After spending time in the mountains of Nepal, a University of Victoria scientist returned with new findings about human brain and benefits of meditation. Olav Krigolson, a neuroscientist was in Nepal conducting research on the effects of high altitude and when he got a chance to work with buddhist monks at a nearby monastery, he studied about the benefits of meditation.
Krigolson said similar research has been done, but, by being at the monastery, his group was able to gather a large sample size of 27 monks, all of them well practised in meditation. “Whenever you are trying to establish a scientific truth, you need large numbers,” he said. “So when this opportunity presented itself, we just said, ‘Oh, we have to do this”. Krigolson’s work was done in partnership with Gordon Binsted of the University of British Columbia’s faculty of health and social development.
To conduct their experiment, the scientists used a headband equipped with an electroencephalograph, or EEG. EEG measures heart rate, body temperature, respiratory rate, muscle tension and brain waves. The scientists reworked the software to measure and record the monks’ brain activities before and during meditation.
The measurements recorded significantly showed an increase in brain signals associated with concentration and relaxation during meditation. The signals also demonstrated activities associated with synchronizing the brain’s various functions like emotion or mathematical thinking.
The scientists also tested the after effects of meditation on cognitive function. The monks played a simple video game where they were supposed to count the number of blue circles appearing in the screen filled mostly with green circles. Their accuracy rate was much better after meditation.
“Better synchronization is good,” he said. “It means your brain is functioning more smoothly.”
Krigolson said his research might lead to diagnostic tools that could be used to test a person’s effectiveness while dealing with fatigue. Hospitals are showing interest, particularly with doctors and other medical staff working long shifts.
They were also quite jovial, Krigolson said. “My own sense was that monks are quiet, serious guys, but it was quite the opposite — they were happy, upbeat and laughing all the time.”