I'm in your bandwidth, stealing your fanposts.
Would Chris Leben and Mark Munoz do well to try Yoga prior to Saturday? Scientific studies are relatively slim when it comes to the health benefits of meditation. Yea it seems to work for Diego Sanchez, but Yoga isn't for everyone.
After all, Yoga requires something most of us, especially in the age of Twitter and Facebook, suck at: maintaining attention. Does focused attention have an effect on the brain, and thus the body?
As for as I know, most studies have centered on how mediation can act as a painkiller, or boost the immune system. But can the actual structure of the brain be influenced by the mind? Answering this question requires a little elaboration on what it physically means to 'pay attention'. The following passage, from Nicholas Carr (The Shallows), mining from the work of Nobel Prize Winner Eric Kandel on memory, is fairly dense, but worth noting.
Attention may seem etheral - a "ghost inside the head", as the developmental psychologist Bruce McCandliss says - but it's a genuine physical state, and it produces material effects through the brain. Recent experiments with mice indicate that the act of paying attention to an idea or an experience sets off a chain reaction that crisscrosses the brain. Conscious attention begins in the frontal lobes of the cerebral cortex, with the imposition of top-down, executive control over the mind's focus. The establishment of attention leads the neurons of the cortex to send signals to neurons in the midbrain that produce the powerful neurotransmitter dopamine.
The axons of these neurons reach all the way into the hippocampus, providing a distribution channel for the neurotransmitter. Once dopamine is funneled into the synapses of the hippocampus, it jump-starts the consolidation of explicit memory, probably by activating genes that spur the synthesis of new proteins.
As far as what that actually means, I'm in no way qualified to decipher, but it sounds like 'focused attention' creates a sort of 'buffer' for chemicals in your brain associated with risk versus reward (dopamine). In turn, that attention increases the actual thickness of the brain. What this means for the body is that being able to control your emotions through meditation, and maintain attention, yields real physiological results.
I've mentioned this before in a previous article, but I'll repeat it here. Pascual-Leone of the National Institutes of Health conducted a study involving two different groups to play the piano (no one involved had experience playing). Both groups were asked to practice a certain, but simple melody for two hours a day over the course of five days. One group practiced that melody for two hours with a piano.
The other group could only imagine playing the melody. Lo and behold, through a technology called transcranial magnetic stimulation, Leone found that both groups exhibited the same changes in the brain. Imagination became a force as strong as biology. To repeat, the structure of the brain is influenced by the mind, it seems.
Scientists have, and not to simplify, learned more or less what the mind should look like during peak athletic performance: it should be quiet. The purpose of meditation is to foster the quiet mind. To free itself from distraction. In a sport where you're constantly under the threat of depriving your brain of oxygen, perhaps any little bit helps.