4 Oct 2016

Meditation can keep your emotional brain in check

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Meditation can help tame your emotions even if you are not a mindful person, suggests a new study.

Mindfulness, a moment-by-moment awareness of one's thoughts, feelings and sensations, has gained worldwide popularity as a way to promote health and well-being. 

"Our findings not only demonstrate that meditation improves emotional health, but that people can acquire these benefits regardless of their 'natural' ability to be mindful," said lead investigator Yanli Lin, a graduate student at the Michigan State University. 

For the study, the team assessed 68 participants for mindfulness using a scientifically validated survey. 
The participants were then randomly assigned to engage in an 18-minute audio-guided meditation or listen to a control presentation of how to learn a new language, before viewing negative pictures (such as a bloody corpse) while their brain activity was recorded.

The participants who meditated -- they had varying levels of natural mindfulness -- showed similar levels of "emotion regulatory" brain activity as people with high levels of natural mindfulness. 

In other words, their emotional brains recovered quickly after viewing the troubling photos, essentially keeping their negative emotions in check, the researchers said.

Further, some of the participants were instructed to look at the gruesome photos "mindfully" while others received no such instruction. 

The people who viewed the photos "mindfully" showed no better ability to keep their negative emotions in check.

According to Jason Moser, Associate Professor at Michigan State University, this suggests that for non-meditators, the emotional benefits of mindfulness might be better achieved through meditation, rather than "forcing it" as a state of mind.

"If you're a naturally mindful person, and you're walking around very aware of things, you're good to go. You shed your emotions quickly," Moser said. 

"If you're not naturally mindful, then meditating can make you look like a person who walks around with a lot of mindfulness," Moser observed. 

But for people who are not naturally mindful and have never meditated, forcing oneself to be mindful 'in the moment' doesn't work. You'd be better off meditating for 20 minutes, the researchers concluded in the paper published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

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