and mindlessness is the cause of a tremendous amount of human suffering. as a result, the circuits involved in thinking about oneself and other people, the medial prefrontal cortex, tend to be not too well developed. if you are sitting on the edge of a jetty in summer, a nice breeze blowing in your hair and a cold beer in your hand, instead of taking in the beautiful day you might find yourself thinking about what to cook for dinner tonight, and whether you will make a mess of the meal to the amusement of your partner. the default network is active for most of your waking moments and doesn’t take much effort to operate. in other words, if you think about an upcoming meeting while you wash dishes, you are more likely to overlook a broken glass and cut your hand, because the brain map involved in visual perception is less active when the narrative map is activated.
this explains why, for example, if your narrative circuitry is going crazy worrying about an upcoming stressful event, it helps to take a deep breath and focus on the present moment. when you make this change in your attention, you change the functioning of your brain, and this can have a long-term impact on how your brain works too. the key to practicing mindfulness is just to practice focusing your attention onto a direct sense, and to do so often. you can practice mindfulness while you are eating, walking, talking, doing just about anything, with the exception of drinking a beer in the sun, which works for only a limited time before your attention leaves to go and party (the neuroscience of all that will have to wait for another book.) david rock is executive director of the neuroleadership institute, and ceo of the neuroleadership group, a global consulting firm.
findings from the neuroscience of emotion regulation are reviewed, implicating activation in the anterior cingulate cortex, insular cortex, and prefrontal cortex, and deactivation of the amygdala. the anterior cingulate cortex: the evolution of an interface between emotion and cognition. anxiety and its disorders: the nature and treatment of anxiety and panic (2nd ed.). proceedings of the national academy of sciences usa, 104, 11483–11488. the benefits of being present: mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being. a systematic review of the evidence. chiesa, a., serretti, a., & jakobsen, j. c. (2013). localization of a neural system for error detection and compensation. attending to the present: mindfulness meditation reveals distinct neural modes of self-reference. a systematic review and meta-analysis of morphometric neuroimaging in meditation practitioners. neurocognitive correlates of the effects of yoga meditation practice on emotion and cognition: a pilot study. neural bases of social anxiety disorder: emotional reactivity and cognitive regulation during social and physical threat. hiding feelings: the acute effects of inhibiting negative and positive emotion. the effect of mindfulness-based therapy on anxiety and depression: a meta-analytic review. journal of consulting and clinical psychology, 78, 169–183.
the effect of meditation on brain structure: cortical thickness mapping and diffusion tensor imaging. mindfulness starts with the body: somatosensory attention and top-down modulation of cortical alpha rhythms in mindfulness meditation. kumar, r., nguyen, h. d., macey, p. m., woo, m. a., & harper, r. m. (2012). the underlying anatomical correlates of long-term meditation: larger hippocampal and frontal volumes of gray matter. individual differences in dispositional mindfulness and brain activity involved in reappraisal of emotion. the structure of a mindful brain. the cognitive control of emotion. posner, m. i., walker, j. a., friedrich, f. j., & rafal, r. d. (1984). the integration of negative affect, pain, and cognitive control in cingulate cortex. proceedings of the national academy of sciences, 104, 17152–17156. impact of mindfulness on the neural responses to emotional pictures in experienced and beginner meditators. meditation, mindfulness and executive control: the importance of emotional acceptance and brain-based performance monitoring. neural mechanisms of mindfulness meditation: bridging clinical and neuroscience investigations. whitfield-gabrieli, s., & ford, j. m. (2012). the neuroscience of mindfulness: how mindfulness alters the brain and facilitates emotion regulation.
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