Friday, July 10, 2009

Washington Post: Meditation "Grows" Your Brain

Meditation Gives Brain a Charge, Study Finds

By Marc Kaufman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 3, 2005; Page A05

Brain research is beginning to produce concrete evidence for something that Buddhist practitioners of meditation have maintained for centuries: Mental discipline and meditative practice can change the workings of the brain and allow people to achieve different levels of awareness.
Those transformed states have traditionally been understood in transcendent terms, as something outside the world of physical measurement and objective evaluation. But over the past few years, researchers at the University of Wisconsin working with Tibetan monks have been able to translate those mental experiences into the scientific language of high-frequency gamma waves and brain synchrony, or coordination. And they have pinpointed the left prefrontal cortex, an area just behind the left forehead, as the place where brain activity associated with meditation is especially intense.
"What we found is that the longtime practitioners showed brain activation on a scale we have never seen before," said Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the university's new $10 million W.M. Keck Laboratory for Functional Brain Imaging and Behavior. "Their mental practice is having an effect on the brain in the same way golf or tennis practice will enhance performance." It demonstrates, he said, that the brain is capable of being trained and physically modified in ways few people can imagine.
In previous studies, mental activities such as focus, memory, learning and consciousness were associated with the kind of enhanced neural coordination found in the monks. The intense gamma waves found in the monks have also been associated with knitting together disparate brain circuits, and so are connected to higher mental activity and heightened awareness, as well.
Davidson concludes from the research that meditation not only changes the workings of the brain in the short term, but also quite possibly produces permanent changes. That finding, he said, is based on the fact that the monks had considerably more gamma wave activity than the control group even before they started meditating. A researcher at the University of Massachusetts, Jon Kabat-Zinn, came to a similar conclusion several years ago.
Researchers at Harvard and Princeton universities are now testing some of the same monks on different aspects of their meditation practice: their ability to visualize images and control their thinking. Davidson is also planning further research.
"What we found is that the trained mind, or brain, is physically different from the untrained one," he said. In time, "we'll be able to better understand the potential importance of this kind of mental training and increase the likelihood that it will be taken seriously."

(D.R.)- Still more evidence that meditation, prayer, and ancient Shamanic practices can now be proven to re-wire the brain and create a higher state of consciousness. I think this says a lot about seemingly slow, introspective internal arts such as Tai Chi Chuan...

LINK To Article


Toldain said...

I think this says a lot about seemingly slow, introspective internal arts such as Tai Chi Chuan...

I agree, but with a caveat. I suspect you must be highly engaged mentally for this to work. Focused, whatever you want to call it. It's pretty easy to slide into merely a "mostly engaged" state that probably doesn't produce a lot of results.

The threat that someone might hit you, that exists in sparring, say, motivates you to stay engaged mentally better, and this element is missing in solo katas, whether fast or slow.

Steve Perry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve Perry said...

Not a surprise, this finding.

I believe that the notion of meditation, at least in the classical Eastern sense, is that you aren't highly engaged mentally -- not beta waves, but alpha, theta, even delta -- and my experiences with forms, including a long ago and far away time with Yang-style tai chi, is that once you learn them, you don't have to think about them. Nor should you.

Not to say you aren't focused and in the moment, but it is more kinesthetic than cerebral. If you had to think about what goes into walking, you'd fall down a lot. If the speed of thought is your limitation for an incoming punch, you'll get tagged a lot, too.

The time for thinking is in the learning. In the doing, you have to move past that. If I'm attacked, I don't know what I'm going to do in the moment, only that I should have the tools to do something useful.

As my teacher is fond of quoting his teacher, "If you think, you stink ..."

Dojo Rat said...

I think Steve is correct, and more along my line of thinking on this subject. The Japanese call it "Mu Shin" I believe, or "no mind".
But more importantly, those that have followed my recent posts, including the one on genetics and how experiances can alter your DNA and be transfered to future generations--
What I am hitting at is that we have the ability to make leaps in human evolution, we were given the tools.
How powerful would it be if more people attempted to tap into this level? I'm not saying I have even close, but my mind is open to it and I choose to explore the path.
- Could we evolve ourselves into a more productive and peaceful, enlightened world?

Lewis said...

there's an interesting conversation between daniel goleman (author of emotional intelligence) and Richard Davidson, it's on Neuroplasticity and part of Goleman's Wired To Connect dialogue series, and there are samples you can listen to at