"All the world's a stage we pass through." - R. Ayana

Monday, September 13, 2010

Meditation Improves Mind and Brain

Meditation Improves Mind and Brain

1: Zen Meditation: Thicker Brains Fend Off Pain


People can reduce their sensitivity to pain by thickening their brain, according to a new study published in a special issue of the American Psychological Association journal, Emotion. Researchers from the Université de Montréal made their discovery by comparing the grey matter thickness of Zen meditators and non-meditators. They found evidence that practicing the centuries-old discipline of Zen can reinforce a central brain region (anterior cingulate) that regulates pain.

"Through training, Zen meditators appear to thicken certain areas of their cortex and this appears to be underlie their lower sensitivity to pain," says lead author Joshua A. Grant, a doctoral student in the Université de Montréal Department of Physiology and Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal. "We found a relationship between cortical thickness and pain sensitivity, which supports our previous study on how Zen meditation regulates pain."
As part of this study, scientists recruited 17 meditators and 18 non-meditators who in addition had never practiced yoga, experienced chronic pain, neurological or psychological illness. Grant and his team, under the direction of Pierre Rainville of the Université de Montréal and the Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal, measured thermal pain sensitivity by applying a heated plate to the calf of participants and followed by scanning the brains of subjects with structural magnetic resonance imaging. According to MRI results, central brain regions that regulate emotion and pain were significantly thicker in meditators compared to non-meditators.
"The often painful posture associated with Zen meditation may lead to thicker cortex and lower pain sensitivity," says Grant, noting that meditative practices could be helpful in general for pain management, for preventing normal age-related grey matter reductions or potentially for any condition where the grey matter is compromised such as stroke.
This study was supported jointly by a Canadian Institutes of Health Research and a Mind and Life Institute Varela Grant.
@ http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/02/100224103357.htm


2: Meditation Reduces the Emotional Impact of Pain

People who meditate regularly find pain less unpleasant because their brains anticipate the pain less, a new study has found.

Scientists from The University of Manchester recruited individuals into the study who had a diverse range of experience with meditation, spanning anything from months to decades. It was only the more advanced meditators whose anticipation and experience of pain differed from non-meditators.
The type of meditation practised also varied across individuals, but all included 'mindfulness meditation' practices, such as those that form the basis of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), recommended for recurrent depression by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) in 2004.
"Meditation is becoming increasingly popular as a way to treat chronic illness such as the pain caused by arthritis," said Dr Christopher Brown, who conducted the research. "Recently, a mental health charity called for meditation to be routinely available on the NHS to treat depression, which occurs in up to 50% of people with chronic pain. However, scientists have only just started to look into how meditation might reduce the emotional impact of pain."
The study, to be published in the journal Pain, found that particular areas of the brain were less active as meditators anticipated pain, as induced by a laser device. Those with longer meditation experience (up to 35 years) showed the least anticipation of the laser pain.
Dr Brown, who is based in the University's School of Translational Medicine, found that people who meditate also showed unusual activity during anticipation of pain in part of the prefrontal cortex, a brain region known to be involved in controlling attention and thought processes when potential threats are perceived.
He said: "The results of the study confirm how we suspected meditation might affect the brain. Meditation trains the brain to be more present-focused and therefore to spend less time anticipating future negative events. This may be why meditation is effective at reducing the recurrence of depression, which makes chronic pain considerably worse."
Dr Brown said the findings should encourage further research into how the brain is changed by meditation practice. He said: "Although we found that meditators anticipate pain less and find pain less unpleasant, it's not clear precisely how meditation changes brain function over time to produce these effects.
"However, the importance of developing new treatments for chronic pain is clear: 40% of people who suffer from chronic pain report inadequate management of their pain problem."
In the UK, more than 10 million adults consult their GP each year with arthritis and related conditions. The estimated annual direct cost of these conditions to health and social services is £5.7 billion.
Study co-author Professor Anthony Jones said: "One might argue that if a therapy works, then why should we care how it works? But it may be surprising to learn that the mechanisms of action of many current therapies are largely unknown, a fact that hinders the development of new treatments. Understanding how meditation works would help improve this method of treatment and help in the development of new therapies.
"There may also be some types of patient with chronic pain who benefit more from meditation-based therapies than others. If we can find out the mechanism of action of meditation for reducing pain, we may be able to screen patients in the future for deficiencies in that mechanism, allowing us to target the treatment to those people.

@ http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100602091315.htm

3:Meditation Associated With Increased Grey Matter
in the Brain

Meditation is known to alter resting brain patterns, suggesting long lasting brain changes, but a new study by researchers from Yale, Harvard, Massachusetts General Hospital, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology shows meditation also is associated with increased cortical thickness.
The structural changes were found in areas of the brain that are important for sensory, cognitive and emotional processing, the researchers report in the November issue of NeuroReport.
Although the study included only 20 participants, all with extensive training in Buddhist Insight meditation, the results are significant, said Jeremy Gray, assistant professor of psychology at Yale and co-author of the study led by Sara Lazar, assistant in psychology at Massachusetts General Hospital.
"What is most fascinating to me is the suggestion that meditation practice can change anyone's grey matter," Gray said. "The study participants were people with jobs and families. They just meditated on average 40 minutes each day, you don't have to be a monk."
Magnetic resonance imaging showed that regular practice of meditation is associated with increased thickness in a subset of cortical regions related to sensory, auditory, visual and internal perception, such as heart rate or breathing. The researchers also found that regular meditation practice may slow age-related thinning of the frontal cortex.
"Most of the regions identified in this study were found in the right hemisphere," the researchers said. "The right hemisphere is essential for sustaining attention, which is a central practice of Insight meditation."
They said other forms of yoga and meditation likely have a similar impact on cortical structure, although each tradition would be expected to have a slightly different pattern of cortical thickening based on the specific mental exercises involved.
Co-authors include Catherine Kerr, Rachel Wasserman Jeffery Dusek, Herbert Benson and Metta McGarvey, Harvard; Douglas Greve, Brian Quinn, Bruce Fischl, Michael Treadway and Scott Rauch, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Christopher Moore, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
NeuroReport 16: 1893-1897 (November 28, 2005)
@ http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/11/051110215950.htm

4: Buddhist Deity Meditation Temporarily Augments Visuospatial Abilities, Study Suggests

Meditation has been practiced for centuries, as a way to calm the soul and bring about inner peace. According to a new study in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, there is now evidence that a specific method of meditation may temporarily boost our visuospatial abilities (for example, the ability to retain an image in visual memory for a long time).

That is, the meditation allows practitioners to access a heightened state of visual-spatial awareness that lasts for a limited period of time.
Normally when we see something, it is kept in our visual short-term memory for only a brief amount of time (images will begin to fade in a matter of seconds). However, there have been reports of Buddhist monks who have exceptional imagery skills and are able to maintain complex images in their visual short-term memory for minutes, and sometimes even hours. Led by psychologist Maria Kozhevnikov of George Mason University, a team of researchers investigated the effects of different styles of Buddhist meditation on  visuospatial skills.
The researchers focused on two styles of meditation: Deity Yoga (DY) and Open Presence (OP). During DY meditation, the practitioner focuses intently on an image of deity and his or her entourage. This requires coming up with an immensely detailed, three-dimensional image of the deity, and also focusing on the deity's emotions and environment. In contrast, practitioners of OP meditation believe that pure awareness cannot be achieved by focusing on a specific image and therefore, they attempt to evenly distribute their attention while meditating, without dwelling on or analyzing any experiences, images, or thoughts that may arise.
In these experiments, experienced DY or OP meditation practitioners along with nonmeditators participated in two types of visuospatial tasks, testing mental rotation abilities (e.g., being able to mentally rotate a 3-D structure) and visual memory (e.g., being shown an image, retaining it in memory and then having to identify it among a number of other, related images). All of the participants completed the tasks, meditators meditated for 20 minutes, while others rested or performed non-meditative acitivities, and then completed a second round of the tasks.
The results revealed that all of the participants performed similarly on the initial set of tests, suggesting that meditation does not result in an overall, long-lasting improvement of visuospatial abilities. However, following the meditation period, practitioners of the DY style of meditation showed a dramatic improvement on both the mental rotation task and the visual memory task compared to OP practitioners and controls.
These results indicate that DY meditation allows practitioners to access greater levels of visuospatial memory resources, compared to when they are not meditating. The authors state that this finding "has many implications for therapy, treatment of memory loss, and mental training." Although, they conclude, future studies will need to examine if these results are specific to DY meditation, or if these effects can also occur using other visual meditation techniques.

@ http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/04/090427131315.htm

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For further enlightenment see –
The Her(m)etic Hermit - http://hermetic.blog.com
The Prince of Centraxis - http://centraxis.blogspot.com  

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