A study at National Taiwan University
suggests that there is a correlation between meditation and
activation of the pineal gland in the brain. f
MRI
brain scans were made of seven females and nine males practicing the
Chinese "original quiet sitting technique." In the first phase of this
technique the meditators sit chanting mantras and practicing
visualizations. After this, they sit in silence for the rest of the
meditation. The study found
that peoples' brain patterns changed during meditation: alpha and
beta wave activity decreased, while theta brain wave activity
increased, during the phase of deep meditation.

The
pineal gland was most active during the initial phase in which the
subjects were vocalizing mantras. According to the results of the
study, “Since pineal [gland] shows activation during the mental
operation period of silent recitation of specific religious phrase
and mental imagination of receiving spiritual energy, although the
distinct internal process is still unknown, pineal seems to have
certain or special functions here. These special functions may also
have some interaction forms with
the inner body which caused the physiological [effects]. Combining
with the endocrine functions of pineal, [they] may vitalize or
strengthen our corporeal [existence]. In summary, the religious
meditation of receiving spiritual energy can cause correlated pineal
activation and show clear brain imaging observed by fMRI, supporting
the speculation that pineal plays an important role in the intrinsic
awareness which might concern spirit or soul. Whether this
correlation is merely a psychological effect or a real physical
phenomenon [remains] to be further explored."

As
background material, the researchers cite several studies
previously
conducted
by other scientists that involve brain scans of meditating people. These studies have been done with many different types of
meditation, including practices of Yogis, Tibetan and Zen
Buddhists, Transcendental meditators, and Franciscan nuns. Many of
these studies have shown that meditation, especially long-term
practice, significantly alters the functioning of the brain.

This was
also the consensus at the Investigating the Mind conference which
took place in Washington D.C. in 2005. The intention of the
conference was to unite neuroscientists and Buddhist meditators
including the Dalai Lama, to discuss how meditation changes
consciousness and the brain. According to their website,
“Recent
studies are showing that meditation can result in stable brain
patterns and changes over both short and long-term intervals that
have not been seen before in human beings and that suggest the
potential for the systematic driving of positive neuroplastic changes
via such intentional practices cultivated over time. These
investigations may offer opportunities for understanding the basic
unifying mechanisms of the brain, mind and body that underlie
awareness and our capacity for effective adaptation to stressful and
uncertain conditions.”

The
findings of the Taiwan University study are available on Nature.com.

 


Image used under Creative Commons courtesy of RL Johnson.

 

Tristan Gulliford is a writer, dreamer, and aspiring myth-keeper
who makes electronic music under the name "Dreamcode". He is currently
attending the University of Colorado at Boulder.