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How Meditation Benefits The Brain

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    How Meditation Benefits The Brain 23 Nov 2011 A new brain imaging study led by researchers at Yale University shows how people who regularly practise
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 23, 2011
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      How Meditation Benefits The Brain
      23 Nov 2011

      A new brain imaging study led by researchers
      at Yale University shows how people who regularly
      practise meditation are able to switch off areas
      of the brain linked to daydreaming, anxiety,
      schizophrenia and other psychiatric disorders.
      The brains of experienced meditators appear to
      show less activity in an area known as the
      "default mode network", which is linked to
      largely self-centred thinking. The researchers
      suggest through monitoring and suppressing or
      "tuning out" the "me" thoughts, meditators develop
      a new default mode, which is more present-centred.

      A report of their findings is due to be published
      online this week in the Proceedings of the National
      Academy of Sciences.

      Meditation can help deal with a variety of health
      problems, from quitting smoking, to coping with
      cancer, and even preventing psoriasis, one of the
      researchers said in a statement. For this study,
      they wanted to look further into the neurological
      mechanisms that might be involved.

      Lead author Judson A. Brewer, assistant professor
      of psychiatry at Yale, and colleagues, used fMRI
      (functional magnetic resonance imaging) scans to
      observe the brains of both novice and experienced
      meditators as they practised three different forms
      of meditation.

      They found that the experienced meditators, regardless
      of the type of meditation they practised, seemed
      able to switch off the default mode network, which
      has been linked to lapses of attention, and disorders
      such as attention deficit and hyperactivity
      disorder (ADHD), and anxiety. This part of the
      brain, comprising the medial prefrontal and
      posterior cingulate cortex, has also been linked
      to the accumulation of beta amyloid plaques in
      Alzheimer's disease.

      They also found that when the default mode network
      was active in the experienced meditators, other parts
      of the brain, associated with self-monitoring and
      cognitive control, were active at the same time. This
      was not the case with the novices.

      This could be the result of meditators constantly
      monitoring mind-wandering and the emergence of "me"
      thoughts, and suppressing them. These are the kind
      of thoughts, when in extreme or pathological form,
      are associated with diseases such as autism and
      schizophrenia.

      The fMRI scans showed the experienced meditators'
      brain activity was the same both during meditation
      and when they were just resting, or when they were
      not being told to do anything in particular.

      Thus the researchers concluded that perhaps experienced
      meditators have developed a new default mode, which
      is centred more on the present than on the self.

      Meditation has been a central part of philosophical
      and contemplative practices for thousands of years:
      it helps the practitioner to be mindful of the
      present moment, Brewer told the press, and studies
      have shown it is also linked to increased levels
      of happiness.

      "Conversely, the hallmarks of many forms of mental
      illness is a preoccupation with one's own thoughts,
      a condition meditation seems to affect," he added.

      This study appears to have uncovered some clues as
      to the neural mechanisms that underpin this process.
      Understanding more about them will hopefully help
      us investigate a host of diseases, said Brewer.
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