Sunday, January 30, 2011

Meditation: Does it Do Anything?

Meditation sounds like a great idea from the perspective of a psychiatrist: anything that calms and focuses the mind is a good thing (and without pharmaceuticals: even better!).

Personally, I tried Transcendental Meditation as a kid...more to do with my mother than with me...and found it to be boring. I have trouble keeping my thoughts still. They wander to what I want for dinner and should I write about this on Shrink Rap and will Clink and Victor ever eat crabcakes with me again and did I remember to give my last patient informed consent and a zillion other things. Holding my thoughts still is work.

The New York Times Well blog has an article on Meditation and Brain Changes. In "How Meditation May Change the Brain," Sindya N. Bhanoo writes:

The researchers report that those who meditated for about 30 minutes a day for eight weeks had measurable changes in gray-matter density in parts of the brain associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress. The findings will appear in the Jan. 30 issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging.

M.R.I. brain scans taken before and after the participants’ meditation regimen found increased gray matter in the hippocampus, an area important for learning and memory. The images also showed a reduction of gray matter in the amygdala, a region connected to anxiety and stress. A control group that did not practice meditation showed no such changes.

-------Lower stress, lower blood pressure, higher empathy.... I may have to give meditation another try. The cartoon above, by the way, shows Roy leading a meditation session. Now there's a thought.


Jude said...

TM was popular when I was a teen. But instead of that, I took a very weird course that included meditation. It was called Mind Dynamics and was related to the EST movement--in other words, it was pop goobledy-gook, and it kept me away from meditation for years. However, I'm currently self-treating my anxiety (some strange specific phobias) in part by using mindfulness meditation. The best part about it is that it isn't pop gobbledy-gook. You don't even have to believe in it for it to benefit you. As a beginner, I found this one bizarre You-Tuber's advice useful, especially when it comes to handling distractions such as thinking. This is the first video in his how to playlist, but the second one has the useful technique ( There is so much on YouTube that it's easy to find enough info to get started.

Anonymous said...

Love the cartoon!! Too bad they weren't doing tai chi.

I'll eat crab cakes with you again, for sure. I'll be eating something with you and Roy next week, anyway.


Anonymous said...

I noticed increased gray matter on the top of my head. I made an emrgency appointment with hairdresser and an image produced by my kid's Ipod proved that there was a significant decrease in gray matter post procedure. I noticed I was much more relaxed driving home than when I arrived and I had taken no Xanax. Can hair coloring mimic the effects of meditation? I think some government body should fund this research.

Dinah said...

Anon: Hair chemicals are the best.

barry spivack said...

Dinah - if you can remember your mantra look on the internet and find a local authorised teacher of TM and have your meditation checked. There will only be a nominal charge for time taken - it may be that you need to do a refresher course as in TM one does not try to get rid of other thoughts. TM is not flashy but gradually with regular practise builds up real benefits and particularly a reduction in anxiety and a feeling of inner ease. Also there is more peer reviewed research on TM than any other kind of meditation so you don't just have to take my word for it.

Anonymous said...

Yes, hair chemicals do it for me! Thank you for understanding.
I do not have anything agaisnt meditation but now there are mindfulness clinics for dogs. It has come to the point that I know so many people paying for these clinics or retreats and meditating but despite what the MRI says, I have found no difference in these people or how they handle life's slings and arrows. Generally, when stressed, they have a few drinks.

Anonymous said...

A few drinks with friends is certainly more fun than meditating, in my book anyway. And I too am relaxed and happy after my hair has been colored and cut! And it's not just the lithium.

manchester fat acceptance said...

i worked as a teacher in a couple of high-risk communities, and i taught a form of visualization to my students (they were mainly primary/elementary). high rates of abuse/neglect and difficult financial circumstances left many of my students with poor impulse control and difficulty concentrating. i do not think i returned to the exercise often enough to really help them increase their brain power though - i didn't realize meditation could help with that, and i was primarily focused on helping them to gain self-control and establish coping skills. if i was still a teacher, i would definitely utilize this technique regularly. too often, our school systems seem to expect our students to improve (academically, behaviourally, etc.) without teaching the appropriate tools to "get there"...

Sarebear said...

I did a guided meditation once, when I was taking karate. It was a really good meditation, it felt like I went really deep; it just felt really GOOD. The sensei led us through about 10 minutes of meditation and then we were supposed to come up with some insight, not search for it just think about whatever came to us, and then take a permanent marker and write it on the wall.

YEARS before I had anything approaching this level of insight into myself, during this meditation what I came up with was, "I am afraid of me." So that's what I wrote on the wall.

It was a really GOOD meditation, and if meditation can be like that, it certainly fits perfectly with these study results you posted about.

If I thought I could meditate that well on my own, I might try it again, but I'm not sure I can.

Anonymous said...

When I was a public defender awhile back, there was a judge who you could talk into ordering probation if your client would take meditation classes. All of us tried to get our cases set before this guy.

Dinah said...

Of course I remember my mantra.
Where do I enroll Max and Kobe in mindfulness meditation? Are you allowed to lick your yogi in the face?
Guzman: thanks for the joke, I'm stealing it and modifying it to our three shrinks.

Anonymous said...


Max and Kobe can start anytime:

You thought I was maybe joking?????????

Anonymous said...

It begs the question, what do you think of jane, who has resolved her bipolar disorder via meditation? Jane was seriously mentally ill with bipolar I and some schizophrenic symptoms later.

While I don't think anyone should expect all people with serious mental illness can have these results, the science behind it makes sense. If meditation causes the brain to grow such as the prefrontal cortex; if serious mental illness manic depression correlates and possibly caused by brain atrophy in certain areas such as the prefrontal cortex... then it stands to reason that when a person is serious about applying and using meditation, they may see a reduction and eventual elimination of mental illness.

The popular and easy method is to assume jane is a quack: that she never had bipolar, or that she currently still does have bipolar. Personally, I believe her as I am well familiar with the concept of modern medicine being ass backward, dismissing highly effective unprofitable interventions for chronic illness.

Here's her blog if you've never heard of her:

Rev Della said...

I teach meditation techniques during my stress management classes. There are many different types of meditation so I feel that individuals should choose the type(s) that work for them.

When I meditate, I often find that when I try to empty my mind of thoughts, more thoughts show up. This usually includes my to-do list. So instead of being at peace, I feel more stressed because I am not doing the things I need to do.

What works for me in meditation is to choose a word or phrase that I can use as a mantra. I silently repeat it over and over again. When my thoughts begin to stray, it is easier for me to bring them back to my mantra.