Increase the Energy Metabolism of the Brain with Meditation

Increase the Energy Metabolism of the Brain with Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

As a form of mental training, meditation improves core physical and psychological assets, including energy, motivation, and strength. Studies on the neurophysiological concomitants of meditation have proved that commitment to daily practice can bring promising changes for the mind and the body.” –  Madhuleena Roy Chowdhury

 

Mindfulness training has been shown through extensive research to be effective in improving physical and psychological health and particularly with reducing the physical and psychological reactions to stress. There are a number of ways that meditation practices produce these benefits, including changes to the brain and physiology. The nervous system changes in response to how it is used and how it is stimulated in a process called neuroplasticity. Highly used areas grow in size, metabolism, and connectivity. Mindfulness practices in general are known to produce these kinds of changes in the structure and activity of the brain.

 

In today’s Research News article “Short-term meditation training influences brain energy metabolism: A pilot study on 31 P MR spectroscopy.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7821578/ ) Gizewski and colleagues recruited healthy adult meditation naïve yoga students and provided them with 7 weeks of twice a week 45-minute training in Raja yoga meditation. This focused meditation training emphasizes the cessation of thinking and includes meditation and breathing exercises. They were measured before and after training for meditative depth, health history, lifestyle, anxiety, depression, and angst. Before and after training they also underwent brain scanning with structural Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and for brain energy metabolism (31P-MRS).

 

They found that in comparison to baseline after Raja yoga meditation training there were significant increases overall mental health and decreases in anxiety and dysthymia. There were also significant increases in brain energy metabolism particularly in the right hemisphere in the occipital and temporal lobes and the basal ganglia.

 

This study did not contain a comparison, control, condition which opens the results up to some alternative interpretations. But ignoring these possible contaminants, the study suggests that 7 weeks of meditation training can alter the brain. This has been demonstrated with numerous studies of changes in the structure, connectivity, and electrical activity of the brain produced by mindfulness training. The present study adds to this understanding by demonstrating the focused meditation training increases the energy metabolism in the brain particularly in the posterior cerebral cortex and the motor control areas. Meditation training is thought to be relaxing and the technique used here is one that emphasizes reduction in mental activity. But the present study suggests that the brain can get very active. This suggests that there is considerable mental activity going on during meditation.

 

So, increase the energy metabolism of the brain with meditation.

 

Meditation is thought to work via its effects on the sympathetic nervous system, which increases heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure during times of stress. Yet meditating has a spiritual purpose, too. “True, it will help you lower your blood pressure, but so much more: it can help your creativity, your intuition, your connection with your inner self,” –  Burke Lennihan,

 

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

 

Gizewski, E. R., Steiger, R., Waibel, M., Pereverzyev, S., Sommer, P., Siedentopf, C., Grams, A. E., Lenhart, L., & Singewald, N. (2021). Short-term meditation training influences brain energy metabolism: A pilot study on 31 P MR spectroscopy. Brain and behavior, 11(1), e01914. https://doi.org/10.1002/brb3.1914

 

Abstract

Background

Meditation is increasingly attracting interest among neuroimaging researchers for its relevance as a cognitive enhancement technique and several cross‐sectional studies have indicated cerebral changes. This longitudinal study applied a distinct and standardized meditative technique with a group of volunteers in a short‐term training program to analyze brain metabolic changes.

Methods

The effect of 7 weeks of meditation exercises (focused attention meditation, FAM) was assessed on 27 healthy volunteers. Changes in cerebral energy metabolism were investigated using 31P‐MR spectroscopy. Metabolite ratios were compared before (T1) and after training (T2). Additional questionnaire assessments were included.

Results

The participants performed FAM daily. Depression and anxiety scores revealed a lower level of state anxiety at T2 compared to T1. From T1 to T2, energy metabolism ratios showed the following differences: PCr/ATP increased right occipitally; Pi/ATP decreased bilaterally in the basal ganglia and temporal lobe on the right; PCr/Pi increased in occipital lobe bilaterally, in the basal ganglia and in the temporal lobe on the right side. The pH decreased temporal on the left side and frontal in the right side. The observed changes in the temporal areas and basal ganglia may be interpreted as a higher energetic state, whereas the frontal and occipital areas showed changes that may be related to a down‐regulation in ATP turnover, energy state, and oxidative capacity.

Conclusions

The results of the current study indicate for the first time in a longitudinal study that even short‐term training in FAM may have considerable effects on brain energy state with different local energy management in specific brain regions. Especially higher energetic state in basal ganglia may represent altered function in their central role in complex cerebral distributed networks including frontal and temporal areas. Further studies including different forms of relaxation techniques should be performed for more specific and reliable insights.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7821578/

 

Mindfulness-Based Therapies Benefits are Greatly Affected by Social Factors in Therapy

Mindfulness-Based Therapies Benefits are Greatly Affected by Social Factors in Therapy

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

Designed to deliberately focus a person’s attention on the present experience in a way that is non-judgmental, mindfulness-based interventions, whether offered individually or in a group setting, may offer benefit to people seeking therapy for any number of concerns.” – Manuel A. Manotas

 

Psychotherapy is an interpersonal transaction. Its effectiveness in treating the ills of the client is to some extent dependent upon the chemistry between the therapist and the client, termed the therapeutic alliance. Research has demonstrated that there is a positive relationship with moderate effect sizes between treatment outcomes and the depth of the therapeutic alliance.

 

There are also other factors that may be important for successful therapy. The client’s engagement in the process as well as the therapists interpersonal skills may also be important ingredients in producing successful therapeutic outcomes. There are also important social factors present particularly when the therapy is provided in groups. In addition, formal and informal practice effects are involved. There is little known, however, of the role of these components of therapy on the effectiveness of treatment for mental health issues such as depression.

 

In today’s Research News article “The Contribution of Common and Specific Therapeutic Factors to Mindfulness-Based Intervention Outcomes.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7874060/ )  Canby and colleagues recruited patients diagnosed with mild to severe depression and randomly assigned them to receive once a week for 8 weeks, 3 hour sessions of either focused meditation, open monitoring meditation or Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) which contains both focused and open monitoring meditation practices. Before and after the 8-weeks of practice and 3 months later they were measured for empathy, therapeutic alliance, formal and informal mindfulness practices, depression, anxiety, stress, mindfulness, and group therapeutic factors in group therapy: instillation of hope, secure emotional expression, awareness of relational impact, and social learning. Finally, they received structured interviews exploring mindfulness practices and impact of treatment.

 

They found that the over treatment and follow-up the groups had significantly increased mindfulness and significantly decreased anxiety, depression and stress. They found that the higher the ratings of the instructors. the ratings of the groups and the amounts of formal meditation practice the greater the changes. In general, the instructor and group factors had stronger relationships to the psychological improvements than the amount of formal meditation and the amount of informal meditation practice had no relationship with the improvements. The analysis of the structured interviews indicated that the participants found the instructor and group factors including bonding, instilling hope, and expressing feelings were important to their improvements.

 

These results are interesting replicate previous findings of mindfulness-based therapies produce improvements in anxiety, depression, and stress. The results suggest that mindfulness-based therapies have complex effects and changes in mindfulness may be less important than the social environment produced by the instructor and the group. These social factors may account for a large proportion of the benefits to the participants. These results are important as they suggest that empathizing the social interactions involved in therapy may improve the impact of the therapy on the patients’ psychological well-being.

 

So, mindfulness-based therapies benefits are greatly affected by social factors in therapy.

 

Mindfulness’ strength is in helping us to see more clearly, by giving us the room to not be so quickly reactive. And over time the event does not have to jump to emotional distress, like a grasshopper leaping over a stream.” – Barry Boyce

 

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

 

Canby, N. K., Eichel, K., Lindahl, J., Chau, S., Cordova, J., & Britton, W. B. (2021). The Contribution of Common and Specific Therapeutic Factors to Mindfulness-Based Intervention Outcomes. Frontiers in psychology, 11, 603394. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.603394

 

Abstract

While Mindfulness-Based Interventions (MBIs) have been shown to be effective for a range of patient populations and outcomes, a question remains as to the role of common therapeutic factors, as opposed to the specific effects of mindfulness practice, in contributing to patient improvements. This project used a mixed-method design to investigate the contribution of specific (mindfulness practice-related) and common (instructor and group related) therapeutic factors to client improvements within an MBI. Participants with mild-severe depression (N = 104; 73% female, M age = 40.28) participated in an 8-week MBI. Specific therapeutic factors (formal out-of-class meditation minutes and informal mindfulness practice frequency) and social common factors (instructor and group ratings) were entered into multilevel growth curve models to predict changes in depression, anxiety, stress, and mindfulness at six timepoints from baseline to 3-month follow-up. Qualitative interviews with participants provided rich descriptions of how instructor and group related factors played a role in therapeutic trajectories. Findings indicated that instructor ratings predicted changes in depression and stress, group ratings predicted changes in stress and self-reported mindfulness, and formal meditation predicted changes in anxiety and stress, while informal mindfulness practice did not predict client improvements. Social common factors were stronger predictors of improvements in depression, stress, and self-reported mindfulness than specific mindfulness practice-related factors. Qualitative data supported the importance of relationships with instructor and group members, involving bonding, expressing feelings, and instilling hope. Our findings dispel the myth that MBI outcomes are exclusively the result of mindfulness meditation practice, and suggest that social common factors may account for much of the effects of these interventions. Further research on meditation should take into consideration the effects of social context and other common therapeutic factors.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7874060/

 

Focused Meditation has Superior Effectiveness for Emotional Disorders

Focused Meditation has Superior Effectiveness for Emotional Disorders

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

               

“meditation can help you relax and reduce stress. It can also help you disengage from stressful or anxious thoughts, and better control your mood.” – Healthline

 

Meditation training has been shown to improve health and well-being. It has also been found to be effective for a large array of medical and psychiatric conditions, either stand-alone or in combination with more traditional therapies. As a result, meditation training has been called the third wave of therapies. One problem with understanding meditation effects is that there are, a wide variety of meditation techniques and it is not known which work best for affecting different psychological areas.

 

There are a number of different types of meditation. Classically they’ve been characterized on a continuum with the degree and type of attentional focus. In focused attention meditation, the individual practices paying attention to a single meditation object, often the breath. In open monitoring meditation, the individual opens up awareness to everything that’s being experienced including thoughts regardless of its origin.  Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) employs both focused and open monitoring meditation and also Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). During therapy the patient is trained to investigate and alter aberrant thought patterns. It is important to understand which form of meditation training works best for which conditions.

 

In today’s Research News article “The contributions of focused attention and open monitoring in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for affective disturbances: A 3-armed randomized dismantling trial.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7802967/ ) Cullen and colleagues recruited adults with mild-moderate depression and anxiety and randomly assigned them to an 8-week program of one of three meditation types; focused meditation, open monitoring meditation, or their combination as occurs in Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). They were measured before training and weekly over the 8-week program and 12 weeks later for depression, stress, and anxiety.

 

They found that all three meditation programs produced significant improvements in depression, stress, and anxiety at the end of training and 12 weeks later. But Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) and focused meditation produced significantly greater reductions in anxiety at the 12-week follow-up than open monitoring meditation. During training statistically significant improvements in depression, stress, and anxiety occurred first for focused meditation, followed by MBCT, and last by open monitoring meditation.

 

These are interesting results that again demonstrate the efficacy of meditation training in improving depression, stress, and anxiety. They also found that the training in both focused and open monitoring meditation as occurs in Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) did not produce superior results to the individual meditation types. Finally, they show the focused meditation may be superior to open monitoring meditation in relieving depression, stress, and anxiety. The participants who practiced focused meditation improved faster and at follow up had lower levels of anxiety than those who practiced open monitoring meditation.

 

The reason for the differences in the effectiveness of the different meditation types is unknown. But focused meditation may be simpler and easier to learn and practice than open monitoring meditation. Also, open monitoring meditation by having the practitioner open up awareness to everything that’s being experienced may allow for anxiety, stress, and depression to more easily arise during the session. Future research should investigate these possibilities.

 

So, focused meditation has superior effectiveness for emotional disorders.

 

Within just a week or two of regular meditation, you should see a noticeable change in your mood and stress level. “People will start to feel some inner peace and inner poise, even in the midst of their busy lives,” – Burke Lennihan.

 

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

 

Cullen, B., Eichel, K., Lindahl, J. R., Rahrig, H., Kini, N., Flahive, J., & Britton, W. B. (2021). The contributions of focused attention and open monitoring in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for affective disturbances: A 3-armed randomized dismantling trial. PloS one, 16(1), e0244838. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0244838

 

Abstract

Objective

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) includes a combination of focused attention (FA) and open monitoring (OM) meditation practices. The aim of this study was to assess both short- and long-term between- and within-group differences in affective disturbance among FA, OM and their combination (MBCT) in the context of a randomized controlled trial.

Method

One hundred and four participants with mild to severe depression and anxiety were randomized into one of three 8-week interventions: MBCT (n = 32), FA (n = 36) and OM (n = 36). Outcome measures included the Inventory of Depressive Symptomatology (IDS), and the Depression Anxiety Stress Scales (DASS). Mixed effects regression models were used to assess differential treatment effects during treatment, post-treatment (8 weeks) and long-term (20 weeks). The Reliable Change Index (RCI) was used to translate statistical findings into clinically meaningful improvements or deteriorations.

Results

All treatments demonstrated medium to large improvements (ds = 0.42–1.65) for almost all outcomes. While all treatments were largely comparable in their effects at post-treatment (week 8), the treatments showed meaningful differences in rapidity of response and pattern of deteriorations. FA showed the fastest rate of improvement and the fewest deteriorations on stress, anxiety and depression during treatment, but a loss of treatment-related gains and lasting deteriorations in depression at week 20. OM showed the slowest rate of improvement and lost treatment-related gains for anxiety, resulting in higher anxiety in OM at week 20 than MBCT (d = 0.40) and FA (d = 0.36), though these differences did not reach statistical significance after correcting for multiple comparisons (p’s = .06). MBCT and OM showed deteriorations in stress, anxiety and depression at multiple timepoints during treatment, with lasting deteriorations in stress and depression. MBCT showed the most favorable pattern for long-term treatment of depression.

Conclusions

FA, OM and MBCT show different patterns of response for different dimensions of affective disturbance.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7802967/

 

Improve Caregivers Psychological and Physiological Health with Meditation

Improve Caregivers Psychological and Physiological Health with Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

Feel overwhelmed with the responsibilities of caring for a loved one? One of the most effective ways to avoid burnout is engaging in a mindfulness practice like meditation.” – Audrey Meinertzhagen

 

There is a tremendous demand for caregiving in the US. It is estimated that over 65 million (29% of the adult population) provides care to someone who is ill, disabled or aged, averaging 20 hours per week spent caring for their loved ones. This caregiving comes at a cost exacting a tremendous toll on caregivers’ health and well-being. Caregiving has been associated with increased levels of depression and anxiety as well as higher use of psychoactive medications, poorer self-reported physical health, compromised immune function, and increased mortality. Mindfulness practice for caregivers has been shown to help them cope with the physical and psychological demands of caregiving.

 

In today’s Research News article “Effects of Meditation on Mental Health and Cardiovascular Balance in Caregivers.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7828286/ ) Díaz-Rodríguez and colleagues recruited caregivers for dependent family members for at least 2 years. They were assigned to either no treatment or to receive twice weekly, 2-hour, sessions of focused meditation training on the basis of availability for the training sessions. They were measured before and after training for happiness, anxiety, depression, heart rate, heart rate variability, and blood pressure.

 

They found that in comparison to baseline and the control group, the group that received meditation training were significant higher in happiness and heart rate variability and significantly lower in anxiety, heart rate, and blood pressure. Hence meditation training improved the mental health and cardiovascular balance of caregivers.

 

These are excellent results. A higher level of heart rate variability is an indicator of increased parasympathetic and reduced sympathetic nervous system activity. Hence, the relaxation promoting portion of the autonomic nervous system increases while the portion promoting activation and arousal decreases. This is further evidenced by the significant decrease in heart rate and blood pressure. This suggest that a 4-week training in meditation improves caregivers’ psychological and physiological state. The effectiveness of the caregiving was not measured but based upon the improvements observed it would be expected that the quality of caregiving would also be improved. This suggests that meditation training should be recommended for caregivers.

 

So, improve caregivers psychological and physiological health with meditation.

 

Caregiving is a tough job and the stress can seriously affect your physical and mental health. An effective and simple way to combat that is to meditate.” – Daily Caring

 

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

 

Díaz-Rodríguez, L., Vargas-Román, K., Sanchez-Garcia, J. C., Rodríguez-Blanque, R., Cañadas-De la Fuente, G. A., & De La Fuente-Solana, E. I. (2021). Effects of Meditation on Mental Health and Cardiovascular Balance in Caregivers. International journal of environmental research and public health, 18(2), 617. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18020617

 

Abstract

Background: Caring for a loved one can be rewarding but is also associated with substantial caregiver burden, developing mental outcomes and affecting happiness. The aim of this study was to determine the effects of a four-week, 16-h presential meditation program on physiological and psychological parameters and vagal nerve activity in high-burden caregivers, as compared to a control group. Methods: A non-randomized repeated-measures controlled clinical trial was conducted. Results: According to the ANCOVA results, the global happiness score (F = 297.42, p < 0.001) and the scores for all subscales were significantly higher in the experimental group than in the control group at 5 weeks. Anxiety levels were also significantly reduced in the experimental group (F = 24.92, p < 0.001), systolic (F = 16.23, p < 0.001) and diastolic blood (F = 34.39, p < 0.001) pressures, and the resting heart rate (F = 17.90, p < 0.05). HRV results revealed significant between-group differences in the HRV Index (F = 8.40, p < 0.05), SDNN (F = 13.59, p < 0.05), and RMSSD (F = 10.72, p < 0.05) in the time domain, and HF (F = 4.82 p < 0.05)) in the frequency domain, which were all improved in the experimental group after the meditation program. Conclusions: Meditation can be a useful therapy to enhance the mental health and autonomic nervous system balance of informal caregivers, improving symptoms of physical and mental overload.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7828286/

 

Lower Cardiovascular Disease Risk by Improving Emotion Regulation with Mindfulness

Lower Cardiovascular Disease Risk by Improving Emotion Regulation with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“People who meditate regularly reported feeling more balanced and less stressed, and . . . improved the outcomes when they were added to cardiac rehabilitation programmes for patients with CHD.” – Heart Matters

 

Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer. A myriad of treatments has been developed including a variety of surgical procedures and medications. In addition, lifestyle changes have proved to be effective including quitting smoking, weight reduction, improved diet, physical activity, and reducing stresses. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, 60% of cardiovascular disease patients decline engaging in these lifestyle changes, making these patients at high risk for another attack.

 

Contemplative practices have been shown to be safe and effective alternative treatments for cardiovascular disease. Practices such as meditation, tai chi, and yoga, have been shown to be helpful for heart health and to reduce the physiological and psychological responses to stress. They have also been shown to be effective in maintaining cardiovascular health and the treatment of cardiovascular disease. The means by which mindfulness reduces cardiovascular disease risk have not been explored using the qualitative experiences of the patients.

 

In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness and cardiovascular health: Qualitative findings on mechanisms from the mindfulness-based blood pressure reduction (MB-BP) study.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7510988/ ) Nardi and colleagues recruited patients with hypertension who had participated in a study of the effectiveness of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) modified for hypertension, to reduce blood pressure. The participants participated in focus groups or were interviewed individually with semi-structured interviews. The groups and interviews focused on their experiences with the intervention and its effects. Transcripts of the responses were subjected to thematic analysis to identify common themes and ideas.

 

They found that the participants practiced breath awareness and body scans most in their everyday lives. Breath awareness allowed them to pause and relax to better address issues while the body scans made them more aware of their bodily states. These practices produced a greater awareness of the present moment and their responses to emotional situations allowing them to better regulate their emotions in these situations. They learned to apply self-kindness rather than self-criticism and to direct attention to mindfulness when stressful situations came up rather than worrying about them. All of this resulted in the improved ability to deal with their emotions. The participants indicated that they used the emotion regulation abilities to effectively deal with stress, learning to relax in the face of stress. This led to important changes in their health behaviors particularly diet.

 

These qualitative results suggest that the mindfulness program improved the patients’ cardiovascular health. It provided them with tools to employ when emotional situations arose to heighten their awareness of exactly what was transpiring and how they felt in the present moment. This resulted in better regulation of emotions which in turn led to better responses to stress and improved health behaviors.

 

These qualitative results correspond to the results of controlled empirical studies of the effects of mindfulness training on a wide variety of individuals and conditions. These studies found that mindfulness training produced improved emotion regulation, increased self-kindness, improved responses to stress, and improved cardiovascular health.  Hence, mindfulness training provides individuals with skills that improve their lives and well-beeing.

 

So, lower cardiovascular disease risk by improving emotion regulation with mindfulness.

 

there are four things that have scientifically been shown to reduce the risk of a heart attack in patients with mild to moderate coronary artery disease and they include – reduced stress (use meditation to do so), diet, exercise and love.” – Jeena Cho

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

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

 

Study Summary

 

Nardi, W. R., Harrison, A., Saadeh, F. B., Webb, J., Wentz, A. E., & Loucks, E. B. (2020). Mindfulness and cardiovascular health: Qualitative findings on mechanisms from the mindfulness-based blood pressure reduction (MB-BP) study. PloS one, 15(9), e0239533. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0239533

 

Abstract

Background

Mindfulness-based programs hold promise for improving cardiovascular health (e.g. physical activity, diet, blood pressure). However, despite theoretical frameworks proposed, no studies have reported qualitative findings on how study participants themselves believe mindfulness-based programs improved their cardiovascular health. With an emphasis on in-depth, open-ended investigation, qualitative methods are well suited to explore the mechanisms underlying health outcomes. The objective of this qualitative study was to explore the mechanisms through which the mindfulness-based program, Mindfulness-Based Blood Pressure Reduction (MB-BP), may influence cardiovascular health.

Methods

This qualitative study was conducted as part of a Stage 1 single arm trial with one-year follow-up. The MB-BP curriculum was adapted from Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction to direct participants’ mindfulness skills towards modifiable determinants of blood pressure. Four focus group discussions were conducted (N = 19 participants), and seven additional participants were selected for in-depth interviews. Data analysis was conducted using the standard approach of thematic analysis. Following double-coding of audio-recorded transcripts, four members of the study team engaged in an iterative process of data analysis and interpretation.

Results

Participants identified self-awareness, attention control, and emotion regulation as key mechanisms that led to improvements in cardiovascular health. Within these broader themes, many participants detailed a process beginning with increased self-awareness to sustain attention and regulate emotions. Many also explained that the specific relationship between self-awareness and emotion regulation enabled them to respond more skillfully to stressors. In a secondary sub-theme, participants suggested that higher self-awareness helped them engage in positive health behaviors (e.g. healthier dietary choices).

Conclusion

Qualitative analyses suggest that MB-BP mindfulness practices allowed participants to engage more effectively in self-regulation skills and behaviors lowering cardiovascular disease risk, which supports recent theory. Results are consistent with quantitative mechanistic findings showing emotion regulation, perceived stress, interoceptive awareness, and attention control are influenced by MB-BP.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7510988/

 

Ethnicity Modulates Improvements in Sleep in Prehypertensive Patients with a Smartphone Meditation App

Ethnicity Modulates Improvements in Sleep in Prehypertensive Patients with a Smartphone Meditation App

 

Several practices that help calm the mind can also lower blood pressure. All are types of meditation.” – Harvard Health

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

High Blood Pressure (Hypertension) is an insidious disease because there are no overt symptoms. The individual feels fine. But it can be deadly as more than 360,000 American deaths, roughly 1,000 deaths each day, had high blood pressure as a primary or contributing cause. In addition, hypertension markedly increases the risk heart attack, stroke, heart failure, and kidney disease.  It is also a very common disorder with about 70 million American adults (29%) having high blood pressure and only about half (52%) of people with high blood pressure have their condition under control. Treatment frequently includes antihypertensive drugs. But these medications often have adverse side effects. So, patients feel lousy when taking the drugs, but fine when they’re not. So, compliance is a major issue with many patients not taking the drugs regularly or stopping entirely.

 

Obviously, there is a need for alternative to drug treatments for hypertension. Mindfulness practices have been shown to aid in controlling hypertension. The vast majority of the mindfulness training techniques, however, require a trained teacher. This results in costs that many patients can’t afford. In addition, the participants must be available to attend multiple sessions at particular scheduled times that may or may not be compatible with their busy schedules and at locations that may not be convenient. As an alternative, Apps for smartphones have been developed. These have tremendous advantages in decreasing costs, making training schedules much more flexible, and eliminating the need to go repeatedly to specific locations.

 

In today’s Research News article “Ethnicity Differences in Sleep Changes Among Prehypertensive Adults Using a Smartphone Meditation App: Dose-Response Trial.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7576537/ ) Sieverdes and colleagues recruited patients diagnosed with prehypertension. They had the participants use a smartphone app, “Tension Tamer” for 6 months. The app provided focused breath following meditation practice and also measured heart rate and blood pressure. The participants were randomized into 3 dosage groups, 5, 10, or 15 minutes of daily practice. They were measured before and after training and at 1 and 3-months during training for sleep with a self-reports and 7-days of wrist actigraphy which also measured activity levels.

 

They found that the 47% of the participants who were African American had significantly shorter sleep durations, poorer sleep quality, and greater sleep disturbance at baseline both in the self-report and actigraphy measures than non-Hispanic white participants. They also found that the effects of the meditation app on sleep varied according to ethnic group. For the Non-Hispanic White participants, the 5-minute per day dose of “Tension timer” use produced significantly greater improvements in sleep efficiency and quality, lower fragmentation, and longer sleep duration than the 10 or 15-minute doses. For the African American participants, the 5-minute dose produced significantly less sleep fragmentation and duration than the 10 or 15-minute doses. In comparing the ethnic groups, they found that the Non-Hispanic White participants had significantly greater improvements in sleep efficiency, reduced fragmentation, and longer sleep duration than the African American participants.

 

These results are interesting and suggest that smartphone app guided meditation practice improves sleep in patients diagnosed as prehypertensive. But the effects are less positive for African American participants than Non-Hispanic White participants. This is a bit surprising as African American participants appear to have more problematic sleep to start with and hence had greater room for improvement. It is also surprising that the lower amount of meditation practice, 5-minutes per day, was more beneficial that the longer daily meditations. It appears that the 5-minute practice participants tended to use the app more often and to use it more often just prior to going to bed than the other dose participants and this may have led to the differences.

 

Improving sleep is important in promoting relaxation and reducing the likelihood that prehypertension will progress to patent hypertension. So, the use of the app may be helpful in maintaining the health of prehypertensive patients. The ethnic differences, however, suggest that app usage may be more beneficial for white as opposed to black participant. The results also suggest that brief daily practice, 5-minutes, may promote more frequent use that improves effectiveness.

 

So, ethnicity modulates improvements in sleep in prehypertensive patients with a smartphone meditation app.

 

If you struggle with “turning your brain off”, you may find yourself feeling restless and unable to sleep. Fortunately, meditation is one way to quiet your thoughts and fight insomnia. Meditation has been shown to help people who struggle with insomnia and other sleep disturbances.“ – Florida Medical Clinic

 

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

 

Sieverdes, J. C., Treiber, F. A., Kline, C. E., Mueller, M., Brunner-Jackson, B., Sox, L., Cain, M., Swem, M., Diaz, V., & Chandler, J. (2020). Ethnicity Differences in Sleep Changes Among Prehypertensive Adults Using a Smartphone Meditation App: Dose-Response Trial. JMIR formative research, 4(10), e20501. https://doi.org/10.2196/20501

 

Abstract

Background

African Americans (AAs) experience greater sleep quality problems than non-Hispanic Whites (NHWs). Meditation may aid in addressing this disparity, although the dosage levels needed to achieve such benefits have not been adequately studied. Smartphone apps present a novel modality for delivering, monitoring, and measuring adherence to meditation protocols.

Objective

This 6-month dose-response feasibility trial investigated the effects of a breathing awareness meditation (BAM) app, Tension Tamer, on the secondary outcomes of self-reported and actigraphy measures of sleep quality and the modulating effects of ethnicity of AAs and NHWs.

Methods

A total of 64 prehypertensive adults (systolic blood pressure <139 mm Hg; 31 AAs and 33 NHWs) were randomized into 3 different Tension Tamer dosage conditions (5,10, or 15 min twice daily). Sleep quality was assessed at baseline and at 1, 3, and 6 months using the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI) and 1-week bouts of continuous wrist actigraphy monitoring. The study was conducted between August 2014 and October 2016 (IRB #Pro00020894).

Results

At baseline, PSQI and actigraphy data indicated that AAs had shorter sleep duration, greater sleep disturbance, poorer efficiency, and worse quality of sleep (range P=.03 to P<.001). Longitudinal generalized linear mixed modeling revealed a dose effect modulated by ethnicity (P=.01). Multimethod assessment showed a consistent pattern of NHWs exhibiting the most favorable responses to the 5-min dose; they reported greater improvements in sleep efficiency and quality as well as the PSQI global value than with the 10-min and 15-min doses (range P=.04 to P<.001). Actigraphy findings revealed a consistent, but not statistically significant, pattern in the 5-min group, showing lower fragmentation, longer sleep duration, and higher efficiency than the other 2 dosage conditions. Among AAs, actigraphy indicated lower sleep fragmentation with the 5-min dose compared with the 10-min and 15-min doses (P=.03 and P<.001, respectively). The 10-min dose showed longer sleep duration than the 5-min and 15-min doses (P=.02 and P<.001, respectively). The 5-min dose also exhibited significantly longer average sleep than the 15-min dose (P=.03).

Conclusions

These findings indicate the need for further study of the potential modulating influence of ethnicity on the impact of BAM on sleep indices and user-centered exploration to ascertain the potential merits of refining the Tension Tamer app with attention to cultural tailoring among AAs and NHWs with pre-existing sleep complaints.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7576537/

 

Reduce Menopausal Symptoms with Meditation

Reduce Menopausal Symptoms with Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

midlife women with higher mindfulness scores experienced fewer menopausal symptoms,” – Dr. Richa Sood

 

Menopause occurs in the 40s and 50s in most women, on average at 51 years of age. It is a natural physical process that marks the end of the menstrual cycle. The symptoms that occur over the years preceding menopause include irregular periods, vaginal dryness, hot flashes, chills

night sweats, sleep problems, mood changes, weight gain and slowed metabolism, thinning hair and dry skin, and loss of breast fullness. This is a natural process that is healthy and needs to occur. So, treatments are designed for symptomatic relief and include drugs and hormone treatments. Mindfulness training including meditation is a more natural treatment that has been shown to improve the symptoms of menopause.

 

In today’s Research News article “A potential association of meditation with menopausal symptoms and blood chemistry in healthy women: A pilot cross-sectional study.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7478772/ ) Sung and colleagues recruited healthy adult women, 25-60 years of age, who were either long-term meditators or non-meditators. The particular meditation practice was a combination of focused meditation and mindful movement practice. The groups were divided into premenopausal and postmenopausal women. They were measured for menopausal symptoms, including psychological, somatic, and urogenital domains, and blood was drawn and assayed for HDL, glucose, triglyceride, total protein, creatinine, blood urea nitrogen, lactate dehydrogenase, aspartate aminotransferase, and alanine aminotransferase;

 

They found overall that the meditation group was lower than the non-meditators in menopausal symptoms especially depression and irritability. In the premenopausal women there was significantly higher HDL levels in the meditation group while in the postmenopausal group there were significantly higher HDL and glucose levels in the non-meditators.

 

This is a cross-sectional pilot study and causation cannot be definitively assigned. But these results replicates previous findings from controlled studies that mindfulness practices produce reduced menopausal symptoms, depression, and irritability. So, it is likely that the present findings are due to a causal connection between meditation practice and reduced menopausal symptoms.

 

So, reduce menopausal symptoms with meditation.

 

Among the different natural remedies available for managing middle age, meditation for menopause has some unique benefits. It is a totally natural, completely free way to approach navigating the hormonal rollercoaster of midlife.” – Karen Shopoff Rooff

 

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

 

Sung, M. K., Lee, U. S., Ha, N. H., Koh, E., & Yang, H. J. (2020). A potential association of meditation with menopausal symptoms and blood chemistry in healthy women: A pilot cross-sectional study. Medicine, 99(36), e22048. https://doi.org/10.1097/MD.0000000000022048

 

Abstract

Owing to hormonal changes, women experience various psychophysiological alterations over a wide age range, which may result in decreased quality of life as well as in increased risks of diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases. Although studies have been performed to research complementary methods, such as meditation, the research field still requires an adequate amount of studies for public health guidelines. This pilot cross-sectional study aims to investigate a potential association of meditation with menopausal symptoms and blood chemistry for healthy women. In this study, data of 65 healthy women (age range 25–67) including 33 meditation practitioners and 32 meditation-naïve controls were analyzed to compare the Menopausal Rating Scale scores and blood chemistry with 7 more dropouts in the blood chemistry. For blood chemistry, nine components including glucose (GLU) and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL) were measured. Two-way analysis of variance was performed by dividing the total participants into 2 groups: premenopausal and postmenopausal participants. Compared to the control group, the meditation group showed a trend of reductions in the Menopausal Rating Scale total score (P = .054) and its 2 subcomponents: depressive mood (P = .064) and irritability (P = .061). In HDL level, there was a significant interaction between group and menopausal state (P = .039) with following post hoc results: among the premenopausal participants, a significant increase in the meditation group compared to the control group (P = .005); among the control group, a significant increase in the postmenopausal compared to the premenopausal participants (P = .030). In GLU level, there was a mild interaction between group and menopausal state (P = .070) with following post hoc results: among the postmenopausal participants, a trend of increase in the control group compared to the meditation group (P = .081); among the control group, a significant increase in the postmenopausal compared to the premenopausal participants (P = .040). Our research suggests a potential association of practicing meditation with alleviations in menopausal symptoms and changes in blood chemistry, warranting further studies with a longitudinal study design and larger populations to understand the underlying causal relationships.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7478772/

 

Improve Cardiac Health in Heart Failure Patients with Meditation

Improve Cardiac Health in Heart Failure Patients with Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

Not only can meditation improve how your heart functions, but a regular practice can enhance your outlook on life and motivate you to maintain many heart-healthy behaviors, like following a proper diet, getting adequate sleep, and keeping up regular exercise,” – John Denninger

 

Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer. A myriad of treatments have been developed for heart disease including a variety of surgical procedures and medications. In addition, lifestyle changes have proved to be effective including quitting smoking, weight reduction, improved diet, physical activity, and reducing stresses. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, 60% of cardiovascular disease patients decline to alter these lifestyle factors, making these patients at high risk for another attack.

 

Congestive heart failure (CHF) is a major type of cardiovascular disease. “CHF is a chronic progressive condition that affects the pumping power of your heart muscles. While often referred to simply as “heart failure,” CHF specifically refers to the stage in which fluid builds up around the heart and causes it to pump inefficiently” (Healthline). Heart failure is a very serious life-threatening condition. About 5.7 million adults in the United States have congestive heart failure. One in 9 deaths include heart failure as a contributing cause. The seriousness of heart failure is underscored by the fact that about half of people who develop heart failure die within 5 years of diagnosis. Hence, effective treatment is very important.

 

Mindfulness trainings such as meditation practice are known to help with a wide range of physical and psychological problems, including heart failure. So, it would make sense to further investigate the ability of meditation practice to the improve the health and longevity of patients with heart failure.

 

In today’s Research News article “Meditation for Improved Clinical Outcomes in Patients with Implantable Defibrillators for Heart Failure- Pilot Study.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7533122/ ) Aditee and colleagues recruited adult patients with heart failure and an implantable cardioverter defibrillator. They were randomly assigned to receive either 6 months of focused meditation or treatment as usual. Breath following meditation was trained in 3 session during the first week and then once every 2 weeks for 6 months. They were encouraged to meditate at home daily. They were measured before and after training and then yearly for 7 years for a 6-minute walk, brain natriuretic peptide (BNP) levels, atrial fibrillation, mortality, heart failure hospitalization and ventricular arrhythmias.

 

They found that in comparison to baseline and the treatment as usual group, the meditation group had significantly fewer atrial fibrillations and ventricular tachycardias which remained true 7 years later. Although at the 7-year follow-up 67% in treatment as usual group vs 87.5% in meditation group were still alive, this difference was not statistically significant. Hence, meditation practice appears to improve cardiac function in heart failure patients.

 

This was a pilot study that was not sufficiently powered to detect small differences. So, the fact that cardiac function was significantly improved by meditation was particularly significant. Had a greater number of participants been included, the reduced mortality may have also been significant. Future studies should include an active control condition and a greater number of participants. Regardless, it is clear that meditation is good for heart failure patients. Since stress aggravates the condition, perhaps the improved cardiac function in the meditators was due to the known ability of meditation to improve the physiological and psychological responses to stress.

 

So, improve cardiac health in heart failure patients with meditation.

 

Given the low costs and low risks of this intervention, meditation may be considered as an adjunct to guideline‐directed cardiovascular risk reduction.” – Glenn Levine

 

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

 

Aditee, D., Pankaj, M., Neil, B., Nayereh, P., Dali, F., & N Srivatsa, U. (2020). Meditation for Improved Clinical Outcomes in Patients with Implantable Defibrillators for Heart Failure- Pilot Study. Journal of atrial fibrillation, 12(6), 2314. https://doi.org/10.4022/jafib.2314

 

Abstract

Background

Sympathetic activation is associated with congestive heart failure (CHF) and leads to adverse clinical events. We hypothesized that meditation by reducing emotional reactivity would have beneficial effect in reducing arrhythmias compared to control patients.

Methods

Patients known to have CHF and implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICD) were randomized to Vipassana meditation or usual care control group. Meditation group underwent meditation classes three times during the first week, thereafter every once two weeks. They were encouraged to practice meditation at least once everyday. The ICD was followed by clinic/ remote visits. Atrial (AA) and ventricular arrhythmias (VA) as well cardiac events were assessed in follow up. Chi square test was used to compare nominal variables and t test for continuous variables.

Results

Patients (n=25, 65% male, mean LVEF 25%, HTN 38%, Diabetes 12%, coronary artery disease 38%, NYHA class 2.2) were followed for 79 + 36 months. Comparing meditation vs control, survival was higher (88%vs 67%); there was less cumulative sustained AF episodes (mean 0.9, IQR 0-1 vs 2.5, IQR 2-4, p=0.045), sustained VT occurred (25% vs 55%, amiodarone use (none vs 44%), and VT ablation in 6.6% vs 33% in the meditation group.

Conclusions

In this first pilot study of meditation in CHF patients with ICD, during long term follow up, there is a trend for improved survival and reduced arrhythmias in patients randomized to meditation.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7533122/

 

Improve Attention and the Brain Systems Underlying Attention with Meditation

Improve Attention and the Brain Systems Underlying Attention with Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

the primary outcome of meditation may be to control attention and internal state in the face of the barrage of stimuli, negative and otherwise, that we experience everyday.” – Aaron D. Nitzkin

 

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

 

There is evidence that mindfulness training improves attention by altering the brain. It appears That mindfulness training increases the size, connectivity, and activity of areas of the brain that are involved in paying attention. A common method to study the activity of the nervous system is to measure the electrical signal at the scalp above brain regions. Changes in this activity are measurable with mindfulness training.

 

One method to observe attentional processing in the brain is to measure the changes in the electrical activity that occur in response to specific stimuli. These are called event-related, or evoked, potentials or ERPs. The signal following a stimulus changes over time. The fluctuations of the signal after specific periods of time are thought to measure different aspects of the nervous system’s processing of the stimulus. The P3 response in the evoked potential (ERP) is a positive going electrical response occurring between a 2.5 to 5 tenths of a second following the target stimulus presentation. The P3 component is thought to reflect attentional processing.

 

In today’s Research News article “Focused attention meditation training modifies neural activity and attention: longitudinal EEG data in non-meditators.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7304517/ ) Yoshida and colleagues recruited meditation-naïve college students and randomly assigned them to receive either focused meditation training or relaxation training, listening to classical music. The training occurred once a week for 30 minutes for 8 weeks. They also practiced meditation or relaxation at home for 10 minutes per day. They were measured before and after training for mindfulness. They also had brain activity measured with an electroencephalogram (EEG) before, during and after either a 5-minute meditation or relaxation and while performing an oddball task where they were asked to respond whenever a different tone the usual was presented. The evoked potentials to the tone presentations were recorded.

 

They found that in comparison to baseline and the relaxation group, the group that received focused meditation training had significantly faster reactions to the target stimuli during the oddball task. The evoked potentials to the oddball stimuli also demonstrated significantly larger P3 potentials in the meditation group. They also report that during meditation there was a significant increase in theta rhythm power in the EEG particularly in the frontal regions of the brain. They also found that only after 8 weeks of meditation training the greater the increase in theta power during meditation the smaller the increase in P3 magnitude during the oddball task.

 

These results suggest that meditation training produces an improvement in attention both behaviorally during the oddball task and also in the brain’s response to the stimuli. The results demonstrated that these changes occurred only after 8 weeks of meditation training and not after relaxation training. That mindfulness training improves attention and the P3 response in the evoked potential has been demonstrated previously.

 

Hence, meditation training in meditation-naïve college students improves attention both in the brain and in behavior. This improved attention should, although not investigated, produce improved performance in college academics. It remains for future research to investigate this hypothesis.

 

So, improve attention and the brain systems underlying attention with meditation.

 

Nondirective meditation yields more marked changes in electrical brain wave activity associated with wakeful, relaxed attention, than just resting without any specific mental technique.” – ScienceDaily

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

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

 

Study Summary

 

Yoshida, K., Takeda, K., Kasai, T., Makinae, S., Murakami, Y., Hasegawa, A., & Sakai, S. (2020). Focused attention meditation training modifies neural activity and attention: longitudinal EEG data in non-meditators. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 15(2), 215–224. https://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsaa020

 

Abstract

Focused attention meditation (FAM) is a basic meditation practice that cultivates attentional control and monitoring skills. Cross-sectional studies have highlighted high cognitive performance and discriminative neural activity in experienced meditators. However, a direct relationship between neural activity changes and improvement of attention caused by meditation training remains to be elucidated. To investigate this, we conducted a longitudinal study, which evaluated the results of electroencephalography (EEG) during three-stimulus oddball task, resting state and FAM before and after 8 weeks of FAM training in non-meditators. The FAM training group (n = 17) showed significantly higher P3 amplitude during the oddball task and shorter reaction time (RT) for target stimuli compared to that of the control group (n = 20). Furthermore, a significant negative correlation between F4-Oz theta band phase synchrony index (PSI) during FAM and P3 amplitude during the oddball task and a significant positive correlation between F4-Pz theta band PSI during FAM and P3 amplitude during the oddball task were observed. In contrast, these correlations were not observed in the control group. These findings provide direct evidence of the effectiveness of FAM training and contribute to our understanding of the mechanisms underpinning the effects of meditation on brain activity and cognitive performance.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7304517/

 

Unique Brain Activity Registers Internal Attentional States During Meditation

Unique Brain Activity Registers Internal Attentional States During Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Your brain is actually shaped by your thoughts and your behaviors. . . meditation can help boost attention and keep the brain sharp. . .  mindful breath awareness may improve attention and help curb impulsive behavior” – Grace Bullock

 

There has accumulated a large amount of research demonstrating that mindfulness has significant benefits for psychological, physical, and spiritual wellbeing. It even improves high level thinking known as executive function and emotion regulation and compassion. One of the primary effects of mindfulness training is an improvement in the ability to pay attention to the task at hand and ignore interfering stimuli. This is an important consequence of mindfulness training and produces improvements in thinking, reasoning, and creativity. The importance of heightened attentional ability to the individual’s ability to navigate the demands of complex modern life cannot be overstated. It helps in school, at work, in relationships, or simply driving a car. As important as attention is, it’s surprising that little is known about the mechanisms by which mindfulness improves attention.

 

There is evidence that mindfulness training improves attention by altering the brain. It appears That mindfulness training increases the size, connectivity, and activity of areas of the brain that are involved in paying attention. But there are various states of attention including meditation-related states: breath attention, mind wandering, and self-referential processing, and control states e.g. attention to feet and listening to ambient sounds. It is not known what changes occur in the brain during these five different modes and if they can be used to better discriminate the nature of attentional changes during meditation.

 

In today’s Research News article “Focus on the Breath: Brain Decoding Reveals Internal States of Attention During Meditation.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7483757/ ) Weng and colleagues recruited healthy adult meditators (at least 5 years of experience) and non-meditators. They were given a series of tasks while having their brains scanned with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). They were asked for 16-50 seconds to 1) pay attention to their breath, 2) let the mind wander, 3) think about past events, 4) pay attention to their feet, and 5) pay attention to ambient sounds. The 5 conditions were repeated multiple times in random orders. They then performed a 10-minute breath following meditation followed by a repeat of the premeditation tasks. Artificial intelligence was employed to determine unique neural activity associated with each of the 5 mental states for each participant.

 

They found unique individual brain activity patterns for each participant and could reliably distinguish different individual patterns for the 5 mental states. They then used these individualized patterns in an attempt to determine mental state during the breath focused meditation. They found that the individualized patterns identified for following the breath were present a greater percentage of time than the mind wandering or self-referential states when engaging in breath focused meditation. Further they found that the greater the amount of time for each participant in the breath following brain pattern the larger the rating by the participant of their engagement with breath following.

 

This was a proof of concept study. But it successfully demonstrated that unique individual patterns of brain activity can be identified for 5 mental states. These could be reliably differentiated. It also showed that these patterns could be used to identify breath following during breath following meditation. This suggests that this method may be used to identify mental states during ongoing meditation sessions. This could be a powerful research tool for future investigations of the mental states occurring during meditation.

 

So, unique brain activity registers internal attentional states during meditation.

 

Mindfulness training can help change patterns of brain activity because the synapses within these attentional networks can strengthen or weaken with use. So, join a mindful meditation class or download a mindful meditation app and train your brain to get out of the default mode network and be present!” – Mclean Bolton

 

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

Weng, H. Y., Lewis-Peacock, J. A., Hecht, F. M., Uncapher, M. R., Ziegler, D. A., Farb, N., Goldman, V., Skinner, S., Duncan, L. G., Chao, M. T., & Gazzaley, A. (2020). Focus on the Breath: Brain Decoding Reveals Internal States of Attention During Meditation. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 14, 336. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2020.00336

Abstract

Meditation practices are often used to cultivate interoception or internally-oriented attention to bodily sensations, which may improve health via cognitive and emotional regulation of bodily signals. However, it remains unclear how meditation impacts internal attention (IA) states due to lack of measurement tools that can objectively assess mental states during meditation practice itself, and produce time estimates of internal focus at individual or group levels. To address these measurement gaps, we tested the feasibility of applying multi-voxel pattern analysis (MVPA) to single-subject fMRI data to: (1) learn and recognize internal attentional states relevant for meditation during a directed IA task; and (2) decode or estimate the presence of those IA states during an independent meditation session. Within a mixed sample of experienced meditators and novice controls (N = 16), we first used MVPA to develop single-subject brain classifiers for five modes of attention during an IA task in which subjects were specifically instructed to engage in one of five states [i.e., meditation-related states: breath attention, mind wandering (MW), and self-referential processing, and control states: attention to feet and sounds]. Using standard cross-validation procedures, MVPA classifiers were trained in five of six IA blocks for each subject, and predictive accuracy was tested on the independent sixth block (iterated until all volumes were tested, N = 2,160). Across participants, all five IA states were significantly recognized well above chance (>41% vs. 20% chance). At the individual level, IA states were recognized in most participants (87.5%), suggesting that recognition of IA neural patterns may be generalizable for most participants, particularly experienced meditators. Next, for those who showed accurate IA neural patterns, the originally trained classifiers were applied to a separate meditation run (10-min) to make an inference about the percentage time engaged in each IA state (breath attention, MW, or self-referential processing). Preliminary group-level analyses demonstrated that during meditation practice, participants spent more time attending to breath compared to MW or self-referential processing. This paradigm established the feasibility of using MVPA classifiers to objectively assess mental states during meditation at the participant level, which holds promise for improved measurement of internal attention states cultivated by meditation.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7483757/