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Saturday, January 4, 2020

Meditation activates enlightenment neurons

Meditation is a serious exercise for the psyche and body. What happens to the brain during this process? Can meditation be dangerous for people with mental disorders? T&P studied the studies of neurophysiologists and other scientists from the United States, Europe and Asia to answer these questions.
In 1979, a misfortune happened in one of the hotels in Pune: a man who had just returned from Kathmandu after a 30-day course of meditation committed suicide. The Gardenist magazine correspondent Mary Garden, who also stayed at this hotel, talked to him the day before. According to her, the man showed no signs of mental disorder: he was friendly and did not look upset. Nevertheless, the next morning he jumped from the roof.
Today you can read a lot of true positive stories about attending meditation courses. Every year, tens of thousands of people go to specialised schools at home and abroad to improve their quality of life, health, and worldview. However, the history of meditation dates back more than 3,000 years, and the goal of these practices has never been what people from the West often seek and find in them today: relaxation and stress relief. Initially, meditation was, and still remains, a spiritual instrument designed to “cleanse” the mind of impurities and interference and help a person achieve inner enlightenment in the form in which his religion of Buddhism understands.

    Pro: rest for the brain and attention to the "I".

    What does the meditation process look like in terms of brain physiology? According to experts from the USA and Tibet, who conducted research among people who constantly practice contemplative meditation, during this process, neural activity in the centers responsible for experiencing happiness increased by 700-800%. In subjects who began to practice recently, this value was noticeably lower: only 10-15%. In their book “Buddha, the brain and the neurophysiology of happiness”, researchers note that in the first case, we are talking about people who have honed their skills over the years and have managed to devote a total of 10,000 to 15,000 hours of meditation, which corresponds to the level of athletes Olympians. Nevertheless, the same thing happened with the newcomers, albeit to a lesser extent.
    Neurophysiologists from the University of Oslo, Norway, found that during non-directive meditation (it allows you to concentrate on breathing and send thoughts to wander), brain activity also increases in areas responsible for creating thoughts and feelings associated with a person’s self. Scientists noticed that meditation-concentration did not give such results: in this case, the level of work of “I-centers” turned out to be the same as during normal rest. “These areas of the brain show the highest activity when we rest,” says author of the study, specialist at the University of Oslo Svenn Davanger- This is a kind of basic operating system, a network of interconnected operations that comes to the forefront if external tasks do not require attention. What is curious is that non-directive meditation activates this network more than simple relaxation. ”
    In terms of brain physiology, meditation is really like relaxation. A group of scientists from Harvard found during research that during this process the brain stops processing normal amounts of information. The beta rhythm characteristic of the state of active wakefulness (the EEG rhythm in the range from 14 to 30 Hz with a voltage of 5-30 μV) fades. This seems to allow the brain to recover.
    Meditation activates enlightenment neurons

    Harvard experts also performed magnetic resonance scans of the brains of people who had been meditating regularly for 8 weeks. Assessing the state of the brain immediately after a 45-minute practice, they noticed that in many areas the activity was almost gone. The frontal lobes responsible for planning and decision-making were practically “turned off” in the subjects, the parietal sections of the cortex, usually occupied by the processing of sensory information and orientation in time and space, subsided, the thalamus, which redistributes the sensory data, slowed down, and the signals of the reticular formation, whose work allows you to bring the brain into a state of "alert". All this allowed the brain to "relax" and engage in the processing of data related to the person’s own personality, and not with the outside world.

    Contra: excess serotonin and disappearance of borders.

    Even the Dalai Lama is sure that one should be careful with meditation: “Western people go to deep meditation too quickly: they need to learn about Eastern traditions and train more than they usually do. Otherwise, mental and physical difficulties arise. ”
    Neurophysiologists point out that meditation can really have a bad effect on mental health, especially if you already suffer from some kind of disorder. Dr. Solomon Snyder, head of the Department of Neurophysiology at Johns Hopkins University, warns that serotonin, one of the main neurotransmitters that controls many body systems, is additionally released during meditation in the brain. This may be useful in mild depression, but excess serotonin can cause paradoxical anxiety that occurs during relaxation. Instead of relaxing, a person in this case receives a deep sadness or panic attack. With schizophrenia, according to Snyder, meditation in some cases can cause psychosis.
    Dr. Andrew Newberg of the University of Pennsylvania, during his research, found that meditation reduces blood flow in the back of the upper dark gyrus, which is responsible for deep sensitivity and body boundaries. This fully explains the feeling of “unity with the world”, which is often told by people who have tried such practices on themselves. “If you block the work of this gyrus,” says Newberg, “you will stop feeling where your personality ends and the world begins.” “Meditation will not be beneficial to all patients with emotional disorders,” says a colleague, professor Richard Davidson of Wisconsin. “For some categories of people, it can even be harmful.” Davidson argues that meditation practices “are capable of changing the state of neural tissue in the areas of the brain that are responsible for empathy, as well as attention and emotional reactions. ” This, according to the professor, can negatively affect relations with people around and lead to a feeling of loss and loneliness that can undermine a person’s mood, even if he is mentally healthy.
    Not only neurophysiologists speak out in favor of careful handling of meditative practices. Kristof Titmuss, a former Buddhist monk who visits Vipassana every year in an Indian school, warns that occasionally people experience very traumatic experiences during this course, which subsequently requires around-the-clock support, medication and even hospitalization. “Some people experience a short-term state of horror at the fact that their brain is out of control and they’re afraid of losing their minds,” he adds. “Away from the usual everyday reality, consciousness is difficult to recover, so such a person usually needs outside help.” However, Titmuss notes that, in his opinion, meditation does not cause such effects on its own. “The function of the meditation process, as the Buddha pointed out, is to become a mirror,


    Thus, if a person suffers from depression, schizophrenia, bipolar affective disorder or other mental illness, meditation can turn into troubles for him: exacerbation, psychosis or even attempted suicide. In some schools of spiritual practice today even questionnaires are used that allow you to identify and filter out among applicants those who have already experienced mental disorders themselves or know that such cases were in his family history. However, there is nothing surprising in this. Meditation is a way to actively use and train the psyche, just like running is a way to train the heart and legs. If your heart or joints do not always work well, you need to run carefully or choose a different type of load.

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