Buddhist-derived meditation practices are currently being employed as a popular form of health promotion. While meditation programs draw inspiration from Buddhist textual sources for the benefits of meditation, these sources also acknowledge a wide range of other effects beyond health-related outcomes. The Varieties of Contemplative Experience study investigates meditation-related experiences that are typically underreported, particularly experiences that are described as challenging, difficult, distressing, functionally impairing, and/or requiring additional support. A mixed-methods approach featured qualitative interviews with Western Buddhist meditation practitioners and experts in Theravāda, Zen, and Tibetan traditions. Interview questions probed meditation experiences and influencing factors, including interpretations and management strategies. A follow-up survey provided quantitative assessments of causality, impairment and other demographic and practice-related variables. The content-driven thematic analysis of interviews yielded a taxonomy of 59 meditation-related experiences across 7 domains: cognitive, perceptual, affective, somatic, conative, sense of self, and social. Even in cases where the phenomenology was similar across participants, interpretations of and responses to the experiences differed considerably. The associated valence ranged from very positive to very negative, and the associated level of distress and functional impairment ranged from minimal and transient to severe and enduring. In order to determine what factors may influence the valence, impact, and response to any given experience, the study also identified 26 categories of influencing factors across 4 domains: practitioner-level factors, practice-level factors, relationships, and health behaviors. By identifying a broader range of experiences associated with meditation, along with the factors that contribute to the presence and management of experiences reported as challenging, difficult, distressing or functionally impairing, this study aims to increase our understanding of the effects of contemplative practices and to provide resources for mediators, clinicians, meditation researchers, and meditation teachers.
This work aimed to determine whether (1)H magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS), diffusion-weighted imaging (DWI) and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) are correlated with years of meditation and psychological variables in long-term Zen meditators compared to healthy non-meditator controls.
Zen Buddhist meditative practices emphasize the long-term, mindful training of attention and awareness during one’s ordinary daily-life activities, the shedding of egocentric behaviors, and the skillful application of one’s innate compassionate resources of insight-wisdom toward others and oneself. This review focuses on how such a comprehensive approach to training the brain could relate to a distinctive flavor of Zen: its emphasis on direct experience, with special reference to those major acute states of awakening that create deep transformations of consciousness and behavior. In Japanese, these advanced states are called kensho and satori. Ten key concepts are reviewed. They begin by distinguishing between the concentrative and receptive forms of meditation, noticing the complementary ways that they each train our normal “top-down” and “bottom-up” modes of attentive processing. Additional concepts distinguish between our two major processing pathways. The self-centered, egocentric frame of reference processes information in relation to our body (our soma) or to our mental functions (our psyche). The other-centered frame of reference processes information anonymously. Its prefix, allo- simply means “other” in Greek. Subsequent concepts consider how these useful Greek words-ego/allo, soma/psyche-correlate with the normal functional anatomy of important thalamo ↔ cortical connections. A plausible model then envisions how a triggering stimulus that captures attention could prompt the reticular nucleus to release GABA; how its selective inhibition of the dorsal thalamus could then block both our higher somatic and psychic cortical functions; so as to: (a) delete the maladaptive aspects of selfhood, while also (b) releasing the direct, all-inclusive, globally-unified experience of other. Two final concepts consider how the long-term meditative training of intuitive functions relates to certain kinds of word-free spatial tasks that involve insightful creative problem-solving.
Bodily training typically evokes behavioral and perceptual gains, enforcing neuroplastic processes and affecting neural representations. We investigated the effect on somatosensory perception of a three-day Zen meditation exercise, a purely mental intervention. Tactile spatial discrimination of the right index finger was persistently improved by only 6 hours of mental-sensory focusing on this finger, suggesting that intrinsic brain activity created by mental states can alter perception and behavior similarly to external stimulation.
Breathwalk is a science of combining specific patterns of footsteps synchronized with the breathing. In this study, we developed a multimedia-assisted Breathwalk-aware system which detects user’s walking and breathing conditions and provides appropriate multimedia guidance on the smartphone. Through the mobile device, the system enhances user’s awareness of walking and breathing behaviors. As an example application in slow technology, the system could help meditator beginners learn “walking meditation,” a type of meditation which aims to be as slow as possible in taking pace, to synchronize footstep with breathing, and to land every footstep with toes first. In the pilot study, we developed a walking-aware system and evaluated whether multimedia-assisted mechanism is capable of enhancing beginner’s walking awareness while walking meditation. Experimental results show that it could effectively assist beginners in slowing down the walking speed and decreasing incorrect footsteps. In the second experiment, we evaluated the Breathwalk-aware system to find a better feedback mechanism for learning the techniques of Breathwalk while walking meditation. The experimental results show that the visual-auditory mechanism is a better multimedia-assisted mechanism while walking meditation than visual mechanism and auditory mechanism.
Modern exponents of mindfulness meditation promote the therapeutic effects of “bare attention”-a sort of non-judgmental, non-discursive attending to the moment-to-moment flow of consciousness. This approach to Buddhist meditation can be traced to Burmese Buddhist reform movements of the first half of the 20th century, and is arguably at odds with more traditional Theravāda Buddhist doctrine and meditative practices. But the cultivation of present-centered awareness is not without precedent in Buddhist history; similar innovations arose in medieval Chinese Zen (Chan) and Tibetan Dzogchen. These movements have several things in common. In each case the reforms were, in part, attempts to render Buddhist practice and insight accessible to laypersons unfamiliar with Buddhist philosophy and/or unwilling to adopt a renunciatory lifestyle. In addition, these movements all promised astonishingly quick results. And finally, the innovations in practice were met with suspicion and criticism from traditional Buddhist quarters. Those interested in the therapeutic effects of mindfulness and bare attention are often not aware of the existence, much less the content, of the controversies surrounding these practices in Asian Buddhist history.
Over the past several years meditation practice has gained increasing attention as a non-pharmacological intervention to provide health related benefits, from promoting general wellness to alleviating the symptoms of a variety of medical conditions. However, the effects of meditation training on brain activity still need to be fully characterized. Sleep provides a unique approach to explore the meditation-related plastic changes in brain function. In this study we performed sleep high-density electroencephalographic (hdEEG) recordings in long-term meditators (LTM) of Buddhist meditation practices (approximately 8700 mean hours of life practice) and meditation naive individuals. We found that LTM had increased parietal-occipital EEG gamma power during NREM sleep. This increase was specific for the gamma range (25-40 Hz), was not related to the level of spontaneous arousal during NREM and was positively correlated with the length of lifetime daily meditation practice. Altogether, these findings indicate that meditation practice produces measurable changes in spontaneous brain activity, and suggest that EEG gamma activity during sleep represents a sensitive measure of the long-lasting, plastic effects of meditative training on brain function.
Given evidence of the benefits of mindfulness for women’s sexual difficulties, we investigated the relationship between meditation experience and women’s sexual function. Women (n = 451) answered online survey questions about meditation experience, sexual function and desire, interoceptive awareness, health and mood. Women who meditated scored higher than non-meditators on measures of sexual function and desire, however there was no significant correlation between frequency/length of meditation experience and either of these domains. Global mental health was a significant predictor of both increased sexual function and desire in women who meditate. These findings suggest that, compared to women with no meditation experience, women who meditate to any extent have, on average, improved sexual function associated with better overall mental health.
Experienced meditators are able to voluntarily modulate their state of consciousness and attention. In the present study, we took advantage of this ability and studied brain activity related to the shift of mental state. Electrophysiological activity, i.e. EEG, was recorded from 11 subjects with varying degrees of meditation experience during Zen meditation (a form of open monitoring meditation) and during non-meditation rest. On a behavioral level, mindfulness scores were assessed using the Mindfulness Attention and Awareness Scale (MAAS). Analysis of EEG source power revealed the so far unreported finding that MAAS scores significantly correlated with gamma power (30-250Hz), particularly high-frequency gamma (100-245Hz), during meditation. High levels of mindfulness were related to increased high-frequency gamma, for example, in the cingulate cortex and somatosensory cortices. Further, we analyzed the relationship between connectivity during meditation and self-reported mindfulness (MAAS). We found a correlation between graph measures in the 160-170Hz range and MAAS scores. Higher levels of mindfulness were related to lower small worldedness as well as global and local clustering in paracentral, insular, and thalamic regions during meditation. In sum, the present study shows significant relationships of mindfulness and brain activity during meditation indicated by measures of oscillatory power and graph theoretical measures. The most prominent effects occur in brain structures crucially involved in processes of awareness and attention, which also show structural changes in short- and long-term meditators, suggesting continuative alterations in the meditating brain. Overall, our study reveals strong changes in ongoing oscillatory activity as well as connectivity patterns that appear to be sensitive to the psychological state changes induced by Zen meditation.
Buddhist meditation practices have become a topic of widespread interest in both science and medicine. Traditional Buddhist formulations describe meditation as a state of relaxed alertness that must guard against both excessive hyperarousal (restlessness) and excessive hypoarousal (drowsiness, sleep). Modern applications of meditation have emphasized the hypoarousing and relaxing effects without as much emphasis on the arousing or alertness-promoting effects. In an attempt to counterbalance the plethora of data demonstrating the relaxing and hypoarousing effects of Buddhist meditation, this interdisciplinary review aims to provide evidence of meditation’s arousing or wake-promoting effects by drawing both from Buddhist textual sources and from scientific studies, including subjective, behavioral, and neuroimaging studies during wakefulness, meditation, and sleep. Factors that may influence whether meditation increases or decreases arousal are discussed, with particular emphasis on dose, expertise, and contemplative trajectory. The course of meditative progress suggests a nonlinear multiphasic trajectory, such that early phases that are more effortful may produce more fatigue and sleep propensity, while later stages produce greater wakefulness as a result of neuroplastic changes and more efficient processing.