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Showing entries tagged meditation.  Show all entries

December 5, 2011

Your Brain on Nirvana


Any student has experienced that moment in class when he cannot for the life of him recall what the professor has just said seconds before. Whether it was because he was distracted watching a gnat fly around the light overhead or because his furiously working writing hand wasn't taking notes quite quickly enough to keep up with the lecture, there are always a few intervals which we miss in our daily lives, because our brains lack adequate attentional resources - unless you happen to be an expert in Buddhist meditation, that is. Among its various purported benefits, which include changes in metabolism and blood pressure, meditation also has been shown to result in altered brain structure and function. In other words, meditation induces neuroplasticity. In much the same way that one can obtain expert proficiency in a foreign language, mental training via meditation can result in increased information processing capacity in the brain.

Meditation is used by an increasing percentage of people to promote relaxation and a heightened sense of well-being. In a study published by the IEEE Signal Processing Society, researchers showed that meditation also leads to increased levels of concentration and reduced attention blink, as well as resulting in enhanced cortical area, in a manner similar to other forms of skill acquisition. The study made the distinction between two types of meditation - Focused Attention (FA) meditation and Open Monitoring (OM) meditation. Utilizing fMRI to measure hemodynamic changes in various areas of the brain, FA meditation was shown to be correlated with activation of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex; the visual cortex; and the superior frontal sulcus, supplementary motor area and intraparietal sulcus. These areas are associated with our ability for monitoring, engaging attention and attentional orienting, respectively. When an individual meditates regularly and becomes an "expert", the cortical area of these regions in the brain increases. This would seem to indicate that attention is a trainable skill.

In addition to being able to pay focused, long-term attention to a chosen object, meditation experts were also shown in the study to undergo less activation in their amygdalas in response to emotional stimuli. This would seem to imply that emotional behaviors are not compatible with a stable state of advanced level concentration, and also that our emotional state can be consciously controlled, to some extent.

The implications of attention as a trainable skill appear to be numerous. For example, let us consider Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). It would seem that individuals who suffer from a seeming lack of ability to focus for prolonged periods of time might benefit from practicing meditative techniques, where the mind is calm and focused for prolonged periods of time. In addition, the general population might also benefit from the ability to reduce "neural noise" and thus pick up more information from the environment more quickly, rather than becoming overwhelmed by the constant data input. For students, their ability to focus in class and process more information more efficiently could have considerable impact on their learning. Many aspects of the impact of meditation on the human brain are as yet still unknown, but it would appear that it has profound effects on attention learning through the creation of novel synaptic connections, in addition to its role in promoting cultivation of general mental and emotional health.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2944261/
Posted by      Clarinda H. at 6:36 PM MST
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Posted on Thu, 11 Oct 2018 4:00 AM MDT by Sarah h.

October 22, 2011

Meditation: New Discoveries of Old Traditions


It isn't often in science that old methods of treatment are re-centered from their otherwise un-scientific past, to present as one of the more progressively favored treatments in modern society. However, it seems as though the old practice of meditation is working to accomplish just that. Chronic pain sufferers have endlessly struggled to find methods of treatment that they are not resistant to, or that their pain does not overcome at some point. Perhaps in favor of a reduction of cost and a more "natural" method of healing, meditation was further studied--and these studies are proving most beneficial. Research has shown that by practicing a state of "mindfulness", one can achieve decreased overall pain, as well as pain intensity.

Such mindful "interventions" have aided our understanding of pain disorders (both acute and chronic). With extensive training of one's mind (meditation), it is found that one's cortical regions that are associated with pain are thickened, perhaps enhancing that persons perception of their pain. This results in changes in their normal evaluation and perception of pain. These effects of mental training can result in a more beneficial method of neuroplasticity.

But how exactly does one measure pain? Surely we do not expose trial studies of non-pain sufferers to painful stimulus in order to further science! Why of course not--in fact, what is generally used in pain studies is not in fact 'pain' at all. Experiments with temperature extremes (hot and cold) are used to test the participant's perception, durability, and sensation of a 'painful' stimulus. In a particular experiment adhering to the purpose at hand, they tested the unpleasantness of the stimulus (hot water) before and after a series of meditative exercises. However, rather than test the person's personal opinion of the pain, they tested the person's brain's perception of the pain through measurements of Cerebral Spinal Fluid, through a method called ASL. ASL is an "MRI pulse sequence that provides a measure of CBF using water as a flow tracer". Using ASL, they found OFC (orbitofrontal cortex) activation, and deactivation of the thalamus. During painful stimulus, usually the opposite occurs--a decrease in OFC and an increase in thalamus activation are seen. This study concluded that short term mediation can decrease the affect pain, and the experience that goes along with it.

It is important to take this discussion with a grain of salt. Even though these studies did work, I believe it is essential to define the term "meditation". Perhaps all it encompasses is distraction from temporary pain, having your mind focused on other things, thus rendering it less activated in the pain 'areas' of the brain. This type of treatment would not necessarily work for those who are suffering chronic pain. However, I feel more work in the field of long term mindful trainings may prove beneficial to act as a sole treatment or a combination treatment to pain disorders.

Another limitation to this experiment is the role of an adequate control group. I felt that they had no data to argue their finding against. The perception of the irritating stimulus may have simply decreased because they had already experience it once, and could therefore were more comfortable experiencing it again. It is crucial to create a group that simply received both tests without any meditation, to see what the conclusion of diminished pain was really measuring. Nevertheless, to whatever degree this breakthrough is effective, one conclusion is for sure--studying mediation and perception of pain enables us to further understand just how our brain handles painful or noxious stimulus. Hopefully we are able to use such methods of research (such as ASL) in order to provide helpful, more affordable treatment for the individuals suffering from pain disorders.

Source: http://www.jneurosci.org/content/31/36/12705.full?sid=93623df9-45b5-4cb8-9698-061f6707ba10
Posted by      Amber S. at 5:15 PM MDT
  Christina Uhlir  says:
Amber,

This is lovely! My mom had postherpetic neuralgia and japanese accupuncture actually worked wonders for her.
Posted on Sun, 23 Oct 2011 7:46 PM MDT by Christina U.




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