A Mindfulness App which trains you to gradually increase your focus during meditation, has been developed in San Francisco.
Meditation expert Jack Kornfield was part of the team which designed MediTrain.
The App starts by tailoring the length of your meditation sessions to your individual ability. With regular use you can then extend your attention span.
A group of 59 people aged between 18 and 35 years agreed to participate in a trial of the App.
On the first day they could only stay focused on the breath for an average of 20 seconds. After 30 days of training that increased to an average of six minutes.
The results were similar to those of people spending months doing mindfulness training or attending intensive meditation retreats.
MediTrain required 20-30 minutes of cumulative practice each day, composed of several very short meditation periods.
“This is not like any meditation practice that exists, as far as we are aware,” said Adam Gazzaley, professor of neurology, physiology and psychiatry at the University of California in San Francisco.
“We took an ancient experiential treatment of focused meditation, reformulated it and delivered it through a digital technology.”
Before they began, participants listened to recorded meditation instructions from Jack Kornfield, PhD, a meditation teacher who co-founded Spirit Rock Meditation Center north of San Francisco.
Then, they used the techniques on their own, without spoken instruction and with their eyes closed.
At the end of each brief meditation segment the participants pressed a button on the left side of an iPad screen if they could not maintain attention, and a button on the right if they could.
For those who said yes, the application adapted to a slightly longer meditation period; for those who said no, the period was shortened.
Using electroencephalography (EEG) to record brain activity the researchers identified parts of the brain, particularly in the front, that altered their activity as participants learned to stabilize their attention with meditation training.
The researchers said that MediTrain, which has been patented by the University of California, holds promise for a younger generation that is accustomed to digital devices but who face multiple challenges to sustained attention from heavy use of media and technology.
The results of the study were published in Nature Human Behaviour.