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Meditation as brain training

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You may be wondering what meditation has to do with brain training. In fact, meditation has been shown to improve specific cognitive functions such as attention. As such it can be considered as a brain training technique.

A number of studies have compared people who practice meditation to people who do not. The problem with these studies is that people in both groups can be very different. Thus the benefits observed in the group practicing meditation could be due to other things.

Recently, a more controlled study was conducted that showed a specific effect of meditation on attention, one of the main brain functions described in Chapter 1. In this study, Posner and his colleagues (2007) randomly assigned participants to either an Integrative Body-Mind Training (IBMT) or to a relaxation training. Both trainings lasted 5 days, 20mn per day. IBMT is a meditation technique developed in China in the 1990s. It stresses a balanced state of relaxation while focusing attention. Thought control is achieved with the help of a coach through posture, relaxation, body-mind harmony and balance. The results of this study showed that after training, participants in the IBMT training group showed more improvement in a task measuring executive attention than the control group. The IBMT training also helped reduced cortisol levels caused by mental stress.

Styles of meditation differ. Some technique use concentration meditation, mantra, mindfulness meditation, while others rely on body relaxation, breathing practice and mental imagery. It is not known so far what aspects of meditation or which techniques are the best to train one’s brain. Scientists are researching what elements of meditation may help manage stress and improve memory. For instance, Dr. Andrew Newberg (whose interview can be found at the end of the present chapter) is currently conducting a study where 15 older adults with memory problems are practicing Kirtan Kriya meditation during 8 weeks. Preliminary results in terms of the impact on brain functions seem promising.

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