This is the $64,000 question – How it works ? – people have pondered over this for centuries
…Here are the answers for those of you who wish to understand this completely
There has been no 100 percent agreement or complete understanding before on the answers to this question of “How Does Meditation Work”,
These machines, such as the fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging machine), and more recent still, the PET (Positron Emission Tomography machine)
…allow us – when they are coupled with an EEG machine recording at the same time,
…to be able to see what different parts of the brain are doing at any one time.
…And also their connections – and therefore give us a better idea of ‘How Does Meditation Work’
…and what effects things like meditation have on the brain.
Let’s look at a few details –
You have to remember that the brain is a bit like a super-computer, but much, much more complex.
These ‘Brainwave’ patterns have been given names that are taken from the Greek alphabet – Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Theta
– and it has been found that each one corresponds to a particular mental and/or physical state –
… let’s look quickly at each one in turn;-
Alpha brainwaves occur in someone who is relaxed, calm yet mentally alert, and also when we are “daydreaming” – they are also typically found in light meditation or light hypnosis.
Beta brainwaves are associated with intense concentration, busy thinking and problem solving. (Curiously they are also seen with some kinds of prescription sleep medications – especially those called Benzodiazepines – most of which have names that end with “…epam”).
Gamma brainwaves are found with high power mental activity, problem solving and also in fear states and are also involved with consciousness – they are also increased in meditation – especially with very experienced meditators. (This is thought to be because of their strong integrating effect).
Delta brainwaves are found in deep sleep or other states of unconsciousness, and also often found in young children (but nobody knows why, which I find very interesting and intriguing!)
Theta brainwaves are found very commonly in children, teenagers and some young adults – they occur when we are in a drowsy, relaxed, daydreaming, relaxed or tranquil state,
…like when we are just waking up, or just about to fall asleep – normally very positive and enjoyable states,
…and more common in the comparatively stress free life of children.
… (Theta waves are also found in deep meditation and deep hypnosis.)
Looking at these a bit further will give you a better idea of this question – ‘ How Does Meditation Work ?’
…and also reassure you that there is nothing magical or ‘hocus-pocus’ about the answers to ‘How Does Meditation Work !?’
If you want to learn more about the science of brainwaves in greater detail, click on the name to go to my extra attached page about this, called Brainwaves
What you should do now – is to look at where meditation, (and hypnosis), fit in with these brainwave patterns.
You can see that Meditation is associated with an increase in the Alpha, Gamma, and Theta types of brainwaves,
….what does that seem to indicate ?
If you look at what these types of waves mean, you can see that they are typically found in the following situations;-
When we are – Relaxed, alert, drowsy, daydreaming, using higher mental activity, problem solving, perception, fear and consciousness.
Let’s compare that with light hypnosis – which is associated mainly with Alpha and Theta, but typically not Gamma so much, which is interesting.
– As Gamma is associated with higher mental activity, problem solving, consciousness and fear states.
It would therefore seem that the brain is maybe even more “relaxed” in Light Hypnosis than in Light Meditation !
In light hypnosis – (that is used for things like relaxation, stopping smoking, working on obesity, and so on) –
… how it works is by creating a situation where the Alpha brainwave form is the one mainly produced.
Remember that Alpha is associated with being mentally alert, a relaxed calm state, and also when we are daydreaming.
(What I want to make Very clear here is that hypnosis does not affect consciousness, judgment, morality, or the ability to move or do anything that one wishes.
Many people have got the wrong idea that with hypnosis
– how it works is that you are “under someone else’s control”
– that is very far from the truth
– how it works is that the person being hypnotized is totally in control.)
To give two examples that I am sure most of you have personally previously experienced: –
…Almost certainly at some time you have been driving on a highway, and suddenly realized that you have not consciously been aware of driving the last five miles,
– yet you obviously did, quite normally, or else you would have been in the ditch by now !
This has been given the name of “Highway Hypnosis” –
… and it is a simple example of self-hypnosis brought about by monotonous repetition of the same sensory inputs, (the sounds of the engine and tires, the straight white line on the road, and so on).
The second example is when you are watching something very interesting on T.V.
– have you ever noticed that if your attention is totally involved with what is being shown,
– then after a while you become aware that you don’t even see the sides of the T.V. any more, or anything around it – but just the screen !
This is in effect another form of self hypnosis !
And in both examples you were;
– – aware
– – in control
– – and just in a very relaxed but focused state.
Could we give that another name? Sure – how about Concentrated Attention
– that would obviously fit
– and curiously that is also one of the names used to describe what meditation is !
What I am getting at is that Hypnosis and Meditation are both – …in many ways –
… very similar to each other, and in fact both tend to “borrow” techniques from each other.
For example, with any type of Guided Meditation, how the meditation works is by using some of the same relaxation and mind calming techniques that are also used in light hypnosis.
Let’s look quickly at similar comparisons between Deep Meditation and Deep Hypnosis.
Firstly, deep hypnosis is used to reach states where the person being hypnotized is able to numb sensations of pain, and sometimes block them completely.
In contrast to light hypnosis – it is associated with Theta waves, as we saw above – in the same way that Deep Meditation is also associated with Theta waves.
“How Does Meditation Work ?”…..well, here’s another example, but from the Hypnosis field –
I used to use Hypnosis a lot in childbirth when I was an active Physician
– with wonderful results
– in fact I remember one lady who had delivered her first baby with someone else, and then delivered her second baby (virtually pain free) – with me – using hypnosis,
– then when she got pregnant a third time she came to me to make sure that I would do the same with the delivery of this third child
– she said – “Now I know how it works, I wouldn’t consider any other way of having a baby !”
Then, interestingly, about three years later, I was on duty in the Emergency Room of the local hospital, and she came in with a deep cut on her arm from falling off a bicycle after hitting a patch of gravel.
She had found in the past that she tended to get a mild allergic reaction to local anesthetics – so asked me to sew her up using hypnosis instead – and as she had been such a great subject and knew how it works – I agreed.
To cut a long story short, she watched me clean the wound with a scrubbing brush (as there was lots of embedded gravel), then sew her up with about 12 sutures, without feeling a thing !
We could explain ‘How Does Meditation Work’ in this case – is by her mind being in Theta brainwave mode, which is not associated with physical pain or other bodily sensations.
Was she therefore helped by Deep Meditation – or Deep Hypnosis ?
…the brainwaves for each are virtually identical !
How does meditation work in Deep Meditation ?
Deep Meditation – as practiced by some Buddhist monks for example,
… causes not only a big increase in Alpha and Gamma, but also Theta waves, and as well shows a lowering of the amplitude (or height), of each wave.
Almost as if the brain activity is slowing down and becoming calmer – (similar to what we find with very deep hypnosis).
It was also found that such monks were able to stay in this increased Theta state – even after finishing meditating !
And remember that Theta is associated with being a very tranquil state,
… and it has been said that…
“…it is normally a very positive mental state and prolonged states of the theta brain wave frequency while conscious can be extremely productive and a time of very meaningful or creative mental activity.”
You have now got a clearer idea of the original question – ‘How Does Meditation work ?’
.. and I personally find it very interesting,
…as it also shows the connections and close similarities between meditation and hypnosis.
In fact one authority has written that –
All meditation is self-hypnosis; and all self-hypnosis is meditation !
I do not completely agree with this 100 percent, but certainly each contains some parts of the other – rather like the Yin/Yang symbol below !
Getting back again to our comparison between the mind and a computer – with reference to ‘How does meditation work ?’- we can look at the following, which may make things clearer for you;-
When you go to do your Email, for example, what happens ?
Let’s say you go to your individual Email Home page, which tells you how many Emails you have and so on
… but what else is happening at the same time ?
If your page is anything like mine, then there is other “stuff” actively happening on the page
– an advertisement in the upper portion that is going on and off, or has a lot of movement
– something else flashing in the bottom right, and maybe the cursor blinking on and off continuously
– and so on.
You don’t need to know how it works to see that it is obvious that there are many things actively happening within the computer at that time – many connections going on and off – much electrical activity.
……..in other words A Barrel load of Monkeys !
(Do you remember where we came across that expression before ??!! [hint–check out the What is Meditation ? page !])
Now next you click to an individual Email – let’s say that it is very long and very interesting….what happens to the computer now ?
It is quiet and nothing else is happening – apart from the small amount of energy to keep your Email on the page, but otherwise all the electrical activity has calmed down.
And what about you?
When you were looking at the Home page, there was such a lot of “stuff” happening, that your brain was also getting lots of different sensory inputs
– and being stimulated by these whether you want it or not.
Yet another “barrel load of monkeys !?”
But when you went to the interesting Email, then all of your attention became focused on one thing and one thing only
– so much so that you were not consciously aware of the sides of the computer screen, or even other things around you.
In other words…a state of –
…wouldn’t you agree ?
Now where did we hear that phrase before ??!! (hint–look up higher on this page–look for green !)
Which answers exactly – ‘HOW DOES MEDITATION WORK ?!
Let’s carry the computer/mind comparison one step further –
After a computer has been working hard online for many hours – what does it need to do ?
-Of course ! – go offline and/or sleep – to re-organize files and sort out the day’s work.
Exactly in the same way that our minds do when we sleep !
We now know that when we are sleeping – the brain is sorting and moving information around that we have gathered during the previous day, and filing it in the relevant memory banks and so on – just like an offline computer !
How does meditation work ? – Just like both us and computers !!
I hope that this has given you a better understanding of the question – ‘How does meditation work ?’
– and I thought that it would be interesting for you if I finish with some things that maybe you didn’t know about the brain;-
The brain consumes about 75 percent of the sugar that we have in our blood.
The brain consumes about 20 percent of the oxygen that we breathe in.
The early Egyptians used to remove and discard the brains of dead people that they were making into a “mummy” – as they believed that intelligence came from the heart instead !
Several animals – including some birds and reptiles, and whales and dolphins – sleep by “closing down” one side of their brain at a time !
At any given time, we are only using between 1 and 10 percent of the capacity of our brains.
I have a USB Mass Storage Device – that I use to save all the graphics and text and so on that I am working with to produce this website.
It is about as wide as two cigarettes, almost as thick as one, and about two thirds of the length of a cigarette. It will store as much information as a set of Encyclopedias !
In the same space that the brain occupies in the skull – you could probably fit about 200 of these –
– yet all that storage potential in these 200 devices would only come to a fraction of one percent of what the human brain can store !
Nobody yet understands the incredible complexity of how it works – or even where different memories are stored in the brain.
But at least we can now understand better -‘How does meditation work ?’
Now that we have answered our question – ‘How does meditation work ?’ – we should move on.
I think that that is enough “Brain Work” for now, don’t you ?!