Scientific aspects of Meditation


Relaxation may be defined as a positively perceived state or response in which a person feels relief of tension or strain.

Meditation is one of the methods of relaxation. Both relaxation and meditation have a mental as well as physical dimension.

They are believed not only to have beneficial effects on the mind, but also on the body itself.

Meditation may be used as a treatment to help relieve stress in conditions such as coronary artery (heart) disease, essential hypertension, tension, headache, insomnia, asthma, immune deficiency, panic and many others.

The Basics of Brain Waves

Brain waves are generated by the building blocks of your brain – the individual cells called neurons. Neurons communicate with each other by electrical changes. We can actually see these electrical changes in the form of brain waves as shown in an EEG (electroencephalogram).

Brain waves are measured in cycles per second (Hertz). We also talk about the “frequency” of brain wave activity.

The lower the number of Hz, the slower the brain activity or the slower the frequency of the activity.

Researchers in the 1930’s and 40’s identified several different types of brain waves. Traditionally, these fall into 4 types.

Delta waves (below 4hz) occur during sleep.

Theta waves (4-7 hz) are associated with sleep, deep relaxation (like hypnotic relaxation), and visualization.

Alpha waves (8-13 hz) occur when we are relaxed and calm.

Beta waves (13-38 hz) occur when we are actively thinking, problem-solving, etc.

There’s one more category which is

Gamma brain waves (39-100hz) are involved in higher mental activity and consolidation of information. An interesting study has shown that advanced Tibetan meditators produce higher levels of gamma than non-meditators both before and during meditation.

We tend to think we are producing one type of brain wave (e.g. producing “alpha” for meditating). But these aren’t really “separate” brain waves-the categories are just for convenience. They help describe the changes we see in brain activity during different kinds of activities.

Early scientific studies on the neurophysiology of meditation focused on changes in brain wave (EEG) patterns, and differences in brain wave patterns between meditators and non-meditators, in summary, mediation was shown to

Increase Alpha (8-13Hz or cycles per second) production

Increase Theta (4-7Hz) production

Increase high Beta (20-40Hz) activity (with experienced meditators)

Increased Serotonin level which reduces depression, obesity, insomnia narcolepsy, sleep apnea, migrate headaches, premenstrual syndrome, and fibromyalgia.

Increased Melatonin which has been linked to regulation of sleep, and early research indicates it may have anti-carcinogen and immune system enhancing effects

DHE (dehydroepiandrosterone): DHEA, a life-enhancing hormone, was one of the first biological benefits of meditation to be observed. DHEA has a variety of health-impacting benefits. It is an immune enhancement agent that has been proven to be beneficial in the prevention and treatment of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, lupus and other conditions. DHEA is good for the bones, muscles, blood pressure, vision and hearing. It is the substance from which the male and female hormones are developed and it is the source of vitality and youthfulness. DHEA is a mood elevator that makes people feel and look better. It enhances brain biochemistry and growth. Anxiety and stress lower normal DHEA levels in the bloodstream. Meditation elevates DHEA levels. Thus meditation during pregnancy, in offering potentially idea hormonal function, conveys elevated levels of vivifying DHEA to the womb child, and, through lactation and breast-feeding, to the child after birth.

Among the hormones that are produced in the brain opioid peptides which include encephalin, endorphins and dynorphins are of particular interest regarding the effects of meditation. They are considered to be associated with changes in the mood, pain threshold, and immune activity and on bronchial (lungs) and arterial smooth muscle tone. Beta endorphins are produced in the hypothalamus of the brain and their levels are increased in regular exercise, meditation, and in acupuncture.

Endorphins and Encephalin are two neuropeptides that are also released during laughter. These are oploids which are body’s natural pain suppressing agents. The ability of laughter to release muscle tension and to soothe sympathetic nervous system stress also helps to control pain. Increased circulation also helps to minimize pain.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “Practicing meditation has been shown to induce some changes in the body. Some types of meditation might work by affecting the “Autonomic (involuntary) Nervous System. “The sympathetic nervous system and parasympathetic nervous system are two divisions of the autonomic nervous system of the body. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for our reaction to stress or fear and is colloquially known as the “fight-or-fight” system. The parasympathetic nervous system is active during times of rest and associated with “rest and digest”. The NIH goes on, “It is thought that some types of meditation might work by reducing activity, in the Sympathetic Nervous System and increasing activity in the Parasympathetic Nervous System”.

Gray and White Matter

Studies done by Yale, Harvard, Massachusetts General Hospital have shown that meditation increases gray matter in the brain and slows down the deterioration of the brain as a part of the natural aging process.

Dr Newberg found that the front part of the brain, which is usually involved in focusing attention and concentration, is more active during meditation.

One more theory, presented by Daniel Goleman & Tara Bennett-Goleman suggests that meditation works because of the relationship between the amygdale and the prefrontal cortex In very simple terms the amygdale is the part of the brain that decides if we should get angry or anxious (among other things), and the pre-frontal cortex is the part that makes us stop and think about things(it is also known as the inhibitory centre).

Research has shown that during Meditation, the pre-frontal cortex gets highly activated which induces in us the habit of “think before you act.”

Kirlian Photography

Dr. Seymon and Valentina Kirlian are the founders of Kirlian work.

Semyon Kirlian, the developer of this photography, was asked in 1950 to photograph the energy radiations of two nearly identical leaves presented to him by a stranger. He and his wife stayed up late into the right, but despite their efforts one leaf revealed strong energy flares on film while the other barely registered even weak luminescence. When they showed their dismal results to the stranger the next day, he became very excited, for despite their identical appearance, the leaf that had revealed strong energy had been plucked from a healthy plant, and the leaf that had registered little energy had been plucked from a diseased plant. Subsequent Kirlian research has shown that the energy photographed around plants Is indeed related to its vitality or life, for if a leaf is injured or allowed to die the energy will gradually diminish and then disappear.

Kirlian photography has been brought into holistic health and healing because it shows how energy fields are affected in illness (indicated by broken auric fields.)