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Longevity hacks

Meditation literally changes how your brain's neurons move

This is your brain on mindfulness.

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Some meditation buffs bill the practice as a panacea. Mindfulness fans swear that, with meditation, depression and anxiety will dissipate, period cramps will be gone, and chronic pain will ease.

We’re still learning the mechanism behind meditation. Even if we don’t have all the answers right now, mindfulness shows promise. Not only does it help quell nerves, but it may be an effective addiction treatment. Psychotherapist and researcher Eric Garland at the University of Utah developed a meditation-based recovery regimen called Mindfulness Oriented Recovery Enhancement (MORE). His research demonstrates powerful links between one's mental health and the inner workings of their brain.

Most recently, Garland showed the connection between brain activity during meditation, feelings of peace, and a decrease in behaviors related to addiction.

Science in action — Most recently, Garland used MORE as a mindfulness-based intervention in treating opioid addiction. He divided 165 patients with long-term opioid use into two groups. For eight weeks, one group received standard support group therapy while the other followed MORE.

For the latter, MORE sessions lasted two hours a day and were guided by a therapist. Patients could record sessions on their phones for future use and meditation.

Nine months later, patients in the MORE group had dramatically reduced addictive behaviors.

“It’s not just addressing the addictive behavior itself, but it’s also giving people tools to cope with the physical and emotional pain that, in many cases, drove the addiction to begin with,” Garland tells Inverse. Part of MORE’s strength is that it doesn’t demand patients grit their teeth and muscle through; with practice, it becomes a sustainable source of inner peace and pleasure.

Why it’s a hack — Neurons get the zoomies, too. Sometimes, when they’re zooming — or rather, oscillating — just right, it can feel good. During meditation, neurons in the frontal midline regions of the brain oscillate between four and eight Hertz, producing what’s known as theta oscillations. We know about these oscillations from electroencephalography (EEG), in which electrodes are attached to the scalp and can detect electrical activity.

The ever-buzzing electrical impulses in the brain constantly produce waves. For example, in sleep, the brain produces high-frequency, low-amplitude beta waves. Theta waves may reflect the state between wakefulness and sleep, that moment of intense absorption that many feel in a flow state or during spiritual experiences.

Theta oscillations may connect to self-regulation and, in turn, addiction. There’s evidence that underpinning substance use disorders are dysregulated neural processes related to reward learning and executive functioning. In the brain, something called default mode network (DMN) activation deals with self-referential tasks. Basically, when you’re stuck in your head, DMN activation is on repeat.

However, as theta oscillations go up, DMN activation goes down. This is why periods of intense meditation can produce feelings of oneness, ego dissolution, peace, and connection to everything — the mechanism in your brain that processes your sense of self is on pause.

How it affects longevity — In 2020, opioid misuse touched over 9 million Americans. From 2010 to 2020, deaths by opioid overdose more than tripled, with over 68,000 most recently recorded. According to Garland’s research, MORE is a life-saving treatment. In the nine months following the intervention, patients’ addictive behaviors were markedly decreased.

While Garland developed MORE to target behaviors surrounding opioid misuse, anyone can stand to benefit from mindfulness. Anxiety and depression can take physiological tolls on the body that may take years from one’s life. Meditation and mindfulness practices sequester the self from the daily thrash of thinking and worrying. Even something as simple as breathing mindfully for a few minutes a day can improve life quality.

Hack score out of 10 — 🧠🧠🧠🧠🧠🧠 (6/10 meditating brains)