Welcome back to blogging!

Welcome back to the Jung Cleveland blog! The Jung Cleveland Board is committed to building a strong community forum from which to explore the work of Carl Jung.  We believe that offering an online forum can help build our community between classes, lectures and workshops.  Our goal is to provide snippets that may help nurture connection to Self throughout your busy weeks; perhaps inspire a new direction for afternoon or bedtime reading.  Blogs will be posted on a weekly basis, and we encourage you to post comments and questions. 

Did you know that, originally, Jung called his psychology Complex Psychology?  This name was in recognition of his initial word association research during the late 19th century, during which time he discovered certain words caused greater pause and increased heartbeat than others, especially with words related to “mother,” “father,” and other references to family.  I’m sure we can all imagine ourselves blushing or stumbling over our words when, out of the blue, some comment or action by another triggers one of our own complexes!  Today, Jung’s clinical research and writing are at the root of what is called Analytical Psychology.  We look forward to exploring this legacy at greater length in weeks to come.  Thank you all for contributing to the energy of our Jungian community.  On behalf of the entire board, I look forward to continuing our electronic community.

Sincerely,

Hallie Durchslag, LISW

How Meditation Can Change the Brain

Scientists say that meditators may be benefiting from changes in their brains. The researchers report that those who meditated for about 30 minutes a day for eight weeks had measurable changes in gray-matter density in parts of the brain associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress. The findings will appear in the Jan. 30 issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging.

M.R.I. brain scans taken before and after the participants’ meditation regimen found increased gray matter in the hippocampus, an area important for learning and memory. The images also showed a reduction of gray matter in the amygdala, a region connected to anxiety and stress. A control group that did not practice meditation showed no such changes.

Britta Hölzel, a psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School and the study’s lead author, said the participants practiced mindfulness meditation, a form of meditation that was introduced in the United States in the late 1970s.

“The main idea is to use different objects to focus one’s attention, and it could be a focus on sensations of breathing, or emotions or thoughts, or observing any type of body sensations,” she said. “But it’s about bringing the mind back to the here and now, as opposed to letting the mind drift.”

Generally the meditators are seated upright on a chair or the floor and in silence, although sometimes there might be a guide leading a session, Dr. Hölzel said.

Of course, it’s important to remember that the human brain is complicated. Understanding what the increased density of gray matter really means is still, well, a gray area.

“The field is very, very young, and we don’t really know enough about it yet,” Dr. Hölzel said. “I would say these are still quite preliminary findings. We see that there is something there, but we have to replicate these findings and find out what they really mean.”

It has been hard to pinpoint the benefits of meditation, but a 2009 study suggests that meditation may reduce blood pressure in patients with coronary heart disease. And a 2007 study found that meditators have longer attention spans.

Previous studies have also shown that there are structural differences between the brains of meditators and those who don’t meditate, although this new study is the first to document changes in gray matter over time through meditation.

Ultimately, Dr. Hölzel said she and her colleagues would like to demonstrate how meditation results in definitive improvements in people’s lives.

“A lot of studies find that it increases well-being, improves quality of life, but it’s always hard to determine how you can objectively test that,” she said. “Relatively little is known about the brain and the psychological mechanisms about how this is being done.”

In a 2008 study published in the journal PloS One, researchers found that when meditators heard the sounds of people suffering, they had stronger activation levels in their temporal parietal junctures, a part of the brain tied to empathy, than people who did not meditate.

“They may be more willing to help when someone suffers, and act more compassionately,” Dr. Hölzel said.