Meditation, Anxiety and the Brain

Getting the picture:

Brain imaging, should NLP be Next?


By Jamie Hogg

 aving recently downloaded an iTunes course ‘How to think Like a Psychologist’ (Stanford University) I was immediately drawn to one of the six sections entitled ‘Meditation, Anxiety and the Brain’ by Dr Philippe Goldin. What a treasure trove of research and approaches this turned out to be, I was enthralled and although the video runs for a little over an hour and a half, the time flew by.


Dr Goldin, a trained Psychotherapist and Neuroscientist, has travelled extensively, studying meditation techniques and applying this in his work. The area he focuses on in the iTunes session is that of ‘shyness’ or ‘social anxiety’. While himself at first sceptical of the impact of this on people, he discovered that under the veneer of outward appearance many people were suffering from ‘self-doubt, pain and loneliness’. Why does the impact of social anxiety matter? Aside from the obvious impact on people, it is because, as he illustrates, social anxiety can precede and is a risk factor in developing other psychiatric conditions including other anxiety disorders, major depression and can be manifest in alcohol and drug abuse. With some 12 per cent of adults in America and Europe suffering from the condition it is the fourth most common psychiatric condition.


 What a treasure trove of research and approaches this turned out to be

The iTunes session highlights one of several studies he conducted examining the benefits or not of using meditation as a way to reduce social anxiety; this was carried out through a study of a randomised clinical trial of people, some using mindful meditation and some aerobic exercise. After two months of training and a follow up assessment after three months, the results showed that those practicing the meditation had a greater reduction in social anxiety the more they meditated, a ‘dose effect’.


This was borne out with the use of fMRI brain imaging Dr Goldins other discipline. This he uses to demostrate that the use of meditation helps individuals change their neurology. The working hypothesis was then to understand how meditation contributed to a reduction in social anxiety.


Starting from the premise that social anxiety is set in language, self-talk and autobiographical memory. The brain imaging is first used to show how negative self-talk is represented in the brain’s amygdala, a region of the brain involved in emotional response; this is shown against the same brain region when neutral language is used to establish a baseline. Following the adoption of meditation, the level of activity in the same brain region, which is responsible for emotional response to social situations, is reduced and as a consequence the individual has a reported lowering of emotional reactivity to social anxiety.


Throughout the lecture he engages the audience with practice sessions; one of which was to recall and visualise ourselves at four to five years old, then at 15 and finally in the present day. Again with the use of brain imaging it has shown which regions of the brain this correlates to and rather vividly brought to mind how perhaps this could be used to better understand and develop NLP techniques and Time Line Therapy©.


This video was a fascinating insight, listening to Dr Goldin’s obvious passion for his work in understanding and helping others, I was left feeling that his use of science to support the hypothesis of meditation as an intervention in anxiety relief was paving the way for much needed further studies in this vein.


I am just left wondering…when can we get some time in the scanner with NLP?





This article featured as the Endnote in the Winter 2012/2013 - Edition of RAPPORT


                                    Rapport is an ANLP Publication