Freestyle rap and yoga

Do you like rap music? Have you ever tried rapping freestyle yourself? If so, you may have been reaping some of the same benefits as mindful meditation.

The National Institutes of Health have recently conducted a study on brain activity while performing freestyle rap. The study was led by Siyuan Liu, Ph.D., who gathered 12 freestyle rap artists, each with at least five years experience, and placed them into a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine where they performed their art. In the first task, they improvised lyrics and rhythmic patterns onto a beat. In the second task, they performed pre-written, well-rehearsed lyrics.

While they were freestyling, the scan detected increased activity in the medial prefrontal cortex or mPFC, which is responsible for motivation of thought and action, and decreased activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal regions, which do more monitoring and supervision. This pattern of brain activity is thought to facilitate the free expression of thoughts and words without the usual neural constraints; in other words, it lets you go with the flow.

When else do we go with the flow, to center ourselves fully in the moment? Why, meditation, of course. Mesocosm drew some interesting links between the freestyle rap study to those studies on mindfulness.

Medical research has reported that meditation strengthens the anterior cingular cortex (ACC) which is part of the medial prefrontal cortex. The mPFC has been the focus of much study, particularly by Dr Daniel Siegel, co-director of the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center and author of The Mindful Brain.

Dr Siegel associates the middle prefrontal cortex with nine forms of attunement: body regulation, attuned communication, emotional balance, response flexibility, empathy, self-knowing awareness, fear-modulation, intuition, and morality.

The results of Dr Liu’s study, increased activity in the mPFC and decreased activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal regions, suggest a similar benefit to mindfulness meditation practice: the ability to stop overthinking.

Dr Siegel describes this benefit as the ability “to differentiate previously inseparable streams in the flow of information of the mind,” in his paper entitled Mindfulness training and neural integration: differentiation of distinct streams of awareness and the cultivation of well-being.

The link between the disciplines of freestyle rap and mindful meditation at this point is merely suggestive, not conclusive, but that does not prevent us from doing either, or both, to enjoy their benefits.


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