Wer kurz vor einer Prüfung steht, sollte sich an den letzten Vorbereitungstagen ein kurzes Meditationstraining gönnen.
Schon vier Tage jeweils 20 Minuten genügen, um Aufmerksamkeit und Konzentration deutlich zu verbessern, ergab eine amerikanische Studie. In entsprechenden Tests schnitten Probanden, die unter Anleitung meditiert hatten, deutlich besser ab als eine Vergleichsgruppe, die stattdessen jeweils 20 Minuten ein Hörbuch gehört hatten. (Quelle Öko Test Ausgabe Juni 2010)
Jetzt wäre es aber noch wichtig zu wissen….. WIE diese Probanden meditiert haben.
The idea that meditation is good for you is certainly not new, but scientists are still trying to figure out exactly why meditating so reliably improves mental and physical health. One old theory is that meditation is just like exercise: it trains the brain as if gray matter were a bundle of muscles. You work those muscles and they get stronger.
A recent paper in the journal Psychological Science tries to identify brain functions that are actually enhanced by meditating. The study shows that intensive meditation can help people focus their attention and sustain it — even during the most boring of tasks. But while participants who meditated were able to pick up visual cues better than a control group, it was not clear whether meditating helped them process the new information in a meaningful way.(Read about samurai mind training for American soldiers.)
The study, which was authored by 13 researchers and led by Katherine MacLean of the University of California, Davis, begins by noting that everyone gets tired after concentrating. It also notes that research going back to the 1970s has established that Buddhist monks who have regularly meditated for years perform better than most of us on concentration tests. In the past five years, other studies have shown that meditation also yields substantial gains in concentration for laypeople who take up the practice.
In the new study, 60 enthusiasts who signed up to attend a three-month meditation retreat were randomized into two groups. The first group of 30 got to go to the Shambhala Mountain Center, a pricey hideaway in Red Feather Lakes, Colo., just south of the Wyoming state line. The other group of 30 had to wait three months to attend a second retreat at the Shambhala Center; this second group served as the study’s control group. The researchers gave the two groups concentration tests before the retreat began, halfway through and then again after the sabbatical ended. During the retreats, the attendees underwent at least five hours a day of meditative practice.(Read about how yoga improves quality of life after cancer.)
That’s an extraordinary commitment to meditation that most of us can’t relate to. (The attendees even paid $5,300 for the privilege of attending the retreats.) But while all the participants were highly willing, the strength of this new study lies in comparing their mental performance before, during and after they began meditative practice.
And the results are clear: it’s not wanting to meditate but actually meditating that improves your brain’s performance. The participants were all asked to watch a series of lines flash on a computer screen and click a mouse when they saw a line that was shorter than the others. It was a boring test, and that was the point: in order to concentrate on those little line changes, they had to focus intently. Those who were meditating at the retreat were significantly more likely than those in the wait-list group to see increasingly small differences in the lines. Their abilities improved as meditative training continued. As the paper puts it, their powers of „visual discrimination“ had appreciably increased.
Which suggests that meditation can help you concentrate. But the study found that while meditators were more accurate, they were not faster: those who had meditated saw differences in the lines more often than those who hadn’t, but they didn’t react any faster than the control group when both saw the same line discrepancies on the screen. That’s important because it suggests that meditation helps your brain do something automatic — process visual stimuli — but not something more complicated: react when it happens.
I couldn’t quite afford to attend the Shambhala Mountain retreat, but recently, I decided to try a small, five-minute-a-day mindfulness regimen recommended to me by the University of Washington psychology professor Marsha Linehan. One of the simple techniques Linehan uses to improve patients‘ mood and concentration is to ask them to sit on a park bench or at a street corner — any public place — and direct their eyes forward as strangers walk by. The idea is to avoid looking at the passersby even if they are interesting — you just let them walk by. You notice them, but you keep your mind focused on not watching them, not following them. I have been practicing this technique at New York City’s congested High Line park for the past few weeks. The results have been extraordinary: I focus better at work; I don’t dread cleaning after my cats as much; I actually look forward to confronting the crowds at the High Line.
Past research suggests that meditation doesn’t have to be intensive to have an effect. One recent study by scientists at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte found that students were able to improve their performance on tests of cognitive skill after just four days of meditation training for only 20 minutes per day. On one particularly challenging computer test of sustained attention, students who meditated did 10 times better than a control group. They also did significantly better on timed information-processing tasks that were designed to induce deadline stress.
Still, meditation isn’t a panacea. Recently, I got into a silly office-politics spat, and I still blow some of my deadlines. But Linehan hopes this exercise and other mindfulness practices will help patients disentangle themselves from overwhelming or burdensome thoughts — including, in some cases, suicidal thoughts. I find that I can calm myself through my short mindfulness exercise, but a few hours later, I may get just as stressed about a pointed where’s-the-story e-mail from an editor.
In the end, meditation may help keep your brain focused and help you absorb more information than you otherwise would. But it is not likely to help you evaluate all that extra information your brain is taking in.
Not long ago at Fort Bragg, N.C., the country’s largest military base, seven soldiers sat in a semi-circle, lights dimmed, eyes closed, two fingertips lightly pressed beneath their belly buttons to activate their „core.“ Electronic music thumped as the soldiers tried to silence their thoughts, the key to Warrior Mind Training, a form of meditation slowly making inroads on military bases across the country. „This is mental push-ups,“ Sarah Ernst told the weekly class she leads for soldiers at Fort Bragg. „There’s a certain burn. It’s a workout.“
Think military and you think macho, not meditation, but that’s about to change now that the Army intends to train its 1.1 million soldiers in the art of mental toughness. The Defense Department hopes that giving soldiers tools to fend off mental stress will toughen its troops at war and at home. It’s the first time mental combat is being mandated on a large scale, but a few thousand soldiers who have participated in a voluntary program called Warrior Mind Training have already gotten a taste of how strengthening the mind is way different — dare we say harder? — than pounding out the push-ups. (See pictures of ninja warriors.)
Warrior Mind Training is the brainchild of Ernst and two friends, who were teaching meditation and mind-training in California. In 2005, a Marine attended a class in San Diego and suggested expanding onto military bases. Ernst and her colleagues researched the military mindset, consulting with veterans who had practiced meditation on the battlefield and back home. She also delved into the science behind mind training to analyze how meditation tactics could help treat — and maybe even help prevent — post-traumatic stress disorder.
Rooted in the ancient Samurai code of self-discipline, Warrior Mind Training draws on the image of the mythic Japanese fighter, an elite swordsman who honed his battle skills along with his mental precision. The premise? Razor-sharp attention plus razor-sharp marksmanship equals fearsome warrior. (Read about the samurai film version of King Lear by Akira Kurosawa.)
The Samurai image was selected after careful deliberation; it was certifiably anti-sissy. „We took a long time to decide how we were going to package this,“ says Ernst, who moved to North Carolina in 2006 and teaches classes at Fort Bragg as well as Camp Lejeune, a Marine base near the coast. „There are a lot of ways you could describe the benefits of doing mind training and meditation. Maybe from a civilian approach we would emphasize cultivating happiness or peace. But that’s not generally what a young soldier is interested in. They want to become the best warrior they can be.“ (Read a story on the health benefits of meditation.)
The benefits of Warrior Mind Training, students have told instructors, are impressive: better aim on the shooting range, higher test scores, enhanced ability to handle combat stress and slip back into life at home. No comprehensive studies have been done, though a poll of 25 participants showed 70% said they felt better able to handle stressful situations and 65% had improved self-control.
The results were intriguing enough that Warrior Mind Training has been selected to participate in a University of Pittsburgh study on sleep disruption and fatigue in service members that will kick off early next year.
For now, success is measured anecdotally.
On patrol in Iraq two years ago, John Way would notice his mind straying. „Maybe I should be watching some guy over there and instead I’m thinking, ‚I’m hungry. Where’s my next Twinkie?'“
With privacy at a premium, he’d often retreat to a Port-A-Potty to practice the focusing skills he’d learned from Ernst at Fort Bragg. „To have a way to shut all this off is invaluable,“ says Way.
The importance of the mind-body connection is being acknowledged at the highest levels of the military. The West Point-based Army Center for Enhanced Performance (ACEP), which draws on performance psychology to teach soldiers how to build confidence, set goals and channel their energy, has expanded to nine army bases in the past three years since the Army’s chief-of-staff praised the program.
„The Army has always believed if we just train ‚em harder, the mental toughness will come,“ says Lorene Petta, a psychologist at Fort Bragg who works for ACEP. „A lot of times with this population, because they’re so rough and tough, they tend to say, ‚This is too touchy-feely for me. No thanks.‘ But we talk about the importance of being a good mental warrior too.“
Free to members of the military and their relatives, Warrior Mind Training classes are offered at 11 U.S. military installations and veterans centers across the country; an online option opened up this spring. At Naval Amphibious Base Coronado in California, for example, Warrior Mind instructors prep elite Navy SEALS candidates for Hell Week, when potential newbies are vetted in a 5 ½-day sleepless trial of physical and mental endurance. (See pictures of the U.S. troops in Iraq.)
Beefing up the brain for combat is one aspect of the training; another is decompression. If one day you’re dodging snipers in Iraq and the next you’re strolling the aisles at Wal-Mart, Warrior Mind Training techniques can ease the transition.
„It’s kind of like a reset button,“ says Erick Burgos, a military paramedic who takes classes at Coronado. „It’s a time-out for you to take a break from the chaos in your life.“
If the Army’s new mental-toughness initiative, set to kick off in October, is to be successful, it needs buy-in from the people it plans to train. It can be a tough sell. At Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, in N.C., Adam Credle, who teaches military, law enforcement and Coast Guard personnel how to drive boats equipped with machine guns really fast, has encouraged his students to try out the meditative techniques. So far, he’s been rebuffed, though he continues to try to persuade them to give the discipline’s central exercise a chance. The mental focusing technique is called deep listening and it sounds super-simple but — unless you’re accustomed to meditation — it requires exquisite concentration.
To help develop this skill, Warrior Mind, relies upon music. The idea is to listen, really listen, to the wail of the guitar or the staccato tap of the drums instead of letting your mind wander. In athletics, this concept is called being in „the zone.“
As with anything, practice makes perfect, which is reassuring for rookies — like me — who find it next to impossible to rein in their thoughts at first. During the course of one five-minute song, I thought repeatedly about whether I’d remembered to lock my car and turn my cell phone to vibrate. And, because I’m a reporter, I thought about what everyone else might be thinking about, which, if they were doing it right, should have been nothing at all.
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