In our modern lifestyle, we are constantly faced with stress and negative emotions. The way our society is structured, it seems there is no way to escape these pressures other than indulging in substances, or is that the case? If you’ve ever faced some form of hardship in your life chances are you’ve come across the word, meditation. It is claimed by many that this mysterious practice that sitting cross-legged with your eyes shut will somehow alleviate your worries. Another term that is likely to be heard with meditation is mindfulness. Our minds are already preoccupied with numerous things, why should we fill it further? Well, it’s not that.
What are these terms anyway?
- Meditation: Although the word meditation has been really trending lately, it is not a process nor it is something that one does. The word meditation in itself is taken from one of the various practices that originated in India to achieve nirvana, one practice is known as Dhayana, which roughly translates to focus which is what most people are referring to when they say meditation. So according to the great masters, once you sit in a certain pose you’d then have to observe (focus) on your thoughts and mind but not engage with it, to not be associated with it as your own, after gaining some experience of it you’d achieve a state where you’d start sensing your body without touching it, your thoughts start to slow down and you feel there is a certain distance between you and your mind, this result of focusing is known as meditation. So it is a byproduct. Finally, after intense practice within one’s mind which can’t even be described and by the grace of the universe a rare phenomenon happens, death of the mind which is rarer than anything on this planet, Enlightenment. Where past, present, future, life, and death just merge today, though even talking about this state would be foolish as it can never be described in mere words.
- Mindfulness: The term mindfulness originated from the Pali word Sati which is used in Buddhism. Though the English word mindfulness is described in many ways the true meaning of the word Sati would mean presence. The presence of mind, the presence of the body, and your awareness focused on the present not contemplating the past or planning the future, contrary to the name it empties your mind. Mindfulness is something that helps the general public in their daily lives. Plus, it can be done while doing just about anything while walking, sitting, or exercising.
Science of these practices
Before diving into the scientific aspect of things, it should be fully known that no amount of scientific tool or knowledge will ever be able to uncover the mysteries of the meditation and mind, as the basis of science is the intellect. The function of human intellect is to decipher while the purpose of the meditation is to unite. Still, some aspects of it can be understood.
- Monks’ Brain: In a medical study, scientists urged Buddhist monks to meditate and continue their practice while they scan their brains to see if anything changes. To have their results compared to something, people who just started meditating from various jobs were also asked to undergo a similar process. Finally, the results came and the neuroscientists were astonished. In new meditators, their brain waves were erratic and their alpha brain waves that regulate the positive mood in a person were minimal. Meanwhile, in the monks, their alpha brain waves were significantly higher, not only that, the area that projects empathy was larger. Another fascinating thing was uncovered as well, that if a person constantly focuses and follows a certain meditative process, after eight weeks their region of the brain that regulates emotion, learning, and memory starts to function much efficiently. These were the experiments done on Buddhists monks who were still learning, they had yet to achieve liberation. However, another study happened which truly breaks the science and gives a little insight into the mind of the masters.
- Beyond Science: Sadhguru, one of the most well-known spiritual teachers in India was asked to be part of a neurological study, where scientists wanted to examine the gamma waves of his brain. Gamma waves are basically the result of cognitive activity within the brain, meaning gamma waves are proportional to thought processing. So, they asked Sadhguru to meditate and funnily enough, he stated he doesn’t meditate, he just teaches people to meditate because they don’t know how to sit still. After that, he sat normally with his eyes closed and the test began. After a while they started poking him to wake him up, he opened his eyes and said you could’ve just simply asked me to open my eyes. But here’s the mind-bending part, he showed no gamma waves whatsoever and the scientists said either during the process he was dead or his brain was dead. This truly shows that unlike how we understood our brain that it works constantly, it is capable to go in a hibernating state. Unfortunately, only the true masters and enlightened beings know how to do so.
- Minimal but effective: Now when it comes to the effects of mindfulness they are not as prominent. As stated earlier mindfulness is a state of presence, so as long as one can stay in that state their brain shows similar effects, however, these are smaller. Unlike meditative practices where the main goal is to break free from the cycle of birth and death, mindfulness eases one in the present. Alpha waves increase as well and one can experience a lack of depression, anxiety, and stress.
As a word of caution, it should be noted that meditation is not always good, as if one performs intense meditation without the right guidance or knowing what to do, it can break one both physically and mentally. But if done properly it is one of the most powerful tools humans can utilize. Perhaps in the future, we might be able to reveal more secrets of these processes but as said earlier physical tools will never be able to tell what exactly happens in the brain during these practices.