Understanding the Power of Meditation - Deepstash
Meditation and Mindfulness

Meditation and mindfulness induce a heightened state of awareness and focused attention. Various studies demonstrate the practice can help relieve stress — as well as manage anxiety, reduce inflammation, and improve memory and attention, to boot. Such striking results have many doctors, across specialties, prescribing meditation just as they would an anti-depressant or blood pressure medication . But it remains unclear just how meditation confers so many health benefits.

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Tibetan Monks

Tibetan monks meditate for hours upon hours each week. Their devotion to their religious traditions makes them experts in the practice of meditation.

Turns out those experts have a lot to teach us about how sustained mindfulness affects the brain.

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Bin He Investigates

Bin He, a neuroengineer at Carnegie Mellon University, decided to look at the brains of Tibetan monks. In a previous study. He and colleagues saw that individuals with meditation experience were better able to control a computer cursor with their mind than those without it.

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Bin he

“We went to Tibet and measured activity in the brains of monks who had, on average, 15 years of meditation experience — between five and 35 years,” he said. “We then compared those results to native Tibetans who had never meditated before.”

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Bin He Findings

He and his colleagues found that long-term, active meditative practice decreases activity in the default network. This is the brain network associated with the brain at rest — just letting your mind wander with no particular goal in mind — and includes brain areas like the medial prefrontal cortex and the posterior cingulate cortex. What’s more, the longer a monk had been practicing, the bigger the reduction in activity the researchers observed.

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Bin he

“It seems the longer you do meditation, the better your brain will be at self-regulation,” said He. “You don’t have to consume as much energy at rest and you can more easily get yourself into a more relaxed state.”

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Is there more to know?

There’s still a lot of research that needs to be done to understand the type and amount of practice required to get an effect — and it likely will be different for each person. And with so many ways to do so — from workshops to smart phone apps — Davidson says the best kind of meditation is simply the one that you are most likely to stick with.

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Richard davidson

“Think of it as a form of personal mental hygiene — almost like tooth brushing,” he said. “Humans didn’t evolve brushing their teeth twice a day. It’s a learned skill. Your brain is just as precious as your teeth. So, it’s important to take the time to learn a practice and stick to it.”

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