Science proves benefits of meditation in learning

An exciting article published on The New York Times on April 3rd, 2013, explains the benefits of meditation applied to studying and retention of information in our brains. This amazing article, which I cite textually below, is originally written by Jan Hoffman.

This piece is an excellent complement to another article previously cited in this blog: Sherry Baker’s work “How Meditation Changes Brain Rhythms to Sooth Pain and Depression“. I highly recommend reading both in full – the depth of findings from both pieces of research is simply fascinating.

 

How Meditation Might Boost Your Test Scores

By JAN HOFFMAN

Mindfulness meditation, the ancient and flourishing practice that increases awareness of random thoughts and redirects attention to the present moment, has been used to manage stress, depression and even chronic pain. But can it improve test scores?

 

StudyResearchers in the department of psychological and brain sciences at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who have been studying the relationship between mindfulness and mind-wandering, or the tendency to let our minds drift away on “task-unrelated thoughts,” as it is referred to in academic literature, sought to find out.

“We had already found that mind-wandering underlies performance on a variety of tests, including working memory capacity and intelligence,” said Michael D. Mrazek, a graduate student working with Jonathan W. Schooler, a professor of psychology at the university who studies the impacts and implications of mind-wandering and mindfulness. The higher the working memory, or an individual’s ability to keep in mind chunks of information and also use them, the better students tend to perform on reading comprehension tests.

Researchers disagree about the extent to which an individual’s working memory capacity can be enhanced. But in a study published last month in the journal Psychological Science, the Santa Barbara researchers found that after a group of undergraduates went through a two-week intensive mindfulness training program, their mind-wandering decreased and their working memory capacity improved. They also performed better on a reading comprehension test — a section from the Graduate Record Examination, or G.R.E.

For the study, the researchers enrolled 48 University of California undergraduates in a study intended, they told them, to improve cognitive performance. Each student was evaluated for working memory capacity, mind-wandering and performance on a G.R.E. reading comprehension section.

Then, half the group was randomly assigned to take part in a nutrition program, in which they were educated about healthy eating and asked to keep a daily food diary.

The others took a training that resembled the standard mindfulness-based stress reduction program, which typically meets once a week for eight sessions. In the Santa Barbara regimen, students instead met four days a week for two weeks and were not required to devote as much formal practice outside of class.

But in the main, the class invoked the secular pillars of the practice, including sitting in an upright posture with legs crossed and gaze lowered, breathing exercises and “minimizing the distracting quality of past and future concerns by reframing them as mental projections occurring in the present.”

After two weeks, the students were re-evaluated for mind-wandering and working memory capacity and given another version of the G.R.E. reading comprehension section.

The nutrition group’s results did not change.

The group that took mindfulness training, however, mind-wandered less and performed better on tests of working memory capacity and reading comprehension. For example, before the training, their average G.R.E. verbal score was 460. Two weeks later, it was 520.

Richard J. Davidson, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who has studied brain function in long-term and novice mindful meditators, offered this analogy: “You can improve the signal-to-noise ratio by reducing the noise. Decreasing mind-wandering is doing just that.”

Other professors of cognitive psychology thought the study was well done, although based on a small sample, with results that have yet to be replicated.

“A type of training that can help one avoid susceptibility to worries, or other sources of mind-wandering, very well could improve performance,” said Nelson Cowan, a professor at the University of Missouri who specializes in the study of working memory capacity and attention, in an e-mail message.

Daniel T. Willingham, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia and author of “When Can You Trust the Experts? How to Tell Good Science From Bad in Education,” said that “when you see these big effects, it may not be that you’ve really fundamentally changed how the mind works. But you have removed a stumbling block that was absorbing them.”

The Santa Barbara researchers have also recently worked with local high school students to see whether the results can be repeated using the SAT. But psychology professors like David Z. Hambrick of Michigan State University questioned how long the effects of a two-week training program would last.

Professor Davidson, who has studied Buddhist monks who have practiced meditation for 34,000 hours over the course of their lives, said, “If you have people who are out of shape and then do two weeks of physical exercise, you’ll see some benefit. But if they stop exercising, the benefits won’t persist.”

The original article is available on this link.

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Meditation: A scientific perspective

A fascinating article titled “How meditation changes brain rhythms to sooth pain and depression” was recently published on the Natural News website. The article, written by Sherri Baker, is a great piece to illustrate the benefits of meditating on a regular basis from a scientific point of view, as well as the ways in which our brain changes its perception of the world. Really worth the read.

How meditation changes brain rhythms to sooth pain and depression

by: Sherry Baker, Health Sciences Editor

CZ 1506Meditation isn’t only a way to relax or a throw-back to the 1960s when the Beatles first made the practice popular in the U.S. In fact, in recent years, mainstream scientists have published several studies showing that mindfulness meditation, which is centered on being aware of the present moment by focusing on the body and breath sensations, can prevent and treat depression. Meditation has also been found to help chronic pain.
But what’s going on in the body to produce these benefits? According to Brown University scientists, the answer appears to lie in how meditation changes the brain’s rhythms.

People who meditate regularly, the researchers say, gain control over sensory cortical alpha rhythms. In simple English, this means meditation appears to change brain rhythms that regulate how the brain filters and processes a variety of sensations – including depressing memories and pain in the body.

The Brown University researchers, who just published a paper outlining their findings and ideas about how meditation works in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, base their proposal on published experimental results as well as a computer simulation of neural networks. Because mindfulness meditation training begins with a highly localized focus on body and breath sensations, the scientists write, this enhances control over localized alpha rhythms in the part of the brain (known as the primary somatosensory cortex) where sensations from different body are “mapped.”

In a way, by learning to control their focus on the present moment, mindfulness meditators become able to “turn down” a kind of internal “volume knob” for controlling specific, localized sensory alpha rhythms. That seems to allow them to turn away from internally focused negative thoughts and sensations.

“We think we’re the first group to propose an underlying neurophysiological mechanism that directly links the actual practice of mindful awareness of breath and body sensations to the kinds of cognitive and emotional benefits that mindfulness confers,” lead author Catherine Kerr, assistant professor (research) of family medicine at the Alpert Medical School and director of translational neuroscience for the Contemplative Studies Initiative at Brown, said in a press statement.

As Natural News previously covered, meditation results in beneficial physiological changes that can be measured. For example, a recent study by University of Wisconsin-Madison neuroscientists with the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds found that mindfulness meditation not only reduces stress but also reduces inflammation. And this is clearly important information for the countless people with diseases such as arthritis who can’t take, or don’t want to rely on, side effect-laden anti-inflammatory drugs.

What’s more, a University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) study just published in the Association for Psychological Science journal Clinical Psychological Science found that people who reported more presence in the moment (having a greater focus and engagement with their current activities) had longer telomeres, even after adjusting for current stress in their lives. Telomeres are sort of caps at the ends of DNA that prevent the ends of chromosomes from fusing with nearby chromosomes or deteriorating. They are biomarkers for aging and are known to get shorter and shorter when the body undergoes physiological and psychological stressors.

Learn more: http://www.naturalnews.com/039139_meditation_brain_rhythms_depression.html#ixzz2NkdetpyH

Why is music important in meditation?

Ancient sages acknowledged the relevance of music in experiencing deep levels of consciousness. For instance, the ancient philosopher Maimonides wrote: “One cannot attain [meditation] when he is depressed or languid, but only when he is in a joyous state”, for which he recommended the use of music. Why?

It is clear that music helps to enhance the concentration necessary to reach a meditative state. The right pick of music will enable us to calm down our emotions and enter a deep state of relaxation, which is a precondition to enter meditation. But there have been other thinkers who have looked further into the topic and provide other explanations as to why music is important to meditate.

There are scholars, such as Aryeh Kaplan, who explain that the purpose of music is to prepare the person to the meditative state by removing all adverse emotions. He argues that music “cuts” through negative energy and helps to achieve a clearer state of mind. He also states that the music is an important tool to help us “melt emotions and break down the ego”. Ultimately – Kaplan states -, “music is the language of the spiritual world”, and through it “one communicates with the soul”.

Do you agree with these scholarly views? What role does music have in your own meditation cycle?