Sunday, May 8, 2011
The Benefits of Meditation (MIT News)
Anne Trafton, MIT News Office
In a study published online April 21 in the journal Brain Research Bulletin, the researchers found that people trained to meditate over an eight-week period were better able to control a specific type of brain waves called alpha rhythms.
The researchers did brain scans of the subjects before the study began, three weeks into it, and at the end of eight weeks. At eight weeks, the subjects who had been trained in meditation showed larger changes in the size (amplitude) of their alpha waves when asked to pay attention to a certain body part — for example, “left foot.” These changes in wave size also occurred more rapidly in the meditators.
Subjects in this study did not suffer from chronic pain, but the findings suggest that in pain sufferers who meditate, the beneficial effects may come from an ability to essentially turn down the volume on pain signals. “They learn to be aware of where their attention is focused and not get stuck on the painful area,” says Kerr, first author of the paper.
The subjects trained in meditation also reported that they felt less stress than the non-meditators. “Their objective condition might not have changed, but they’re not as reactive to their situation,” Kerr says. “They’re more able to handle stress.”
The researchers are now planning follow-up studies in patients who suffer from chronic pain as well as cancer patients, who have also been shown to benefit from meditation.
Catherine E. Kerr, Stephanie R. Jones, Qian Wan, Dominique L. Pritchett, Rachel H. Wasserman, Anna Wexler, Joel J. Villanueva, Jessica R. Shaw, Sara W. Lazar, Ted J. Kaptchuk, Ronnie Littenberg, Matti S. Hämäläinen and Christopher I. Moore. "Effects of mindfulness meditation training on anticipatory alpha modulation in primary somatosensory cortex." Brain Research Bulletin. 2011 Apr 8