Category Archives: mind

News about neuroscience, the brain, neuroplasticity, etc.

Confirmation of meditation’s impact on the brain

I’ve been keeping my head down lately, but I just noticed the following news item that reinforces the findings of more scientific research into the impact of meditation on the brain:

The unique brain anatomy of meditation practitioners: alterations in cortical gyrification appeared in mid-March and Science Daily also did an article, Evidence Builds That Meditation Strengthens the Brain. The work was done at UCLA USC Laboratory of Neuro Imaging by Eileen Luders and colleagues. The LONI’s latest news announcements show the range of their investigations.

I should also point you to The Mindfulness Research Guide which follows the practical application of meditation to many human arenas. There is a monthly newsletter that has nearly 5,000 subscribers.

Mind Science feature with Dan Rather

Dan Rather reports on “Mind Science” for HDNet. He draws on the partnership between the Dalai Lama and the Life Mind Institute, as well the recent book by Sharon Begley that I’ve already written about here and here. Rather does a good job of pulling together the most salient research findings and presenting them clearly and succinctly. He can seem a bit full of himself at times, but that’s what being on TV five nights a week in prime time does to you. If you can’t bring yourself to read, Begley’s book, then this is a viewer-friendly route.

This is a long feature, 51 minutes, and you are going to need high speed connection. If that’s too much, go directly to the online site where it’s broken into shorter segments or go to iTunes.

What has not changed

A few days ago, I wrote about a couple of small milestones in the practice. I don’t think they contained revelations about my yoga practice, but were simple, small changes that remind me that it has changed over time, even though I may not notice it at the time. However, an anonymous visitor posted a comment about that entry:

What about your breathe? Your tolerance for yourself? Your medi[t]ation? Equanimity? Now that would be most interesting to know!

I would like to know that too, but it’s a tall order to uncover the most intimate aspects of my practice on the web. I’ve had some misgivings about “letting it all hang out” lately. I’ve already confessed that I suffer from depression and that I turned to yoga to heal my suffering. That’s going to be hanging around in the archive.org for decades to come. I don’t know if I want future employers to know what mood disorders I suffer from. But I crossed that bridge, and I have to live with the consequences.

It’s a lot easier to write about bending over and touching my toes than it is to reveal the intimacies a yoga practice. For one thing, it requires me to be aware to all these facets of my body and mind. I know that there are whole regions of my body that I really don’t feel, that seem to be numb. There are parts of my mind that baffle me. It takes time to write about them because language — at least, my command of language — may not always capture the nuances of spiritual practice. Sometimes, I just want to make a daily entry and get on with my life.

Of course, I never meant to confine this blog to my just physical practice on the mat. My tag line is: “breath, energy, life, spirit = self-discovery through yoga.” That’s why I write about my readings, my more intensive work with meditation, my pranayama, the intersection between yoga and the broader world as seen on the Web, and other twists in my life. But these internal process have their own pace of change, and I may have to wait until I can catch up with them or they reveal themselves to me. Certainly, the comments of the visitor remind me that I should aspire for something more insightful about this path.

Work up a sweat, work out your problems

Washington Post Working Out Your Issues: “John Ratey, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and a specialist in mood disorders, said as little as 10 minutes of exercise at 60 percent of one’s maximum heart rate — that is, walking briskly enough to just begin sweating — ‘has an effect. [But] the more intense the exercise, the better, especially if you’re only going to do short bursts.’ (Of course, it’s not safe to work out intensely until one has achieved a basic level of fitness. And no one should exercise intensely without a doctor’s approval.)” Rather than repeat the mantra that I often fall into — “yoga is the answer to all mood disorders,” the Washington Post cites research about the psychological benefits of exercise in general. The extensive article appeared in the June 14 Health section, and struck me as valid.

The Brain, Science and Meditation — clashing value systems?

MIT Technology Review Meditation and the Brain: “Of course, the monk lifestyle isn’t for everyone. So a recently published study on the effects of short meditation sessions with novice practitioners is perhaps of greater relevance to the rest of us. As reported in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, Davidson and Jon Kabat-Zinn, a medical professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, conducted a small controlled study of “mindfulness meditation” training for employees of a small biotech firm. Four months after an eight-week meditation course, the researchers found that emotional and immune system benefits persisted—with just 15-minute meditation sessions only two or three times a week.”

I came back to this article after reading it two month ago. It caught my attention because it captured my penchant for rationalizing my intellectual queries and my emotional satisfaction with my yoga and meditation practice. Whenever I ease into meditation mode, it’s like slipping into a hot bath. You think to yourself — “This is so right.”

But I suddenly realized that there is another level in which this feeling of satisfaction can border on self-righteousness. There can be all kinds of claims about the value of yoga and meditation that cannot be confirmed objectively. You can see it a lot in the “life style” choices that surround these traditions. Do I have to become a vegitarian to follow through on my new yoga-based options. How can you prove some of the claims made about yoga and meditation — curing back pain, managing mood swings or increased holiness.

The interesting angle is the collaboration between Western science and Eastern wisdom.

You can find out more about this trend by going to Center for Healthy Minds for the September 2003 conference that brought the Dalai Lama to Cambridge, Mass or the Mind and Life Institute, the organization that has been exploring the trend for the past decade or so.