The use of meditation in a therapeutic setting has been used for psychological approaches. This is mostly due to using mindfulness meditation for stress reduction. However, there have been different perspectives on the benefits of meditation such as the cognitive, emotional, and neuropsychological changes that are the result of extensive practice and training.
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Meditation has now become this intermingling concept where this Buddhist practice and psychological theory come together. There is a four-component model called the Mental Balance Model that outlines areas for development that contribute to the overall psychological well-being. The four components are the Conation (motivation, intention), attention, cognition, and affect/emotion. These components have all been found to help one achieve a profound well-being.
Th attention and cognition hold a strong relationship to mindfulness meditation when it is conceptualized in relation to self-regulation of attention and orientation towards one’s own experiences. Kabat-Zinn’s operational definition of mindfulness was, the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment. Mindfulness meditation in this sense acknowledges that it encompasses various aspects of attention. For example, being able to focus and sustain one’s attention and a reduced proneness to distraction. Cahn and Polic’s definition of meditation is the practices that self-regulate the body and mind, thereby affecting mental events by engaging a specific attention set. This indicates that training of attentional functions is important of any form of meditation practice. Similarly, Buddhists have described the practices of bare attention, the attending to the bare facts of perception without reacting to them by deed, speech, or mental comment In other words, to cultivate mental awareness, attention needs to be combined with a non-judgmental orientation towards an openness for the flow of one’s experiences. A study by Wenk-Sormaz that used the Stroop Task and the d2-test of attention was used to test the participants ability to suppress interfering information and to focus and direct their attention.
The goal of the study was to investigate attention functions with the expectation of, through mindfulness meditation, the participants should have performed well on the task and result in a positive correlation between mindfulness meditation and cognitive flexibility. In the study non-meditators had a significantly worse result compared to participants who did meditate over extensive periods of time. It has also been shown that long-term meditation practice has been found to enhance attentional and visuospatial processes as well. 3-months of intensive meditation training (10 – 12 hours a day) improved the ability to sustain attention during a dichotic listening task as evidenced by faster reaction times in response to a deviant tone, and reduced attentional blink responses when compared to controls (Lutz et al., 2009; Slagter, Lutz, Greischer, Nieuwhenhuis, & Davidson, 2009). Moor and Malinowski found that self-reported mindfulness meditation showed a strong positive correlation to retain attention in experienced Buddhist meditation practitioners and has been found to reduce blink in older adults when compared to younger. Mindfulness training cultivates moment to moment awareness of the self and environment and to this extension, training heightens metacognitive processing. Metacognition is also related to the ability to restrict bottom-processing of non-important or irrelevant information.
A study at the University of North Carolina had a total of sixty-three students volunteer for the fulfillment of their general psychology requirements. Volunteers were gathered from groups that held an interest in learning meditation with no prior experience. Twenty-four of the students were assigned to a meditation group while the other twenty-five were a control. Results showed that brief mindfulness meditation training was effective at increasing mindfulness skills when compared to the controls. Mind and body practices such as meditation and yoga use mental and physical abilities to improve health and well-being. Meditation is a complex process aimed at self-regulating body and mind and is often associated with psychological and neurophysiological modification. Mediation practices can be oriented toward the concertation of attention on a particular external, corporal, or mental object while ignoring irrelevant stimuli, this is also called focused attention meditation. Open monitoring meditation is a technique that focuses on incoming sensations, emotions, and thoughts from moment to moment without focusing on any of them. Both techniques complement each other in most meditational practices.
Meditation had contributed to the cognitive and emotional processes that were proposed by Lutz who proposed the four different abilities that can be enhanced by meditation: sustained attention, detection of mind wandering, an ability to disengage from distractions without attentional switching, and the ability to have selective attention. The effects of meditation with regards to brain structure and function has also grabbed enough attention to have neuroimaging studies such as MRI, PET, and FMRI scans.
Neuroimaging has linked the positive effects of meditation to brain modifications. Neuroimaging can be divided into those investigating neurofunctional correlates of meditation, neurofunctional modifications after meditation training, and structural brain modifications in expert mediators. Studies have found that compared with control participants, expert meditators showed increased grey matter volume at the level of the posterior cingulate cortex, temporoparietal junction, angular gyrus, orbitofrontal cortex, hippocampus, and subiculum in the medial temporal lobe and the brainstem. Grey matter is involved in muscle control and sensory perception which involves seeing, hearing, memory, emotions, speech, decision making and self-control. Due to this increase in grey matter there is a longevity in mental abilities an individual may have in problem-solving, attention, and self-awareness.
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