Meditation Changes the Brain Areas Underlying Executive Function and Mind Wandering

Meditation Changes the Brain Areas Underlying Executive Function and Mind Wandering

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“meditation nurtures the parts of the brain that contribute to well-being. Furthermore, it seems that a regular practice deprives the stress and anxiety-related parts of the brain of their nourishment.” – Mindworks

 

Mindfulness 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. There are a number of ways that mindfulness practices produce these benefits, including changes to the brain and physiology. The nervous system is a dynamic entity, constantly changing and adapting to the environment. It will change size, activity, and connectivity in response to experience. These changes in the brain are called neuroplasticity. Over the last decade neuroscience has been studying the effects of contemplative practices on the brain and has identified neuroplastic changes in widespread areas. In other words, mindfulness practice appears to mold and change the brain, producing psychological, physical, and spiritual benefits.

 

In today’s Research News article “Resting State Functional Connectivity Associated With Sahaja Yoga Meditation.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8007769/ )  Barrós-Loscertales and colleagues recruited healthy adult non-meditators and long-term practitioners of Sahaja Yoga Meditation. They were measured for impulsiveness and cognitive control and response inhibition with a go/no-go task in which the participants had to respond to a target stimulus and withhold responding to another stimulus and a Simon task in which they had to respond to a target stimulus pointing in the same direction as its location and withhold responding to another stimulus pointing in a different direction than its location. The participants also had their brains scanned with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI).

 

They found that the meditators had increased functional connectivity between the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and decreased functional connectivity between the left insula and mid-cingulate cortex and between the right angular gyrus and precuneus. They also found that the meditators had significantly less response interference and the greater the amount of response interference the lower the functional connectivity between the left insula and the mid-cingulate.

 

The ventrolateral prefrontal cortex and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex have been found to be involved in attention, cognitive control, and conflict resolution. The increased connectivity suggests that the meditators had higher levels of executive function. The insula, cingulate cortex, angular gyrus, and precuneus are all components of the default mode network that has been shown to be involved with mind wandering and self-referential thinking. The decreased functional connectivity between these areas suggests reductions in these processes.

 

It should be kept in mind that the meditation and non-meditation groups self-selected whether they meditated or not and thus may be systematically different people. So, causation cannot be determined. Nevertheless, these results suggest that the meditators had more active attention and executive control networks and less active mind-wandering networks. These results replicate previous research that demonstrated that contemplative practices like meditation produce improvements in cognition and reductions in mind wandering.  So, the connectivity differences seen in the present study appear to show the neural mechanisms underlying the differences in thought processes.

 

So, meditation changes the brain areas underlying executive function and mind wandering.

 

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

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

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

 

Study Summary

 

Barrós-Loscertales, A., Hernández, S. E., Xiao, Y., González-Mora, J. L., & Rubia, K. (2021). Resting State Functional Connectivity Associated With Sahaja Yoga Meditation. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 15, 614882. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2021.614882

 

Abstract

Neuroscience research has shown that meditation practices have effects on brain structure and function. However, few studies have combined information on the effects on structure and function in the same sample. Long-term daily meditation practice produces repeated activity of specific brain networks over years of practice, which may induce lasting structural and functional connectivity (FC) changes within relevant circuits. The aim of our study was therefore to identify differences in FC during the resting state between 23 Sahaja Yoga Meditation experts and 23 healthy participants without meditation experience. Seed-based FC analysis was performed departing from voxels that had shown structural differences between these same participants. The contrast of connectivity maps yielded that meditators showed increased FC between the left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex and the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex but reduced FC between the left insula and the bilateral mid-cingulate as well as between the right angular gyrus and the bilateral precuneus/cuneus cortices. It thus appears that long-term meditation practice increases direct FC between ventral and dorsal frontal regions within brain networks related to attention and cognitive control and decreases FC between regions of these networks and areas of the default mode network.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8007769/

 

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/

 

Improve Brain Function and Mental Health in Chronic Pain Patients with Mindfulness

Improve Brain Function and Mental Health in Chronic Pain Patients with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“With the ACT approach, learning to let go of behaviors, memories, thoughts, and emotions creates space to explore new experiences, including acceptance of chronic pain sensations.” – Rosemary Black

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

 

Hence, it is important to find an effective method to treat Chronic pain. There is an accumulating volume of research findings to demonstrate that mindfulness practices, in general, are effective in treating pain. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a mindfulness-based psychotherapy technique that is employs many of the techniques of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). ACT focuses on the individual’s thoughts, feelings, and behavior and how they interact to impact their psychological and physical well-being. It then works to change thinking to alter the interaction and produce greater life satisfaction. ACT employs mindfulness practices to increase awareness and develop an attitude of acceptance and compassion in the presence of painful thoughts and feelings. ACT teaches individuals to “just notice”, accept and embrace private experiences and focus on behavioral responses that produce more desirable outcomes.

 

Pain experiences are processed in the nervous system. So, it’s likely that mindfulness practices somehow alter the brain’s processing of pain. So, it makes sense to study the how Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) may affect the brain to improve the mental health of chronic pain patients.

 

In today’s Research News article “Neural Mechanisms of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for Chronic Pain: A Network-Based fMRI Approach.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7892587/ ) Aytur and colleagues recruited with musculoskeletal pain who did not abuse opioids. They completed 2 sessions per week for 4 weeks of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Before and after therapy they were measured for acceptance, chronic pain acceptance, quality of life, pain interference, and depression. Brain systems were measured before and after therapy with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI).

 

They found that in comparison to baseline after Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) the participants had significant increases in acceptance, chronic pain acceptance, quality of life and significant decreases in pain interference, and depression. In the fMRIs they also observed significant decreases in activation and connectivity in the Default Mode Network (DMN), Salience Network (SN), and Frontal-Parietal Network (FPN) networks of the brain. In addition, they observed that changes in the connectivity between these networks were correlated with decreases in depression and pain interference, and increases in quality of life.

 

These are interesting results that need to be interpreted with caution as there wasn’t a control, comparison condition present opening the findings up to alternative confounded interpretations. But the results replicate previous findings with controlled designs that Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) produces improvements in depression, pain, and quality of life. So, the improvements observed in the present study are likely due to causal effects of ACT.

 

These results also show that the psychological improvements produced by Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) are related to changes in the activity and connectivity within and between significant brain networks. This suggests that these neural alterations may underly the improvements in mental health of chronic pain patients produced by ACT. It remains for future studies to unravel the cause effect relationships.

 

So, improve brain function and mental health in chronic pain patients with mindfulness.

 

ACT can help us to break out of that box that we have created for ourselves. To understand that the key to living with our condition is not to limit our lives and miss out on experiences, but instead to face things head on and be dedicated to working with our pain and doing things that bring us joy. ACT’s goal is not necessarily to reduce the pain but to help you to live your life with it, to feel more confident in engaging in activities that you might have otherwise swayed away from.” – Ann-Marie D’arcy-Sharpe

 

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

 

Aytur, S. A., Ray, K. L., Meier, S. K., Campbell, J., Gendron, B., Waller, N., & Robin, D. A. (2021). Neural Mechanisms of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for Chronic Pain: A Network-Based fMRI Approach. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 15, 587018. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2021.587018

 

Abstract

Over 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain (CP), which causes more disability than any other medical condition in the United States at a cost of $560–$635 billion per year (Institute of Medicine, 2011). Opioid analgesics are frequently used to treat CP. However, long term use of opioids can cause brain changes such as opioid-induced hyperalgesia that, over time, increase pain sensation. Also, opioids fail to treat complex psychological factors that worsen pain-related disability, including beliefs about and emotional responses to pain. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be efficacious for CP. However, CBT generally does not focus on important factors needed for long-term functional improvement, including attainment of personal goals and the psychological flexibility to choose responses to pain. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) has been recognized as an effective, non-pharmacologic treatment for a variety of CP conditions (Gutierrez et al., 2004). However, little is known about the neurologic mechanisms underlying ACT. We conducted an ACT intervention in women (n = 9) with chronic musculoskeletal pain. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data were collected pre- and post-ACT, and changes in functional connectivity (FC) were measured using Network-Based Statistics (NBS). Behavioral outcomes were measured using validated assessments such as the Acceptance and Action Questionnaire (AAQ-II), the Chronic Pain Acceptance Questionnaire (CPAQ), the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D), and the NIH Toolbox Neuro-QoLTM (Quality of Life in Neurological Disorders) scales. Results suggest that, following the 4-week ACT intervention, participants exhibited reductions in brain activation within and between key networks including self-reflection (default mode, DMN), emotion (salience, SN), and cognitive control (frontal parietal, FPN). These changes in connectivity strength were correlated with changes in behavioral outcomes including decreased depression and pain interference, and increased participation in social roles. This study is one of the first to demonstrate that improved function across the DMN, SN, and FPN may drive the positive outcomes associated with ACT. This study contributes to the emerging evidence supporting the use of neurophysiological indices to characterize treatment effects of alternative and complementary mind-body therapies.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7892587/

 

Maintain Weight Loss with Mindfulness

Maintain Weight Loss with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Just as meditation can help us with stress, sleeping, focus, and much more, it can also have an impact on our relationship with eating and managing our weight.” – Headspace

 

Eating is produced by two categories of signals. Homeostatic signals emerge from the body’s need for nutrients, is associated with feelings of hunger, and usually work to balance intake with expenditure. Non-homeostatic eating, on the other hand, is not tied to nutrient needs or hunger but rather to the environment, to emotional states, and or to the pleasurable and rewarding qualities of food. These cues can be powerful signals to eat even when there is no physical need for food. External eating is non-homeostatic eating in response to the environmental stimuli that surround us, including the sight and smell of food or the sight of food related cause such as the time of day or a fast-food restaurant ad or sign.

 

Mindful eating involves paying attention to eating while it is occurring, including attention to the sight, smell, flavors, and textures of food, to the process of chewing and may help reduce intake. Indeed, high levels of mindfulness are associated with lower levels of obesity and mindfulness training has been shown to reduce binge eating, emotional eating, and external eating. The Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program is a mindfulness program including meditation, body scan, yoga, discussion and home practice. So, it makes sense to examine MBSR as a part of a weight loss program.

 

In today’s Research News article “Keeping weight off: Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction alters amygdala functional connectivity during weight loss maintenance in a randomized control trial.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7799782/ ) Chumachenko and colleagues recruited overweight adults (BMI>25) who had lost at least 5% of their body weight and wished to maintain it off. They were randomly assigned to receive 8, once a week for 1.5 hours, sessions of either a healthy living course or the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. They were measured before and after training and 6 months later for body size, perceived stress, depression, and eating disinhibition. Before and after training they also had their brains scanned with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI).

 

They found that after Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) training there was a significant increase in the connectivity between the Amygdala and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex while this was decreased after completing the healthy living course. Over the 6-month follow-up period the MBSR participants did not gain weight while the healthy living course participants gained on average 5.9 pounds.

 

These results are interesting and important. There are many dietary programs that produce weight loss. But almost inevitably the weight is regained subsequently. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) training was found here to prevent that weight gain. Hence, MBSR may be an important ingredient in weight loss to help maintain the loss. The results also suggest that MBSR may alter the brain, increasing the functional connectivity in brain circuits that are thought to underlie emotion regulation. This fits with the prior findings that mindfulness training improves emotion regulation. This suggests that MBSR may prevent non-homeostatic, emotional, eating by strengthening emotion regulation and thereby prevent weight regain.

 

So, maintain weight loss with mindfulness.

 

By itself, mindful eating is not a weight-loss cure, but as part of an approach or tool it can catapult healthy eating and weight loss,” – Josh Klapow

 

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

 

Chumachenko, S. Y., Cali, R. J., Rosal, M. C., Allison, J. J., Person, S. J., Ziedonis, D., Nephew, B. C., Moore, C. M., Zhang, N., King, J. A., & Fulwiler, C. (2021). Keeping weight off: Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction alters amygdala functional connectivity during weight loss maintenance in a randomized control trial. PloS one, 16(1), e0244847. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0244847

 

Abstract

Obesity is associated with significant comorbidities and financial costs. While behavioral interventions produce clinically meaningful weight loss, weight loss maintenance is challenging. The objective was to improve understanding of the neural and psychological mechanisms modified by mindfulness that may predict clinical outcomes. Individuals who intentionally recently lost weight were randomized to Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) or a control healthy living course. Anthropometric and psychological factors were measured at baseline, 8 weeks and 6 months. Functional connectivity (FC) analysis was performed at baseline and 8 weeks to examine FC changes between regions of interest selected a priori, and independent components identified by independent component analysis. The association of pre-post FC changes with 6-month weight and psychometric outcomes was then analyzed. Significant group x time interaction was found for FC between the amygdala and ventromedial prefrontal cortex, such that FC increased in the MBSR group and decreased in controls. Non-significant changes in weight were observed at 6 months, where the mindfulness group maintained their weight while the controls showed a weight increase of 3.4% in BMI. Change in FC at 8-weeks between ventromedial prefrontal cortex and several ROIs was associated with change in depression symptoms but not weight at 6 months. This pilot study provides preliminary evidence of neural mechanisms that may be involved in MBSR’s impact on weight loss maintenance that may be useful for designing future clinical trials and mechanistic studies.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7799782/

 

The Default Mode Network of the Brain Underlies Mind Wandering

The Default Mode Network of the Brain Underlies Mind Wandering

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“the brain appears to support mind wandering by disrupting some of the brain processes that are involved in responding to our surrounding external environment.” – Julia Kam

 

We spend a tremendous amount of waking time with our minds wandering and not on the present environment or the task at hand. We daydream, plan for the future, review the past, ruminate on our failures, exalt in our successes. In fact, we spend almost half of our waking hours off task with our mind wandering. A system of the brain known as the Default Mode Network (DMN) becomes active during wind wandering and relatively quiet during focused on task behavior. Meditation is known to reduce the size, connectivity, and activity of the Default Mode Network (DMN).

 

In today’s Research News article “Lesion network mapping demonstrates that mind-wandering is associated with the default mode network.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7704688/ ) Philippi and colleagues recruited patients with circumscribed brain injuries (lesions) and age and education matched non-brain damaged comparison participants. They all underwent brain scanning with Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). They completed a self-report measure of mind wandering.

 

They found that the brain damaged patients had lower frequencies of mind wandering than the healthy comparison participants. They then examined the specific brain areas damaged in the patients lesions and related it to their reduced mind wandering scores. They found that reduced mind wandering was associated with structures in the Default Mode Network (DMN), including the medial prefrontal cortex, parietal lobe, and inferior frontal gyrus.

 

The results are simple and straightforward and suggest that damage to the Default Mode Network (DMN) reduces mind wandering. This finding taken together with the findings that the DMN becomes more active during mind wandering makes a clear case that the DMN is responsible for mind wandering.

 

So, the default mode network of the brain underlies mind wandering.

 

mind-wandering was associated with increased DMN activity and increased DMN-VS connectivity.“ – Xinqi Zhou

 

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

 

Philippi, C. L., Bruss, J., Boes, A. D., Albazron, F. M., Deifelt Streese, C., Ciaramelli, E., Rudrauf, D., & Tranel, D. (2021). Lesion network mapping demonstrates that mind-wandering is associated with the default mode network. Journal of neuroscience research, 99(1), 361–373. https://doi.org/10.1002/jnr.24648

 

Abstract

Functional neuroimaging research has consistently associated brain structures within the default mode network (DMN) and frontoparietal network (FPN) with mind-wandering. Targeted lesion research has documented impairments in mind-wandering after damage to the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and hippocampal regions associated with the DMN. However, no lesion studies to date have applied lesion network mapping to identify common networks associated with deficits in mind-wandering. In lesion network mapping, resting-state functional connectivity data from healthy participants are used to infer which brain regions are functionally connected to each lesion location from a sample with brain injury. In the current study, we conducted a lesion network mapping analysis to test the hypothesis that lesions affecting the DMN and FPN would be associated with diminished mind-wandering. We