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Brains3 2014
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  • Hippocampus
    The hippocampus consists of two “horns” that curve back from the amygdala.  It appears to be very important in converting things that are “in your mind” at the moment (in short-term memory) into things that you will remember for the long run (long-term memory).  If the hippocampus is damaged, a person cannot build new memories, and lives instead in a strange world where everything they experience just fades away, even while older memories from the time before the damage are untouched!  This very unfortunate situation is fairly accurately portrayed in the wonderful movie Memento, as well as in a more light-hearted movie, 50 First Dates.  But there is nothing light-hearted about it:  Most people who suffer from this kind of brain damage end up institutionalized.
    The amygdalas are two almond-shaped masses of neurons on either side of the thalamus at the lower end of the hippocampus.  When it is stimulated electrically, animals respond with aggression.  And if the amygdala is removed, animals get very tame and no longer respond to things that would have caused rage before.  But there is more to it than just anger:  When removed, animals also become indifferent to stimuli that would have otherwise have caused fear and even sexual responses.
    Zen training – increased grey matter in the hippocampus, reduction of gray matter in the amygdala. (Gray matter cell bodies of neurons. Resident brain tissue core.


  • 1. Haverford Public Library April 16, 2014 7:00 pm
  • 2. Introductions • Welcome and Introductions • Soji Zen Center in Lansdowne • Plan for the evening • Presentation, instruction, practice, review
  • 3. A little neuroscience • States of consciousness – Meditation and brain activity, EEG brain wave patterns – What happens when we meditate ?
  • 4. • Brain regions – Meditation and brain activity, prefrontal lobe and parietal lobe differences • General observation that practice weakens “reactive” pathways, increases plasticity, flexibility.
  • 5. Brain regions – long term structural changes in brain tissue
  • 6. Psychiatry Research Neuroimaging • Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density 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.
  • 7. • "We found that brain regions associated with attention and sensory processing were thicker in meditators than in the non- meditators," says Lazar. "Also, in one of the regions, the differences in thickness were most pronounced in older subjects, suggesting that regular practise of meditation might reduce normal age- related thinning of the brain."
  • 8. Other reported benefits • More empathic • Reduced emotional reaction to pain • Greater patience • Better focus and concentration • Decrease in blood pressure and reduced risk of coronary disease • Reduction in addictive behaviors
  • 9. What are some core elements of Zen ‘philosophy’ and practice? - Connectedness - Mindfulness - Seeing things clearly - “Beginner’s Mind” - Letting go of conditioned thinking - Direct experience
  • 10. • “The heart of Zen is the practice of zazen — seated, silent meditation — which is based predominantly on bringing your attention to the present moment (often via concentrating on your breath) and then doing your best to keep it there. The extension of that practice to life off the cushion is fairly straightforward: When you’re listening, really listen; when you’re eating, just eat. Pay attention to what you’re doing.”
  • 11. ➔ Mental aspects ◆ Most important! ➔ Physical aspects ◆ Sitting postures Mechanics of Meditation
  • 12. ➔ Mental aspects ◆ Goal = stay present in moment ● Slow down Monkey-mind ◆ Counting your breath ◆ Thoughts that come up = let them go! Mechanics of Meditation
  • 13. Mechanics of Meditation ➔ Physical aspects ◆ Goal = remain still to help calm your mind ◆ Sitting in chair ◆ Floor ● Kneeling on cushion or bench ● Cross-legged ◆ Physical discomfort (itch, pain, etc.)
  • 14. Practice Period
  • 15. • Additional aspects of a center, a community, a teacher • Teacher can help us with obstacles, when we get stuck • Retreats allow much deeper practice period
  • 16. • Mechanics and instruction • Physical aspects, posture, body , stillness • Chair, bench/seiza, cushion • Mind / attention / consciousness • Breathing, thoughts • 10 – 15 minutes of Practice • Check-in – what did you notice • Q&A • Follow up – to learn more…. • WEBSITE address • If you’d like to be on our mailing list…