The word “mindfulness” corresponds to the translation of the original terms smrti (from Sanskrit) or sati (Pali), which captures the capacity to retain an object in the mind, but in a broad sense also implies being aware of and attentive to the present moment.
In light of a steadily increasing life expectancy, meditation could be an effective means to better maintain brain tissue, preserve cognitive, and emotional reserves, and to diminish the risk of dementia and other age-related neurodegenerative diseases.
Biomed Res Int. 2015;2015:419808.
The Meditative Mind: A Comprehensive Meta-Analysis of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) Studies.
Boccia M, Piccardi L, Guariglia P.
Over the past decade mind and body practices, such as yoga and meditation, have raised interest in different scientific fields; in particular, the physiological mechanisms underlying the beneficial effects observed in meditators have been investigated. Neuroimaging studies have studied the effects of meditation on brain structure and function and findings have helped clarify the biological underpinnings of the positive effects of meditation practice and the possible integration of this technique in standard therapy. The large amount of data collected thus far allows drawing some conclusions about the neural effects of meditation practice. In the present study we used activation likelihood estimation (ALE) analysis to make a coordinate-based meta-analysis of neuroimaging data on the effects of meditation on brain structure and function.
Results indicate that meditation leads to activation in brain areas involved in processing self-relevant information, self-regulation, focused problem-solving, adaptive behavior, and interoception. Results also show that meditation practice induces functional and structural brain modifications in expert meditators, especially in areas involved in self-referential processes such as self-awareness and self-regulation. These results demonstrate that a biological substrate underlies the positive pervasive effect of meditation practice and suggest that meditation techniques could be adopted in clinical populations and to prevent disease.
[This article also provides MRI images] Results of ALE analysis on functional modifications in meditators. The ALE map shows brain areas that are more highly activated in meditators than controls. This network includes bilaterally the middle frontal gyrus, precentral gyrus, anterior cingulate cortex, insula, and claustrum. In the left hemisphere (LH) we found activation of the inferior frontal gyrus, precuneus, caudate nucleus, and thalamus, and in the right hemisphere (RH) we found activation in the medial frontal gyrus, parahippocampal gyrus, middle occipital gyrus, inferior parietal lobule, and lentiform nucleus.
Healthy Brain Function and Structures
• The ability to learn and retain novel information depends on a system of structures in the medial temporal lobe of the brain including the hippocampus and the surrounding entorhinal, perirhinal, and parahippocampal cortices.
• Neurons in the entorhinal cortex, hippocampal CA1 region, frontal cortex, and amygdala are the populations of neurons most sensitive to the neurodegeneration associated with Alzhiemer’s Disease.
How Does Mindfulness Meditation Work? Proposing Mechanisms of Action From a Conceptual and Neural Perspective.
Cultivation of mindfulness, the nonjudgmental awareness of experiences in the present moment, produces beneficial effects on well-being and ameliorates psychiatric and stress-related symptoms. Mindfulness meditation has therefore increasingly been incorporated into psychotherapeutic interventions. Although the number of publications in the field has sharply increased over the last two decades, there is a paucity of theoretical reviews that integrate the existing literature into a comprehensive theoretical framework. In this article, we explore several components through which mindfulness meditation exerts its effects: (a) attention regulation, (b) body awareness, (c) emotion regulation (including reappraisal and exposure, extinction, and reconsolidation), and (d) change in perspective on the self. Recent empirical research, including practitioners’ self-reports and experimental data, provides evidence supporting these mechanisms. Functional and structural neuroimaging studies have begun to explore the neuroscientific processes underlying these components.
Evidence suggests that mindfulness practice is associated with neuroplastic changes in the anterior cingulate cortex, insula, temporo-parietal junction, fronto-limbic network, and default mode network structures. The authors suggest that the mechanisms described here work synergistically, establishing a process of enhanced self-regulation. Differentiating between these components seems useful to guide future basic research and to specifically target areas of development in the treatment of psychological disorders.
Source: Perspect Psychol Sci. 2011 Nov;6(6):537-59.
Hölzel BK1, Lazar SW2, Gard T3, Schuman-Olivier Z2, Vago DR4, Ott U5.
At the root of all our thoughts, emotions and behaviours is the communication between neurons within our brains. Brainwaves are produced by synchronised electrical pulses from masses of neurons communicating with each other.
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Behav Brain Res. 2015 Jan 1;276:199-212.
Potential benefits of mindfulness-based interventions in mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease: an interdisciplinary perspective.
Larouche E1, Hudon C1, Goulet S2.
The present article is based on the premise that the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease (AD) from its prodromal phase (mild cognitive impairment; MCI) is higher when adverse factors (e.g., stress, depression, and metabolic syndrome) are present and accumulate. Such factors augment the likelihood of hippocampal damage central in MCI/AD aetiology, as well as compensatory mechanisms failure triggering a switch toward neurodegeneration. Because of the devastating consequences of AD, there is a need for early interventions that can delay, perhaps prevent, the transition from MCI to AD. We hypothesize that mindfulness-based interventions (MBI) show promise with regard to this goal. The present review discusses the associations between modifiable adverse factors and MCI/AD decline, MBI’s impacts on adverse factors, and the mechanisms that could underlie the benefits of MBI. A schematic model is proposed to illustrate the course of neurodegeneration specific to MCI/AD, as well as the possible preventive mechanisms of MBI. Whereas regulation of glucocorticosteroids, inflammation, and serotonin could mediate MBI’s effects on stress and depression, resolution of the metabolic syndrome might happen through a reduction of inflammation and white matter hyperintensities, and normalization of insulin and oxidation. The literature reviewed in this paper suggests that the main reach of MBI over MCI/AD development involves the management of stress, depressive symptoms, and inflammation. Future research must focus on achieving deeper understanding of MBI’s mechanisms of action in the context of MCI and AD. This necessitates bridging the gap between neuroscientific subfields and a cross-domain integration between basic and clinical knowledge.
Front Aging Neurosci. 2016 Nov 21;8:277.
Neurochemical and Neuroanatomical Plasticity Following Memory Training and Yoga Interventions in Older Adults with Mild Cognitive Impairment.
Yang H1, Leaver AM2, Siddarth P1, Paholpak P3, Ercoli L1, St Cyr NM1,
Behavioral interventions are becoming increasingly popular approaches to ameliorate age-related cognitive decline, but their underlying neurobiological mechanisms and clinical efficiency have not been fully elucidated. The present study explored brain plasticity associated with two behavioral interventions, memory enhancement training (MET) and a mind-body practice (yogic meditation), in healthy seniors with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) using structural magnetic resonance imaging (s-MRI) and proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1H-MRS). Senior participants (age ≥55 years) with MCI were randomized to the MET or yogic meditation interventions. For both interventions, participants completed either MET training or Kundalini Yoga (KY) for 60-min sessions over 12 weeks, with 12-min daily homework assignments. Gray matter volume and metabolite concentrations in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) and bilateral hippocampus were measured by structural MRI and 1H-MRS at baseline and after 12 weeks of training.
Metabolites measured included glutamate-glutamine (Glx), choline-containing compounds (Cho, including glycerophosphocholine and phosphocholine), gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), and N-acetyl aspartate and N-acetylaspartyl-glutamate (NAA-NAAG). In total, 11 participants completed MET and 14 completed yogic meditation for this study. Structural MRI analysis showed an interaction between time and group in dACC, indicating a trend towards increased gray matter volume after the MET intervention. 1H-MRS analysis showed an interaction between time and group in choline-containing compounds in bilateral hippocampus, induced by significant decreases after the MET intervention. Though preliminary, our results suggest that memory training induces structural and neurochemical plasticity in seniors with MCI. Further research is needed to determine whether mind-body interventions like yoga yield similar neuroplastic changes.
Cognitive neuropsychology is a branch of cognitive psychology that aims to understand how the structure and function of the brain relates to specific psychological processes. Cognitive psychology is the science that looks at how mental processes are responsible for our cognitive abilities to store and produce new memories, produce language, recognize people and objects, as well as our ability to reason and problem solve.
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