Recently, a lot has come out as to the neurological impact a meditation practice is thought to provide. From mindfulness meditation studies done at Harvard and UCLA to mindfulness and compassion meditation studies done as part of the Shamatha Project, the consensus is that meditation does more than just calm you down.
Matt Danzico, in this latest BBC News post, introduces us to Zoran Josipovic, a research scientist and adjunct professor at New York University who has been doing brain scans on Buddhist monks since 2008. Why? To see how their brains are affected by meditation.
According to Josipovic, the brain is organized into two networks: the extrinsic network and the intrinsic, or default, network. In simple terms, the former works when you focus on things outside of yourself. The latter when you look within. Josipovic is using brain scanning technology to measure how a Buddhist meditation practice seems to allow the monks to use both networks simultaneously, whereas in most people, only one operates at any one given time.
The extrinsic portion of the brain becomes active when individuals are focused on external tasks, like playing sports or pouring a cup of coffee.
The default network churns when people reflect on matters that involve themselves and their emotions.
But the networks are rarely fully active at the same time. And like a seesaw, when one rises, the other one dips down.
This neural set-up allows individuals to concentrate more easily on one task at any given time, without being consumed by distractions like daydreaming.
“What we’re trying to do is basically track the changes in the networks in the brain as the person shifts between these modes of attention,” Dr Josipovic says.
Dr Josipovic has found that some Buddhist monks and other experienced meditators have the ability to keep both neural networks active at the same time during meditation – that is to say, they have found a way to lift both sides of the seesaw simultaneously.
Read more about Josipovic’s fascinating meditation study here.