How meditating may help your brain
When you're under pressure from work and family and the emails don't stop coming, it's hard to stop your mind from jumping all over the place.
But scientists are finding that it may be worth it to train your brain to focus on something as simple as your breath, which is part of mindfulness meditation.
A new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the latest in a hot emerging field of research examining how meditation relates to the brain. It shows that people who are experienced meditators show less activity in the brain's default mode network, when the brain is not engaged in focused thought.
The default mode network is associated with introspection and mind wandering. Typically, drifting thoughts tend to focus on negative subjects, creating more stress and anxiety. It has also been linked to attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and Alzheimer's disease.
Researchers looked at experienced meditators and trained novices. There were 12 in the "experienced" category, with an average of more than 10,000 hours of mindfulness meditation experience (Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers" suggests that it takes 10,000 hours to be an expert at something), and 12 healthy volunteers who were novices in meditation.
Each volunteer was instructed to engage in three types of meditation: concentration (attention to the breath), love-kindness (wishing beings well) and choiceless awareness (focus on whatever comes up). Scientists looked at their brain activity during these meditations with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
Across all of these types of meditation, the experienced meditators showed less activity in the default mode network than in the novices. The experienced participants also reported less mind wandering than the novices. Interestingly, experienced meditators also showed increased connectivity between certain brain networks during meditation and non-meditation.
"It doesn't matter what they're doing, they have an altered default mode network," said Dr. Judson Brewer, medical director of the Yale University Therapeutic Neuroscience Clinic and lead author of the study. "We were pretty excited about that, because it suggests that these guys are paying attention a lot more."
Score one for Eastern Religions
"Obviously I'm convinced of the existence of G-d. I'm equally convinced that Atheists who've led good lives will be in Olam HaBa going "How the heck did I wind up in this place?!?" while Christians who've treated people like dirt will be in some other place asking the exact same question."