Meditation – The benefits & underlying science

Meditation – the benefits and the underlying neuroscience.

Do you walk the talk?

I often find myself recommending various forms of meditation to my clients but if I have to be completely honest, I don’t practice meditation consistently myself. There’s always so much to do – client’s reports, research, marketing, social media, etc. that most days I don’t factor in enough time for self-care. I imagine most NTs are like me, not always practicing what we preach! Self-care though should be one of our top-most priorities if we want to avoid burnout and be at our best to serve our clients.

Daily meditation practice is one way of ensuring you stay balanced and maintain your stress resilience. Let’s have a closer look at some of its benefits the neuroscience behind it. We’ll focus mostly on mindfulness meditation, in which you pay attention to your breath and how you’re feeling rather than repeat a mantra, like in other forms of meditation. Mindfulness meditation can be described as nonjudgemental attention to present-moment experiences (1). It can be practiced any time, anywhere.

Improved focus & attention

Meditation has been found to improve attention control (1, 2). Improved attention means you can maintain better focus, which is a major benefit in today’s world, so full of distractions. Better focus translates into better productivity and being able to get things done in time is key to your professional success. According to some studies, it seems you could start experiencing the benefits of meditation in as little as 4 days (3) and by only investing 10 minutes of your time a day (2). That’s remarkably little! We should all give it a go! These beneficial effects of mindfulness meditation are seen in MRI studies as changes in the parts of the brain involved in attention control such as enhanced white matter integrity in the anterior cingulate cortex (4, 5).

Better emotion control

Running your own business is a big responsibility and things can get emotional sometimes. Mindfulness meditation can improve your ability to control your emotions (1) allowing you to stay calm when faced with challenges or negative experiences (6,7). This effect may be due to the reduced responsiveness of the amygdala to negative stimuli during (8,9) and following meditation (10). This effect is more noticeable in beginners than in experienced meditators (11). Beginners need to make an effort to overcome their habitual ways of reacting to emotions, while expert meditators are able to simply accept their experiences and in each case, different brain pathways are being activated (12).

Increased self-esteem

Meditation can also alter your self-perception in a positive manner, increasing your self-esteem and self-acceptance. This is precious, especially if, like me, you’re a bit of a perfectionist. Buddhists believe that the identification with a static concept of self is the reason for inner distress and use meditation to detach from it (13,14).  They practice ‘meta-awareness’ to identify with the phenomenon of ‘experiencing’ instead. Meta-awareness means focusing on awareness itself. All this may seem a little hard to grasp, but the way I understand it, is that by practicing meditation you become aware of the fact you are more than the body you reside in. You are something bigger. Bigger than you have been programmed to believe. Functional MRI studies investigating the ‘default mode network’  activity found it to be decreased in meditators compared to controls (15). Meditation seems to be a good tool to try if you want to stop running on your default program and liberate yourself from the limiting beliefs that stop you from achieving your full potential.

With all that said, I’m off, to have my first proper meditation session!

We run a practitioner self-care support group called ‘ Tranquil Tuesdays’ every other Tuesday morning. If you would like to connect with like-minded practitioners looking to reflect on their practice and support each other, book your seat at: https://nutritioncollective.co.uk/event/tranquil-tuesdays/

 

References:

 

  1. Tang, Y-Y. et al. (2015). The neuroscience of mindfulness meditation. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 16(4), 213-225.
  2. Moore, A. et al. (2012). Regular, brief mindfulness meditation practice improves electrophysiological markers of attentional control. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 10;6:18.
  3. Zeidan, F. et al. (2010). Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: evidence of brief mental training. Consciousness and Cognition, 19(2):597-605.
  4. Tang, Y. Y. et al. (2010). Short-term meditation induces white matter changes in the anterior cingulate. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 107, 15649-15652.
  5. Tang, Y. Y. et al. (2012). Mechanisms of white matter changes induced by meditation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 109, 10570-10574.
  6. Goleman, D.  & Schwartz,G. E. (1976). Meditation as an intervention in stress reactivity. The Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 44, 456-466.
  7. Chambers, , etal. (2008). The impact of intensive mindfulness training on attentional control, cognitive style, and affect. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 32, 303-322.
  8. Lutz, et al. (2014). Mindfulness and emotion regulation — an fMRI study. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 9, 776-785.
  9. Taylor, V.  etal. (2011). Impact of mindfulness on the neural responses to emotional pictures in experienced and beginner meditators. NeuroImage,  57, 1524-1533.
  10. Desbordes, et al. (2012). Effects of mindful-attention and compassion meditation training on amygdala response to emotional stimuli in an ordinary, non-meditative state. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 6, 292.
  11. Taylor, V.  etal. (2011). Impact of mindfulness on the neural responses to emotional pictures in experienced and beginner meditators. NeuroImage, 57, 1524-1533.
  12. Chiesa,, et al. (2013). Mindfulness: top-down or bottom-up emotion regulation strategy? Clinical Psychology Review, 33, 82–96.
  13. Hölzel, B.  etal. (2011). How does mindfulness meditation work? Proposing mechanisms of action from a conceptual and neural perspective. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6, 537-559.
  14. Olendzki, A. (2010). Unlimiting Mind: The Radically Experiential Psychology of Buddhism. Wisdom Publications.

Brewer, J. A. et al. (2011). Meditation experience is associated with differences in default mode network activity and connectivity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 108

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