The results of the study were published in the journal Scientific Reports.
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Millions of people around the world seek mental clarity through meditation, most of them inspired by the centuries-old tradition of Buddhism. Miraculously, those who meditate say that it helps to calm their minds, refreshes their thinking and shows what is really important by cutting down on “noise”.
Scientifically, though, showing the effects of meditation on the human brain has proven clever.
A study from the Thomas J. Watson College of Engineering and Applied Science at Binghamton University found that just a few months of meditation practice in the university’s Scholars program changed the brain patterns of 10 students.
The seeds for the research came from a casual chat between Assistant Professor Weing Dai from the Department of Computer Science and Lecturer George Winshenko, MA ’01, PhD ’07.
Weinshenk is a longtime meditator, whose wife worked as the administrator of the Ithaca Namgyal Monastery, the North American seat of the Dalai Lama’s private monastery.
“I formed very close friendships with several monks. We used to hang out together, I even got instructions from some of the Dalai Lama’s teachers. I studied there, I studied a lot and I got a three-year certificate in Buddhism,” he said.
Dai studied brain mapping and biomedical image processing, and while pursuing a PhD at the University of Pittsburgh, he tracked patients with Alzheimer’s using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.
“I’m interested in brain research to see how our brains actually work and how different types of diseases affect our brains,” he said.
“I really have medical zero, but I gather all this knowledge or background from reading literature and talking to experts,” he said.
Members of the two faculties had neighboring offices and one day shared a conversation about their backgrounds. Weinshenk noted that he was asked to teach a semester-long class for the Scholars Program on Meditation. “I told Weiing, ‘Yes, meditation can really have a transformative effect on the brain,'” WeiShenk said.
“He was a little skeptical, especially for such a short time that there would be no difference in how to learn to meditate. He suggested that we could measure such a thing with the help of modern technology.” In the 2017 semester, Dai secured grant funds, and their collaboration began.
At the beginning of the semester, he took participants to Cornell University for an MRI scan of their brains.
Winschenko taught students to meditate, asked them to practice 10 or 15 minutes five times a week, and asked them to keep a journal record of their practice. (The syllabus also included other lessons on the cultural transmission of meditation and its application to wellness.)
“Scholars at Binghamton University are high achievers who want to do their assigned work and work well on them, so they didn’t have to ask too much to maintain a regular meditation routine,” he said.
“In order to guarantee objective reporting, they will relate their experiences directly to Weing how often they practiced,” he explained.
The results showed that meditation training switches quickly between the two general consciousnesses of the brain. Fascinating.
The other is the Dorsal Attention Network, which works to demand attention. The results of the study showed that meditation can enhance the connection between and between these two brain networks, indicating the effect of meditation on rapid switching between mind travel and its concentration as well as maintaining attention.
“Tibetans have a word for ease of moving between states – they call it mental barbarism, it’s a power that lets you shape and shape your mind,” Weinshenk said.
“They also consider the goal of concentration as one of the basic principles of self-growth.” He added further. Dai and Weinshenko are still analyzing through data taken from 2017 MRI scans, so they have not yet been able to test students from other Scholar programs.
Since Alzheimer’s disease and autism can be caused by problems with the dorsal attention network, the midwife is planning for future research that could use meditation to alleviate those problems. “I’m thinking of an adult study because this population was young students,” he said.
“I want to get a healthy adult group, and then another group with Alzheimer’s disease or mild cognitive impairment. I want to see if changes in the brain from meditation can increase cognitive performance. I’m writing the proposal and trying to attract funding from that side.” He added.
Although there was once skepticism about the subject, “I’m pretty sure about the scientific basis of meditation after this study. Maybe I’ll go to George’s class when he teaches it so I can benefit too,” he concludes.
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