Thursday, March 10, 2011

Meditation: Change your brain, change your life

By Deepak Chopra
The benefits of meditation can't be called new. For decades the practice has been endorsed, even by mainstream medicine, as a proven means to reduce stress and produce relaxation. In fact, if it were not for "the relaxation response," a sanitized version of Eastern meditation that was popularized thirty years ago, it is doubtful that a secular society could be persuaded that meditation is real. Until recently, code words like "peacefulness" and "serenity" went about as far as anyone could go without seeming to bring religion in through the back door.

Now a new study from Massachusetts General Hospital has made headlines by showing that as little as eight weeks of meditation produces changes in various areas of the brain associated, not simply with feeling calmer, but with improved sense of self, empathy, and memory. Again this isn't exactly new. Since the Seventies a change in brain waves, particularly alpha waves, was associated with the regular practice of meditation. Today, with far more sophisticated brain imaging, researchers can pinpoint where these changes are taking place with remarkable precision.

The short period of time needed to produce benefits surprised everyone. Brain scans of Buddhist monks had already shown dramatic alteration of gamma waves in the prefrontal cortex, a region associated with higher cognitive responses as well as moral feelings like compassion. But learning that a life-long meditator produced gamma waves at 80 cycles per second instead of the usual 40, although fascinating to neuroscientists, still kept meditation far out of reach of busy, secular Westerners. Now we can say, without fear of seeming "too Eastern," that meditation sharpens the mind and produces benefits everyone would want. The old bugaboo that navel gazing makes you passive and "too peaceful" can be banished once and for all.

Consciousness, Poetry, and Bilingual Babies How much is human consciousness shaped by language? Somewhat, says theoretical psychologist Nicholas Humphrey. He’s more interested in the other things that shape it, like what he calls the “lake of sensation” — colors, lights and sounds. I guess you could argue that those sensations themselves comprise the elements of a language of consciousness...

Scientific experiments that upset our notions of who we are Darwin’s evolutionary theory, Milgram’s electric shock experiments and Galileo’s weight throwing are just some of the many findings that have rocked our world view