Meditation is not the first thing that probably comes to mind when you're coming up with ways to psych yourself up for a big interview or presentation. But new research shows that by gearing up for a big, stressful event with meditation, you can focus and improve your memory -- all good things to be happening when you're on the proverbial stage.
If this sounds a bit airy-fairy to you, know that researchers from some very esteemed institutions -- Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology -- as a matter of fact, are behind this study. They have found that mindful meditation helps to regulate a crucial brain wave called the alpha rhythm. This rhythm is thought to "turn down the volume" on distracting information, which looks like it helps the brain deal with an often-overstimulating world.
"Mindfulness meditation has been reported to enhance numerous mental abilities, including rapid memory recall," says Dr. Catherine Kerr, of the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at MGH and the Osher Research Center at Harvard Medical School, co-lead author of the report. "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."
Mindfulness meditation -- in which practitioners direct nonjudgmental attention to their sensations, feelings and state of mind -- has also been associated with improved performance on attention-based tasks: It can help you remain focused longer.
And you don't necessarily have to have been practicing meditation for many years to feel its benefits. The study used volunteers with no previous experience in meditation. Half completed the eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program developed at the University of Massachusetts. The other half were asked not to engage in any type of meditation during the study period. They measured the subject's brain activity using magnetoencephalography (MEG), an imaging technique that detects the location of brain activity with extreme precision.
At the end of the eight weeks, those who completed the mindfulness meditation training made faster and significantly more pronounced attention-based adjustments. Not only can this help memory and focus, but also pain control. "This result may explain reports that mindfulness meditation decreases pain perception," says Kerr. "Enhanced ability to turn the alpha rhythm up or down could give practitioners' greater ability to regulate pain sensation."
So in order to minimize the pain of an interview, stay focused and have enhanced memory, you might try gearing up with some meditation. If nothing else, it will calm you down.
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