Mindfulness meditation may improve memory for teens

BY KATHRYN DOYLE

“These results are consistent with a growing body of research in adults that has found mindfulness meditation to be a helpful tool for enhancing working memory capacity,” said Kristen E. Jastrowski Mano of the psychology department at the University of Cincinnati, who coauthored the new study.

The researchers randomly divided 198 public middle school students into three groups: mindfulness meditation, hatha yoga or a waitlist. Most students were female, ages 12 to 15, and from low-income households that qualified for reduced-cost lunch.

Before the study began and after it ended, the students completed computer-based memory assessments and reported their stress and anxiety levels via questionnaires.

The meditation and yoga groups met for 45 minutes twice a week, for four weeks. In addition, students logged their home practice in journals that were collected each week.

Two trained mindfulness instructors led the meditation group in breathing techniques, formal meditation and discussion using written scripts with instructions on sitting posture, breathing and wandering thoughts.

Students were encouraged to take CDs with meditation audio recordings and use them for 15 to 30 minutes daily at home.

The yoga sessions were structured similarly, with trained instructors focusing on breathing, yoga poses and discussion. The kids in this group were also encouraged to practice at home daily using a DVD with yoga lessons.

Memory scores increased in the mindfulness meditation group by the end of the study, while they did not change in the yoga or waitlist groups, the authors reported in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Perceived stress and anxiety decreased in all three groups over time.

“Working memory is often conceptualized as being a ‘mental workbench’ that allows a person to keep information in mind long enough for reasoning and comprehension to occur,” Jastrowski Mano told Reuters Health by email. “It is involved in helping the brain shift information from short-term memory to long-term memory.”

Working memory is involved in many aspects of learning, like reasoning ability, mathematical problem solving, and reading comprehension, she said.

“Theoretical and experimental research suggests that mindfulness meditation is associated with changes in neural pathways and may be particularly effective in promoting executive functioning,” Jastrowski Mano said. “The practice of meditation – which requires sustained attention while simultaneously redirecting attention back to the current experience – is closely related to the function of working memory.”

Some of the benefit of the meditation sessions may come from the relationships the teens build with the instructors, said Gina Biegel, a private practice psychotherapist in San Francisco who was not part of the new study.

“These youth are not getting a lot of attention from chaotic home environments,” Biegel told Reuters Health by email. “People in the mindfulness community are compassionate and respectful and create a relationship they don’t get elsewhere.”

Present moment awareness and focus exercises can be helpful too, as teens are often multitasking with homework, mobile devices, music and friends, she said.

Teens may want to consider mindfulness meditation for more than just the potential benefit of improving working memory capacity, Jastrowski Mano said, as there is growing evidence that youth experience many different physical and psychological benefits.

“But more research is definitely needed to figure out which adolescents benefit the most from mindfulness meditation, and in what ways,” she said, and she and her coauthors are cautious about making broad recommendations to schools.

“That said, many schools are very enthusiastic about and open to integrating mindfulness practices into their schools, so it is certainly something worth considering,” she said.

SOURCE: bit.ly/1NBO7WF The Journal of Adolescent Health, online November 11, 2015.
Read more at Reutershttp://www.reuters.com/article/2015/11/17/us-health-teens-mindfulness-idUSKCN0T62KZ20151117#BzOAcypPtJKkMgis.99

Mindfulness Meditation Trumps Placebo in Pain Reduction

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Nov. 13, 2015 – Scientists at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center have found new evidence that mindfulness meditation reduces pain more effectively than placebo.

This is significant because placebo-controlled trials are the recognized standard for demonstrating the efficacy of clinical and pharmacological treatments.

The research, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, showed that study participants who practiced mindfulness meditation reported greater pain relief than placebo. Significantly, brain scans showed that mindfulness meditation produced very different patterns of activity than those produced by placebo to reduce pain.
“We were completely surprised by the findings,” said Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D., assistant professor of neurobiology and anatomy at Wake Forest Baptist and lead investigator of the study. “While we thought that there would be some overlap in brain regions between meditation and placebo, the findings from this study provide novel and objective evidence that mindfulness meditation reduces pain in a unique fashion.”

The study used a two-pronged approach – pain ratings and brain imaging – to determine whether mindfulness meditation is merely a placebo effect. Seventy-five healthy, pain-free participants were randomly assigned to one of four groups: mindfulness meditation, placebo meditation (“sham” meditation), placebo analgesic cream (petroleum jelly) or control.
Pain was induced by using a thermal probe to heat a small area of the participants’ skin to 49 degrees Centigrade (120.2 degrees Fahrenheit), a level of heat most people find very painful. Study participants then rated pain intensity (physical sensation) and pain unpleasantness (emotional response). The participants’ brains were scanned with arterial spin labeling magnetic resonance imaging (ASL MRI) before and after their respective four-day group interventions.

The mindfulness meditation group reported that pain intensity was reduced by 27 percent and by 44 percent for the emotional aspect of pain. In contrast, the placebo cream reduced the sensation of pain by 11 percent and emotional aspect of pain by 13 percent.
“The MRI scans showed for the first time that mindfulness meditation produced patterns of brain activity that are different than those produced by the placebo cream,” Zeidan said.

Mindfulness meditation reduced pain by activating brain regions (orbitofrontal and anterior cingulate cortex) associated with the self-control of pain while the placebo cream lowered pain by reducing brain activity in pain-processing areas (secondary somatosensory cortex).
Another brain region, the thalamus, was deactivated during mindfulness meditation, but was activated during all other conditions. This brain region serves as a gateway that determines if sensory information is allowed to reach higher brain centers.  By deactivating this area, mindfulness meditation may have caused signals about pain to simply fade away, Zeidan said.

Mindfulness meditation also was significantly better at reducing pain intensity and pain unpleasantness than the placebo meditation.  The placebo-meditation group had relatively small decreases in pain intensity (9 percent) and pain unpleasantness (24 percent). The study findings suggest that placebo meditation may have reduced pain through a relaxation effect that was associated with slower breathing.
“This study is the first to show that mindfulness meditation is mechanistically distinct and produces pain relief above and beyond the analgesic effects seen with either placebo cream or sham meditation,” Zeidan said.

“Based on our findings, we believe that as little as four 20-minute daily sessions of mindfulness meditation could enhance pain treatment in a clinical setting. However, given that the present study examined healthy, pain-free volunteers, we cannot generalize our findings to chronic pain patients at this time.”
This work was supported by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, R21-AT007247, F32-AT006949 and K99-AT008238; the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, NS239426; the Mind and Life Institute Francisco J. Varela Award; and the Wake Forest Center for Integrative Medicine.

Co-authors are: Nichole M. Emerson, B.S., Suzan R. Farris, B.S., John G. McHaffie, Ph.D., and Youngkyoo Jung, Ph.D., of Wake Forest Baptist; Jenna N. Ray, Ph.D., of the University of North Carolina, Charlotte; and Robert C. Coghill, Ph.D., of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

Episode 9 – The Wisdom of Gratitude with Florence Caplow

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The Four Keys to Living Mindfully

The Four Keys to Living Mindfully

If we want to live a meaningful life with attention and intention, developing the freedom to live consciously, we need to start training our busy, distracted mind and be able to make healthy choices that are beneficial to the life we want to live. The four key areas of mindfulness to make this transformation possible; attention, values, wisdom and an open heart.

Attention – The first step is to begin developing our attention by establishing a daily meditation practice. In this way we will start training the mind to attend to what we choose to attend to, instead of having it constantly drag us around. In order to live a meaningful life, we need to be present in our life. This means we have to be able to consciously bring our awareness into the moments of our life, instead of constantly being distracted with thoughts, worries, desires, or lost in some past event or future possibility. One of the best methods to cultivate attention and train the mind is the practice of concentration or shamatha meditation.

Shamatha is often translated as calm abiding, allowing the mind to calmly abide on its object of focus. Our mind is usually in one of two states, excitation or laxity. It is either overly active or dull and tired. Our mind gets distracted and is constantly jumping from one thought to another, or is tired and cannot focus. The practice allows one to bring their mind into balance, not too excited or lax, making it serviceable and productive. The building blocks of this meditation practice are relaxation, stability and vividness. The foundation is relaxation, without it there is no sustained progress. First we relax our body and our mind and then direct our attention to our object of meditation. By continually bringing our attention to our object of meditation, over time we develop stability. Eventually, having cultivated relaxation and stability we increase the vividness and clarity of our meditation practice. All of this takes time and a continuous practice. However you will make progress with every meditation session and see great benefit from simply learning to relax. While there are many forms of shamatha practice, we primarily focus on mindfulness of breath.

Values – Values are a critical component of mindfulness and yet, unfortunately, it is left out of so many programs. The source of finding inner peace, genuine happiness and wellbeing is living a life that is in alignment with one’s values and is of benefit to oneself, others and to the greater good. This is an easily verifiable, universal truth that we have learned our whole life. Lasting happiness does not come from outside sources such as other people, places things and events. It comes from how we live our life and what we bring to the world. When our actions are not in harmony with our values, it is easy to recognize that we don’t feel good about ourselves or others. However, when we live a life of integrity, ethically, in alignment with our values, it is much easier to find inner peace and a lasting sense of well-being. When we are mindful, we are aware of when our thoughts and actions are out of alignment with our values, creating disharmony with ourselves and others. The point of mindfulness is to cultivate healthy habits that are beneficial to yourself and others and in alignment with your values.

Often people think of their mindfulness practice as their time in meditation. While this is in fact practice, the majority of your true practice is how you live your life. All too often there is a disconnect between meditating on loving-kindness in the morning and yelling in anger at someone later in the day. Unless you are one of those rare individuals that has the precious opportunity to devote the majority of your life to meditative practice, most of your day will be spent engaged with others as you participate in daily activities of work, play and family life. The bulk of our mindfulness practice is learning to live in harmony with others and the demands and challenges of our daily life. It is easy to be peaceful and calm on the meditation cushion, but much more challenging to be kind to a neighbor that we don’t like. Our meditation practice provides us with the fuel to take our practice into our daily life. It’s hard to make good choices if were not present in the moment. In order to make a choice we have to be there. Conversely we will find that as we make healthier choices in our life, living ethically and in alignment with our values, we will find more inner peace and this improves our ability to meditate. These practices are interrelated and help each other. The more we progress in our meditation, the better able we are to be present in our life and make healthy choices. As we are more mindful in our daily activities and able to make healthy choices that are beneficial to oneself and others, we develop a sense of well-being and calmness which improves our meditation sessions.

Wisdom – As we begin to increase our attention through meditation, we are now more able to consciously bring awareness into our daily activities. We can start observing ourselves, others and the world more accurately, recognizing unhealthy habits and tendencies, biases, projections and emotional triggers in our lives. With this level of awareness, we recognize the impermanent nature of emotions, thoughts, events, and identify the true sources of our suffering as well as the true sources of our genuine happiness and wellbeing.

We often hear that mindfulness is supposed to be nonjudgmental. The context of that is true in mindfulness meditation where one does not judge any thoughts or emotions that arise during meditation. It also applies to making absolute judgments, prejudging people and events in our lives and judgments based on our biases, projections and labeling of others. However, the whole point of mindfulness is to cultivate wisdom and clear discernment, essentially to have good judgment. “Mindfulness, when it arises, follows the courses of beneficial and unbeneficial tendencies: these tendencies are beneficial, these unbeneficial; these tendencies are helpful.” In fact it’s impossible to live without judgment. We use our judgment constantly to make the choices in our lives. To eat healthy or not, to exercise or not, to return a phone call or not, what to wear each day, and the list goes on.

Every time we make a choice we make a judgment. The key is to be able to make healthy choices that are beneficial to yourself and others with discerning wisdom that is based in reality. Bringing discerning awareness into our daily lives we are able to identify three primary misperceptions – ways our mind causes confusion and create suffering:

Impermanence – We try to make things permanent that are not permanent. We forget that everything is constantly changing and try to preserve things that cannot be preserved. Our relationships, our jobs, our homes, our towns, our bodies, our feelings, our attitudes, our personality, etc. are all impermanent and constantly changing. We create a lot of suffering in our lives when we forget this and try to unrealistically keep things as they are. We make a plan for a day and when things don’t go our way, we get frustrated rather than simply adjust and make a new plan.

Unsatisfactoriness/Happiness – We keep trying to find lasting happiness in things that can only provide a temporary pleasure. There is no person, job, relationship, house, car, vacation, family or activity that can provide any lasting happiness. The most that any person, thing or events can provide us is a temporary pleasure. In fact, when we look at the source of our worry and suffering, it is usually the very things that we thought would bring us happiness. There is absolutely no problem with enjoying our friends, relationships, activities and vacations. We just need to be realistic about what they can and cannot offer us. This is also true of suffering, we can exaggerate even very small troubles in our life, allowing them to dominate our whole day.

Misperception/understanding of self – We tend to have a strong sense of “I” that is independent of others and has a unique set of characteristics, qualities and personality that is the same from day to day. However, when we investigate this we find that we are actually very interdependent. The food we eat, the clothes we wear, the books we read, the ability to read, to drive, to recreate, to communicate, etc. is all dependent upon others, as well as our environment, culture, society and government. The “I” that we grasp onto is also actually very fluid, changing day-to-day. We are not the same person that we were five years ago, ten years ago, or even yesterday. Another way we misperceive our self is by strongly identifying with our feelings. Imagining that “I am sad,” “I am angry,” “I am happy,” etc. You are not your feelings, you experience your feelings. Feelings will come and go and you will still be here. The misperception of our self and our relationship with others, create much suffering, such as jealousy, pride, low self-esteem, fear, resentment, and discontent and prevent us from engaging fully with the world and opening ourselves up to all our potentials. Not only can we change, we do change all the time.

The more we are able to recognize and assimilate these three truths into our own lives accurately, the less we will suffer.

An Open Heart – It is a universal truth that we cannot feel both love and anger at the same time for the same thing. Love can switch to hate in a second and hate to love, but they cannot be simultaneous. It is like turning a light on in a dark room. It is also a universal truth that what we water grows. That is to say the mental states and tendencies that we nurture grow. As the neuroscientists say, “neurons that fire together, wire together.” Or as an old wise Cherokee parable states:

One evening an old Cherokee Indian told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, ‘My son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.’ The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: ‘Which wolf wins?’ The old Cherokee simply replied, ‘The one you feed.’

When we cultivate equanimity, loving-kindness, compassion and empathetic joy in our hearts and minds, we grow the antidotes to attachment and aversion, hatred, ill will and jealousy.

© 2015 Mindful Life Program Inc