Posts Tagged ‘Neuroscience of Meditation and Consciousness’

Transcendental experiences during meditation practice – paper published in @AcademyAnnals

January 13, 2014

Overview of research on individuals experiencing higher states of consciousness published in Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences

Today, millions of Americans say they practice some form of yoga and/or meditation. It’s become a health fad. Yet the goal of these practices seems unknown or elusive to many practitioners — transcendence.

Dr. Travis, PhD, Director, Center for Brain, Consciousness, and Cognition, Maharishi University of Management

Fred Travis, PhD, is the Director of the Center for Brain, Consciousness, and Cognition at Maharishi University of Management

An article: Transcendental experiences during meditation practice, by Fred Travis, PhD, Director of the Center for Brain, Consciousness, and Cognition at Maharishi University of Management, provides an overview of research on individuals experiencing higher states of consciousness. It is published today in Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences: January 2014, Volume 1307, Advances in Meditation Research: Neuroscience and Clinical Applications, pages 1-8.

The paper is based on a presentation Dr. Travis was invited to give at “Advances in Meditation Research” (AMR), a meeting of the nation’s top meditation researchers, which took place a year ago  at the New York Academy of Sciences New York City.

In his paper Dr. Travis explains that different meditations have different effects, and that meditation can lead to nondual or transcendental experiences, a sense of self-awareness without content.

However, after a search of the scientific literature he reported that physiological measures and first-person descriptions of transcendental experiences and higher states have only been investigated during practice of the Transcendental Meditation® (TM) technique.

TM is an effortless technique for automatic self-transcending, different from the other categories of meditation — focused attention or open monitoring. It allows the mind to settle inward beyond thought to experience the source of thought — pure awareness or Transcendental Consciousness. This is the most silent and peaceful level of consciousness — one’s innermost Self.

This figure, a 2 X 2 table, compares subjective and objective experiences during waking, sleeping, dreaming, and pure consciousness. As seen in this table, waking state contains a sense of self and mental content, thoughts and perceptions. In contrast, during pure consciousness, there is only Self-awareness, without any sense of time, space, and body awareness.

This figure, a 2 X 2 table, compares subjective and objective experiences during waking, sleeping, dreaming, and pure consciousness. As seen in this table, waking state contains a sense of self and mental content — thoughts and perceptions. In contrast, during pure consciousness (Transcendental Consciousness), there is only Self-awareness, without any sense of time, space, and body awareness.

Dr. Travis discusses a study of descriptions of Transcendental Consciousness from 52 subjects practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique and found that they experienced “a state where thinking, feeling, and individual intention were missing, but Self-awareness remained.” A systematic analysis of their experiences revealed three themes: absence of time, space, and body sense.

Specific physiological changes are associated with this subjective experience of Transcendental Consciousness. These include changes in breath rate, skin conductance, and EEG patterns.

Dr. Travis further explains that with regular meditation, experiences of Transcendental Consciousness begin to co-exist with sleeping, dreaming, and even while one is awake. This state is called Cosmic Consciousness, in the Vedic tradition. The paper presents first-person accounts followed by an overview of the physiological patterns associated with Cosmic Consciousness.

Whereas control subjects describe themselves in relation to concrete cognitive and behavioral processes, those experiencing Cosmic Consciousness describe themselves in terms of a continuum of inner self-awareness that underlies their thoughts, feelings, and actions.

In addition, the Cosmic Consciousness subjects showed the EEG patterns seen during Transcendental Consciousness along with the EEG patterns when they were asleep, and during waking tasks. This leads to higher scores on the Brain Integration Scale developed by Dr. Travis.

Dr. Travis suggests that such higher states of consciousness can be seen as normal developments beyond the classic stages described by Piaget. One simply needs a technique to experience transcendence and thereby facilitate the development of these states. The practical benefit of higher states, he says, is that you become more anchored to your inner Self, and therefore less likely to be overwhelmed by the vicissitudes of daily life.

“This research focuses on the larger purpose of meditation practices — to develop higher states of consciousness,” explained Dr. Travis. “This paper is the outgrowth of meetings at Esalen and the Institute for Noetic Sciences to chart the future of meditation research.”

Source: EurekAlert!

The Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences is the oldest continuously published scientific serial in the United States and among the most cited of multidisciplinary scientific serials worldwide. Established in 1823, the Annals is the premier publication of the Academy, offering volumes of review articles in special topical areas and proceedings of conferences sponsored by the Academy as well as other scientific organizations. You can find out more about them here: http://www.nyas.org/whatwedo/publications/annals.aspx.

Read the Foreword to Advances in Meditation Research: Neuroscience and Clinical Applications, by editor Sonia Sequeira.

Related: Health India’s Editorial Team says Transcendental Meditation (TM) is taking the world by storm

Medical News Today: Overview of research on individuals experiencing higher states of consciousness during transcendental meditation.

A PDF of the study is now available at ResearchGate.

TM activates DMN, the brain’s “ground state”

March 4, 2010

A new EEG study conducted on college students at American University found they could more highly activate the default mode network, a suggested natural “ground state” of the brain, during their practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique. This three-month randomized control study is published in a special issue of Cognitive Processing dedicated to the Neuroscience of Meditation and Consciousness, Volume 11, Number 1, February, 2010.

Specifically, the study found the TM technique:

  • Produces a unique state of “restful alertness,” as seen in the markedly higher alpha power in the frontal cortex and lower beta and gamma waves in the same frontal areas during TM practice.
  • Creates greater alpha coherence between the left and right hemispheres of the brain suggesting the brain is working as a whole.
  • Enhances an individual’s sense of “self” by activating what neuroscientists call the “default mode network” in the brain. (This is considered the natural ground state of the brain, glimpsed by neuroscientists during eyes-closed rest but more fully activated during Transcendental Meditation practice.)

“The finding of significant brain wave differences between students practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique and those simply resting with their eyes closed is especially convincing because subjects were randomly assigned to conditions, and testing was conducted by a researcher unaware of the experimental condition to which the subject had been assigned,” said David Haaga, Ph.D., coauthor and professor of psychology at American University.

“Research has already shown that simply closing one’s eyes and relaxing increases the default mode. A significant additional finding of this new study is that activity in the default mode increases during TM compared to simple eyes-closed rest,” said Fred Travis, Ph.D., lead author and director of the Center for Brain, Consciousness, and Cognition at Maharishi University of Management. “Different meditation techniques entail various degrees of cognitive control. Thus, activation patterns of the default mode network could give insight into the nature of meditation practices.”

Previous published research, funded by the NIH, shows TM practice decreases high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, cholesterol, stroke, and heart failure.

Comparative EEG Tracings

These raw EEG tracings during eyes-closed rest (left) and Transcendental Meditation (right) represent 18 tracings over 6 seconds. The top tracings are from frontal sensors; the middle tracings are from central sensors; the bottom tracings are from parietal and occipital sensors [back]. Note the high-density alpha activity in posterior leads during eyes-closed rest, and the global alpha bursts across all brain areas during Transcendental Meditation practice.

eLORETA Images of Significance Differences

These are eLORETA images of sources of alpha EEG during TM compared to eyes-closed rest in the default mode network (the white areas).

Images credit: Cognitive Processing, Volume 11 (2010), Issue 1

Article title: A self-referential default brain state: patterns of coherence, power, and eLORETA sources during eyes-closed rest and Transcendental Meditation practice, DOI: 10.1007/s10339-009-0343-2

Laboratory Note: The work of the Center for Brain, Consciousness, and Cognition at Maharishi University of Management is summarized and featured in this same issue:


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