Teaching the neurons to meditate

Brain

In the late 1990s, Jane Anderson was working as a landscape architect. That meant she didn't work much in the winter, and she struggled with seasonal affective disorder in the dreary Minnesota winter months. She decided to try meditation and noticed a change within a month. "My experience was a sense of calmness, of better ability to regulate my emotions," she says. Her experience inspired a new study which will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, which finds changes in brain activity after only five weeks of meditation training.

Previous studies have found that , who have spent tens of thousands of hours of meditating, have different patterns of brain activity. But Anderson, who did this research as an undergraduate student together with a team of University of Wisconsin-Stout faculty and students, wanted to know if they could see a change in brain activity after a shorter period.

At the beginning of the study, each participant had an EEG, a measurement of the brain's . They were told: "Relax with your eyes closed, and focus on the flow of your breath at the tip of your nose; if a random thought arises, acknowledge the thought and then simply let it go by gently bringing your attention back to the flow of your breath."

Then 11 people were invited to take part in , while the other 10 were told they would be trained later. The 11 were offered two half-hour sessions a week, and encouraged to practice as much as they could between sessions, but there wasn't any particular requirement for how much they should practice.

After five weeks, the researchers did an on each person again. Each person had done, on average, about seven hours of training and practice. But even with that little meditation practice, their brain activity was different from the 10 people who hadn't had training yet. People who had done the meditation training showed a greater proportion of activity in the left frontal region of the brain in response to subsequent attempts to meditate. Other research has found that this pattern of brain activity is associated with positive moods.

The shift in "was clearly evident even with a small number of subjects," says Christopher Moyer, one of Anderson's coauthors at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. "If someone is thinking about trying meditation and they were thinking, 'It's too big of a commitment, it's going to take too much rigorous training before it has an effect on my mind,' this research suggests that's not the case." For those people, meditation might be worth a try, he says. "It can't hurt and it might do you a lot of good."

"I think this implies that meditation is likely to create a shift in outlook toward life," Anderson says. "It has really worked for me."

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_nigmatic10
4 / 5 (1) Jul 07, 2011
Meditation is like taking your brain for a walk. Of course the effects are immediate. Society is always preaching to stretch before you do anything physically active. Well, stretch the mind with meditation.
david534
not rated yet Jul 08, 2011
Articles like this one, which treat all the many different kinds of mental techniques as though they were a single technique, do not reflect published research results fairly. To date the best results for psychological and physical health, by far, have been from the specific technique known as Transcendental Meditation (see http://www.tm.org...tation). These defining results have been replicated by independent teams of researchers, sometimes several times. At least 100 of the 600 or so studies have employed the best experimental designs possible, along with sufficient numbers of subjects to show good statistical significance.

There are a big subjective and objective differences between typical meditation practices, such as watching the thoughts or the breath, and transcending, including much quicker elimination of stored stresses. See the website for details.

David Spector
President
Natural Stress Relief/USA

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