It has long been assumed that daily meditation leads to a peaceful, more wholesome life. New research indicates, however, that regular meditation could actually change the physical and biological make-up of your brain.
Richard Davidson, a neuropsychologist at the University of Wisconsin who practices meditation himself, decided to find the secret behind the practice. So he traveled half-way around the world to Dharamsala, India, and with hundreds of pounds of electronic recording equipment, began measuring the brain activity of Buddhist monks, lamas, and yogis.
His work over the past 20 years has shown that the brains of the most advanced meditators are, in fact, different than those brains of others. The results of the advanced meditators indicate that their brains have a stronger gamma wave, which is a type of electrical activity associated with consciousness and the ability to perceive and put together information from multiple areas of the brain. Additionally, the brains of advanced meditators displayed greater activity in the left prefrontal cortex than the right. The left prefrontal cortex, the area located just behind the forehead, is associated with happiness and well-being.
Davidson, however, had no way of measuring the brains of these monks prior to beginning their lives of meditation. So whether his results indicate that meditating itself changed the brain or that these monks were predisposed to becoming meditators because of already existing differences in their brain is undetermined.
In an effort to reconcile the dilemma, Davidson has recently conducted an experiment on people who do not regularly practice meditation. He was able to record their brain activity prior to teaching them Vipassana, a form of attention meditation, and after their practicing it for either 10-12 hours a day for 3 months or for 20 minutes a day for a week. Davidson then presented the subjects with a series of mental exercises and tests.
Davidson and his colleagues reported this week in the scientific journal, PloS Biology, that those subjects who meditated regularly and according to the guidelines given to them significantly improved their ability to correctly perform the mental tests. In addition, the meditators were capable of completing one task using fewer neural resources, allowing them to complete a second task with those remaining, something many had previously been unable or found too difficult to do.
"Their previous practice of meditation is influencing their performance on this task," Davidson stated. "The conventional view is that attentional resources are limited. This shows that attention capabilities can be enhanced through learning."
To read more about the specifics of the experiment conducted by Davidson, follow this link: http://labnotes.talk.newsweek.com/default.asp?item=593703
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