Sunday, August 7, 2011

Meditation Changes The Brain says Neurologist

"I think the important thing is that regular meditation can help people adjust to the vicissitudes - the up-and-down aspects of their lives - and to have a greater sense of well-being" says 86 years old neurologist James Austin, who is a scientist and a zen Buddhist for nearly 40 years. Austin is Emeritus Professor of Neurology at the University of Colorado Health Science and he was in Singapore last week to talk on Buddhism and Neuroscience.

Dr Austin says that meditation causes physical changes in the brain. Actually tiny receptors in the brain which connects the brain cells change on their own but meditation allows them to change in an orderly manner. You can think of meditation like the fitness for the brain. To shape out our body we exercise, i.e. we go to gym. And although our muscle mass changes over time even if we do not exercise, without disciplined exercise we have no control over these changes and also these changes have no significant importance. Worse, without exercise we end up an unhealthy body covered with excessive fat.

Meditation has the same effect on the brain, physically. Meditation develops the brain and increases the grey matter in the brain which results in healthy brain and mind. So meditation transforms our brain as it transforms the mind to a stronger state and this transformation according to James Austin is permanent. In his well book Zen and the Brain: Toward an Understanding of Meditation and Consciousness which aims to establish a link between the neurological workings of the brain and meditation:

Zen and the Brain: Toward an Understanding of Meditation and Consciousness
Zen and The Brain takes notice of several additional techniques that people use to further cultivate the art of concentrating while they are meditating. Some of these approaches evoke calibrated levels of added stress responses within the brain itself. Moving beyond these mechanisms, the book suggests that gradual transformations take place in the brain functions of persons who go on to engage in a very long-range process of mindful self-discipline and introspection. 
All this involves a program of systematic training. It proceeds within a culturally acceptable, established meditative tradition, a setting which invites its aspirants to participate in repeated meditative retreats and to share its discomforts with other like-minded seekers in a supportive social framework. 
However, for the professional researcher, it is no simple matter to study the resulting psychophysiological changes. In fact, Part II of the book is an analysis, critique and summary of the existing reports of breathing, of "brain waves" (EEG), evoked potentials, "ink blot" tests, PET scan results, etc. Beyond that, the book goes in to incorporate its working hypotheses with suggestions for future research. 
Zen history reminds us of two things. First, that a most extraordinary man lived 2500 years ago, a meditator who experienced a brief, unusually deep alternate state of consciousness. Second, that this man's legendary example and teachings prepared the Way for an extraordinary series of followers. How did Siddhartha and many other enlightened Zen patriarchs suddenly become fully enlightened? Only after they had pursued the particular kinds of rigorous meditative disciplines that were commonplace in their respective eras. 
In Siddhartha's case this process took some six years. Why, as a result of his undergoing this major alternate state of consciousness, did he thereafter remain permanently transformed? The book addresses the psycho-physiological basis for such a permanent ongoing transformation. It emphasizes that such "awakened" persons express themselves in newly emerged traits, attitudes, and behaviours. And it considers how this transformation may have come about as a result of functional and structural changes in the circuitry of the brain."
Source : James Austin Interview on Zen and The Brain

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