What Meditation Does to your Brain

02 June 2002
Posted by Chris Smith.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania wondered what goes on in the brains on Buddhist Monks when they meditate, so they put 8 of them through a brain scanner whilst they were meditating, in order to find out. Dr. Andrew Newberg and his team used a technique called SPECT (single positron emission tomography) in which a tracer chemical is injected into a vein and used to study blood flow in the brain to pinpoint which brain areas became more or less active during meditation. Active parts of the brain need more energy and oxygen and hence the blood flow through these areas increases, which is detected by the scanner. The team found that when the monks meditated the activity in their frontal lobes - the front parts of the brain concerned with planning and attention - increased significantly, but was mirrored by a corresponding decrease in activity in the parietal lobes at the back of the brain. The parietal lobes process visual and sensory information to help us to relate to and orientate ourselves in our environment. That the monks switched off this part of their brain could explain why people lose their sense of space and time when they meditate deeply. The effects are not confined solely to Buddhist monks since the research team also scanned some Franciscan Nuns engaged in prayer, with the same results. More info on www.andrewnewberg.com

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