Meditation Alters Brain Structure and Function by Rahasya Poe in the Lotus Guide  E-mail

Meditation Alters Brain Structure and Function

By Rahasya Poe

in the Lotus Guide magazine

So, what do The Wall Street Journal, National Academy of Sciences, the Science Journal, The Journal of Neuroscience, and the Dalai Lama have in common? The answer is an interest in how meditation affects the structure and evolution of our brains.

In the name of science, five scientists set aside their feelings about "what constitutes mind" to meet at the Dalai Lama's home in Dharamsala, India, late last year. ( The Wall Street Journal published reporter Sharon Begley's account of the event in November; much of what follows is adapted from her story. The study itself was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. ) The science they were working on is "neuroplasticity," which is rapidly changing some long-held beliefs about how our brains function and exactly what are mind and consciousness.

Neuroplasticity is primarily concerned with the brain's recently discovered ability to change its structure and function by strengthening circuits that are used frequently and weakening circuits that are used rarely. For instance, pianists who play many arpeggios will end up with their index and middle fingers fused in the associated brain regions, making it nearly impossible for them to move those fingers independently of one another.

Where the Buddhist monks come in is when the scientists started wondering if purely internal mental signals could also alter the physical matter of the brain. The internal signals the scientists were interested in are those created during meditation. Speaking from experience, I was able to see the effect of 20 years of meditation and what it did for my wife, Dhara, who once took very intense "alpha" training at the Biocybernaut Institute in Mountain View, CA, where Dr. James Hardt had this to say:

"Dhara has very high levels of EEG alpha activity. In studies with Zen meditators, Kasamatsu and Hirai found that the level of alpha activity in meditation correlated positively with the ratings of spiritual development that were given by the Zen masters of the Zen monks in the study. Pictures taken of Dhara when she was in her alpha training show that she got really high on the process and compared it to very deep meditation. Dhara didn't just have 'high alpha,' she experienced the 'alpha high'!"


In the neuroplasticity test, the scientists scanned novice meditators and monks who had practiced more than 10,000 hours of meditation; while being scanned, the monks were encouraged to practice "compassion meditation," generating a feeling of love and kindness toward all beings. "We tried to generate a mental state in which compassion permeates the whole mind with no other thoughts," said Matthieu Ricard, who has a Ph.D. in genetics and who is a Buddhist monk at Shechen Monastery in Katmandu, Nepal.

As those who meditate can imagine, there was a striking difference between the novices and the monks, the latter showing a dramatic increase in high-frequency brain activity called gamma waves during compassion meditation. Gamma waves are thought to be the sign of neuronal activity knitting together brain circuits that underlie higher mental activity such as consciousness. The novice meditators "showed a slight increase in gamma activity, but most monks showed extremely large increases of a sort that has never been reported before in the neuroscience literature," said Dr. Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, which suggests that mental training (meditation) can bring the brain to a greater level of consciousness.

During compassion meditation, functional brain scan resonance imaging was able to pinpoint areas of the brain that were more active. The left prefrontal cortex (the seat of positive emotions such as happiness) was much more active than the right prefrontal (site of negative emotions and anxiety). Areas of the brain that switch on at the sight of suffering also showed greater activity in the monks than in the novices. It was also very interesting that, at the sight of suffering, the regions responsible for planned movement became active in the monks, as if their brains desired to go to the aid of those in distress.

There's a very subtle implication to all of this for those of you who are still with me. If the structure and function of our brains are formed by how and what we think, this could explain why it is that we find ourselves in a quandary when attempting to explain something to someone who is polarized to one way of thinking or believing. It could be that that person simply cannot "neurologically" understand anything that is not within his or her circuitry. This brings us to a conclusion that seems to keep popping up a lot these days--not only is it wiser to respect diversity, but our very conscious evolution may depend on it.

When I picked up a January issue of Time, a historically conservative magazine, and read the headline, "The Science of Happiness," I thought to myself, "With everything that's going on in the world today, how nice it is that mainstream science is finally catching up by exploring the new frontier, consciousness."

As always, there are links on the Lotus Guide website for those of you who are interested in the technical data and research evidence.

Rahasya Poe

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http://www.urbandharma.org/udharma8/monkstudy.html This link is straight from the Science Journal. http://www.bookofjoe.com/2005/01/behindthemedspe_2.html

Andrew Newberg Reasearch

 

 


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Just think of the tragedy of teaching children not to doubt. Clarence Darrow (1857 - 1938)

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Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind. Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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One of the greatest pains to human nature is the pain of a new idea. Walter Bagehot (1826 - 1877)

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“Religion is a defense against religious experience, concepts and doctrines keep a person from having a transcendent experience.” Joseph Campbell

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A question that we often ask ourselves is, “How is it that man can cause so much suffering to another and at the same time, turn around and give his life to save someone else that he doesn’t even know?” Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 - 1860)

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If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things. Rene Descartes (1596 - 1650)

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“The virgin birth is symbolic of the birth of spiritual man out of the animal man through the compassion of the heart.” Joseph Campbell

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One of the greatest pains to human nature is the pain of a new idea. Walter Bagehot (1826 - 1877)

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“Religion is a defense against religious experience, concepts and doctrines keep a person from having a transcendent experience.” Joseph Campbell

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With most men, unbelief in one thing springs from blind belief in another.George Christoph Lichtenberg (1742 - 1799)

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Shake off all the fears of servile prejudices, under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call on her tribunal for every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear. Thomas Jefferson (1743 - 1826)

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If this is your estimate of your relation to nature and you have an advanced technology, your likelihood of survival will be that of a snowball in hell. You will die either of the toxic by-products of your own hate, or, simply, of over-population and overgrazing. Gregory Bateson-Futurist and Naturalist

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“The price of apathy towards public affairs is to be ruled by evil men” Plato

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With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion. Steven Weinberg (1933 - )

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“We are developing so quickly on this planet that we are not developing new myths. The future myth will be the planet itself.” Joseph Campbell

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Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from a religious conviction. Blaise Pascal (1623 - 1662)

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The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts. Bertrand Russell (1872 - 1970)

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Faith must have adequate evidence, else it is mere superstition. Alexander Hodge

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The moment you accept your religion as the only way, it becomes an ideology and is a closed door. Eckhart Tolle

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Religion is about turning untested belief into unshakable truth through the power of institutions and the passage of time. Gore Vidal (1925 - )

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With our participation what was once the evolution of consciousness has become conscious evolution. Rahasya

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The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one. George Bernard Shaw (1856 - 1950)

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To have doubted one's own first principles is the mark of a civilized man. Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. (1841 - 1935)

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Those who wish to appear wise among fools, among the wise seem foolish. Quintilian, De Institutione Oratoria

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All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident. Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 - 1860)

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Science has proof without any certainty. Creationists have certainty without any proof. Ashley Montague

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I have discovered that all human evil comes from this, man's being unable to sit still in a room. Blaise Pascal (1623 - 1662)

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