The neuroscientific study of meditation
For thousands of years, meditation has been extensively practiced in many civilizations, as a means of cultivating a state of well-being and for spiritual purposes. Its influence on the brain and body is now being studied in clinical settings.
One such clinical application which includes case studies, takes place in the “Integrative Clinical Psychology, Psychiatry and Behavioural Medicine: Perspectives, Practices and Research.”
The chapter in the Study called “Meditation and Neuroscience: From Basic Research to Clinical Practice” reviews the meditation effects at the physiological, attentional, and affective levels and the scientific paradigms used to study these effects.
Brain-imaging has been used to help determine the hypothesis of meditation-induced emotion regulation and suggests that it involves brain plasticity.
Meditation and Neuroscience: From Basic Research to Clinical Practice
“The neuroscientific study of meditation has involved both fundamental and clinical research and aims at understanding how mental training affects the brain, the body, and overall health. In fundamental research, experience-induced changes in brain activity and anatomy, that is neuroplasticity, are a major focus of study…”
Claire Braboszcz , Stéphanie Hahusseau , Arnaud Delorme, Cerco, Faculté de Médecine de Rangeuil. Private practice of Dr. Hahusseau.
Brief Overview of the Study
The research in “Meditation and Neuroscience: From Basic Research to Clinical Practice” includes many extensive studies by professionals and covers a wide range of subjects and benefits.
Below is a brief overview of only a few of the benefits of meditation mentioned in the study. The subjects have been chosen because of personal interest. I appreciate the work, as it allows meditation to become more widely known as an important, effective and safe practice to help people heal.
Findings in the study, of a regular meditation practice has revealed the following:
Meditation nurtures the nervous system
Since meditation is known to be a relaxing technique, it is reasonable to assume it has positive effects on the functioning of the body. In many meditation traditions, the breath, body and soul are linked, and focusing one’s attention on the rhythm of the breath as part of the practices, tends to involuntarily slow the pace of the breath down.
This slowing down of the rhythm of the breath affects the nervous system. With the respiration rate slowed, the heart rate also slows down. The studies showed decreased blood pressure was found in both healthy individuals and patients with hypertenion.
The feelings of stress relieved.
Meditation Improves the immune system
The Immune system is indirectly under the influence of the central nervous system via hormonal signalling. It was found a faster peak rise for the antibody response to a flu shot among healthy meditators than among the non-meditators.
Quality of the cells in the body improve
Through assessing the quality of the natural killer cells, it was found the brain is positively correlated with the activity of the immune system after a meditation practice.
Meditation reduces normal aging
Having nurtured the nervous system, by the protection against stress, and the boosting of the immune system, meditation has been shown to reduce the neuronal decay due to normal aging.
It was found Meditators did not present sleep patterns associated with aging.
The study explains “Both the length of the slow waves sleep period before the occurrence of the first REM sleep episode and the total length of REM episodes typically decrease with age. They showed that this decrease was drastically smaller in meditators of age 50–60 than in control subjects of the same age.”
It was concluded that meditation slows down the brain-aging process through a mechanism which has yet to be fully discovered.
The brain-aging process is slowed.
Meditation promotes psychological well-being
The World Health Organization predicts that in 2020 depression will be the ranked the second most common illness worldwide. It is critical alternative treatments are found as the continued use of antidepressant over several years may create side effects and addiction issues.
Mindfulness meditations have been found to be effective in reducing the relapse of major depressive episodes. The aim is to help with the changing of individual’s thoughts about and the interpretation of negative emotions. A process of observing one’s thoughts in an emotionally detached way helps with this change.
Here is how Kabat-Zinn (1990) describes the emotional detachment process:
“It is remarkable how liberating it feels to be able to see that your thoughts are just thoughts and that they are not “you” or “reality”… The simple act of recognizing your thoughts as thoughts can free you from the distorted reality they often create and allow for more clear-sightedness and a greater sense of manageability in your life…”
Development of emotional intelligence, and enhancing of emotional tolerance are becoming proven beneficial effects of meditation
Unpleasant emotions and life events are not avoidable, however through the mindfulness meditations, it helps people manage the way in which they live with them.
The research also includes case studies whereby a meditation-based emotion exposure technique (MBEE) was used to assist patients with eating disorders who have suffered trauma from the past. The MBEE process, in the briefest possible description, guides one to deeply feel the emotion, experience the memories connected to the emotions in a detached way through the ‘observation’ of the experiences.
The MBEE technique in the study although very effective, I believe would be improved with two further steps which in my experience is imperative to create a permanent clean emotional slate.
- Their patients would benefit from being guided to create forgiveness for the issues of the past. Forgiveness is not condoning another’s bad behaviour. Forgiveness releases the negative attachment and emotional pain that the lack of it causes.
- Their patients would benefit from recreating the memories of the past in a way in which they would have loved the experience to have been. It is not important ‘what was real’ or ‘what was the truth.’ What is important is whatever it takes to improve the way one feels right now.
With these two extra steps in the meditation process, when reflecting back, the mind will choose to re-enact the last memory of the former experience with the feeling of forgiveness inside. Changing the memories of the past to those which makes one feel better is a trick to the mind worth the healing it brings.
Meditation has been a part of my life for over 30 years. Guided meditations, very similar to the MBEE technique, although including forgiveness and recreating the past as mentioned above have helped me overcome the feelings of anxiety, depression and grief.
Having had firsthand experience with the incredible shifts which can happen in one’s emotions through specifically designed guided meditations, inspired me to use these practices as a healer to assist others. As with most healers, we must heal ourselves first as this is the process in which we gain the confidence and competence to help and serve others. Below is my case study with one of my clients, Mary.
Client Case Study with Mary
Mary, 60 years of age, experienced trauma with both parents being verbally abusive, bullying and unkind to her throughout her life. She eventually, after gaining the confidence and strength distanced herself completely from them. When she came to me she felt emotionally heavy about her past and although not outwardly angry, she harboured that emotion deeply inside.
After a guided meditation to
- deeply feel and name the emotion she was feeling;
- imagine going inside her body to where she held this emotion;
- recall the series of memories;
- imagine her parents in those memories approaching her;
- the younger Mary was present and expressed what she needed to express;
- the current Mary was able to express what she needed to express;
- Mary gave the parents an opportunity to respond from the level of soul;
- conversing back and forth, with Mary’s higher self also present, the current Mary, and the younger Mary were both able to eventually forgive her parents;
- Mary was then guided to change the memories to a scene she would have loved to have experienced with her parents;
- finally, the young Mary and the current Mary merged together with the feelings of forgiveness inside.
The result: Mary has released the feeling of anger, and replaced that feeling with forgiveness. Whenever she thinks back at her parents, she recalls the loving memory she created. She still chooses not to have anything to do with her parents, but instead of feeling angry and hurt by them, she imagines sending them love through the air.
Three years later, Mary reported feeling harmony inside and her spiritual growth has since become a very important part of her life. Through the guided meditation above she feels she has been released completely of the pain from her parents in the past.
The guided meditation above is a very brief description of the experience. If this process intregues you, the an online program of visual guided meditations called Higher Communications will help you gently go through the experience in your own time and in the comfort of your own home. The meditations are created in movie form to also serve those who have difficulty visualising, those new to meditation and the hard of hearing, who otherwise would miss out.
In Quantum Hypnotherapy, through my clients quantum selves, we are given consistent advice to meditate as a way to help overcome callenges, feel balanced and have an improved view of the world.
It is my intention to help make a difference in peoples lives. I hope to have helped you too.
Sending you a virtual hug and infinite love,
Quantum Hypnotherapist, Grand Master of Conscious Light, Author and Co-Founder of Higher Communications
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