behavior · brain · cognition · emotion

Meditation leads to less mind wandering, more doing

Meditation helps people stay on task and reduce stress. Image by plemeljr via Flickr

Thanksgiving and the Black Friday rush are behind us, but for many it is just the beginning of a crazy month. How to destress from last week’s trials and tribulations (and sales) and stay focused on this month’s tasks, including work? Meditation:

The brains of experienced meditators appear to be fitter, more disciplined and more “on task” than do the brains of those trying out meditation for the first time. And the differences between the two groups are evident not only during meditation, when brain scans detect a pattern of better control over the wandering mind among experienced meditators, but when the mind is allowed to wander freely.

Those insights emerge from a study to be published next week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which looked at two groups: highly experienced meditators and meditation novices, and compared the operations of the “Default Mode Network” — a newly identified cluster of brain regions that go to work when our brains appear to be “offline.”

“I think its safe to say this is brain-training at work,” says Yale University psychiatrist Judson Brewer, who conducted the study with psychologists from Yale, the University of Oregon and Columbia University. “It makes sense,” adds Brewer. “Anything you train to do, you do better.”

In fact, some studies have found that too much daydreaming or getting off task can have negative effects:

A study that tracked the daily activities and moods of iPhone users-published in Science magazine last November–found that those whose minds were wandering off task more often were more depressed. People who suffer from attention deficit disorder also have difficulty keeping mind-wandering at bay, which may be why many studies have found that meditation helps those with attention deficit disorder.

more via This is your mind on meditation: less wandering, more doing –

Now truth be told, I am not that great at sitting still and clearing my mind. In fact none of us are. But, even attempting to clear one’s mind for 30 seconds at a time has been found to be truly beneficial. Just focusing on one’s breathing for two or three rounds of breathing in and out has been shown to be calming and rejuvenating.

If sitting still is not your thing, stretching, walking or running are also good ways to clear your mind, and they provided the added benefit of exercise.

Remember to breath deep this holiday season! It will improve your mood and overall ability to handle tense situations in any environment, from shopping to grandma to bad weather.