Archive for the 'meditation' Category

Brief meditation helps us think

ScienceDaily (Apr. 19, 2010) — Some of us need regular amounts of coffee or other chemical enhancers to make us cognitively sharper. A newly published study suggests perhaps a brief bit of meditation would prepare us just as well.

While past research using neuroimaging technology has shown that meditation techniques can promote significant changes in brain areas associated with concentration, it has always been assumed that extensive training was required to achieve this effect. Though many people would like to boost their cognitive abilities, the monk-like discipline required seems like a daunting time commitment and financial cost for this benefit.

Surprisingly, the benefits may be achievable even without all the work. Though it sounds almost like an advertisement for a “miracle” weight-loss product, new research now suggests that the mind may be easier to cognitively train than we previously believed. Psychologists studying the effects of a meditation technique known as “mindfulness ” found that meditation-trained participants showed a significant improvement in their critical cognitive skills (and performed significantly higher in cognitive tests than a control group) after only four days of training for only 20 minutes each day.

“In the behavioral test results, what we are seeing is something that is somewhat comparable to results that have been documented after far more extensive training,” said Fadel Zeidan, a post-doctoral researcher at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, and a former doctoral student at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where the research was conducted.

“Simply stated, the profound improvements that we found after just 4 days of meditation training- are really surprising,” Zeidan noted. “It goes to show that the mind is, in fact, easily changeable and highly influenced, especially by meditation.”

The study appears in the April 2 issue of Consciousness and Cognition. Zeidan’s co-authors are Susan K. Johnson, Zhanna David and Paula Goolkasian from the Department of Psychology at UNC Charlotte, and Bruce J. Diamond from William Patterson University. The research was also part of Zeidan’s doctoral dissertation. The research will also be presented at the Cognitive Neuroscience Society’s annual meeting in Montreal, April 17-20.

The experiment involved 63 student volunteers, 49 of whom completed the experiment. Participants were randomly assigned in approximately equivalent numbers to one of two groups, one of which received the meditation training while the other group listened for equivalent periods of time to a book (J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Hobbit) being read aloud.

Prior to and following the meditation and reading sessions, the participants were subjected to a broad battery of behavioral tests assessing mood, memory, visual attention, attention processing, and vigilance.

Both groups performed equally on all measures at the beginning of the experiment. Both groups also improved following the meditation and reading experiences in measures of mood, but only the group that received the meditation training improved significantly in the cognitive measures. The meditation group scored consistently higher averages than the reading/listening group on all the cognitive tests and as much as ten times better on one challenging test that involved sustaining the ability to focus, while holding other information in mind.

“The meditation group did especially better on all the cognitive tests that were timed,” Zeidan noted. “In tasks where participants had to process information under time constraints causing stress, the group briefly trained in mindfulness performed significantly better.”

Particularly of note were the differing results on a “computer adaptive n-back task,” where participants would have to correctly remember if a stimulus had been shown two steps earlier in a sequence. If the participant got the answer right, the computer would react by increasing the speed of the subsequent stimulus, further increasing the difficulty of the task. The meditation-trained group averaged aproximately10 consecutive correct answers, while the listening group averaged approximately one.

“Findings like these suggest that meditation’s benefits may not require extensive training to be realized, and that meditation’s first benefits may be associated with increasing the ability to sustain attention,” Zeidan said.

“Further study is warranted,” he stressed, noting that brain imaging studies would be helpful in confirming the brain changes that the behavioral tests seem to indicate, “but this seems to be strong evidence for the idea that we may be able to modify our own minds to improve our cognitive processing — most importantly in the ability to sustain attention and vigilance — within a week’s time.”

The meditation training involved in the study was an abbreviated “mindfulness” training regime modeled on basic “Shamatha skills” from a Buddhist meditation tradition, conducted by a trained facilitator. As described in the paper, “participants were instructed to relax, with their eyes closed, and to simply focus on the flow of their breath occurring at the tip of their nose. If a random thought arose, they were told to passively notice and acknowledge the thought and to simply let ‘it’ go, by bringing the attention back to the sensations of the breath.” Subsequent training built on this basic model, teaching physical awareness, focus, and mindfulness with regard to distraction.

Zeidan likens the brief training the participants received to a kind of mental calisthenics that prepared their minds for cognitive activity.

“The simple process of focusing on the breath in a relaxed manner, in a way that teaches you to regulate your emotions by raising one’s awareness of mental processes as they’re happening is like working out a bicep, but you are doing it to your brain. Mindfulness meditation teaches you to release sensory events that would easily distract, whether it is your own thoughts or an external noise, in an emotion-regulating fashion. This can lead to better, more efficient performance on the intended task.”

“This kind of training seems to prepare the mind for activity, but it’s not necessarily permanent,” Zeidan cautions. “This doesn’t mean that you meditate for four days and you’re done — you need to keep practicing.”

Brief meditative exercise helps cognition.

9 Little Known Secrets to Living Past 90

Here is a solid list of ways to live healthier and longer.  Please note that with the exception of  Genes, the other eight “secrets” are ones that we can choose.

from the Nursetini blog

There are some secrets to living longer. Many scientists have studied those who live the longest, looking to find similarities. Here are nine secrets that can help you live past the age of 90:

DNA

  1. Genes: One of the factors that figures into longevity is your genetic make up. Even though non-genetic factors are involved in living longer, the presence of certain genes might actually boost your chances. It was also found that siblings of centenarians were four times more likely to live past the age of 90 than those who had no siblings live so long. But, even though genes can help, they aren’t everything. Indeed, some scientists believe that longevity depends more on non-genetic factors. So, even if your family doesn’t have a history of living past 90, it doesn’t mean you won’t. Just make sure you make up for it with healthier practices.
  2. eat fewer caloriesEat fewer calories: One of the biggest Americans have is that they eat too much. Of course, what Americans eat does make a difference, but they should be eating fewer calories in general. Indeed, eating too much, and gaining weight, puts strain on your heart — and that’s even before the arteries clog up and you have a heart attack. If you cut back on calories, you can extend your life. Indeed, research from the International Longevity Center – USA finds that animals fed fewer calories live about 40% longer than those fed a great deal more calories. JAMA suggests that you should eat 25% fewer calories than you are now, if you want a better chance of living to 90. So, consider how much you are eating, and consider reducing your portion sizes.
  3. Get your antioxidantsEat colorful fruits and vegetables: It’s not enough just to eat more fruits and vegetables. The kind of produce you consume matters. Vibrant fruits and vegetables are the best when it comes to living longer because they have antioxidants. These are nutrients that actually stop damaging “free radicals” from harming your cells. Colorful produce that you should focus on include cranberries, cherries, broccoli, spinach, red apples, spirulina, blueberries and grapes. You should aim for five servings of fruit and five of vegetables. Replacing one red meat entree a week with a veggie entree can be a good first step. You will find that dark chocolate and red wine, when taken in moderation, are also good for aging and the brain.  much more at the link

9 Little Known Secrets to Living Past 90.

Meditative breathing and chronic pain

Keep breathing

Meditative breathing may help manage chronic pain

April 8, 2010

 

A new study, completed by scientists at ASU and the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, is the first to directly examine the benefits of breathing rate on physical and emotional reaction to pain. The benefit of slow breathing in relieving pain was greatest in healthy women.

(PhysOrg.com) — A new study published in the journal Pain offers support for the benefits of yoga-style breathing and meditation to help control chronic pain.

The research, completed by scientists at Arizona State University and the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, is the first to directly examine the benefits of breathing rate on physical and emotional reaction to pain.

In essence, the researchers put meditation to the test. During the study trials, participants where subjected to brief pulses of moderately painful heat on their palms. They were asked to report what they felt in three ways: how strong was the pain, how unpleasant was the pain, and how much the pain affected their emotional state

By simply instructing participants to pace their breathing to an ellipse on a screen in front of them, the researchers eliminated expectations that could bias results. By actually administering a painful heat stimulus the researchers could also control the amount of pain each person received, and could compare pain ratings made when the person was breathing normally with their slow breathing.

The study involved two groups of women – 27 diagnosed with chronic pain from Fibromyalgia and 25 healthy women of the same age.

Compared to normal breathing, slow breathing reduced ratings of pain intensity and unpleasantness as well as negative emotion. The benefit of slow breathing in relieving pain was greatest in the healthy women.

more via Meditative breathing may help manage chronic pain.