Here is another reason why meditation is helpful
Meditation might be instrumental in externalizing the problems.
“Externalizing” is an approach to therapy that encourages persons to objectify and, at times, to personify the problems that they experience as oppressive. In this process, the problem becomes a separate entity and thus external to the person or relationship that was ascribed as the problem. Those problems that are considered to be inherent, as well as those relatively fixed qualities that are attributed to persons and to relationships, are rendered less fixed and less restricting.
The externalization of the child’s problem clearly had great appeal for some families seeking help. Although the problem was usually defined as internal to the child, all family members were affected and often felt overwhelmed, dispirited and defeated. In various ways, they took the ongoing existence of the problem and their failed attempts to solve it as a reflection on themselves, each other, and/ or their relationships. The continuing survival of the problem and the failure of corrective measures served to confirm, for family members, the presence of various negative personal and relationship qualities or attributes. Thus, when the members of these families detailed the problems for which they were seeking therapy, it was not at all unusual for them to present what I call a “problem-saturated description” of family life. Elsewhere, when drawing on the story or text analogy, I have posed this “problem saturated description” as a “dominant story of family life”.
In helping these family members separate themselves and their relationships from the problem, externalization opened up possibilities for them to describe themselves, each other, and their relationships from a new, non problem-saturated perspective; it enabled the development of an alternative story of family life, one that was more attractive to family members. From this new perspective, persons were able to locate “facts” about their lives and relationships that could not be even dimly perceived in the problem saturated account of family life: “facts” that contradicted this problem-saturated account; facts that provided the nuclei for the generation of new stories. And, in the process, the child’s problem was invariably resolved.
(Source: Narrative Means to Therapeutic Ends – Michael White and David Epston)
Study Suggests Buddhist Deity Meditation Temporarily Augments Visuospatial Abilities
Meditation has been practiced for centuries, as a way to calm the soul and bring about inner peace. According to a new study in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, there is now evidence that a specific method of meditation may temporarily boost our visuospatial abilities (for example, the ability to retain an image in visual memory for a long time). That is, the meditation allows practitioners to access a heightened state of visual-spatial awareness that lasts for a limited period of time.
Normally when we see something, it is kept in our visual short-term memory for only a brief amount of time (images will begin to fade in a matter of seconds). However, there have been reports of Buddhist monks who have exceptional imagery skills and are able to maintain complex images in their visual short-term memory for minutes, and sometimes even hours. Led by psychologist Maria Kozhevnikov of George Mason University, a team of researchers investigated the effects of different styles of Buddhist meditation on visuospatial skills.
The researchers focused on two styles of meditation: Deity Yoga (DY) and Open Presence (OP). During DY meditation, the practitioner focuses intently on an image of deity and his or her entourage. This requires coming up with an immensely detailed, three-dimensional image of the deity, and also focusing on the deity’s emotions and environment. In contrast, practitioners of OP meditation believe that pure awareness cannot be achieved by focusing on a specific image and therefore, they attempt to evenly distribute their attention while meditating, without dwelling on or analyzing any experiences, images, or thoughts that may arise.
In these experiments, experienced DY or OP meditation practitioners along with nonmeditators participated in two types of visuospatial tasks, testing mental rotation abilities (e.g., being able to mentally rotate a 3-D structure) and visual memory (e.g., being shown an image, retaining it in memory and then having to identify it among a number of other, related images). All of the participants completed the tasks, meditators meditated for 20 minutes, while others rested or performed non-meditative acitivities, and then completed a second round of the tasks.
The results revealed that all of the participants performed similarly on the initial set of tests, suggesting that meditation does not result in an overall, long-lasting improvement of visuospatial abilities. However, following the meditation period, practitioners of the DY style of meditation showed a dramatic improvement on both the mental rotation task and the visual memory task compared to OP practitioners and controls. These results indicate that DY meditation allows practitioners to access greater levels of visuospatial memory resources, compared to when they are not meditating. The authors state that this finding “has many implications for therapy, treatment of memory loss, and mental training.” Although, they conclude, future studies will need to examine if these results are specific to DY meditation, or if these effects can also occur using other visual meditation techniques.
For more information about this study, please contact: Maria Kozhevnikov (email@example.com)
Psychological Science is ranked among the top 10 general psychology journals for impact by the Institute for Scientific Information. For a copy of the article “The Enhancement of Visuospatial Processing Efficiency Through Buddhist Deity Meditation” and access to other Psychological Science research findings, please contact Barbara Isanski at 202-293-9300 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Meditation changes gene expression, study shows
Practitioners have been attesting to it for years, and now medical science is waking up to the idea that meditation really does have health benefits. A new study, published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, has discovered specific molecular changes in the body after a period of mindful meditation.
Meditation is not new – with its roots in prehistory, it almost certainly predates the science that now endorses it. History shows that its practice was adopted by Eastern cultures thousands of years ago, with ancient Indian scriptures dating from 5,000 years ago detailing techniques. But it is a relative newcomer to the West.
For the study, researchers compared the effects of a day of intensive mindful-meditation in a group of experienced meditators with a group of untrained subjects who enjoyed a day of quiet, non-meditative activities.
After 8 hours, the meditators showed a range of genetic and molecular differences, including reduced levels of pro-inflammatory genes. This correlates with faster physical recovery from a stressful situation.
The researchers, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Institute of Biomedical Research of Barcelona, Spain, believe this is the first study to find a relationship between meditation and gene expression.
Dr. Richard J. Davidson, founder of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds, explains:
“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first paper that shows rapid alterations in gene expression within subjects associated with mindfulness meditation practice.”
Mindfulness practice affected certain regulatory pathways
Molecular analysis showed that the pro-inflammatory genes RIPK2 and COX2 were affected, together with several histone deacetylase (HDAC) genes, which control the activity of other genes by removing a chemical tag.
Moreover, the results showed that the extent to which some of the genes were down-regulated was associated with faster cortisol recovery to a social stress test, where participants were challenged to make an impromptu speech or complete mental calculations in front of an audience.
The researchers point out that there were no differences in the tested genes at the start of the study and that the observed effects were only seen in the meditators following mindfulness practice.
The authors also note that several other DNA-modifying genes showed no differences between groups, suggesting that mindfulness practice affected only certain regulatory pathways.
Perla Kaliman, researcher at the Institute of Biomedical Research of Barcelona and first author of the study, says:
“The regulation of HDACs and inflammatory pathways may represent some of the mechanisms underlying the therapeutic potential of mindfulness-based interventions. Our findings set the foundation for future studies to further assess meditation strategies for the treatment of chronic inflammatory conditions.”
The authors claim that the genetic changes experienced by the meditators prove that mindfulness practice can lead to epigenetic alterations of the genome.
Dr. Davidson concludes:
“Our genes are quite dynamic in their expression and these results suggest that the calmness of our mind can actually have a potential influence on their expression.”
Written by Belinda Weber
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