Wellness/The mind: Those who meditate have long believed in its healing power, and now science is adding facts to faith
This is your brain: shallow, squiggly, erratic lines. This is your brain on meditation: deep, graceful, synchronized lines.
With an electroencephalograph and a willing subject, Alarik Arenander demonstrates the effects meditation has on brainwaves to a curious crowd gathered at a Portland hotel.
“See that?” Arenander asks, pointing excitedly to lines dancing on a screen. “The bigger they get, the more parts of the brain are working together.”
Arenander, who has a doctorate in neuroscience and teaches at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, frequently takes his show on the road to promote Transcendental Meditation.
– Is TM a religion?
For centuries, those who practice meditation have believed in its power. Now, science is putting the facts in faith, proving the physical benefits of sitting in silent meditation.
“The body loves it when the mind shuts up,” says Dr. Philip Shapiro, a Portland psychiatrist.
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles recently released a study showing the favorable effects meditating has on blood pressure and insulin and glucose levels. This fall, Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research in Portland will publish a study showing improvements in the weight and blood sugar and cholesterol levels of newly diagnosed Type II diabetics who followed a regime of meditation, diet and herbs.
“I frequently recommend meditation to patients,” says Dr. Charles Elder, a Portland internist who worked on the Kaiser Permanente study. “It is a very straightforward and pragmatic thing we can do to protect our nervous system from stress.”
The more data collected on meditation, Elder says, the more comfortable traditionally trained physicians feel recommending it.
For Dr. Philip Shapiro, a Portland psychiatrist, integrating Eastern practices into his Western medical and psychiatric training came gradually, but naturally.
“I bobbed and weaved my way through a number of teachers and developed an understanding of how important and how effective meditation and other spiritual practices are,” he says.
With 30 years of experience in meditation and yoga, Shapiro runs workshops based on his book, “Healing Power: Ten Steps to Pain Management and Spiritual Evolution” (Authorhouse, 372 pages, $19.95).
“It’s like a diet and exercise program for the inside,” Shapiro says.
So what about East being East and West being West? With apologies to Kipling, the twain have met and are getting along quite well.
“Science and religion shouldn’t be at odds. They are both just trying to get at what’s really going on here,” says Ed “Edrid” Riddle of Portland, a retired engineer who hosts frequent meditation retreats. Some people use the scientific method and others take a spiritual approach, Riddle says, but all are “trying to get clarity, trying to expand and organize perceptions” of our world.
Riddle practices Dzogchen, a form of Tibetan Buddhism. He describes the goal as “becoming aware of awareness.”
That concept may be too enigmatic for New Age newbies. But it may simply be another way to describe what Arenander seeks to measure with his EEG. Some meditators eventually reach a point of “total brain coherence,” he says. Those deep, graceful synchronized brain waves experienced during mediation become a constant reality.
“They reach a state of inner peace and contentment and intuition and connection to the universe,” Arenander says. “The word is bliss.”
Now, that’s something to meditate on.