Protect the Aging Brain with Meditation

Protect the Aging Brain with Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“long-term engagement in mindfulness meditation may enhance cognitive performance in older adults, and that with persistent practice, these benefits may be sustained. That’s great news for the millions of aging adults working to combat the negative effects of aging on the brain.” B. Grace Bullock

 

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.

 

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.

 

In today’s Research News article “Promising Links between Meditation and Reduced (Brain) Aging: An Attempt to Bridge Some Gaps between the Alleged Fountain of Youth and the Youth of the Field.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5447722/, Kurth and colleagues review and summarize the published research literature on the neuroprotective effects of meditation in the elderly. They discuss the ideas that the aging based deterioration of the brain is due to a number of processes, including changes in the DNA telomeres, inflammation, stress, and neuroplasticity and that meditation appears to effect all of these processes.

 

There has accumulated evidence that meditation protects against age related decline at the molecular genetic level. As we age the length of a DNA structures called the telomeres progressively shorten. It is thought that the shorter the telomeres get the more difficult it becomes for cells to replicate properly and thus leads to decline. Mindfulness training in general and meditation specifically, has been shown to reduce the shortening of the telomeres with aging. Kurth and colleagues speculate that this is one mechanism by which meditation protects the brain from age related decline.

 

As we age the natural inflammatory response that normally occurs to protect against infection begins to increase in general and lose its specificity to fighting particular diseases, pathogens, and injuries. It becomes more widespread damaging normal tissues. Mindfulness training in general and meditation specifically has been shown to reduce inflammatory responses. It seems reasonable that this is another mechanism by which meditation protects the body from age related decline.

 

Stress is present throughout life. But if it is too intense or prolonged the biological responses to stress begin to damage the body. These stress induced changes are similar to age related deterioration. Stress effects may accumulate over time. Hence, the older we get the greater the total stress induced damage. Mindfulness training in general and meditation specifically has been shown to improve emotion regulation and to reduce the physiological and psychological responses to stress. This is hypothesized to be another mechanism by which meditation protects the brain from deterioration with aging.

 

Neuroplasticity is a change in the size and connectivity of brain structures as they are exercised over a prolonged period of time. Mindfulness training in general and meditation specifically has been shown to produce neuroplastic changes in the brain, increasing the size and connectivity of brain structures. This process would tend to counteract brain degeneration with aging and may be another mechanism by which meditation protects the brain during aging.

 

Hence there has accumulated evidence that meditation reduces the deterioration of the brain with aging. It appears to do so by altering a number of different mechanisms including changes in the DNA telomeres, inflammation, stress, and neuroplasticity. This protection of the brain may be responsible to the ability of meditation to reduce the decline in mental abilities that occur with aging. This would tend to make aging a more benign process.

 

So, protect the aging brain with meditation.

 

We expected rather small and distinct effects located in some of the regions that had previously been associated with meditating. Instead, what we actually observed was a widespread effect of meditation that encompassed regions throughout the entire brain.” – Florian Kurth

 

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

 

Kurth, F., Cherbuin, N., & Luders, E. (2017). Promising Links between Meditation and Reduced (Brain) Aging: An Attempt to Bridge Some Gaps between the Alleged Fountain of Youth and the Youth of the Field. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 860. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00860

 

Abstract

Over the last decade, an increasing number of studies has reported a positive impact of meditation on cerebral aging. However, the underlying mechanisms for these seemingly brain-protecting effects are not well-understood. This may be due to the fact, at least partly, that systematic empirical meditation research has emerged only recently as a field of scientific scrutiny. Thus, on the one hand, critical questions remain largely unanswered; and on the other hand, outcomes of existing research require better integration to build a more comprehensive and holistic picture. In this article, we first review theories and mechanisms pertaining to normal (brain) aging, specifically focusing on telomeres, inflammation, stress regulation, and macroscopic brain anatomy. Then, we summarize existing research integrating the developing evidence suggesting that meditation exerts positive effects on (brain) aging, while carefully discussing possible mechanisms through which these effects may be mediated.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5447722/

Change your Brain for the Better with Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Neuroscientists have also shown that practicing mindfulness affects brain areas related to perception, body awareness, pain tolerance, emotion regulation, introspection, complex thinking, and sense of self. . . 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

 

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. For example, the brain area that controls the right index finger has been found to be larger in blind subjects who use braille than in sighted individuals.  Similarly, cab drivers in London who navigate the twisting streets of the city, have a larger hippocampus, which is involved in spatial navigation, than predefined route bus drivers. 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 seemingly simple behavior of meditation is actually quite complex. Adding to the complexity is that there are a variety of different meditation techniques. To begin to understand exactly how meditation works to produce its benefit, it is important to determine what works best and what doesn’t. So, there is a need to test and compare the effects of a variety of techniques and variations. There has been some work investigating the neuroplastic changes resulting from a number of different types of meditation techniques. But more work is needed.

 

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a practice widely used particularly to treat mental and physical conditions. It is, in fact, an amalgam of three mindfulness practice techniques; meditation, body scan, and yoga. It is not known if this combination of practices has the same effects on the nervous system as simple long-term meditation practice. In today’s Research News article “8-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction induces brain changes similar to traditional long-term meditation practice – A systematic review.” See:

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1309864165704173/?type=3&theater

or see summary below. Gotink and colleagues review the published research literature on the effects of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) training on the brain and compare it to the effects of long-term meditation. Participants in the studies were adults who were provided an 8-week MBSR program and had their brains scanned with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (f-MRI).

 

They found that the literature reported that 8 weeks of MBSR training produced changed activity and functional connectivity in the prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, insula, and cingulate cortex. These are all brain structures that are involved in emotion regulation and behavioral response inhibition and control. In addition, the studies report decreased activity and size of the amygdala. This is a structure involved in activation and emotionality. These are very similar to the neural changes that have been reported for long-term meditators. So, it would appear that and 8-week MBSR training is sufficient to produce major changes in the nervous system reflecting changes in the psychological and emotional aspects of the individual. The practitioner’s brain is changed in such a way as to make them better in charge of their emotions and behavior.

 

So, change your brain for the better with mindfulness based stress reduction.

 

“Noticing the differences between sense and story, between primary experience-dependent ‘bottom-up’ input and the secondary ‘top-down’ chatter of prior learning becomes a fundamental tool of the mindfulness approach. Once this distinction, this noticing of the contents of the mind, is readily accessible through intentional practice, the capacity to alter habitual patterns is created and the possibility becomes available for relief from self-preoccupied rumination, self-defeating thought-patterns, negative autobiographical narratives and maladaptive patterns of emotional reactivity.” – Daniel J. Siegel

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

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

 

Study Summary

Gotink RA, Meijboom R, Vernooij MW, Smits M, Hunink MG. 8-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction induces brain changes similar to traditional long-term meditation practice – A systematic review. Brain Cogn. 2016 Jul 15;108:32-41. doi: 10.1016/j.bandc.2016.07.001. [Epub ahead of print]

 

Highlights

  • Literature reports that long-term meditators show altered brain activations and structure.
  • Post-MBSR, prefrontal cortex, insula, cingulate cortex and hippocampus show similar results to traditional meditation.
  • In addition, the amygdala shows earlier deactivation, less gray matter and better connectivity.
  • These changes indicate a neuronal working mechanism of MBSR.

Abstract: The objective of the current study was to systematically review the evidence of the effect of secular mindfulness techniques on function and structure of the brain. Based on areas known from traditional meditation neuroimaging results, we aimed to explore a neuronal explanation of the stress-reducing effects of the 8-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) program.

Methods: We assessed the effect of MBSR and MBCT (N = 11, all MBSR), components of the programs (N = 15), and dispositional mindfulness (N = 4) on brain function and/or structure as assessed by (functional) magnetic resonance imaging. 21 fMRI studies and seven MRI studies were included (two studies performed both).

Results: The prefrontal cortex, the cingulate cortex, the insula and the hippocampus showed increased activity, connectivity and volume in stressed, anxious and healthy participants. Additionally, the amygdala showed decreased functional activity, improved functional connectivity with the prefrontal cortex, and earlier deactivation after exposure to emotional stimuli.

Conclusion: Demonstrable functional and structural changes in the prefrontal cortex, cingulate cortex, insula and hippocampus are similar to changes described in studies on traditional meditation practice. In addition, MBSR led to changes in the amygdala consistent with improved emotion regulation. These findings indicate that MBSR-induced emotional and behavioral changes are related to functional and structural changes in the brain.

Expand the Brain with Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“You have the capacity to heal the emotional dysfunctionality of your own brain. When you increase your awareness with mindfulness, you can transform your brain, create new circuits or change the way neurons talk to each other.”  – Bhavika

 

There has accumulated a large amount of research demonstrating that meditation has significant benefits for psychological, physical, and spiritual wellbeing. Its positive effects are so widespread that it is difficult to find any other treatment of any kind with such broad beneficial effects on everything from mood and happiness to severe mental and physical illnesses. This raises the question of how meditation could do this.

 

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. For example, the brain area that controls the right index finger has been found to be larger in blind subjects who use braille than in sighted individuals.  Similarly, cab drivers in London who navigate the twisting streets of the city, have a larger hippocampus, which is involved in spatial navigation, than predefined route bus drivers. 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 seemingly simple behavior of meditation is actually quite complex. Adding to the complexity is that there are a variety of different meditation techniques. To begin to understand exactly how meditation works to produce its benefit, it is important to determine what works best and what doesn’t. So, there is a need to test and compare the effects of a variety of techniques and variations. There has been some work investigating the neuroplastic changes resulting from a number of different types of meditation techniques. But more work is needed.

 

In today’s Research News article “Increased Grey Matter Associated with Long-Term Sahaja Yoga Meditation: A Voxel-Based Morphometry Study”

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1208010452556212/?type=3&theater

Or see below, or for the complete text see:

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0150757

Hernández and colleagues investigate the neuroplastic effects of “Sahaja Yoga Meditation (SYM). They state that SYM “shares some goals with some other meditation techniques such as Mindfulness meditation, Loving-kindness meditation or other Buddhist meditations i.e., to be fully conscious on the present moment, to reduce the wandering mind and to increase compassion and love.” However, in SYM the practitioner regularly experiences the state of mental silence or “thoughtless awareness.” This allows for an examination of the neural changes accompanying the unique state of thoughtless awareness. To investigate the neuroplastic changes produced by SYM, they compared MRI scans of the brains of expert meditators with 5 to 26 years of experience to non-meditator controls.

 

They found that the meditators had significantly more grey matter (cortex) in their brains than controls. Areas that were particularly enlarged were the ventral lateral prefrontal cortex, the right anterior insula, the right inferior temporal gyrus, and the right inferior parietal lobe. These size increases suggest functional improvements. The insula is known to be involved in sensing internal states and emotions. The inferior temporal gyrus has been shown to be involved in alertness. The ventral lateral prefrontal cortex has been shown to be involved in emotional intelligence and attention. Hence, the expanded brain areas reflect expanded attention and alertness and regulation of emotions produced by Sahaja Yoga Meditation.

 

This makes sense as the mindfulness meditation component of SYM would be expected to develop alertness and attention while the Loving-kindness meditation component of SYM would be expected to develop emotional sensitivity and regulation. The results clearly demonstrate that extensive practice of Sahaja Yoga Meditation, like other meditation practices expands the brains processing power particularly in regard to attention, alertness, and emotions. With these improvements in these important functions that are involved in virtually everything that a person does, it is no wonder that meditation has such widespread beneficial effects.

 

So, expand the brain with meditation.

 

“We can intentionally shape the direction of plasticity changes in our brain. By focusing on wholesome thoughts, for example, and directing our intentions in those ways, we can potentially influence the plasticity of our brains and shape them in ways that can be beneficial. That leads us to the inevitable conclusion that qualities like warm-heartedness and well-being should best be regarded as skills.” – Richie Davidson

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

 

Study Summary

Hernández SE, Suero J, Barros A, González-Mora JL, Rubia K (2016) Increased Grey Matter Associated with Long-Term Sahaja Yoga Meditation: A Voxel-Based Morphometry Study. PLoS ONE 11(3): e0150757. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0150757

 

Abstract

Objectives: To investigate regional differences in grey matter volume associated with the practice of Sahaja Yoga Meditation.

Design: Twenty three experienced practitioners of Sahaja Yoga Meditation and twenty three non-meditators matched on age, gender and education level, were scanned using structural Magnetic Resonance Imaging and their grey matter volume were compared using Voxel-Based Morphometry.

Results: Grey matter volume was larger in meditators relative to non-meditators across the whole brain. In addition, grey matter volume was larger in several predominantly right hemispheric regions: in insula, ventromedial orbitofrontal cortex, inferior temporal and parietal cortices as well as in left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex and left insula. No areas with larger grey matter volume were found in non-meditators relative to meditators.

Conclusions: The study shows that long-term practice of Sahaja Yoga Meditation is associated with larger grey matter volume overall, and with regional enlargement in several right hemispheric cortical and subcortical brain regions that are associated with sustained attention, self-control, compassion and interoceptive perception. The increased grey matter volume in these attention and self-control mediating regions suggests use-dependent enlargement with regular practice of this meditation.

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0150757

 

Protect the Brain from Aging with Meditation

 

“Accumulating scientific evidence that meditation has brain-altering capabilities might ultimately allow for an effective translation from research to practice, not only in the framework of healthy aging but also pathological aging.” – Eileen Luders

 

The nervous system is a dynamic entity that changes in response to the experiences of the individuals and the demands they place upon it. This is a process called neuroplasticity. Contemplative practices place demands upon the brain and as a result produce neuroplastic changes increasing the size, activity, and connectivity of some structures while decreasing them in others (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/brain-systems/). In other words, contemplative practices appear to mold and change the brain.

 

We all want to live longer. We celebrate the increasing longevity of the population. But, aging is a mixed blessing. The aging process involves a systematic progressive decline in every system in the body, the brain included. It cannot be avoided. But, there is evidence that it can be slowed. 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 with aging (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/aging/).

 

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 (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/brain-systems/). Indeed, the brains of practitioners of meditation and yoga have been found to degenerate less with aging than non-practitioners.

 

The structural changes that occur in the brain with aging involve a decrease in both grey matter, the neuron cell bodies, and white matter, the axons that interconnect structures. There have been numerous studies of the changes in grey matter that occur with aging and with contemplative practices, but there has been little research into changes in white matter. In today’s Research News article “Effects of Long-Term Mindfulness Meditation on Brain’s White Matter Microstructure and its Aging”

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1174947885862469/?type=3&theater

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4712309/

Laneri and colleagues performed diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) on a group of adult long-term meditators and a comparable group who had never meditated. DTI measures the volume, connectivity, and integrity of white matter. They specifically investigated five areas of the white matter that are connected to areas that had previously been shown to be affected by meditation practice.

 

They found that four of the five areas investigated, Thalamus, Insula, Amygdala, and Hippocampus had significantly higher volume and activation in the meditators relative to the control participants. In addition, the meditators did not show the age related decline in volume and activation in all five structures that was apparent in the non-meditators. In other words, long-term meditation practice appears to spare the connections between key structures in the brain from age related declines. This supplements previous findings of increases in grey matter volume in these areas in meditators.

 

These results, together with previous studies of meditation effects on the brain suggest that meditation not only increases the size of neural areas but also the size and activation of their interconnections. Hence meditation appears to result in improved function in these areas. Importantly, these results suggest that meditation practice also helps to maintain the integrity of these structures during aging. These may be the neural changes underlying the protection that meditation produces from cognitive decline that occurs in aging.

 

Hence, meditation is an anti-aging practice. It may help to keep our nervous systems healthier for longer and as a result keep our mental abilities sharp for longer. So, protect the brain from aging with meditation.

 

“There is a natural and easy method to turn aging on its heels that few people know about. It is the simple practice of meditation.” – EOC Institute

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

Aging the Brain Healthily with Mindfulness

Aging the Brain Healthily with Mindfulness

 

“He who is of a calm and happy nature will hardly feel the pressure of age, but to him who is of an opposite disposition, youth and age are equally a burden.” – Plato (427-346 B.C.)

 

If we are lucky enough to survive long enough we’ll all have an opportunity to experience the aging process. It is a systematic progressive decline in every system in the body. It cannot be avoided. But, there is evidence that it can be slowed. 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 with aging (see links below).

 

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 have found that contemplative practices of meditation and yoga restrain the loss of neural tissue with aging. The brains of practitioners degenerate less than non-practitioners.

 

The hippocampus is a large subcortical structure that has been shown to decrease in size and connectivity with aging. It also has been found that long-term meditators are somewhat protected from this deterioration. A part of the hippocampus known as the subiculum is of particular interest because it decreases in size with aging and is associated with memory and spatial ability, both of which decline with aging. In addition, the subiculum appears to be larger in long-term meditators. But it has yet to be seen if the age related deterioration of the subiculum is spared with meditation.

 

In today’s Research News article “Reduced age-related degeneration of the hippocampal subiculum in long-term meditators”

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1114180745272517/?type=3&theater

Kurth and colleagues investigate this question by looking at the size of the subiculum in meditators and non-meditators ranging in age from 24 to 77 years. They found that the non-meditators showed the expected decrease in size of the subiculum with aging. But there was no significant decline in the subiculum size on the left side with aging with the meditators.

 

Hence, the findings of Kurth and colleagues suggest that meditation practice protects an important part of the brain from deteriorating with age. This is interesting and important and could reflect the mechanism by which meditation decreases the aging individual’s loss of memory and spatial ability.

 

Meditation is known to decrease the physiological and psychological responses to stress. In addition, stress including childhood trauma is known to produce a reduction in the size of the subiculum on the left side. It follows then the neuroprotective effects of meditation on the age related deterioration of the left subiculum may result from meditations known ability to reduce stress. Further research will be required to test this idea. Regardless, the results clearly demonstrate that meditation can result in less deterioration with aging of an important part of the brain.

 

So, meditate to reduce brain loss with aging.

 

“There are no drugs that will make you immune to stress or to pain, or that will by themselves magically solve your life’s problems or promote healing. It will take conscious effort on your part to move in a direction of healing, inner peace, and well-being.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

Mindfulness practices are known to increase the activity, size, and connectivity of neural structures (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/08/01/this-is-your-brain-on-meditation/ and http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/19/spirituality-mindfulness-and-the-brain/ and http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/08/03/make-the-brain-more-efficient-with-meditation/).

Yoga practice has been shown to decrease age related brain deterioration. ( See http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/age-healthily-protect-the-brain-with-yoga/).

 

Meditation improves sleep in aging http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/08/31/age-healthily-sleep-better-with-meditation/

Mindfulness improves emotions in aging http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/age-healthily-mindfulness/

Qigong improves responses to stress in aging http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/09/28/age-healthily-with-qigong-soothing-stress-responses/

Yoga practice improves the symptoms of arthritis http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/08/14/age-healthily-yoga-for-arthritis/

Yoga practice can reduce indicators of cellular aging http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/aging-healthily-yoga-and-cellular-aging/

Yoga decreases musculoskeletal deterioration in aging http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/age-healthily-yoga/

Tai Chi reduces inflammation and insomnia in aging http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/08/06/age-healthily-treating-insomnia-and-inflammation/ and http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/aging-healthily-sleeping-better-with-mindful-movement-practice/

 

 

 

Develop a Better Brain Mindfully

The nervous system changes dramatically during development. It is a time when the brain is greatly affected by the environment and experiences of the individual. This is what neuroscientists call neuroplasticity. It is present in adulthood, but is particularly evident and important during development. The nervous system is molded to efficiently analyze the environment presented.

 

Studies of the development of the nervous system during adolescence have revealed marked changes occurring throughout the teen years. The brain doesn’t look like that of an adult until the early 20s. Over the course of childhood the outer layer of the nervous system, the cortex, increases in thickness and then during adolescence thins. Late adolescence is a time of brain development when the highest levels of intellectual development are being produced by refinements in the structures of the nervous system. The thinning of the cortex is thought to reflect a pruning of cortical systems making processing more and more efficient. It is making the nervous system more efficient and tuned to the environment in which it is immersed.

 

It is thought that many of the emotional and behavioral problems during adolescence occur due to the fact that the neural systems underlying emotional reactivity and expression are fully developed well before the development of the higher processes that regulate and control the emotions and the responses to the emotions. As a result, adolescent behavior can be overly determined by emotion. This can potentially explain the high rates of teen suicide, reckless, thrill seeking behavior, and social anxiety. The erratic emotion driven behavior of the teen years is reflected in the teen nervous system.

 

Mindfulness has been shown to be associated with emotion regulation. The higher the level of mindfulness the better able the individual is in experiencing emotions at a manageable level and responding to them adaptively and appropriately (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/09/10/take-command-and-control-of-your-emotions/). Hence, it makes sense to study the development of the brain, mindfulness, and emotion regulation during adolescence. Perhaps mindfulness can compensate for some of the emotional dominance of behavior in the teen.

 

In today’s Research News article “Dispositional mindfulness is predicted by structural development of the insula during late adolescence”

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1108203169203608/?type=3&theater

Friedel and colleagues use MRI neuroimaging to measure brain structure of males and females at age 16 and again at age 19 to view the changes occurring during late adolescence. They also measured mindfulness, emotional self-regulation, attention, inhibitory control, frustration, as well as behavioral aggression and depressive mood. High levels of mindfulness were found to be associated with higher levels of cognitive reappraisal, attention and inhibitory control, and lower levels of self-reported frustration, aggression and depressive mood. In other words, the adolescents who were very mindful were in better control of their emotions.

 

Friedel and colleagues then compared the brains at 16 years to those at 19 years and observed the expected thinning of cortical regions over this period. They found that mindfulness was associated with less thinning of an area called the Insula and that this was also associated with intelligence. They also found that the higher the level of mindfulness the less thinning of the Insula occurred and the higher the IQ test score.

 

These are intriguing findings. The Insula is an area of the cortex that has been found to be associated with interoceptive awareness, that is with the individual’s sensitivity to and awareness of their internal state. This is important for regulating emotions as the first step in regulating is actually becoming aware that they are occurring. Hence, the results suggest that the improved emotion regulation that is associated with mindfulness during late adolescence may be due to improved awareness of the emotional state and that this is due to less thinning of the Insula region of the cortex.

 

So, develop the brain mindfully and develop a more in-control teen.

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This is Your Brain on Meditation

Our minds have the incredible capacity to both alter the strength of connections among neurons, essentially rewiring them, and create entirely new pathways. (It makes a computer, which cannot create new hardware when its system crashes, seem fixed and helpless).” ― Susannah Cahalan

There has accumulated a large amount of research demonstrating that meditation has significant benefits for psychological, physical, and spiritual wellbeing. Its positive effects are so widespread that it is difficult to find any other treatment of any kind with such broad beneficial effects on everything from mood and happiness to severe mental and physical illnesses. This raises the question of how meditation could do this.

The nervous system is constantly changing and adapting to the environment. It will change size, activity, and connectivity in response to experience. For example, the brain area that controls the right index finger has been found to be larger in blind subjects who use braille than in sighted individuals.  Similarly, cab drivers in London who navigate the twisting streets of the city, have a larger hippocampus, which is involved in spatial navigation, than predefined route bus drivers. 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 today’s Research News article “The Meditative Mind: A Comprehensive Meta-Analysis of MRI Studies”

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1060975617259697/?type=1&theater

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4471247/

Boccia and colleagues summarize the current state of research on the effects of meditation on the nervous system. They show that meditation activates a network of brain areas that over time, in experienced meditators, increases in size and in the ability of these areas to interact (increased connectivity).

The particular parts of the brain that are affected by meditation are areas that have been demonstrated previously to be involved in self-referential processes, including self-awareness and self-regulation, attention, executive functions, and memory formations. The altered structures have functions that align perfectly with the types of changes observed in expert meditators. These include increases in present moment awareness of the self and the environment, sustained attention, cognitive ability, memory ability, the abilities to regulate emotions and responses to emotions.

Hence, it appears that meditation alters the nervous system in important ways that result in changes in the individual’s psychological and physical makeup that in turn affect health and wellbeing.

So, meditate and improve your brain.

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

Age Healthily – Protect the Brain with Yoga

The aging process involves a progressive deterioration of the body including the brain. It actually begins in the late 20s and continues throughout the lifespan. It cannot be stopped or reversed. But, the deterioration can be slowed and to some extent counteracted. This is true for both physical and mental deterioration including degeneration and shrinkage of the nervous system.

Aging healthily to a large extent involves strategies to slow down the deterioration. Meditation has been shown to slow down the deterioration of the nervous system with aging. It acts by increasing the amount of grey matter in the brain through a process referred to as neuroplasticity. Brain areas that are heavily used tend to grow larger while those that are underutilized tend to grow smaller.

In a previous post we described how yoga slowed or reversed age related decline in muscle strength and flexibility (See below). In today’s Research News article “Neuroprotective effects of yoga practice: age-, experience-, and frequency-dependent plasticity”

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1050712994952626/?type=1&theater

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4428135/

Villemure and colleagues demonstrate for the first time that yoga practice also protects the nervous system from deterioration. They showed that with age there was a decline on brain grey matter volume in healthy physically active people, but there was no decline in experienced yoga practitioners.

Interestingly, the more yoga practice the better the protection, the higher the grey matter volume. Yoga consists of postures, breath practice and meditation. It appears that the combination of postures and meditation are the most significant aspects of yoga practice for neuroprotection. It was already known that meditation helped to protect against age related brain deterioration. These results suggest that yoga adds another neuroprotective element in practicing postures.

Yoga practitioners had larger sensory cortex areas than non-practitioners. This is probably because of yoga’s emphasis on paying attention to sensations and visualization techniques used during practice. Also, the largest effects of yoga were seen in the left hemisphere. There is strong evidence that the left hemisphere is responsible for positive emotions. This then suggests that yoga promotes happiness by increasing the size of the left hemisphere. In addition, enlargement was seen in areas responsible for stress management. This provides a potential mechanism for yoga’s ability to relieve stress.

These are exciting findings. The results could provide credence for the long rumored ability of yoga to increase lifespan. They also suggest that the meditative aspects of yoga are very important and that using yoga simply for exercise may be ignoring  very important aspect of yoga for the protection of the brain.

So, practice yoga and age healthily.

CMCS

Previous Post

Age Healthily – Yoga

The aging process involves a progressive deterioration of the body. This cannot be stopped or reversed. But, the deterioration can be slowed and to some extent counteracted. This is true for both physical and mental deterioration. But, today’s article, “Age related differences of selected Hatha yoga practices on anthropometric characteristics, muscular strength and flexibility of healthy individuals.”

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4278134/?report=printable

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1015482441809015/?type=1&theater

is focused on the physical deterioration in aging.

As we age we increase body fat and loose muscles mass and strength. The bones become less dense and weaker and thereby more prone to breaking. Cartilage that lines the joints tend to thin leading to arthritis and the ligaments that hold the muscles and joints together tend to harden making us less flexible and prone to injury. Inactivity in aging can exacerbate all of these musculoskeletal changes.

Yoga practice appears to help to slow or reverse these changes. Today’s article demonstrates that the increase in fat mass with aging and the consequent increase in body weight are slowed by daily Hatha yoga practice. The decreased muscle strength as well as the decreased flexibility is also slowed in yoga practitioners. Hence, yoga is an excellent practice for maintaining the individual’s strength, flexibility, and body composition all of which are important for healthy aging.

In addition to the direct benefits there are also a plethora of indirect benefits. The individual looks and feels better. This can lead to improved self-image and even higher levels of activity. These in turn can lead to more frequent and better social interactions. This in addition to the social interactions inherent in group yoga practice. The loss of these social interactions are a major contributor to loneliness and depression in aging. Hence, indirectly, yoga practice can lead to improved social and psychological health.

So, age healthily by practicing yoga!

CMCS