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Boost your Attention with Meditation

Brain train­ing does not nec­es­sar­i­ly mean com­put­er­ized games. For instance, medi­a­tion may be a great tool to train your brain.

Dif­fer­ent parts of the brain sup­port dif­fer­ent func­tions. One func­tion, cen­tral to many of our actions, is “atten­tion”. Atten­tion can be defined as the abil­i­ty to sus­tain con­cen­tra­tion on a par­tic­u­lar object, action, or thought.
It can also be defined as the abil­i­ty to man­age com­pet­ing demands in our environment.connections between neu­rons, die. In the brain it is sup­port­ed main­ly by neu­ronal net­works in the pari­etal (yel­low in the fig­ure) and frontal (blue in the fig­ure) lobes.

What can be done to main­tain and boost such a fun­da­men­tal abil­i­ty?

Dr. Andrew New­berg (Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor in the Depart­ment of Radi­ol­o­gy and Psy­chi­a­try at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia), here inter­viewed by Alvaro Fer­nan­dez (CEO of Sharp­Brains) sug­gests that med­i­ta­tion may have cog­ni­tive ben­e­fits, espe­cial­ly relat­ed to atten­tion:

At its core, med­i­ta­tion is an active process that requires alert­ness and atten­tion, which explains why we often find increased brain activ­i­ty in frontal lobes dur­ing prac­tice. Usu­al­ly you need to focus on some­thing — a mantra, a visu­al or ver­bal prompt- while you mon­i­tor breath­ing.
A vari­ety of stud­ies have already shown the stress man­age­ment ben­e­fits of med­i­ta­tion, result­ing in what is often called Mind­ful­ness Based Stress Reduc­tion. What we are research­ing now is what are the cog­ni­tive — atten­tion, mem­o­ry- ben­e­fits? It is clear that mem­o­ry depends on atten­tion and the abil­i­ty to screen out dis­trac­tions — so we want to mea­sure the effect of med­i­ta­tion on the brain, both struc­tural­ly and func­tion­al­ly.”
(Read the full inter­view in The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness)

Exam­ples of such sci­en­tif­ic stud­ies are those by M. Pos­ner, a pio­neer researcher in the domain of atten­tion, cur­rent­ly an Emer­i­tus Pro­fes­sor of Neu­ro­science at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Ore­gon.

A few years ago, Pos­ner and his col­leagues ran­dom­ly assigned par­tic­i­pants to either an Inte­gra­tive Body-Mind Train­ing (IBMT) or to a relax­ation train­ing. Both train­ings last­ed 5 days, 20min 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 atten­tion than the con­trol group. The IBMT train­ing also helped reduced cor­ti­sol lev­els caused by men­tal stress.

In a fol­low-up study the team found out that IBMT sub­jects in Chi­na had increased blood flow in the right ante­ri­or cin­gu­late cor­tex (a part of the frontal lobe) after receiv­ing train­ing for 20 min­utes a day over five days. This showed that med­i­ta­tion does indeed change the brain and thus its func­tion­ing.

In sum, med­i­ta­tion may be a poten­tial­ly pow­er­ful tool to train the brain. No com­put­er need­ed!

Relat­ed post: Mind­ful­ness and Med­i­ta­tion in Schools for Stress Man­age­ment

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6 Responses

  1. Ahmed says:

    Awe­some! That’s a great study.

  2. Riz Lee says:

    such a val­ued and infor­ma­tive arti­cle Dr. Pas­cale Mich­e­lon.. u done a great job.. regards

  3. Pascale says:

    Thanks! Glad you enjoyed the arti­cle.

  4. Sridhar says:

    Med­i­ta­tion is a very pow­er­ful tool to train the brain. You close your eyes and focus your atten­tion on an object in your mind for a peri­od of time. When­ev­er your atten­tion is divert­ed you bring it back. Med­i­ta­tion can be described as some kind of con­cen­tra­tion iso­met­rics. With con­stant prac­tice very high lev­els of abil­i­ty to con­cen­trate can be achieved.

  5. Phras­es such as “Stud­ies have shown/demonstrated/proven etc.” need to be adjust­ed or removed from releas­es relat­ed to ancient prac­tices (med­i­ta­tion, yoga, etc.). These prac­tices have nev­er required Sci­ence to prove any­thing, and have been self-evi­dent for a long time. The role of sci­ence mere­ly CONFIRMS the long-exist­ing, well-known facts to be what they’ve always been — FACTS.

    That said, I’m very grate­ful to Sci­ence in that it legit­imizes and makes digestible to the mass­es brain train­ing approach­es that have been seen as over­ly-eso­teric. Thank good­ness for our aca­d­e­m­ic war­riors on the research fron­tiers.

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