Tag Archives: Mettā

Increased gray matter volume with metta mediation

4 Feb

I practice a type of metta (loving-kindness) mediation. Here is a paper, published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, titled “Increased gray matter volume in the right angular and posterior parahippocampal gyri in loving-kindness meditators.” The abstract reads:

“Previous voxel-based morphometry (VBM) studies have revealed that meditation is associated with structural brain changes in regions underlying cognitive processes that are required for attention or mindfulness during meditation. This VBM study examined brain changes related to the practice of an emotion-oriented meditation: loving-kindness meditation (LKM). A 3 T magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner captured images of the brain structures of 25 men, 10 of whom had practiced LKM in the Theravada tradition for at least 5 years. Compared with novices, more gray matter volume was detected in the right angular and posterior parahippocampal gyri in LKM experts. The right angular gyrus has not been previously reported to have structural differences associated with meditation, and its specific role in mind and cognitive empathy theory suggests the uniqueness of this finding for LKM practice. These regions are important for affective regulation associated with empathic response, anxiety and mood. At the same time, gray matter volume in the left temporal lobe in the LKM experts appeared to be greater, an observation that has also been reported in previous MRI meditation studies on meditation styles other than LKM. Overall, the findings of our study suggest that experience in LKM may influence brain structures associated with affective regulation.”

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Meditation: Day 365

31 Dec

A year ago I resolved to meditate every day. Today, I can report that I have succeeded in meditating every single day of 2013.

Even though I practice a very demanding form of power yoga, for me meditation remains the most difficult practice. There is nothing harder than wrestling with, what the Buddhists call, your monkey mind.

I started out sitting for only ten minutes a day, after about a month I moved up to fifteen minutes, where I remain. When I began I used recorded  guided meditation programs. I found these helpful at first, they made made it easier to sit for the allotted time. However, over time I found them distracting and I abandoned them.

Most teachers recommend that you meditate at the same time every day but, given my schedule, this was impossible. On many days it was a struggle to find the time and was only possible by being flexible about time of day.

The Insight Time app was invaluable, especially because it makes you feel part of community of meditators, which helped to maintain my motivation.

I have tried various forms of meditation, and have settled on a version of Metta (loving kindness) meditation. I also use the word Metta as a traditional two syllable mantra. One of the reasons I like Metta is that it is meditation for an ethical purpose. Even though meditation has been shown to increase compassionate behavior, reading Mark Oppenheimer’s The Zen Predator of the Upper East Side convinced me that meditation can become unmoored from ethical practice. Metta meditation recognizes the centrality of Buddhist ethics to practice.

Here is Larry Terkel explaining mediation:

Meditation improves vagal tone

30 Jul

The vagus nerve emerges directly from the brain is involved in the regulation of a number of organs including the heart and the adrenal glands. Vagal tone refers to the effect that the vagus nerve has on hear rate and is used as a measure of the body’s ability to mediate stress.

A study published this month (pdf) in the prestigious journal Psychological Science, reports that Metta Meditation, sometimes called Loving Kindness Meditation, improves both positive emotion and vagal tone. This was a well designed and controlled experiment and it adds to evidence of the health and psychological benefits of meditation.

The authors conclude:

“Most advice dispensed about how people might improve their physical health calls for increased physical activity, improved nutritional intake, and reductions in tobacco and alcohol use. Alongside this good advice, we now have evidence to recommend efforts to self-generate positive emotions as well. Recurrent momentary experiences of positive emotions appear to serve as nutrients for the human body, increasing feelings of social belonging and giving a needed boost to parasympathetic health, which in turn opens people up to more and more rewarding positive emotional and social experiences. Over time, this self-sustaining upward spiral of growth appears to improve physical health.”

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