The Variety of Meditation Experiences

The Variety of Meditation Experiences

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“One can have almost any type of physical sensation during meditation in any area of the body. . .  The ticklish sensation in your heart just means that some normalization is occurring there, allowing for a more full expression of your emotions. The sense of anxiety or fear is a by-product of that clearing process.” – Depak Chopra

 

Meditation is a wonderful practice that has many documented beneficial effects on mental, physical and spiritual health. For the most part, people have positive experiences during meditation, but it is not all positive. People begin meditation with the misconception that meditation will help them escape from their problems. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, meditation does the exact opposite, forcing the meditator to confront their issues. In meditation, the practitioner tries to quiet the mind. But, in that relaxed quiet state, powerful, highly emotionally charged thoughts and memories sometimes emerge.

 

Many practitioners never experience these issues or only experience very mild states. There are, however, few systematic studies of the extent of negative experiences. In general, the research has reported that unwanted (negative) experiences are quite common with meditators, but for the most part, are short-lived and mild. There is, however, a great need for more research into the nature of the experiences that occur during meditation.

 

In today’s Research News article “The varieties of contemplative experience: A mixed-methods study of meditation-related challenges in Western Buddhists.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5443484/ ),

Lindahl and colleagues recruited experienced adult meditation practitioners and teachers from a variety of different traditions. Meditators were excluded if they had a history of unusual psychological experiences prior to learning meditation. They conducted extensive semi-structured interviews that consisted of open-ended questions regarding meditation-related experiences. Interviews with the participants were conducted either in person, by videoconferencing, or by telephone. Transcripts of the interviews were then subjected to qualitative data analysis focusing on challenging or difficult experiences.

 

They found that most practitioners had experienced at least some challenging experiences. 29% encountered challenges in their first year of practice while 45% encountered them in their first 10 years. For 73% of the practitioners, challenging experiences were associated with meditation retreats, while the rest were associated with daily practice. The more meditation per day the greater the likelihood of negative experiences with only 25% who practiced for 30-60 minutes per day having negative experiences, 34% who practiced 1-9 hours per day, and 41% who practiced over 10 hours per day. One of the most striking findings was the duration of negative experiences. They were not brief or fleeting. In fact, on average they were reported to persist from 1 to 3 years and as long as 10 years.

 

Thematic content analysis of the transcripts revealed 59 different categories of experiences that occurred in 7 higher order domains; cognitive, perceptual, affective, somatic, conative, sense of self, and social. 73% of practitioners had experiences falling into at least 6 domains.

 

The Cognitive Domain consisted in “Changes . . . to mental functioning, including the frequency, quality and content of thoughts, as well as . . . planning, decision-making and memory.” Most experiences in this domain were pleasant but unpleasant experiences also occurred including inability to concentrate for extended periods, problems with memory, the disintegration of conceptual meaning structures, “mind racing,” vivid imagery, and delusional, irrational, or paranormal beliefs.

 

The Perceptual domain consisted of ”changes to any of the five senses: vision, hearing, smell, taste and somatosensory processing” and interoception and proprioception. Unpleasant experiences in this domain included hypersensitivity to stimuli, illusions, hallucinations, dissolution of perceptual objects, distortions in time and space, and sensations appearing dreamlike, as if in a fog.

 

The Affective domain consisted of changes in the type, frequency, or intensity of emotions. For many the affective experiences were pleasant including bliss and euphoria, sometimes verging on mania. But, unpleasant experiences were very frequent and involved both increased and decreased emotionality including anxiety fear, panic, re-experiencing trauma, irritability, anger, and paranoia with 82% reporting it. For some flat affect occurred with a loss of swings in emotion.

 

The Somatic domain consisted of “changes in bodily functioning or physiological processes.” Unpleasant experiences in this domain included sleep disruption, feelings of pressure, tension, and hot and cold, electricity like voltages or currents through the body sometimes resulting in involuntary movements.

 

The Conative domain consisted of “changes in motivation or goal-directed behaviors.” Unpleasant experiences in this domain included loss of desire for previously enjoyed activities and loss of motivation to achieve goals.

 

The Sense of Self domain consisted of “changes in how a practitioner conceives of himself or herself over time.” Unpleasant experiences in this domain including a dissolution of boundaries between the individuals and others and the environment, loss of a sense of ownership of thoughts, emotions and agency (the doer), and loss of a sense of self entirely.

 

The Social domain consisted of “changes in interpersonal activities or functioning, including level of engagement, quality of relationships, or periods of conflict, isolation or withdrawal.” Unpleasant experiences in this domain included problems re-integrating into society after a retreat or intensive practice, impaired functioning at work or with family, and doubt and loss of faith. In fact, many of the negative experiences bled over into everyday life affecting all social interactions.

 

These findings need to be kept in perspective as most experience with meditation are pleasant and positive and even the negative experiences are mainly brief and manageable. But the results emphasize that it’s not all what people are led to believe. It can turn unpleasant or even ugly. It is important that this be taught and managed in the meditation community. In the monasteries this is well understood and managed. But in the secular world, these negative experiences are rarely taught, understood, reacted to properly, or managed. For many negative experiences can lead to stopping practice, but for others they can lead to grave psychological harm. It is important that the practitioner be made aware of these possible experiences before they begin, so they are better able to understand them a handle them astutely.

 

Meditation should not be engaged in blindly without proper instruction. It can produce great benefit but sometimes great harm. In order to maximize the benefits and minimize the harm proper education and management is needed.

 

Emotions that come up during meditation represent one of two things: 1) undigested past negative emotions that are rising up to be processed, or 2) a present-moment experience of raw emotion from something happening now, which can be positive or negative. Either way, it can make for an uncomfortable meditation and is one of the most common reasons people stop meditating.” – Trista Thorp

 

 

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

 

Lindahl, J. R., Fisher, N. E., Cooper, D. J., Rosen, R. K., & Britton, W. B. (2017). The varieties of contemplative experience: A mixed-methods study of meditation-related challenges in Western Buddhists. PLoS ONE, 12(5), e0176239. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0176239

 

Abstract

Buddhist-derived meditation practices are currently being employed as a popular form of health promotion. While meditation programs draw inspiration from Buddhist textual sources for the benefits of meditation, these sources also acknowledge a wide range of other effects beyond health-related outcomes. The Varieties of Contemplative Experience study investigates meditation-related experiences that are typically underreported, particularly experiences that are described as challenging, difficult, distressing, functionally impairing, and/or requiring additional support. A mixed-methods approach featured qualitative interviews with Western Buddhist meditation practitioners and experts in Theravāda, Zen, and Tibetan traditions. Interview questions probed meditation experiences and influencing factors, including interpretations and management strategies. A follow-up survey provided quantitative assessments of causality, impairment and other demographic and practice-related variables. The content-driven thematic analysis of interviews yielded a taxonomy of 59 meditation-related experiences across 7 domains: cognitive, perceptual, affective, somatic, conative, sense of self, and social. Even in cases where the phenomenology was similar across participants, interpretations of and responses to the experiences differed considerably. The associated valence ranged from very positive to very negative, and the associated level of distress and functional impairment ranged from minimal and transient to severe and enduring. In order to determine what factors may influence the valence, impact, and response to any given experience, the study also identified 26 categories of influencing factors across 4 domains: practitioner-level factors, practice-level factors, relationships, and health behaviors. By identifying a broader range of experiences associated with meditation, along with the factors that contribute to the presence and management of experiences reported as challenging, difficult, distressing or functionally impairing, this study aims to increase our understanding of the effects of contemplative practices and to provide resources for mediators, clinicians, meditation researchers, and meditation teachers.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5443484/

Improve Thinking in Older Adults with Tai Chi

Improve Thinking in Older Adults with Tai Chi

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“It may be no surprise that Tai Chi has physical benefits – after all, it involves movement. Well, did you know that Tai Chi may also have mental benefits? Specifically, . . . significant increases in the brain size, memory and thinking of older adults who practiced Tai Chi compared to other groups in the study.” – Tai Chi for Health

 

We celebrate the increasing longevity of the population. But, aging is a mixed blessing. The aging process involves a systematic progressive decline of the body and the brain. Every system in the body deteriorates including cognitive function (thinking ability) and motor function with a decline in strength, flexibility, and balance. It is inevitable. In addition, many elderly experience withdrawal and isolation from social interactions. There is some hope as there is evidence that these declines can be slowed. For example, a healthy diet and a regular program of exercise can slow the physical and cognitive decline of the body with aging. Also, contemplative practices such as meditation, yoga, and tai chi or qigong have all been shown to be beneficial in slowing or delaying physical and mental decline.

 

Tai Chi has been practiced for thousands of years with benefits for health and longevity. Tai Chi training is designed to enhance function and regulate the activities of the body through regulated breathing, mindful concentration, and gentle movements. Only recently though have the effects of Tai Chi practice been scrutinized with empirical research. But, it 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 functionmemory, and reduce age related deterioration of the brain. Because Tai Chi is not strenuous, involving slow gentle movements, and is safe, having no appreciable side effects, it is appropriate for all ages including the elderly and for individuals with illnesses that limit their activities or range of motion.

 

In today’s Research News article “The benefits of Tai Chi and brisk walking for cognitive function and fitness in older adults.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5652256/ ), Ji and colleagues recruited health adults aged 60 to 72 years. Participants who engaged in Tai Chi, brisk walking, or no exercise were compared on cognitive performance. They were measured with the Stroop test where names of colors were presented in colors different from the word, e.g. the word RED appears in a blue color. The participants are asked to report the word (naming) or the color of the word ignoring the meaning of the word itself (inhibition) or switch back and forth (Executive function). They were also measured with a digit comparison task in which they were presented with two numbers and asked to identify which was larger. The numbers were presented either simultaneously (non-delay) or delayed by 1.5 seconds (delay).

 

They found that both the Tai Chi and brisk walking groups were superior on the tasks than the control group. But, the Tai Chi group responded faster on the Stroop naming and executive conditions and were more accurate on the inhibition condition than the brisk walking group. In addition, the Tai Chi group responded faster than the brisk walking group on the delayed digit comparison condition. This suggests that the both Tai Chi and brisk walking participation improves cognitive performance in older adults but that Tai Chi dose so better than brisk walking.

 

The interpretation of the results needs to be qualified as there was no active manipulations of the activity conditions. Older adults who already participated in these activities were simply compared. Hence, it is impossible to conclude causation. It is conceivable that people who chose to participate in Tai Chi may be different people with better cognitive ability than people who chose brisk walking. The observed differences, then, may be due to the typ of people whoe chose an activity rather than the effects of the activity.

 

But, taken at face value the results suggest the Tai Chi, which places greater cognitive demands on the practitioner than brisk walking, has greater cognitive benefits. Given the progressive inevitable decline with aging in cognitive ability, methods that can slow or delay the decline are valuable. Tai Chi would appear to be an almost ideal method to improve fitness and balance, reducing falls, in the elderly and improve cognitive performance.

 

So, improve thinking in older adults with tai chi.

 

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

 

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

 

Ji, Z., Li, A., Feng, T., Liu, X., You, Y., Meng, F., … Zhang, C. (2017).. PeerJ, 5, e3943. http://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.3943

 

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to investigate the benefits of exercises with different cognitive demands for cognitive functions (Executive and non-Executive) in healthy older adults. A cross-sectional design was adopted. In total, 84 healthy older adults were enrolled in the study. They were categorized into the Tai Chi group (TG), the brisk walking group (BG) or the control group (CG). Each participant performed the Stroop task and a digit comparison task. The Stroop task included the following three conditions: a naming condition, an inhibition condition and an executive condition. There were two experimental conditions in the digit comparison task: the non-delay condition and the delay condition. The results indicated that participants of the TG and BG revealed significant better performance than the CG in the executive condition of cognitive tasks and fitness. There was no significant difference of reaction time (RT) and accuracy rate in the inhibition and delay conditions of cognitive tasks and fitness between the TG and BG. The TG showed shorter reaction time in the naming and the executive conditions, and more accurate in the inhibition conditions than the BG. These findings demonstrated that regular participation in brisk walking and Tai Chi have significant beneficial effects on executive function and fitness. However, due to the high cognitive demands of the exercise, Tai Chi benefit cognitive functions (Executive and non-Executive) in older adults more than brisk walking does. Further studies should research the underlying mechanisms at the behavioural and neuroelectric levels, providing more evidence to explain the effect of high-cognitive demands exercise on different processing levels of cognition.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5652256/

Reduce Mild Aging Cognitive Decline with Yogic Meditation

Reduce Mild Aging Cognitive Decline with Yogic Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“The healthier and more active one’s lifestyle, the more likely he or she will maintain cognitive performance over time. And meditation may be a key ingredient for ensuring brain health and maintaining good mental performance.” – Grace Bullock

 

The aging process involves a systematic progressive decline in every system in the body, the brain included. This includes our mental abilities which decline with age including impairments in memory, attention, and problem solving ability. It is inevitable and cannot be avoided. But, there is some hope for age related cognitive decline, as there is evidence that it can be slowed. There are some indications that physical and mental exercise can reduce the rate of cognitive decline and lower the chances of dementia. For example, contemplative practices such as meditationyoga, and Tai Chi and Qigong have all been shown to be beneficial in slowing or delaying physical and mental decline with aging. Mindfulness practices have been shown to improve cognitive processes.

 

Yoga is a mindfulness practice that is safe and applicable to the elderly. So, it could potentially be an ideal practice for the slowing of age related cognitive decline. In today’s Research News article “A randomized controlled trial of Kundalini yoga in mild cognitive impairment.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5540331/, Eyre and colleagues recruited elderly (older than 55 years of age, average 68) with a mild degree of cognitive impairment and randomly assigned them to a 12 week, 60 minutes once a week, standard memory enhancement treatment or to yogic meditation practice, Kundalini Yoga. Daily homework was assigned. Kundalini Yoga includes meditation, breathing exercises, and mantra practice. The participants were measured before and after training and 12 weeks later for memory ability, executive function, resilience, physical and cognitive symptoms, neuropsychiatric symptoms, illness, apathy, and mood including depression.

 

They found that following training both the yoga and memory enhancement groups had significant improvements in memory and apathy and these improvements were still present 12 weeks after the end of training. In contrast, only the Kundalini Yoga group had significant improvements in depression, resilience, and executive function, including cognitive flexibility, response inhibition, and semantic fluency. Hence, both groups improved in memory and apathy, but only the Kundalini Yoga group also improved in mood, resilience, and higher-level thinking (cognitive function).

 

These are exciting findings suggesting the Kundalini Yoga is a safe and effective treatment that for age related declines in cognitive function, depression, apathy, and memory and improves stress resilience. It has been demonstrated that mindfulness training produces a wide variety of benefits for the elderly including mood, memory and cognitive improvements. So, Kundalini Yoga can be added to the list of effective mindfulness trainings for the elderly.

 

This was an excellent study as the comparison condition was the current “gold standard” of treatment for mild cognitive impairment in the elderly, memory enhancement training. Yet, Kundalini Yoga was significantly more beneficial. The improvement in stress resilience is important and may underlie some of the other benefits of the Kundalini Yoga training. Aging can produce considerable economic, physical, psychological, and social stresses. Improvement in the ability to withstand the effects of these stresses should be highly beneficial by decreasing the impact of these stresses on other aspects of physical and psychological functioning in the elderly.

 

So, reduce mild aging cognitive decline with yoga.

 

“Meditation could be a promising intervention in contrasting the negative effects of aging. Indeed, it has been shown to enhance cognitive efficiency in several domains, such as attention and executive functions.” Marco Sperduti

 

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

 

Eyre, H. A., Siddarth, P., Acevedo, B., Van Dyk, K., Paholpak, P., Ercoli, L., … Lavretsky, H. (2017). A randomized controlled trial of Kundalini yoga in mild cognitive impairment. International Psychogeriatrics, 29(4), 557–567. http://doi.org/10.1017/S1041610216002155

 

Abstract

Background

Global population aging will result in increasing rates of cognitive decline and dementia. Thus, effective, low-cost, and low side-effect interventions for the treatment and prevention of cognitive decline are urgently needed. Our study is the first to investigate the effects of Kundalini yoga (KY) training on mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

Methods

Older participants (≥55 years of age) with MCI were randomized to either a 12-week KY intervention or memory enhancement training (MET; gold-standard, active control). Cognitive (i.e. memory and executive functioning) and mood (i.e. depression, apathy, and resilience) assessments were administered at baseline, 12 weeks and 24 weeks.

Results

At baseline, 81 participants had no significant baseline group differences in clinical or demographic characteristics. At 12 weeks and 24 weeks, both KY and MET groups showed significant improvement in memory; however, only KY showed significant improvement in executive functioning. Only the KY group showed significant improvement in depressive symptoms and resilience at week 12.

Conclusion

KY group showed short- and long-term improvements in executive functioning as compared to MET, and broader effects on depressed mood and resilience. This observation should be confirmed in future clinical trials of yoga intervention for treatment and prevention of cognitive decline

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5540331/

The Sense of Thought

The Sense of Thought

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Whatever you see you must be mindful of as it really is. Whatever you hear you must be aware of as it occurs. Whatever you smell you must be aware of as it really occurs. Whatever you taste you must be aware of as it really occurs. Whatever you touch you must be aware of as it really occurs. Whatever you think or think about you must be aware of as it really occurs.” – Buddha

 

The Buddha identified not five senses as traditional Western thought does, but six sense doors; vision, audition, olfaction, gustation, touch, and thought. The first time I read this I was taken aback; thought as a sense! I always considered thought as processing sensory information, not as a sensory experience itself. Indeed, Descartes stated “Cogito ergo Sum”, “I think therefore I am.” Thinking was the ultimate evidence of existence, not just a sense impression. But, for a moment reflecting on Descartes phrase “I think therefore I am,” I along with many others realized that the “I” refers to something other than the thinker! Something is sensing thought, even thinking about this.

 

It is not clear that thought is a separate sense. Rather it appears to take advantage of the brain systems used for processing information from the external world. That is why we can “hear” our internal voice, “see” imagined scenes, or “feel” remembered emotions. Also, chefs can “taste” and “smell” imagined dishes; mentally combining ingredients. There’s been a long standing controversy in Psychology regarding whether there is thought without some kind of internal sensory experience, called imageless thought. The issue is not resolved but what is clear is that the vast majority of thoughts involve mental images. Hence, it appears that thoughts are not something other than the traditional senses but take advantage of them. Perhaps we sense thought through sensing the influence of thought on the traditional senses. But, still something is sensing this and it isn’t the mind, the source of thought.

 

There is clearly, however, imageless experience or awareness. Awareness itself observes sensations and thoughts, including the images accompanying thoughts, but does not itself have images. It is pure contentless awareness. In advanced meditative states, this contentless awareness can be directly experienced. Even the novice practitioner can experience this by paying close attention to the gaps that exists between thoughts. But, the thoughts that the Buddha was talking about are the processes of the mind and these appear, for the most part, to involve images. These, in turn, appear to be experienced, not by the mind, but by something else that we label awareness.

 

We appear to be incapable of truly controlling thoughts. We believe that we are in control. But, meditation practice immediately reveals that we can’t. Try as we may to concentrate on one thing, control our thinking and focus our attention, the mind inevitably wanders off into other things; planning for the future, ruminating about the past, interpreting experience. We don’t seem to be able to control it. Rather than being in control of thoughts, thoughts appear to be in control of the mind, but do so in such a sneaky way that they provide the illusion that we’re in control.  As Eckhart Tolle said “Then the mind is using you. You are unconsciously identified with it, so you don’t even know that you are its slave. It’s almost as if you were possessed without knowing it, and so you take the possessing entity to be yourself.”

 

We may not be able to control our thoughts, but we can step back and witness them. Just like our awareness senses lights, sound, etc. it can sense thoughts. This is why the Buddha classified thought as a sense. If you watch these out of control thoughts it begins to dawn on you that there’s a distinct separation between your awareness and thoughts. The thoughts begin to appear almost alien, like they’re not really yours. As Eckhart Tolle said “So when you listen to a thought, you are aware not only of the thought but also of yourself as the witness of the thought. A new dimension of consciousness has come in. As you listen to the thought, you feel a conscious presence – your deeper self – behind or underneath the thought, as it were. The thought then loses its power over you and quickly subsides, because you are no longer energizing the mind through identification with it. This is the beginning of the end of involuntary and compulsive thinking.”

 

So, the fact that we can’t control thoughts adds to the case that thought is, as the Buddha said, a separate sense. Just like our classical five senses we can’t control their content, we can only experience them. This is an important insight. As Jon Kabat-Zinn said ““It is remarkable how liberating it feels to be able to see that your thoughts are just thoughts and that they are not ‘you’ or ‘reality.’ For instance, if you have the thought that you have to get a certain number of things done today and you don’t recognize it as a thought but act as if it’s the ‘the truth,’ then you have created a reality in that moment in which you really believe that those things must all be done today.” So, by recognizing thought as just another sense, the inner self, the awareness of sensing, is revealed.

 

This can be practiced, especially during meditation. Watching thoughts is what you do in open monitoring meditation. You simply watch them and don’t react to them; just letting them arise, and fall away. Here you can clearly observe thoughts passing through, completely out of control, but when you don’t dwell on them, they pass on through and disappear. But, nonetheless, whether they stay or not, they are experienced. It can’t be emphasized too much what an important insight this is. As Eckhart Tolle observed “The most decisive event in your life is when you discover you are not your thoughts or emotions. Instead, you can be present as the awareness behind the thoughts and emotions.” This is when you begin to realize the nature of your true self. This is when you begin to see things as they really are. This is when you begin to awaken.

 

“Since, if one leaves the senses of the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body & mind uncontrolled,
then evil detrimental states such as greed, lust & discontent invades & dominates the mind!
Therefore does one train control of the senses, guarding the senses, holding back the senses,
and one keeps in check these six wild-running senses…”
– Buddha

 

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

 

Improve Brain Processing of Cognitive Conflict with Mindfulness

Improve Brain Processing of Cognitive Conflict with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Mindfulness should no longer be considered a “nice-to-have” for executives. It’s a “must-have”:  a way to keep our brains healthy, to support self-regulation and effective decision-making capabilities, and to protect ourselves from toxic stress. When we take a seat, take a breath, and commit to being mindful, particularly when we gather with others who are doing the same, we have the potential to be changed.” – Christina Congleton

 

There is a tremendous amount of information present at any moment. It is a challenge to the nervous system to sort it out and pay attention to only the most significant information. This involves ignoring competing or conflicting stimuli and concentrating on only the most salient and pertinent stimuli. Mindfulness training can help. It involves a greater emphasis on attention to the immediate stimulus environment. So, it builds the capacity to focus on what is transpiring in the present moment. Mindful people generally have better attentional abilities and have fewer intrusive thoughts and less mind wandering. As a result, mindfulness has been shown to be associated with differences in thought processes.

 

One indirect method to monitor cognitive functions is through recording the electrical signals from the brain with the electroencephalogram (EEG). Electrical activity occurring at different frequencies is representative of the nature of the activity in the underlying brain tissue. The theta rhythm occurs in the frequency region of 4-7 cycles per second (Hz.). Recordings of Theta, particularly in the frontal regions of the brain have been shown to increase when attention is focused and mind wandering is minimized. Hence, the effects of mindfulness practice on the nervous may be seen in alterations to the Theta Rhythm in the frontal areas of the brain and the structures connected to them.

 

In today’s Research News article “Frontal Theta Dynamics during Response Conflict in Long-Term Mindfulness Meditators.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5461248/, Jo and colleagues recruited adult long-term (> 5 years) meditators (average 13.1 years) and non-meditators matched on gender and age. All participants had EEGs recorded while performing a flanker task, a measure of executive cognitive function, in which the participant has to respond to the direction of an arrow, when it is surrounded by distracting arrows that point either in the same (no-conflict) or opposite (conflict situation) directions.

 

They found that the meditators responded more accurately on the flanker task, making significantly fewer errors, particularly when the conflict situation was present. Hence, meditators demonstrated superior cognitive control and attentional ability. The Theta Rhythm power over the frontal areas was found to be higher for both groups during the conflict but not the no-conflict situation. The synchrony of the Theta Rhythm over the frontal areas and especially between the frontal areas and the motor cortex was greater for both groups during the conflict situation, but was significantly greater in the meditators. In addition, the greater the level of synchronization during the conflict situation the fewer the error made on the flanker task.

 

These are interesting results and suggest that long-term meditation practice enhances the individual’s cognitive and attentional ability particularly when conflicting stimuli are present. In addition, long-term meditation practice appears to alter the frontal areas of the nervous system enhancing their ability to resolve conflicts. So, meditation practice improves the brain and as a result the meditators cognitive attentional processing.

 

So, improve brain processing of cognitive conflict with mindfulness.

 

“Importantly, research has shown mindfulness to increase activity in brain areas associated with attention and emotion regulation. Mindfulness also facilitates neuroplasticity — the creation of new connections and neural pathways in the brain.” – Carolyn Gregoire

 

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

 

Jo, H.-G., Malinowski, P., & Schmidt, S. (2017). Frontal Theta Dynamics during Response Conflict in Long-Term Mindfulness Meditators. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience11, 299. http://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2017.00299

 

Abstract

Mindfulness meditators often show greater efficiency in resolving response conflicts than non-meditators. However, the neural mechanisms underlying the improved behavioral efficiency are unclear. Here, we investigated frontal theta dynamics—a neural mechanism involved in cognitive control processes—in long-term mindfulness meditators. The dynamics of EEG theta oscillations (4–8 Hz) recorded over the medial frontal cortex (MFC) were examined in terms of their power (MFC theta power) and their functional connectivity with other brain areas (the MFC-centered theta network). Using a flanker-type paradigm, EEG data were obtained from 22 long-term mindfulness meditators and compared to those from 23 matched controls without meditation experience. Meditators showed more efficient cognitive control after conflicts, evidenced by fewer error responses irrespective of response timing. Furthermore, meditators exhibited enhanced conflict modulations of the MFC-centered theta network shortly before the response, in particular for the functional connection between the MFC and the motor cortex. In contrast, MFC theta power was comparable between groups. These results suggest that the higher behavioral efficiency after conflicts in mindfulness meditators could be a function of increased engagement to control the motor system in association with the MFC-centered theta network.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5461248/

Alter Brain Networks and Cognitive Ability with Tai Chi

Alter Brain Networks and Cognitive Ability with Tai Chi

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

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

 

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

 

The nervous system is a dynamic entity, constantly changing and adapting to the environment. It will change size, activity, and connectivity in response to experience. These changes in the brain are called neuroplasticity. Over the last decade neuroscience has been studying the effects of contemplative practices on the brain and has identified neuroplastic changes in widespread areas. In other words, mindfulness practice appears to mold and change the brain, producing psychological, physical, and spiritual benefits. Hence, it would appear likely that Tai Chi practice may alter the brain networks underlying mindfulness.

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

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

 

Study Summary

 

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

 

Abstract

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

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

Improve Creativity with Mindfulness

Improve Creativity with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Mindfulness meditation is a great technique to learn to help improve creativity. There have been studies done specifically to measure the cognitive rigidity of people who meditate and their ability to solve problems in novel ways. The research shows non-meditators had greater cognitive rigidity than regular meditators, and they also had a tendency to apply difficult or outdated solutions to easy problems based on their past experiences, this was not the case for people who meditated.”Bianca Rothschild

 

The problem solving ability of humans has been a key to their dominance of their environment. So, it’s important that we understand it and discover how to train it and maximize it. Problem solving most frequently involves logic and reasoning, sometimes along with mathematics. In this case focused attention is the key. The mind wandering off topic interferes with the concentration required for obtaining the solution. But, when a solution does not occur and the individual fails to solve the problem a completely different process transpires producing insight. If logic and reason fail, then fanciful and out-of-the box thinking may be needed. In this case mind wandering, taking the thought process away from the failed logical strategy, is superior, often producing a solution in a flash, an “aha” moment. In this case focused attention prevents the individual from seeing an unusual or creative solution. While the mind wandering off topic increases the discursive thinking that is required for obtaining the insightful solution.

 

Mindfulness is the ability to focus on what is transpiring in the present moment. It involves a greater emphasis on attention to the immediate stimulus environment. Mindful people generally have better attentional abilities and have fewer intrusive thoughts and less mind wandering. As a result, mindfulness has been shown to be associated with differences in thought processes. Most of the time these differences are associated with beneficial results, but sometimes they can lead to negative outcomes including a greater tendency to have false memories. So mindfulness should improve problem solving involving logic, reason, and focused attention, while it should interfere with insightful, creative problem solving.

 

These two forms of problem solving are, in general, associated with different neural systems. Focused attention involves a number of brain structures centered in the frontal lobes. Creative, discursive thinking involves a system of structures known as the Default Mode Network (DMN) involving the parietal lobe, cingulate cortex, and insula. One way to investigate the influence of mindfulness on creative problem solving is to look at the activity of the Default Mode Network (DMN) during creative problem solving and insight in practitioners with varying amounts of mindfulness training.

 

 

In today’s Research News article “Creativity Is Enhanced by Long-Term Mindfulness Training and Is Negatively Correlated with Trait Default-Mode-Related Low-Gamma Inter-Hemispheric Connectivity.” (See summary below). Berkovich-Ohana and colleagues recruited non-meditators and meditators with short (180-1430 hours), intermediate (1740-2860 hours), and long-term (3870-23,000 hours) meditation practice. Divergent creative thinking was measured with the alternative uses task which requires participants to generate as many and unusual uses of conventional, everyday objects. While the participants were engaged in the creativity measurements the Electroencephalogram (EEG) was recorded from the scalp.

 

They found that the intermediate and long-term meditators, compared to the non-meditators and short-term meditators, had significantly greater performance on the creative thinking task including a greater number of alternative uses (fluency) and a greater number of categories (flexibility) of alternative uses. Further, they found that the lower the EEG activity in the gamma frequency range between brain hemispheres the greater the creative thinking. These results suggest that meditation practice alters brain processing, changing the interhemispheric connectivity of the DMN to improve creative thinking.

 

The study found that meditation practice improves creative thinking which is related to lower functional connectivity for the Default Mode Network (DMN). This, in turn, suggests that the lower ability of the mind wandering system of the brain to affect other brain regions the better the creative thinking. Hence, suppressing mind wandering while engaged in the alternative uses creative thinking task improves creative thinking.

 

So, improve creativity with mindfulness.

 

“A central aspect of creativity is divergent thinking, which refers to the ability to come up with lots of different ideas. . . .  there is a small influence of mindfulness techniques on divergent thinking. That is, people who engage in mindfulness exercises tend to do a better job of generating more ideas than those who do not. They are better, but not much better.” – Art Markman

 

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

 

Berkovich-Ohana, A., Glicksohn, J., Ben-Soussan, T.D., Goldstein, A. Creativity Is Enhanced by Long-Term Mindfulness Training and Is Negatively Correlated with Trait Default-Mode-Related Low-Gamma Inter-Hemispheric Connectivity. Mindfulness (2017) 8: 717. doi:10.1007/s12671-016-0649-y

 

Abstract

It is becoming increasingly accepted that creative performance, especially divergent thinking, may depend on reduced activity within the default mode network (DMN), related to mind-wandering and autobiographic self-referential processing. However, the relationship between trait (resting-state) DMN activity and divergent thinking is controversial. Here, we test the relationship between resting-state DMN activity and divergent thinking in a group of mindfulness meditation practitioners. We build on our two previous reports, which have shown DMN activity to be related to resting-state log gamma (25–45 Hz) power and inter-hemispheric functional connectivity. Using the same cohort of participants (three mindfulness groups with increasing expertise, and controls, n = 12 each), we tested (1) divergent thinking scores (Flexibility and Fluency) using the Alternative Uses task and (2) correlation between Alternative Uses scores and DMN activity as measured by resting-state gamma power and inter-hemispheric functional connectivity. We found that both Fluency and Flexibility (1) were higher in the two long-term mindfulness groups (>1000 h) compared to short-term mindfulness practitioners and control participants and (2) negatively correlated with gamma inter-hemispheric functional connectivity (frontal-midline and posterior-midline connections). In addition, (3) Fluency was significantly correlated with mindfulness expertise. Together, these results show that long-term mindfulness meditators exhibit higher divergent thinking scores in correlation with their expertise and demonstrate a negative divergent thinking—resting-state DMN activity relationship, thus largely support a negative DMN-creativity connection.

Improve Executive Function with Mindful Movement

Improve Executive Function with Mindful Movement

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Tai Chi may just be a form of exercise that will preserve a sharp mind!” – Tai Chi and Health

 

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. Over time there is a systematic progressive decline in every system in the body, the brain included. This includes our mental abilities which decline with age including impairments in memory, attention, and problem solving ability. It is inevitable and cannot be avoided. Using modern neuroimaging techniques, scientists have been able to view the changes that occur in the nervous system with aging. In addition, they have been able to investigate various techniques that might slow the process of neurodegeneration that accompanies normal aging. They’ve found that mindfulness practices reduce the deterioration of the brain that occurs with aging restraining the loss of neural tissue.

 

Mindfulness practices have been shown to improve cognitive processes and mood while gentle mindful movement exercises such as Tai Chi, Qigong and Baduanjin mind-body training have been shown to slow age related cognitive decline. But, most studies of mindful movement effects on cognitive decline and mood, are performed in the elderly. Hence, the effectiveness of these practices with younger people to enhance cognitive function and mood have not been extensively studied. In today’s Research News article “Baduanjin Mind-Body Intervention Improves the Executive Control Function.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5233682/, Chen and colleagues studied the effects of Baduanjin mind-body practice on mood and cognitive function of college students.

 

They recruited college students and randomly assigned them to receive either 8 weeks, 5 days per week, for 90 minutes per day of Baduanjin mind-body training or progressive muscle relaxation training. The Baduanjin mind-body training consisted of 8 movements for limbs, body-trunk, and eye movements. The participants were measured before and after training for mood and cognitive executive function with a flanker task. The flanker task required the participants to respond to the direction of an arrow when distracting arrows were present alongside the target arrow. This test for attention and filtering of irrelevant information. During the flanker task their brain activity was measured with near-infrared spectroscopy which measures blood flows in the brain.

 

They found that following Baduanjin mind-body training, but not relaxation training, there was a significant decrease in the levels of depression and increase in flanker task performance with incongruous distracting stimuli. The flanker task improvement demonstrated that the Baduanjin mind-body training participants were better able to filter out distracting material. In addition, during the flanker task, with distracting incongruent stimuli present, the Baduanjin mind-body training group had an increase in blood flow in the left prefrontal cortex while the relaxation group did not. This suggests that the Baduanjin mind-body training produced a change in the brain that may underlie the improvements in mood and executive function.

 

It has been demonstrated that increases in the activity and size of the prefrontal cortex occurs with improved executive function ability. This suggests that Baduanjin mind-body training changes the brain to improve cognitive function. It is quite remarkable that such a gentle practice can produce neural changes resulting in such beneficial effects. It is also important that these effects were produced in young participants. So, the benefits of participation in mindful movement programs are not restricted to the elderly and do not just protect against cognitive decline but can improve cognitive function even for those at the peak of their abilities.

 

Baduanjin mind-body training is a gentle practice, completely safe, can be used by anyone, including the elderly and sickly, is inexpensive to administer, can be performed in groups or alone, at home or in a facility or even public park, and can be quickly learned. In addition, it can also be practiced in social groups without professional supervision. This can make it fun, improving the likelihood of long-term engagement in the practice.

 

So, improve executive function with mindful movement.

 

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

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

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

 

Study Summary

 

Chen, T., Yue, G. H., Tian, Y., & Jiang, C. (2016). Baduanjin Mind-Body Intervention Improves the Executive Control Function. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 2015. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.02015

 

Abstract

This study aims at comparing the effects of the Baduanjin mind-body (BMB) intervention with a conventional relaxation training program on enhancing the executive function. The study also attempts to explore the neural substrates underlying the cognitive effect of BMB intervention using near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) technique. Forty-two healthy college students were randomly allocated into either the Baduanjin intervention group or relaxation training (control) group. Training lasted for 8 weeks (90 min/day, 5 days/week). Each participant was administered the shortened Profile of Mood States to evaluate their mood status and the flanker task to evaluate executive function before and after training. While performing the flanker task, the NIRS data were collected from each participant. After training, individuals who have participated in BMB exercise showed a significant reduction in depressive mood compared with the same measure before the intervention. However, participants in the control group showed no such reduction. The before vs. after measurement difference in the flanker task incongruent trails was significant only for the Baduanjin intervention group. Interestingly, an increase in oxygenated hemoglobin in the left prefrontal cortex was observed during the Incongruent Trails test only after the BMB exercise intervention. These findings implicate that Baduanjin is an effective and easy-to-administering mind-body exercise for improving executive function and perhaps brain self-regulation in a young and healthy population.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5233682/

Remove Mental Sets to Improve Depression with Mindfulness

Remove Mental Sets to Improve Depression with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“This new evidence for mindfulness-based cognitive therapy … is very heartening. While MBCT is not a panacea, it does clearly offer those with a substantial history of depression a new approach to learning skills to stay well in the long-term.” – Willem Kuyken

 

Depression is the most common mental illness, affecting over 6% of the population. Major depression can be quite debilitating. It is also generally episodic, coming and going. Some people only have a single episode but most have multiple reoccurrences of depression. Depression can be difficult to treat and it’s usually treated with anti-depressive medication. But, of patients treated initially with drugs only about a third attained remission of the depression. After repeated and varied treatments including drugs, therapy, exercise etc. only about two thirds of patients attained remission. Additionally, drugs often have troubling side effects and can lose effectiveness over time. So, it is imperative that safe and effective treatments be identified that can be applied as stand-alone treatments or applied when the typical treatments fail and/or when side effects are unacceptable.

 

One of the characterizing features of depression is aberrant thought processes. The thinking of individuals with depression is often fraught with rumination, repeated reflection on troubling past events, and inability to suppress irrelevant thoughts or expectancies. These ruminative and irrelevant thoughts can produce an inaccurate and dark interpretation of reality. That these thought processes may be at the core of depression is evidenced by the fact that altering them with cognitive behavioral therapy is quite effective in relieving depression.

 

Mindfulness training is an alternative treatment for depression. It has been shown to be an effective treatment for depression and is also effective for the prevention of its recurrence. The combination of mindfulness training with cognitive behavioral therapy is a technique called Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). It was specifically developed to treat depression. MBCT involves mindfulness training, containing sitting and walking meditation and body scan, and cognitive therapy to alter how the patient relates to the thought processes that often underlie and exacerbate depression. MBCT has been found to reduce depression alone or in combination with anti-depressive drugs and can even be effective even in the cases where drugs fail,.

 

In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depressed individuals improves suppression of irrelevant mental-sets,” see summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5357295/

Greenberg and colleagues investigate the thought processes of depressed individuals, the effects of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) on these thought processes and the relationship of the altered thought processes to the relief of depression. They recruited mildly to moderately depressed adults and randomly assigned them to either receive treatment as usual or 8-weeks of MBCT. They were measured before and after treatment for depression, rumination, and suppression of mental set. This latter measure involved measuring the ability of the participants to move from a rule used repeatedly to solve a simple comparison problem (mental set) to a new one. For example, they were asked to indicate if one to three objects varied in a characteristic, e.g. amount. After repeated trials in which amount was the relevant characteristic, without knowledge of the participants, it was changed to another characteristic smoothness. How long it took the participant to recognize the change to the new rule and begin responding to it was measured.

 

They found, as many previous studies, that Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) produced large and significant relief of depression. Importantly, they also found that MBCT resulted in faster recognition of and response to the changed rule. In other words the MBCT treated participants had improved suppression of mental set. In addition, they found that the greater the improvement in suppressing mental sets the greater the relief of depression. These results strongly suggest that altering thought processes produced by MBCT are at the root of its ability to relieve depression.

 

It has been long suspected that changes in thinking were important for treating depression. The results of the present study provide strong evidence that this is true. They also suggest that being able to move from a single method of thinking to more flexible thinking may be a key. Depressed individuals interpret events in a way that reinforces their depression. By improving their ability to interpret events in different, more realistic, ways, MBCT interrupts the cycle of thinking that maintains the depression and thereby relives the depression.

 

So, remove mental sets to improve depression with mindfulness.

 

“People at risk for depression are dealing with a lot of negative thoughts, feelings and beliefs about themselves and this can easily slide into a depressive relapse. MBCT helps them to recognize that’s happening, engage with it in a different way and respond to it with equanimity and compassion.” – Willem Kuyken

 

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

Greenberg, J., Shapero, B. G., Mischoulon, D., & Lazar, S. W. (2017). Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depressed individuals improves suppression of irrelevant mental-sets. European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience, 267(3), 277–282. http://doi.org/10.1007/s00406-016-0746-x

 

Abstract

An impaired ability to suppress currently irrelevant mental-sets is a key cognitive deficit in depression. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) was specifically designed to help depressed individuals avoid getting caught in such irrelevant mental-sets. In the current study, a group assigned to MBCT plus treatment-as-usual (n = 22) exhibited significantly lower depression scores and greater improvements in irrelevant mental-set suppression compared to a wait-list plus treatment-as-usual (n = 18) group. Improvements in mental-set-suppression were associated with improvements in depression scores. Results provide the first evidence that MBCT can improve suppression of irrelevant mental-sets and that such improvements are associated with depressive alleviation.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5357295/

Improve High Level Cognitive Function in Traumatized Adolescents with Yoga

Improve High Level Cognitive Function in Traumatized Adolescents with Yoga

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“With the girls in India, I’ve found that they most enjoy Thai massage, partner yoga, and expansive, “outer- focused” yoga. I believe that they greatly benefit from receiving loving touch, and they love watching an adult yoga teacher acting silly! It is rare that they share a dynamic with an adult that is not structured. With our volunteers, we have the opportunity to teach them yoga as a source of play, connection, laughter. The giggles abound, but when meditation time comes they are very observant.” – Rob Schware

 

Adolescence can be a difficult time, fraught with challenges. During this time the child transitions to young adulthood; including the development of intellectual, psychological, physical, and social abilities and characteristics. There are so many changes occurring during this time that the child can feel overwhelmed and unable to cope with all that is required. These difficulties can be markedly amplified by negative life events during childhood. Losing both parents during childhood is traumatic. It occurs to an estimated 13 million children worldwide. Many are raised by relatives, but, many also end up in orphanages.

 

Adolescence should be a time of mental, physical, social, and emotional growth. It is during this time that higher levels of thinking, sometimes called executive function, develops. These executive functions are an important foundation for success in the complex modern world. Being orphaned is severely traumatic and it is well known that trauma during childhood disrupts cognitive development. It has even been shown to affect brain development. So, it is important to find methods to mitigate the effects of this trauma on orphans’ development.

 

Yoga practice has been shown to have a large number of beneficial effects on the psychological, emotional, and physical health of the individual and is helpful in the treatment of mental and physical illness. The acceptance of yoga practice has spread from the home and yoga studios to its application with children in schools. Studies of these school programs have found that yoga practice produces a wide variety of positive psychosocial and physical benefits. These include improved mood state, self-control, social abilities, self-regulation, emotion regulation, self-esteem, and ability to focus. In addition, yoga practice produces improvements in student grades and academic performance. They have also shown that the yoga practice produces lower levels of anxiety, depression, general distress, rumination, and intrusive thoughts.

 

It is reasonable then to hypothesize that yoga practice might help the intellectual development of orphans. In today’s Research News article “Effect of yoga program on executive functions of adolescents dwelling in an orphan home: A randomized controlled study.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5198826/

Purohit and Pradhan recruited adolescents (aged 11 to 16 years) residing in an orphanage. They randomly assigned the orphans to either receive yoga training or to a wait-list control condition. The yoga practice occurred 90 minutes per day, 4 days per week, for 3 months, and consisted of relaxation, postures, breathing exercises, and concentration. Before and after treatment the adolescents were administered a number of tests of executive function, including memory, cognitive inhibition, processing speed, mental flexibility, and decision making.

 

They found that the orphans who practiced yoga had significant improvements in overall cognition, executive functions, cognitive inhibition, memory, attention, and processing speed. These effects all occurred with moderate effect sizes. Hence, yoga practice appeared to produce improved higher level thinking in the orphans. The weakness in the study was that the control condition was a wait-list. Future research should contain active control conditions such as light exercise, group interactions etc. to demonstrate that the effects were due to yoga practice itself and not to a number of possible confounding factors.

 

There is no doubt, though, that these traumatized children benefited from the yoga practice. Anything that can improve the life and mental capabilities of these children is a step forward and a help to these emotionally needy adolescents, make their lives more enjoyable, and help toward future success.

 

So, improve high level cognitive function in traumatized adolescents with yoga.

 

“In essence, yoga is a practice of service to humanity. Yoga is a tool of transformation. With that transformed Self, you can show up for others and be of service.” – Mark Lilly

 

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

Purohit, S. P., & Pradhan, B. (2017). Effect of yoga program on executive functions of adolescents dwelling in an orphan home: A randomized controlled study. Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, 7(1), 99–105. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jtcme.2016.03.001

 

Abstract

Executive function (EF) is important for physical and mental health of children. Studies have shown that children with poverty and early life stress have reduced EF. The aim of the study was to evaluate the effect of Yoga program on the EF of orphan adolescents. Seventy two apparently healthy orphan adolescents randomized and allocated into two groups as Yoga group (n = 40; 14 girls, age = 12.69 ± 1.35 yrs) and Wait List Control (WLC) group (n = 32, 13 girls, age = 12.58 ± 1.52 yrs). Yoga group underwent three months of Yoga program in a schedule of 90 min per day, four days per week whereas the WLC group followed the routine activities. They were assessed by Stroop Color-Word Task, Digit Symbol Substitution Test (DSST), Digits Span Test and Trial Making Test (TMT) at the beginning and end of the program.

The repeated measures ANOVA showed significant difference in time and group interactions (p < 0.05) for all subtests of Stroop Color-Word Task and Digit Span Test and part-A of TMT whereas there were no significant difference found in DSST and TMT (part-B).

The post-hoc test with Bonferroni adjustment also showed significant improvements (p < 0.001) within the Yoga group in all test scores while in wrong score of DSST did not exhibit significant reduction. Whereas the WLC group, showed significant improvement (p < 0.05) in Stroop Color, Color-Word score, net score of DSST, Digit Span forward and Digit Span Total.

Three months Yoga program was found useful for the young orphan adolescents in improving their executive functions.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5198826/