Long-term meditation leads to changes in brain organization

People who practice mindfulness meditation learn to accept their feelings, emotions, and states of mind without judging or resisting them. They simply live in the moment.

Several studies have shown that this type of meditation may have beneficial effects on long-term emotional stability and, consequently, on disorders such as anxiety and major depression. A new study reveals that this mind training has an influence on the default brain network of experienced meditators when they are at rest. Differences in the brain indicate that meditation contributes to better concentration and more objective self-thought.

“We studied the brains of 13 meditators with over 1,000 hours of practice and 11 beginners by analyzing functional connectivity,” says Veronica Taylor, the lead author of the study published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Advance Access in March 2012.

Functional connectivity refers to the synchronization between two or more brain regions that changes over time during a specific task or at rest. This method of analysis can be applied to data from functional magnetic resonance imaging. “Participants remained in a CT scanner for a few minutes and were asked to do nothing,” explained Taylor, who is currently completing her Ph.D. in psychology under the supervision of Professor Pierre Rainville at the Université de Montréal.

These analyses enabled the researchers to identify subjects’ default brain network, i.e., the set of regions activated at rest when the person is not performing a particular activity.

“We wanted to assess whether the effects of mindfulness meditation persisted beyond the practice,” said the doctoral student. “We hypothesized that the default brain network of meditators is structured differently. The default network is associated with daydreaming and self-thought when one is doing ‘nothing.’ In fact, we thought we would find a different organization because these individuals are used to being in the moment, and their thoughts do not go in all directions when at rest.”

Indeed, the results show weaker synchronization between the ventral and dorsal medial prefrontal cortex. “The dorsal part is involved in cognitive processes associated with the self, while the ventral part is associated with emotional self-evaluation,” says Taylor. Because these areas are less interrelated, it shows that these people think about themselves more objectively.” She adds that the more participants had experience with meditation the weaker the connection, which, according to her, “gives weight to the results.”

A curious and interesting fact: the subjects had greater synchronization between areas that all converge in the right parietal lobe. This area is known for having a role in attention, suggesting perhaps a long-term beneficial effect of meditation, but which remains to be proven by research specifically studying attentional processes,” says the student.

Although the subjects were tested at rest, Taylor has first-hand knowledge of the tangible benefits of mindfulness meditation in everyday life. “I have practiced meditation for several years and have noticed that my attention is longer and steadier when I concentrate.”

“There is still much to discover about the power of meditation,” she says. In the meantime, she suggests everyone take it up. “It doesn’t cost anything and you can meditate anywhere and anytime… and the benefits are real. ”

Via Université de Montréal Nouvelles

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Physicians are healing themselves through meditation

Jay Reid, Montreal Gazette: It’s not easy to work with critically ill children and stressed-out parents. Doctors who work in pediatric-palliative care do it every day. Conversations with parents are often tense; frustrations can boil over – on both sides.

Pediatrician Stephen Liben knew he needed to figure out how to cope better with the stress. The director of pediatric-palliative care at the Montreal Children’s Hospital was finding himself angry or defensive in heated moments with parents.

A calm doctor is a better doctor. He knew he could do better as a physician.

So he decided – reluctantly – to try mindfulness meditation.

McGill University offers …

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Yoga at home: Relaxing space, relaxed mind

Yoga, the ancient practice of breathing, movement and meditation, is thriving in Montreal. In fact, there are so many types of yoga now on offer that you can choose a practice entirely based on your sensibilities, such as bikram if you like it hot, ashtanga if you like it more physical, kundalini if you’re interested in breathing alignment, or kripalu, which adds meditation.

As more people, young and old, take up yoga for good health, suppleness and sometimes for enlightenment, they often discover that they want more than a yoga class a few times a week.

They look for a favourite spot at home where they can complete the daily yoga ritual, a place they dedicate to their practice. Some use a separate room, while others simply carve out a quiet space in a corner of the living room. Whatever they choose, the key is to create an atmosphere that is so calming that even the family dog, with a deep sigh, is able to relax. What makes the space? Start with soft colours, music, candles and statuary.

All of these are in abundance in the yoga spaces that follow. Whether you’re a relative novice like Marie-Ève Méthot, who has been doing yoga for just a few years, or a veteran practitioner like yoga…

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teacher Kelly McGrath, a tranquil space sets the stage for the calm concentration needed when doing yoga.

Marie-Ève Méthot learned about quiet spaces while living in Tokyo. “I lived in a traditional house in Japan, with a tatami bedroom,” she says. “There was a tokonoma, a little alcove space to meditate, that you could decorate with your favourite flowers.”

The little carved cabinet that she used for meditation in Tokyo is now part of her personal yoga space, a raised platform in her Westmount loft. Surrounded by fine gauze drapery, the cabinet stands on an antique lacquered side table, and on it Méthot places objects that inspire her – a set of bells from Japan, lacquered rose petals, a crystal and her favourite photo from her collection of black-and-whites from Canadian photographer Gregory Colbert’s startling series on wild creatures.

On the floor near the edge of the Persian rug on which she practises her yoga early each morning, she keeps a low table with teacups and a pink wax bowl from Morocco filled with water and floating candles.

“When I practise, I like to light the candles if it’s dark, and put on soft music,” says Méthot, who began yoga when she returned from Tokyo in 2008. “Now I have a different body with yoga; I feel taller. And now I’m addicted.”

Each morning, the living room of Kelly McGrath’s small N.D.G. apartment undergoes a transformation. The coffee table is moved aside, the couches are pushed back, and a rattan screen becomes the backdrop for the low table in front of which she lays her yoga mat. With her three dogs relaxing nearby, inhaling the tender scent of Tibetan incense, she completes her hour-long ritual.

“I like to make up a small table, which I call an altar, so I can meditate,” says McGrath, who has been teaching yoga for 11 years full time, and practising for more than 20. On it, for inspiration, she puts a statue of Lakshmi, the goddess of beauty and prosperity, and images of people she loves: her husband snowboarding on a mountainside, her two nieces and, at the forefront, the Dalai Lama.

“One is supposed to put a photograph of one’s teacher, and he has never been my teacher,” McGrath admits, “but I’ve been in his presence a few times and to me he is the living embodiment of compassion and humanity. He is a great teacher.”

She wears comfortable, loose clothing, always cotton, and usually plays soft music, feeling a sense of the sky or vast ocean from the turquoise walls. “I find turquoise very calming; it helps me feel more balanced,” she says.

“And I like the accents of red in the room: it’s associated with the root chakra, at the bottom of the pelvic floor, so it helps to feel grounded and stable. I put red in the cushions and the curtains as a highlight in the room.”

A large space isn’t necessary to practise yoga, says McGrath, who teaches at United Yoga Montreal. Doing yoga at home gives her a chance to practise with her three dogs around her. “Sometimes it brings a sense of playfulness, and other times they get so relaxed from the yoga that I’m doing that they’re often lying down around me. I really love that.”

Yoga teacher Bram Levinson has wide open spaces in his Plateau loft, lots of green plants and evocative yoga art and statuary set against sage green walls, but wherever he chooses to place his yoga mat, the ritual remains the same. “I make sure that I sweep the floor so that it’s really clean, and I wash my hands,” he says.

Then he chooses a piece of furniture, like a cabinet, which he covers with a soft cloth and prepares as the centrepiece for his practice. He places candles and a statue of Ganesh, “the remover of obstacles, prayed to at the beginning of celebrations,” says Levinson, who also has a tattoo of the god on his left calf.

Most days, with his sweet old Jack Russell terrier Oliver sound asleep nearby and illuminated by candles and natural light, he begins his practice with a short meditation and chant.

Home practice is a necessity for Lee-Ann Matthews, whose yoga teaching has its own particular rewards and challenges – her students are children from age 3 to age 10. Specially trained at the Kripalu yoga centre in Massachusetts, she has been teaching children for five years.

“I practise at home because I need quiet, and there’s something nice about early morning for me, when no one’s around and you’re not too far from your dream state,” she says. “It helps me get into the zone.”

Matthews is referring to the meditation zone, which she believes is central to any yoga practice and affords a sense of inner life that you can bring to any activity. For this reason, she believes yoga practice can be done anywhere, and with no props at all – in her case, a Persian rug and blanket is all she uses.

“When I’m on my own, I don’t need anything extra,” she says. “I try to dive in, to go inside. You don’t need a yoga mat to do yoga. It’s a state of mind.”

No shivers and no shoes

Spending a productive hour doing yoga, without being bothered by people talking or loud music, means you need to set aside a quiet time and a quiet space. To do that, it’s best to keep in mind the following:

First, outfit yourself in loose clothing, to allow unrestricted movement for the yoga postures and breathing exercises.

Keep the temperature moderately warm, and have a shawl handy as cover so you don’t get cold when you settle into relaxation mode.

Bare feet are preferable; it’s easier to keep them firmly planted on a yoga mat, which should be slightly tacky. Hardwood flooring is preferable to rugs, although you can lay your mat down on any surface. If you’re not using a mat, a clean, bare floor or small area rug will do.

Add a few pieces of contemplative art to an otherwise uncluttered space, and use natural light whenever possible. If you’re practising at night, light a few candles. Do your best to avoid harsh fluorescent lights.

If you like music during your practice, consider natural sounds, Eastern chants or soft classical music.

Interview for this story:

Kelly McGrath teaches kripalu yoga at United Yoga Montreal, 451 Ste. Catherine St. W., Suite 203. Phone 514-849-7100; visit

Bram Levinson manages and teaches at Centre Luna Yoga, 231 St. Paul St. W., Suite 200. Call 514-845-1881; visit He is also featured in the Yoga Flo for the Earth DVD, sold at all Montreal Lululemon locations as well as at Centre Luna Yoga.

Lee-Ann Matthews is founder and teacher at Kids Space Yoga. She can be reached at 514-262-4060 or

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Ok, kids, chill out (Montreal Gazette)

Children as young as 10 are picking up Transcendental Meditation, and they’re not the only ones feeling good about it

Stephanie Whittaker: Every morning, as soon as she awakens, 13-year-old Joelle Cazeault sits up in her bed, closes her eyes and performs a ritual unknown to most children. She spends 10 minutes doing Transcendental Meditation.

“I repeat my mantra and it slows my breathing,” says the student at College St. Maurice in Ste. Hyacinthe.

Ditto for the afternoon. Joelle meditates when she gets home from school and, she says, it gives her the alertness and focus she needs to do her homework.

Meditation is a ritual she began three years ago when her parents, who have meditated since the 1970s, enrolled her in a Transcendental Meditation course: “They think it’s important for my life and that it can help me become enlightened.”

Perhaps it is inevitable that baby boomers, the generation that learned to chill out in heightened states of consciousness, want their offspring to experience the same.

Children as young as 10 are learning Transcendental Meditation and are reaping the rewards at school. “I always had good marks but they got even better after I learned to meditate,” says Joelle.

She’s at the forefront of a coming trend. There is a growing push in the U.S. to put “ohm” in schools by making Transcendental Meditation part of the curriculum. The movement is poised to take Canada with it.

A U.S.-based group called Stress-Free Schools has helped set up T.M. programs in 50 schools south of the border and has piqued the interest of educators in Canada.

Six Montreal-area schools want the program.

“My students deserve to have this, and it will transform the whole school,” says Marielle Mayers, an elementary school principal in Ville d’Anjou.

Michele Beausoleil, a Montreal teacher of T.M., is keen to get started: “We’re ready to teach the children, teachers and principals and I’ll work to help the schools find funding from foundations.”

Stress-Free Schools was founded in 2004 by a group of meditating parents in New York City, who were concerned about social problems in their schools.

Two months ago, the organization held a conference at Montreal’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel to explain to educators how teaching T.M. to children as young as 10 can benefit their schools.

Original article no longer available.

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