Friday, February 15, 2013

Mindfulness Meditation: How It Works In The Brain

Mindfulness may be so successful in helping with a range of conditions, from depression to pain, by working as a sort of "volume knob" for sensations, according to a new review of studies from Brown University researchers.

In their paper, published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, the researchers proposed that mindfulness meditation works by enabling a person to have better control over brain processing of pain and emotions.

Specifically, the researchers postulate that mindfulness meditation plays a role in the controlling of cortical alpha rhythms, which have been shown in brain imaging studies to play a role in what senses our bodies and minds pay attention to.

"We think we're the first group to propose an underlying neurophysiological mechanism that directly links the actual practice of mindful awareness of breath and body sensations to the kinds of cognitive and emotional benefits that mindfulness confers," study researcher Catherine Kerr, an assistant professor of family medicine and director of translational neuroscience for the Contemplative Studies Initiative at Brown University, said in a statement.

Previous research has shown that mindfulness meditation could have a positive effect on the brain by increasing the density of the grey matter in the brain's amygdala, which is a brain region known for its role in stress. That study was conducted by Massachusetts General Hospital researchers and published in the journal Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging in 2011.

And in another study, University of Oregon researchers found that mindfulness meditation -- particularly a kind called integrative body-mind training -- is linked with an increase in the brain's signaling connections (called axonal density), as well as the protective tissue that surrounds the brain's axons.

How Yoga and Meditation Help.....

Mindfulness meditation could help doctors provide better care to their patients, University of Rochester Medical Center researchers found.

When doctors underwent mindfulness meditation training, they listened better and were less judgmental at home and at work, according to the Academic Medicine study.

People With Rheumatoid Arthritis

Practicing mindfulness meditation exercises could help people with the painful condition to decrease their stress and fatigue levels, according to a study from Oslo's Diakonhjemmet Hospital.

In that study, published in the journal Annals of Rheumatic Diseases, the goal of the mindfulness meditation exercises was to help people concentrate on their own thoughts, experiences and pain in the moment, without actively trying to avoid them or judge them. The researchers found that people who did the exercises had lower stress and fatigue measurements than people who didn't partake in the meditation.

The Elderly

Practicing mindfulness meditation could help decrease feelings of loneliness in the elderly. The small study, published in the journal Brain, Behavior & Immunity, showed that undergoing an eight-week mindfulness meditation training program, as well as doing meditation exercises at home, was linked with lower feelings of loneliness and a reduction in the expression of genes known to be linked with inflammation.

This finding is important because, among the elderly, loneliness is known to increase the risk for a number of other health problems -- including heart risks and even a premature death.

Stroke Survivors

Practicing yoga for eight weeks helped stroke survivors to improve their balance in a study published in the journal Stroke.

Improving balance among stroke patients is important for reducing the risk of falls. People who had balance problems, or feelings of dizziness and/or spinning, were five times more likely to fall than those without balance issues, according to an earlier 2003 study in Stroke.

And in other research, presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine this year and conducted by the same researchers as the balance study, they found that yoga helped stroke survivors to be more flexible, be stronger, and have more endurance and strength.


It's not just people with an ailment who can benefit from yoga -- people caring for the sick can be helped, too. A study in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry found that caregivers who participate in meditation have decreased symptoms of depression and even a decrease in cellular aging from stress.


The Washoe County Sheriff's Office in Reno, Nevada, is offering yoga to female prisoners to help them with anger and stress issues, Fox Reno reported.

The twice-a-month classes are taught by volunteers, and are part of the Alternatives to Incarceration Unit's Women's Empowerment Program, according to Fox Reno.


Meditation could be the key to minimizing stress for busy teachers, according to a study from researchers at the University of California, San Francisco.

The findings, published in the journal Emotion, showed that undergoing eight weeks of meditation helped to lower anxiety and depression, also, in the teachers, Everyday Health reported.

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