Research on Meditation's Effects on the Brain

The Meditative Mind: A Comprehensive Meta-Analysis of MRI Studies

Comments by Rajiv Malhotra in the forum

This is just one such article analyzing modern research. Greater meditation leading to greater usages. Earlier in an interview when I said most of the brain of non-meditators is unused, that is not exactly true. What is true is that the manner and extent to which they use it is very limited. It is meditation that lights up or wakes up its fuller potential - sort of like software enhancing the utilization and capability more fully.

My concern is that such researchers seldom if ever mention any Hindu technique, and either remain silent or refer to it as Buddhist. This is not true. I have urged Dr HR Nagendra of SVYASA to always explain the specific Hindu texts and lineages being used in training the meditators.

Western labs are taking the lead in this area for the past 30 years. Maharishi's group pioneered this area, but gradually the western institutions have taken over.

Expansion of brain utilization with meditation:

I believe there are four levels of expansion, of which the first three are acknowledged by western research:

  1. Neuron networks become more connected: The same set of neurons can get connected in more complex ways corresponding to higher levels of meditation.
  2. Epigenetics: Genes have switches that can be set/reset leading to change in functions. So even without genetic changes there are changes in capability. This is a relatively recent area of research.
  3. Quantum biology: Application of quantum physics to biological systems. This is nascent and little has been done explaining the role of meditation - Deepak Chopra's first famous book was on this principle (which he borrowed from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi), but it has not been empirically researched well.
  4. What we may think of as subtler than quantum level. Science has not yet acknowledged this.
The questions we must ask:
  1. What are the total number of possible states a brain can have? It is of course humongous, and the number gets even bigger when we move from 1 to 2 to 3 above.
  2. What portion of these state are ordinary humans presently utilizing? 
  3. It is a tiny portion. When I said that we use a small portion of our brain, it is in this sense. 
Some popular articles say we use all our brains today. But their criteria is that when a neural is fired it is being "used". However, each of my points 1, 2, 3 above indicates a deeper concept of usage than this. Hence we are talking about different things. I maintain my earlier statement about humans using a small portion only - think of portion of possible states.
(in response to a follow up question)
  • How do you prove your statement that "We cannot measure spiritual growth with physical machines." How can you be sure there are no physical changes which could serve as correlates that can be measured? To prove your view, you would have to get a sample of enlightened persons, and measure their physical parameters to declare that there is nothing unusual.
  • In fact the opposite is true. Advanced yogis/meditators DO experience changes that have been measured, such as in their: breathing, skin tension, pulse, fMRI, etc. This is nothing new I am reporting. Such experiments were done with Swami Rama, and dozens of others. SVYASA is doing such experiments as well.
  • Spiritual growth is based on specific practices, and these practices also produce effects on the body that are measurable. 
  • I find your attitude is silly. It is emotionally based and claiming some other-worldly aura of being "beyond matter". It has led to the west taking control over scientific measurements.
  • Just think: If meditation produces no measurable change, then how does meditation change the body to cure diabetes, obesity, heat disease, and so many things. How can you on the one have be proud to proclaim health benefits of these practices, and on the other hand say that there are no measurable changes.
  • Buddhists have led Hindus in the past 25 years in having their states of consciousness correlated with physical states. Buddhists have mapped the advanced practitioners' consciousness states (as described by the practitioner) with physical correlates. There are 100s of research publications over the past 25 years.

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