Posts Tagged ‘empathy’

Different Types Of Meditation Change Different Areas Of The Brain, Study Finds

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Alice G. WaltonSenior Contributor

There’s been a lot of discussion about what kinds of mental activities are actually capable of changing the brain. Some promises of bolstered IQ and enhanced brain function via specially-designed “brain games” have fizzled out. Meanwhile, meditation and mindfulness training have accumulated some impressive evidence, suggesting that the practices can change not only the structure and function of the brain, but also our behavior and moment-to-moment experience.

Now, a new study from the Max Planck Institute finds that three different types of meditation training are linked to changes in corresponding brain regions. The results, published in Science Advances, have a lot of relevance to schools, businesses and, of course, the general public.

Participants, who were between 20 and 55 years of age, engaged in three different types of training for three months each, totaling a nine-month study period. The first training was dubbed the “Presence” module, and was very similar to focused awareness meditation, an ancient practice that’s been studied a lot in recent years. In this study, participants learned to focus their attention, bringing it back when it wandered, and to attend to the breath and to their internal body sensations.

The second training was called “Affect,” which sought to enhance empathy and compassion for others—participants learned “loving-kindness” (metta) meditation, and did work with partners, the goal of which was to enhance one’s compassion and empathy.

The last was the “Perspective” module, akin to mindfulness or open-monitoring meditation. Here, the focus was on observing one’s own thoughts non-judgmentally and enhancing understanding of the perspectives of others.

The researchers wagered that training in each of these methods would lead to volume increases in corresponding brain areas. And this was largely what they found, as they scanned the participants’ brains at the end of each module and compared groups against one another. Training in Presence was linked to enhanced thickness in the anterior prefrontal cortex (PFC) and the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), which are known to be strongly involved in attention. Affect training was linked to increased thickness in regions known to be involved in socially driven emotions like empathy; and Perspective training associated with changes in areas involved in understanding the mental states of others, and, interestingly, inhibiting the perspective of oneself.

The results are exciting in that they offer an even more nuanced look at how meditation can change the brain, and in a relatively short amount of time. Lots of research has found that experienced meditators have significantly altered brain structure and function, but a growing number of studies has also found that relatively brief meditation training in novices (for instance, the well-known eight-week MBSR program) can also shift brain function, improve well-being, and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.

And, the authors say, the results may be applicable in a number of settings, for kids and adults alike. “Our findings suggest a potential biological basis for how mindfulness and different aspects of social intelligence could be nurtured.”

They add that this kind of sensitivity is especially important nowadays, as our community becomes more global, and understanding of others’ experiences more essential.

“With growing globalization, interconnectedness, and complexity of our societies, ‘soft skills’ have become increasingly important,” they say. “Social competences, such as empathy, compassion, and taking the perspective of another person, allow for a better understanding of others’ feelings and different beliefs and are crucial for successful cooperation.”

Meditation, in its different forms, may be a powerful way to boost the types of intelligence that matter.

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Buddhas Brain: the Inner World

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Be Mindful of Your Inner World
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Whether you’re with others or by yourself, being mindful of your inner world seems to help heal significant shortages of empathy you may have experienced when you were young (Siegel 2007).
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In essence, mindful attention to your own experience activates many of the same circuits that are stimulated in childhood by the attuned and caring attention of others.
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Thus, you’re giving to yourself here and now what you should have gotten when you were little;
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over time, this interest and concern will gradually sink in, helping you feel more secure while being close with others.
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Wear your Gratitude

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Energy Flow: Photograph by Sho Shibata, National Geographic Your Shot
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Wear gratitude
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like a cloak
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and it will feed
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every corner
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of your life.” .
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~Rumi~
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Breath is the bridge


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Breath is the bridge
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which connects life to consciousness,
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which unites your body to your thoughts.
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Whenever your mind becomes scattered,
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use your breath as the means
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to take hold of your mind again.
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-Thich Nhat Hanh-
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Make sometime each day to soothe your nerve endings, to empty the mind of thought, to be present, now, here.
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See what life looks like beneath the ever discerning ego.
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We have a vital need to bring silence into our mind for short periods of time.
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If we want happiness, peace of mind, he/she can not be a stranger.
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Sit today and introduce yourself.
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Empathy: making sense of how we came to be who we are, or how others came to be who they are

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“Bouncing Back”
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Empathy works through the prefrontal cortex and related structures on both sides of the brain to move beyond noticing and naming emotional experience, ours or that of another, to generating a cognitive understanding of that experience: to be aware of why somebody (including us) might be feeling the way they do.
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This process makes sense of the experience, present or past.
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Empathy generates meaning out of our experiences and our reactions to our experiences.
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We can get caught in very powerful stories about what is happening or has happened before, positive or negative — and frequently do.
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We saw how Margaret began to spin a story about Daniel’s failure to call her when he said he would, based on her childhood experience when her father failed to pick her up after school.
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We may carry a belief that we were the sole cause of our parents’ divorce or the sole cause of our fledgling business going under.
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Using mindful empathy to come to clarity and make sense of how we came to be who we are, or how others came to be who they are, is essential if we are to begin to be resilient.
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The subjective experience of empathy — of being seen and understood, or of understanding ourselves — is one of the primary catalysts for rewiring our brain’s encoded messages about ourselves, our connections, our competence, our vulnerability, and our courage.
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So let’s plug in some new neuroscience during a minute of life

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60,000 thoughts on average invade our consciousness daily. That averages out to be around one a second or 60 thoughts in a minute.
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Two concepts: What fires together wires together. Positive is Teflon, negative Velcro. Where we place our attention grows and if it is negative, it grows even bigger.
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In any minute, 60 thoughts bombard our consciousness.
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If negative thoughts are like Velcro, the odds of selecting a negative are much greater for an untrained mind.
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If we have an unworthy self image, are depressed, panicked, traumatized or worried, the majority of our 60 thoughts are negative.
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What chance do we have of being positive or selecting a soothing thought?
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Want to know what fills your mind?
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In the shower, first thing in the morning, bring awareness to how your mind views the upcoming day.
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So do you plan to avoid, to navigate gingerly or do you feel immense opportunity and vitality?
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Do you worry what might happen or dread the challenges before you?
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That too is impermanent.
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We heal and find happiness by changing our interior not the exterior.
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The exterior (Ego) is for approval, curb appeal, not true happiness, this house becomes a home when you enter inside, just like us.
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The little things

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The little things?
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The little moments?
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They aren’t little.
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― Jon Kabat-Zinn-
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We observe the surface of life, the shallow exterior of an unaware existence.
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Always, always, so much more to uncover, explore, enjoy.
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Search deeper, focus, become aware, dig, life awaits you.
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