MONDAY, April 25, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- New research suggests that mindfulness meditation can help relieve pain and improve memory by regulating a brain wave known as the alpha rhythm, which "turns down the volume" on distractions.
In a small study, researchers found that those participants using meditation were better able to modulate the waves -- when they were told where to direct their attention -- after they finished an eight-week course, compared to a control group that did no meditation.
"Mindfulness meditation has been reported to enhance numerous mental abilities, including rapid memory recall," study co-author Catherine Kerr, of the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Osher Research Center at Harvard Medical School, said in a news release provided by Massachusetts General. "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."
The alpha rhythm plays a role in the cells that process senses like touch, sight and sound in the brain's cortex. It helps the brain ignore distractions, helping a person to focus while many things are going on, the study authors said.
The findings "may explain reports that mindfulness meditation decreases pain perception," Kerr added. "Enhanced ability to turn the alpha rhythm up or down could give practitioners' greater ability to regulate pain sensation."
The new research may also help explain how meditation might affect basic brain function, said study co-author Stephanie Jones, of the Martinos Center.
"Given what we know about how alpha waves arise from electrical currents in sensory cortical cells, these data suggest that mindfulness meditation practitioners can use the mind to enhance regulation of currents in targeted cortical cells. The implications extend far beyond meditation and give us clues about possible ways to help people better regulate a brain rhythm that is dysregulated in attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and other conditions," she said in the news release.
The study was released online April 21 ahead of publication in the journal Brain Research Bulletin.
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