pain

Controlling Brain Waves May Be Key to Meditation’s Benefits | Psych Central News

The benefits of meditation are well-acknowledged. Yet a scientific explanation of how it works has been conspicuously absent.

Brown University scientists may have helped to overcome this barrier as researchers propose a neurophysiological framework to explain the clinical benefits bestowed by meditation.

Scientists believe that mindfulness practitioners gain enhanced control over sensory cortical alpha rhythms that help regulate how the brain processes and filters sensations, including pain, and memories such as depressive thoughts.

The proposal, based on published experimental results and a validated computer simulation of neural networks, is based upon the intimate connection in mindfulness between mind and body. This approach is consistent with standardized mindfulness meditation training that begins with a highly localized focus on body and breath sensations.

The repeated localized sensory focus enhances control over localized alpha rhythms in the part of the brain called the primary somatosensory cortex, where sensations from different body are “mapped,” said researchers.

In a paper found in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, researchers said that by learning to control their focus on the present somatic moment, mindfulness meditators develop a more sensitive “volume knob” for controlling spatially specific, localized sensory cortical alpha rhythms.

Efficient modulation of cortical alpha rhythms in turn enables optimal filtering of sensory information. Meditators learn not only to control what specific body sensations they pay attention to, but also how to regulate attention so that it does not become biased toward negative physical sensations such as chronic pain.

The localized attentional control of somatosensory alpha rhythms becomes generalized to better regulate bias toward internally focused negative thoughts, as in depression.

“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,” said lead author Catherine Kerr, Ph.D.

In experiments that Kerr and neuroscientist co-authors Drs. Stephanie Jones and Christopher Moore have published over the last few years, the team has used a brain imaging technology called magnetoencephalography (MEG).

In these experiments, the researchers show that alpha rhythms in the cortex correlate with sensory attention and that the ability to regulate localized alpha brainwaves on a millisecond scale is more distinct in people who have had standardized mindfulness training than in those who have not.

Jones developed a computer model that simulated the alpha brainwaves, through reciprocal interactions between the cortex, which processes information and thoughts, and the thalamus, which is like a switchboard that mediates information flow from the rest of the brain to the cortex.

“We were investigating what are the brain mechanisms that can create this prominent alpha rhythm and mediate its impact on sensory processing,” Jones said.

“The model simulates the electrical activity of neural networks and makes very specific predictions about how this rhythm is generated. Once we understand the brain processes regulating alpha rhythm expression, we can better understand how it can be modulated with mindfulness practice and why this is beneficial.”

Among the most important predictions is one that could explain how gaining control of alpha rhythms not only enhances sensory focus on a particular area of the body, but also helps people overcome persistent competing stimuli, such as depressive thoughts or chronic pain signals.

To accomplish this, the model predicts, meditators must achieve proper control over the relative timing and strength of alpha rhythms generated from two separate regions of the thalamus, called thalamic nuclei, that talk to different parts of the cortex. One alpha generator would govern the local “tuning in,” for instance of sensations in a hand, while the other would govern the broader “tuning out” of other sensory or cognitive information in the cortex.

It’s a bit like focusing a telescope by precisely aligning the position of two different lenses. The authors’ framework hypothesizes that experienced meditators gain the ability to turn that proverbial focus knob to align those different rhythms.

In the new paper, the authors propose that training chronic pain patients in the standardized mindfulness techniques of focusing on and then focusing away from pain, should result in MEG-measurable, testable improvements in alpha rhythm control.

“By this process of repeatedly engaging and disengaging alpha dynamics across the body map, according to our alpha theory, subjects are re-learning the process of directly modulating localized alpha rhythms,” they wrote. “We hypothesize that chronic pain patients trained in mindfulness will show increased ability to modulate alpha in an anticipatory tactile attention paradigm similar to that used in [the 2011 study].”

Many such experiments are yet to be done, Kerr acknowledges, and her group can only do so many. “There are a number of hypotheses in this framework that can be tested,” Kerr said. “That’s one of the reasons we wanted to put this out as a framework. It is beyond our ability to test all of these ideas. We wanted to make this available to the scientific field and present this unified view.”

Source: Brown University

via Controlling Brain Waves May Be Key to Meditation’s Benefits | Psych Central News.

 

How meditation changes brain rhythms to sooth pain and depression

Meditation 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.Sources:http://news.brown.edu/pressreleases/2013/02/mindfulnesshttp://www.naturalnews.comhttp://www.naturalnews.comAbout the author:Sherry Baker is a widely published writer whose work has appeared in Newsweek, Health, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Yoga Journal, Optometry, Atlanta, Arthritis Today, Natural Healing Newsletter, OMNI, UCLA’s “Healthy Years” newsletter, Mount Sinai School of Medicine’s “Focus on Health Aging” newsletter, the Cleveland Clinic’s “Men’s Health Advisor” newsletter and many others.

via How meditation changes brain rhythms to sooth pain and depression.

 

Meditation gets a thumbs-up for pain – latimes.com

By Melissa Healy, Los Angeles Times For the Booster Shots Blog

Meditation this week won the scientific stamp of approval from a federal panel as a means of reducing the severity of chronic and acute pain. The influential committee also concluded the practice of mindfulness has demonstrated effectiveness in reducing stress and anxiety, but it found the scientific evidence for that claim weaker and more inconsistent.

As a therapy to promote positive feelings, induce weight loss and improve attention and sleep, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality was less impressed with meditation. The group concluded there is currently an insufficient body of scientific evidence to conclude meditation is effective in achieving those outcomes.

Those findings are included in a draft report issued this week by the agency, an office within the Department of Health and Human Services Department that assesses research evidence on the safety and effectiveness of medical treatments. The draft is up for comment until Jan. 2.

The draft report does not distinguish among the many different forms of meditation, including Transcendental Meditation and mindfulness-based meditation. In reviewing 14,788 studies assessing meditation’s effects, the panel found only 34 studies that met its standards of rigor. In those, the panel wrote, researchers provided subjects short courses in meditation — typically about half of that provided outside of clinical trials. And the studies included in the assessment compared those who got the meditation therapy against control groups who did not.

For anxiety, depression and stress, the report found mindfulness meditation appeared to provide modest relief with consistency. Mantra-based meditation showed more inconsistent benefits.

At the same time, the panel noted that meditation is a practice whose health-promoting benefits may be difficult to capture in short-term clinical trials.

“Historically, the general public did not conceptualize meditation as a quick fix toward anything,” the panel wrote in its draft report. “It was a skill one learns and practices over time to increase one’s awareness, and through this awareness, gain insight and understanding into the various subtleties of existence. Trials of short duration may be insufficient to develop the skills necessary to affect stress outcomes.”

via Meditation gets a thumbs-up for pain, more muted support for stress, anxiety – latimes.com.

Meditation Gets A Thumbs-up For Pain

http://www.latimes.com:

Meditation this week won the scientific stamp of approval from a federal panel as a means of reducing the severity of chronic and acute pain. The influential committee also concluded the practice of mindfulness has demonstrated effectiveness in reducing stress and anxiety, but it found the scientific evidence for that claim weaker and more inconsistent.

As a therapy to promote positive feelings, induce weight loss and improve attention and sleep, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality was less impressed with meditation. The group concluded there is currently an insufficient body of scientific evidence to conclude meditation is effective in achieving those outcomes.

Those findings are included in a draft report issued this week by the agency, an office within the Department of Health and Human Services Department that assesses research evidence on the safety and effectiveness of medical treatments. The draft is up for comment until Jan. 2.

Read the whole story at http://www.latimes.com

via Meditation Gets A Thumbs-up For Pain.

 

Huff Post: 3 Ways to Increase Your Focus During Meditation

On a recent flight to Jackson, Wyo., it wasn’t only the plane that soared to new heights — so did a conversation with my seat-mate.

 

I had an inclination of something that might occur when she took out a book on Buddhist wisdom. So it came as no surprise that after laughing about some shared travel experiences, the topic shifted.

“Do you meditate?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“I can’t stop my thoughts from swirling around in circles when I do,” she told me. “For instance, my yoga teacher asked me to focus on ‘1’, but I just kept thinking — does she mean the number 1 or the word o-n-e?”

I laughed and said, “I totally get it!”

 

It can be hard to quiet our thoughts, whatever we’re doing, despite our best intentions — whether we’re in a class, in a meeting, behind the wheel, or even sitting in silence. (Sometimes especially when we are trying to sit silently!) My to-do list keeps insisting it needs my attention, or I might find myself ruminating on a past or future event.

But it’s worth it to mentally quiet down. It’s now well-documented how a practice of regularly calming our thinking is healthy — evidence abounds showing that meditation is good for emotional and physical wellbeing.

The Journal of Neuroscience reported recently that newly-trained meditators showed a 40 percent reduction in pain intensity and a 57 percent reduction in pain unpleasantness after just a few sessions of meditation. Other recent research found that mindfulness-based stress reduction methods can decrease loneliness and, remarkably, may reduce “pro-inflammatory gene expression” in older adults.

These two studies focused on using a tightly structured program of meditation. But there isn’t just one way to practice it.

I asked a few Boston-based yoga instructors what kind of training they’d received. They said it runs the gamut. They’d received training about many different ways to meditate, and incorporate different ideas they find helpful into their own practices and classes.

It’s not just yogis, martial artists and people taking an active interest in Eastern philosophy who meditate. In 2007, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determined that over 20 million Americans meditate to improve their health.

Even the website for the movie Escape Fire — a documentary to be released October 5 about radical changes needed in the U.S. health care system — has a meditation app in its solution area.

This indicates how widespread the approaches taken to meditation can be.

One definition of meditation is to engage in contemplation or reflection. Another is to engage in mental exercise to reach a heightened level of spiritual awareness. Often, people associate meditation with Buddhism or Hinduism, or even consider it to be a purely secular activity.

But contemplative practices are also deeply rooted in Judeo-Christian scripture. For example, in one of David’s songs, he says: “I meditate on all Your works; I muse on the work of Your hands.”

Rather than the practice of emptying one’s thought, this suggests an approach of consciously filling thought with something good, of meditating on a divine influence that acts throughout our day.

 

Time and time again, I’ve found that this brings a feeling of release from needing to control every aspect of my experience.

That may sound great in theory, but in practice, we may go back to trying to figure out how to stop wondering about that tricky question sitting in our email, or why we’re stuck folding so much laundry every week.

So how can we move past this pesky mental chatter and think about a broader perspective? Here are a few ways I’ve found helpful to fill my thoughts in my moments of meditation:

1. Silently ask a really big question.

Simply allowing ourselves to consider big questions can completely change the trajectory of our thoughts. For example, I’ve asked questions like, “How unlimited is divine spirit, or just how good is divine love?” And then I’ll wait to gain some sense of that.

I’ve found that when I accept the insights that come to me, it transforms my thinking. It gives me a peaceful feeling of stillness and a sense of release from concern about my ability to accomplish what lies ahead.

2. Consider the idea that you’re connected to the divine.

After my flight landed in Jackson, Wyo., I headed out to a rural destination for a friend’s wedding, and in the night sky I could see the Milky Way so brilliantly. As I reveled in the vastness of the universe, I thought about the oneness of everything. It’s not like we are in one place and the stars are in a separate place — I was glimpsing that time and space are constructions of a limited perspective. There is nothing that divides us from each other because we are all linked directly to and through the divine.

 

This had a unifying aspect to it that enabled me to feel as though I was part of the spiritual spokes that emanate from a divine source along with everything I could see in the vast sky and everyone else around me.

 

Contemplating this idea of connection with the divine and with one another in this way made it feel simpler for me to navigate and enjoy the busyness of the wedding weekend.

3. “Marinate” in those ideas.

Just as marinades work through chemical reactions with food — to make it more tender and enhance the flavor — letting new insights overtake old ways of thinking can tenderize and enhance our being.

When a new perspective comes in response to contemplating a big question or a sense of connectedness, we can be humble enough to soak it in and let it calm and still our thought. Humility helps provide the mental space to consider a new angle. And having this mental space makes it easier to bring fresh insights into our next activity after we have finished meditating.

I find that considering even just one spiritual point expands my thinking and changes me. I also find that I need to practice this type of thinking regularly in order to feel the benefits consistently.

Before my seat-mate and I parted, I mentioned some of these thoughts on contemplative thinking. She said, “I’m definitely going to try asking a big question the next time I meditate!”

Later, at the ranch in Wyoming, overlooking golden-colored aspens clapping in the wind, it was easy to delight in the stillness of the moment.

 

But getting back to my daily routine, that “ah-ha” moment hasn’t completely left me. I’ve returned to Boston with a slightly more joyful spring in my step and a touch more peace in my heart.

 

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Sharon Frey: 3 Ways to Increase Your Focus During Meditation.