Improve Creativity with Cyclic Meditation
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“Stillness is where creativity and solutions to problems are found.” – Eckhart Tolle
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.
Perhaps the best method to improve creativity and problem solving is to practice both activating and relaxing mindfulness practices. This occurs in cyclic meditation which involves yoga poses (Activation) and meditative relaxation (calming). It is not known whether cyclic meditation can enhance creative thinking and if so, how it might be affecting brain activity.
In today’s Research News article “Association between Cyclic Meditation and Creative Cognition: Optimizing Connectivity between the Frontal and Parietal Lobes.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6329224/ ), Shetkar and colleagues recruited college students and randomly assigned them to receive 7 daily 35 minute sessions of either cyclic meditation or supine rest (Shavasana). Participants were measured before and after treatment for creative (divergent) thinking. During rest, creativity testing and cyclic meditation the participants had their brain activity measured with an electroencephalograph (EEG).
They found that after training in comparison to control participants there was a significant increase (18%) in creativity in the cyclic meditation group including large increases in fluency, originality, elaboration, and flexibility. They also found that brain activity in the gamma frequency bands (high frequency, 25 to 100 cycles per second) of the EEG increased in the frontal and parietal lobes after cyclic meditation practice with indications of increased connectivity between these lobes. The frontal lobes have long been associated with higher level thinking including creative thought.
These are very interesting results. Cyclic meditation is different from relaxation in its use of yoga postures and guided meditation. It remains for future research to determine which of these components or both are necessary and sufficient for producing the improvements in creativity. The findings suggest that engaging in cyclic meditation enhances activity in the areas of the brain that are responsible for higher level cognitive functions and as a result enhances creative thinking. It also remains for future research to determine if these effects are lasting or are only present in the immediate aftermath of training.
So, improve creativity with cyclic meditation.
“A state of conscious awareness resulting from living in the moment is not sufficient for creativity to come about. To be creative, you need to have, or be trained in, the ability to observe, notice, and attend to phenomena that pass your mind’s eye.” – Matthijs Baas
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Shetkar, R. M., Hankey, A., Nagendra, H. R., & Pradhan, B. (2019). Association between Cyclic Meditation and Creative Cognition: Optimizing Connectivity between the Frontal and Parietal Lobes. International journal of yoga, 12(1), 29-36.
Important stages of creativity include preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification. Earlier studies have reported that some techniques of meditation promote creativity but have not specified which stage is enhanced. Here, we report the influence of cyclic meditation (CM) on creative cognition measured by a divergent thinking task. Our aim was to determine the degree of association between the two.
Twenty-four university students were randomly assigned to an experimental group (CM) and controls (Supine Rest), 35 min/day for 7 days. Creativity performance was assessed pre and post using Abbreviated Torrance Test for Adults (ATTA), while 64-channel electroencephalography (EEG) was used to measure brain activity during both CM/SH and the creativity test.
Results indicated that CM training improved creativity performance, producing a shift to predominant gamma activity during creativity compared controls who showed delta activity. Furthermore, the experimental group showed more activation of frontal and parietal regions (EEG leads F3, F4 and P3, P4) than controls, i.e., the regions of the executive network responsible for creative cognition, our particular regions of interest where specialized knowledge is being stored.
Improvement on creativity test performance indicates that CM increases association and strengthens the connectivity between frontal and parietal lobes, the major nodes of default mode network and executive attention network, enhancing the important stages of creativity such as preparation, incubation, and illumination.