Meditation at The Study Society
The Science of Meditation
The Science of Meditation
We used to think that the number of brain cells we had was fixed at birth and they slowly died till, when old age struck, there were large holes in our brain and our faculties had diminished accordingly. This is quite wrong. We are born with a huge redundancy of cells. During childhood and adolescence we go through periods of intense culling when the brain is streamlined ready for adulthood. This process of change in the growth and number of cells goes on throughout life. And to some extent we can influence this process. Brain activity, particularly if it is repetitive, will cause a change in the distribution and functioning of the cells. For example, London taxi drivers have much larger spatial memory areas in the right temporal lobe than do a control group who don’t use this area specifically.
So now we come to meditation. Meditation is a global term; there are many different types of meditation, which will modify different aspects of brain function. There are silent, watching meditations of the mind, silent watching meditations of the outside (e.g. focusing on an object) and meditations where there is directed modification of brain activity, such as mantra meditation, where a sound is repeated continually, and resonance meditations like Ascension, where a phrase is spoken and the meditator waits for the resonance of this phrase to arise and decay before repeating it. The meditation you should use is the one which works for you.
Meditations affect two major systems in the brain. The default system is the continual chatting to oneself, (laughingly termed the ‘resting’ brain), and the executive system is controlled attention. Clearly a heightened executive system has huge advantages for us, particularly if it leads us to control of our emotional responses to what is happening. This is a major benefit of meditation, which is now being used in many clinics for the treatment of anxiety and depression. Meditation given by the Study Society leads to a calming of the mind due to a reduction in our usually overactive default system, and an enhancement of the executive system, making us more efficient by allowing us to focus on the task in hand.
Meditation has medical benefits too. There is evidence that you don’t age so quickly, that high blood pressure can be lowered, and the immune system functioning is improved. You also become more emotionally balanced, so less aroused, better able to focus. And you sleep better. Should you meditate? If you want a finely tuned brain engine, then go for it.