Mindfulness studies have long dominated our understanding of the neurobiology of meditation, as mindfulness meditation practitioners have learned to be alert to the content of their thoughts in order to experience relaxation and peace. stress reduction to improve focus and concentration.
A recent study by Associate Professor Maria Kozhevnikov from the Department of Psychology, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, National University of Singapore (NUS) has uncovered a different class of meditative practices that seek to employ and regulate mindfulness. state of stress an individual experiences – rather than reducing them – to achieve an even higher state of focus and attention.
The study is the first to propose a scientific taxonomy of meditative practices that fits not only mindfulness-based meditations, but also this new class of meditative practices that produces an increased sense of alertness by stimulating the brain, which what practitioners call “awakening”. “based on” meditations. He reveals that the latter actually covers a broad class of meditative techniques, such as those employed in Vajrayana (Tantric Buddhism), by the Sufis of the Islamic tradition (“whirling dervishes”), and by many other traditions, including Hindu Tantra and East Asia. Martial Arts. Prior to the study, the mechanisms of these techniques were unknown.
Professor Assoc Kozhevnikov said the results of this study also demonstrate, for the first time, that it is possible to stimulate the brain, rather than relax it, to achieve a level of voluntary control over our stress or response. fight or flight” to maximize physical and cognitive performance.
She explained, “These practices push practitioners to their limits, so they can stay focused on the task, free from distracting thoughts, even in the most threatening situations. The results open up a wide range of potential medical and behavioral interventions that not only allow meditation practitioners to regulate stress, but also stimulate physical and attentional abilities on demand, and even access latent brain resources to prevent cognitive decline. »
The results have just been published in Current research in neurobiology.
The study focused on 16 nuns and monks who are highly experienced Vajrayana practitioners in long-term retreat centers in eastern Bhutan. Of these, ten are experts in a legendary and mysterious practice of Tummo (“inner heat”) known for its purported ability to generate significant body heat in the freezing cold of the Himalayas.
Researchers collected and compared electrocardiographic and electroencephalographic data from practitioners as they performed a meditative practice known as non-tantric mahamudra (mahamudra performed after rest) and another known as tantric mahamudra (mahamudra performed after self-visualization as a deity). Ten of them also performed Tummo.
They found that, like mindfulness-related practices, non-tantric mahamudra led to relaxation, alertness, and thought monitoring. However, the practice of self-visualization as a deity and Tummo which used emotionally charged concentration and visualization accompanied by specific breathing techniques, enabled practitioners to achieve the state of brain stimulation that led to a significant improvement in their attentional resources. He demonstrated that these meditative practices can be seen as methods for transcending the normal limits of the human condition, specifically achieving higher levels of performance and cognitive abilities than are usually available.
Additionally, the practice of Tummo led to a certain level of voluntary control over their sympathetic nervous system (a network of nerves in the body that activates its stress/”fight or flight” response) – something previously considered impossible by medical science. This control of the sympathetic nervous system allowed practitioners not only to manipulate the level of their attentional resources, but also to achieve the state of mental salience (emptiness of mind) during the final Tantric Mahamudra practice.
Professor Assoc Kozhevnikov has suggested that such control of the sympathetic nervous system is likely to explain a legendary ability of Tummo practitioners to generate body heat and raise their core body temperature to febrile levels.
Sharing an example to illustrate the benefits of these meditative practices, Professor Assoc Kozhevnikov said, “This form of meditation would be useful for people in situations that do not allow mindfulness-related meditation for stress reduction, such as a pilot flying an airplane in a battlefield. He would need to regulate his stress and stay focused, and as such, this form of meditation will allow him to stay super alert and perform well in a high stress state. »
She added, “For various reasons, these advanced Vajrayana practices are currently on the verge of extinction. I hope this study will help draw scientific attention to these practices by uncovering their potential to improve human cognition on the one hand and help preserve their intangible heritage on the other.
In the future, Professor Assoc Kozhevnikov and his team hope to build on the findings to understand how the body responds to different meditation practices for medical and behavioral interventions. This includes the use of meditation to achieve a state of heightened alertness in the prevention of various cognitive impairments and age-related cognitive decline associated with the loss of attention and memory functions (eg. Alzheimer’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis and Dementia) on the one hand, and training members of the creative professions (arts, sciences and music) to achieve flawless levels of creativity in their fields on the other hand by teaching them to access cerebral arousal state and increase physical and attentional resources on demand.
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Study finds class of meditative practices that produce effects different from mindfulness-related meditation – Attractive Area
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