Mind on Meditation – Less Wandering, More Action!

I once tried meditating to calm my mind and have a better grip on my wandering thoughts. Alas, I failed miserably and never ever ventured to mediate again. Well, if you thought meditation is not your cup of tea, think again! A recent study revealed that people who are experienced meditators appear to be more disciplined, fitter and “on task” mode than people who try out meditation for the first time.

Here’s the surprising catch – the differences between the two groups are not only evident during meditation (brain scans detect a better control pattern over the wandering mind), but even when the mind is allowed to freely wander.

Mind over Matter
Sounds intriguing, isn’t it? These interesting insights emanate from a study soon going to be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The new study studied two groups: meditation novices and dedicated, experienced meditators. Next, the operating mechanism of the “Default Mode Network” was compared – a recently discovered cluster of brain regions which is activated when our brains tend to be “offline.”

Judson Brewer, Yale University psychiatrist, says that meditation is “brain-training at work.” He led the study with a team of psychologists from Columbia University, University of Oregon and Yale University. He said that it actually makes sense as when you train for something, you do better.

Mental Control – Study Results
As per the recent study’s definition, mental control is mentioned as the ability to keep the two key nodes of the default mode network ‘inactive’ during mediation. These two key nodes are the medial prefrontal cortex and posterior cingulated cortex, which is the brain’s “neutral” setting. These become activated when one does not engage in a task which needs more focused attention. These allow the mind to wander. These two regions were comparatively quieter in the 12 experienced meditators while meditating than the 12 meditation beginners.

Brewer also suggested that meditators can have more skilled approach to control their wandering thoughts and bring the wandering mind back “on task” – when compared with people who don’t meditate every day.

Meditation – Key to Good Health?
Now, you might be thinking how having a mental control over your daydreams can make you healthier? Here’s the fantastic discovery. A well-functioning default mode network – which lets you explore about yourself and your lives but does not obstruct your concentration when required – is important for mental health.

Well, those of us who love to be lost in our daydreaming adventures are more likely to fall prey to depression – either because depressed people tend to have poor concentration or we get caught in a cycle of reflection. In a recent study it was found that people whose minds tend to wander off task are often depressed. Also, those suffering from attention deficit disorder have a problem with mind-wandering.

Food for Your Thought
Brewer cites Vince Lombardi, the legendary football coach, who once famously said, “Practice doesn’t make perfect: perfect practice makes perfect.”

Brewer suggests that meditation is “perfect practice” in skills which make undistracted work a eventuality – the ability to identify the initial signs of mind-wandering, to detect and forgive the impulse, and then subsequently to draw your “chain of thoughts” back to the work at hand.

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