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Lions Roar : January 2018
found that mindfulness meditation can reduce mind-wandering and improve our ability to solve problems. There’s more good news: studies have shown that improved attention seems to last up to five years after mindfulness training, again suggesting trait-like changes are possible. Do these benefits apply to people with attention-deficit disorders, and could meditation possibly supplant drugs like Adderall? We can’t yet say for sure. While there have been some promising small-scale studies, especially with adults, we need larger randomized controlled trials to under- stand how meditation might mix with other treatments to help both kids and adults manage attention deficits. Long-term, consistent medi- tation does seem to increase resiliency to stress. Note that we’re not saying it necessarily reduces physiological and psychological reactions to threats and obstacles. But studies to date do suggest that medita- tion helps mind and body bounce back from stress and stressful situations. For example, practicing medita- tion lessens the inflammatory response in people exposed to psychological stressors, particularly for long-term meditators. According to neuroscience research, mindfulness practices dampen activity in our amygdala and increase the connections between the amygdala and prefrontal cortex. Both of these parts of the brain help us to be less reactive to stressors and to recover better from stress when we experience it. As Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson write in their new book, Altered Traits, “These changes are trait- like: they appear not simply during the explicit instruction to perceive the stressful stimuli mindfully, but even in the ‘baseline’ state” for longer-term med- itators, which supports the possibility that mindfulness changes our ability to handle stress in a better, more sustain- able way. Meditation does appear to increase compassion. It also makes our compassion more effective. While we may espouse compassionate attitudes, we can also suffer when we see others suffering, which can create a state of paralysis or withdrawal. Many well-designed studies have shown that practicing loving-kindness meditation for others increases our willingness to take action to relieve suf- fering. It appears to do this by lessening amygdala activity in the presence of suffering, while also activating circuits in the brain that are connected to good feelings and love. For longtime meditators, activity in the “default network”—the part of our brains that, when not busy with focused activity, ruminates on thoughts, feelings, and experiences—quiets down, suggest- ing less rumination about ourselves and our place in the world. Meditation appears to improve mental health—but not neces- sarily more than other steps you can take. Early research suggested that mindful- ness meditation had a dramatic impact on our mental health. But as the number PHOTOBYJASONELIAS