Many have heard of meditation, many have not. Meditation is defined as actively engaging in self-reflection by silently calming and focusing your mind for relaxation or spiritual reasons. Millions of individuals have dedicated their life to this practice. I cannot control whether people decide to practice meditation, but I would like to provide information regarding effects meditation has on sensation and perception so more people can be informed on the benefits of meditation before they make their decision.
Meditation can have many effects on your daily life. It can impact your attention processing, emotional and pain regulation, and visual perception to name a few; however, one thing that stood out to me was the effect meditation had on time perception. A study done in 2013 hypothesized that mindfulness meditation would alter time perception, since mediation emphasizes moment to moment awareness (R.S.S. Kramer, et. al 2013). The study consisted on forty undergraduate students (male and female participants) from the University of Kent who were between the ages of 18-24. In exchange for their participation, they received course credit. During this experiment, participants were to do a temporal bisection task, where several times were compared to short and long standards. Next, participants were put into two separated groups. One group listened to an audiobook, and the other group did meditation that focused on the movement of breath in the body. Lastly, participants completed the temporal bisection task for a second time. The control group did not show any changes after doing the listening task; however, those who did meditation reported a relative overestimation of durations. I have done mediation before, which is why these results do not surprise me. One of the reasons I enjoy mediation is because it is a time to clear your mind and live in that moment and not worry about anything, which is why it is so easy to lose track of time.
Another reason individuals lose track of time is because of the mental state we are in when meditating. An article published in 2011 by Jean Holroyd discussed how meditation changes our mental state/consciousness. Buddhist meditation for example includes mindfulness practices, which is a mental state that is achieved by focusing on one's awareness of the present moment, while also being calm and accepting of one's own thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations. It has been proven beneficial and is often used as a therapeutic technique. Meditation consists of psychological states such as thought, emotion, attention, and experience of self; however, it also influences physical states because phenomenological experiences of deep states include body image. This is achieved by detaching oneself from pain and pleasure sensations. Meditation is not just a concentration activity. It was found that the cingulate cortex was active during hypnotic (deep state) absorption and pain control.
One of the final elements of mediation is letting go of pain. When in pain, we want to do anything to stop it. We often resort to painkillers, but when those prove to be ineffective, we begin to worry if the pain will ever go away. Fortunately, medical advances have provided us with an alternative option to relieve pain. Several studies have been done analyzing mindfulness meditation and its influence on pain relief and emotional regulation. There has also been evidence for unique brain mechanisms in the regulation of pain (F. Zeidan et al., 2012). Brain techniques are used to enhance cognitive and emotional control as well as changing the evaluation of sensory events. Imaging studies have shown that meditation helps sooth pain and eventually changes began to alter the way the brain processes pain, and the patients no longer feel pain with the same intensity. Mindfulness soothes the circuits in the brain that amplify secondary pain and teaches us how to control the intensity of the pain. This not only starts the process of removing pain; anxiety, stress, and depression that are associated are also melting away during the process. With these components removed, the body can relax and begin to heal. It has been recommended that hospitals now prescribe patients with chronic pain, cancer, and other individuals suffering from a wide range of diseases with mindfulness meditation exercises.
These exercises typically involve focusing on different parts of the body and observing with the body with the mind's eye. This way you can see your mind and body in action, observe the painful sensations as they happen, and let go of battling them. Amazingly, this has shown to help individuals to eliminate their suffering on their own.
There have also been studies analyzing Buddhist meditation (concentration and mindfulness) in relation to hypnosis. Mindfulness training has been done to investigate subjective responses to hypnosis. Some researchers have determined that concentration practices lead to altered states similar to those in hypnosis, both phenomenologically and neurologically (J. Holroyd, 2011). They are similar because classical hypnosis and meditation are attentional and concentration practices that result in altered states. Classical hypnosis and concentrative meditation are similar in the attentional and concentration practices that result in altered states; in the phenomenology of those altered states; and in the neurophysiology associated with those states.
A finding done in 1982 studied the Transcendental Meditation (TM) approach on habitual patterns of visual perception. (M. C. Dillbeck, 1982). Visual attentional processing was examined in adult meditators and non-meditators on behavioral measures of alternate blindness, concentration, perspective-shifting, selective attention, and sustained inattentional blindness. Results found that meditators observed extra adjustments in flickering scenes and saw them more quickly, counted more precisely in a challenging concentration task, recognized a greater quantity of alternative views in various perspective images, and, showed less interference from invalid cues in a visible selective attention task, but did not differ on a measure of sustained inattentional blindness.
Together, effects exhibited that ordinary meditation is related to extra accurate, efficient, and bendy visual attentional processing across numerous duties that have excessive face validity outside of the laboratory (H.S. Hodgins, K.C. Adair, 2010). Furthermore, outcomes were assessed in a context separate from true meditation practice, suggesting that meditators' better visual attention is not only immediate, but extends to contexts separate from meditation practice.
In conclusion, meditation has had many effects on sensation and perception. These include altering time perception because we get lost in the moment of introspection that we lose track of time, enhancing our visual perception by improving our visual attention processing, and assisting in regulation of pain by training our brain to learn how to manage pain and begin the healing process. Ultimately, meditation is very beneficial and helps us achieve a long, happy, and healthy lifestyle.
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