Meditations on the Pineal Gland
A study at National Taiwan University suggests that there is a correlation between meditation and activation of the pineal gland in the brain. fMRI brain scans were made of seven females and nine males practicing the Chinese "original quiet sitting technique." In the first phase of this technique the meditators sit chanting mantras and practicing visualizations. After this, they sit in silence for the rest of the meditation. The study found that peoples' brain patterns changed during meditation: alpha and beta wave activity decreased, while theta brain wave activity increased, during the phase of deep meditation.
The pineal gland was most active during the initial phase in which the subjects were vocalizing mantras. According to the results of the study, “Since pineal [gland] shows activation during the mental operation period of silent recitation of specific religious phrase and mental imagination of receiving spiritual energy, although the distinct internal process is still unknown, pineal seems to have certain or special functions here. These special functions may also have some interaction forms with the inner body which caused the physiological [effects]. Combining with the endocrine functions of pineal, [they] may vitalize or strengthen our corporeal [existence]. In summary, the religious meditation of receiving spiritual energy can cause correlated pineal activation and show clear brain imaging observed by fMRI, supporting the speculation that pineal plays an important role in the intrinsic awareness which might concern spirit or soul. Whether this correlation is merely a psychological effect or a real physical phenomenon [remains] to be further explored."
As background material, the researchers cite several studies previously conducted by other scientists that involve brain scans of meditating people. These studies have been done with many different types of meditation, including practices of Yogis, Tibetan and Zen Buddhists, Transcendental meditators, and Franciscan nuns. Many of these studies have shown that meditation, especially long-term practice, significantly alters the functioning of the brain.
This was also the consensus at the Investigating the Mind conference which took place in Washington D.C. in 2005. The intention of the conference was to unite neuroscientists and Buddhist meditators including the Dalai Lama, to discuss how meditation changes consciousness and the brain. According to their website, “Recent studies are showing that meditation can result in stable brain patterns and changes over both short and long-term intervals that have not been seen before in human beings and that suggest the potential for the systematic driving of positive neuroplastic changes via such intentional practices cultivated over time. These investigations may offer opportunities for understanding the basic unifying mechanisms of the brain, mind and body that underlie awareness and our capacity for effective adaptation to stressful and uncertain conditions.”
The findings of the Taiwan University study are available on Nature.com.
Image used under Creative Commons courtesy of RL Johnson.
Tristan Gulliford is a writer, dreamer, and aspiring myth-keeper
who makes electronic music under the name "Dreamcode". He is currently
attending the University of Colorado at Boulder.