Focused attention meditation can increase connectivity within and among brain networks.
Meditation involves sitting quietly and focusing on your breathing, noticing if your mind wanders, and then gently returning your attention to your breath. Meditation has been shown to improve cognition in the elderly, anxiety in stressed out people, and PTSD symptoms in the traumatized.
The default mode network in the brain is active when we are daydreaming, or our mind is wandering. The dorsal attention network is engaged when we participate in attention-demanding tasks and when we need to maintain our concentration on our studies or work. Tibetans call the capacity to switch between mind wandering and focused attention mental pliancy.
Ten novice meditators (age 19 or 20 years) were recruited from a university class on meditation. They took 8 weeks of meditation training. Eight of the participants practiced meditation between 7.75 and 9.5 hours, and two of the participants practiced more than 16.5 hours. The participants had fMRI scans at the beginning of the course and after 8 weeks.
Researchers found an increase in connectivity between the participant’s default mode network and their dorsal attention network, as well as within the dorsal attention network, even when the participants were not meditating. The size of the increases were associated with the amount of time spent meditating. Meditation also decreased the participant’s heart rate. The research demonstrated that meditation improves mental pliancy.
Takeaway: Meditation increases your brain’s capacity to concentrate and to switch between paying attention to tasks and letting your mind wander. To get started, or recommit, to a meditation practice, search the internet for free guided meditations or try a meditation app such as Calm, Insight Timer, Headspace, or Buddhify.
Zongpai Zhang, et al., Longitudinal Effects of Meditation on Brain Resting-State Functional Connectivity, Nature.com Scientific Reports, May 31, 2021, https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-021-90729-y.
Chris Kocher, 8 Weeks of Meditation Studies Can Make Your Brain Quicker, Neuroscience News, Aug 12, 2021, https://neurosciencenews.com/meditation-consciousness-quickness-19112/.