Memory Boosting and Cognitive Benefits of Meditation
Hi fellow Steemians! This will be my first post in the science/health/memory category, and I will continue to contribute in this category and others in the future. Give me a follow if you’re interested/ like what you read!
Mediation is one of those things that we all know/figure is good for us, but few actually practice. It is my hope that in seeing some of the scientific research supporting meditative practice being beneficial, some people now in the “consideration phase” will move into the “do phase.”
To date there have been a number of scientific investigations into the art of meditation. It is known that practitioners experience a brain state different than what is seen during normal consciousness or sleep. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), positron emission tomography (PET) and single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) have demonstrated specific changes in cortical and sub-cortical structures in subjects who were actively meditating [1-4]. Areas which have been previously implicated in memory tasks show increased activity in expert meditators. Additionally, it has been observed that long-term meditators, who practice about an hour a day, have thicker prefrontal cortexes than non-meditators.
Although these studies were indeed significant and integral in their motivation to further explore meditation, they were not longitudinal studies. For this reason, the cause and effect of increased brain activity and meditation cannot be explicitly discerned. In other words, perhaps these meditators always had increased neural activity, and that is why they were drawn to meditation. Furthermore, these studies did not include actual memory tests, and so their evidence, though not discounted, is indirect.
A direct study of the ability of meditation to improve memory would require the testing of subjects both before and after meditation training. This is exactly what Andrew Newberg and his colleagues have accomplished. Their study focused on those with mild memory impairments, and observed changes in cognition as well as cerebral blood flow. The findings were reported in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Their study investigated the effect of an eight-week meditative program, called Kirtan Kriya, in patients who presented with memory problems. Kirtan Kriya involves the repetition of four sounds- SA TA NA MA- while the practitioner touches their thumb to each finger in sequence. Vocalization level is adjusted incrementally for a total of twelve minutes. This was to be completed each day by the 14 subjects in the study. A control group listened to Mozart for 12 minutes each day in place of meditation. Because of the quickness and simplicity of this particular meditative practice, it has the potential to be an effective measure to improve memory, especially in the older population. If proven effective, that is - which it was.
The researchers saw a number of significant changes between pre and post program brain scans in the group which practiced Kirtan Kriya.
“In particular, structures in the frontal lobe regions and right superior parietal lobe had signiﬁcantly higher baseline CBF after the 8-week training program”
Cerebral blood flow (CBF) shows the degree of activity in certain areas of the brain, as the more active a region is, the more blood it receives.
Perhaps more significant than the observed increases in CBF, were the improvements seen in neuropsychological test scores of those who performed Kirtan Kriya. Furthermore, the improvements in one of the tests could be correlated to increased CBF in the right prefrontal cortex. This finding not only validates the present study, but provides further correlation between previous findings of increased CBF in response to meditation, and improvements to memory and cognition.
In a qualitative and less scientifically stringent evaluation of meditation,
“Most subjects reported that they subjectively perceived that their cognitive function was improved after the 8-week program.”
A significant but unfortunate finding in this study was the inability of one woman with Alzheimer’s disease to properly perform the meditation. This woman was the most severely impaired of the subjects with a mini-mental state examination (MMSE) score of 16, indicative of moderate cognitive impairment. Although her results were not included in the study, it shows that meditative treatment may not be effective in patients too far impaired as they cannot complete the practice.
To me, this is more reason to begin meditation while young and healthy, not only to increase cognitive function above baseline, but to prevent cognitive decline with age. Meditation is relaxing, stress-reducing and has the potential to increase your memory capabilities. Plus, it’s easy to learn!
For those interested, an app that I’ve been using (no affiliation) is 10% Happier. It’s a freemium model, but I’ve only used the free stuff and it’s great! The gist of it is that meditation is a practice. This essentially means that in order to meditate, all you have to do is try. Just focus on your breath, and as you notice your mind drifting (which it will), acknowledge the drift, and re-focus on the breath. This focus, loss-of-focus, acknowledgement, and refocusing cycle is what it’s all about, and all you need to do in order to get better. So just by trying, you’re succeeding! One of the guys behind 10% Happier, Joseph Goldstein, also has some easy-to-find videos and books on meditation if you’d like another option.
1. Andrew B Newberg et al. Meditation Effects on Cognitive Function and Cerebral Blood Flow In Subjects with Memory Loss: A Preliminary Study. Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, 20, 517-526. 2010. http://iospress.metapress.com/content/348434040g6w4617/
2. Lazar SW, Bush G, Gollub RL, Fricchione GL, Khalsa G, Benson H (2000) Functional brain mapping of the relaxation response and meditation. Neuroreport 11, 1581-1585.
3. Lou HC, Kjaer TW, Friberg L, Wildschiodtz G, Holm S, Nowak M (1999) A 15O-H2O PET study of meditation and the resting state of normal consciousness. Human Brain Mapp 7, 98-105.
4. Newberg AB, Alavi A, Baime M, Pourdehnad M, Santanna J, d’Aquili EG (2001) The measurement of regional cerebral blood ﬂow during the complex cognitive task of meditation: A preliminary SPECT study. Psychiatr Res Neuroimaging 106, 113-122.
5. Herzog H, Lele VR, Kuwert T, Langen, K-J, Kops ER, Feinendegen LE (1990-1991) Changed pattern of regional glucose metabolism during Yoga meditative relaxation. Neuropsychobiology 23, 182-187.
6. Photo Credit: arondphotography on flickr - Creative Commons Attribution Licence