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Intensive meditation practice reveals itself in the breath

Posted 07.19.2016 | by AMRA


Many forms of meditation include an aspect of increased attention to and focus on the breath. This raises the question of whether breath-focused meditations change the way people breathe over time. This question is of interest because rapid, irregular breathing is associated with stress and anxiety, while slow, deep breathing is often prescribed to overcome negative emotional states. It’s possible that slowed respiration rates may account for some of the emotional well-being associated with long-term meditation practice.

Weilgosz et al. [Scientific Reports] measured the respiration rates of long-term meditators (LTMs) and meditation-naive controls on three separate occasions over the course of a little over one year. The authors examined whether greater amounts of long-term practice were associated with greater decreases in respiration rate, and whether an intensive day of meditation practice acutely changed respiration rate.

The study recruited 31 long-term meditators (average age = 51; 55% female) with 3 or more years of mindfulness meditation experience, a daily meditation practice lasting at least 30 minutes, and a history of 3 or more intensive meditation retreats. The LTMs were recruited from meditation centers across the United States and had an average of 4,658 hours of intensive retreat experience (range = 258 to 29,710 hours). The LTMs were contrasted with a group of meditation-naive controls of roughly similar age and gender (average age = 48; 68% female) recruited from the local Madison, Wisconsin area.

Participants had their respiration rates measured in a laboratory on three separate occasions spaced approximately 4.5 months apart. Their breathing was assessed while they were at rest, but there were no instructions to meditate during these assessment sessions. Prior to two of the […]

July 19th, 2016|News|

Media multi-tasking impairs attention, breath meditation helps

Posted 05.26.2016 | by AMRA


Personal computing devices have introduced us to the phenomenon of “media multitasking,” in which we constantly switch attention between e-mailing, texting, web-browsing, and listening to music, all while ostensibly working. Research has shown that people who engage in large amounts of media multitasking perform significantly more poorly on measures of attentional ability than those who engage in it less.

Gorman et al. [Scientific Reports] explored whether a brief breath-counting meditation might temporarily ameliorate the attentional deficits associated with media multitasking.

The researchers conducted an online survey of media multitasking in 1,683 college undergraduates. They then selected a research sample of 22 heavy media multitaskers who scored at least a standard deviation above the mean, and a sample of 20 light media multitaskers who scored at least a standard deviation below the mean in frequency of media multitasking.

The students participated in two separate assessment sessions scheduled less than 48 hours apart. They completed the same assessment battery measuring attentional control, working memory, and cognitive flexibility in each of the sessions. The attentional control measures included computer-administered tasks requiring the ability to ignore distractions, detect sameness and difference in the orientation of geometrical shapes, resist impulsive responding, and attend to visual cues requiring different responses. The working memory task involved recording strings of numbers in the reverse order in which they were presented. The cognitive flexibility measure required quickly naming as many possible alternative uses of common everyday objects as one could.

The conditions under which the assessment batteries were administered differed in each of the sessions. In one of the sessions, the assessment battery was broken into tasks that were interspersed with three ten-minute breath-counting meditations. […]

May 26th, 2016|News|

Does mindfulness reduce stress by altering brain function?

Posted 07.21.2015 | by AMRA


Does mindfulness reduce stress by altering brain function? The amygdala—a small, almond-shaped structure located in the brain’s limbic system—is known to play a key role in the stress response. Previous research has shown that increased connectivity (a measure of the degree to which brain structures inter-coordinate) between the amygdala and other limbic and cortical structures is associated with greater stress levels.

In two separate studies, Taren et al. [Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience] investigated how the amygdala’s resting connectivity with nearby brain structures correlates with stress, and whether that connectivity changed in response to a mindfulness-based intervention (MBI). In doing so, the researchers aimed to identify one of the main brain pathways underlying the effect of mindfulness practice on stress levels. In an initial study, 130 healthy men and women self-reported perceived stress levels and participated in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to assess the resting functional connectivity between the amygdala and nearby brain structures.

In a second randomized, single-blind study using an active control group, 35 unemployed adults with moderate-to-high levels of perceived stress were assigned to either a three-day intensive residential mindfulness retreat modeled after MBSR which included the body scan, sitting and walking meditation, and mindful eating and yoga, or a three day intensive relaxation retreat which included walking, stretching, and didactics emphasizing relaxation rather than mindfulness.

Amygdala connectivity was assessed by fMRI before and after each intervention. Four months later, hair samples were taken and assayed for stress hormone (cortisone and cortisol) levels over the post-intervention period. This study demonstrated that participants with higher levels of perceived stress had significantly greater degrees of connectivity between the right side of the […]

July 21st, 2015|News|

Building mindful awareness to help people in need

Posted 03.24.2015 | by AMRA


Can mindfulness training increase real-life compassionate behavior, and can it do so when the training is delivered via a smartphone? If mindfulness training improves compassion, does it do so by enhancing one’s ability to accurately judge other people’s emotional states, or by some other means? To address these questions, Lim et al. [PLOS One] randomly assigned 69 college undergraduates to either a mindfulness meditation (MM) or cognitive skills (CS) training program. Both programs were delivered over self-guided web-based smartphone applications.

A total of 56 participants completed the three week long interventions. The MM participants engaged in 14 mindfulness meditation sessions lasting an average of 12 minutes each. The sessions did not include loving-kindness or compassion content. The CS participants engaged in 14 game-playing sessions designed to enhance memory, attention, speed, and problem solving.

After completing training, participants were asked to return to a lab waiting area that contained three chairs, two of which were already occupied by alleged “participants,” who were actually researcher confederates (i.e. actors who played participants), and the third of which was to be occupied by the participant. As they sat waiting, another confederate entered with crutches and a walking boot, acting as if in pain. The seated confederates showed indifference to the newcomer.

Researchers then observed whether or not the participants yielded their seats to the newcomer. Following this assessment of compassionate behavior, participants were assessed on their ability to identify emotions from photographs and audio clips, a test of whether the mindfulness training had also improved their ability to read other people’s emotions.

MM participants were more than twice as likely to yield their chairs than were CS participants (37% […]

March 24th, 2015|News|