IN THE LONG TERM

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Altered Traits by Richard Davidson and Daniel Goleman: I highly recommend this book, it shares new discoveries.

 

“Sticking with meditation over the years offers more benefits as meditators reach the long-term range of lifetime hours, around 1,000 to 10,000 hours.

 

 

This might mean a daily meditation session, and perhaps annual retreats with further instruction lasting a week or so—all sustained over many years.

 

 

The earlier effects deepen, while others emerge. For example, in this range we see the emergence of neural and hormonal indicators of lessened stress reactivity.

 

 

In addition, functional connectivity in the brain in a circuit important for emotion regulation is strengthened, and cortisol, a key hormone secreted by the adrenal gland in response to stress, lessens.

 

 

Loving-kindness and compassion practice over the long term enhance neural resonance with another person’s suffering, along with concern and a greater likelihood of actually helping.

 

 

Attention, too, strengthens in many aspects with long-term practice: selective attention sharpens, the attentional blink diminishes, sustained attention becomes easier, and an alert readiness to respond increases.

 

 

And long-term practitioners show enhanced ability to down-regulate the mind-wandering and self-obsessed thoughts of the default mode, as well as weakening connectivity within those circuits—signifying less self-preoccupation.

 

 

These improvements often show up during meditative states, and generally tend to become traits.

 

 

Shifts in very basic biological processes, such as a slower breath rate, occur only after several thousand hours of practice.

 

 

Some of these impacts seem more strongly enhanced by intensive practice on retreat than by daily practice.

 

 

While evidence remains inconclusive, neuroplasticity from long-term practice seems to create both structural and functional brain changes, such as greater working connection between the amygdala and the regulatory circuits in the prefrontal areas.

 

 

And the neural circuits of the nucleus accumbens associated with “wanting” or attachment appear to shrink in size with longer-term practice.

 

While in general we see a gradient of shifts with more lifetime meditation hours, we suspect there are different rates of change in disparate neural systems.

 

For instance, the benefits of compassion come sooner than does stress mastery.

 

 

We expect studies in the future will fill in the details of a dose-response dynamic for various brain circuits. Intriguing signs suggest that long-term meditators to some degree undergo state-by-trait effects that enhance the potency of their practice.

 

Some elements of the meditative state, like gamma waves, may continue during sleep.

 

And a daylong retreat by seasoned meditators benefited their immune response at the genetic level—a finding that startled the medical establishment.”

 

 

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