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24.07.2014

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Practicing some technique that allows quieting the mind and stilling the body has been a fundamental part of most spiritual traditions.
In an effort to compile the most important findings from such research, and increase our acceptance and understanding of the positive effects that meditation has on our body and minds, Dr Shanida Nataraja published a book called, The Blissful Brain.
SuperConsciousness recently spoke with Dr Shanida Nataraja, about the most recent scientific findings on the connection of meditation and the brain as well as the implications that such understanding could have on healthcare, education and our spiritual development. Dr Shanida Nataraja: I grew up in a household in which meditation was very much part of everyday life.
SC: There is a large variety of meditation techniques and names given to these techniques, and for someone who is not familiar and just beginning to explore meditation this can be a bit confusing.
SN: Meditation, irrespective of the form it takes, has a number of defining characteristics. The other thing the research shows is that there are a number of changes in the brain during meditation that can perhaps shed light on the subjective experiences that people have when they meditate. During mediation, you first have to still the mind and switch off all the thoughts, and in that silence, having access to the right brain way of thinking and perceiving, as well as the left brain way of thinking and perceiving, insights can spontaneously occur. SC: Different instruments are being used to study the brain when people are meditating, and you have mentioned that some of these instruments could be used as tools for a person to get feedback as to how they are meditating. There has been an enormous body of research that’s looked into the health benefits of meditation. SC: You are an advocate for the use of meditation in different areas of our modern-day life. SN: I think that meditation has a number of potential applications, if you want to discuss it in that way. I also think that meditation plays a huge role in terms of optimizing our performance and that is especially relevant in the case of the work place. SN: I think the key problem in many cases is being able to provide a compelling argument to the funding bodies within the health system that dictate how the money is spent and what treatments, including supportive treatments, can be made available for patients. In terms of my own health, I’ve seen that meditation has taken me from being someone who was borderline hypertensive, to someone who has perfect blood pressure.
SN: So far what we have talked about in terms of the benefits of meditation and the effects on the brain and the body of the practitioner is one level of understanding the effects of meditation.
Spirituality provides a richer context for the experiences that we begin to have as a result of the practice of meditation.
The sheer number of brain cells that we have, and how those brain cells connect with each other to form a biological network that can adopt an infinite number of possible configurations, is mind-boggling.
Every time you catch yourself thinking a thought, while trying not to think a thought, you will become hungry for the ability to not think a thought.


Zero thoughts is the best rest you can give your mind as each time you think zero thoughts, energy is gathered from higher energy sources.
In fact, the ability to relax the mind and be in zero thought has been proven to renew the body better than sleep. Higher thinking does not mean better, it merely is the degree to which you control your thoughts in accordance with the one true self. Get a head start with fall planting for spring growthYou've weeded, tilled and tossed all your viable waste in the compost heap.
Both my parents meditated and I was therefore exposed to a number of different meditative traditions as I was growing up.
If we look at all the different types of meditation, we can see that they usually involve a technique or practice that is very clearly defined and is taught to the practitioner. And to me, that is really a key step forward for us, in that, here you have an illness that is an area of huge unmet need, and meditation has been shown to really help those people and give rise to a lot of benefit in terms of their emotional state. We are now seeing a large number of companies, such as Google, that are now providing meditation to their employees.
Meditation addressing the psychological impact of disease on patients and their need for psychological and emotional support. The benefits of meditation extend far and beyond the time you may actually sit in a room meditating. The effects of meditation on the spiritual well-being of the practitioner, as well as the effects on their life and their way of interacting with the world, is another layer. As meditation offers you access to a different way of thinking and perceiving, a spiritual framework to the practice of meditation gives the practitioner some way of reconciling the experiences that they have during their meditation into their everyday lives.
Subjective experiences of meditators with this optimal brain wave pattern reveal that they experience bliss in this state.
With all that we do, process and think via 10% of our brain, no wonder so many if us medicate or intoxicate our minds to mimic true feelings of rest and respite. We can claim to be resting our mind and body by listening to natural sounds or thinking about one word etc. The link following this statement is an article written about research on this topic and it reveals what scientist discovered about meditation being more rejuvenating than sleep. At school, I became entranced by science and this interest led to me doing a PhD in neuroscience to deepen my understanding of how the brain gives rise to the human behavior that we can see.
I think it was one of those things whereby, when you are a child, you don’t necessarily want to do what your parents do.
You have the Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) meter, which basically measures the resistance of your skin, which seems to be an indirect measure of your level of alertness.


This technology can have a lot of applications in terms of meditation because a lot of people try different types of meditation and can’t quite find the right type for them, or perhaps they are unsure about whether using a mantra or the breath as an effective way of reaching this state of relaxed alertness. Here in the UK, mindfulness based cognitive therapy (MBCT) it is now accepted by some of the regulatory bodies that dictate the types of treatment available to patients. In all of these patients, he has really shown that meditation can have a huge impact, in terms of not only alleviating symptoms and enhancing quality of life, but also just improving the individual’s ability to cope with the disease or its treatment. I am a strong believer that you can practice meditation, especially the kind of non-denominational MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) that Jon Kabat-Zinn put forward, and you can derive benefits from doing so. This is the hardest thing to do and as you attempt to do so, you will began to understand your own level of self-control.
It seemed almost a natural step for me to turn my attention to meditation, to explore whether meditation has any effect on the brain, and, if so, what did that mean for us as human beings.
For me meditation is anything that is a mental technique that promotes stilling the mind and stilling the body. Meditation gives us a tool by which we can switch our brain activity from the left to the right brain, because sustained attention is a right-brained function, and in doing so, we gain access to a different way of thinking and perceiving.
This provides a concrete basis for an experience that meditators have been reporting over the years.
And so what the GSR does is it gives the meditator insight into what’s happening in their body and mind and the impact that different techniques can actually have on their internal state. However, there are also more deep-rooted effects of meditation that are linked to the use of meditation as part of a spiritual life. What the GSR is able to do is measure that response and give us a sense of how alert we are.
Especially for beginners in meditation, using the GSR can give the practitioner some insight into what techniques seems to be work better than others.
I just don’t think we have the instruments that can detect the subtle energy changes brought by meditation. In that respect, I see meditation as being a very cheap way of essentially giving patients a tool that they can use that really empowers them to take responsibility for their own health. Meditation can be part of a new healthcare system where the patient takes as much of the responsibility as the doctor, not only tackling disease but also maintaining health. But we do know that meditation is a tool that can change brain activity to bring it closer to this optimal, high-performance brain wave pattern.



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