People who meditate regularly, Brown University researchers say, gain control over sensory cortical alpha rhythms. Meditation appears to change brain rhythms that regulate how the brain filters and processes a variety of sensations – including depressing memories and pain in the body.
The Brown University researchers, writing in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, base their proposal on published experimental results as well as a computer simulation of neural networks. Because mindfulness meditation training begins with a highly localized focus on body and breath sensations, the scientists write, this enhances control over localized alpha rhythms in the part of the brain (the primary somatosensory cortex) where sensations are “mapped.”
By learning to control their focus on the present moment, mindfulness meditators become able to “turn down” a kind of internal “volume knob” for controlling specific, localized sensory alpha rhythms. That seems to allow them to turn away from internally focused negative thoughts and sensations.
A University of California, San Francisco study just published in Clinical Psychological Science found that people who reported more presence in the moment (having a greater focus and engagement with their current activities) had longer telomeres, even after adjusting for current stress in their lives. (Telomeres are caps at the ends of DNA that prevent the ends of chromosomes from fusing with nearby chromosomes or deteriorating. They are biomarkers for ageing and are known to shorten when the body undergoes physiological and psychological stressors.)
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