Integrating meditation with science

April 2, 2014
Science Daily/Brown University
Mindfulness meditation produces personal experiences that are not readily interpretable by scientists who want to study its psychiatric benefits in the brain. Researchers have now been able to integrate mindfulness experience with hard neuroscience data to advance more rigorous study.

Mindfulness is always personal and often spiritual, but the meditation experience does not have to be subjective. Advances in methodology are allowing researchers to integrate mindfulness experiences with brain imaging and neural signal data to form testable hypotheses about the science -- and the reported mental health benefits -- of the practice.

"In the neuroscience of mindfulness and meditation, one of the problems that we've had is not understanding the practices from the inside out," said co-presenter Catherine Kerr, assistant professor (research) of family medicine and director of translational neuroscience in Brown's Contemplative Studies Initiative. "What we've really needed are better mechanisms for generating testable hypotheses -- clinically relevant and experience-relevant hypotheses."

Carefully coded data on experience -- "grounded theory methodology" -- supports the formulation and testing of hypotheses and a scientific investigation of mindfulness. Now researchers are gaining the tools to trace experiences described by meditators to specific activity in the brain.

"We're going to [discuss] how this is applicable as a general tool for the development of targeted mental health treatments," Santoyo said. "We can explore how certain experiences line up with certain patterns of brain activity. We know certain patterns of brain activity are associated with certain psychiatric disorders."

They found that when meditators of several different traditions reported feelings of "effortless doing" and "undistracted awareness" during their meditation, their PCC showed little activity, but when they reported that they felt distracted and had to work at mindfulness, their PCC was significantly more active. Given the chance to observe real-time feedback on their PCC activity, some meditators were even able to control the levels of activity there.
Science Daily/SOURCE :http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140402105742.htm

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