Do You Judge Your Sensations?

By Suzanne Holman • August 23rd, 2011

Reading a definition of mindfulness meditation as "nonjudgmental attention to sensations", I became interested to learn more about what that meant.

When I think about my usual experience of life, I know that I am constantly making judgments about what I am observing. Do I like what I am seeing, hearing, feeling?  What past memories are coming up?  I know with smells we can bring up memories from the distant past.  

I wanted to learn more about how I could let go of those judgments and be able to just "be" with what I observe.
I found the results of a study on mindfulness meditation very enlightening.

In a recent report on the effect of meditation on the brain, co-authored by Catherine Kerr, PhD, she said, “Mindfulness meditation has been reported to enhance numerous mental abilities, including rapid memory recall.  Our discovery that mindfulness meditators more quickly adjusted the brain wave that screens out distraction could explain their superior ability to rapidly remember and incorporate new facts.”

When the brain uses more alpha rhythm or waves, it lessens the distracting information.  With less judgment going on about what we are observing, it can really help us deal with our world that is SO full of stimulation.

When we are able to eliminate the mental noise, we can recall information faster.  This is what they found with the mindfulness meditators.  Just as radio stations broadcast at specific frequencies, our brain cells use distinct frequencies (or waves) to adjust how the information flows in our minds.  The alpha frequency is most helpful for us to process touch, sight and sound in the brain's cortex where it helps to suppress the sensations that are not relevant.

Catherine Kerr's studies showed that those participants who practiced mindfulness meditation were able to control and bring on the alpha rhythms. While in the alpha state not only were the meditators able to have clearer reception of stimuli, but they also felt less pain.  This would be a great benefit for people with chronic pain, enabling them to use less medication by doing regular meditation.

Learning about these benefits only emphasizes even more to me the importance of being in the present and practicing mindfulness. Our multitasking habits can be so detrimental to our clear thinking and brain health.

References:

Catherine E. Kerr, Stephanie R. Jones, Qian Wan, Dominique L. Pritchett, Rachel H. Wasserman, Anna Wexler, Joel J. Villanueva, Jessica R. Shaw, Sara W. Lazar, Ted J. Kaptchuk, Ronnie Littenberg, Matti S. Hämäläinen, Christopher I. Moore. Effects of mindfulness meditation training on anticipatory alpha modulation in primary somatosensory cortexBrain Research Bulletin, 2011; DOI:10.1016/j.brainresbull.2011.03.026

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