy sedentary older adults (50-70 years of age) and randomly assigned them to receive either Tai Chi practice, Baduanjin practice (a very similar practice to Tai Chi), or no-treatment. Practice occurred for 12 weeks, 5 days per week, for 1 hour. Before and after training the participants underwent Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans of their brains. They were also measured for memory ability.

 

They found that in comparison to baseline and control participants, the Tai Chi or Baduanjin practice participants had significant increases in the amount of grey matter in the left insula, left putamen, left parahippocampus/hippocampus, left amygdala, and left inferior temporal lobe. Hence, Tai Chi or Baduanjin practice appeared to produce increases in neural tissue. In addition, the Tai Chi or Baduanjin practice participants had significant increases in overall memory ability and visual reproduction memory. These improvements in memory were related to the increases in grey matter, with large increases in neural tissue associated with large improvements in memory. Hence, Tai Chi or Baduanjin practice not only increased neural tissue and memory, but the increases in both changed together in the same direction.

 

Caution must be taken in interpreting these results as the control condition was inactive. As a result, it cannot be determined if Tai Chi or Baduanjin practice per se or any form of exercise could produce comparable benefits. Further research is needed employing other forms of exercise to compare to the effects of Tai Chi or Baduanjin practice.

 

Nonetheless, these results are interesting and exciting. They suggest that Tai Chi or Baduanjin practice can reduce or possibly reverse brain degeneration and cognitive decline associated with aging. By engaging in these mindful movement practices aging individuals appear to preserve their brains and their mental ability. In addition, the fact that these practices are safe, convenient, low cost, and social suggests that they can be widely applied to the aging population.

 

So, increase brain matter and memory in aging with Tai Chi.

 

“Keep your brain younger longer by adding tai chi to your workout routine.” – Linda Melone

 

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

 

Tao, J., Liu, J., Liu, W., Huang, J., Xue, X., Chen, X., … Kong, J. (2017). Tai Chi Chuan and Baduanjin increase grey matter volume in older adults: a brain imaging study. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease : JAD, 60(2), 389–400. http://doi.org/10.3233/JAD-170477

 

Abstract

The aim of this study is to investigate and compare how 12-weeks of Tai Chi Chuan and Baduanjin exercise can modulate brain structure and memory function in older adults. Magnetic Resonance Imaging(MRI) and memory function measurements (Wechsler Memory Scale-Chinese revised, WMS-CR)were applied at both the beginning and end of the study. Results showed that both Tai Chi Chuan and Baduanjin could significantly increase grey matter volume (GMV) in the insula, medial temporal lobe (MTL), and putamen after 12-weeks of exercise. No significant differences were observed in grey matter volume (GMV) between the Tai Chi Chuan and Baduanjin groups. We also found that compared to healthy controls, Tai Chi Chuan and Baduanjin significantly improved visual reproduction subscores on the WMS-CR. Baduanjin also improved mental control, recognition, touch and comprehension memory subscores of the WMS-CR compared to the control group. Memory quotient (MQ)and visual reproduction subscores were both associated with GMV increases in the putamen and hippocampus. Our results demonstrate the potential of Tai Chi Chuan and Baduanjin exercise for the prevention of memory deficits in older adults.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5659386/

Improve Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with Mindfulness

Improve Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

Overall, there is a lot of evidence supporting mindfulness as a treatment approach for adults with PTSD, and a recent burgeoning literature corroborating positive neurological changes is following suit.” – Jennifer Wolkin

 

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 training has been found to be particularly effectiveMindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) has been found to improve PTSD symptoms. It has been shown that mindfulness practices can alter the brain structures and connectivity and this may underlie the beneficial effects of mindfulness on PTSD.

 

In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness-based treatments for posttraumatic stress disorder: a review of the treatment literature and neurobiological evidence.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5747539/ ), Boyd and colleagues review and summarize the published research literature on the effects of mindfulness training on the brain and its relationship to improvements in PTSD symptoms. They report that there is substantial evidence that a variety of mindfulness-based treatments including Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), and Loving Kindness Meditation are effective for relieving the symptoms of PTSD.

 

In regards to brain function, they report that mindfulness practices result in greater activity in the prefrontal cortex, structures that are involved in higher level thought processes and attention and lower activity in the amygdala region that is associated with emotional arousal. In addition, there is increased connectivity between these two regions. This could explain the ability of mindfulness practices to reduce hyperarousal and emotionality with more rational thought and improvement in emotional regulation. In addition, they report that a series of midline cortical structures labelled the default mode network (DMN) have increased connectivity, suggesting an improvement in self-referential thinking.

 

There is increased activity in a series of cortical structures that connect to lower centers in the brain labelled the salience network (SN) that appears to be involved in detecting particularly important stimuli and regulating emotional responses to them. This may result in the PTSD sufferer having a greater ability to respond appropriately to things in the environment that may have previously produced flashbacks and hyperarousal. Finally, mindfulness training appears to improve the activity and connectivity of the brain’s Central Executive Network (CEN), including dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the posterior parietal cortex, that is associated with high level thinking.

 

These findings suggest that mindfulness training alters brain function to increase thinking and reasoning in contrast to emotional arousal. This is exactly what the PTSD patient needs as PTSD tends to produce the opposite pattern with decreased reasoning and increased emotional responding. Hence these findings suggest that mindfulness training acts on the nervous system to counter the abnormal brain responses that occur with PTSD and thereby relieve the symptoms of PTSD. Obviously much more research is needed. But a coherent picture is emerging of the alterations in the nervous system produced by mindfulness training that are responsible for its beneficial effects on the symptoms of PTSD.

 

So, improve post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with mindfulness.

 

“This type of attention training may help patients notice when they are stuck in a negative pattern of thought or rumination and make it a little easier to shift their attention to other things. And if you think about what mindfulness meditation is, that makes perfect sense. The ‘muscle’ that you are training is the ability to catch yourself when you are not thinking about your breath and move it to something else.” – Tony King

 

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

 

Jenna E. Boyd, Ruth A. Lanius, Margaret C. McKinnon. Mindfulness-based treatments for posttraumatic stress disorder: a review of the treatment literature and neurobiological evidence. J Psychiatry Neurosci. 2018 Jan; 43(1): 7–25. Published online 2017 Oct 3. doi: 10.1503/jpn.170021

 

Abstract

Mindfulness-based treatments for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have emerged as promising adjunctive or alternative intervention approaches. A scoping review of the literature on PTSD treatment studies, including approaches such as mindfulness-based stress reduction, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy and metta mindfulness, reveals low attrition with medium to large effect sizes. We review the convergence between neurobiological models of PTSD and neuroimaging findings in the mindfulness literature, where mindfulness interventions may target emotional under- and overmodulation, both of which are critical features of PTSD symptomatology. Recent emerging work indicates that mindfulness-based treatments may also be effective in restoring connectivity between large-scale brain networks among individuals with PTSD, including connectivity between the default mode network and the central executive and salience networks. Future directions, including further identification of the neurobiological mechanisms of mindfulness interventions in patients with PTSD and direct comparison of these interventions to first-line treatments for PTSD are discussed.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5747539/