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Steven Edward Markham
editation, contemplation, or focusing the mind has been practiced for several thousand years. Hinduism and the Vedic religions confirm this and it may well have been practised as part of the rituals of the ron!e Age "ndus Valley #ivili!ation. #ertainly it is part of the practices of almost all religions in some form and is particularly important in Eastern faiths such as Hinduism, $oga, %aoism, &rishna #onsciousness and the many forms of uddhism. "t has been integrated into other religions including #hristianity, "slam and 'udaism and embraced by (ew Age spiritual practices, gathering particular fame and popularity in the )*+,-s throughout the .est largely due to %he eatles and their association with the Maharishi Mahesh $ogi and %ranscendental Meditation. %he benefits reported by practitioners are great and cover a range of claims from aiding rela/ation and concentration, reducing stress, lowering blood pressure and other medical benefits to the more outlandish claims of enabling eternal life and achieving flight. %hese claims have aroused the interest of the Scientific community and many studies have been undertaken in order to understand better the true effects of meditation. "t is a pity that so many of these studies have been associated with %ranscendental Meditation0 which has a strongly commercial and political structure making the ob1ectivity of many of the studies difficult to believe. However, the body of serious scientific evidence is beginning to build and modern techni2ues such as M3" 4Magnetic 3esonance "maging5 scans have been used to measure the physical and psychological effects produced by meditation. 6sing #linically Standardi!ed Meditation 4#SM5, a 7bare bones8 form of meditation that includes no spiritual practices as part of it-s routine, is e2ually effective. %his shows that the religious aspect often applied to meditation serves as nothing other than a means of focus for the practitioner i.e. it is not at all essential to have a religious belief in order to benefit from meditation. However, using a spiritual belief as a means of focus can produce stronger effects. "n 9,,:, a team at the Massachusetts ;eneral Hospital in oston, compared a group of meditators with mi/ed e/perience against ): non<meditators. 6sing M3" scans it was found that meditation actually increases the thickness of the corte/ in areas involved in attention and sensory processing, such as the prefrontal corte/ and the right anterior insula. %hese areas appear to be 7e/ercised8 during meditation and their si!e increases < similar to a muscle increasing in si!e during physical e/ercise. %he finding compares with studies showing that accomplished musicians, athletes and linguists all have thickening in relevant areas of the corte/. %he growth of the corte/ is not due to the growth of new neurons but results from wider blood vessels, more supporting structures such as glia and astrocytes, and increased branching and connections.
Andrew Newberg, a radiologist at the University of Pennsylvania used brain imaging to study a group of Tibetan Buddhist monks as they meditated for approximately one hour. hen they rea!hed a trans!endental high, they were asked to pull a !ord releasing an in"e!tion of a radioa!tive tra!er. The s!ientists mapped how the dye moved to a!tive parts of the brain and !ompared the images obtained during deep meditation with those of a normal waking state. #r Newberg explained his findings thus$ %There was an in!rease in a!tivity in the front part of the brain, the area that is a!tivated when anyone fo!uses attention on a parti!ular task%. &n addition, a notable de!rease in a!tivity in the ba!k part of the brain, or parietal lobe, re!ognised as the area responsible for orientation, reinfor!ed the general suggestion that meditation leads to a la!k of spatial awareness. #r Newberg explained$ %#uring meditation, people have a loss of the sense of self and fre'uently experien!e a sense of no spa!e and time and that was exa!tly what we saw.% &n addition, Newberg found subtle differences in the baseline state of the brain in the %ibetan meditators. %his raises an interesting 2uestion regarding whether their brains have changed because of practicing meditation for 9, years or whether their brains have always been that way, and that is why meditation is so effective for them. 3esearchers at the 6niversity of #alifornia in San =rancisco Medical #entre have found the practise of uddhism can tame the amygdala, an area of the brain which is central to fear memory. %hey discovered that e/perienced uddhists, who meditate regularly, were less likely to be shocked, flustered, surprised or as angry compared to control groups. "n a separate study, conducted by #hinese undergraduate students, the stress hormone cortisol was found to be lowered after only five days, during which a group of students meditated once a day for twenty minutes. %he researchers also assessed mood states and found improvements in scores assessing an/iety, depression, conflict transformation, anger and fatigue. Although only using a small group of eighty volunteers in e/perimental or control groups, the tests were well conducted and the assessor-s results blinded during the scoring process. Scientists at the 6niversity of .isconsin at Madison e/amined brain activity in a group of e/perienced uddhists and found enhanced activity in the left prefrontal lobes. %hese areas were unusually active compared to the average sub1ect and not 1ust during meditation. %he left prefrontal lobes are associated with positive emotions, self<control and temperament. >ne hypothesis is that meditation and uddhist practice has physically altered the brain and produced a positive state. "t is without doubt that these practitioners were truly happy and calm and not 1ust appearing so.
%here is real evidence that the practice of meditation can be greatly beneficial and is more effective than other stress relieving techni2ues. "ts use alongside traditional medical treatment has also shown effectiveness in the treatment of Hypertension, "nsomnia, Addictive ehaviour, Angina ?ectoris and @iabetes as well as many other medical conditions. ;oleman A ennett<;oleman, have suggested that meditation works because of the relationship between the amygdala and the prefrontal corte/. Simply put, the amygdala is the part of the brain that decides if we should get angry or an/ious 4among other things5, and the prefrontal corte/ is the part that inhibits our responses or makes us stop and think. %he prefrontal corte/ analy!es data but it takes time to make decisions. %he amygdala, being evolutionary older, works in a more primitive manner making snap 1udgements and strong responses including the classic 7fight or flight8 response. "n behaving in this knee1erk way the amygdala can cry wolf and mis1udge situations. "n modern society, this can easily lead to conflict situations, stress, an/iety and panic when confronted with emotional situations. %he e/perienced meditator can use the prefrontal corte/ to limit the knee1erk reaction of the amygdala and often divert the brain-s responses to more positive feelings. "n addition to these effects on the brain, meditation has also been measured using EE; 4electroencephalography5. "t has shown that, during meditation, brainwave activity moves through the 7Alpha8 state which is linked to rela/ation and creative visualisation and, as the meditative state deepens, the %heta stateB where brain activity slows almost to the point of sleep. %heta brings forward heightened receptivity, and dreamlike imagery. %his state can also produce a sensation of BfloatingB. "n these brain states, it is possible that here is the link to claims of $ogic =lying. "n conclusion, the measurable effects of meditation can be shown to bring many positive states to the individual. Meditation is a practice that can have great benefits to an individual whether embraced as part of daily life or as part of spiritual practices.
HH @alai Cama, 9,,D, Stages of Meditation: Training the Mind for Wisdom, 3ider A #o (ewberg A , "versen '. 9,,D, The neural basis of the complex mental task of meditation: Neurotransmitter and neurochemical considerations. Medical Hypothesis +)495E 9F9<9*) (ewberg A. 9,,9, The neuropsychology of ritual and meditative states. ?syche A ;eloof GE)HG<)FD @umoulin, H, 9,,+, en !uddhism, "olume #: $ %istory &'ndia ( )hina*, .orld .isdom ooks # Science and %echnology =riday, ) March, 9,,9, httpEIIwww.bbc.co.uk Motluk, A. 9,,:, +Meditation builds up the brain,, (ew Scientist, ;oleman, @, )**+, The Meditative Mind, %archer #arrington, ?, )**F, +-earn to meditate,, Element (HS &nowledge Service, 9,,H, Meditation .reduces stress and improves mood/, httpEIIwww.nhs.uk Stein, ', 9,,D, 0ust Say 1m, %ime Maga!ine .eil, A, Meditation and the !rain, Harvard arbor,#, 9,,), The Science of Meditation, ?sychology %oday Maga!ine
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