Also personal on reciprocal inhibition, biofeedback, reconsolidation and meditation …

That mantra (or similar) “get lost” in meditation is normal at least for beginners. One reason is simply that non-consciousness, precognitive, spatial processes takes over when the conscious processes are repetitive and low in activity. Through training, the aim is that this should not happen – and is usually succeed but at the same time this varies both within and between people in different situations and over time.

It can go on – other thoughts/pictures/movements/smells/… takes over – until we (consciously) become aware of this and then try to restart “from scratch”. The explanation for this “getting lost”, is simple to explain: Conscious, human part of our brain has evolved in the last millennia by “layering over” the older parts of our mammal brain (which we call the limbic system) and the reptilian brain which have evolved/developed through millions of years, with the Limbic systems as a center for experiences, emotions/feelings like all of our other biological functions.

Most of our behaviors are automatic, non-conscious while we can become aware of some of their consequences, for example. increased heart palpitations or anxiety reactions.  When we consciously reduce focus, and relaxes older parts of the brain easily takes over. It also makes it of course in acute stress situation, for example. When I heard a barking dog during jogging my phobia overrun my enjoy jogging and my legs automatically turn me around enabling me to distance me from the barking dog although not yet in sight! At the same time, so I tried to “keep cool” and avoid having to climb up the tree beside – adult who I really was. Why, well as small child this phobia was established (operant conditioning) while experiencing (as I imaged) dangerous dogs – basically developed upon a post-traumatic stress disorder established at 6 months of age.

Phobias are clearly identified reasons for generated stress physiological reactions but often reasons for these reactions are not easily to be identified but the emotional reaction is “well” experienced – we call them then for generalized anxiety disorder. Usually is the pre-cognitive, spatial memory cluster constructs (can be called otherwise but I use George Kelly’s conceptualization) where not always trigger internal/external event/situation/stimulus can be identified – we feel discomfort, anxiety, … etc. In dreams we may get “evidence” of what “theme” it could represent, for example chased, run away from threat, but the dreams are often surrealistic and difficult to remember.

Back to “lose one’s mantra when one meditates” –may there be something we can learn from this? Yes, I believe, much the same way as dreams are generated in the older parts of our brain (sometimes with some verbal elements), it’s basically the same thing that happens when the spatial, pre-cognitive system takes over during meditation. We can turn the perspective, so this process can be an asset and give us the material to use for example in guided imagery – own workout or at the behavioral therapy or hypnosis.

Reconsolidation (see Karim Nader, etc.) refers to that we can change our memories neurological hardware´s parts as well as software parts. This means that, when we consciously recall a memory or it happens (pop-up) spontaneous during meditation, we can change/modify memory “matter and content” little at a time, step by step. This is actually the principle of reciprocal inhibition ( where we gradually modify/inhibit the negative reaction we want change with what we “work for”, less stress. This is also a common method/strategy in mental training in sports where the below link refers to both a cognitive and a biofeedback approach/methods/technology is example –  Used in Sweden by Larks-Erik Uneståhl and others, also I used it from 1980.   

Within Integrated Psycho-physiological Behavioral Medicine,, technology and practice, we use measurements of the autonomic nervous system’s dynamic behavior as well as parts of the cell metabolism which we can measure dynamically to identify stress emotional “mode” and then predict and monitor the progress of interventions, for example. biofeedback assisted self-guided imagery (or self-hypnosis).

An advantage here is that (a) separating at the beginning identification and “tailoring” personal optimal use of the intervention tools regardless of what they are to be used actively to change/reciprocal and (b) use them more and more basically as systematic desensitization to step by step implement the planned reconsolidation.

I recommend

  1. Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia (RSA – measured heart rate via lead ECG – and its pattern analysis) and exhaled carbon dioxide (etCO2, even pattern analysis) as priority instruments for clinical investigation and optimize individual respiratory/breathing strategy and the
  2. Finger Temperature (FT) in connection with patients own biofeedback training. One reason for using FT is it is easy to understand what is measured, why and its practical to be use and useful – after a period training one can feel temperature changes without the instrument (the instrument is measuring 1/100 C degrees, which is necessary in the beginning because we cannot feel such subtle changes) – the body is therefore the “display instrument” to identify our own capacity to affectively control the behaviors of sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system – what we call control the stress gas.
  3. Heart rate variability (HRV, measured heart rate via lead ECG) along with all the other parameters (including skin conductance and oxygen saturation. SpO2) give very good information before-and after interventions identifying the effect of interventions-dependent variables.

In addition, “mantra training” may be also used as a door opener for the above discussed reconsolidation of stress-related memories and its emotional/behavioral consequences that perhaps over time can work automatically over time. Sounds unbelievable but I myself have experiences and reactions indicating this, e.g. during sleep in terms of completely change of dream contents – from nightmares almost every night during the first 40 years and then less and less and the last 20 years no one! Hard to explain in any other way than to older parts of the brain has somehow automatically reconsolidated my PTSD memory construct clusters. One interesting “thing” more; just before I awake, I realize (when awake) that I have already started on a chain of scientific and/or clinical psychophysiological behavioral medicine relevant thoughts. Taking paper and opens (still, do not bother with the PC at that time) and start writing an hour or so. A very great way of awaking up! No wonder I base my scientific work on the Personal Construct Theory (Kelly, 1955) last 35 years.