Meditation is both an ancient spiritual practice and a contemporary technique for relaxing the body and calming the mind. Meditative techniques originally came from Asian religious practices and have been widely adopted in western society, where their health benefits have become widely recognised. Various disciplines of meditation are employed medically and are established methods of alleviating anxiety and stress related disorders. Further studies have indicated meditation as of therapeutic advantage in the treatment of disorders like epilepsy, although the basis of this effect in terms of electrical brain activity and other processes is unclear. These two complimentary studies investigating the neurochemical and electrophysiological changes brought about by meditation, as well as some of the global physiological changes, will provide insights into how and why meditation is an effective treatment for the various disorders it is currently used in treating, and should indicate possible new applications for meditation as a therapeutic treatment.
In one study, we are planning to investigate the role that neurotransmitters and changes in blood supply play in the higher states of consciousness brought about by meditation. A better understanding of the neurophysiology that underpins the benefits yielded by meditation can then be applied to improving the success with which meditation is used in psychotherapy.
With Prof. Stephen Hall, we will continue our examination of changes in physiological activity brought about by meditation. In the pilot phase of this research, striking changes in the synchronicity of electrical activity in the somatosensory cortex and cerebellum were observed. Importantly, it was possible to link the electrophysiological changes to observed changes in the meditator’s conscious experience, providing insights into how the synchronicity of neural activity might be reflected in and determine our state of consciousness.
The present study will therefore use a larger sample of meditators to test these findings. This experiment should therefore help us to understand better the electrophysiological changes that underpin meditation’s effects, and also how certain aspects of conscious experience are related to specific patterns of activity in specific parts of the brain.
Together, these studies will help us to understand better the neurobiology underlying the benefits of meditation and so expand and enhance the application of meditation as a therapeutic treatment. They will also provide crucial insights into the endogenous processes that lead us into higher states of consciousness.