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Mulitcellular Organisms


Meditation

Even though the pre-frontal and parietal lobes are inactivated during both REM sleep (see Figure 10-18) and meditation (see Figure 10-24a),
Brain, Meditating 1 Brain, Meditating 2 meditation is different from sleeping or dreaming. It generates brainwaves in the Theta state, which is in a slightly higher frequency range than the Delta (sleeping) state (see Figure 10-21). The state is on the border line between consciousness and sleeping. The anterior cingulate gyrus becomes underactive in meditation (see Figure 10-24b). It is known that the cingulate gyrus concentrates on internal stimuli, and contains the feeling of self. Curiously, this is the same area that becomes underactive in hypnosis (when the identity of self dissolved) and Schizophrenia (when own thoughts are confused with outside voices). Thus it doesn't seem to be accidental that in meditation, the sense of boundaries is lost and it induces a feeling of "at one" (union) with the universe.

Figure 10-24a Meditation [view large image]

Figure 10-24b Meditating Brain
[view large image]


The physiological effects related to meditation are measurable and reliably repeatable. It includes the lowering of a subject's metabolic rate, decreasing blood pressure, pulse rate and muscle tension. Meditation can counteract the stress-induced fight-or-flight response and achieved a calmer and more relaxing state, which tends to strengthen the immune systems. One report showed that the subject could reduce oxygen intake to 1/3 of the normal resting state by allowing the parasympathetic nervous system to take over - an extraordinary feat, given that respiration is controlled by the autonomic nervous system, over which we ordinarily have no conscious control. Other studies suggest that meditation can help to alleviate bronchial asthma, hypertension, and insomnia. It is being recommended by more and more physicians as a way to prevent, slow or at least control the pain of chronic diseases like heart conditions, AIDS, cancer and infertility. It is now believed that the body produces more nitric oxide when deeply relaxed, and that this molecule acts as an antidote to cortisol (hormone associated with inflammation) and other potentially toxic stress hormones.

Meditation, 2011 Meditation, nearly as old as humanity, has always been part of Eastern religions. Starting from 2nd century A.D. meditation became important part of Christian practice until early 1500s when Martin Luther disapproved mysticism. Jewish and Muslim meditations have established around 1000 A.D. Meditation was used as a medium to communicate with the higher being(s). Actually, the brain is playing trick on the practitioners by producing various illusions. Now the West is rediscovering the benefits of meditation. In its most modern forms, it has dropped the mantra bit that has the subject memorize a secret phrase or syllable; instead it only requires focusing on a sound or breathing. In fact, just closing the eyes in a quiet place (to block sensory inputs) and relaxing the mind (to minimize internal processing) would attain the same result without much ado. Figure 10-25a displays a 2011 update on the many measurable benefits by scientific studies.

Figure 10-25a Meditation, 2011 [view large image]


Loving Meditation Focused Meditation While many benefits of meditation have been unveiled gradually in the last 15 years, recent (~2014) neuro-scientific findings have shown that the adult brain can still be transformed through experiences including meditation. Figure 10-25b shows the growth of cortical material by experiments with 20 meditation and control participants respectively. A 2014 article defines meditation as the cultivation of basic human qualities, such as a more stable and clear mind, emotional balance, a sense of caring mindfulness, even love and compassion - qualities that remain latent as long as one does not make an effort to develop them. It is also a process of familiarization with a more serene and flexible way of being. Meditation is categorized into three major types as shown in Table 10-02a.

Figure 10-25b Brain Growth

Figure 10-25c Focused Meditation [view large image]


Type Method Benefits Brain Area(s)
Focused Attention Concentrate attention on something with corrective steps to bring back wandering thought (see Figure 10-25c) Better focus, less anxiety, more creativity Sustaining foeus occurs at the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (see Figure 10-25c)
Mindfulness Let strayed thought to float by without reacting Less stress, improved sleep patterns, lower the risk of infection and depression Activity decreases in insular§ cortex and amygdala; increases in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (see Figure 10-25c)
Compassion Practice generosity and visualize suffering of others Reinforcement of inner balance, strength of mind, and a courageous determination to help those who suffer Actitity increases in insula cortex, temporal parietal junction, medial prefrontal cortex

Table 10-02a Types of Meditation

Brain Death Internal Vision A mis-conception about meditation is to associate "silence of the brain" with successful session. This seems to stem from the mis-interpretation of the term "Silent Sitting" (ĀR§¤) in Chinese. Actually, the brain never sits still. It would turn into the default mode during the inactive state. It becomes "silence" only in brain death (see definitions in Figure 10-25d). Thus, only a relaxed state can be achieved by minimizing external and internal stimulations.

Figure 10-25d Brain Death Definition [view large image]

Figure 10-25e Internal Vision [view large image]

Internal stimulations mostly involve thinking about the past, planning on the future, and monitoring the present condition.

In the focused state, it is common to see a spot of light; then it would expand into some vague image similar to the one shown in Figure 10-25e. Such experience is often reported by prisoners in solitary confinement with no sound and no light. The difference is that the external stimulations are deliberately shut out during meditation.

§ Insular Cortex - In each hemisphere of the mammalian brain the insular cortex is a portion of the cerebral cortex folded deep within the lateral sulcus (the fissure separating the temporal lobe from the parietal and frontal lobes, see Figure 10-25b). The insulae are believed to be involved in consciousness and play a role in diverse functions usually linked to emotion or the regulation of the body's homeostasis. These functions include perception, motor control, self-awareness, cognitive functioning, and interpersonal experience.

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