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/

 

Improve Emotion Processing by the Brain with Meditation

Improve Emotion Processing by the Brain with Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Alterations in key brain circuits associated with emotion regulation can be produced by mindfulness meditation.” – Richard Davidson

 

There has accumulated a large amount of research demonstrating that meditation practice has significant benefits for psychological, physical, and spiritual wellbeing. It has been shown to improve emotions and their regulation. Practitioners demonstrate more positive and less negative emotions and the ability to fully sense and experience emotions, while responding to them in appropriate and adaptive ways. 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 and the treatment of mental illness especially depression and anxiety disorders.

 

One way that meditation practices may produce these benefits is by altering the brain. The nervous system is a dynamic entity, constantly changing and adapting to the environment. It will change size, activity, and connectivity in response to experience. These changes in the brain are called neuroplasticity. Over the last decade neuroscience has been studying the effects of contemplative practices on the brain and has identified neuroplastic changes in widespread areas. In other words, meditation practice appears to mold and change the brain, producing psychological, physical, and spiritual benefits.

 

In today’s Research News article “Meditation-induced neuroplastic changes of the prefrontal network are associated with reduced valence perception in older people.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7058252/), Chau and colleagues recruited adults 60 years of age or greater who had no meditation or relaxation training. They were randomly assigned to receive an 8-week program of 22 sessions of 1.5 hours each of either attention-based compassion meditation training or relaxation training. The participants were instructed to also practice at home daily. Before and after training they were measured for emotional valence (the difference between the magnitudes of positive and negative emotions) and arousal (overall magnitude of emotional responses relative to neutral) with an Emotional Processing task involving emotional ratings of positive neutral and negative pictures. They were also measured for attention with a Stroop task. In addition, they received a functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) brain scan.

 

They found that emotional valence and arousal significantly decreased after training for the meditation but not the relaxation group. This suggests that emotions were less extreme after meditation training. There were no significant differences with attention. The brain scans revealed that the meditation group had significant enlargements of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, the inferior frontal sulcus, and the inferior frontal junction. Path analysis revealed the changes in the inferior frontal junction drove the changes in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and the inferior frontal sulcus.

 

These results are interesting and demonstrate neuroplastic changes in the brains of the elderly produced by attention-based compassion meditation training but not relaxation training. These changes in the brains of the elderly are associated with decrease emotional reactivity. Indeed, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex has been shown to be involved in the inhibition of emotions. This suggests that the meditation training produced improved brain processing for the regulation of emotions in the elderly. Since the elderly often suffer from extremes of anxiety, depression, and loneliness, these meditation induced changes may improve the psychological health of the elderly.

 

So, improve emotion processing by the brain with meditation.

 

Meditation can help tame your emotions even if you’re not a mindful person.” – ScienceDaily

 

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

 

Chau, B., Keuper, K., Lo, M., So, K. F., Chan, C., & Lee, T. (2018). Meditation-induced neuroplastic changes of the prefrontal network are associated with reduced valence perception in older people. Brain and Neuroscience Advances, 2, 2398212818771822. https://doi.org/10.1177/2398212818771822

 

Abstract

Background:

Neuroplastic underpinnings of meditation-induced changes in affective processing are largely unclear.

Methods:

We included healthy older participants in an active-controlled experiment. They were involved a meditation training or a control relaxation training of eight weeks. Associations between behavioral and neural morphometric changes induced by the training were examined.

Results:

The meditation group demonstrated a change in valence perception indexed by more neutral valence ratings of positive and negative affective images. These behavioral changes were associated with synchronous structural enlargements in a prefrontal network involving the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and the inferior frontal sulcus. In addition, these neuroplastic effects were modulated by the enlargement in the inferior frontal junction. In contrast, these prefrontal enlargements were absent in the active control group, which completed a relaxation training. Supported by a path analysis, we propose a model that describes how meditation may induce a series of prefrontal neuroplastic changes related to valence perception. These brain areas showing meditation-induced structural enlargements are reduced in older people with affective dysregulations.

Conclusion:

We demonstrated that a prefrontal network was enlarged after eight weeks of meditation training. Our findings yield translational insights in the endeavor to promote healthy aging by means of meditation.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7058252/

 

Content Free Awareness is Associated with Increased Brain Attentional Activity and Decreased Self-Awareness Activity

Content Free Awareness is Associated with Increased Brain Attentional Activity and Decreased Self-Awareness Activity

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“While scientists do not yet fully understand the true origin of consciousness, many agree that it can be measured within the brainwave patterns of the individual.” – EOC Institute

 

In meditation there occurs a number of different states of consciousness. One of the highest levels achieved is content free awareness. In this state there is nothing that the meditator is aware of other than awareness. The meditator is aware and aware of being aware, but nothing else. Changes in awareness are associated with changes in the activity of the brain which can be seen in the Electroencephalogram (EEG) and also in functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). But content free awareness is elusive and what activity in the brain accompanies it is unknown.

 

In today’s Research News article “Content-Free Awareness: EEG-fcMRI Correlates of Consciousness as Such in an Expert Meditator.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.03064/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_1254058_69_Psycho_20200225_arts_A), Winter and colleagues recruited an meditator with 40 years of experience and over 50,000 hours of formal meditation practice. They simultaneously recorded heart rate, respiration, and brain activity with an electroencephalogram (EEG) and functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) during rest, attention to external stimuli, attention to internal stimuli including memories, and during meditation in a state of content-minimized awareness. After the content free awareness “he reported that he had no awareness of any mental content or any sensory event, including the noise of the MRI scanner. Similarly, he reported having had no experience of self, time, or space of any kind whatsoever at this stage.”

 

They found that heart rate and respiration decreased over the various states reaching its lowest levels during content free awareness. They found that there was a sharp decrease in EEG alpha rhythm power and increase in theta rhythm power during content free awareness. Finally, they found a decrease in functional connectivity in the posterior default mode network and increase in the dorsal attention network during content free awareness.

 

These are interesting results but it must be kept in mind that this was from a single adept expert meditator. Nevertheless, they provide a glimpse at the state of the nervous system during the deepest mental state occurring during meditation. The default mode network is involved in mind wandering, daydreaming, and self-referential thought. The fact that the connectivity within this system was markedly reduced during content free awareness suggests that non-specific mental activity and the idea of self are greatly reduced if not eliminated. The fact that connectivity within the dorsal attentional network increased while there was no increase in the sensory areas of the brain suggests that during content free awareness there was a focused attention that was decoupled from sensory experience. Hence, the brain activity observed in this meditator markedly corresponds to the mental state achieved.

 

So, content free awareness is associated with increased brain attentional activity and decreased self-awareness activity.

 

“The higher state of consciousness is somewhere in between the waking, sleeping and dreaming states. Here, we know we “are” but we don’t know “where” we are. This knowledge that I “am,” but I don’t know “where” I am or “what” I am, is called Shiva.” – Ravi Shankar

 

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

 

Winter U, LeVan P, Borghardt TL, Akin B, Wittmann M, Leyens Y and Schmidt S (2020) Content-Free Awareness: EEG-fcMRI Correlates of Consciousness as Such in an Expert Meditator. Front. Psychol. 10:3064. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.03064

 

The minimal neural correlate of the conscious state, regardless of the neural activity correlated with the ever-changing contents of experience, has still not been identified. Different attempts have been made, mainly by comparing the normal waking state to seemingly unconscious states, such as deep sleep or general anesthesia. A more direct approach would be the neuroscientific investigation of conscious states that are experienced as free of any specific phenomenal content. Here we present serendipitous data on content-free awareness (CFA) during an EEG-fMRI assessment reported by an extraordinarily qualified meditator with over 50,000 h of practice. We focused on two specific cortical networks related to external and internal awareness, i.e., the dorsal attention network (DAN) and the default mode network (DMN), to explore the neural correlates of this experience. The combination of high-resolution EEG and ultrafast fMRI enabled us to analyze the dynamic aspects of fMRI connectivity informed by EEG power analysis. The neural correlates of CFA were characterized by a sharp decrease in alpha power and an increase in theta power as well as increases in functional connectivity in the DAN and decreases in the posterior DMN. We interpret these findings as correlates of a top-down-initiated attentional state excluding external sensory stimuli and internal mentation from conscious experience. We conclude that the investigation of states of CFA could provide valuable input for new methodological and conceptual approaches in the search for the minimal neural correlate of consciousness.

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.03064/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_1254058_69_Psycho_20200225_arts_A

 

Enhance Attention and Attentional Brain Systems with Meditation

Enhance Attention and Attentional Brain Systems with Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“intensive and continued meditation practice is associated with enduring improvements in sustained attention,” – Anthony Zanesco

 

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 and emotion regulation and compassion. One of the primary effects of mindfulness training is an improvement in the ability to pay attention to the task at hand and ignore interfering stimuli. This is an important consequence of mindfulness training and produces improvements in thinking, reasoning, and creativity. The importance of heightened attentional ability to the individual’s ability to navigate the demands of complex modern life cannot be overstated. It helps in school, at work, in relationships, or simply driving a car. As important as attention is, it’s surprising that little is known about the mechanisms by which mindfulness improves attention.

 

There is evidence that mindfulness training improves attention by altering the brain. It appears That mindfulness training increases the size, connectivity, and activity of areas of the brain that are involved in paying attention. In today’s Research News article “Enhanced Attentional Network by Short-Term Intensive Meditation.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.03073/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_1245141_69_Psycho_20200213_arts_A), Kwak and colleagues recruited healthy meditation naïve adults and randomly assigned them to a 4 -day 3-night structured residential retreat of either meditation practice (19 hours total practice) or relaxation.

 

Before and after the retreat the participants underwent functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) of their brains. While they were in the scanner attention was measured with an attention network task. This included a flanker task and a temporal and spatial cueing task. These tasks measure 3 attentional processes, alerting, orienting, and executive control.

 

They found that after the meditation retreat but not the relaxation retreat there was a significant improvement in executive attentional control. The fMRI revealed that the meditation retreat group in comparison to baseline and the relaxation group had significant increases in activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex, both components of the so-called executive control network. They also found that the better the performance on the executive attentional control task, the greater the increase in activity in the anterior cingulate cortex. Additionally, they found that the meditation group had significant increases in the activity of the so called attentional orienting network in the brain including the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, superior and inferior frontal gyrus, frontal eye fields, and anterior cingulate cortex. Finally, they found that the meditation group had significant increases in the activity of the so-called attentional alerting network in the brain including the superior temporal gyrus and the insula.

 

The results demonstrate that an intensive meditation retreat significantly improves attentional processes. This can be seen both behaviorally and neurologically. Behaviorally there was improvement in the executive attentional control while neurologically there were increases in the executive, orienting, and alerting attentional networks. These results suggest that meditation practice alters to brain systems underlying attention resulting in improved attentional ability. These changes may underlie many of the benefits produced by meditation practice.

 

So, enhance attention and attentional brain systems with meditation.

 

With more distractions at your fingertips than ever before, focused attention has become “an endangered species.” Luckily, . . . as little as 10 minutes of meditation a day can help turn the tide, and these benefits can be observed from the moment a person begins their practice.” – Nicole Bayes-Fleming

 

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

 

Kwak S, Kim S-Y, Bae D, Hwang W-J, Cho KIK, Lim K-O, Park H-Y, Lee TY and Kwon JS (2020) Enhanced Attentional Network by Short-Term Intensive Meditation. Front. Psychol. 10:3073. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.03073

 

While recent studies have suggested behavioral effects of short-term meditation on the executive attentional functions, functional changes in the neural correlates of attentional networks after short-term meditation have been unspecified. Here, we conducted a randomized control trial to investigate the effects of a 4-day intensive meditation on the neural correlates of three attentional functions: alerting, orienting, and executive attention. Twenty-three participants in meditation practice and 14 participants in a relaxation retreat group performed attention network test (ANT) during functional magnetic resonance imaging both before and immediately after intervention. The meditation group showed significantly improved behavioral performance in the executive control network in ANT after the intervention. Moreover, neural activities in the executive control network, namely, the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), were also significantly increased during the ANT after meditation. Interestingly, neural activity in the right ACC was significantly predicted by behavioral conflict levels in each individual in the meditation group, indicating significant effects of the program on the executive control network. Moreover, brain regions associated with the alerting and orienting networks also showed enhanced activity during the ANT after the meditation. Our study provides novel evidence on the enhancement of the attentional networks at the neural level via short-term meditation. We also suggest that short-term meditation may be beneficial to individuals at high risk of cognitive deficits by improving neural mechanisms of attention.

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.03073/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_1245141_69_Psycho_20200213_arts_A

 

Focused Meditation Changes Clustering of Brain Systems

Focused Meditation Changes Clustering of Brain Systems

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

meditation . . . 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 G. Walton

 

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. These brain changes with mindfulness practice are important and need to be further investigates.

 

Meditation practice results in a shift in mental processing. It produces a reduction of mind wandering and self-referential thinking and an increase in attention and higher-level thinking. The neural system that underlie mind wandering is termed the Default Mode Network (DMN) and consists in a set of brain structures including medial prefrontal cortex, posterior cingulate, lateral temporal cortex and the hippocampus. The neural system that underlies executive functions such as attention and higher-level thinking is termed the Fronto-Parietal Network (FPN). and includes the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, posterior parietal cortex, and cingulate cortex.

 

There are a number of different types of meditation. Classically they’ve been characterized on a continuum with the degree and type of attentional focus. In focused attention meditation, the individual practices paying attention to a single meditation object. In today’s Research News article “Revealing Changes in Brain Functional Networks Caused by Focused-Attention Meditation Using Tucker3 Clustering.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6990115/), Miyoshi and colleagues examine the changes in the brain’s functional systems resulting from meditation practice. They recruited meditation naïve adults. They had their brains scanned with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) during a 5-minute rest and a 5-minute breath-following (Focused) meditation.

 

They found in comparison to rest, during the brief focused meditation there was increased clustering in “eight brain regions, Frontal Inferior Operculum L, Occipital Inferior R, ParaHippocampal R, Cerebellum 10 R, Cingulum Middle R, Cerebellum Crus1 L, Occipital Inferior L, and Paracentral Lobule R increased through the meditation.” These are all regions involved in the Default Mode Network (DMN), the Somatosensory Network (SSN), and the Fronto-Parietal Network (FPN). The activity of these clusters best discriminated between the resting and focused meditative states.

 

These results make sense in that during a typical meditation there will be attentional focus, mind wandering, and return to attentional focus. The attentional focus is thought to involve the Fronto-Parietal Network (FPN). The mind wandering is thought to involve the Default Mode Network (DMN). Finally, returning from mind wandering to attentional focus is thought to involve Somatosensory Network (SSN). Hence the increased clustering in these systems seen in the focused meditative state would be expected given what is known of neural systems.

 

These results are from a very brief single focused meditation by meditation naïve participants. So, it does not reflect neuroplastic changes in the nervous system that would be expected in practiced meditators. Rather the results indicate the short term activation of clustered systems in the brain that if practiced over time would produce neuroplastic changes.

 

So, focused meditation changes clustering of brain systems.

 

long-term, active meditative practice decreases activity in the default network. This is the brain network associated with the brain at rest — just letting your mind wander with no particular goal in mind — and includes brain areas like the medial prefrontal cortex and the posterior cingulate cortex.” – Kayt Sukel

 

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

 

Miyoshi, T., Tanioka, K., Yamamoto, S., Yadohisa, H., Hiroyasu, T., & Hiwa, S. (2020). Revealing Changes in Brain Functional Networks Caused by Focused-Attention Meditation Using Tucker3 Clustering. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 13, 473. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2019.00473

 

Abstract

This study examines the effects of focused-attention meditation on functional brain states in novice meditators. There are a number of feature metrics for functional brain states, such as functional connectivity, graph theoretical metrics, and amplitude of low frequency fluctuation (ALFF). It is necessary to choose appropriate metrics and also to specify the region of interests (ROIs) from a number of brain regions. Here, we use a Tucker3 clustering method, which simultaneously selects the feature vectors (graph theoretical metrics and fractional ALFF) and the ROIs that can discriminate between resting and meditative states based on the characteristics of the given data. In this study, breath-counting meditation, one of the most popular forms of focused-attention meditation, was used and brain activities during resting and meditation states were measured by functional magnetic resonance imaging. The results indicated that the clustering coefficients of the eight brain regions, Frontal Inferior Operculum L, Occipital Inferior R, ParaHippocampal R, Cerebellum 10 R, Cingulum Middle R, Cerebellum Crus1 L, Occipital Inferior L, and Paracentral Lobule R increased through the meditation. Our study also provided the framework of data-driven brain functional analysis and confirmed its effectiveness on analyzing neural basis of focused-attention meditation.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6990115/

 

Yoga Practice Changes and Protects the Brain from Aging

Yoga Practice Changes and Protects the Brain from Aging

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

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

 

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.

 

The evidence has been accumulating. It is reasonable to pause and summarize what has been learned. In today’s Research News article “Yoga Effects on Brain Health: A Systematic Review of the Current Literature.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6971819/), Gothe and colleagues review and summarize the published research studies of the effects of yoga practice on the brain. They found 11 published studies.

 

They report that the studies that compare the brains of yoga practitioners to non-practitioners and studies that trained participants in yoga have found increases in cortical volume and thickness particularly in the frontal cortex, hippocampus, anterior cingulate cortex and insula. They also found that yoga practice appears to increase the functional connectivity in a series of brain structures labelled as the default mode network. These changes are similar to those observed with other aerobic exercises. Importantly, the changes observed were mainly in the structures that are most affected by aging.

 

These findings from the currently available research studies suggest that yoga practice, like other aerobic exercises, can produce neuroplastic changes in the brain. These changes involve increases in size and function of areas that a typically seen to deteriorate with aging. This suggests that yoga practice can protect the brain from age-related deterioration. This would explain why yoga practice helps to prevent functional deterioration in the elderly.

 

These are important findings that suggest that yoga practice tends to protect or reverse age-related declines in the structure and functions of the nervous system. This could make for a healthier, happier aging process where the elderly retain cognitive abilities as they continue to age.

 

So, protect the brain from aging with yoga.

 

Using MRI scans, Villemure detected more gray matter—brain cells—in certain brain areas in people who regularly practiced yoga, as compared with control subjects.” – Stephani Sutherland

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

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

 

Study Summary

 

Gothe, N. P., Khan, I., Hayes, J., Erlenbach, E., & Damoiseaux, J. S. (2019). Yoga Effects on Brain Health: A Systematic Review of the Current Literature. Brain plasticity (Amsterdam, Netherlands), 5(1), 105–122. doi:10.3233/BPL-190084

 

Abstract

Yoga is the most popular complementary health approach practiced by adults in the United States. It is an ancient mind and body practice with origins in Indian philosophy. Yoga combines physical postures, rhythmic breathing and meditative exercise to offer the practitioners a unique holistic mind-body experience. While the health benefits of physical exercise are well established, in recent years, the active attentional component of breathing and meditation practice has garnered interest among exercise neuroscientists. As the scientific evidence for the physical and mental health benefits of yoga continues to grow, this article aims to summarize the current knowledge of yoga practice and its documented positive effects for brain structure and function, as assessed with MRI, fMRI, and SPECT. We reviewed 11 studies examining the effects of yoga practice on the brain structures, function and cerebral blood flow. Collectively, the studies demonstrate a positive effect of yoga practice on the structure and/or function of the hippocampus, amygdala, prefrontal cortex, cingulate cortex and brain networks including the default mode network (DMN). The studies offer promising early evidence that behavioral interventions like yoga may hold promise to mitigate age-related and neurodegenerative declines as many of the regions identified are known to demonstrate significant age-related atrophy.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6971819/