Protect the Aging Brain with Yoga

Protect the Aging Brain with Yoga

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“We’ve all known yogis who seemed to defy the hands of time. The current study is just one of a long list of studies indicating that yoga may promote healthy aging. Whether it be more growth hormone or less stress, a well-balanced yoga practice is good for you.” – Grace Bullock

 

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. Starting in the 20s there is a progressive decrease in the volume of the brain as we age. But, 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 have found that meditation practice appears to mold and change the brain, producing psychological, physical, and spiritual benefits. 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.

 

In today’s Research News article “Greater Cortical Thickness in Elderly Female Yoga Practitioners—A Cross-Sectional Study.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5476728/, Afonso and colleagues recruited women over 60 years of age with at least 8 years of Hatha yoga practice and a group of women, matched for age, education and physical activity, who had never practiced yoga, meditation, or other mind-body practices. They were measured for their ability to perform daily tasks of living, depression, and cognitive function. All participants underwent brain scanning with Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI).

 

They found that the yoga practitioners had significantly greater cortical thickness in the frontal lobes than the control group while there were no areas where the yoga practitioners had significantly less cortical thickness. Hence, the practice of yoga appears to protect the prefrontal cortical areas from age related degeneration. This replicates previous findings that mindfulness practices, in general, increase the size of the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal areas are important for high level thinking, including attention, behavioral inhibition, and executive functions. Hence, their preservation is important for the maintenance of cognitive ability with aging. So, the practice of yoga should be viewed as an important means to preserve the brain and mental ability and thereby age successfully.

 

So, protect the aging brain with yoga.

 

“scientifically and medically, most of the claims made for yoga practice stand up. The benefits on both body and mind are legion. The anti-ageing impact is profound. Doing yoga reduces back pain, improves balance and muscle strength and reverses muscle loss. It improves symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, menopausal symptoms, even the control of type 2 diabetes. It decreases anxiety and depression. It hugely enhances flexibility. There are endless sound academic sources to back up these statements as well as the testimony of countless practitioners.” – Carla McKay

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

 

Afonso, R. F., Balardin, J. B., Lazar, S., Sato, J. R., Igarashi, N., Santaella, D. F., … Kozasa, E. H. (2017). Greater Cortical Thickness in Elderly Female Yoga Practitioners—A Cross-Sectional Study. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, 9, 201. http://doi.org/10.3389/fnagi.2017.00201

 

Abstract

Yoga, a mind-body activity that requires attentional engagement, has been associated with positive changes in brain structure and function, especially in areas related to awareness, attention, executive functions and memory. Normal aging, on the other hand, has also been associated with structural and functional brain changes, but these generally involve decreased cognitive functions. The aim of this cross-sectional study was to compare brain cortical thickness (CT) in elderly yoga practitioners and a group of age-matched healthy non-practitioners. We tested 21 older women who had practiced hatha yoga for at least 8 years and 21 women naive to yoga, meditation or any mind-body interventions who were matched to the first group in age, years of formal education and physical activity level. A T1-weighted MPRAGE sequence was acquired for each participant. Yoga practitioners showed significantly greater CT in a left prefrontal lobe cluster, which included portions of the lateral middle frontal gyrus, anterior superior frontal gyrus and dorsal superior frontal gyrus. We found greater CT in the left prefrontal cortex of healthy elderly women who trained yoga for a minimum of 8 years compared with women in the control group.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5476728/

Improve Brain Systems Underlying Mental Well-Being with Gratitude Meditation


Improve Brain Systems Underlying Mental Well-Being with Gratitude Meditation

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

“benefit of meditation. Or, rather, some ancient benefit that is just now being confirmed with fMRI or EEG. The practice appears to have an amazing variety of neurological benefits – from changes in grey matter volume to reduced activity in the “me” centers of the brain to enhanced connectivity between brain regions.” – Alice Walton

There has accumulated a large amount of research demonstrating that meditation has significant benefits for psychological, physical, and spiritual wellbeing. 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 mood and happiness to severe mental and physical illnesses. This raises the question of how meditation could do this. 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.

These neuroplastic changes, however, result from the summation of individual changes occurring to the nervous system in real time produced by the immediate behavior. In order to better understand the process by which behavior affects the nervous system, it is important to look initially at the short-term changes produced by behavior. Loving-kindness meditation has been shown to produce improvement in the regulation of emotions and also changes the areas of the nervous system involved in emotion regulation. To better understand the processes involved it is important to look at the short-term effects of focusing on gratitude on the nervous system.

In today’s Research News article “Effects of gratitude meditation on neural network functional connectivity and brain-heart coupling.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5506019/, Kyeong and colleagues recruited meditation-naïve adults. They were measured before testing for depression, competence, relatedness, and autonomy. The participants laid in a brain scanner and were instructed to think deeply in a gratitude condition and a resentment condition while their heart rate was recorded and functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (f-MRI) was performed. In the gratitude condition the participants were instructed to think about and visualize their mother for 4 minutes and tell her in their mind how much they love and appreciate her. In the resentment condition the participants were instructed to think about and visualize a person who made them angry. The two conditions were presented in counterbalanced order to two randomly assigned groups.

They found that the heart rate was significantly lower during the gratefulness condition indicating the positive emotional effects of gratitude. In addition, they found that the functional connectivity of brain areas was significantly related to heart rate in the gratefulness condition but not the resentment condition. Hence, experiencing gratefulness connects central and peripheral mechanisms of emotion. They found that the functional connectivity of neural systems were altered during and after the two conditions. But, the gratitude condition altered the functional connectivity of brain areas associated with emotions and motivation.

These results suggest that the immediate focusing on gratitude produces momentary alterations of brain systems associated with the regulation of emotions and self-motivation. When carried out over a period of time this could sum to produce relatively permanent changes in these neural systems. This may be the mechanism by which loving-kindness meditation improves emotional well-being. These results are a useful start at unravelling the processes by which mental contents can produce relatively permanent alterations of the nervous system and thereby produce relatively permanent changes in the individual’s mood and regulation of that mood.

So, improve brain systems underlying mental well-being with gratitude meditation.

“Being distracted exacts a cost on our well-being, If we become more mindful of our everyday activities, we can learn well-being and become happier.” – Ritchie Davidson

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are available at the Contemplative Studies Blog http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/
They are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

Study Summary

Kyeong, S., Kim, J., Kim, D. J., Kim, H. E., & Kim, J.-J. (2017). Effects of gratitude meditation on neural network functional connectivity and brain-heart coupling. Scientific Reports, 7, 5058. http://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-05520-9

Abstract
A sense of gratitude is a powerful and positive experience that can promote a happier life, whereas resentment is associated with life dissatisfaction. To explore the effects of gratitude and resentment on mental well-being, we acquired functional magnetic resonance imaging and heart rate (HR) data before, during, and after the gratitude and resentment interventions. Functional connectivity (FC) analysis was conducted to identify the modulatory effects of gratitude on the default mode, emotion, and reward-motivation networks. The average HR was significantly lower during the gratitude intervention than during the resentment intervention. Temporostriatal FC showed a positive correlation with HR during the gratitude intervention, but not during the resentment intervention. Temporostriatal resting-state FC was significantly decreased after the gratitude intervention compared to the resentment intervention. After the gratitude intervention, resting-state FC of the amygdala with the right dorsomedial prefrontal cortex and left dorsal anterior cingulate cortex were positively correlated with anxiety scale and depression scale, respectively. Taken together, our findings shed light on the effect of gratitude meditation on an individual’s mental well-being, and indicate that it may be a means of improving both emotion regulation and self-motivation by modulating resting-state FC in emotion and motivation-related brain regions.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5506019/

Improve Alzheimer’s Disease Risk Factors with Mindfulness

Improve Alzheimer’s Disease Risk Factors with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“MBSR may reduce hippocampal atrophy and improve functional connectivity in the same areas of the brain most affected by Alzheimer’s disease. MBSR is a relatively simple intervention, with very little downside that may provide real promise for these individuals who have very few treatment options.” – Rebecca Wells

 

In the course of normal aging, there is a slow decline in cognitive ability. But, for some the decline can be excessive producing dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. It involves an irreversible progressive loss of mental function associated with brain degeneration. The early stages are typified by memory loss but as the disease progresses patients can lose the ability to carry on a conversation or carry on normal life functions, and eventually leads to death. In fact, Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. On average, this progression lasts about 8 years but can last as long as 20 years. Alzheimer’s typically first emerges after age 65, but can occur at younger ages.

 

It is estimated that 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease. Unfortunately, there are no known cures for Alzheimer’s disease. But, there are treatments that can help relieve the symptoms. These include drug treatments. Recently, mindfulness practices have been shown to improve the symptoms of age related dementia. It has been shown that chronic stress is a risk factor for the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a mindfulness technique that was designed to reduce stress and its effects. So, it would seem reasonable to study the ability of MBSR to relieve the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

 

In today’s Research News article “Plasma REST: a novel candidate biomarker of Alzheimer’s disease is modified by psychological intervention in an at-risk population.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5537638/, Ashton and colleagues examined the association of a biomarker, repressor element 1-silencing transcription (REST), with Alzheimer’s disease and the ability of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) to alter REST and the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. They recruited patients over 65 years of age with diagnosed Alzheimer’s disease and healthy elderly control participants. They scanned their brains with Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and collected blood samples to measure the plasma levels of REST. They also recruited individuals over 65 years of age with anxiety, depression, and mild cognitive impairment. They were randomly assigned to receive an 8-week program of either MBSR or health education. They measured memory, verbal fluency, executive function, anxiety, depression, worry, and collected blood samples to measure the plasma levels of REST.

 

They found that REST levels were significantly lower in Alzheimer’s disease patients than healthy control participants. Also, the lower the levels of REST the lower the brain volumes in these patients. In addition, the REST levels in participants with mild cognitive impairment who later expressed full blown Alzheimer’s disease were significantly lower than those participants who did not. MBSR produced a significant increase in REST and the greater the level of REST increase the greater the improvement in anxiety and depression.

 

These are very interesting and potentially important findings that suggest that levels of repressor element 1-silencing transcription (REST) in the blood may be a marker for Alzheimer’s disease. It is lower in patients with active Alzheimer’s disease and in people with mild cognitive impairment who would eventually develop Alzheimer’s disease and is associated with reduced brain volume. MBSR participation increases REST and the increase is associated with improved symptoms. This suggests that low REST levels identify Alzheimer’s disease patients and that mindfulness practice can increase REST levels.

 

Repressor element 1-silencing transcription (REST) promotes the development of neurons. So, low levels of REST may be a sign that neural development has slowed or stopped and this may be an important mechanism for the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Interestingly, mindfulness training may be able to reverse the decline in REST and could potentially restrain the development of the disease. It is not known how MBSR could affect REST, but it can be speculated that the ability of MBSR to reduce the physiological and psychological responses to stress may be involved.

 

So, improve Alzheimer’s disease risk factors with mindfulness.

 

“Perceived stress can be altered by mindfulness-based stress reduction, cognitive-behavioural therapies and stress-reducing drugs. These interventions may postpone or even prevent an individual’s cognitive decline.” – Mindy Katz

 

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

 

Ashton, N. J., Hye, A., Leckey, C. A., Jones, A. R., Gardner, A., Elliott, C., … Marchant, N. L. (2017). Plasma REST: a novel candidate biomarker of Alzheimer’s disease is modified by psychological intervention in an at-risk population. Translational Psychiatry, 7(6), e1148–. http://doi.org/10.1038/tp.2017.113

 

Abstract

The repressor element 1-silencing transcription (REST) factor is a key regulator of the aging brain’s stress response. It is reduced in conditions of stress and Alzheimer’s disease (AD), which suggests that increasing REST may be neuroprotective. REST can be measured peripherally in blood plasma. Our study aimed to (1) examine plasma REST levels in relation to clinical and biological markers of neurodegeneration and (2) alter plasma REST levels through a stress-reduction intervention—mindfulness training. In study 1, REST levels were compared across the following four well-characterized groups: healthy elderly (n=65), mild cognitive impairment who remained stable (stable MCI, n=36), MCI who later converted to dementia (converter MCI, n=29) and AD (n=65) from the AddNeuroMed cohort. REST levels declined with increasing severity of risk and impairment (healthy elderly>stable MCI>converter MCI>AD, F=6.35, P<0.001). REST levels were also positively associated with magnetic resonance imaging-based hippocampal and entorhinal atrophy and other putative blood-based biomarkers of AD (Ps<0.05). In study 2, REST was measured in 81 older adults with psychiatric risk factors for AD before and after a mindfulness-based stress reduction intervention or an education-based placebo intervention. Mindfulness-based training caused an increase in REST compared with the placebo intervention (F=8.57, P=0.006), and increased REST was associated with a reduction in psychiatric symptoms associated with stress and AD risk (Ps<0.02). Our data confirm plasma REST associations with clinical severity and neurodegeneration, and originally, that REST is modifiable by a psychological intervention with clinical benefit.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5537638/

Improve Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Combat Veterans with Mindfulness

Improve Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Combat Veterans with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

Mindfulness-based approaches have been shown to be useful for problems commonly seen in trauma survivors such as anxiety and hyperarousal. Mindfulness practice has potential to be of benefit to individuals with PTSD, either as a tertiary or a stand-alone treatment.” – National Center for PTSD

 

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

 

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

 

Obviously, these are troubling symptoms that need to be addressed. There are a number of therapies that have been developed to treat PTSD. One of which, mindfulness training has been found to be particularly effectiveMindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) has been found to improve PTSD symptoms. MBSR involves a combination of mindfulness practices including, meditation, body scan, and yoga. In today’s Research News article “A Pilot Study of the Effects of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction on Post-traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms and Brain Response to Traumatic Reminders of Combat in Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom Combat Veterans with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5574875/, Bremner and colleagues examine the effectiveness of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) for the treatment of PTSD in combat veterans.

 

They recruited combat veterans from the wars in Iraq and randomly assigned them to receive either an 8-week program of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) or Present-Centered Group Therapy (PCGT). PCGT involved 8-weeks of psycho-education and group discussion of present day problems. They were measured before and after treatment and 6 months later for PTSD symptoms, psychiatric issues, mindfulness, and spiritual well-being. The veterans also underwent a Positron Emission Tomography (PET) brain scan while viewing pictures of the Iraq war or neutral pictures.

 

They found that MBSR, but not the control PCGT condition, produced significant reductions in PTSD symptoms, particularly avoidance and hyperarousal, and increases in mindfulness that were maintained even 6-months after the end of treatment. All of the veterans showed increased activation in frontal and temporal cortical regions and decreased activation in subcortical areas when viewing combat related pictures. After MBSR, in comparison to baseline and the control group, the veterans had significantly increased activation of the anterior cingulate and inferior parietal cortex, and decreased activation in the insula and precuneus. Activation of the anterior cingulate cortex is associated with improved emotion regulation and has been previously associated with relief of trauma symptoms while decreased activity in the insula has been associated with decreases in hyperarousal.

 

The results of this pilot study are interesting and potentially important. The study is unusual in that it had an active control condition that improves the strength of the conclusions. The results demonstrate that Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) produces lasting improvements in PTSD symptoms in combat veterans. They also show that MBSR produces changes in the nervous system areas that may underlie the symptoms. Hence, MBSR appears to be a safe and effective treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that can relieve the suffering resulting from trauma.

 

So, improve post-traumatic stress disorder in combat veterans with mindfulness.

 

“Mindfulness-based stress reduction approaches are likely to work just as well for non-veterans who have been exposed to civilian traumas such as physical or sexual assaults.” Alan Peterson

 

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

 

Bremner, J. D., Mishra, S., Campanella, C., Shah, M., Kasher, N., Evans, S., … Carmody, J. (2017). A Pilot Study of the Effects of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction on Post-traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms and Brain Response to Traumatic Reminders of Combat in Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom Combat Veterans with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 8, 157. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2017.00157

 

Abstract

Objective

Brain imaging studies in patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have implicated a circuitry of brain regions including the medial prefrontal cortex, amygdala, hippocampus, parietal cortex, and insula. Pharmacological treatment studies have shown a reversal of medial prefrontal deficits in response to traumatic reminders. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is a promising non-pharmacologic approach to the treatment of anxiety and pain disorders. The purpose of this study was to assess the effects of MBSR on PTSD symptoms and brain response to traumatic reminders measured with positron-emission tomography (PET) in Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) combat veterans with PTSD. We hypothesized that MBSR would show increased prefrontal response to stress and improved PTSD symptoms in veterans with PTSD.

Method

Twenty-six OEF/OIF combat veterans with PTSD who had recently returned from a combat zone were block randomized to receive eight sessions of MBSR or present-centered group therapy (PCGT). PTSD patients underwent assessment of PTSD symptoms with the Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS), mindfulness with the Five Factor Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ) and brain imaging using PET in conjunction with exposure to neutral and Iraq combat-related slides and sound before and after treatment. Nine patients in the MBSR group and 8 in the PCGT group completed all study procedures.

Results

Post-traumatic stress disorder patients treated with MBSR (but not PCGT) had an improvement in PTSD symptoms measured with the CAPS that persisted for 6 months after treatment. MBSR also resulted in an increase in mindfulness measured with the FFMQ. MBSR-treated patients had increased anterior cingulate and inferior parietal lobule and decreased insula and precuneus function in response to traumatic reminders compared to the PCGT group.

Conclusion

This study shows that MBSR is a safe and effective treatment for PTSD. Furthermore, MBSR treatment is associated with changes in brain regions that have been implicated in PTSD and are involved in extinction of fear responses to traumatic memories as well as regulation of the stress response.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5574875/

Meditation Can Reduce the Age-Associated Degeneration of the Brain

Meditation Can Reduce the Age-Associated Degeneration of the Brain

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“The brain begins to decline in the 20s, and continues to decrease in volume and weight through old age. Meditation, in addition to boosting emotional and physical well-being at any time in life, may be an effective way to prevent neurodegenerative diseases like dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, as well as help stave off some of the normal cognitive decline that comes with aging. The strategy is free, and it comes with no side effects.”Carolyn Gregoire

 

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. Starting in the 20s there is a progressive decrease in the volume and activity of the brain as the years go by.

 

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 have found that meditation practice appears to mold and change the brain, producing psychological, physical, and spiritual benefits. 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.

 

In today’s Research News article “Reduced age-associated brain changes in expert meditators: a multimodal neuroimaging pilot study.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5578985/, Chételat and colleagues recruited expert meditators with at least 10 years of experience and a total of at least 15,000 hours of meditation practice and age matched meditation naïve controls. They also included non-meditators at a wide range of ages, 20-87 years. They all underwent scanning of the brain with either Positron Emission Tomography (PET) or Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). They were measured for verbal fluency, episodic memory, short-term memory, and working memory, processing speed and executive functions, frequency of participation in leisure activities before 30 and from 30 to 65 years, and the highest level of occupation reached, adherence to Mediterranean diet, sleep quality and sleep disturbance.

 

They found that the older the meditation naïve participants the lower the volume of the brain gray matter and the lower the brain metabolism. Hence, they demonstrated, as have many others, age related degeneration of the brain. On the other hand, the expert meditators had significantly greater brain gray matter volume and metabolic activity than the age matched controls in the bilateral ventromedial prefrontal and anterior cingulate cortex, insula, temporo-parietal junction, and posterior cingulate cortex /precuneus. All of the expert meditators were over 60 yet their brain volumes were in the range of meditation naïve controls in their 30s and 40s.

 

These are remarkable results that suggest that large amounts of meditation practice can help to preserve the brain countering age related decline. The amount of meditation performed by these expert meditators is so high as to be unrealistic for use with the general population. Fortunately, other research suggests that the elderly brain changes positively in response to much lower amounts of mindfulness practice. So, mindfulness training may well be a feasible practice to protect the brains of seniors from further deterioration.

 

So, use meditation to reduce the age-associated degeneration of the brain

 

“A growing body of research supports the immediate benefits of meditation, such as reduced stress and anxiety levels, lower blood pressure, and enhanced happiness. Studies on mindfulness interventions show these effects are common in as few as eight weeks. While these initial perks may be reason enough for us to practice, meditation’s positive impact appears to be even more far-reaching, potentially adding years to our lives and improving cognitive function well into old age.” – Rina Deshpande

 

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

 

Chételat, G., Mézenge, F., Tomadesso, C., Landeau, B., Arenaza-Urquijo, E., Rauchs, G., … Lutz, A. (2017). Reduced age-associated brain changes in expert meditators: a multimodal neuroimaging pilot study. Scientific Reports, 7, 10160. http://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-07764-x

 

Abstract

Aging is associated with progressive cerebral volume and glucose metabolism decreases. Conditions such as stress and sleep difficulties exacerbate these changes and are risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease. Meditation practice, aiming towards stress reduction and emotion regulation, can downregulate these adverse factors. In this pilot study, we explored the possibility that lifelong meditation practice might reduce age-related brain changes by comparing structural MRI and FDG-PET data in 6 elderly expert meditators versus 67 elderly controls. We found increased gray matter volume and/or FDG metabolism in elderly expert meditators compared to controls in the bilateral ventromedial prefrontal and anterior cingulate cortex, insula, temporo-parietal junction, and posterior cingulate cortex /precuneus. Most of these regions were also those exhibiting the strongest effects of age when assessed in a cohort of 186 controls aged 20 to 87 years. Moreover, complementary analyses showed that these changes were still observed when adjusting for lifestyle factors or using a smaller group of controls matched for education. Pending replication in a larger cohort of elderly expert meditators and longitudinal studies, these findings suggest that meditation practice could reduce age-associated structural and functional brain changes.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5578985/

Protect the Aging Brain with Meditation

Protect the Aging Brain with Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“long-term engagement in mindfulness meditation may enhance cognitive performance in older adults, and that with persistent practice, these benefits may be sustained. That’s great news for the millions of aging adults working to combat the negative effects of aging on the brain.” B. Grace Bullock

 

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. Starting in the 20s there is a progressive decrease in the volume of the brain as we age.

 

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 have found that meditation practice appears to mold and change the brain, producing psychological, physical, and spiritual benefits. 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.

 

In today’s Research News article “Promising Links between Meditation and Reduced (Brain) Aging: An Attempt to Bridge Some Gaps between the Alleged Fountain of Youth and the Youth of the Field.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5447722/, Kurth and colleagues review and summarize the published research literature on the neuroprotective effects of meditation in the elderly. They discuss the ideas that the aging based deterioration of the brain is due to a number of processes, including changes in the DNA telomeres, inflammation, stress, and neuroplasticity and that meditation appears to effect all of these processes.

 

There has accumulated evidence that meditation protects against age related decline at the molecular genetic level. As we age the length of a DNA structures called the telomeres progressively shorten. It is thought that the shorter the telomeres get the more difficult it becomes for cells to replicate properly and thus leads to decline. Mindfulness training in general and meditation specifically, has been shown to reduce the shortening of the telomeres with aging. Kurth and colleagues speculate that this is one mechanism by which meditation protects the brain from age related decline.

 

As we age the natural inflammatory response that normally occurs to protect against infection begins to increase in general and lose its specificity to fighting particular diseases, pathogens, and injuries. It becomes more widespread damaging normal tissues. Mindfulness training in general and meditation specifically has been shown to reduce inflammatory responses. It seems reasonable that this is another mechanism by which meditation protects the body from age related decline.

 

Stress is present throughout life. But if it is too intense or prolonged the biological responses to stress begin to damage the body. These stress induced changes are similar to age related deterioration. Stress effects may accumulate over time. Hence, the older we get the greater the total stress induced damage. Mindfulness training in general and meditation specifically has been shown to improve emotion regulation and to reduce the physiological and psychological responses to stress. This is hypothesized to be another mechanism by which meditation protects the brain from deterioration with aging.

 

Neuroplasticity is a change in the size and connectivity of brain structures as they are exercised over a prolonged period of time. Mindfulness training in general and meditation specifically has been shown to produce neuroplastic changes in the brain, increasing the size and connectivity of brain structures. This process would tend to counteract brain degeneration with aging and may be another mechanism by which meditation protects the brain during aging.

 

Hence there has accumulated evidence that meditation reduces the deterioration of the brain with aging. It appears to do so by altering a number of different mechanisms including changes in the DNA telomeres, inflammation, stress, and neuroplasticity. This protection of the brain may be responsible to the ability of meditation to reduce the decline in mental abilities that occur with aging. This would tend to make aging a more benign process.

 

So, protect the aging brain with meditation.

 

We expected rather small and distinct effects located in some of the regions that had previously been associated with meditating. Instead, what we actually observed was a widespread effect of meditation that encompassed regions throughout the entire brain.” – Florian Kurth

 

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

 

Kurth, F., Cherbuin, N., & Luders, E. (2017). Promising Links between Meditation and Reduced (Brain) Aging: An Attempt to Bridge Some Gaps between the Alleged Fountain of Youth and the Youth of the Field. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 860. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00860

 

Abstract

Over the last decade, an increasing number of studies has reported a positive impact of meditation on cerebral aging. However, the underlying mechanisms for these seemingly brain-protecting effects are not well-understood. This may be due to the fact, at least partly, that systematic empirical meditation research has emerged only recently as a field of scientific scrutiny. Thus, on the one hand, critical questions remain largely unanswered; and on the other hand, outcomes of existing research require better integration to build a more comprehensive and holistic picture. In this article, we first review theories and mechanisms pertaining to normal (brain) aging, specifically focusing on telomeres, inflammation, stress regulation, and macroscopic brain anatomy. Then, we summarize existing research integrating the developing evidence suggesting that meditation exerts positive effects on (brain) aging, while carefully discussing possible mechanisms through which these effects may be mediated.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5447722/

Mindfulness Impairs the Formation of Automatic Habits

Mindfulness Impairs the Formation of Automatic Habits

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“The very fact of paying too much attention or being too aware of stimuli coming up in these tests might actually inhibit implicit learning. That suggests that mindfulness may help prevent formation of automatic habits — which is done through implicit learning — because a mindful person is aware of what they are doing.” – Chelsea Stillman

 

When people think of learning they’re usually visualizing learning information like historical facts, people’s names, mathematical formulas, etc. This is called explicit memory. But, there’s another very important form of learning, called implicit learning, which is learning how to perform automatic tasks rapidly and efficiently. Things like riding a bike, playing a musical instrument, serving a tennis ball and tying your shoelaces all require implicit learning and memory.

 

Implicit learning requires the person to actually perform and practice a task to master it. Many athletic skills fall into this category. The skills are mastered with repetition so that they can be performed instinctively and mindlessly when needed. Implicit learning also involves most mundane tasks that we perform constantly throughout our day. Walking, producing speech, even typing this sentence on a keyboard all involve implicitly learned skills. So, implicit learning is important and helps to reduce the cognitive load on our nervous system for everyday behaviors. We don’t have the think about them so we can devote our brain capacity to higher level thoughts and ideas.

 

It has been demonstrated that mindfulness helps with explicit learning, such as academic material. For example, mindfulness training can improve college entrance exam scores in students. But, mindfulness appears to disrupt implicit learning. In today’s Research News article “Task-Related Functional Connectivity of the Caudate Mediates the Association Between Trait Mindfulness and Implicit Learning in Older Adults.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4955759/, Stillman and colleagues examine this disruptive effect of mindfulness and the neural systems responsible.

 

They recruited a group of healthy young adults (aged 18-37 years) and a group of healthy older adults (aged 60-90 years). They were measured for mindfulness and they completed an established implicit learning task. The task, Triplets Learning Task, involves a presentation of three stimuli with, unbeknownst to the participant, some triplets occurring more frequently than others. In general, people learn to respond to the more frequent triplets faster without awareness that there’s any difference between sets. In other words, they learn implicitly. While they were performing this task, their brains were scanned with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (f-MRI).

 

The researchers found that for the younger group, there was no significant relationship between mindfulness and implicit learning. On the other hand, the older group had a significant relationship between mindfulness and implicit learning with the higher the mindfulness score, the lower the score on the Triplets Learning Task. Hence, mindfulness disrupted implicit learning in older but not younger participants.

 

Investigating the brain scans of this older group, they found that the degree of relationship between mindfulness and implicit learning was related to the level of connectivity between the Caudate Nucleus and the Medial Temporal Lobe, a system previously shown to be associated with implicit learning. In particular, the greater the connectivity the better the implicit learning, but the greater the mindfulness, the lower the connectivity. A further mediational analysis indicated that the negative influence of mindfulness on implicit learning was mediated by its negative effect on the connectivity. In other words, mindfulness changed the brain which resulted in disruption of implicit learning.

 

These are complicated findings. But, they are particularly interesting as they suggest that mindfulness effects the brain and this produces the behavioral effects. The results suggest that the disruptive influence of mindfulness on implicit learning occurs primarily in older adults and that it is mediated by mindfulness’ negative influence on the functional connectivity of the Caudate Nucleus with the Medial Temporal Lobe. It is known that there is deterioration in the Caudate Nucleus and the Medial Temporal Lobe with aging. It is possible, then, that mindfulness can only exert its disruptive effects when there is an already weakened Caudate Nucleus – Medial Temporal Lobe system present.

 

It is interesting that mindfulness did not disrupt implicit learning in the younger participants. This might explain why mindfulness training improves athletic performance. Athletes are generally young and the lack of disruption of implicit learning by mindfulness allows mindfulness to produce psychological enhancements that improve performance. This might not be true for older athletes.

 

Regardless, it is clear that mindfulness disrupts the establishment of automatic unconscious habits in older adults as a result of its negative effects on the interaction of two brain areas, Caudate Nucleus and the Medial Temporal Lobe.

 

people reporting low on the mindfulness scale tended to learn more—their reaction times were quicker in targeting events that occurred more often within a context of preceding events than those that occurred less often.” – Georgetown University Medical Center

 

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

 

Stillman, C. M., You, X., Seaman, K. L., Vaidya, C. J., Howard, J. H., & Howard, D. V. (2016). Task-Related Functional Connectivity of the Caudate Mediates the Association Between Trait Mindfulness and Implicit Learning In Older Adults. Cognitive, Affective & Behavioral Neuroscience, 16(4), 736–753. http://doi.org/10.3758/s13415-016-0427-2

 

Abstract

Accumulating evidence shows a positive relationship between mindfulness and explicit cognitive functioning, i.e., that which occurs with conscious intent and awareness. However, recent evidence suggests that there may be a negative relationship between mindfulness and implicit types of learning, or those that occur without conscious awareness or intent. Here we examined the neural mechanisms underlying the recently reported negative relationship between dispositional mindfulness and implicit probabilistic sequence learning in both younger and older adults. We tested the hypothesis that the relationship is mediated by communication, or functional connectivity, of brain regions once traditionally considered to be central to dissociable learning systems: the caudate, medial temporal lobe (MTL), and prefrontal cortex (PFC). We first replicated the negative relationship between mindfulness and implicit learning in a sample of healthy older adults (60–90 years old) who completed three event-related runs of an implicit sequence learning task. Then, using a seed-based connectivity approach, we identified task-related connectivity associated with individual differences in both learning and mindfulness. The main finding was that caudate-MTL connectivity (bilaterally) was positively correlated with learning and negatively correlated with mindfulness. Further, the strength of task-related connectivity between these regions mediated the negative relationship between mindfulness and learning. This pattern of results was limited to the older adults. Thus, at least in healthy older adults, the functional communication between two interactive learning-relevant systems can account for the relationship between mindfulness and implicit probabilistic sequence learning.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4955759/

Reduce Pain with Mindfulness

Reduce Pain with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Mindfulness is an effective practice for approaching chronic pain. It teaches individuals to observe their pain, and be curious about it. And, while counterintuitive, it’s this very act of paying attention that can help your pain.” –  Margarita Tartakovsky

 

We all have to deal with pain. It’s inevitable, but hopefully it’s mild and short lived. For a wide swath of humanity, however, pain is a constant in their lives. At least 100 million adult Americans and 1.5 billion people worldwide, have common chronic pain conditions. It is important to remember that pain is an important signal that there is something wrong or that damage is occurring. This signals that some form of action is needed to mitigate the damage. This is an important signal that is ignored at the individual’s peril. So, in dealing with pain, it’s pain signals should not be completely blocked or prevented. They need to be perceived. But, methods are needed to mitigate the pain and the psychological distress produced.

 

The most common treatment for chronic pain is drugs. These include over-the-counter analgesics and opioids. But opioids are dangerous and prescription opioid overdoses kill more than 14,000 people annually. The situation in the U.S. with opioid overdoses has become so severe that it’s taken on epidemic proportions. So, there is a great need to find safe and effective ways to lower the psychological distress and improve the patient’s ability to cope with the pain. Pain involves both physical and psychological issues. The stress, fear, and anxiety produced by pain tends to elicit responses that actually amplify the pain. So, reducing perceived stress and the emotional reactions to pain may be helpful in pain management. Indeed, mindfulness practices have been shown to reduce the physiological and psychological responses to stress and to improve emotion regulation producing more adaptive and less maladaptive responses to emotions. As a result, mindfulness practices have been shown to be effective in treating pain.

 

In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness meditation–based pain relief: a mechanistic account.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4941786/, Zeidan and Vago review the published research literature on the effectiveness of mindfulness practices in the treatment of pain. They report that the scientific research finds that mindfulness practices are safe and effective in treating perceived pain from a wide variety of conditions, including fibromyalgia, migraine, chronic pelvic pain, irritable bowel syndrome, and chronic low back pain.

 

Further, they report that the reduction in perceived pain appears to result from alterations of the nervous system. In particular, long-term meditators have significant increased activation of sensory processing–related brain regions (thalamus, insula) and reduced activation in brain areas that process the evaluation of pain (Medial Prefrontal Cortex), Orbital Frontal Cortex). There was also a significant relationship between meditative experience, lower perceived pain, and greater deactivation of the Medial Prefrontal Cortex / Orbital Frontal Cortex. Even after only brief meditation practice changes can be detected in brain areas that process pain stimuli (insula and anterior cingulate cortex) and the psychological appreciation of pain (Orbital Frontal Cortex).

 

These findings strongly suggest that in response to mindfulness practices multiple areas of the brain change, resulting in reduced subjective pain. These benefits can be obtained by short-term mindfulness practice but are further improved with long-term practice. Hence, mindfulness practices appear to be safe and effective alternative treatments to drugs and thereby may be useful in addressing the opioid epidemic.

 

So, reduce pain with mindfulness.

 

“When it comes to chronic pain, the key is learning to live with it rather than vainly trying to avoid or eradicate it . . .  Mindfulness practice is a wonderful opportunity to do just that. It helps to shift the locus of control from the outside (“this is happening to me and there is nothing I can do about it”) to the inside (“this is happening to me but I can choose how I relate to it”).” -Christiane Wolf

 

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

 

Zeidan, F., & Vago, D. (2016). Mindfulness meditation–based pain relief: a mechanistic account. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1373(1), 114–127. http://doi.org/10.1111/nyas.13153

 

Abstract

Pain is a multidimensional experience that involves sensory, cognitive, and affective factors. The constellation of interactions between these factors renders the treatment of chronic pain challenging and financially burdensome. Further, the widespread use of opioids to treat chronic pain has led to an opioid epidemic characterized by exponential growth in opioid misuse and addiction. The staggering statistics related to opioid use highlight the importance of developing, testing, and validating fast-acting nonpharmacological approaches to treat pain. Mindfulness meditation is a technique that has been found to significantly reduce pain in experimental and clinical settings. The present review delineates findings from recent studies demonstrating that mindfulness meditation significantly attenuates pain through multiple, unique mechanisms—an important consideration for the millions of chronic pain patients seeking narcotic-free, self-facilitated pain therapy.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4941786/

Change the Brain with Mindfulness

Change the Brain with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“The picture we have is that mindfulness practice increases one’s ability to recruit higher order, pre-frontal cortex regions in order to down-regulate lower-order brain activity. In other words, our more primal responses to stress seem to be superseded by more thoughtful ones.” – Tom Ireland

 

There has accumulated a large amount of research demonstrating that meditation has significant benefits for psychological, physical, and spiritual wellbeing. 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 mood and happiness to severe mental and physical illnesses. This raises the question of how meditation could do this. 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.

 

The results of the research concerning the changes in the brain that occur with mindfulness practice have not presented a consistent picture. One issue may be the way that mindfulness is measured. This issue was explored in today’s Research News article “A distinction between two instruments measuring dispositional mindfulness and the correlations between those measurements and the neuroanatomical structure.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5524689/, Zhuang and colleagues compared Magnetic Resonance Images (MRIs), depression, and emotion regulation, between college students who had been measured for mindfulness with Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS) to those measured with the Five Factor Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ).

 

They found that higher MAAS scores and FFMQ Describing, Acting with Awareness, and Non-judging scores the lower levels of depression. In addition, higher FFMQ Describing scores were significantly associated with higher emotion regulation. In regard to the brain scans they found that the higher the MAAS score the greater the size of the Precuneus area of the cortex. Mediation analysis demonstrated that the higher the volume of the precuneus cortical region the higher the MAAS score which in turn was associated with lower depression. So, mindfulness as measured by the MAAS was associated greater volume of the precuneus and was responsible for the relationship of the Precuneus volume with depression.

 

In regard to mindfulness measured with the FFMQ and the brain scans they found that the larger the size of the Superior Prefrontal Cortex, the higher the Describing and Non-judging facets and the lower the Non-reacting facet. In addition, the larger the size of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the inferior parietal cortex the higher the Describing FFMQ facet. Mediation analysis demonstrated that the higher the volume of the Superior Prefrontal Cortex the higher the Describing FFMQ facet which in turn predicted higher emotion regulation. So, mindfulness as measured with the Describing FFMQ facet was associated greater size of the Superior Prefrontal Cortex and was responsible for the relationship of the Superior Prefrontal Cortex size with emotion regulation.

 

These results are interesting and suggest that the kind of relationship observed between changes in the brain and mindfulness is affected by the way mindfulness is measured. This could account for some of the conflicting findings in the published research. Also, since the Precuneus is associated with awareness of self, the results suggest that mindfulness as measured by the MAAS mainly measures self-awareness while since the inferior parietal cortex is also associated with awareness of self, the results suggest that mindfulness as measured by the Describing FFMQ facet also measures self-awareness. But the FFMQ mindfulness measure goes further and also documents other abilities. Since, the Prefrontal cortex is associated with attention control and emotion regulation, the results suggest that mindfulness as measured by the Describing and Non-reacting FFMQ facets also measure attention control and emotion regulation.

 

Clearly, mindfulness is associated with different sizes of areas in the brain’s cortical regions. But, even though the brain is different with mindfulness, the types of differences observed depends upon how mindfulness is measured. The Five Factor Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ) measure appears to be superior to the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS) as it breaks mindfulness down into component parts providing greater refinement in observed brain changes. These results will be helpful in future research unravelling the relationship of mindfulness to the characteristics of the nervous system.

 

The practice of mindfulness can train our brains to have a new default. Instead of automatically falling into the stream of past or future rumination that ignites the depression loop, mindfulness draws our attention to the present moment. As we practice mindfulness, we actually start wiring neurons that balance the brain in a way that is naturally an antidepressant. “ – Debbie Hampton

 

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

 

Zhuang, K., Bi, M., Li, Y., Xia, Y., Guo, X., Chen, Q., … Qiu, J. (2017). A distinction between two instruments measuring dispositional mindfulness and the correlations between those measurements and the neuroanatomical structure. Scientific Reports, 7, 6252. http://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-06599-w

 

Abstract

The most widely used measurements of mindfulness are the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS) and the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ). However, controversies exist regarding the application of these scales. Additionally, the neural mechanisms of dispositional mindfulness have become a topic of interest. In the current study, we used surface-based methodology to identify the brain regions underlying individual differences in dispositional mindfulness in a large non-clinical sample and compared the two instruments for measuring the dispositional mindfulness. The results indicated that the MAAS scores were significantly associated with increased grey matter volumes in the right precuneus and the significant association between the precuneus and depression symptomatology was mediated by MAAS scores. Regarding the FFMQ, the Describing, Nonjudging, and Nonreactivity facets were selectively associated with the cortical volume, thickness and surface area of multiple prefrontal regions as well as the inferior parietal lobule. Importantly, Describing mediated the association between the dorsolateral PFC volume and the cognitive reappraisal strategies of emotion regulation. These results suggested that the MAAS were mainly associated with self-awareness, while the FFMQ facets were selectively involved in emotion regulation, attention control and self-awareness. Therefore, this study characterized the differences in inter-individual variability between the two typical measurements of dispositional mindfulness and the correlations between those measurements and imaging analyses.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5524689/

Alter Brain Networks and Cognitive Ability with Tai Chi

Alter Brain Networks and Cognitive Ability with Tai Chi

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

” Another great benefit of Tai Chi is that it’s accessible to people of all ages and fitness abilities. It’s the focus on the subtle movements that exercise the brain and boost cognitive abilities.” – Karl Romain

 

Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese practice involving mindfulness and gentle movements. It is easy to learn, safe, and gentle. Tai Chi has been practiced for thousands of years with benefits for health and longevityTai Chi training is designed to enhance function and regulate the activities of the body through controlled breathing, mindful concentration, and gentle movements. Only recently though have the effects of this practice been scrutinized with empirical research. This research has found that it is effective for an array of physical and psychological issues. It appears to strengthen the immune systemreduce inflammation and increase the number of cancer killing cells in the bloodstream, improve cardiovascular healthreduce arthritis painimprove balance and reduce falls. It also appears to improve attentional ability and relieve depression.

 

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. Hence, it would appear likely that Tai Chi practice may alter the brain networks underlying mindfulness.

 

In today’s Research News article “Mind-Body Practice Changes Fractional Amplitude of Low Frequency Fluctuations in Intrinsic Control Networks.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at: http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01049/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_325025_69_Psycho_20170711_arts_A

Wei and colleagues recruited healthy long-term practitioners of Tai Chi (average 14 years of practice) and age, gender, and education matched non-practitioners. All participants performed a flanker task, a measure of executive cognitive function, in which the participant had to respond to the direction of an arrow surrounded by distracting arrows. They found that the longer the practitioners had been practicing Tai Chi the faster they responded in the flanker, executive function, task. This suggests that Tai Chi practice enhances cognitive function.

 

The participants then underwent functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) brain scanning. The brain scans revealed that the Tai Chi practitioners had a significant reduction in amplitude of low frequency fluctuations in the brain areas called the Default Mode Network (DMN) which underlies mind wandering and self-referential thinking. There was also a significant reduction in amplitude of low frequency fluctuations in the brain areas called the frontoparietal network (FPN) and the dorsal prefrontal-angular network which are associated with cognitive control and executive function. These changes in the low frequency fluctuations suggest that Tai Chi practice produces changes in these networks increasing their functional connectivity.

 

These results are very interesting and suggest that Tai Chi practice can produce changes in the brain improving the connectivities within large-scale neural systems. At least in terms of the frontoparietal network (FPN) and the dorsal prefrontal-angular network these changes may underlie the ability of Tai Chi practice to improve cognitive control and executive function while the changes in the Default Mode Network (DMN) may underlie the ability of Tai Chi practice to reduce mind wandering and self-referential thinking. Hence, Tai Chi practice alters the nervious system and produces very beneficial effects

 

So, alter brain networks and cognitive ability with Tai Chi.

 

“Neuroplasticity may sound like an out of this world term to a normal Tai Chi practitioner but to those who pursue the path of the mind, Warriors of Intention, then this is the proven way of enabling our mind to permanently rewire the way we move.” – Mushin

 

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

 

Wei G-X, Gong Z-Q, Yang Z and Zuo X-N (2017) Mind-Body Practice Changes Fractional Amplitude of Low Frequency Fluctuations in Intrinsic Control Networks. Front. Psychol. 8:1049. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01049

 

Abstract

Cognitive control impairment is a typical symptom largely reported in populations with neurological disorders. Previous studies have provided evidence about the changes in cognitive control induced by mind-body training. However, the neural correlates underlying the effect of extensive mind-body practice on cognitive control remain largely unknown. Using resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging, we characterized dynamic fluctuations in large-scale intrinsic connectivity networks associated with mind-body practice, and examined their differences between healthy controls and Tai Chi Chuan (TCC) practitioners. Compared with a control group, the TCC group revealed significantly decreased fractional Amplitude of Low Frequency Fluctuations (fALFF) in the bilateral frontoparietal network, default mode network and dorsal prefrontal-angular gyri network. Furthermore, we detected a significant association between mind-body practice experience and fALFF in the default mode network, as well as an association between cognitive control performance and fALFF of the frontoparietal network. This provides the first evidence of large-scale functional connectivity in brain networks associated with mind-body practice, shedding light on the neural network changes that accompany intensive mind-body training. It also highlights the functionally plastic role of the frontoparietal network in the context of the “immune system” of mental health recently developed in relation to flexible hub theory.

http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01049/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_325025_69_Psycho_20170711_arts_A