Hale Clinic on Meditation: Research & Science

There have been many parallels drawn between yoga and science in recent decades. Pioneering doctors, psychologists and neuroscientists are now discovering many of the truths about the human mind and body that yogis gave us centuries ago. Western scientists have traditionally looked into the physical environment of man to try and cure the disharmony that is often found in the body. Centuries ago, yogis discovered that through the use of meditation and yoga practices, they were able to address physical, mental and spiritual imbalances that were arising in themselves. Many yogis maintained perfect health on all levels. The sacred knowledge of yoga has been passed down from guru to disciple for centuries and is growing rapidly in popularity in western society as people turn to yoga for answers to their medical and mental concerns. Ancient yogic techniques can be used in a fresh approach to living, as they address many of the problems that we all face in our daily lives.

EASTERN AND WESTERN SCIENCE: Western Science has been mainly focussed on researching the external material world and they have already been able to record many physiological, mental and spiritual benefits from the practice of meditation. The ancient Yogis in India took a different approach to science; they quietened their minds in order to understand the inner states of consciousness. In their view, in order to understand the external reality, they needed to understand the consciousness of the person “observing” that external reality. These ancient yogis would resonate much more with the New Physics which sees an underlying interconnected energy field underpinning all matter. This energetic field was seen as wave of energy or waves of potential possibilities. It was the consciousness of the “Observer” which bought these energetic waves into a material reality. If it was based in ego consciousness, the external reality reflected that consciousness. The Yogis developed scientific meditation practices to limit our “ego consciousness” so practitioners of meditation became self realized — they realized the “superconsciousness” which resides within us all.

MEDITATION AND BRAIN NEUROPLASTICITY: This term refers to the brain’s recently discovered ability to change its structure and function, in particular by expanding or strengthening circuits that are used, and by shrinking or weakening those that are rarely engaged. This opened up the possibility that the brain, like the rest of the body can be altered intentionally. Just as aerobics sculpt the muscles, so mental training sculpts the grey matter in ways scientists are only beginning to fathom. A scientific study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison by Professor Davidson showed that experienced Monks were able to stimulate the left prefrontal cortex, the site in the brain responsible for positive emotions. Stimulation of this area completely swamped activity in the right prefrontal cortex, which is the site of negative emotions. The monks were far more effective in achieving these results than novice meditators.

THICKENING OF THE BRAIN: People who meditate grow bigger brains than those who do not. Researchers at Harvard, Yale and MIT found the first evidence that meditation can alter the physical structure of our brains. Brain scans showed that experienced meditators were able to increase thickness in parts of the brain that deal with attention and processing sensor input. Thickening was more pronounced in older than younger people. The brain naturally becomes thinner as we age. Meditation may help slow some aspects of cognitive ageing.

GOD SPOT: Brain scans of nuns have revealed intricate neural circuits that flicker into life when they feel the presence of God. The images suggest that feelings of profound joy and union with a Higher Being that accompany religious experiences are the culmination of ramped up electrical activity in parts of the brain. They showed a surge in neural activity in regions of the brain that govern feelings of peace, happiness and self-awareness. The scans showed different brain activity from those taken when the nuns were asked to remember intense emotional experiences that involved another person. The findings contradict previous suggestions that human brains may have evolved with a “God Spot” – a single region that lights up in response to deeply religious thoughts. “Rather than there being one spot that relates to mystical experiences, we have found a number of brain regions are involved” said the researcher, Dr. Beauregard from Montreal University. The Guardian Newspaper recommended reading The Spiritual Brain – A Neuroscientists Case for the existence of God by Dr. Mario Beauregard.

BRAIN AND UNIVERSAL CONSCIOUSNESS: Meditation practices like chanting and breathing decrease activity in the parietal lobe, one part of the brain that helps orient a person in three dimensional space i.e. what gives them a sense of individual identity. If you block this area by these practices, you lose that boundary between the self and the rest of the world. You end up experiencing a universal state of consciousness.

MEDITATION AND BRAIN WAVES: In the living brain, millions of nerve cells communicate with each other by emitting tiny electrical impulses. The brain oscillates at different rates depending on the state of consciousness. There is a direct correlation between a person’s activity or level of attention and brain wave activity.

GAMMA WAVES: Gamma brain waves are the fastest brainwave frequency. They may be linked with feelings of love and compassion, as reported by experienced meditators, such as monks and nuns. They are also associated with peak concentration and high levels of cognitive functioning, such as being “in the zone.”

BETA WAVES:  normal wakeful state associated with thinking, problem solving and active attention directed towards the outer world.

ALPHA WAVES:  this is a brain wave when people are in a more relaxed, inward looking state. It is associated with meditation and creativity.

THETA WAVES:  are formed deep in the brain and reflect unconscious activity associated with emotions and dreams. When once comes close to unconscious memories during deep meditation and close to repressed feelings in therapy, the theta activity tends to increase. The presence of theta combined with alpha may signify personal insight and creativity.

DELTA WAVES:  seen in adults during sleep – associated with deepest states of consciousness.

BRAIN WAVES AND STATES OF CONSCIOUSNESS: The meditative state builds a bridge between the conscious and unconscious. It is a drowsy-dreamy state observed by a clear conscious awareness. The EEG pattern is a mixture of alpha and theta waves. Theta signifies subconscious activity, while alpha reflects conscious awareness.

MEDITATION AND KRIYA:  Research Study by Eric Hoffman, PhD, published in Bindu Magazine.  This research showed a considerable increase in alpha and theta activity in most regions of the brain after Kriya Meditation. This indicates that the brain is deeply relaxed and focused following Kriya Yoga. It also shows that through meditation the subjects have obtained a better contact with their subconscious and their emotions. Several scientific studies have demonstrated that theta rhythms in the EEG, mixed with alpha, correlate with the appearance of previously unconscious feelings, images and memories. Brain researchers claim that a person in the high alpha/theta state is able to confront and integrate unconscious processes. This could be linked to present life unconscious memories as well as past life unconscious memories i.e. cleansing of past karma which is one of the main functions of Kriya. The research supports the experience yogis have had of Kriya Yoga, that it can bring about a release of “Cleansing” of unconscious material in a person. Research also shows that Kriya Meditation greatly increases alpha waves in the right temporal lobe, which correlates with optimistic, extrovert people. It helps counteract stress and depression. In comparison Alpha waves in the left temporal lobe would be associated with depressed, introvert people.

CHANGING THE BRAIN WAVES:  meditation students go into Alpha and some Theta Waves – helped by the practice of Meditation Techniques, The Brain Waves help balance the Nervous System.

THE BRAIN WAVES HELP BALANCE THE NERVOUS SYSTEM:  The nervous system comprises of a) Sympathetic nervous system – this system speeds up heart rate, contracts blood vessels and stimulates the release of stress hormones in preparation for action. It resonates more with the Pingala energy in the subtle body. b) Parasympathetic nervous system – this slows the heart rate and relaxes the body`s inner system, thereby increasing its effectiveness. It resonates more with the Ida energy in the subtle body. The long exhalation in Nadi Suddhi Pranayama and Sukkha Purvaka Pranayama activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms the body down. A balanced nervous system also supports and reinforces Alpha brain waves.

HEART RATE VARIABILITY:  The above helps the heart to go into a regular rhythm. The practice also brings out love and compassion in the practitioner, which also helps the heart go into a regular rhythm. Negative thoughts make the heart go into an irregular heart rhythm.

When the heart achieves the above, it opens up the higher centres in the brain, which deal with rational thought. Regular heart rhythms influence all the other bodily systems to work in harmony, especially the immune and hormonal systems.

SUMMARY:  Scientific Research has shown that when the body creates this harmonious physiology, it is more receptive to spiritual and subtle energies.

For more information, please visit www.haleclinic.com

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