What’s the Correlation between Your Brain, Learning and Meditation?

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January 15, 2012 by idinnovation

Is it really necessary to talk about science on an instructional design blog? Can’t we just talk about learning?! I would love that, in fact I almost did say just forget the science behind it all. The brain however, is a major contributor to our learning process. In an attempt to keep the science to a minimum I am briefly discuss the human nervous system. What does meditation have to do with learning? Are you studying or trying to find yourself?  Well if you’re meditating you in fact are improving your study skills and finding inner peace.  Sort of like a two for one!

The human nervous system has two parts, the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system. The central nervous system is comprised of the brain and spinal cord while the peripheral system carries information from receptor cells to the central nervous system. Receptor cells detect different kinds of stimuli from the environment such as light, sound, heat, pressure and chemicals. The human brain has several different structures. The ones that are important for this discussion are the midbrain which plays a role in vision, hearing and helps to coordinate and control eye movements. The cerebellum which is located at the lower rear of the brain is involved with the more advanced behaviors such as balance and motor activities like walking, riding a bike, or playing football. The reticular formation is also known as the reticular activating system or RAS. The role of the RAS is to create vibrant effects in the cortex. It plays a significant role in determining whether a person can learn and remember whether a person is imprudent or self-controlled, whether a person has high or low motor activity levels, and whether a person is driven or lackadaisical. Finally there is the forebrain which is located in the front upper portions of the brain. Most of the mental activity occurs in the forebrain. On top is the cerebral cortex, which is divided into two halves or hemispheres. It is the intentional expression of your frontal cortex that allows you to set new goals and gives you the drive to achieve those goals. The left hemisphere for most people manages language, speech production, language comprehension, reading and mathematical calculation. The right hemisphere is more dominate as it related to the visual and spatial processing. That is it assists locating objects, distinguishing shapes, comparing quantities, drawing and painting, recognizing faces and facial expressions and understanding non-verbal communication.

Let me begin by defining meditation at a very basic level. Meditation according to wiki is a practice in which practitioners train their minds or self-induce a mode of consciousness for beneficial purposes. Meditation in its many variations has grown in popularity in recent years as its benefits have become more widely recognized. It is by nature a process that encourages the developmental and integrative aspects of consciousness in all cases. The processing ability that the hindbrain centers gives you to alter your observations, alter what your neurological filters allow you to focus upon and to alter your perceptions of and insightfulness of new patterns in the environmental expression of the physical wonders of your world. Research has shown that analysis of the brain scans of practicing meditators, found increased greymatter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with compassion self-awareness, and introspection.

Meditation researchers have focused on the role of meditation on cognitive performance. When participants regularly meditate before studying and examinations, academic scores tend to improve. Shapiro, Brown, & Astin list three research findings that suggest that mindfulness mediation can have a positive impact on cognitive and academic performance:

• Mindfulness meditation may improve ability to maintain preparedness and orient attention.

• Mindfulness meditation may improve ability to process information quickly and accurately.

• Concentration-based meditation, practiced over a long-term, may have a positive impact on academic achievement.

The sources listed below I found very useful in researching meditation and learning. I only thought of this topic when I noticed that while reading my attention was easily diverted. I knew from personal experience that when I am actively meditating my concentration and ability to grasp concepts is heightened. I hope you review the sources listed below in an attempt to understand the correlation between the brain, cognition, meditation and the learning process. Unfortunately much of the research listed both in the references and in on-line articles notes that larger sample sizes are needed in order to make broad generalizations concerning the benefits of mediation on learning.

References

http://www.diamondhead.net/amover.htm

http://www.uwlax.edu/urc/JUR-online/PDF/2005/foris.pdf

http://www.gwern.net/docs/zeidan2010.pdf

http://www.diamondhead.net/mlnp.htm

http://www.colorado.edu/ftep/events/eventdocs/documents/ShapiroResearchReport.pdf

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One thought on “What’s the Correlation between Your Brain, Learning and Meditation?

  1. DeVika Lyles says:

    Sharifa, I have truly come to enjoy your blog. This particular response about mediation and the brain speaks to my heart. I too am aware of the benefits of mediation (both with-in and apart from its applications to Instruction/Education). In following up with what you have presented, about the connection between the central nervous systems and the peripheral system, there is a lot to be said about how these systems continue to break down and react with each other. In the peripheral nervous system live the Automatic Nervous System which controls the Sympathetic Nervous System and the Parasympathetic Nervous System.
    The Sympathetic Nervous System is what kicks in and when we are afraid or startled. It produces Catecholamine (which are stressors that cause the flight or fight response) and this area is basically concerned about our FEAR and how to handle it. The counter to this system is the Parasympathetic Nervous System, which stimulates balance and harmony, reduces negative stimulation in the brain and body and produces endorphins which naturally inhibit catecholamine. This response causes you to be relaxed and more receptive to positive stimulation. I wanted to post a picture of the system here but I am unable to do so. You may be able to find the same chart I used at the following link: http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/nsdivide.html

    Knowing more about how this system works , may further support your assertions that those who practice meditation or self-hypnosis are better able to focus, process information and over the long-term improve their overall brain chemistry. This is likely due to the brain building and having easier access to the chemicals which inhibit those negative brain responses which block learning and positive experiences. The more often that someone practices these skills, the more likely they are to be able to produce the positive chemicals at will. Further, they are more likely to use these skills in situations that would normally cause them stress and thus make it easier for them to be distracted. Utilizing this information can be helpful to teachers who might be teaching either a stressful subject or a demographic of students who might be more likely to experience stress while learning (special needs, autism or even normal students who are about to take a test).

    In my personal life, I am currently preparing to receive my certification in HypnoBirthing. HypnoBirthing is a practice which uses the information about how the brain processes fear and negative emotions in an effort to train birthing mothers and their companions to use self-hypnosis and meditation skills to overcome these potential blockers to happy and healthy birth to produce better birthing experiences. Having hands on experience with how the body and the brain react to these practices, I am in full support of the continued research in this area and thank you so much for your wonderful blog post which I hope will bring more exposure to the advantages of meditation and self-hypnosis in Education and other aspects of life.

    http://www.hypnobirthing.com

    http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/nsdivide.html

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