Sunday, July 01, 2007

No wonder journals are good for you!

"Brain Scans Reveal Why Meditation Works

Melinda Wenner
Special to LiveScience Sat Jun 30, 1:35 PM ET

If you name your emotions, you can tame them, according to new research that suggests why meditation works.

Brain scans show that putting negative emotions into words calms the brain's emotion center. That could explain meditation’s purported emotional benefits, because people who meditate often label their negative emotions in an effort to “let them go.”

Psychologists have long believed that people who talk about their feelings have more control over them, but they don't know why it works.

UCLA psychologist Matthew Lieberman and his colleagues hooked 30 people up to functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machines, which scan the brain to reveal which parts are active and inactive at any given moment.

They asked the subjects to look at pictures of male or female faces making emotional expressions. Below some of the photos was a choice of words describing the emotion—such as “angry” or “fearful”—or two possible names for the people in the pictures, one male name and one female name.

When presented with these choices, the subjects were asked to pick the most appropriate emotion or gender-appropriate name to fit the face they saw.

When the participants chose labels for the negative emotions, activity in the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex region—an area associated with thinking in words about emotional experiences—became more active, whereas activity in the amygdala, a brain region involved in emotional processing, was calmed.

By contrast, when the subjects picked appropriate names for the faces, the brain scans revealed none of these changes—indicating that only emotional labeling makes a difference.

“In the same way you hit the brake when you’re driving when you see a yellow light, when you put feelings into words, you seem to be hitting the brakes on your emotional responses,” Lieberman said of his study, which is detailed in the current issue of Psychological Science.

In a second experiment, 27 of the same subjects completed questionnaires to determine how “mindful” they are.

Meditation and other “mindfulness” techniques are designed to help people pay more attention to their present emotions, thoughts and sensations without reacting strongly to them. Meditators often acknowledge and name their negative emotions in order to “let them go.”

When the team compared brain scans from subjects who had more mindful dispositions to those from subjects who were less mindful, they found a stark difference—the mindful subjects experienced greater activation in the right ventrolateral prefrontral cortex and a greater calming effect in the amygdala after labeling their emotions.

“These findings may help explain the beneficial health effects of mindfulness meditation, and suggest, for the first time, an underlying reason why mindfulness meditation programs improve mood and health,” said David Creswell, a UCLA psychologist who led the second part of the study, which will be detailed in Psychosomatic Medicine."

These results might explain why I feel better after I have written down my thoughts. I've done that type of thing since I was a child; journaling my emotions, and thoughts. I've always found myself to become more grounded and less emotional after I had typed out, and looked at all of my responses to the various things that were bothering me. Perhaps by taking the feelings within me, assessing them, labeling them, and all of the other mental activities that are required to write things down I was able to use my right ventrolateral prefrontral cortex more than my emotional center.

NOW..... Is this transferable to moments in sparring? There is no way that I could pull out a paper and pencil during a sparring moment to document my feelings and name them, but perhaps just a mental shift of thinking from "feeling" an emotion such as fear, anger, frustration, etc. to naming it might help control those feelings, and turn on the calm logical center within me. Can I train my mind to state to itself "I am afraid of the oncoming attack, but I can handle it."? Gee... that takes quite a while to form a phrase like that in your mind. Sparring moments, actions, and decisions happen in milliseconds. Maybe I can bring the naming of emotions down to a sudden thought of the word "Fear", "Anger", etc.

I can't see that small action changing what happens in my mind because there is no solution to the problem. Gee.. it could even worsen things, couldn't it? For example, if I'm afraid of snakes, and I stand in front of a snake, and say to myself "Yep, I'm scared." By focusing on my fear over the fact that this little gardner snake is moving before me, would I not edge myself into a panic? I would think that I would need to start analyzing the fear, and talking logic into myself as to how I can handle it all.

I'm thinking that the goal of a Martial Artist is to attain a mental disposition of calm, and logic before the sparring session, and then to maintain it throughout. I think that we train to be able to treat fear, anger, or pain as a non-issue during a fight. Before, and after a fight.. that is a different story. The better we can understand ourselves, our emotions, and how to handle them, the better a Martial artist we can be. As I consider this part of training even more deeply, I think that our goal, when we are fighting, is to knock our opponent's mental solidity off, and to instill fear, etc. in them in order to make it more difficult for them to cope with the fight.

So then what do we have when we are sparring with another Martial artist? We have two people ( or more) attempting to break through the mental training of the other person and to create unbalance meanwhile the other person struggles to do the same to you. Like two people pulling at a tug of war, the result is that both will become stronger. However, I'm thinking that care must be taken to realize the level of training of the person in front of you when working together in a dojo. The mental environment of a person is really based on past experiences, and is a very variable place of advancement. I would not ask a 5 year old child to attempt to lift 200 pounds, neither would I ask a timid partner to handle extreme agressiveness.


John Vesia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
lizzie said...

Sometimes, I don't know why I'm so upset. So, I have to look inside my feelings to see what's bothering me. When I do find it, I do feel more calmed because I can finally try to fix it.

They say that it's better to talk or write about your feelings. I naturally let out my feelings because I'm such a open person. I think if people do this, they can be more happy because I'm more calmed and can analize their feelings better. On the other hand, if people their feelings all in, they will not be as happy. These people are more liable to be unhappy for a long period of time and explode because of the feelings swelling inside them.

supergroup7 said...

Gee Sensei John, I don't remember asking myself why I chosing to engage is such a dangerous activity as sparring before. It's always been something that I felt that I "had" to do. I've always told myself that it's part of the art. If one wants to learn to play guitar they have to pick up the instrument, and strum it at some time. I wanted to learn karate, I felt that I HAD to be able to face someone and use the skills that I had been diligently working on.

supergroup7 said...

Good comment Lizzie. It is important to recognize feelings, and let them out. I've learned that pushing feelings down will cause them to come out in other less-healthy ways.