Tuesday, 12 July 2011 03:50

Meditation may decrease mental noise

I recently published a study that I did at Shambhala Mountain Center. We went out there to test a group of meditators who were engaging in an intensive month-long retreat where they meditated 8--10 hours a day. We were interested in whether their visual short-time memory would be affected by their intensive meditation practice. We hypothesized that people would have clearer mental representations of the stimuli after the intensive practice, than before, but that they would not change in the speed with which they would forget stimuli. 

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Body's internal pharmacy effective against heart disease

Regular meditation practice does not only work on the mental and emotional level, it can also be very effective in reducing your chance of dying of a heart attack or a stroke, science found.1

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I spent last week at the Mind & Life Summer Research Institute, a very special place where scientists and contemplatives get together for 6 days to practise, discuss and think about how we can study contemplative practice scientifically. For people like me, who are both scientists and practitioners, those are an amazing opportunity. It does not happen often that you get a chance to engage in science with people and practise meditation and yoga with them as well. 

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Ongoing research continues to affirm what seasoned meditators have been claiming for centuries, if not millennia. How we experience our world, including our perceptions of our internal world, can be dramatically changed, mediated, through meditation.

In the most recent work done at the Departments of Neurobiology, Anatomy and Biomedical Engineering at Wake Forest University School of Medicine and the Psychology Department at Marquette University, and published in the Journal of Neuroscience, 2011 Apr 6;31(14):5540-8, researchers found the data to indicated that, “…meditation engages multiple brain mechanisms that alter the construction of the subjectively available pain experience from afferent information.”

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Wednesday, 15 June 2011 17:29

Meditation? Get Real.

Recently I was watching a movie called, “The Peaceful Warrior” about a young athlete at a California University who happens upon a spiritual mystic and teacher in the guise of an old mechanic working at the neighborhood gas station. One of his mysterious guru’s most pointed messages is that we completely miss out on life because we’re always distracted by thoughts of past and future. At one point he takes his student to a park and asks him to take a look around. The student replies, “There’s nothing going on here,” At which point the teacher takes the student by the shoulder and miraculously transforms his perception.


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Saturday, 04 June 2011 13:05

Meditation may increase longevity

A recent study showed that participants in a three-month shamatha meditation retreat at Shambhala Mountain Center in Colorado had an increase in their telomerase length. Telomerase decrease has been associated with aging (Cawthorn et al (2003), so an increase in telomerase length would correspond to an increase in longevity. Although of course we'll have to wait quite a few years to check whether this really is the case, and although the statistical significance for these effects is weak, I think these results are quite interesting. 

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Sunday, 22 May 2011 20:44

The mental laboratory

My teacher said during the recent retreat in Amsterdam that we should study ourselves: our habits, where we get distracted, where things go wrong, what triggers our emotions and what pushes our buttons. This resonated quite deeply with me, given that after all, I am a scientist. But I found that it is not only helpful to study your more gross patterns of mind by asking these questions about how you function in situations you encounter in life.

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Wednesday, 11 May 2011 19:20

Meditation and health care

Health care providers are increasingly suggesting that their patients look to meditation and other integrative techniques to improve their health, according to a report released Monday by Harvard Medical School and published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Many medical centers and institutions, in fact, are providing such services themselves.

The ABC News Medical Unit heard from 31 such institutions. They are listed in this article, along with some of their integrative offerings.

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Tuesday, 10 May 2011 11:46

Meditation and rational decisions (2)

In the recent study on decision making in meditators that I wrote about before, the decision that meditators made was accompanied by a very different pattern of brain activity from controls. Upon receiving an unfair offer, meditators activated more of the right posterior insole and posterior parietal cortex, about which I have written before. The right insular activation would even predict whether the person was going to make an accept decision, and its activity correlated with the amount of self-reported mindfulness (scientists measure mindfulness with a questionnaire in this case, which is not perfect, but the best measure we have).

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Sunday, 08 May 2011 16:44

Meditation and rational decisions

A recent study by the renowned Montague lab in Frontiers in Neuroscience looked at how meditators behave in an Ultimatum Game, one of the many economic decision paradigms that are around. Erric already mentioned this research before, but I wanted to give a little more context. So what did the study look like? In the Ultimatum game, a proposer offers to split a sum of money with a responder. The responder can choose to accept or reject the offer. If he accepts, then both people receive the amount of money designated to them by the proposed split. If the responder declines, both people receive nothing. If you were completely rational, you would always accept the offer, no matter how small, because something is better than nothing. However, it turns out that people often do not accept all offers. They only accept offers when they are somewhat fair (i.e., when they receive at least 20% of the money).

Published in Meditation Blog