Meditation & Health #5 Contents

Have You Meditated Today Darling

In the past 20 years, research on the correlation between meditation and science has attested that meditation does indeed improve the physical and mental well-being of people from all walks of life including housewives and working people and students. The benefits include reduced obesity and better health, stress relief and improved concentration, as well as stimulation of their imagination and creativity.

Meditation Enters School Campuses

In 2010, Tonbridge Secondary School in Kent, England introduced meditation course as one of its school curriculum whereby the 10th graders (14-15 years old) practised a 40-minute meditation exercise once a week for two months. The Telegraph quoted Prof Mark Williams, Director of the Mindfulness Centre at Oxford, as saying, “This is not about converting people to Buddhism, but showing there is scientific evidence that these practices are useful.”

Given the encouraging research findings on students who meditated, meditation is entering many campuses in the West. The key reasons for the acceptance of meditation in schools are the need for relief of stress and improvement of concentration power. In addition, students find that meditation brings fresh experiences of body, mind and spirit, and opens up their mind to a unique perspective toward life.

Stress Can Affect Brain Development

Professor Richard Davidson who studies the effects of meditation at the University of Wisconsin deduced, “Stress does have important consequences for the brain, not just something that arouses the body – tension in your muscles or butterflies in the stomach, but it also interferes with our ability to do more complex thinking.”

In January 2011, Richard Davidson and Alexander Shackman published in The Journal of Neuroscience the results of their research on stress, indicating that excessive pressure causes disorders in other systems of the brain, hence affecting timely and effectiveness in decision-making. The results showed that for subjects knowing that they may suffer electric shock which will trigger stress and anxiety, their brain circuit responsible for gathering visual information will enhance its activities. After the electric shock was removed, there was decline in visual ability of the subjects, and strategic planning capacity increased.

Shackman explained: “As the concentration on seeing and listening is increased, the ability to perform complex tasks will diminish. The brain is unable to concentrate on processing information and in turn takes in more and more irrelevant information, creating a vicious feedback loop.”

So, how can we help these children who are under excessive pressure? The researchers said that, throughout the United States, there are various working memory intervention therapies which aim to help improve cognitive ability and performance. Besides that, Davidson has an alternative – “An organised practice of an adequate meditation method to relieve stress can not only calm the body, but also improve our ability to engage in complex analytical activity.”

Meditation Enhances Brain Development

Since 2004, there have been scientific papers discussing the brain’s plasticity which created widespread interest. Since then, many researchers have begun to study and explore how meditation may result in short-term or long-term changes of the brain.

In February 2012, a scientific journal known as Frontiers in Human Neuroscience published an article, The Unique Brain Anatomy of Meditation Practitioners: Alterations in Cortical Gyrification. The article disclosed that there are positive correlations between the number of meditation years and gyrification. This conclusion was based on an experiment led by Eileen Luders of UCLA Laboratory of Neuro Imaging involving 28 men and 22 women with a median age of 21. The research report further suggested: Given that meditators are masters in introspection, awareness, and emotional control, increased in insular gyrification may reflect an integration of autonomic, affective, and cognitive processes.

Further, in April 2012, Richard Davidson stressed in Nature Neuroscience that modern neurological research has found that meditation can remodel the brain, improve the number of brain cells, functions, and interconnectivity, thereby enhancing the overall well-being.

Previously, it was believed that the brain no longer grows once a person reaches adulthood. Now research has proven otherwise: The brain can be remodelled; it can be trained to enhance its development and to protect against external factors that may cause damage to the brain. It has also been reported that stress and anxiety destroys the balance within the brain. However, meditation can remodel the brain’s balance, making it more developed than before, showing faster and more efficient reactions.

Meditation Improves Concentration

Besides relieving stress and relaxing the body and mind, research indicated that meditation can enhance concentration power and helps to prevent attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

In 2007, Davidson carried out a study whereby the subjects concentrated on a stimulating object. When they realised that they had lost their focus, they had to bring back their attention on the object again. The participants included new meditation learners and veterans who had clocked up to 54,000 hours of meditation experience. During the meditation, the participants were from time to time subjected to some noise interference. The scan imaging showed that the brain associated with emotions and decision-making areas of the experienced meditators were less active than the new learners, an indication that they were even not affected by the noise interference.

Davidson explained, “Most people, if they heard a baby screaming, would have some emotional response. However, this was not reflected in the scans of the experienced practitioners. They do hear the sound, as we can detect that in the auditory cortex, but they don’t have the emotional reaction.” Researchers believed that this difference is due to meditation.

In 2009, the University of Wisconsin-Madison scientist Antoine Lutz led a research whereby meditators wore earplugs, and listened to a playback of standard and sporadic unusual tones. On hearing the occasional discordant tone, meditators clicked the button. The study revealed that three months of meditation practice resulted in improved concentration levels and response time in clicking the button was significantly shorter. Lutz said: “This shows that attention is a flexible skill that can be trained.”

The results found that in the brains of experienced meditators, the part responsible for dealing with self-awareness (including fantasy) has become less active, showing that meditation can indeed reduce the tendency to be distracted. Many research results have pointed to one conclusion: that meditation can indeed enhance concentration.

Meditation Improves Academic and Work Performance

There are many easy ways to start meditation. Online learning and guide books can be downloaded on the internet. Meditation training is also available in local institutions, e.g. in Bodhi Meditation Centres worldwide, there are many programmes for beginners that can be easily learnt.

Brewer urges, “Don’t get discouraged if at first you find that your mind keeps wandering when trying to meditate. Stick with it. Find a good group and a good teacher.” As long as one persists in meditation, this form of training can possibly change the brain structure and increase vitality of the brain, enhance concentration level and consequently improve academic and work performance.

Meditation & Health #5 Contents