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Meditation Gives Brain a Charge

Meditation Gives Brain a Charge

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Published by Santiago Jimenez
An archive of Articles describing the effects, due to investigations, of maditation in the brain
An archive of Articles describing the effects, due to investigations, of maditation in the brain

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Published by: Santiago Jimenez on Dec 26, 2008
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Meditation Associated With Increased Grey Matter in the Brain
Meditation is known to alter resting brain patterns, suggestinglong lasting brain changes, but a new study by researchers from Yale, Harvard, Massachusetts General Hospital, and theMassachusetts Institute of Technology shows meditation also isassociated with increased cortical thickness.
 The structural changes were found in areas of the brain that are important forsensory, cognitive and emotional processing, the researchers report in theNovember issue of NeuroReport.Although the study included only 20 participants, all with extensive training inBuddhist Insight meditation, the results are significant, said Jeremy Gray,assistant professor of psychology at Yale and co-author of the study led bySara Lazar, assistant in psychology at Massachusetts General Hospital."What is most fascinating to me is the suggestion that meditation practicecan change anyone's grey matter," Gray said. "The study participants werepeople with jobs and families. They just meditated on average 40 minuteseach day; you don't have to be a monk."Magnetic resonance imaging showed that regular practice of meditation isassociated with increased thickness in a subset of cortical regions related tosensory, auditory, visual and internal perception, such as heart rate orbreathing. The researchers also found that regular meditation practice mayslow age-related thinning of the frontal cortex."Most of the regions identified in this study were found in the righthemisphere," the researchers said. "The right hemisphere is essential forsustaining attention, which is a central practice of Insight meditation." They said other forms of yoga and meditation likely have a similar impact oncortical structure, although each tradition would be expected to have aslightly different pattern of cortical thickening based on the specific mentalexercises involved. ______________________________________________________________________________ Co-authors include Catherine Kerr, Rachel Wasserman Jeffery Dusek, HerbertBenson and Metta McGarvey, Harvard; Douglas Greve, Brian Quinn, BruceFischl, Michael Treadway and Scott Rauch, Massachusetts General Hospital,and Christopher Moore, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.NeuroReport 16: 1893-1897 (November 28, 2005)
Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by YaleUniversity.
Meditation Gives Brain a Charge, Study Finds
By Marc Kaufman
Washington Post Staff WriterMonday, January 3, 2005; Page A05Brain research is beginning to produce concrete evidence for something thatBuddhist practitioners of meditation have maintained for centuries: Mentaldiscipline and meditative practice can change the workings of the brain andallow people to achieve different levels of awareness. Those transformed states have traditionally been understood in transcendentterms, as something outside the world of physical measurement andobjective evaluation. But over the past few years, researchers at theUniversity of Wisconsin working with Tibetan monks have been able totranslate those mental experiences into the scientific language of high-frequency gamma waves and brain synchrony, or coordination. And theyhave pinpointed the left prefrontal cortex, an area just behind the leftforehead, as the place where brain activity associated with meditation isespecially intense."What we found is that the longtime practitioners showed brain activation ona scale we have never seen before," said Richard Davidson, a neuroscientistat the university's new $10 million W.M. Keck Laboratory for Functional BrainImaging and Behavior. "Their mental practice is having an effect on the brainin the same way golf or tennis practice will enhance performance." Itdemonstrates, he said, that the brain is capable of being trained andphysically modified in ways few people can imagine.Scientists used to believe the opposite -- that connections among brain nervecells were fixed early in life and did not change in adulthood. But thatassumption was disproved over the past decade with the help of advances inbrain imaging and other techniques, and in its place, scientists haveembraced the concept of ongoing brain development and "neuroplasticity."Davidson says his newest results from the meditation study, published in theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in November, take theconcept of neuroplasticity a step further by showing that mental trainingthrough meditation (and presumably other disciplines) can itself change theinner workings and circuitry of the brain. The new findings are the result of along, if unlikely, collaboration between Davidson and Tibet's Dalai Lama, theworld's best-known practitioner of Buddhism. The Dalai Lama first invitedDavidson to his home in Dharamsala, India, in 1992 after learning aboutDavidson's innovative research into the neuroscience of emotions. The Tibetans have a centuries-old tradition of intensive meditation and, from thestart, the Dalai Lama was interested in having Davidson scientifically explore
the workings of his monks' meditating minds. Three years ago, the DalaiLama spent two days visiting Davidson's lab. The Dalai Lama ultimately dispatched eight of his most accomplishedpractitioners to Davidson's lab to have them hooked up forelectroencephalograph (EEG) testing and brain scanning. The Buddhistpractitioners in the experiment had undergone training in the TibetanNyingmapa and Kagyupa traditions of meditation for an estimated 10,000 to50,000 hours, over time periods of 15 to 40 years. As a control, 10 studentvolunteers with no previous meditation experience were also tested after oneweek of training. The monks and volunteers were fitted with a net of 256 electrical sensors andasked to meditate for short periods. Thinking and other mental activity areknown to produce slight, but detectable, bursts of electrical activity as largegroupings of neurons send messages to each other, and that's what thesensors picked up. Davidson was especially interested in measuring gammawaves, some of the highest-frequency and most important electrical brainimpulses.Both groups were asked to meditate, specifically on unconditionalcompassion. Buddhist teaching describes that state, which is at the heart of the Dalai Lama's teaching, as the "unrestricted readiness and availability tohelp living beings." The researchers chose that focus because it does notrequire concentrating on particular objects, memories or images, andcultivates instead a transformed state of being.Davidson said that the results unambiguously showed that meditationactivated the trained minds of the monks in significantly different ways fromthose of the volunteers. Most important, the electrodes picked up muchgreater activation of fast-moving and unusually powerful gamma waves inthe monks, and found that the movement of the waves through the brain wasfar better organized and coordinated than in the students. The meditationnovices showed only a slight increase in gamma wave activity whilemeditating, but some of the monks produced gamma wave activity morepowerful than any previously reported in a healthy person, Davidson said. The monks who had spent the most years meditating had the highest levelsof gamma waves, he added. This "dose response" -- where higher levels of adrug or activity have greater effect than lower levels -- is what researcherslook for to assess cause and effect.In previous studies, mental activities such as focus, memory, learning andconsciousness were associated with the kind of enhanced neural coordinationfound in the monks. The intense gamma waves found in the monks have alsobeen associated with knitting together disparate brain circuits, and so areconnected to higher mental activity and heightened awareness, as well.Davidson's research is consistent with his earlier work that pinpointed the leftprefrontal cortex as a brain region associated with happiness and positivethoughts and emotions. Using functional magnetic resonance imagining

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