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/

 

Improve Brain Function and Mild Cognitive Impairment in the Elderly with Tai Chi

Improve Brain Function and Mild Cognitive Impairment in the Elderly with Tai Chi

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

in individuals age 60 or older with mild cognitive impairment . . . engaging in tai chi (a series of gentle, slow movements accompanied by deep breathing) reduces the risk of falling. What’s more, it may also improve cognitive abilities.” – Health and Wellness Alerts

 

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, 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 meditationyoga, 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 effectiveness of Tai Chi training on older adults with mild cognitive impairment to improve their cognitive performance.

 

In today’s Research News article “Mind-body exercise improves cognitive function and modulates the function and structure of the hippocampus and anterior cingulate cortex in patients with mild cognitive impairment.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6535682/), Tao and colleagues recruited sedentary patients over 60 years of age who were diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment. They were randomly assigned to receive 24 weeks, 3 times per week for 1 hour, of either Baduanjin Tai Chi or brisk walking, or 8 weeks, once a week for 30 minutes of health education. They were measured before and after the 24 weeks of training for cognitive function including naming, verbal memory registration, visuospatial/executive functions, and learning, attention, and abstraction. Their brains were also scanned with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) before and after training.

 

They found that the group that practiced Baduanjin Tai Chi had significant improvements in cognitive functions that were about double those of the walking and health education groups. In the fMRI data they investigated the resting state amplitude of low-frequency fluctuations (ALFF), that is linked with cerebral blood flow. They found that Baduanjin Tai Chi group had significant decreases in ALFF in the right hippocampus and significant increases in the left medial prefrontal cortex and the anterior cingulate cortex. They also found that the Baduanjin Tai Chi group had significant increases in grey matter volume in the right hippocampus and the anterior cingulate cortex and increased functional connectivity between the hippocampus and right angular gyrus. Importantly, they found that the greater the change in the ALFF for the right hippocampus and also the anterior cingulate cortex the greater the improvement in cognitive function.

 

The hippocampus has been shown to be involved in information storage (memory). Since one of the biggest changes that accompany mild cognitive impairments are deficits in memory, it seems logical that interventions that improve cognitive function in these patients would affect the brain structure involved in the memory process.

 

These are very interesting results from a well-controlled study. They suggest that participation in Baduanjin Tai Chi changes the brain and increases cognitive function in patients with mild cognitive impairments. These results are in line with previous findings that Tai Chi improves cognitive function, memory, and reduces age related deterioration of the brain in the elderly. The results also suggest that the changes in the brain are associated with the changes in cognitive ability.

 

It’s important to note that Tai Chi is gentle and safe, appropriate for all ages, and for individuals with illnesses that limit their activities or range of motion. It is inexpensive to administer, can be performed in groups or alone, at home or in a facility, and can be quickly learned. In addition, it can be practiced in social groups. This can make it fun, improving the likelihood of long-term engagement in the practice. Overall, the results suggest that participation in Tai Chi should be recommended for patients with mild cognitive impairments.

 

So, improve brain function and mild cognitive impairment in the elderly with Tai Chi

 

 

adults with mild cognitive impairment . . . found that a 12-week exercise program significantly improved performance on a semantic memory task, and also significantly improved brain efficiency.” – About Memory

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

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

 

Study Summary

 

Tao, J., Liu, J., Chen, X., Xia, R., Li, M., Huang, M., … Kong, J. (2019). Mind-body exercise improves cognitive function and modulates the function and structure of the hippocampus and anterior cingulate cortex in patients with mild cognitive impairment. NeuroImage. Clinical, 23, 101834. doi:10.1016/j.nicl.2019.101834

 

Abstract

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a common neurological disorder. This study aims to investigate the modulation effect of Baduanjin (a popular mind-body exercise) on MCI. 69 patients were randomized to Baduanjin, brisk walking, or an education control group for 24 weeks. The Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging scans were applied at baseline and at the end of the experiment. Compared to the brisk walking and control groups, the Baduanjin group experienced significantly increased MoCA scores. Amplitude of low-frequency fluctuations (ALFF) analysis showed significantly decreased ALFF values in the right hippocampus (classic low-freqency band, 0.01‐0.08 Hz) in the Baduanjin group compared to the brisk walking group and increased ALFF values in the bilateral anterior cingulate cortex (ACC, slow-5 band, 0.01-0.027 Hz) in the Baduanjin group compared to the control group. Further, ALFF value changes in the right hippocampus and bilateral ACC were significantly associated with corresponding MoCA score changes across all groups. We also found increased gray matter volume in the Baduanjin group in the right hippocampus compared to the brisk walking group and in the bilateral ACC compared to the control group. In addition, there was an increased resting state functional connectivity between the hippocampus and right angular gyrus in the Baduanjin group compared to the control group. Our results demonstrate the potential of Baduanjin for the treatment of MCI.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6535682/

 

Meditation Practice Does Not Change the Brain or Impulsivity

Meditation Practice Does Not Change the Brain or Impulsivity

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

Impulsivity is a characteristic of human behavior that can be both beneficial and detrimental to our everyday lives. For example, the ability to act on impulse may allow us to seize a valuable opportunity, or to make a disastrous decision that we then live to regret.” – Catharine Winstanley

 

Impulsivity “is a tendency to act on a whim, displaying behavior characterized by little or no forethought, reflection, or consideration of the consequences.” It can lead to taking unnecessary risks with at times disastrous consequences. It can also lead to inappropriate aggressive behavior also potentially leading to disastrous consequences including disciplinary problems and even criminal prosecution. There are some indications that mindfulness can help to reduce impulsivity. But there is a need for more study of this potential benefit of mindfulness.

 

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. The types of neural changes produced by meditation practice that might underlie changes in impulsivity have not been investigated.

 

In today’s Research News article “The Effect of Mindfulness Meditation on Impulsivity and its Neurobiological Correlates in Healthy Adults.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6700173/), Korponay and colleagues recruited long-term meditators with at least 3 years of experience and meditation naïve adults. They were measured for mindfulness, impulsivity and behavioral inhibition with a go-no-go task. In addition, their brains were scanned with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and their spontaneous eye blinks recorded. Then the meditation naïve participants were randomly assigned to receive either an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, an 8-week health education program, or a wait-list control condition. After treatment they underwent the same measurements.

 

They found that after the interventions the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) group had significantly higher levels of mindfulness but there were no significant changes in impulsivity or behavioral inhibition and no significant differences in brain volumes or connectivity, or in eye blink rates. Hence, short-term mindfulness training did improve mindfulness but did not produce changes in the brain or in impulsivity.

 

In comparing long-term meditators to meditation naïve participants, they found that the long-term meditators had lower attentional impulsivity, suggesting better attentional control, but higher motor and non-planning impulsivity. The long-term meditators had less striatal gray matter, greater cortico-striatal-thalamic functional connectivity, and lower spontaneous eye-blink rates.

 

The null findings regarding brain structural changes following Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) training are curious as prior research has consistently demonstrated that this training produces significant changes in the brain. Only in comparing long-term meditators to meditation naïve participants were significant differences detected. This suggests that the brain difference may have been not been due to the effects of the meditation itself, but rather to brain differences in people who are drawn to long-term meditation practice compared to people who are not drawn.

 

The present results suggest that neither long-term or short-term mindfulness practice changes impulsivity. Previous research found that mindfulness training reduced impulsivity in individuals who had difficulties with impulse control, prisoners, patients with borderline personality disorder, and out-of-control teenagers. It would appear that mindfulness training is effective in reducing impulsivity in people with low levels of impulse control but not in normal populations. Hence, mindfulness training is helpful for improving impulse control only where it is low to begin with.

 

It seems the longer you do meditation, the better your brain will be at self-regulation. You don’t have to consume as much energy at rest and you can more easily get yourself into a more relaxed state.” – Bin He

 

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

 

Korponay, C., Dentico, D., Kral, T., Ly, M., Kruis, A., Davis, K., … Davidson, R. J. (2019). The Effect of Mindfulness Meditation on Impulsivity and its Neurobiological Correlates in Healthy Adults. Scientific reports, 9(1), 11963. doi:10.1038/s41598-019-47662-y

 

Abstract

Interest has grown in using mindfulness meditation to treat conditions featuring excessive impulsivity. However, while prior studies find that mindfulness practice can improve attention, it remains unclear whether it improves other cognitive faculties whose deficiency can contribute to impulsivity. Here, an eight-week mindfulness intervention did not reduce impulsivity on the go/no-go task or Barratt Impulsiveness Scale (BIS-11), nor produce changes in neural correlates of impulsivity (i.e. frontostriatal gray matter, functional connectivity, and dopamine levels) compared to active or wait-list control groups. Separately, long-term meditators (LTMs) did not perform differently than meditation-naïve participants (MNPs) on the go/no-go task. However, LTMs self-reported lower attentional impulsivity, but higher motor and non-planning impulsivity on the BIS-11 than MNPs. LTMs had less striatal gray matter, greater cortico-striatal-thalamic functional connectivity, and lower spontaneous eye-blink rate (a physiological dopamine indicator) than MNPs. LTM total lifetime practice hours (TLPH) did not significantly relate to impulsivity or neurobiological metrics. Findings suggest that neither short- nor long-term mindfulness practice may be effective for redressing impulsive behavior derived from inhibitory motor control or planning capacity deficits in healthy adults. Given the absence of TLPH relationships to impulsivity or neurobiological metrics, differences between LTMs and MNPs may be attributable to pre-existing differences.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6700173/

 

Reconfigure the Brain for Improved Executive Function with Meditation

Reconfigure the Brain for Improved Executive Function with Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

So, what’s the best way to build a better brain? Backed by 1000’s of studies, meditation is the neuroscientific community’s most proven way to upgrade the human brain.” – EOC Institute

 

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 Central Executive Network (CEN) and includes the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, posterior parietal cortex, and cingulate cortex. Hence the shift in thought process may well be associated with changes in the relationship of these systems.

 

In today’s Research News article “From State-to-Trait Meditation: Reconfiguration of Central Executive and Default Mode Networks.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6893234/), Bauer and colleagues recruited experienced meditators and meditation naïve adults. Their brains were measured with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) at rest (trait mindfulness) and while engaged in a brief meditation (state mindfulness).

 

They found that in comparison to the meditation naïve group during the resting state the experienced meditators had reduced activity and functional connectivity of the Default Mode Network (DMN) and reduced activity in the Central Executive Network (CEN) along with a stronger relationship between the activities of the DMN and CEN. These changes are indicative of the long-term changes in the neural systems produced by meditation and reflect the effects of trait mindfulness. During the meditation the experienced meditators had increased activity in the Central Executive Network (CEN) and increased functional connectivity with the Default Mode Network (DMN). These changes are indicative of the short-term changes in the neural systems produced by meditation and reflect the effects of state mindfulness.

 

These results suggest that long-term meditation practice alters the neural systems emphasizing reducing activation in both the mind wandering system (DMN) and the executive system (CEN) suggesting a reduction in thinking while at rest. This may be indicative of greater present moment awareness without evaluation or thought. The findings further suggest that long-term meditation practice alters the neural systems such that during meditation there is greater activity in the executive system (CEN) and greater influence of the CEN on the mind wandering system (DMN). This may be indicative of greater attention during meditation which suppresses mind wandering and self-referential thinking.

 

In general, it can be speculated that meditation practice alters the brain in ways that affect processing of information overall (trait), reducing thought and increasing awareness of the present moment environment. Meditation practice also alters the brain to increase the ability to attend during meditation and interrupt mind wandering. Hence, the brain activities reflect the subjective psychological changes seen in meditators.

 

So, reconfigure the brain for improved executive function with meditation.

 

“It seems the longer you do meditation, the better your brain will be at self-regulation. You don’t have to consume as much energy at rest and you can more easily get yourself into a more relaxed state.” – Bin He

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

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

 

Study Summary

 

Bauer, C., Whitfield-Gabrieli, S., Díaz, J. L., Pasaye, E. H., & Barrios, F. A. (2019). From State-to-Trait Meditation: Reconfiguration of Central Executive and Default Mode Networks. eNeuro, 6(6), ENEURO.0335-18.2019. doi:10.1523/ENEURO.0335-18.2019

 

Abstract

While brain default mode network (DMN) activation in human subjects has been associated with mind wandering, meditation practice has been found to suppress it and to increase psychological well-being. In addition to DMN activity reduction, experienced meditators (EMs) during meditation practice show an increased connectivity between the DMN and the central executive network (CEN). However, the gradual change between DMN and CEN configuration from pre-meditation, during meditation, and post-meditation is unknown. Here, we investigated the change in DMN and CEN configuration by means of brain activity and functional connectivity (FC) analyses in EMs across three back-to-back functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans: pre-meditation baseline (trait), meditation (state), and post-meditation (state-to-trait). Pre-meditation baseline group comparison was also performed between EMs and healthy controls (HCs). Meditation trait was characterized by a significant reduction in activity and FC within DMN and increased anticorrelations between DMN and CEN. Conversely, meditation state and meditation state-to-trait periods showed increased activity and FC within the DMN and between DMN and CEN. However, the latter anticorrelations were only present in EMs with limited practice. The interactions between networks during these states by means of positive diametric activity (PDA) of the fractional amplitude of low-frequency fluctuations (fALFFs) defined as CEN fALFF¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯ − DMN fALFF¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯ revealed no trait differences but significant increases during meditation state that persisted in meditation state-to-trait. The gradual reconfiguration in DMN and CEN suggest a neural mechanism by which the CEN negatively regulates the DMN and is probably responsible for the long-term trait changes seen in meditators and reported psychological well-being.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6893234/

 

Reduce the Brain’s Emotional Reactivity with Meditation Practice

Reduce the Brain’s Emotional Reactivity with Meditation Practice

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Of all the reasons people have for trying meditation, being less emotionally reactive is usually pretty high up.” – Alice G. Walton

 

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 “Impact of short- and long-term mindfulness meditation training on amygdala reactivity to emotional stimuli.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6671286/), Kral and colleagues recruited health adults who were meditation naïve or who were long term meditators having meditated daily for at least 3 years. They viewed pictures that were produced either positive or negative emotions while having their brains scanned with functional Magnetic Resonance imaging (fMRI). They also rated the pictures emotional content. The meditation naïve participants were randomly assigned to receive either a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) or health education program. The MBSR program consists of 8 weekly 2-hour group sessions involving meditation, yoga, body scan, and discussion. The participants were also encouraged to perform daily practice at home. After the 8-week training period the participants also had their brains scanned with functional Magnetic Resonance imaging (fMRI) while viewing the positive, neutral, and negative emotional pictures.

 

They found that the long-term meditators rated more pictures as neutral. This suggests that these meditators have reduced emotional responses to emotion evoking stimuli.  In addition, they had lower activations of the Amygdala on the right side in response to emotionally positive pictures than to neutral pictures. Following MBSR training the meditation naïve participants also had lower activations of the Amygdala on the right side in response to emotionally positive pictures and they also had greater functional connectivity between the Amygdala and the Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex.

 

These results suggest that both long-term meditation practice and short-term training impacts the brain in such a way as to reduce the activation of a brain structure (right Amygdala) that is thought to underlie emotional reactivity in response to stimuli. It is interesting to note that the changes were detected on the right side of the brain only as the right side is thought to be the side of the brain that underlies emotion while the left side is thought to underlie more analytical and rational processes.

 

Short-term training appears to impact the ability of the Amygdala to affect the portion of the nervous system that is thought to underlie higher mental processes (Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex). That this increase in functional connectivity was not observed in long-term meditators suggests that over time the reduced activation of the Amygdala produced by meditation practice becomes sufficient by itself to reduce emotional reactivity.

 

It has long been established that mindfulness practices improve emotions and their regulation. The present study reveals underlying neuroplastic changes in the brain that are responsible for these changes in emotional reactivity. They further show that these changes are present after short-term meditation practice and in long-term meditation practitioners. Thus, the research is beginning to reveal not only the effects of meditation practice but also the changes in the brain that underlie these effects.

 

So, reduce the brain’s emotional reactivity with meditation practice.

 

meditation improves emotional health. . . people can acquire these benefits regardless of their ‘natural’ ability to be mindful. It just takes some practice.” – Yanli Lin

 

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

 

Kral, T., Schuyler, B. S., Mumford, J. A., Rosenkranz, M. A., Lutz, A., & Davidson, R. J. (2018). Impact of short- and long-term mindfulness meditation training on amygdala reactivity to emotional stimuli. NeuroImage, 181, 301–313. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2018.07.013

 

Abstract

Meditation training can improve mood and emotion regulation, yet the neural mechanisms of these affective changes have yet to be fully elucidated. We evaluated the impact of long- and short-term mindfulness meditation training on the amygdala response to emotional pictures in a healthy, non-clinical population of adults using blood-oxygen level dependent functional magnetic resonance imaging. Long-term meditators (N=30, 16 female) had 9,081 hours of lifetime practice on average, primarily in mindfulness meditation. Short-term training consisted of an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course (N=32, 22 female), which was compared to an active control condition (N=35, 19 female) in a randomized controlled trial. Meditation training was associated with less amygdala reactivity to positive pictures relative to controls, but there were no group differences in response to negative pictures. Reductions in reactivity to negative stimuli may require more practice experience or concentrated practice, as hours of retreat practice in long-term meditators was associated with lower amygdala reactivity to negative pictures – yet we did not see this relationship for practice time with MBSR. Short-term training, compared to the control intervention, also led to increased functional connectivity between the amygdala and a region implicated in emotion regulation – ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC) – during affective pictures. Thus, meditation training may improve affective responding through reduced amygdala reactivity, and heightened amygdala–VMPFC connectivity during affective stimuli may reflect a potential mechanism by which MBSR exerts salutary effects on emotion regulation ability.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6671286/

 

Improve Brain Processing of Awareness and Emotions with Mindfulness

Improve Brain Processing of Awareness and Emotions with Mindfulness

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

Evidence suggests that particular areas of the brain may either shrink or grow in response to regular mindfulness practice.” – Meera Joshi

 

There has accumulated a large amount of research demonstrating that meditation practice has significant benefits for psychological, physical, and spiritual wellbeing. 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.

 

Neuroscience has established that contemplative practices produce neuroplastic changes in widespread areas of the nervous system. In other words, mindfulness practices appears to mold and change the brain, producing psychological, physical, and spiritual benefits. One mindfulness therapeutic technique, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), has been commonly applied to the treatment of multiple physical and psychological conditions. The MBSR practice consists of discussion, meditation, yoga, and body scan practices. It is important to understand what are the exact changes in the brain that are produced by the MBSR training.

 

In today’s Research News article “Alterations of Regional Homogeneity and Functional Connectivity Following Short-Term Mindfulness Meditation in Healthy Volunteers.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6813410/), Xiao and colleagues recruited meditation naive healthy adults who were participating in an MBSR training and a matched group of no-treatment control participants. The MBSR program met for 2 hours once a week for 8 weeks along with daily home practice. They were measured before and after training for mindfulness and positive and negative emotions. In addition, the participants’ brains were scanned with a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technique.

 

They found that in comparison to baseline and the no-treatment controls, the participants in the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) training had significant increases in mindfulness and significant decreases in negative emotions. They also found that following MBSR training there were significant increases in the synchronization of activities in the parietal lobe and significant decreases in the synchronization of activities in the posterior cingulate cortex, precuneus, and cuneus, and increased functional connectivity in the superior parietal lobule and postcentral gyrus and the median cingulate cortex, insula and precentral gyrus.

 

The findings that Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) training increases mindfulness and decreases negative emotions and affects brain structures and connectivity are well established by other studies. The parietal lobe is known to be involved in attentional and executive control brain networks. So, the findings that its’ activities synchronizations were increased by MBSR training are also not surprising, suggesting that the training improves attention. Likewise, and the posterior cingulate cortex is associated with what’s called the default mode network which is associated with mind wandering and discursive and internalized thinking. So, the findings that its’ activity synchronizations were decreased by MBSR training are also not surprising, suggesting that the training reduces mind wandering.

 

In addition, the findings that Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) training increases functional connectivity of the median cingulate cortex and insula would be expected as these structures are involved in interoceptive awareness, suggesting that MBSR training heightens the awareness of the practitioner’s internal state. Finally, the findings that MBSR training increases functional connectivity of the precentral and postcentral gyrus would be expected as these structures are involved in coordination of tactile and motor information, suggesting that MBSR training heightens the bodily awareness, another component of mindfulness.

 

The findings, then, of the present study are compatible with prior findings of the effects of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) training on the practitioners’ psychological states and the brain systems underlying these states. This helps to present a clearer picture of the impact of mindfulness training on the individuals psychological processes and their underlying neural substrates. MBSR training is a combination of meditation, yoga, body scan, and experience sharing. It remains for future research to delineate which components or combinations of components may or may not be responsible for each of these effects.

 

So, improve brain processing of awareness and emotions with mindfulness.

 

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

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

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

 

Study Summary

 

Xiao, Q., Zhao, X., Bi, G., Wu, L., Zhang, H., Liu, R., … Chen, Z. (2019). Alterations of Regional Homogeneity and Functional Connectivity Following Short-Term Mindfulness Meditation in Healthy Volunteers. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 13, 376. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2019.00376

 

Abstract

Mindfulness is described as the non-judgmental awareness of experiences in the present moment. The sustained practice of mindfulness may also have beneficial effects on an individual’s well-being. For instance, mindfulness meditation is an effective approach for improving emotion regulation. Specifically, the early stage of mindfulness meditation training enhances emotional monitoring systems related to attention regulation and executive function. Reduced activity in the default mode network (DMN) would probably be observed corresponding to the attenuated mind wandering. In the present study, we hypothesized that alterations in functional activity in the frontal-parietal cortex and DMN may be induced by short-term mindfulness meditation. In this study, before and after 8 weeks of weekly Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) training, healthy participants were evaluated using a mindfulness questionnaire and an affect schedule, as well as via resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging. Sixteen right-handed non-meditators were enrolled. Another 16 demographically matched healthy adults without any meditation experience were recruited as controls. Pre- and post-MBSR assessments were compared. Increased regional homogeneity in the right superior parietal lobule and left postcentral gyrus (PoCG), as well as altered functional connectivity in PoCG-related networks, were observed post-MBSR. The mindfulness questionnaire scores also improved and negative affect was significantly decreased after MBSR. Together with reduced involvement of the posterior brain, our results suggest a tendency toward stronger involvement of the parietal cortex in mindfulness beginners. This study provides novel evidence regarding the optimization of emotional processing with short-term mindfulness meditation.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6813410/

 

Change the Brain to Reduce Chronic Pain with Mindfulness

Change the Brain to Reduce Chronic Pain with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

While many experts recommend mindfulness-based practices to manage pain, the goal of those practices is typically not to remove pain entirely, but to change your relationship with it so that you are able to experience relief and healing in the middle of uncomfortable physical sensations.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn

 

We all have to deal with pain. It’s inevitable, but hopefully it’s mild and short lived. For a wide swath of humanity, however, pain is a constant in their lives. At least 100 million adult Americans have chronic pain conditions. The most common treatment for chronic pain is drugs. These include over-the-counter analgesics and opioids. But opioids are dangerous and highly addictive. Prescription opioid overdoses kill more than 14,000 people annually. So, there is a great need to find safe and effective ways to lower the psychological distress and improve the individual’s ability to cope with the pain.

 

There is an accumulating volume of research findings to demonstrate that mindfulness practices, in general, are effective in treating pain. Pain experiences are processed in the nervous system. So, it’s likely that mindfulness practices somehow alter the brain’s processing of pain. In today’s Research News article “The neural mechanisms of mindfulness-based pain relief: a functional magnetic resonance imaging-based review and primer.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6728003/), Zeidan and colleagues review and summarize the published research studies on the changes in the brain that accompany the relief of chronic pain by mindfulness-based treatments.

 

They report that mindfulness appears to reduce pain by increasing attention to the present moment. High levels of mindfulness are associated with lower pain experiences with chronic conditions and that these levels are associated with less activity in the, so called, default mode network in the brain (consisting of the medial prefrontal cortex, posterior cingulate cortex/precuneus, inferior, and lateral temporal cortices). The default mode network is thought to underlie self-referential thinking and mind wandering.

 

The research also reports that short-term meditation reduces chronic pain and increases communications between cortical areas and the thalamus suggesting top down control of pain sensitivity. On the other hand, long-term meditation practice reduces chronic pain by deactivating prefrontal cortical areas and activating somatosensory cortical regions. This suggests that long-term meditation reduces cognitive appraisals of arising sensory events. Finally, the research suggests that the neural mechanisms of mindfulness-based pain relief are different than opioid pain relief suggesting that there are different mechanisms involved.

 

Obviously, much more research is needed. But there is an evolving picture of the changes in the brain that occur with mindfulness practices that produce relief of chronic pain. It is different from that of opioid pain relievers and primarily involves high level, cortical, neural systems associated with attention to stimuli and the thought processes that arise evaluating those stimuli. In other words, mindfulness-based practices affect pain processing at the highest levels of attention and thinking.

 

So, change the brain to reduce chronic pain with mindfulness.

 

Chronic pain is frustrating and debilitating. The last thing we want to do is pay more attention to our pain. But that’s the premise behind mindfulness, a highly effective practice for chronic pain.” – Margarita Tartakovsky,

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

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

 

Study Summary

 

Zeidan, F., Baumgartner, J. N., & Coghill, R. C. (2019). The neural mechanisms of mindfulness-based pain relief: a functional magnetic resonance imaging-based review and primer. Pain reports, 4(4), e759. doi:10.1097/PR9.0000000000000759

 

Abstract

The advent of neuroimaging methodologies, such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), has significantly advanced our understanding of the neurophysiological processes supporting a wide spectrum of mind–body approaches to treat pain. A promising self-regulatory practice, mindfulness meditation, reliably alleviates experimentally induced and clinical pain. Yet, the neural mechanisms supporting mindfulness-based pain relief remain poorly characterized. The present review delineates evidence from a spectrum of fMRI studies showing that the neural mechanisms supporting mindfulness-induced pain attenuation differ across varying levels of meditative experience. After brief mindfulness-based mental training (ie, less than 10 hours of practice), mindfulness-based pain relief is associated with higher order (orbitofrontal cortex and rostral anterior cingulate cortex) regulation of low-level nociceptive neural targets (thalamus and primary somatosensory cortex), suggesting an engagement of unique, reappraisal mechanisms. By contrast, mindfulness-based pain relief after extensive training (greater than 1000 hours of practice) is associated with deactivation of prefrontal and greater activation of somatosensory cortical regions, demonstrating an ability to reduce appraisals of arising sensory events. We also describe recent findings showing that higher levels of dispositional mindfulness, in meditation-naïve individuals, are associated with lower pain and greater deactivation of the posterior cingulate cortex, a neural mechanism implicated in self-referential processes. A brief fMRI primer is presented describing appropriate steps and considerations to conduct studies combining mindfulness, pain, and fMRI. We postulate that the identification of the active analgesic neural substrates involved in mindfulness can be used to inform the development and optimization of behavioral therapies to specifically target pain, an important consideration for the ongoing opioid and chronic pain epidemic.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6728003/

 

Improve the Brain’s Attentional Networks with Mindfulness

Improve the Brain’s Attentional Networks with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

MBSR and RR body scans both induced a common increased functional connectivity between the brain’s ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which plays a role in attention.” – GORAMA

 

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.

 

In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction-related changes in posterior cingulate resting brain connectivity.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6778831/), Kral and colleagues recruited healthy meditation-naïve adults and randomly assigned them to 8 weeks of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, 8 weeks of a Health Education Program, or to a wait-list control condition. The MBSR program consisted of 8 weekly group sessions involving meditation, yoga, body scan, and discussion. The participants were also encouraged to perform daily practice at home. The amount of home practice time was recorded. Before and after the 8-week intervention they were measured for emotional styles and participated in 14 days of experience sampling with 6 to 8 prompts per day via cellphone to indicate attention to task or mind wandering. They also underwent brain scanning with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) before and after the intervention and 5.5 months later.

 

They found that in comparison to baseline and the health education and wait-list control groups, the participants who underwent the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program had a significant increase in the functional connectivity between the posterior cingulate cortex and the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex. They also found that the higher the self-reported attention levels and the greater the number of days of practice the MBSR participants engaged in, the greater the increase in functional connectivity. The connectivity increases and the relationships with attention and practice were no longer significant at the 5.5-month follow-up. There were no significant changes in mind-wandering.

 

These results are interesting and suggest that participation in the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program produces short-term changes in the brain’s system that underlies executive function and attention (the posterior cingulate cortex and the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex). The results further suggest that the amount of change in the brain system is associated with attentional changes and the amount of practice.

 

That mindfulness training in general and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) in particular improves attention and the neural systems underlying attention and executive function have been previously demonstrated. The present study demonstrates that these changes are related to the amounts of continuing practice suggesting the importance of practice outside of formal training sessions.

 

So, improve the brain’s attentional networks with mindfulness.

 

“mindfulness meditation decreases activity in the part of the brain that is in charge of mind-wandering and self-centeredness. Although we all struggle with taming that Monkey Mind, meditators are better at snapping out of it when the brain gets into a cycle of overthinking or negativity.” –  Jaime Carlo-Casellas

 

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

 

Kral, T., Imhoff-Smith, T., Dean, D. C., Grupe, D., Adluru, N., Patsenko, E., … Davidson, R. J. (2019). Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction-related changes in posterior cingulate resting brain connectivity. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 14(7), 777–787. doi:10.1093/scan/nsz050

 

Abstract

Mindfulness meditation training has been shown to increase resting-state functional connectivity between nodes of the frontoparietal executive control network (dorsolateral prefrontal cortex [DLPFC]) and the default mode network (posterior cingulate cortex [PCC]). We investigated whether these effects generalized to a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course and tested for structural and behaviorally relevant consequences of change in connectivity. Healthy, meditation-naïve adults were randomized to either MBSR (N = 48), an active (N = 47) or waitlist (N = 45) control group. Participants completed behavioral testing, resting-state fMRI scans and diffusion tensor scans at pre-randomization (T1), post-intervention (T2) and ~5.5 months later (T3). We found increased T2–T1 PCC–DLPFC resting connectivity for MBSR relative to control groups. Although these effects did not persist through long-term follow-up (T3–T1), MBSR participants showed a significantly stronger relationship between days of practice (T1 to T3) and increased PCC–DLPFC resting connectivity than participants in the active control group. Increased PCC–DLPFC resting connectivity in MBSR participants was associated with increased microstructural connectivity of a white matter tract connecting these regions and increased self-reported attention. These data show that MBSR increases PCC–DLPFC resting connectivity, which is related to increased practice time, attention and structural connectivity.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6778831/