Brain Physiology and Mindfulness Exercises

Brain Physiology and Mindfulness

The Washington Post (June 2, 2015) reported a study of athletes who performed “mindfulness\meditation” exercises before their training for marathon racing increased their brainpower, mental control and learning abilities. According to the researchers, by doing as little as 10 minutes a day, the brain gains measurable volume in as little as eight weeks, in areas that process attention and awareness, learning, emotional control, empathy, and transmitting of neurons.

The study was initiated by Sara Lazar, of Harvard Medical School and Mass. General Hospital. She and colleagues found that they needed stretching exercises while training for the Boston Marathon, and began Yoga exercises. After a few weeks they noticed that not only were their muscles responding, but they has become calmer and more objective about issues, and most important, able to deal with stress more effectively.
Their initial study compared long-term meditators with a control group, but concluded that the meditators might already have had a larger volume of grey matter than the control group. They repeated the study with 50-year-old meditators who had the same volume as the 25-year-old control group.

After eight weeks of meditation, the older group had developed a larger volume of grey matter than the control group in five regions of the brain.
Posterior cingulate—self-conscious awareness and focus
Left Hippocampus—learning, memory, cognition and emotional control
Tempopoparietal junction—perspective, empathy, compassion
Pons—regulation of processing of neurons
A final finding was a reduction in size of the Amygdala, the primitive brain, t minhe source of stress reaction levels. The amygdala is the source of “fight or flight” reactions anxiety and fAear.

Apparently, the simple mindfulness exercises used, also used in basic yoga, were effective for more than muscle tone. The inference can be made that the brain can be changed for the better by specific exercises directed toward physical needs.

The Thinking Otherwise connection: The subjects in the study were athletes who were training to run in marathon races. They knew how to exercise. What was new for them was meditating before doing the exercises. So, unless you are involved in a regular exercise program, you will need to begin, as well as establish a yoga-based mindfulness\mediation program. You will do the yoga BEFORE you exercise.
In the past, educators have tried to introduce meditation in the classroom with some success. In the 1970s, TM—transcendental meditation—was tried and succeeded in a few school districts. However, it was rarely if ever directly related to physical education. This way of “thinking otherwise” appears to add some appeal to both “mindfulness\mediation” and “physical activity.” And, you don’t need to wait for a program.
If you are motivated to do this, and if you like physical exercise I encourage you to try it. You can find dozens of sites on the net on both exercise and yoga and/or mindfulness. Download a few exercises that fit your needs and interests and that you can do comfortably.
The study suggests that meditation time can vary from 20 to 40 minutes a day, with the longer time providing a better result. Add that to your exercise time; most of us can’t spend more than an hour or so, and not even that on a daily basis. The study found that as little as 10 to 15 minutes added to the exercise program showed results.

John H. Langer, JD, Ed.D. Retired Federal agency manger, former professor of education, public school administrator, and writer of a number of articles and publications on education, public affairs, substance abuse and social issues. In writing a book on attention and memory as it relates to education, this blog is helping to focus attention n current issues, and hopefully, add something useful as well.

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