Friday, July 27, 2012

Science Weighs In

A recent study reported by the National Academy of the Sciences indicated that mindfulness meditation practice “could provide a means for intervention to improve or prevent mental disorders.”   The study followed a group of people who practiced mind-body integrative meditation for four weeks while a control group only practiced relaxation techniques.  Compared to the control group the group of meditators showed a dynamic pattern of increased brain signaling in the anterior cingulate cortex, showing that the brain can be changed by meditation.  It is especially significant that these changes in the brain took place in the anterior cingulate cortex as this region of the brain is involved with mood regulation, and deficits in this region have been associated with attention deficit disorder, dementia, depression, and schizophrenia.  As brain changes took place, the participants in the meditation group did in fact report improved moods.  The control group showed no such changes.

The study was conducted at the University of Oregon, repeating the techniques and verifying the results of an earlier study at the Dalian University of Technology in China.

It is important to note that the meditators practiced consistently for four weeks, twenty minutes each day.  While an MRI showed few changes in the brain after two weeks, after four weeks the changes were significant.  This illustrates how, as with many psychopharmaceuticals, brain functioning changes can occur relatively quickly but not immediately.  The study also demonstrates that the effects of meditation are more significant than mere relaxation exercises alone.  Actual changes in brain functioning do occur.  More positive moods are possible.  So if you begin a meditation practice stick with it and be consistent. Changes in mood will not be immediate but may likely follow after only a few weeks of practice.  Change your mind.  Meditate.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

To Begin

Meditation is quite different from sitting there doing nothing, thinking nothing.  It is instead a focused attention on one’s present experience.  A chance to minimize the distractions that pull one away from the present. Pleasant events are often spoiled by comparison to other good experiences or worry that this wonder may soon end.  Difficult experiences are often tempered by a desire for escape and the fantasy of being somewhere else doing something else.  The mind will wander all over the place and our present experience, good or bad, may be missed.

So meditation becomes a practice.  A practice to remain here, in the present moment, fully aware.  It is something that must be practiced to achieve benefit, and the practice, though simple, can be extremely challenging.  But the benefits, as described in other posts and in countless others’ experience, are worth it.

So how does one begin?

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Mindfulness and Meditation

The successful management of mental illness requires an attention to the mind and body that is directly opposed to the compulsions inherent in many mental illnesses.  In mania we want to follow every desire.  Our ideas are expansive, grandiose, and often wrong.  In depression we doubt, dread, and sometimes even hate the very self we have cultivated throughout our lives.  In psychosis we ultimately lose contact with reality.  The build up to these states often passes unnoticed, and we find ourselves in episodes, reeling in symptoms, unable to find a center, or safety, or home.

The outcome of many episodes is confusion.  “How did all of this happen without my awareness?”  We’re stuck with bills, wrecked homes, scars, strained relationships, and damaged jobs, if any job is left at all.  But episodes can be managed, if not completely controlled.  What we can do is be in tune with our bodies and minds and predict when mood changes begin.  Then we can act, adjust, and avoid bad outcomes.