Meditation Changes Brain and Increases Awareness, Study Finds

Brain research is beginning to produce concrete evidence for something that practitioners of meditation have known for centuries:

Meditation changes the mind and the physical brain… and increases our awareness.

Buddhist Monk - Mindfulness MeditationI discovered an article from the Washington Post that shows how researchers at the University of Wisconsin were working with Tibetan monks and measuring their brain wave activity and reinforces ideas that we have behind the mind-body connection.

They were able to take their mental experiences and map them into the scientific language of high-frequency gamma waves and brain synchrony, or coordination.

Thus, these researchers were able to pinpoint the left prefrontal cortex as the place where brain activity associated with meditation is especially intense.

“What we found is that the longtime practitioners showed brain activation on a scale we have never seen before,” said Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the university’s new $10 million W.M. Keck Laboratory for Functional Brain Imaging and Behavior. “Their mental practice is having an effect on the brain in the same way golf or tennis practice will enhance performance.” It demonstrates, he said, that the brain is capable of being trained and physically modified in ways few people can imagine.

Scientists used to believe the opposite — that connections among brain nerve cells were fixed early in life and did not change in adulthood. But that assumption was disproved over the past decade with the help of advances in brain imaging and other techniques, and in its place, scientists have embraced the concept of ongoing brain development and “neuroplasticity.”

Davidson’s results from the meditation study, which were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in November, take the concept of neuroplasticity a step further by showing that mental training through meditation (and presumably other disciplines) can itself change the inner workings and circuitry of the brain.

The findings are the result of a long collaboration between Davidson and Tibet’s Dalai Lama, the world’s best-known practitioner of Buddhism.

The Dalai Lama dispatched eight of his most accomplished practitioners to Davidson’s lab to have them hooked up for electroencephalograph (EEG) testing and brain scanning. The Buddhist practitioners in the experiment had undergone training in the Tibetan Nyingmapa and Kagyupa traditions of meditation for an estimated 10,000 to 50,000 hours, over time periods of 15 to 40 years. As a control, 10 student volunteers with no previous meditation experience were also tested after one week of training.

The monks and volunteers were fitted with a net of 256 electrical sensors and asked to meditate for short periods. Thinking and other mental activity are known to produce slight, but detectable, bursts of electrical activity as large groupings of neurons send messages to each other, and that’s what the sensors picked up. Davidson was especially interested in measuring gamma waves, some of the highest-frequency and most important electrical brain impulses.

Both groups were asked to meditate… (read full article here)

“In previous studies, mental activities such as focus, memory, learning and consciousness were associated with the kind of enhanced neural coordination found in the monks. The intense gamma waves found in the monks have also been associated with knitting together disparate brain circuits, and so are connected to higher mental activity and heightened awareness, as well.”

Davidson concluded that meditation not only changes the brain in the short term, but also produces long-term/permanent changes.  The infamous researcher at the University of Massachusetts, Jon Kabat-Zinn, came to a similar conclusion several years ago.

Researchers at Harvard and Princeton said this: “What we found is that the trained mind, or brain, is physically different from the untrained one,” he said. In time, “we’ll be able to better understand the potential importance of this kind of mental training and increase the likelihood that it will be taken seriously.”

Original Article: Meditation Gives Brain a Charge, Study Finds