Magnetic resonance imaging

Where To Meditate: 11 Surprising Places To Find Some Zen

Where To Meditate: 11 Surprising Places To Find Some Zen

In search of simple, quick and cheap stress relief? Meditation is what you’re after.

Often associated with Eastern-world practices, meditation has been making headlines and infiltrating the West. It’s no mystery as to why: Just 20 minutes has been shown to decrease stress, help with depression and even lower blood pressure.

Best of all, there’s no catch: Meditation is free, and you can take it anywhere (all you need is your head). We were curious where you take your meditation; while we might typically think it’s a practice for stillness and silence, it turns out there’s no place too loud or exclusive to find peace of mind.

We asked on Facebook the strangest place you’ve found yourself practicing, and from your answers it’s clear: Meditation can happen in motion, and is often helpful in times we anticipate feeling tense. Check out some creative and brilliant places to meditate below, then tell us in the comments where else you like to clear your head.
“In a tree.” — Marty Daymunde
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“In the middle of a rock concert.” — Jane Sayre
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“On the NYC subway!” — Lauren Loma Calixte
on subway

“On a plane.” — Sandrine Laurent
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“In the car.” — Heather Hunter
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“Public restroom!” — Jane Sayre
bathroom stall

“While running on a treadmill.” — Travis H Heinrich
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“While in an MRI. It helped keep me calm in the tube.” — Katherine Nobles
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“In the middle of the airport.” — Sky Can Horn
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“In the dentist’s chair.” — Sean Mac An Ultaigh
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“In a bar.” — Denise Helberg Snider
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For more on meditation, click here.

Where To Meditate: 11 Surprising Places To Find Some Zen.

Meditation’s Antianxiety Effects Visible on Brain Imaging

Individuals with no experience in meditation who participate in mindful meditation training sessions for as little as 4 days show changes in specific brain mechanisms that correlate with a reduction in anxiety, a new imaging study shows.

“There is plenty of evidence that meditation can improve a host of issues, such as pain and cognitive function, and anxiety is perhaps at the top of the list,” explained lead author Fadel Zeidan, PhD, a postdoctoral research fellow in neurobiology and anatomy at Wake Forest School of Medicine, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

“But what we’ve been able to do is to correlate, through imaging, changes in specific brain regions that are related to anxiety, even in a cohort of people with no anxiety or depression.”

The findings were published online April 24 in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.

Buffer to Anxiety

For the study, Dr. Zeidan and his colleagues recruited 15 healthy volunteers with normal levels of anxiety and no experience in meditation to participate in 4 20-minute training sessions to learn the technique for mindful meditation.

This involves a focus on breathing and a conscious acknowledging of distracting thoughts and emotions, combined with a decision not to react to them.

“You’re trained to focus on keeping a very straight posture and the sensations of the rise and fall of your chest and abdomen as you breathe,” Dr. Zeidan explained.

“If your mind becomes distracted, you acknowledge the distraction, let it go, and focus back on the breathing. You are regulating your emotional responses.”

Before and after each meditation training session, the participants, who included graduate students and faculty, received brain activity imaging with pulsed arterial spin labeling magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

The participants also were administered the State Anxiety Inventory, a 20-item subscale of the State Trait Anxiety Inventory, before and after the brain imaging.

While the participants reported meditation-related reductions in anxiety ratings by as much as 22%, the MRIs showed anxiety relief to be associated with activation of the anterior cingulate cortex and ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), which show decreases in activity when anxiety is present.

The vmPFC is also implicated in the alteration of contextual evaluation of affective processes, the authors write.

“Activation in the vmPFC is associated with modulating higher-order affective appraisals, including cognitive regulation of negative emotions.”

In addition, reports of greater anxiety correlated with greater default-related activity (ie, posterior cingulate cortex) on MRI, “possibly reflecting an inability to control self-referential thoughts,” the authors write.

The brain mechanisms related to the reduction of anxiety through mindful meditation in healthy people have never been identified, so the findings help confirm that the changes do occur, said Dr. Zeidan.

“It shows that mindful meditation can be sort of this buffer to anxiety. After just a brief training, you can reduce this ruminative thought process, change your attention, and change the context in how you respond to things,” he said.

Potential Payoff

Amit Sood, MD, director of research and practice in the Mayo Complementary and Integrative Medicine Program at Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minnesota, said that such changes are not unexpected over such a short period.

“I’m not surprised to see the correlations with reductions of anxiety in 4 days — other studies looking at brain structure have reported seeing these changes after just 4 to 6 hours of training,” said Dr. Sood.

“What I would be surprised to see, however, is if they were still doing it on their own after 6 months,” he noted.

“People can learn it quickly, but then they forget. A change in habit requires a lot of effort. People have to carve out the time in their busy days, and what tends to happen is will power depletion.”

The study demonstrates, however, the potential payoff, he added.

“I wouldn’t call this a landmark study, but it does validate the overall theme we’re seeing in this field,” Dr. Sood said.

“It adds another bullet point of how we can understand emotional and brain states, and eventually this may help us better classify people based on what is actually happening in the brain, beyond their displayed symptoms.”

Dr. Zeidan and Dr. Sood report no relevant financial relationships.

Meditation’s Antianxiety Effects Visible on Brain Imaging.

 

Research Comparing The Neural Images Of Three Different Types Of Meditation

About the Author: Fred Travis, Ph.D. is the Director of the Center for Brain, Consciousness, and Cognition, and an Associate Professor of Maharishi Vedic Science at Maharishi University of Management.

There are many systems of meditation that widely differ from one another in their procedures, contents, objects, beliefs, and goals. Given these differences, it is not surprising that research has shown they have different subjective and objective effects. Scientific research on one type of meditation cannot be generalized to effects from any type of meditation.

Let us compare three forms of meditation. Scientific research on the functioning of the brains of practitioners of these techniques have been published in peer-reviewed journals. The three forms in this document are: Mindfulness Meditation (also called Insight Meditation or Vipassana), Tibetan Buddhist Tsonghakapa, and the Transcendental Meditation® technique from the ancient Vedic tradition of India. These three methods have different procedures, different neural images (pictures of the brain or brain functioning), and different EEG patterns (electrical activity of the brain).

Type of Meditation Procedure
Insight, Vipassana, Mindfulness Observation [Reference 1]
Tibetan Buddhism Concentration [2]
Transcendental Meditation Technique Effortless Transcending [3]

Different Neural Images

The neural images of different types of meditation are distinctly different. Brain blood flow and brain metabolic rate can be imaged with modern neural imaging techniques using MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) or PET (Positron Emission Tomography). These data are from independent labs reports and published research.

Type of Meditation: Mindfulness
Neural Images: Thicker right insula, thicker right frontal, thicker sensory [4]
Explanation: Higher gray matter volume—more connections—are reported in areas used in focusing of attention (right frontal areas) and brain areas involved with sensory perception: the right insula (taste and emotionally relevant context), right parietal (touch) and right temporal (hearing). Thicker cortex suggests these local areas are used during Mindfulness.

Type of Meditation: Tibetan Buddhism
Neural Images: Activity in the frontal (left) increases; activity in the thalamus increases; activity in the parietal lobe decreases. [5]
Explanation: In Tibetan Buddhist Tsonghakapa meditation, activity in the frontal lobe increases—this is what happens when focusing. Activity increases in the thalamus, the gateway of activation to the brain. Activity decreases in the parietal lobe (the area of visual attention, spatial orientation, and cross-modal matching)

Type of Meditation: Transcendental Meditation Technique
Neural Images: Activity in the frontal (left) increases; activity in the thalamus decreases; activity in the parietal lobe increases. [6]
Explanation: During the practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique, frontal lobe activity increases, and so does the parietal lobe. But the thalamus (the gateway of activation to the brain) is less active. This is called restful alertness—pure wakefulness: heightened alertness in the midst of deep silence for mind and body.

The curious reader is invited to read the complete presentation that I gave at the Science of Consciousness conference in Tucson, AZ, April 2006. The complete slideshow also explains in more detail how these three types of meditation compare in terms of brain metabolic rate, and in EEG patterns.

Conclusion

Meditations differ in procedure, in patterns of brain blood flow, brain metabolic rate and EEG patterns. They also differ in reported benefits. One cannot generalize the effects and benefits of one meditation to all meditations.

End Notes

1. Meditation in the Tibetan Buddhism Kargyu tradition has been described as: “Reasoned deconstruction of the reality of objects experienced in meditation, as well as concentrative practices to create moods such as “pure compassion,” “loving kindness” or “no self.” This involves focused attention, and control of the mind. It is a system of concentration.
2. Mindfulness Meditation is described by Paul Grossman as “Systematic procedure to develop enhanced awareness of moment-to-moment experiences.” Mindfulness includes two meditation practices: with eyes closed: attention on breath, and with eyes open: “dispassionate observation of body, senses and environment.” This meditation involves intention or directing of attention to physiological rhythms, inner thoughts, sensations or outer objects.
3. EEG (electroencephalogram) tests show that TM is effortless because it is quickly mastered (there is no difference during the practice of TM in the EEG of someone who has been practicing regularly for 10 years versus someone who has been practicing regularly for 4 months). However, the waking state EEG of these subjects are distinctly different (the more months or years the subject has been practicing the TM technique, the more coherent their EEG pattern while resting with their eyes open).
4. Lazar, S. W., Kerr, C. E., Wasserman, R. H., Gray, J. R., Greve, D.
N., Treadway, M. T., McGarvey, M., Quinn, B. T., Dusek, J. A., Benson, H., Rauch, S. L., Moore, C. I. & Fischl, B. (2005). Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness. Neuroreport, 16, 1893-7.
5. Newberg, A., Alavi, A., Baime, M., Pourdehnad, M., Santanna, J. & d’Aquili, E. (2001). The measurement of regional cerebral blood flow during the complex cognitive task of meditation: a preliminary SPECT study. Psychiatry Research, 106, 113-22.
6. Newberg, A., Travis, F., Wintering, N., Nidich, S., Alavi, A. & Schneider, R. (2006). Cerebral Glucose Metabolic Changes Associated with Transcendental Meditation Practice. Spring meeting, Neural Imaging, Miami, Fl.

Comparing The Neural Images Of Three Different Types Of Meditation.