New Study on Mindfulness: Turning the Volume Down in Your Brain

I love how more and more research is coming out in the field of neuroscience pointing to neurological correlates of things we’ve all known for years. It’s validating.

One of the number one things that drive us nuts is outside noises we can’t control. It’s the car alarm, the neighbor’s noisy stereo, or a friend’s baby who can’t stop crying.  Cathy Kerr, a neuroscientist at Harvard Medical School and her colleagues recently found that meditators are quicker and more precise at adjusting the alpha wave rhythms in the brain. These are brain waves that help regulate the transmission of sensory input from the outside and are also a sign of relaxed activity in the brain.

So, as she put it in a recent NY Times article, “If you’re reading something in a noisy environment and you want to be in a bubble, you might use your alpha rhythms like a volume knob, to turn down the volume on neurons that represent sound from the outside world.”

Participants in her study who took an 8-week mindfulness course were asked to turn their attention their left hand or foot. These participants showed quicker and more precise alpha waves than the people who did not practice the meditation.

What does this mean to the rest of us?

To me this means that we have neurological evidence that practicing mindfulness can help us become better and more precise at paying attention to what we want to pay attention to, even in the midst of distracting elements. I already knew this from my experience, but always interesting to see how the brain is handling it.

When it comes to our lives, sometimes we have to turn down the volume on the thoughts in our minds. I wouldn’t be surprised if this worked in a similar fashion to outside noises. It’s also my experience that more practice helps me get better at regulating my thoughts, emotions and physical sensations.

How about setting your thoughts or judgments aside right now and step into this practice and engage your alpha rhythms and see what happens.

With your eyes open or closed, just bring your attention to your feet and just sense into them. Notice the souls of the feet, the toes, the top of the feet and even the ankle joints. Imagine this was the very first time you felt into these feet.

Spend about 30 seconds here.

What do you notice?

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on

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