Ways to become 'mindful'
Learning to focus the mind can be a powerful antidote to the stresses and strains of our on-the-go lives, according to Harvard Medical School.
The ability to pay attention to what you're experiencing from moment to moment -- without drifting into thoughts of the past or concerns about the future, or getting caught up in opinions about what is going on -- is called mindfulness.
This basic mindfulness meditation exercise is easy to learn and practice.
Sit on a straight-backed chair, or cross-legged on the floor.
Focus on an aspect of your breathing, such as the sensations of air flowing into your nostrils and out of your mouth, or your belly rising and falling as you inhale and exhale.
Once you've narrowed your concentration in this way, begin to widen your focus. Become aware of sounds, sensations, and ideas.
Embrace and consider each thought or sensation without judging it as good or bad. If your mind starts to race, return your focus to your breathing. Then expand your awareness again.
The effects of mindfulness meditation tend to be dose-related -- the more you practice it, the more benefits you usually experience.
Darkness could help deaf
A few days in the dark can improve an animal's hearing, scientists recently reported in the journal Neuron, according to NPR.
This temporary loss of visual input seems to trigger favorable changes in areas of the brain that process auditory information, they say.
It suggests there may be a new way to help people with cochlear implants, and disorders that make it difficult to understand speech, says a researcher at the University of Maryland and one of the study's authors.
"This won't help if you went to too many rock concerts," Kanold says. "But if this works in people, it might be useful for auditory processing disorders."
The study builds on research showing that people who are blind from birth can often do remarkable things with their other senses. "Blind people seem to have supernormal abilities in the auditory domain," Kanold says. "They are better in discriminating different frequencies or discriminating sound locations."
One explanation for these abilities is that when the brain has no visual input during early childhood, it tends to use areas that would ordinarily process visual information to process auditory information instead.
Scientists used to think that once early childhood was over, that kind of rewiring couldn't happen anymore. And that's why, several years ago, one of Kanold's colleagues was baffled by the result of an experiment that kept adult rodents in the dark for a few days.
DR. Hey-Kyoung Lee, who is now at Johns Hopkins, was looking to see whether the light deprivation was affecting the animals' visual cortex. "And all of a sudden we started seeing stuff in the auditory cortex -- which we did not really expect," she says.
The finding could be especially important for deaf people who receive cochlear implants, says Amal Isaiah, a surgeon at the University of Maryland and a co-author of the study. The brains of these people sometimes have difficulty processing the new auditory information coming from the implant, he says.