Open Buddha

Open Source Buddhism, Technology, and Geekery

Meditation and Brain Science


By Al Jigong Billings

There have been quite a few articles in recent years about scientists looking at the science of meditation. "Science" in the sense of understanding what happens in the brain to practitioners of meditation and, perhaps, how to use it therapeutically as a tool. I've mentioned Alan Wallace and the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies before, as one example of this previously. There are also a couple of labs doing a lot of imagery and readings of monks, for example, practicing meditative techniques.

Today, I found out about an interview from a month ago, "Meditation on the Brain: a Conversation with Andrew Newberg," about the work that Dr. Newberg has been doing at the University of Pennsylvania in this same area. Unlike the other work that has focused on Buddhist practitioners, Dr. Newberg's work seems to use Christian techniques from Franciscans and Kirtan Kriya meditation, which is a Kundalini Yoga technique. The latter is also mentioned on the Alzheimer's Research and Prevention Foundation website under their research from 2003 and 2006 with the University of Pennsylvania. The foundation offers an audio CD for those interested in following the same Kirtan Kriya exercises that they've been using.

I find all of this work extremely interesting. I another life, I think I would do graduate work in order to help participate in this research because I do think it will bear real fruit over time. We already have the use of mindfulness techniques as a stress reduction therapy by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn and others. I believe that a scientific understanding of different forms of meditation and their effects can only lead to more avenues to help people and also has the potential to convince more people to engage in a meditative practice.

I know on a personal level that I've found meditation to really help with stress and other issues that I've had in the past with depression. I think that the combination of contemplative techniques and cognitive therapy can do wonders for people.