Meditation tests prove Buddhists right

By Tamara McLean, AAP, July 9, 2007

Adelaide, Australia -- Science can finally prove what Buddhists have sworn by for centuries - meditation really does sharpen and clear the brain.

Tests by Adelaide researchers have revealed that as people go further into a deep meditative state, their brain rhythms shift into a pattern of focus.

This supports long-standing beliefs that the practice can improve concentration levels and alertness in daily activities.

Scientists at the Flinders Medical Centre's Centre for Neuroscience have completed the first scientific demonstration of brain activity changes in distinct meditative states.

They measured the electrical activity in the brain in a group of people as they moved from simple eyes-closed resting through the five states of meditation as defined in Buddhist teachings.

The test used electroencephalography (EEG), which relies on electrodes placed on the scalp.

The results, to be reported at the World Congress of Neuroscience in Melbourne, showed clear changes in brain activity as subjects progressed deeper into meditative states.

Alpha brainwaves, which are associated with focus and attention, initially increased and delta brainwaves, linked to drowsiness, decreased.

As participants went further into mediation the alpha brainwaves, too, started to decrease, as the brain no longer needed to make an effort to be alert.

"So instead of becoming increasingly drowsy, they apparently become more alert,'' PhD researcher Dylan DeLosAngeles said.

"This supports the idea that meditation may help your day-to-day concentration.''

Previous studies have reported mixed results about brain activity, with some research even suggesting meditators are essentially asleep.

Meditation was developed more than 2500 years ago as a way to explore consciousness and a discipline to help people achieve a more beneficial state of mind.

"Meditation is different from simply closing your eyes and relaxing,'' Mr DeLosAngeles said.

"In traditional Buddhist teaching, it requires a subject to fix their attention on a single object or action, such as breathing. "

The research will be presented at the International Brain Research Organisation's annual world congress starting this week.