Moment to moment, the flows of thoughts and feelings, sensations and desires, and conscious and unconscious processes sculpt your nervous system like water gradually carving furrows and eventually gullies on a hillside. Your brain is continually changing its structure. The only question is: Is it for better or worse?
In particular, because of what’s called “experience-dependent neuroplasticity,” whatever you hold in attention has a special power to change your brain. Attention is like a combination spotlight and vacuum cleaner: it illuminates what it rests upon and then sucks it into your brain – and your self.
Therefore, controlling your attention – becoming more able to place it where you want it and keep it there, … Read more »
Experienced meditators seem to be able switch off areas of the brain associated with daydreaming as well as psychiatric disorders such as autism and schizophrenia, according to a new brain imaging study by Yale researchers.
Less day dreaming has been associated with increased happiness levels, said Judson A. Brewer, assistant professor of psychiatry and lead author of the study published the week of Nov. 21 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Understanding how meditation works will aid investigation into a host of diseases, he said.
“Meditation has been shown to help in variety of health problems, such as helping people quit smoking, cope with cancer, and even prevent psoriasis,” Brewer said.
The … Read more »
Tina Barseghian: There’s no question that for both kids and adults, our attention is divided. Texts, emails, Twitter, Facebook are all chiming, ringing, beeping, and chirping for our attention.
How does this affect kids? The media has covered the subject in terms of fear of multitasking leading to ADD, losing control to digital devices, and the dangers of not being able to focus. And in most cases, the Internet (and technology in general) has been declared the culprit.
But rather than blaming the medium, David Levy, author of Scrolling Forward: Making Sense of Documents in the Digital Age, believes the challenges of multitasking …
One of my Skype workshop participants recently wrote with a request for advice, which (slightly edited) was as follows:
I am aware during my meditations that sometimes my awareness of the breath is quite superficial, distant and coarse. And I suspect that part of the reason for this distance is that my brain filters out the finer physical details of the experience, and just works with the coarse-grained concept of the breath – which is basically a fixed construct in memory rather than a direct experience of change happening now. I’d appreciate any tips on how to deal with it.
Here’s my reply (also slightly edited to include one point I forgot to mention, and … Read more »
My first read of The Open-Focus Brain: Harnessing the Power of Attention to Heal Mind and Body, by Dr. Les Fehmi and Jim Robbins, generated mild interest in the science behind Dr. Fehmi’s techniques and descriptions of case studies using the techniques.
However, the night I listened to the guided exercises on the attached CD, I had one of the most relaxed, light, and blissful experiences I’ve had in the last eleven years as a serious meditator.
I was able to reach a state I’ve only accessed during long silent meditation retreats.
The Buddhist concept of emptiness came vividly alive in my body, whereas before it had been mostly an intellectual understanding. Not only … Read more »
The positive effects of mindfulness meditation on pain and working memory may result from an improved ability to regulate a crucial brain wave called the alpha rhythm, say researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This rhythm is thought to “turn down the volume” on distracting information, which suggests that a key value of meditation may be helping the brain deal with an often-overstimulating world.
The researchers report that modulation of the alpha rhythm in response to attention-directing cues was faster and significantly more enhanced among study participants who completed an eight-week mindfulness meditation program than in a control group. The report will appear in the journal … Read more »
Many people see meditation as an exotic form of daydreaming, or a quick fix for a stressed-out mind. My advice to them is, try it.
Meditation is difficult, at least to begin with. On my first attempt, instead of concentrating on my breathing and letting go of anything that came to mind, as instructed by my cheery Tibetan teacher, I got distracted by a string of troubled thoughts, then fell asleep. Apparently, this is normal for first-timers. Experienced meditators will assure you that it is worth persisting, however.
“Training allows us to transform the mind, to overcome destructive emotions and to dispel suffering,” says Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard. “The numerous and profound methods that Buddhism … Read more »
Amir Raz gets some funny looks when he talks about using hypnosis and meditation techniques to build attention spans in a hyperactive MTV world.
“Mention contemplation to a lot of people, and all they think of is some kind of (wacky) spiritualism, people sitting around a darkened room with candles, chanting,” says Raz, a McGill University professor who holds the Canada Research Chair in the Cognitive Neuroscience of Attention.
“Our ideas are shaped by Hollywood movies. So you talk about hypnosis, and people see something out of a Woody Allen movie, a guy in a turban with bushy eyebrows who wants to put you to sleep.”
But “trim away the folkloric fat,” and Raz, a … Read more »
Emerging research suggests city life is hard on the brain.
Investigators believe the need to continuously process multitudes of fleeting but compelling stimuli can impair mental processes like memory and attention and leave us mentally exhausted.
However, retreating to nature, a calm environment or performance of yoga or meditation can help relieve the stress.
In some ways, it is helpful to have a nervous system on alert. Dr. Sara Lazar, director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Laboratory, says that “on a busy city street, it’s probably more adaptive to have a shorter attention span.”
Some people might say the stimuli that bombard us daily in city life are just a distraction, but Lazar said they … Read more »
For people who have difficulty staying on task, intensive meditation may help.
So say researchers from several campuses of the University of California, who had 30 participants attend a three-month retreat during which they practiced meditation for about five hours a day. Researchers then periodically tested the participants’ ability to stay focused when confronted with a boring visual task.
That chore was spending 30 minutes merely identifying long and short lines that flashed on a computer screen. Participants were given this test at the beginning, middle and end of the retreat and again five months later. The study also used a control group of 30 people who were familiar with meditation but came to the … Read more »