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Meditation Improves Gamma Synchrony In Buddhist Monks

Gamma waves are the fastest brainwaves. They oscillate from around 35 Hz up to 100 Hz. These brainwaves are commonly associated with attention, learning and conscious perception.

Research conducted on Zen Buddhist monks demonstrated high-level gamma wave synchrony, a state associated with robust brain function and the synthesis of conscious activity.

The findings were published in the National Academy of Sciences and make for interesting reading in terms of training the brain through meditation.

Study Authors

The research was conducted at The University of Wisconsin, a top-ranked research institution located in Madison, Wisconsin. The goal was to compare the brainwave patterns of Zen Buddhist Monks to a group of students with no previous meditative experience (1).

The team was led by psychology and psychiatry professor Richard Davidson and Waisman Center scientist Antoine Lutz.

The study findings suggest that meditation is a form of mental training that relies on mechanisms in the brain — known as neural synchrony — involved in the holistic coordination of brain activity and could produce both short-term and long-term change in the brain.

Study Design

The researchers used electroencephalograms (EEGs) to measure the brainwave activity of 10 experienced Zen Buddhist monks. They compared the monks to a control group of eight college students who had no prior experience but were taught meditation before the experiment.

The study subjects were required to enter a state of meditation several times. This was alternated with a resting state.

The type of meditation the subjects were asked to engage in is known as loving kindness meditation. In this type of meditation the meditator does not focus on an object or image. Instead the focus is on generating compassion toward all sentient beings.

Results

The researchers found that prior to meditation, in the resting state, the two groups had different baseline brainwave patterns. The Buddhist monks had a higher ratio of gamma rhythms to slower oscillatory rhythms than the control group. This suggests that the monk's meditation practice has changed their brain state over time.

During meditation this difference increased sharply. While meditating, the monks produced gamma waves that were very high in amplitude and showed long-range gamma synchrony.

So rather than “relax” the monks, the meditation induced a serene attention – which in of itself is a form of relaxation. Indeed, trained musicians have been shown to exhibit similar levels of gamma synchrony.

The researchers noted that the waves from disparate brain regions were in near lockstep, like multiple jump ropes rotating together in synchrony. This synchrony was sustained over long periods and, post meditation the monks continued to show high-amplitude gamma synchrony compared with the control group (2).

Conclusion

These findings suggest that meditation is capable of changing brainwave activity in the long term. Loving kindness meditation, specifically, can be cultivated and improved through practice and is not generally a fixed characteristic of a person.

The results suggest that meditation is more than just a quest for spiritual harmony. Meditation may help the coordination of otherwise scattered groups of neurons and create better neural synchrony, gamma synchrony in particular.

Interestingly, a lack of gamma synchrony indicates discordant mental activity such as schizophrenia. Gamma synchrony helps to bind the brain's numerous sensory and cognitive operations into stable consciousness

Producing a healthy level of gamma wave synchrony therefore helps with attention and focus, and subsequently the learning and absorption of information. This makes us sharper and more energetic in terms of intention and motivation.

If you'd like to increase gamma wave production and improve your gamma synchrony, listen to our Gamma Boost meditation. 

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