Sunday, 24 June 2012

Neuroscience tips on using the body to still the mind, by Prof. Michael Hegarty University of California Davis

Meditation brings the mind to stillness like a quiet pool without ripples.  In our
research at Wellspring Institute, we are looking at which meditations quiet your
“pool” most quickly.  Neuroscience imaging of the brain suggests that no body
part is more important than our EYES, those deep pools that lead directly into
our mind.  This article gives simple exercises – derived from modern research and
from ancient meditations - which you can use to still the mind more quickly and
more deeply.
A surprising and often overlooked insight from neuroscience is that almost one
third of the volume of the brain’s cortex is devoted to vision.  So if we want to
quiet our brains, it makes sense to quiet our eyes. And in fact, recent studies show
remarkable benefits to Quiet Eyes, helping surgeons to focus with less stress, and
helping basketball players to increase their success at freethrows.  Here we describe
 a“Quiet Eye” exercise that can be helpful in different situations:

Quiet eyes in everyday life

.Most of us aren’t aware that we can choose two types of eye
movements in everyday life: Saccades or Smooth Pursuit. 
Saccades are very fast eye movements that jump around a
scene.  They can take in lots of information, but they can
also be tiring and stressful.  Our ancestors used these when
searching for predators or prey – the type of actions that
activate the stress-response sympathetic nervous system
and prepare us for fight or flight.  In contrast, Smooth Pursuit moves the eyes
across a scene more slowly and smoothly, and is naturally activated by scenes
of pleasant landscapes or of loved ones.  Hence it tends to quiet the mind and
regulate emotions.  Click below to watch a video to experience for yourself the big
difference between Saccades and Smooth Pursuit.

Visual artists have long known the power of Smooth Pursuit.  Their skill in
composing a portrait draws the eye smoothly from one object to the next.  Watch
the eyes of romantic leads in popular movies, and you will see Smooth Pursuit
as the star “locks eyes” with his loved one (Johnny Depp and Nicolas Cage are
masters at this).  Psychotherapists harness Smooth Pursuit in classical hypnosis
where the eyes follow a shiny watch moving back and forth smoothly, inducing
deep relaxation.  Therapists also harness Smooth Pursuit in Eye Movement
Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), in which the eyes follow the therapist’s
fingertip back and forth (Kapoula et al. 2010).

But you don’t need to wait for a therapist to relax your eyes for you.  You can
quiet your own eye movements from jumpy Saccade to Smooth Pursuit and
consequently relax your mind.  Recent research has shown that doing so reduces
stress and improves performance in everyday life.  Wilson, Vine, and others (2010)
trained surgeons to stop saccades and to rest the eyes quietly on the surgical field,
resulting in lower stress and faster learning.  They also trained elite basketball

players (2011) to rest their eyes quietly on the hoop during free-throws, and
increased free-throw successes by 10%

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