Meditation Changes the Brain Differently in Adolescents

Meditation Changes the Brain Differently in Adolescents

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“The benefits of meditation are many with few, if any, drawbacks. If your teen is struggling, it’d be worth it to give it a try.” – Tyler Jacobson

 

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. The brains of adolescents are different from fully mature adult brains. They are dynamically growing and changing. It is unclear how mindfulness affects their maturing brains.

 

In today’s Research News article “Gray Matter Changes in Adolescents Participating in a Meditation Training.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7456888/ ) Yuan and colleagues recruited adolescents aged 14 to 19 years and provided them with a 12 week training in mindfulness meditation. They and a control sample of adolescents underwent Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) of their brains before and after training.

 

They found that after training there was a significant reduction in the volume of gray matter in the left thalamus, left putamen, and left posterior insula. There was no significant influence of age on the decreased volumes. Also, there were no significant increases in gray matter volume were found anywhere in the adolescents’ brains.

 

These results are very surprising. In adults, mindfulness training has been repeatedly shown to increase gray matter volume, not decrease it. The insula, in particular, has been shown to increase in volume after mindfulness training in adults. The insula is thought to underlie awareness of the internal state of the body. Since, mindfulness training usually increases this awareness, the increase in insula volume makes sense, but that it would decrease in volume in the adolescents does not.

 

During adolescents the brain is actively growing and changing. It is possible that mindfulness training affects the growing brain differently than after maturation in adulthood. This suggests that mindfulness may have different effects in adolescents than in adults. But this has not been shown to be the case. In fact, mindfulness training appears to have the same effects in adolescents as in adults. More research is needed to further investigate this phenomenon.

 

So, it would appear that meditation changes the brain differently in adolescents.

 

It is well-documented that mindfulness helps to relieve depression and anxiety in adults.  A small but growing body of research shows that it may also improve adolescent resilience to stress through improved cognitive performance and emotional regulation.” – Malka Main

 

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

 

Justin P. Yuan, Colm G. Connolly, Eva Henje, Leo P. Sugrue, Tony T. Yang, Duan Xu, Olga Tymofiyeva. Gray Matter Changes in Adolescents Participating in a Meditation Training. Front Hum Neurosci. 2020; 14: 319. Published online 2020 Aug 14. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2020.00319

 

Abstract

Meditation has shown to benefit a wide range of conditions and symptoms, but the neural mechanisms underlying the practice remain unclear. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies have investigated the structural brain changes due to the practice by examining volume, density, or cortical thickness changes. However, these studies have focused on adults; meditation’s structural effects on the adolescent brain remain understudied. In this study, we investigated how meditation training affects the structure of the adolescent brain by scanning a group of 38 adolescents (16.48 ± 1.29 years) before and after participating in a 12-week meditation training. Subjects underwent Training for Awareness, Resilience, and Action (TARA), a program that mainly incorporates elements from mindfulness meditation and yoga-based practices. A subset of the adolescents also received an additional control scan 12 weeks before TARA. We conducted voxel-based morphometry (VBM) to assess gray matter volume changes pre- to post-training and during the control period. Subjects showed significant gray matter (GM) volume decreases in the left posterior insula and to a lesser extent in the left thalamus and left putamen after meditation training. There were no significant changes during the control period. Our results support previous findings that meditation affects regions associated with physical and emotional awareness. However, our results are different from previous morphometric studies in which meditation was associated with structural increases. We posit that this discrepancy may be due to the differences between the adolescent brain and the adult brain.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7456888/

 

Increase White Matter in the Brains of Aging Women with Tai Chi

Increase White Matter in the Brains of Aging Women with Tai Chi

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“studies have shown tai chi’s association with improved cognition and neuroplasticity. This has led the scientific community to suggest tai chi may be of useful treating physical and psychological disorders, including stroke, Parkinson’s disease, traumatic brain injury, and depression.” – Sara Alvarado

 

The aging process involves a systematic progressive decline in every system in the body, the brain included. The elderly frequently have problems with attention, thinking, and memory abilities, known as mild cognitive impairment. An encouraging new development is that mindfulness practices such as meditation training and mindful movement practices can significantly reduce these declines in cognitive ability. In addition, it has been 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,  yoga, and Tai Chi have been found to degenerate less with aging than non-practitioners.

 

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 regulated breathing, mindful concentration, and gentle movements. Tai Chi practice has been found to be effective for an array of physical and psychological issues. Tai Chi has been shown to help the elderly improve attentionbalance, reducing fallsarthritiscognitive function, memory, and reduce age related deterioration of the brain. So, it makes sense to further study the effects of Tai Chi training on the brains of older adults.

 

In today’s Research News article “Tai Chi Training Evokes Significant Changes in Brain White Matter Network in Older Women.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7151065/) Yue and colleagues recruited elderly women (average age of 63 years) and who had been routinely performing (90 minutes at least 5 times per week for at least 6 years in groups) either Tai Chi or daily walking. They were measured for mental ability, working memory, and cognitive ability. In addition, their brains were scanned with Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI).

 

They found that in comparison to the walking group, the brains of the Tai Chi group had a greater volume of white matter indicating that their brains could transfer information effectively both locally and globally. They also found that the Tai Chi group had significantly better working memory performance than the walking group and that greater the volume of white matter in their brains the better their working memories. This was true for both working memory speed and accuracy.

 

A strength of the present study is that there was an active control group, walking, that was, like Tai Chi, performed in a group and was a moderate exercise. So, the results can be interpreted as due to the performance of Tai Chi itself and not to nonspecific factors such as socialization and exercise. The weaknesses in the study included the fact that only women were studied, there was no random assignment to groups, and that there was no manipulation of Tai Chi or walking practice. The participants self-selected which exercise to participate in. This opens up the possibility that there may have been systematic differences between the groups.

 

The results suggest that routine Tai Chi practice improves the brain’s ability to transfer information around the nervous system in elderly women. This may protect that individuals from the inevitable deterioration of the brain with aging and its associated decline in cognitive ability. The relationship between white matter and working memory is evidence for that protection against cognitive decline. These results support previous findings that mindfulness practices can protect the individual from age related brain deterioration and cognitive decline.

 

So, increase white matter in the brains of aging women with Tai Chi.

 

A comparison of the effects of regular sessions of tai chi, walking, and social discussion, has found tai chi was associated with the biggest gains in brain volume and improved cognition.” – About Memory

 

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

 

Yue, C., Zou, L., Mei, J., Moore, D., Herold, F., Müller, P., Yu, Q., Liu, Y., Lin, J., Tao, Y., Loprinzi, P., & Zhang, Z. (2020). Tai Chi Training Evokes Significant Changes in Brain White Matter Network in Older Women. Healthcare (Basel, Switzerland), 8(1), 57. https://doi.org/10.3390/healthcare8010057

 

Abstract

Background: Cognitive decline is age relevant and it can start as early as middle age. The decline becomes more obvious among older adults, which is highly associated with increased risk of developing dementia (e.g., Alzheimer’s disease). White matter damage was found to be related to cognitive decline through aging. The purpose of the current study was to compare the effects of Tai Chi (TC) versus walking on the brain white matter network among Chinese elderly women. Methods: A cross-sectional study was conducted where 42 healthy elderly women were included. Tai Chi practitioners (20 females, average age: 62.9 ± 2.38 years, education level 9.05 ± 1.8 years) and the matched walking participants (22 females, average age: 63.27 ± 3.58 years, educational level: 8.86 ± 2.74 years) underwent resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (rsfMRI) scans. Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) and graph theory were employed to study the data, construct the white matter matrix, and compare the brain network attributes between the two groups. Results: Results from graph-based analyses showed that the small-world attributes were higher for the TC group than for the walking group (p < 0.05, Cohen’s d = 1.534). Some effects were significant (p < 0.001) with very large effect sizes. Meanwhile, the aggregation coefficient and local efficiency attributes were also higher for the TC group than for the walking group (p > 0.05). However, no significant difference was found between the two groups in node attributes and edge analysis. Conclusion: Regular TC training is more conducive to optimize the brain functioning and networking of the elderly. The results of the current study help to identify the mechanisms underlying the cognitive protective effects of TC.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7151065/

 

Yoga Changes the Brain to Improve Body Awareness, Attention, and Present Moment Awareness

Yoga Changes the Brain to Improve Body Awareness, Attention, and Present Moment Awareness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

Similar to the effects of meditation, yoga is a neurological vacation – but it also awakens parts of the brain that are typically inactive during normal day-to-day activity. . . The mind becomes deeply intertwined with the body and the two become one – opening up the flow of communication.” – Morgan Garza

 

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, connectivity, and activity of the brain. Indeed, yoga practice has been shown to protect the brain from age related degeneration.

 

The research on yoga effects on the nervous system is accumulating. It makes sense to pause and look at what has been learned. In today’s Research News article “What Has Neuroimaging Taught Us on the Neurobiology of Yoga? A Review.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7362763/) van Aalst and colleagues review and summarize 34 published research studies of the effects of yoga practice on the brain. The studies mainly included healthy adults.

 

They report that the published research studies used a wide variety of different yoga practices and as a result there were differences in the reported changes to the brain. Regardless, there were a number of similarities in the changes. They report that yoga practice increased the volume of brain areas especially the insular cortex and the hippocampus. Studies of activation of the brain have demonstrated that yoga produces increased activation of prefrontal cortical areas. Finally, studies of connectivity of brain areas have demonstrated that yoga practice increases functional connectivity in a series of brain areas that are known as the default mode network.

 

Yoga is known to increase body awareness. So, it is no surprise that the insular cortex is expanded by yoga practice. It has been shown to be involved in interoceptive body awareness. Yoga is also known to increase attentional ability. So, it is no surprise that the prefrontal cortical areas have increased activation with yoga practice. They have been shown to be involved in attention processing. Yoga is known to increase present moment awareness and decrease mind wandering. So, it is no surprise that yoga produces increased functional connectivity among the structures of the dorsal mode network. They have been shown to be involved in mind wandering and a lack of present moment awareness.

 

So, although differences in yoga practices produce differences in observed changes in the brain, there appear to consistent similarities. Yoga practice changes the brain in areas underlying body awareness, attention, and present moment awareness. It can be speculated that these changes in the brain underlie many of the physical and psychological benefits of yoga practice.

 

So, yoga changes the brain to improve body awareness, attention, and present moment awareness.

 

We can talk about anxiety, depression and blood pressure lowering in yoga, all of those are proven. But the biggest thing we see that results from yoga is that your quality of life will change for the better,” – Amy Wheeler

 

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

 

van Aalst, J., Ceccarini, J., Demyttenaere, K., Sunaert, S., & Van Laere, K. (2020). What Has Neuroimaging Taught Us on the Neurobiology of Yoga? A Review. Frontiers in integrative neuroscience, 14, 34. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnint.2020.00034

 

Abstract

Yoga is becoming increasingly popular worldwide, with several implicated physical and mental benefits. Here we provide a comprehensive and critical review of the research generated from the existing neuroimaging literature in studies of yoga practitioners. We reviewed 34 international peer-reviewed neuroimaging studies of yoga using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), positron emission tomography (PET), or single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT): 11 morphological and 26 functional studies, including three studies that were classified as both morphological and functional. Consistent findings include increased gray matter volume in the insula and hippocampus, increased activation of prefrontal cortical regions, and functional connectivity changes mainly within the default mode network. There is quite some variability in the neuroimaging findings that partially reflects different yoga styles and approaches, as well as sample size limitations. Direct comparator groups such as physical activity are scarcely used so far. Finally, hypotheses on the underlying neurobiology derived from the imaging findings are discussed in the light of the potential beneficial effects of yoga.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7362763/

 

Meditation Alters a Variety of Biological Mechanisms and Improves Mental Disorders

Meditation Alters a Variety of Biological Mechanisms and Improves Mental Disorders

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

Meditation-which come in many variations-has long been acknowledged as a tool to master the mind and cope with stress. Science is increasingly validating those claims, especially for depression, schizophrenia, anxiety, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).” – Mental Health America

 

Meditation training has been shown to improve health and well-being. It has also been found to be effective for a large array of medical and psychiatric conditions, either stand-alone or in combination with more traditional therapies. There are a number of ways that meditation practices produce these benefits, including changes to the brain and physiology. It is useful to review and summarize what has been discovered regarding the mechanisms by which meditation practice improves mental disorders.

 

In today’s Research News article “Biological mechanism study of meditation and its application in mental disorders.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7359050/) Shen and colleagues review and summarize the published scientific research studies on the mechanisms by which meditation practice improves mental disorders.

 

They report that the published research has found complex and widespread changes in the nervous system occur as a result of meditation. In the central nervous system these are relatively long lasting changes in the amount and connectivity of the brain tissue, termed neuroplastic changes, and these may underlie the beneficial changes in the meditators. In addition, meditation appears to alter the peripheral nervous system, in particular, the autonomic nervous system. Meditation increases parasympathetic activity that underlies vegetative functions and relaxation. This may be one mechanism by which meditation improves stress responses.

 

They further report that the published research found that meditation improves the functions of the immune and inflammatory systems. These effects also improve stress responses and fighting off disease. Hence, the effects of meditation on these biological process may underlie meditations ability to improve health. Since inflammatory responses often accompany mental illnesses, this may also be a mechanism by which meditation improved mental disease.

 

On a genetic, microbiological, level meditation has been found to alter the expression of genes that promote health. This may be the underlying reason that meditation improves the immune and inflammatory systems. Also, on the genetic level the research has found that meditation promotes the preservation of telomeres. These are the ends of the chromosomes that shorten throughout the lifetime and are thought to perhaps underlie cellular aging. This mechanism may underlie meditation’s ability to slow the aging process.

 

Meditation has been found through systematic controlled research to improve a wide array of mental illnesses. These include depression, including major depressive disorders, Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and Schizophrenia. In addition, meditation has been found to aid in recovery from substance abuse disorders and to help prevent relapse.

 

It is clear from the published scientific research that meditation alters a wide array of physiological processes and improves and improves an equally wide array of mental illnesses. It will be important in the future to link the two to begin to understand what physiological changes underlie which improvements in mental illness. Regardless it is clear that meditation has many beneficial effects that promote physical and mental well-being.

 

So, practice meditation to alter a variety of biological mechanisms and improve mental disorders.

 

Mindfulness exercises are valuable and useful for anyone, but most especially for people who are struggling with mental illness or addictions. “ – Sarah Levin

 

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

 

Shen, H., Chen, M., & Cui, D. (2020). Biological mechanism study of meditation and its application in mental disorders. General psychiatry, 33(4), e100214. https://doi.org/10.1136/gpsych-2020-100214

 

Abstract

In recent years, research on meditation as an important alternative therapy has developed rapidly and been widely applied in clinical medicine. Mechanism studies of meditation have also developed progressively, showing that meditation has great impact on brain structure and function, and epigenetic and telomere regulation. In line with this, the application of meditation has gradually been expanded to mental illness, most often applied for major depressive disorders and substance-related and addictive disorders. The focus of this paper is to illustrate the biological mechanisms of meditation and its application in mental disorders.

Conclusions

Over the past two decades, meditation has been used in a great variety of fields to relieve stress, regulate emotions and promote physical and mental health. In recent years, the application of meditation in the psychiatric field has gradually received attention. It has become an adjunctive and alternative therapy for depression, PTSD and ADHD and has been carried out for the acute and remission stages of treatment for severe schizophrenia. Additionally, it can ameliorate emotional distress, craving and withdrawal symptoms in substance addiction. However, the current researchers adopt different meditation methods and diverse training durations, which leads to the inability to systematically evaluate which type of meditation is more beneficial to which populations or diseases, and to completely elucidate the biological mechanism of meditation. In the future, further targets for selective meditation subtypes along with prescribed training time, and randomised controlled studies with sufficient samples are required to determine the efficacy of meditation on the one hand, and simultaneously study the mechanisms behind meditation on the mind–body interaction, which can better display the positive function of meditation as an ancient physical and mental healing method in promoting human health.

 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7359050/

 

Meditate to Alter the Brain and Overcome Attention and Hyperactivity Problems Resulting from Childhood Neglect

Meditate to Alter the Brain and Overcome Attention and Hyperactivity Problems Resulting from Childhood Neglect

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

Without appropriate clinical interventions, individuals exposed to relational trauma in childhood are at greater risk for difficulties in adult relationships and parenting.” At present, there is not much in the way of treatment for individual adults who have experienced childhood maltreatment: this study shows that mindfulness could help change that.” – Emily Nauman

 

Child maltreatment is the abuse and neglect that occurs to children under 18 years of age. It includes all types of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect, negligence and commercial or other exploitation, which results in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power.” (World Health Organization, 2016)

 

Childhood neglect is traumatic and can leave in its wake symptoms which can haunt the victims for the rest of their lives. These include cognitive impairments such as attentional difficulties, difficulty concentrating, and hyperactivity. Unfortunately, childhood neglect can continue to affect mental and physical health throughout the individual’s life. Fortunately, mindfulness training has been found to help. Indeed, mindfulness has been found to be effective for relieving trauma symptoms even in adults who were maltreated in childhood..

 

In today’s Research News article “Closed-loop digital meditation for neurocognitive and behavioral development in adolescents with childhood neglect.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7235252/) Mishra and colleagues recruited adolescents (aged 10-18 years) who had experienced childhood neglect. They were randomly assigned to either a no-treatment control condition or to receive over the internet 30 sessions over 6 weeks of 30 minutes of either breath following meditation or attention to sensory information video games. They were measured before and after training and one year later for sustained attention, attention with distractors, inattention behaviors, hyperactivity, and academic performance. They also had their brains scanned with Resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (rs-fMRI).

 

They found that in comparison to baseline and the no-treatment and the attention to sensory information groups, the breath following meditation group after treatment had significant increases in attentional ability, both sustained and with distractors and a significant improvement in academic performance. In addition, the breath following meditation groups had a significant decrease in hyperactivity at the 1-year follow-up. The resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (rs-fMRI) revealed that the greater the level of childhood neglect experienced by the adolescents the lower the functional connectivity of the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex. After treatment only the breath following meditation group had a significant increase in the functional connectivity of the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex and the greater the increase in connectivity the greater the improvements in sustained attention and hyperactivity.

 

These are interesting and potentially important findings. Childhood neglect appears to result in impairments in the connectivity of a key brain area involved in regulating attention, the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex. This could explain why neglected children have a higher likelihood of developing attention deficit hyperactivity (ADHD) disorder in adolescents. Importantly, training in breath following meditation appears to some extent reverse the loss of functional connectivity and the attentional and hyperactivity symptoms of the adolescents and result in improved performance in school. Hence, training in breath following meditation may be very helpful in preventing childhood neglect from producing ADHD in adolescents and impairing their academic performance.

 

Another important aspect of the present study was that the treatment was provided over the internet. This greatly increases its availability, convenience, and utility and reduces cost. So, the treatment can be cost effectively scaled up to treat large numbers of adolescents scattered over wide geographic regions. This makes it available to adolescents who are neither near a therapist or can afford therapy.

 

Hence, meditate to alter the brain and overcome attention and hyperactivity problems resulting from childhood neglect.

 

The absence of emotional support in childhood can be as damaging and long-lasting as other traumas. But, because you can’t point to exactly where and when the wounding happened, it can be hard to identify and overcome it.” – Andrea Brandt

 

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

 

Mishra, J., Sagar, R., Parveen, S., Kumaran, S., Modi, K., Maric, V., Ziegler, D., & Gazzaley, A. (2020). Closed-loop digital meditation for neurocognitive and behavioral development in adolescents with childhood neglect. Translational psychiatry, 10(1), 153. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41398-020-0820-z

 

Abstract

Adverse childhood experiences are linked to poor attentive behaviors during adolescence, as well as increased risk for mental health disorders in adults. However, no study has yet tested targeted interventions to optimize neurocognitive processes in this population. Here, we investigated closed-loop digital interventions in a double-blind randomized controlled study in adolescents with childhood neglect, and evaluated the outcomes using multimodal assessments of neuroimaging, cognitive, behavioral, and academic evaluations. In the primary neuroimaging results, we demonstrate that a closed-loop digital meditation intervention can strengthen functional connectivity of the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) in the cingulo-opercular network, which is critically developing during the adolescent period. Second, this intervention enhanced sustained attention and interference-resolution abilities, and also reduced behavioral hyperactivity at a 1-year follow-up. Superior academic performance was additionally observed in adolescents who underwent the digital meditation intervention. Finally, changes in dACC functional connectivity significantly correlated with improvements in sustained attention, hyperactivity, and academic performance. This first study demonstrates that closed-loop digital meditation practice can facilitate development of important aspects of neurocognition and real-life behaviors in adolescents with early childhood neglect.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7235252/

 

Meditation Reduces the Brain’s Empathetic Response

Meditation Reduces the Brain’s Empathetic Response

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

mindfulness’s most profound benefit may not be the one that’s most often touted—adapting to a stressful, competitive, even unkind 24/7 world. Instead, meditation might fundamentally alter how we treat those around us.” – David Destino

 

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. Empathy and compassion are essential for appropriate social engagement and cooperation. In order for these abilities to emerge and strengthen, individuals must be able to see that other people are very much like themselves.

 

Mindfulness has been found to increase prosocial behaviors such as altruism, compassion, and empathy. It is not known how mindfulness practice might do this. Mindfulness is known to alter the nervous system through a process called neuroplasticity. It is possible that mindfulness improves empathy by altering the brain systems that underlie it.

 

In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness meditation regulates anterior insula activity during empathy for social pain.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6867068/), Laneri and colleagues recruited long-term meditators with at least 5 years of regular meditation practice and a group of non-meditators. All participants performed an empathy task while having their brains scanned with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). Half of the meditators meditated for 8 minutes prior to being measured for empathy while half did not. Empathy was measured by having the participants view sketches of either socially embarrassing or neutral situations and rate them for the degree of embarrassment. After the session the participants completed measures of compassionate love and interpersonal reactivity.

 

They found that while viewing the sketches of socially embarrassing situations there were increased activations of the anterior insula, anterior cingulate cortex, medial prefrontal cortex and temporal pole of the brain in both groups. These are all areas of the brain that have been associated with empathy and compassion processing. But the meditators who meditated immediately before the task had a significantly reduced activation of the anterior insula and the greater the level of the individual’s trait compassion, the lower the levels of activation.

 

The insula has been suspected to be involved in empathy and interoceptive awareness; the ability to be aware of one’s internal state. The results, then suggest that the immediate, short-term effects of meditation in practiced meditators is to reduce the awareness of their internal responses to observing embarrassment. The meditating participants, nevertheless, rated the situations as equivalently embarrassing as the non-meditating meditators and the non-meditators. This suggests that all participants reacted with similar levels of empathy but perhaps different levels of physiological arousal.

 

It is interesting that long-term meditation did not appear to alter empathy or the brains response to socially embarrassing situations. But, on the short-term, the immediate effects of meditation is to reduce the brains response. Meditation is known to reduce arousal and this may underly the lower responses in the insula. After meditation, the participants are simply more relaxed and less responsive to physiological arousal but equally able to comprehend the embarrassing situations effect.

 

So, meditation reduces the brain’s empathetic response.

 

through mindfulness training, people can develop skills that promote happiness and compassion.” – Christopher Berglund

 

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

 

Laneri, D., Krach, S., Paulus, F. M., Kanske, P., Schuster, V., Sommer, J., & Müller-Pinzler, L. (2017). Mindfulness meditation regulates anterior insula activity during empathy for social pain. Human brain mapping, 38(8), 4034–4046. https://doi.org/10.1002/hbm.23646

 

Abstract

Mindfulness has been shown to reduce stress, promote health, and well‐being, as well as to increase compassionate behavior toward others. It reduces distress to one’s own painful experiences, going along with altered neural responses, by enhancing self‐regulatory processes and decreasing emotional reactivity. In order to investigate if mindfulness similarly reduces distress and neural activations associated with empathy for others’ socially painful experiences, which might in the following more strongly motivate prosocial behavior, the present study compared trait, and state effects of long‐term mindfulness meditation (LTM) practice. To do so we acquired behavioral data and neural activity measures using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) during an empathy for social pain task while manipulating the meditation state between two groups of LTM practitioners that were matched with a control group. The results show increased activations of the anterior insula (AI) and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) as well as the medial prefrontal cortex and temporal pole when sharing others’ social suffering, both in LTM practitioners and controls. However, in LTM practitioners, who practiced mindfulness meditation just prior to observing others’ social pain, left AI activation was lower and the strength of AI activation following the mindfulness meditation was negatively associated with trait compassion in LTM practitioners. The findings suggest that current mindfulness meditation could provide an adaptive mechanism in coping with distress due to the empathic sharing of others’ suffering, thereby possibly enabling compassionate behavior.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6867068/

 

Altered Brain Metabolism is Associated with Long-Term Yoga Practice

Altered Brain Metabolism is Associated with Long-Term Yoga Practice

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

the benefits of yoga are more encompassing than just the physical. And, thanks to modern technology and functional MRI scans, we’re now able to see how regular practice affects your brain.” – Emmy Lymn

 

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, metabolism, and connectivity. Mindfulness practices in general are known to produce these kinds of changes in the structure and activity of the brain.

 

In today’s Research News article “Long-term Ashtanga yoga practice decreases medial temporal and brainstem glucose metabolism in relation to years of experience.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7225240/), Aalst and colleagues recruited experienced adult yoga practitioners (at least 2 years of 3 times per week practice) and non-practitioners matched for age, gender, education, and physical activity levels. They had the experienced yoga practitioners perform 75 minutes of yoga while the control group practiced 75 minutes of aerobic exercise. Before and after they underwent a Positron Emission Tomography (PET) brain scan to determine changes in glucose metabolism (metabolic activity) in various brain regions.

 

They found that the experienced yoga practitioners at rest had significantly lower levels of activity in the hippocampus, parahippocampus, amygdala, insula, anterior midbrain, striatum (globus pallidus), and cerebellum compared to non-practitioners. After yoga practice there was a significant increase in activity in the cerebellum that wasn’t present for the non-practitioners after aerobic exercise. No significant differences in grey matter volume was observed.

 

The findings that the activity (brain metabolism) in the yoga practitioners while at rest is altered suggests that these are relatively permanent neuroplastic changes in the brain produced by long-term yoga practice. These changes are in areas that are known to be involved in mood and emotion regulation (limbic system, hippocampus, parahippocampus, amygdala), motor movements (cerebellum and striatum), and interoception and body awareness (Insula). These results are in line with the established ability of yoga practice to improve mood and emotion regulation, interoception and body awareness, and movement.

 

The findings are correlational and as such causation cannot be determined. But prior research has established that yoga training produces similar improvements in well-being and changes in the brain suggesting that these effects are caused by yoga practice. Yoga practice is a complex set of activities including postures, meditation, breathing practice, spirituality, and relaxation. It will remain for future research to determine which of these components or which combinations are responsible for which effects.

 

Yoga practitioners have different levels of brain activity at rest reflecting the psychological changes observed in yoga practitioners. The psychological changes suggest that the better emotional and physical well-being in yoga practitioners is due to neuroplastic changes in the brain produced by long-term yoga practice. These results support the recommendation of practicing yoga to improve physical and psychological well-being.

 

So, altered brain metabolism is associated with long-term yoga practice.

 

“The practice of yoga helps improve emotional regulation to reduce stress, anxiety and depression and that seems to improve brain functioning.” – Neha Gothe

 

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

 

van Aalst, J., Ceccarini, J., Schramm, G., Van Weehaeghe, D., Rezaei, A., Demyttenaere, K., Sunaert, S., & Van Laere, K. (2020). Long-term Ashtanga yoga practice decreases medial temporal and brainstem glucose metabolism in relation to years of experience. EJNMMI research, 10(1), 50. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13550-020-00636-y

 

Abstract

Background

Yoga is increasingly popular worldwide with several physical and mental benefits, but the underlying neurobiology remains unclear. Whereas many studies have focused on pure meditational aspects, the triad of yoga includes meditation, postures, and breathing. We conducted a cross-sectional study comparing experienced yoga practitioners to yoga-naive healthy subjects using a multiparametric 2 × 2 design with simultaneous positron emission tomography/magnetic resonance (PET/MR) imaging.

Methods

18F-FDG PET, morphometric and diffusion tensor imaging, resting state fMRI, and MR spectroscopy were acquired in 10 experienced (4.8 ± 2.3 years of regular yoga experience) yoga practitioners and 15 matched controls in rest and after a single practice (yoga practice and physical exercise, respectively).

Results

In rest, decreased regional glucose metabolism in the medial temporal cortex, striatum, and brainstem was observed in yoga practitioners compared to controls (p < 0.0001), with a significant inverse correlation of resting parahippocampal and brainstem metabolism with years of regular yoga practice (ρ < − 0.63, p < 0.05). A single yoga practice resulted in significant hypermetabolism in the cerebellum (p < 0.0001). None of the MR measures differed, both at rest and after intervention.

Conclusions

Experienced yoga practitioners show regional long-term decreases in glucose metabolism related to years of practice. To elucidate a potential causality, a prospective longitudinal study in yoga-naive individuals is warranted.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7225240/

 

Improve Major Depressive Disorder with Psilocybin and Mindfulness Meditation

Improve Major Depressive Disorder with Psilocybin and Mindfulness Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

mindfulness training enhances the positive effects of a single dose of psilocybin, and can increase empathy and permanently reduce ego-centricity. This opens up new therapeutic avenues, for example for the treatment of depression.” – Franz Vollenweider

 

Psychedelic substances have been used almost since the beginning of recorded history to alter consciousness and produce spiritually meaningful experiences. People find these experiences very pleasant and eye opening. They often report that the experiences changed them forever. Even though the effects of psychedelic substances have been experienced and reported on for centuries, only very recently have these effects come under rigorous scientific scrutiny.

 

Psilocybin is a psychedelic substance that is found naturally in a number of varieties of mushrooms. It has been used for centuries particularly by Native Americans for their spiritual practices. When studied in the laboratory under double blind conditions, Psilocybin has been shown to “reliably occasion deeply personally meaningful and often spiritually significant experiences (e.g. mystical-type experiences).” Psilocybin has also been shown to improve clinical depression. Mindfulness training has also been found to improve depression. Since the effects of meditation and psilocybin appear similar, it’s important to look at the mechanism by which mindfulness meditation and psilocybin improve depression.

 

In today’s Research News article “Depression, Mindfulness, and Psilocybin: Possible Complementary Effects of Mindfulness Meditation and Psilocybin in the Treatment of Depression. A Review.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7136554/), Heuschkel and colleagues review and summarize the published research studies of the effectiveness of meditation and psilocybin for the treatment of depression. They identified 95 published articles on the effectiveness of either mindfulness or psilocybin on major depressive disorders.

 

They found that the published reports that both mindfulness meditation and psilocybin produce significant and lasting improvements in mood, cognitive function, and social skills in patients with major depressive disorders. Mindfulness training has been shown through extensive research with a variety of healthy and ill individuals to reduce depression, stress responses, and inflammatory responses, and improves cognition, and social skills. It is interesting that both have similar effects.

 

The published research also reports that both mindfulness meditation and psilocybin produce significant neuroplastic changes in the nervous system but act different where mindfulness meditation produces slow changes that accumulate over time while psilocybin produces rapid changes in the brain. They also affect different neural circuits where mindfulness meditation increases activity and connectivity in brain systems associate with interoceptive awareness, psilocybin appears to disrupt function integrity of brain systems, promoting cognitive flexibility.

 

Both mindfulness meditation and psilocybin produce changes in endocrine and immune function. Both produce significant reductions in perceived stress and reduce inflammatory responses, they appear to do so through different mechanisms. Where mindful meditation appears to lower stress responses through the lowering cortisol, psilocybin appears to work through the anti-inflammatory cytokines.

 

Hence, the published research suggests that mindfulness meditation and psilocybin produce similar effects on patients with major depressive disorders, reducing depression, altering the brain both chronically and acutely, and reducing stress and inflammatory responses. But they appear to produce these effects through different biological processes. This suggests that they may complement each other. So, combining the two in a treatment for major depressive disorder may increase overall effectiveness. It remains for future research to investigate the effectiveness of combined treatment.

 

So, improve major depressive disorder with psilocybin and mindfulness meditation.

 

A growing body of evidence suggests that psychedelic drugs, such as psilocybin, may be effective at treating a variety of psychological disorders, including depression and anxiety, and could one day be prescribed to patients.” – Traci Pederson

 

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

 

Heuschkel, K., & Kuypers, K. (2020). Depression, Mindfulness, and Psilocybin: Possible Complementary Effects of Mindfulness Meditation and Psilocybin in the Treatment of Depression. A Review. Frontiers in psychiatry, 11, 224. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2020.00224

 

Abstract

Depression is a major public health problem that affects approximately 4.4% of the global population. Since conventional pharmacotherapies and psychotherapies are only partially effective, as demonstrated by the number of patients failing to achieve remission, alternative treatments are needed. Mindfulness meditation (MM) and psilocybin represent two promising novel treatments that might even have complementary therapeutic effects when combined. Since the current literature is limited to theoretical and empirical underpinnings of either treatment alone, the present review aimed to identify possible complementary effects that may be relevant to the treatment of depression. To that end, the individual effects of MM and psilocybin, and their underlying working mechanisms, were compared on a non-exhaustive selection of six prominent psychological and biological processes that are well known to show impairments in patients suffering from major depression disorder, that is mood, executive functioning, social skills, neuroplasticity, core neural networks, and neuroendocrine and neuroimmunological levels. Based on predefined search strings used in two online databases (PubMed and Google Scholar) 1129 articles were identified. After screening title and abstract for relevance related to the question, 82 articles were retained and 11 were added after reference list search, resulting in 93 articles included in the review. Findings show that MM and psilocybin exert similar effects on mood, social skills, and neuroplasticity; different effects were found on executive functioning, neural core networks, and neuroendocrine and neuroimmune system markers. Potential mechanisms of MM’s effects are enhanced affective self-regulation through mental strategies, optimization of stress reactivity, and structural and functional adjustments of prefrontal and limbic areas; psilocybin’s effects might be established via attenuation of cognitive associations through deep personal insights, cognitive disinhibition, and global neural network disintegration. It is suggested that, when used in combination, MM and psilocybin could exert complementary effects by potentiating or prolonging mutual positive effects, for example, MM potentially facilitating psilocybin-induced peak experiences. Future placebo-controlled double-blind randomized trials focusing on psilocybin-assisted mindfulness-based therapy will provide knowledge about whether the proposed combination of therapies maximizes their efficacy in the treatment of depression or depressive symptomatology.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7136554/

 

Improve the Aging Brain and Well-Being with Mindfulness Training

Improve the Aging Brain and Well-Being with Mindfulness Training

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

On average, the brains of long-term meditators were 7.5 years younger at age 50 than the brains of non-meditators, and an additional 1 month and 22 days younger for every year after 50.”Grace Bullock

 

The aging process involves a systematic progressive decline in every system in the body, the brain included. This includes our cognitive (mental) abilities which decline with age including impairments in memory, attention, and problem-solving ability. It is inevitable and cannot be avoided. Research has 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.

 

In today’s Research News article “Long-Term Physical Exercise and Mindfulness Practice in an Aging Population.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00358/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_1293822_69_Psycho_20200407_arts_A), Tang and colleagues recruited healthy older participants who practiced for an hour a day 6 – 7 days a week for 12 years either physical exercise, aerobic walking, or integrated mind-body training, including body relaxation, mental imagery and mindfulness training. The participants underwent brain imaging with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). They had their heart rate, respiration. and skin conductance recorded during a fitness exercise session. Salivary Secretory immunoglobulin A (sIgA), an index of mucosal immunity and Cortisol levels, an index of stress, were measured at rest, during stress, and during training. They also completed scales measuring general health and quality of life.

 

They found that the mindfulness group had significantly higher resting heart rate and respiration, high frequency heart rate variability, quality of life, and sIgA levels and significantly lower cortisol levels and skin conductance than the exercise group. In addition, they found that the mindfulness group compared to the exercise group had significantly larger brain striatum including the caudate and putamen and significantly greater functional connectivity between the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex and the striatum and also the insula.

 

These results are interesting and suggest that long-term mindfulness practice results in differences in the psychological, physical, and neural states compared to physical exercise. Psychological well-being improvement in the mindfulness group was suggested by the greater reported quality of life. Physiological improvements in the mindfulness group were suggested by greater relaxation as indexed by greater autonomic nervous system, parasympathetic activity and measured by heart rate variability and skin conductance and lower stress hormone, cortisol, levels. The greater volume of the striatum and greater connectivity with the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex also suggest greater physiological relaxation. The mindfulness group also showed greater immune system function as indexed by sIgA levels. On the other hand, the aerobic walking group demonstrated greater physical fitness as indexed by lower resting heart rate and respiration.

 

In sum, these findings suggest the long-term aerobic walking exercise is good for the physical fitness of older adults. But long-term mindfulness training is better for their overall psychological and physical well-being. These results correspond with other prior findings that shorter-term mindfulness practice results in greater autonomic relaxation, quality of life, and neuroplastic changes in brain systems and that this training reduces the physiological and psychological deterioration occurring with aging.

 

So, improve the aging brain and well-being with mindfulness training.

 

“Mind and body practices, in particular, including relaxation techniques and meditative exercise forms such as yoga, tai chi, and qi gong are being used by older Americans, both for fitness and relaxation, and because of perceived health benefits.” –  National Center for Complementayy and Integrative Health

 

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

 

Tang Y-Y, Fan Y, Lu Q, Tan L-H, Tang R, Kaplan RM, Pinho MC, Thomas BP, Chen K, Friston KJ and Reiman EM (2020) Long-Term Physical Exercise and Mindfulness Practice in an Aging Population. Front. Psychol. 11:358. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00358

 

Abstract

Previous studies have shown that physical exercise and mindfulness meditation can both lead to improvement in physical and mental health. However, it is unclear whether these two forms of training share the same underlying mechanisms. We compared two groups of older adults with 10 years of mindfulness meditation (integrative body-mind training, IBMT) or physical exercise (PE) experience to demonstrate their effects on brain, physiology and behavior. Healthy older adults were randomly selected from a large community health project and the groups were compared on measures of quality of life, autonomic activity (heart rate, heart rate variability, skin conductance response, respiratory amplitude/rate), immune function (secretory Immunoglobulin A, sIgA), stress hormone (cortisol) and brain imaging (resting state functional connectivity, structural differences). In comparison with PE, we found significantly higher ratings for the IBMT group on dimensions of life quality. Parasympathetic activity indexed by skin conductance response and high-frequency heart rate variability also showed more favorable outcomes in the IBMT group. However, the PE group showed lower basal heart rate and greater chest respiratory amplitude. Basal sIgA level was significantly higher and cortisol concentration was lower in the IBMT group. Lastly, the IBMT group had stronger brain connectivity between the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) and the striatum at resting state, as well as greater volume of gray matter in the striatum. Our results indicate that mindfulness meditation and physical exercise function in part by different mechanisms, with PE increasing physical fitness and IBMT inducing plasticity in the central nervous systems. These findings suggest combining physical and mental training may achieve better health and quality of life results for an aging population.

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00358/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_1293822_69_Psycho_20200407_arts_A

 

Improve Emotion Regulation and Reduce Pain with Mindful Acceptance

Improve Emotion Regulation and Reduce Pain with Mindful Acceptance

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

Individuals with minimal mindfulness meditation experience can quickly learn how to moderate their brains’ responses to painful experiences and negative images using a technique called mindful acceptance’” – Christopher Berglund

 

There is an accumulating volume of research findings to demonstrate that mind-body therapies have highly beneficial effects on the health and well-being of humans. Mindfulness practices have been shown to improve emotion regulation producing more adaptive and less maladaptive responses to emotions. In other words, mindful people are better able to experience yet control their responses to emotions. The ability of mindfulness training to improve emotion regulation is thought to be the basis for a wide variety of benefits that mindfulness provides to mental health

Indeed, mindfulness practices are effective in treating pain in adults.

 

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. 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 the emotional reactions to pain may be helpful in pain management. Emotional and pain experiences are processed in the nervous system. So, it’s likely that mindfulness practices somehow alters the brain’s processing of emotions and pain.

 

In today’s Research News article “Let it be: mindful acceptance down-regulates pain and negative emotion.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7057281/), Kober and colleagues recruited healthy adults and instructed them to on cue to “react naturally, whatever your response might be” and on another cue to accept. They were instructed for the accept condition to be mindful in the present moment and not judge what is happening but to accept it as it is. They then underwent brain scanning with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). While in the scanner they were presented with a cue to either react or accept their experience. They were then presented with either neutral or emotionally negative images or a warm or hot thermal stimulus on their forearm. Afterward they rated how negatively they felt.

 

They found that the participants rated the emotionally negative picture and the hot stimulus as more negative than the neutral pictures or warm stimulus. But after the accept cue they reported lower negative ratings to both the negative images and hot stimulus. Hence, expressing an attitude of mindful acceptance produced lesser negative reactions to negative emotional and thermal stimuli.

 

The brain activity to the stimuli revealed that during the accept condition there was less activity in the amygdala than during the react condition. The painful, hot, thermal stimulus produced increased brain activity in widespread regions but during the mindful acceptance condition, the activations were significantly lower. Hence, expressing an attitude of mindful acceptance produced less brain activation to negative stimuli.

 

It should be pointed out that the study design contains considerable demand characteristics. Instructing a participant to take on an attitude of non-judging acceptance cues the participant that less reaction is expected. This demand characteristic may account for the ratings. It is less likely, though, that it could account for differential brain activations. Of course, demand characteristics probably have their effects by altering brain processing of the conditions.

 

Regardless, these findings are interesting and demonstrate that a brief mindfulness instruction is sufficient to alter the participants’ experiences of and the responses of their brains to neutral and negative experiences. In addition, the instruction appears to be sufficient to alter the experience of and brain activity to painful stimuli. This suggest that the mindful acceptance instruction produced an improved ability to regulate emotional reactions and experiences of pain and the brains responses to these conditions.

 

It has been repeatedly demonstrated in prior research that mindfulness improves emotion regulation and reduces pain perception. So, the present findings are compatible with prior findings. The contribution of the present study is the demonstration that a brief instruction and training in taking on an attitude of mindful acceptance is sufficient to produce these effects. It remains for future research to determine if this instruction is sufficient to alter real world reactions.

 

So, improve emotion regulation and reduce pain with mindful acceptance.

 

“The ability to stay in the moment when experiencing pain or negative emotions suggests there may be clinical benefits to mindfulness practice in chronic conditions as well — even without long meditation practice.” – Hedy Kober

 

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

 

Kober, H., Buhle, J., Weber, J., Ochsner, K. N., & Wager, T. D. (2019). Let it be: mindful acceptance down-regulates pain and negative emotion. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 14(11), 1147–1158. https://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsz104

 

Abstract

Mindfulness training ameliorates clinical and self-report measures of depression and chronic pain, but its use as an emotion regulation strategy—in individuals who do not meditate—remains understudied. As such, whether it (i) down-regulates early affective brain processes or (ii) depends on cognitive control systems remains unclear. We exposed meditation-naïve participants to two kinds of stimuli: negative vs. neutral images and painful vs. warm temperatures. On alternating blocks, we asked participants to either react naturally or exercise mindful acceptance. Emotion regulation using mindful acceptance was associated with reductions in reported pain and negative affect, reduced amygdala responses to negative images and reduced heat-evoked responses in medial and lateral pain systems. Critically, mindful acceptance significantly reduced activity in a distributed, a priori neurologic signature that is sensitive and specific to experimentally induced pain. In addition, these changes occurred in the absence of detectable increases in prefrontal control systems. The findings support the idea that momentary mindful acceptance regulates emotional intensity by changing initial appraisals of the affective significance of stimuli, which has consequences for clinical treatment of pain and emotion.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7057281/