Mindfulness for the Developing Brain

meriah dejosephOn Thursday, March 15th, Know Science, an organization that advocates the knowledge of new science and scientific research to the public, hosted the talk “Regulating the Brain: The Science of Mindfulness” at the Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute in New York City. This was an event presented as part of Brain Awareness Week.

Meriah DeJoseph, the presenter for the evening, is a lab manager for the Neuroscience and Education Lab at New York University (NYU). She will be starting a PhD program in developmental psychology this fall to further investigate self-regulation and how mindfulness can affect the developing brain. Prior to NYU, she worked on a project at Teachers College, Columbia University studying brain activity of children from Girls Prep Bronx Elementary, who have a mindfulness class integrated in their curriculum.

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The Power of Positive Thinking

While exercise has been widely accepted for its cognitive benefits, practices such as yoga and meditation are gaining attention for their specific contributions to brain health. “Meditation can change certain anatomical structures of the brain, and attention function can be improved, just as it can be with exercise,” neuroscientist and Dana Alliance member Wendy Suzuki said in a podcast called Ariana Yoga, which focuses on her exercise-based brain research. The technique of meditating allows for the ability to focus attention without distraction, as well as a better capacity to control emotional impulses, she explains.

As a new type of workout, Suzuki has taken the concept of applying positive thoughts to physical exercise for a practice she describes as “intentional exercise.” The combination of a favorite aerobic activity paired with a positive affirmation or mantra “adds another element,” she says. “Exercise is changing all sorts of neurochemicals and growth factors in your brain,” Suzuki explains in the podcast. Her fascination with the cognitive effects of consistent exercise, and consequential shift in lab research from brain plasticity and memory, was sparked through her own positive experience.

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Meditation in Education

Can something as simple as designated quiet time for 15 minutes twice a day help struggling students perform better in school? After adopting this approach for three years, one school in a troubled area of San Francisco saw suspension rates drop by 79 percent, attendance rise 98 percent, and grade point averages increase.

Yesterday’s New York Times reported on this school and other studies in the Bay Area, which also showed encouraging results. While these types of studies are still in their infancy, schools around the country are jumping on the meditation train in search of a cost-effective ways to nurture healthier and more focused students.

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Image: Shutterstock

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Brainwave’s “Mindfulness in the Workplace”

Do you have trouble concentrating on the task at hand? Be honest, how many new tabs have you opened between clicking on this blog and actually reading it. Personally, I opened two new tabs on my browser and started an e-mail just between writing the first and second sentence of this blog! With the constant buzzing of our smartphones and infinite distractions of the Internet, who can focus on just one thing? Well, by practicing mindfulness and meditation, neuroscientists are finding we may be able to do just that.

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