The ancient spiritual practise of meditation has become widely recognised as a potent tool for the enhancement of mental and emotional wellbeing. One particular component of meditation – the cultivation of mindfulness– has received much research attention in recent years. Mindfulness involves directing non-judgemental attention toward present-moment experiences, and its sought-after effects include improved quality of life, increased focus, and reduced stress. Several clinical trials have revealed the efficacy of mindfulness practises to alleviate mental and emotional disorders like depression, anxiety and ADHD, and brain-imaging studies are now beginning to uncover which areas of the brain underlie the changes in consciousness and personality traits brought about by meditation.
We used magnetoencephalography (MEG) to measure the changes in brain waves that occur during meditation, and found that certain alterations correlated strongly with the subjective experience of “unity” and reduced self-awareness. These results are among the first to reveal how meditation calms and silences the mind. A further study carried out by the Beckley/Sant Pau Research Programme found that mindfulness scores tend to increase by a comparable amount following meditation and ayahuasca experiences, suggesting that these two ancient practises may bring about similar alterations in brain activity.
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