Posts Tagged ‘meditation’

Short and long-term impact of meditation on mind and brain

April 27, 2008

Vaughan at Mind Hacks collects and comments on couple of review articles on the neuroscience of meditation:

This month’s Trends in Cognitive Sciences has a fantastic review article on the neuroscience of meditation – focusing on how the contemplative practice alters and sharpens the brain’s attention systems.

The full article is available online as a pdf, and discusses what cognitive science studies have told us about the short and long-term impact of meditation on the mind and brain.

A recent review of ‘mindfulness’ meditation-based therapy found that although research is in its early stages and not all possibilities have been ruled out, there’s good evidence from the existing RCTs that it’s particularly good in preventing relapse in severe depression.

Though Vaughan notes that some of the meditational techniques used in these studies are taken from Buddhist meditation practices (and the role that the interest that the science-savvy Dalai Lama have shown on such scientific studies), such practices are also used in several of the Indian meditational practices and schools — though, to be fair to Buddhists, I think, they are the first ones to secularise meditational practices by noting that any word can be used for meditation and that there is no special power associated with any mantra or special word.

Take a look!

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Learning to be compassionate

March 26, 2008

Scientific American has a piece about meditations and their probable uses:

Like athletes or musicians, people who practice meditation can enhance their ability to concentrate—or even lower their blood pressure. They can also cultivate compassion, according to a new study. Specifically, concentrating on the loving kindness one feels toward one’s family (and expanding that to include strangers) physically affects brain regions that play a role in empathy.

“There is such a thing as expertise when it comes to complex emotions or emotional skills, such as the one of cultivating benevolence,” says Antoine Lutz, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison who led the study. “That raises the possibility that you can train someone to cultivate this positive emotion.”

Lutz and his colleagues, including neuroscientist Richard Davidson, director of the university’s Waisman Center for Brain Imaging where the study was conducted, took fMRI scans of the brains of 16 veteran meditators as well as 16 others who had started with no meditation experience but received cursory training before they carried out a series of tests. During these tests, the researchers measured the flow of blood in the brains of both the veterans (some of them Tibetan monks) and the American novices as the subjects did or did not meditate on compassionate feelings while being subjected to various sounds with positive and negative connotations.

The piece goes on to describe the experiments that were done, but is careful in its claims:

Although the research does not prove that compassion can be learned, it does suggest that possibility—and that could have implications for treating a range of issues. “Can this type of training be used for depression?” Lutz asks. “Another question is whether this form of mental training and empathy can have an impact for education. We don’t know yet.”

Take a look!