“Meditation brings wisdom; lack of meditation leaves ignorance. Know well what leads you forward and what holds you back, and choose the path that leads to wisdom.” – Buddha

The positive benefits of mindfulness meditation can be incredibly far reaching, affecting many areas of your life.  Many people who regularly engage in a mindfulness practice report that the choice to become more mindful in their daily life has resulted in a dramatic lifestyle change.  Some people report being more present in the moment, more aware of their surroundings, and more aware of their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Harvard Medical School, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have found that “modulation of the alpha rhythm in response to attention-directing cues was faster and significantly more enhanced among study participants who completed an eight-week mindfulness meditation program than in a control group.”  The alpha rhythm is a crucial brain wave that is thought to essentially “turn down the volume” on distracting information.  In a fast-paced society plentiful with distractions, the ability to effectively regulate one’s attention in this way is quite useful.

Dr. Catherine Kerr, coauthor of the study, explains that “mindfulness meditation has been reported to enhance numerous mental abilities, including rapid memory recall.  Our discovery that mindfulness meditators more quickly adjusted the brain wave that screens out distraction could explain their superior ability to rapidly remember and incorporate new facts.”

The alpha rhythm is especially active in the brain cells (in the cortex) that process touch, sight, and sound.  This frequency basically acts as a regulatory mechanism for the flow of information through the mind.  The activity of the alpha rhythm in the cortex acts to “suppress irrelevant or distracting sensations and regulate the flow of sensory information between brain regions.”

Dr. Stephanie Jones, coauthor of the study, illuminates how mindfulness meditation may affect basic brain function:  “Given what we know about how alpha waves arise from electrical currents in sensory cortical cells, these data suggest that mindfulness meditation practitioners can use the mind to enhance regulation of currents in targeted cortical cells. The implications extend far beyond meditation and give us clues about possible ways to help people better regulate a brain rhythm that is dysregulated in attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and other conditions.”

The specific eight-week mindfulness meditation program that participants in this study engaged in is called the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program (MBSR), developed at the University of Massachusetts.  If you are interested in learning more about Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and locating a local program, the UMass Center for Mindfulness offers a free practitioner search: Search MBSR Member in Your Area

Attention, which is one of the executive functions, is vital in our everyday lives.  When attention is scattered, dulled, or unfocused, the ability to have successful interpersonal relationships, work performance, and academic performance is significantly affected. Recognize that many people struggle with attention-related abilities, and that choosing to engage in regular mindfulness meditation has been shown to significantly strengthen these abilities.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Massachusetts General Hospital (2011, April 21). Meditation may help the brain ‘turn down the volume’ on distractions. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 29, 2011, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­/releases/2011/04/110421122337.htm

Featured image: digital-drugs-binaural-beats by digitalbob8 / CC BY 2.0

About Laura K. Schenck, Ph.D., LPC

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) with a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Northern Colorado. Some of my academic interests include: Dialectical Behavior Therapy, mindfulness, stress reduction, work/life balance, mood disorders, identity development, supervision & training, and self-care.

1 Comment

  1. Mary Ross on August 30, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    Fascinating article today! Thank you! I would enjoy learning more about the Alpha Rhythm in the cortex and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. I have to really minimize my sound and sight stimulation to concentrate.

What's On Your Mind?