Neurological Research

MEDITATION EXPERIENCE IS ASSOCIATED WITH INCREASED CORTICAL THICKNESS, Lazar et al. 2005

Article on the study of Insight meditation (which involves focused attention to internal experiences) and its effects on the brain’s cortical thickness. It was hypothesized that meditation practice might be associated with changes in the brain’s physical structure. MRI’s were used to assess cortical thickness in participants with extensive Insight meditation experience and a control group. Their findings showed that brain regions associated with attention, interoception and sensory processing were thicker in the meditation participants than in those from the control group. The date provides the first structural evidence for experience-dependent cortical plasticity associated with meditation practice.

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REGULATION OF THE NEURAL CIRCUITRY OF EMOTION BY COMPASSION MEDITATION: Effects of the Meditative Experience, Lutz et al. 2008

Practitioners in a number of traditions have developed meditative practices that are thought to counteract self-centered tendencies while generating compassion for others. One such tradition is loving-kindness-compassion meditation. This study examines the brain circuitry engaged by the generation of a state of “compassion and loving-kindness meditation state” in long-term Buddhist meditators and novice meditators. The findings show that brain regions underlying emotions and feelings are modulated in response to emotional sounds as a function of the state of compassion, the valence of the emotional sounds, and the degree of expertise (of meditation). The study therefore suggests that cultivating the intent to be compassionate and kind can enhance empathetic responses to social stimuli.

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Heal Your Heart, Heal Your Life: New theory of heart rhythm may explain why compassion heals, Greenberg, 2011

Excerpt from article: We are all familiar with saying such as “Slow down or you’ll have a heart attack,” or “He died of a broken heart.” Well, it turns out there is some truth in these metaphors. Scientists are now finding out that chronic stress can literally break your heart, while compassion and mindful breathing may help to heal it. Stephen Porges, a psychophysiologist and Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago has proposed a Polyvagal Theory that ties our unconscious perceptions of threat and safety to heart rate rhythm and the ability to regulate physiological arousal. This theory proposes that the vagus nerve communicates between the brain and the heart and affects human response to threat as well as social engagement and bonding. This theory can explain why negative emotions such as depression, frustration, or hostility may stress the heart, while positive emotions, slow, deep breathing, exercise and social support may calm it.

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