To better understand how this ancient practice affects the brain, we used magnetoencephalography (MEG) to measure ‘brain waves’ during meditation and recorded subjective experiences. We invited a senior member of the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual Organisation, with more than 30 years of expertise in meditative practice, to participate in this study. During the meditation session, she experienced a strong sense of ‘oneness’ (unity) and light, alongside a reduced awareness of the self and what was going on around her (a silencing of the usual noise of the mind). Certain changes in ‘brain waves’ correlated with her experience of unity and light. Together, the results suggest that meditation is an active process that directly modulates brain activity.
Another study, conducted in collaboration with Prof Thilo Hinterberger at Freiburg University, investigated the relationship of brain activity (measured with EEG) to mindfulness, meditation experience, and exceptional and spiritual experiences, further strengthening the evidence for a mind-brain connection.
Interestingly, our recent study in the Beckley / Sant Pau Research Programme found comparable mindfulness scores to meditation practitioners in subjects following an ayahuasca experience, and showed that self-acceptance and the ability to detach from thoughts and emotions was similarly increased in meditators and subjects post-ayahuasca, suggesting that similar benefits may be gained from a pharmacological intervention as from meditation.
Meditation is both an ancient spiritual practice as well as a contemporary technique for relaxing the body and calming the mind. It is recognized as a component of almost all religions, and has been practiced for over 5,000 years. Meditative techniques originally came from Asian religious practices and have been widely adopted in Western society, where the health benefits associated with meditation have become widely recognised. One particular component of meditation – the cultivation of mindfulness– has received much research attention in recent years. Mindfulness involves cultivating non-judgemental attention to present-moment experiences, and its sought-after effects include improved well-being, increased focus, the ability to regulate or get in touch with one’s emotional state, relaxation, increased energy levels, and reduced stress.
Experienced meditators report having a more positive self-representation as well as higher self-esteem and self-acceptance. Several clinical trials have explored the effects of meditation and mindfulness practice on self-regulation, attention, and emotion, and have tested their efficacy in the treatment of mental disorders such as ADHD, anxiety, depression, and addiction. Modern neuroimaging methods, such as MRI and EEG, are beginning to be applied to determine which brain areas underlie these changes in consciousness, and the Beckley Foundation is proud to have facilitated research into this promising area for treating disorders and improving well-being.
Neuroscience, consciousness and spirituality, 2011
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