Ancient mind-body techniques could enhance digital performance.

Meditation, Yoga May Sharpen Computer Skills

In our interconnected world, many people spend their days working at a computer. And wouldn't it be nice if we could get a little bit better and a little bit faster with our digital tool? Well, you may be able to. 

According to a new study published online in the scientific journal TECHNOLOGY, yoga and meditation may actually sharpen certain computer skills.

Expediting digital learning
For the study, University of Minnesota researchers analyzed the learning patterns of two groups, one that practiced yoga or meditation for one year at least two times a week for an hour, and another that had little or no yoga or meditation experience. Individuals in both groups were learning to control a computer with their minds by wearing a high-tech, non-invasive cap over the scalp that picked up brain activity. 

The participants' brain activity was monitored as they used left and right hand movements to move a cursor across a computer screen. Those who did yoga and meditation learned three times faster than those who rarely practices the mind-body techniques. They were also twice as likely to finish the task by the end of 30 trials. 

"In recent years, there has been a lot of attention on improving the computer side of the brain-computer interface but very little attention to the brain side," lead researcher Bin He, a biomedical engineering professor, said in a news release. "This comprehensive study shows for the first time that looking closer at the brain side may provide a valuable tool for reducing obstacles for brain-computer interface success in early stages."

Meditation's Digital Side
While yoga and meditation are known for their calming attributes, this new research might secure a digital role for the ancient techniques. The results could also have major implications for treatments of people who are paralyzed or have neurodegenerative diseases. 

Scientists have been increasingly focused on finding ways to help physically disabled individuals whose brain function is still intact. Professor He gained international attention in 2013 when members of his team demonstrated flying a robot with only their minds. As bewildering as it sounds, it very well might be the future of technology. 

The new study showed that not everyone can easily learn to control a computer with their brains. In the trials, many were unsuccessful after multiple attempts, due to an inconsistent ‎electromyography brain signal from a distracted mind and unsustained attention. Those who meditated have shown more distinctive EEG patterns than untrained participants.

Professor He said he hatched the idea for the study more than five years ago when he began his brain-computer interface research and noticed one woman participant who was much more successful than other participants at controlling the computer with her brain. The woman had been an avid member of the yoga community.

For the able-bodied computer worker, a similar principle found in these new yoga and meditation benefits may still be relevant. Since the Internet is a vast reservoir of information, it is rather easy to become distracted, straying away from the work you should be doing. The mind-body techniques could help workers stay on track, whether operating machines with their brains or hands. 

A documentary film explores how meditation can benefit soldiers returning from war.

‘Free The Mind’ Documentary on Meditation Research

There are a lot of fascinating articles out there that delve into the subject of meditation benefits. But for those who are more visual learners, a recent documentary that sheds light on how mindfulness changes the brain might be worth sitting down and watching. 

The documentary film, "Free The Mind," was created by University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Richard Davidson who teaches classes on psychology and psychiatry. It focuses on Davidson's experience and research on meditative techniques, illuminating how deep breathing practices can have a physical effect on changing the brain. 

PTSD and ADHD
In the study, Davidson, who is founder and chair of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center, applied these mindfulness techniques on two different groups: veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and children dealing with extreme attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

About 5.2 million soldiers returning home from war are plagued by PTSD. The film follows Steve, an American solider who just came back from Afghanistan, where he worked as an interrogator. Now back home, he suffers from sleepless nights and is haunted by a darkened conscience due to the things he saw and did during the war. The PTSD has left him grappling with being not only a reliable adult but also a good father to his 2-year-old twins. 

But brain scientist Davidson poses the question, can veterans ease their pain through meditation and yoga, find happiness and return to a life more like the ones they had before the war?

"One of the things we do know, is that traditional treatments are only effective in, at best, half the population, and so, half the population is really not helped," Davidson said. "And so, we need to look for other methods."

Rewiring the Brain
Davidson built off his research of studying Buddhist monks for years, when he found it was possible to rewire one's brain through meditation. Some of the effects include being more compassionate, happy and altruistic. 

Through the film, we experience what meditation does to these veterans and children, and the power it holds as an alternate method of medicine to become less stressed and more happy. 

The researcher points out that there's a region of the brain called the insula that's used as the interacting link between the mind and body. This area becomes dramatically more activated during compassion meditation and can enable people who practice this type of mindfulness regularly to deepen their grasp of empathy with others. 

Remarkably, master of meditation Ilchi Lee used to struggle with attention deficit problems when he was a kid. He turned to meditation and deep breathing exercises to work his way over the hurdles, and sure enough, Lee was able to overcome ADHD.  Meditation allowed him to take a deeper look at himself and find his own self-worth, so he could turn over a new leaf in his life. 

A similar transformation can be seen in "Free The Mind." The film even appeared at the Milwaukee Film Festival last year. 

The viral sensation of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is more than passing fad.

One Man’s Struggle With ALS: Meditating to Stay Positive

In the last month, the Ice Bucket Challenge has swept through all corners of the Internet. The viral trend has boosted awareness for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, leading to more than $80 million in donations for the ALS Association. But the social media craze is more than a fad for some people – like Keith Ten Pow.

Pow, who lives in Liverpool, England, was diagnosed with ALS 21 years ago. He was a former salsa dancer and instructor who loved to stay active. Now the disease known for muscle atrophy has left him unable to perform the activities he loves. Despite the immense challenge, Pow tries to remain positive with meditation and a fighting spirit. 

"I meditate a lot to help calm me down and keep me feeling positive," Pow, who speaks with the help of an interpreter, told Liverpool Echo. 

There are lots of meditation benefits, from uplifted mood to lower blood pressure to reduced stress. Master of meditation Ilchi Lee is a big advocate concerning the perks of the ancient technique. Pow takes advantage of the meditation to stay on the sunny side of things. 

As a note, ALS is often called motor neuron disease (MND) in the U.K. The basis for the condition is a premature degeneration of motor nerves. 

"Everyone that has MND is different but I am a fighter," Pow told the source. "I'm still here 21 years on from being diagnosed, but that's why. Always stay positive."

Stad is fighting off a dangerous brain tumor in any way he can, including sitting down to meditate.

Meditation on Healing Treatment Lists for Boy with Brain Tumor

Jayden Stad was in eighth grade when he was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor. It's called diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, a form of cancerous tumor that wraps itself like an octopus to the middle of the brainstem.

As a brave, charming kid who likes video games, Stad has been turning to all forms of treatment that may help. While survival rates are extremely low for this condition, doctors have been urging Stad to try all different options, from using hyperbaric oxygen to meditation. The young boy has been practicing meditation to help ease worries about radiation treatments and try to maintain a positive outlook on things.

Tracy Auclair, Stad's mother, told Sherwood Park News that holding your head high now is of the utmost importance.

"The only way to get through this is to try and be strong, and it helps that Jayden's very positive," Auclair explained. "He's never expressed any fears since this happened, other than once being worried about radiation."

This principle of staying strong even in the face of the tallest obstacles aligns with Ilchi Lee's teachings, such as those in his book, "Change: Realizing Your Greatest Potential," which encourages people embrace each moment while seeking to be the best person you can possibly be. 

"You are infinite intelligence, creativity and Energy-Consciousness which gives you the power and wisdom to attain fulfillment and completion in life," Ilchi Lee wrote. 

There is no cure for DIPG, but recently Stad received a bit of good news. His last MRI showed a slight shrinkage in the size of the tumor, and Auclair believes all of the healing treatments are doing him good.

Stad's family is accepting donations in his fight for survival. Despite his uphill climb, Stad stands as a powerful inspiration for many, even inspiring a neighbor to run a marathon to raise money for him.

"There's always hope," Auclair told the source.

Yoga poses can enhance brain activity for older adults.

Yoga Boost Brain Function in the Elderly

It is no secret that as we age, our brains start to dull. But with the proper stimuli, there are ways to keep the mind sharp and agile long after wrinkles set in. 

According to a new study published in the Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, practicing yoga three times a week can boost brain power in sedentary adults. The participants, ages 55 through 79, showed improved performance in cognitive tasks that are relevant to everyday life. 

Of the 108 adults, 61 attended yoga classes while the others engaged in stretching and toning exercises for the same number and length of sessions. 

At the end of the eight weeks, the yoga group proved speedier and more accurate with information recall, mental flexibility and task-switching on cognitive tests. The stretching and toning group had no significant change in cognitive performance over time. The research team said the differences seen between groups were not the result of distinctions in age, gender or other demographic factors.

"It is possible that this focus on one's body, mind and breath during yoga practice may have generalized to situations outside of the yoga classes, resulting in an improved ability to sustain attention," Neha Gothe, who co-led the study, told the Economic Times.

Staying Active
Oftentimes, retired seniors can become idle, following a similar sedentary routine day after day. It's important that these adults find outlets to keep their mind and body agile, and as this study – among many others – has shown, yoga is a great activity to promote balance in the mind and body. 

In line with Ilchi Lee's teachings, yoga can have immediate psychological effects by decreasing anxiety, stress and depression. Yoga classes can vary from gentle and easy-going to strenuous and challenging; the caliber all depends on the individual's personal preference. Most practices combine three elements: physical yoga poses called asanas, controlled breathing in conjunction with asanas and a short period of meditation or deep relaxation. 

The mind-body practice has a quieting impact on the sympathetic nervous system, Gothe told the Times At the same, it appears to modulate stress response systems. By reducing stress, many people experience a mood boost, walking out of the yoga class feeling better than when they arrived. 

Mindful meditation can hone your will power.

Looking to Boost Willpower? Try Meditation

Resisting that second cupcake? Or seeking to stay focused longer? Meditation might be the key to boosting your willpower – one of the many meditation benefits.

Meditation, a state of thoughtless awareness, is thousands of years old, but it's just as relevant today than it ever has been. That's because molding willpower acts as a launching pad for achieving our true goals in life. Whether it's dropping a few pounds on a diet or practicing hours of drums to become the best musician possible, willpower is key. 

"Paying attention to what's happening in the moment, what's going on in your body, your mind, and all around you, can make it easier to tune in to choices you make several hundred times a day when it comes to eating," health psychologist Kelly McGonigal who's a professor at Stanford, told U.S. World News and Report. 

Building Gray Matter
Similar to flexing a muscle, working out the mind through meditation can train it become more reliable and controlled. Mindful practices can actually alter brain patterns in ways that may be permanent, and when it comes to shaping one's will, mediation builds gray matter in areas of the brain that regulate emotions.

Gray matter is the darker, neural tissue in the brain and spinal cord. It is named after its distinctive color. Many people associate gray matter with intelligence, because it is a major player in sensory input, gathering information from the sensory organs and other gray matter cells to process more quickly. Essentially, gray matter is the central processing unit of the brain.

In a study from Center of Functionally Integrative Neuroscience at Aarhus University in Denmark, researchers compared MRI scans of the brains of meditators with the brains of non-meditators. The results showed that meditation developed physical changes in the gray matter of the lower brain stem.

Another study from the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory University in Atlanta highlighted that the amount of gray matter diminishes as people age. Yet for meditators, their gray matter hadn't reduced with age. According to the scientists, meditation had a "neuroprotective" effect on those who meditated. 

Mindful Choices
Ilchi Lee, a master of meditation, points out that guided meditation supports the ability to make mindful choices and handle stress. It can also shift the brain and body into a state that engenders more energy and strength to do things that are difficult instead of reverting to things that are easy and tempting. 

To make it transformative, people can practice meditation to find that profound and deep peace that occurs when the mind is calm and silent, yet completely alert. A higher level of awareness enables us to fulfill our true human potential. 

Meditation Exercises
Here is one such exercise that you can try for meditation benefits for the brain – it's called breath focus meditation with mindfulness of breath and body. As its name suggests, this meditation revolves around breath focus and moves onto mindfulness of body, breath, thoughts, sensations and emotions. During this practice, use labeling to identify sensations and perceptions. For example, mentally say "nose itching" or "smell of bacon" or "clocking ticking." After you label them, notice – really notice – how they feel, smell and sound, but then return to how it feels to breathe. Keep on letting your attention dance in this way – noticing, then coming back to breath. This meditation helps people become more aware of their choices as well as thoughts, environment and emotions that cause automatic behavior. 

Even 60 seconds of meditation before a presentation can be helpful.

Meditate Before Business Presentations

Whether large or small, business presentations can be a nerve-racking experience. That's why taking a few moments to mediate leading up to the meeting can prove helpful.

Ilchi Lee, a master of meditation, says that among the many mindfulness meditation benefits, the ancient practice is designed to help clear the mind, relieve stress and improve sharpness of cognitive skills.

Even 60 seconds of meditation before your presentation can produce a noticeable impact, explained speaker Todd Herman, a leadership consultant who works with professional athletes and corporations like Shell, Chevron, and Cisco.

You can do this anytime, any place. Some people might even practice a little mindful meditation in their cars outside the building.

Meditation Quick Tips
Here's what to do:

  1. Take deep breaths through your nose down to your diaphragm and steadily exhale through your mouth. This can slow down your heart rate and oxygenate your blood, working to reduce anxiety. 
  2. If you have access to it, put on some soothing music such as a jazz, tambura or nature sounds like the ocean crashing.
  3. Close your eyes and get used to feeling with your eyes closed. Then focus on your deep breathing. 
  4. For meditation for beginners, it's helpful to set a timer for two minutes, close your eyes and imagine the number one as a physical object. When your attention begins to drift, imagine the number two, and so on. By the end of the exercise, you'll make note of the last number you thought about. With practice, the number will decrease because you'll learn to put the brakes on the thoughts zooming around your head. 

Other Helpful Ways to Prepare
Practice the Positive of Negative Preparation Principle. When astute business people are deciding whether or not to invest, they don't just see the positive outcomes. That would narrow their scope. They also see everything that could go wrong. As counterintuitive as it sounds, it's helpful to think of everything that could go in your presentation and then prepare a response for them. Before entering the meeting, visualize everything going right. 

After meditating, be sure to keep your presentation's intention at the front your mind. Remind yourself why you are giving your presentation. Chances are, it's not for you but for others. A simple reminder of how your information might benefit an audience member can be an uplifting thought before showtime. 

According to several of Blackburn's studies, meditation can help protect DNA.

The Anti-Aging Effects of Meditation

No one's claiming mindful meditation is the fountain of youth, but there may be something in it that protects people against those wrinkles a bit longer.

In a recent CNN report, a Yale biologist named Elizabeth Blackburn unveiled how meditation practices resist stress's aging effects

Blackburn has spent decades researching this topic in one form or another. In the 1970s, the scientist delved into nature to answer some of human's pulsing questions. She sequenced the chromosome tips of a single-celled freshwater creature called Tetrahymena, "pond scum" as she dubbed it. The researcher found a repeating DNA motif that serves as a type of chromosome shield, described as telomeres, which were later found on human chromosomes too. 

These protective caps go on the end of our chromosomes each time DNA is copied, but they dwindle and wear down over time. When they become too short, our cells begin to malfunction and lose their ability to divide – a key part of the aging process. 

Years later, Blackburn and her colleague Elissa Epel, a postdoc from University of California, San Francisco's psychiatry department, introduced a new factor into the studies: stress. 

"I was interested in the idea that if we look deep within cells we might be able to measure the wear and tear of stress and daily life," Epel told CNN.

Stress Scars
Many of us consider stress a mere mental phenomenon, but there is a deeply physical side to stress. 

"Every stress leaves an indelible scar, and the organism pays for its survival after a stressful situation by becoming a little older," pioneering biologist Hans Selye once said back in the 1930s. 

Epel and Blackburn wanted to discover that scar.

So they conducted a study of mothers going through one of the biggest anxiety-producing situations that exist: caring for a chronically ill child. After four years, researchers collected blood samples from 58 women and measured the telomere length and levels of telomerase.

The results showed that the more stressed the mothers were, the shorter their telomeres and the lower their levels of telomerase.

The women most plagued by chronic anxiety had telomeres that translated into 10 years of aging in comparison to those who were less stressed. In other words, there is a very real connection between our life experiences and the molecular health of our cells.

Meditation: The Anti-Stress Soldier
Blackburn's work eventually led her to meditation. For scientists neck deep in the quantifiable and measurable, it may seem odd that molecular studies bridged the gap toward mindful meditation, an ancient, abstract practice focused on breathing and soul searching.

Based on research trials, the Yale scientist analyzed ways to protect telomeres from the effects of stress. Eating healthy and social support were shown to help. But one of the most effective methods was none other than meditation. 

Mindfulness techniques are apparently capable of slowing the erosion of telomeres and possibly even lengthening them again, according to CNN. In one project, participants who completed a three-month meditation course at a Shambhala mountain retreat had a 30 percent high levels of telomerase than a similar group who did not partake in the course.

For a different 2013 study, researchers found that men with low-risk prostate cancer who undertook comprehensive lifestyle changes, such as meditation, maintained a higher activity level of telomerase than men in a control group.  

Almost all of the studies – though small – point in this direction. 

"Being present in your activities and in your interactions is precious, and it's rare these days with all of the multitasking we do," Epel told the source. "I do think that in general we've got a society with scattered attention, particularly when people are highly stressed and don't have the resources to just be present wherever they are."

A master of meditation, Ilchi Lee points out that advancements in science are finally explaining things that meditators have experienced for generations. It all underlines the same verdict: Mindful meditation benefits the body and brain. 

Stress continues to be an epidemic in the U.S.

One-quarter of Americans Experience ‘Toxic Stress’

Stress is a normal part of life. But when it comes to a chunk of Americans, stress is running rampant.

More than 1 in every 4 Americans report having a great deal of stress in the previous month, according to a national poll conducted by National Public Radio, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Harvard University's School of Public Health. Experts dubbed this "toxic" stress.

Half of all adults say they experienced a major stressful event in the past year, amounting to more than 115 million Americans.

Princeton University psychologist Eldar Shafir said that the poll only painted a corner of the picture, however. He explained that even though the poll captured the obvious degrees of stress that people are are conscious of, many people may be suffering from stress symptoms without realizing it. This "hidden" stress can inhibit our ability to deal with life's problems, both big and small.

When stress is chronic, our cognitive capacity actually shrinks. Think about playing a sport in cold weather. Our muscles tighten and we become less agile, slower and more prone to injury. Something similar occurs with people suffering from chronic stress.

Individuals' relationships become strained, their health compromised and their financial well-being strained. Unlike other polls, this NPR poll focused on the 26 percent of people who say they're currently living with a high level of stress. The trick is getting out of the cold. 

"These are not just the people who say they have some stress day to day," Robert Blendon, executive director, Harvard Opinion Research Program, told NPR. "These are the share of Americans for whom it really makes a big difference. It affects their ability to sleep and to concentrate. It leads them to have more arguments with family members. It affects their health."

Where Meditation Comes In
It may look like a bleak picture, but there is something we can do to brighten it. One of the best natural, stress-fighting remedies is meditation – and it's not just for yogis and hipsters.

Research has shown that mindful meditation calms the mind and body and can help build a fortitude against stress. In fact, quieting mental noise through meditation not only allows people to feel more relaxed, it makes their bodies physically more stress-resistant. Studies from the National Institutes of Health, Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine and Harvard Medical School indicate meditation reduces blood pressure, lowers the risk of heart attacks, boosts the immune system and can even activate disease-fighting genes.

This is exactly what stressed out people need, especially since poor health ranks as the biggest source of stress, according to the NPR poll. Even more than the death of a loved one, health-related problems triggers huge levels of anxiety.

Everyone from professional athletes to teachers to military members practice mindfulness training, and it doesn't take as long as you might think. Meditating for 15 minutes a day has been shown to churn out these load-lightening benefits.

Different Types of Meditation
Furthermore, there are lots of different types of meditation. If one technique that works for your friend doesn't sound like your style, you can look to dozens of others.

Ilchi Lee explains that meditation is an umbrella term for the many avenues to a relaxed state of being. Ways to meditate include guided meditation, where a leader uses guided imagery or visualization to form mental images or situations you find relaxing; mantra meditation, which involves silently repeating a calming word; mindfulness meditation, which focuses on breathing and increased awareness; and Qi going, a technique that blends meditation, relaxation and physical movement. Others include tai chi and yoga exercises.

Whatever stress you're going through, meditation may be able to help.

Meditation has been shown to enhance sports performance.

Can Meditation Improve Sports Performance?

For athletes in game, finding "the zone" can spell the difference between the road to victory or packing for home. Players have to block out yells and commotion from fans, overlook smack talk from opponents and find a rhythm in their play. 

So, in the last decade, fitness experts have been analyzing how flexing the mental muscle – such as with concentration techniques – compares to those reps of bicep curls. As it turns out, new research shows that practicing mindful meditation, which helps clear the mind and focus on the present moment, can improve an athlete's performance.

"Mindfulness meditation is a hot topic actively studied in sports medicine," Gregory Chertok, a sports psychology consultant with the American College of Sports Medicine, told Reuters.

A 2014 study published in the Psychological Science journal highlighted that 15 minutes of focused-breathing meditation may help athletes and exercisers make smarter choices. Further research indicates that meditation enhances attention and sharpens impulse control.

The art of living in the moment is essential in sports. But as abstract as that sounds, entering the "here and now" can be practiced. 

Mindful meditation combines breathing techniques with awareness of thoughts. Most of the time, it entails paying precise, nonjudgmental attention to the details of our experience as it arises and subsides. Through this, a practitioner can gain mastership over the mind and body. 

In a 2011 study by Massachusetts General Hospital, researchers discovered that 30 minutes of daily meditation increased gray matter in the hippocampus, a region of the brain associated with memory and learning, while decreasing the amygdala, the part of the brain connected to stress and anxiety. 

"If you think you have no time to meditate, how much time do you spend worrying?" Los Angeles-based yoga teacher Ashley Turner told Reuters.

For meditation for beginners, Turner recommends starting by just following your breath rather than by trying to meditate. Then add one minute every week until you reach 20 or 30 minutes. When the mind drifts, draw awareness back. 

The Man in the Mirror
As athletes, business people and other aspiring individuals know, the biggest opponent can often be the person looking at back at you in the mirror. That's why finding an inner calm can train your mind to be your best partner instead of your worst enemy. 

All performance occurs in the present. Brooding over shortcomings in the past or worrying excessively about future outcomes can result in anxiety, muscle tension and mental chatter that hinders concentration. 

By meditating, people can learn to soothe their thoughts and better control their emotions, helping them focus on the court, field or in the gym.

When a player has an off day, chances are they just couldn't get their body's action and mind's thoughts syncopated.

Self-Talk
Another good way to get positive and encouraging thoughts back on track is through "technical self-talk," a mental strategy that has been shown to improve performance with the use of self-addressed cues like words or small phrases, which help focus attention and pysch one's self up. For example, freestyle swimmers might think to themselves in the pool, "elbow-up," to work on their technique. 

It is worth pointing out that findings show self-talk, which deals with similar mental strength-training as meditation, has a greater effect on novel tasks rather than well-learned ones. Essentially, if you are in the early steps of learning, technical and motivational self-talk may be more effective. 

An expert of meditation and innovative leader in the human brain potential development, Ilchi Lee, points out that whether on or off the field, athletes can harness mindfulness meditation so it works for them. Staying present in the moment mixed with visualizing success can help lead you toward personal development and a win.

Read about the healing potential of Ilchi Lee's Brain Wave Vibration moving meditation technique.