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Meditation claims

11 Sep

My attention was recently draw to a blog post labeled “108 Benefits of Daily Meditation.” It didn’t take me long before I found something that made me feel uneasy, example number three to be exact:

blood pressure post What surprised me was the chart. It does not appear in the cited paper. The chart lacks an explanatory note, but the normal interpretation would be that it is comparing the effects of different interventions on blood pressure change. The horizontal lines represent the 95% confidence interval around some effect size. If the line crosses zero then we say that the findings were not statistically significant. Thus, the blog post included a chart that contradicts the findings of the cited paper.


Meta-analysis of home based mindfulness meditation

5 Jul

A meta-analysis published in the journal Behaviour Research and Therapy reports that home based mindfulness meditation is as effective as cognitive behavioral therapy homework. Here is the abstract:

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) emphasize the importance of mindfulness practice at home as an integral part of the program. However, the extent to which participants complete their assigned practice is not yet clear, nor is it clear whether this practice is associated with positive outcomes.

For this systematic review and meta-analysis, searches were performed using Scopus and PubMed for studies published through to the end of 2015, reporting on formal home practice of mindfulness by MBSR or MBCT participants.

Across 43 studies (N = 1427), the pooled estimate for participants’ home practice was 64% of the assigned amount, equating to about 30 minutes per day, six days per week [95% CI 60–69%]. There was substantial heterogeneity associated with this estimate. Across 28 studies (N = 898), there was a small but significant association between participants’ self-reported home practice and intervention outcomes (r = 0·26, 95% CI 0·19,–0·34).

MBSR and MBCT participants report completing substantial formal mindfulness practice at home over the eight-week intervention, albeit less than assigned amounts. There is a small but significant association between the extent of formal practice and positive intervention outcomes for a wide range of participants.

And here is Larry Terkel with advice on how to meditate:

Can mice meditate?

17 Mar

Over at Deric’s Mindblog there is a post about this paper on mouse meditation! Here is the abstract:

Meditation training induces changes at both the behavioral and neural levels. A month of meditation training can reduce self-reported anxiety and other dimensions of negative affect. It also can change white matter as measured by diffusion tensor imaging and increase resting-state midline frontal theta activity. The current study tests the hypothesis that imposing rhythms in the mouse anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), by using optogenetics to induce oscillations in activity, can produce behavioral changes. Mice were randomly assigned to groups and were given twenty 30-min sessions of light pulses delivered at 1, 8, or 40 Hz over 4 wk or were assigned to a no-laser control condition. Before and after the month all mice were administered a battery of behavioral tests. In the light/dark box, mice receiving cortical stimulation had more light-side entries, spent more time in the light, and made more vertical rears than mice receiving rhythmic cortical suppression or no manipulation. These effects on light/dark box exploratory behaviors are associated with reduced anxiety and were most pronounced following stimulation at 1 and 8 Hz. No effects were seen related to basic motor behavior or exploration during tests of novel object and location recognition. These data support a relationship between lower-frequency oscillations in the mouse ACC and the expression of anxiety-related behaviors, potentially analogous to effects seen with human practitioners of some forms of meditation.

Here’s the Indian version of the Mickey Mouse show:

Brain function differs in obese children and mindfulness may help.

1 Feb

A paper in the journal Heliyon titled: “Imbalance in resting state functional connectivity is associated with eating behaviors and adiposity in children.”

The authors write:

“We hypothesized that unhealthy eating habits and adiposity among children are associated with functional connectivity between brain regions associated with impulsivity, response inhibition, and reward.”

You can find a good summary here.

One interesting note:

“Our results indicate the importance of identifying children at risk for obesity for earlier intervention. In addition to changing eating habits and physical activity, strategies that normalize neural functional connectivity imbalance are needed to maintain healthy weight. Mindfulness may be one such approach as it is associated with increased response inhibition and decreased impulsivity.”



Meditation and false memories

28 Sep

I am convinced that meditation has benefits, but could meditation also have negative consequences? A study just published in Psychological Science suggests that mindfulness meditation might increase susceptibility to false memories. Here is the abstract:

“The effect of mindfulness meditation on false-memory susceptibility was examined in three experiments. Because mindfulness meditation encourages judgment-free thoughts and feelings, we predicted that participants in the mindfulness condition would be especially likely to form false memories. In two experiments, participants were randomly assigned to either a mindfulness induction, in which they were instructed to focus attention on their breathing, or a mind-wandering induction, in which they were instructed to think about whatever came to mind. The overall number of words from the Deese-Roediger-McDermott paradigm that were correctly recalled did not differ between conditions. However, participants in the mindfulness condition were significantly more likely to report critical nonstudied items than participants in the control condition. In a third experiment, which tested recognition and used a reality-monitoring paradigm, participants had reduced reality-monitoring accuracy after completing the mindfulness induction. These results demonstrate a potential unintended consequence of mindfulness meditation in which memories become less reliable.”

Given that meditation does resemble suggestive states, such as hypnosis, I am not completely surprised by this finding. Perhaps, meditation should be supplemented with exercises in critical thinking.


10% Happier

5 Jun

I just finished reading 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story, by Dan Harris, a book suggested to me by my brother.

This is a great book, a case for meditation without the hype. There is evidence that meditation has real benefits and Harris does a good job of explaining how he came to the practice and why you should give it a try. The book also includes an interesting look into the office politics of television news


The Beatles in Rishikesh

12 Apr

I just finished reading Paul Saltzman‘s The Beatles in Rishikesh, a first person account of their 1967 visit to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi‘s ashram in India.



Saltzman, was working as a photo journalist, and the book is mostly a collection of his photos. The text is a brief account of how he came to Rishikesh and the time he spent their with the Beatles. The story is spread out to book length by using an enormous font size.

I was mostly interested in the story of the Beatles relationship with the Mararishi and its implication for the practice of meditation. It is clear that the Beatles had different feelings about the Mararishi at the time of their split, John being the most hostile and George much less so.

For me, the story teaches us that while meditation has great value, it is a tool that needs to have an ethical foundation in order to realize its true potential. That is why I practice metta mediation.

Stroop test to improve running?

28 Mar

University of Houston cross-country coach, Steve Magness, uses the Stroop test to train his athletes for mental focus:

“While Magness—who once ticked off a 4:01 mile himself—coaches the fundamentals as good as anyone, he goes beyond traditional physiological training strategies to squeeze every ounce of performance out of his athletes. His secret: focusing on the mind.”

To experience the Stroop Test try reading the words below out loud:


Kawashima uses Stroop performance as an outcome measure in his “Train Your Brain” program.

Magness also makes an interesting observation about meditation:

‘“I really liked the idea of mindfulness-based meditation because I thought it could quickly transition an athlete from the stress of a workout to the recovery phase,” Magness says. “But I soon learned meditation takes a lot of practice, and for beginners, meditation can be stressful in and of itself.”

Magness started experimenting with other ways to facilitate recovery, like calming and relaxing music, but discovered what was most helpful—based on measuring heart rate variability, a common indicator of recovery—was creating a laid back social environment immediately after hard workouts. “Going from a high-stress workout to a desensitized period of just joking around together decreases tension way faster than anything else we’ve tried,” says Magness. “So now, it has kind of become part of our program to force fun social interactions after intense workouts.”’

The cognitive effects of meditation

29 Jan

Peter Lewis describes his investigation of the cognitive effects of meditation. He does a good job of describing the difficulties of meditation research.

Zen cat

22 Jan

The cat practices dhyana.

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