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Prevention Research Center receives $1.4 million mindfulness research grant

wildmind meditation newsLee Carpenter, Penn State News: Grant from the Institute on Education Sciences focuses on teaching adolescents mindfulness practices.

Teaching adolescents mindfulness practices that may strengthen their attention, executive function and emotion regulation skills, and in turn improve their academic and social functioning is the focus of a new grant received by the Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center at Penn State. Mark Greenberg, Edna Peterson Bennett Endowed Chair in Prevention Research and professor of human development and psychology, is the principal investigator.

The three-year, $1.4 million grant from the Institute on Education Sciences will enable the integration of mindfulness practices and teachings into the regular …

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Meditation makes people more rational decision-makers

Elizabeth Weise: Meditation, the ancient practice of mindfulness employed by all major religions, can actually reprogram the brain to be more rational and less emotional, researchers in Canada and the United States say.

The researchers looked at a classic psychological test called the Ultimatum Game. In this test, researchers propose this scenario: A friend or relative has won some sum of money and then offers the test subject a small portion of it – will they accept the money?

Surprisingly, despite the fact that it’s a windfall, multiple tests over 30 years show that only about a quarter of people say yes. The rest reply that it’s not fair because the person offering the money has lots and that they should get more.

People who practice Buddhist meditation behaved differently. Researchers found in their test that more than 50% of Buddhist meditators took the rational offer of free money, rather than rejecting it because it felt unfair.

The researcher involved 40 control subjects and 26 expert meditators. These were not Buddhist monks or nuns Read the rest of this article…

but simply people who practiced frequent Buddhist meditation “while maintaining a secular life incorporating a career, family, and friends.” according to the paper.

The study is in this month’s edition of the journal Frontiers in Decision Neuroscience.

When the researchers did MRI imaging of the Buddhist meditators brains, they found that they used different areas of their brain than other people when confronted with what could be construed as an ‘unfair’ choice, which allowed them to make decisions based more on facts and less on emotions.

Neuroimaging showed that Buddhist meditators engaged different parts of the brain than expected, the researchers found. Previous work showed that when people rejected the offer, there was activity in the anterior insula portion of their brains. This is linked to the emotion of disgust and plays a role in emotions related to violations of social norm violations, rejection, betrayal, and mistrust.

But meditators showed no significant activity for the anterior insula when offered a portion of the money. In fact they increased activity in the posterior insula, which has been linked to rational decision-making.

As the researchers note in their paper:

Siblings, schoolchildren, and CEOs have all been known to worry more about their competitors’ rewards than their own – with unhappy social consequences for everyone else. This study suggests that the trick may lie not in rational calculation, but in steering away from what-if scenarios, and concentrating on the interoceptive qualities that accompany any reward, no matter how small.

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Yoga helps improve asthma symptoms

Ani, The Times Of India: A new study has suggested that meditation and yoga can be ‘helpful’ in improving asthma in urban adolescents.

A new study by researchers at the University of Cincinnati (UC) shows that urban adolescents with asthma may experience worse outcomes when not using spiritual coping and often use complementary and alternative medicine, or integrative medicine, like prayer or relaxation, to manage symptoms.

These findings by researchers could help physicians and other providers gain insight into additional ways to help pediatric populations self-manage chronic illnesses.

The study, led by Sian Cotton, assistant professor in the department of family and community medicine, looked at urban adolescents dealing with asthma and uncovered the ways that they were both coping with their illness as well as ways coping methods affected their mental and physical health outcomes.

In the spiritual struggles analyses, outcome variables included anxiety and depressive symptoms as well as quality of life. Researchers then determined the association Read the rest of this article…

between spiritual struggles and health outcomes after accounting for age, gender, ethnicity and asthma severity.

“As hypothesized, religious or spiritual coping and secular coping predicted similar amounts of variance in these outcomes, similar to previous findings in adult populations, suggesting that spiritual coping is an important element to consider when caring for adolescents with asthma,” said Cotton.

In the second analysis, the same group of adolescents completed a survey looking at 10 forms of complementary and alternative medicine methods used for symptom management, including prayer, guided imagery, relaxation, meditation, yoga, massage, herbs, vitamins and rubs as well as dietary changes.

“These findings show that this group of chronically ill adolescents is using complementary methods and finding them helpful,” said Cotton.

“Providers should consider discussing the use of complementary or alternative medicine with their patients with asthma to help improve outcomes.”

“These analyses point to findings that will help physicians care not only for patients with asthma but also for those with other chronic illnesses to ensure the best outcomes physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, producing a better quality of life,” added Cotton.

The findings were presented at the National Conference in Pediatric Psychology in San Antonio.

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Researchers teaching subjects to control brains with MRI scans

Tiffany Crawford: For centuries, yogis have imparted the secrets of healing through meditation and self-awareness.

Now researchers at the University of British Columbia say they’ve found a way to eventually help people combat depression or obsessive-compulsive disorders through similar methods using MRI technology.

In this first-of-its-kind study, published in the April edition of NeuroImage, researchers say participants were able to control their thoughts better when they watched their brain activity on a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) screen.

The research suggests that awareness of negative or detrimental thoughts — made possible by seeing them on a screen — allows research subjects to control those thoughts.

Many patients who suffer from depression, anxiety or obsessive-compulsive behaviour are not aware of negative thoughts, said co-author Kalina Christoff, a psychology professor at UBC. The technology could be used in the future as a tool to help them become more aware.

Participants in the study watched feedback on the fMRI from their rostrolateral prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for self-reflection.

They were asked to alternate their thoughts, in 30-second intervals over four six-minute sessions, between their external surroundings — their bodies, current events — and introspective thoughts.

The fMRI would only pick up the introspective thoughts that were being actively contemplated by the participant. Researchers were not told what the participants were thinking about.

Then by watching levels go up or down Read the rest of this article…

on a thermometer-like bar on the fMRI screen, the participant was able to see whether there was an awareness of thoughts. The technique does not differentiate between particular self-reflective thoughts so there is no way to tell whether the participant was fretting over an exam or obsessing about being overweight, for example.

“If the bar is low that means you are not aware of your thoughts,” said Christoff. “You might be having thoughts you are not aware of. But if the bar is increasing it means you are successfully paying attention to your thoughts.”

People who are coping with anxiety, trauma or depression often have negative thoughts of which they are not aware — until they become angry or grumpy and snap at people, she said.

“We think this helps train you to become more self-reflective.”

Christoff said in followup training sessions, all the participants had higher scores of self-reflection and were much more able to observe their thoughts after the training than before.

By using the technology to target the areas of the brain responsible for self-reflection, Christoff said, people who battle depressive thoughts might be able to modify them as they become more aware of them.

“If a depressed person thinks, ‘The world is horrible and everybody is against me,’ and they don’t notice, it will bring their mood down and they’ll feel more depressed,” she said. “And because they feel that, they’ll have even more horrible thoughts.

“The way to break the cycle is to look at that thought and turn your attention and to say, ‘Well this is just a thought — it doesn’t necessarily reflect reality.’ And often that improves the mood.”

The idea then would be to use the MRI technology in conjunction with cognitive behavioural therapy, a type of psychotherapy that aims to help people struggling with depression learn to recognize that their thinking can contribute to the sad moods and despair.

“We’d like to see if we can speed up this process or enhance it by having additional MRI training sessions that can tell them whether or not they are becoming aware,” said Christoff.

The study could also have implications for treating people with post-traumatic stress disorder. Soldiers who come back from Afghanistan, for example, often have obsessive thoughts. And so with the MRI training psychologists could help them “catch” repetitive thoughts before they do too much damage.

Christoff admitted the process was very similar to meditation, a practice that is included in many disciplines of yoga.

“By training your thoughts anyone can benefit. You don’t have to have a clinical condition. This is very similar to meditation. And in that similarity these training methods could have the same benefits that meditation can have. You are training yourself to be more aware.” © Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

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Health alert: meditation

WIS: As many of us look for ways to de-stress our fast-paced lives, new research finds focused meditation may work better than just relaxing.

Researchers at the University of Oregon compared students who used relaxation techniques to those given just 20 minutes of meditation training. After less than a week, they found a significant difference.

Amir Tahami, a meditation instructor with Sun & Moon Yoga Studio, says “time to find that inner peace that’s inside of you.”

Used for centuries in religious practice, today, people meditate in class, or on a park bench.

“[It] allowed me to relax a bit more,” says Klia Bassing, who teaches employees to meditate at work.

Bassing said, “They kept saying I’m so stressed out. I need something. I need something to relax, to help me focus. I’m having trouble sleeping at night”…

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