meditation improves attention
New research shows that meditation can help you improve your ability to concentrate in two ways. First, it can make you better at focusing on something specific while ignoring distractions. Second, it can make you more capable of noticing what is happening around you, giving you a fuller perspective on the present moment.
Some of the most fascinating research on how meditation affects attention is being conducted by Antoine Lutz, PhD, an associate scientist at the Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, in collaboration with Richard Davidson and the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin. Their work has shown that concentration meditation, in which the meditator focuses complete attention on one thing, such as counting the breath or gazing at an object, activates regions of the brain that are critical for controlling attention. This is true even among novice meditators who receive only brief training. Experienced meditators show even stronger activation in these regions. This you would expect, if meditation trains the brain to pay attention. But extremely experienced meditators (who have more than 44,000 hours of meditation practice) show less activation in these regions, even though their performance on attention tasks is better. The explanation for this, in Lutz’s view, is that the meditation training can eventually help reduce the effort it takes to focus your attention. “This would be consistent with traditional accounts of progress in meditation practice. Sustaining focus becomes effortless,” Lutz says. This suggests that people can immediately enhance concentration by learning a simple meditation technique, and that practice creates even more progress.
The researchers also looked at whether vipassana meditation training can improve overall attention. (Vipassana means “to see things as they really are,” and the meditation techniques are designed to increase focus, awareness, and insight.) Researchers label our inability to notice things in our environment as “attentional blink.” Most of us experience this throughout the day, when we become so caught up in our own thoughts that we miss what a friend says to us and have to ask her to repeat it. A more dramatic example would be a car accident caused by your thinking about a conversation you just had and not noticing that the car in front of you has stopped. If you were able to reduce your attentional blink, it would mean a more accurate and complete perception of reality—you would notice more and miss less.
To test whether meditation reduces attentional blink, participants had to notice two things occurring in rapid succession, less than a second apart. The findings, published in PLoS Biology, reveal that the meditation training improved the participants’ ability to notice both changes, with no loss in accuracy.
What explained this improvement? EEG recordings—which track patterns of electrical activity in the brain, showing precise moment-by-moment fluctuations in brain activation—showed that the participants allocated fewer brain resources to the task of noticing each target. In fact, the meditators spent less mental energy no-ticing the first target, which freed up mental bandwidth for noticing what came next. Paying attention literally became easier for the brain.
As a result, Lutz and his colleagues be-lieve that meditation may increase our control over our limited brain resources. To anyone who knows what it’s like to feel scattered or overwhelmed, this is an ap-pealing benefit indeed. Even though your attention is a limited resource, you can learn to do more with the mental energy you already have.
adapted from Yoga Journal, by Kelly McGonigal
Zen Timepiece with brass singing bowl, a meditation timer
Now & Zen
1638 Pearl Street
Boulder, CO 80302
Posted in Bamboo Chime Clocks, intention, Meditation Timers, Meditation Tools, mindfulness practice, Now & Zen Alarm Clocks, Well-being, Yoga Timer