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The Science of Automatic Self-Transcending Meditation

The Science of Automatic Self-Transcending Meditation

Introduction

Today, we're delving into the fascinating world of meditation and its impact on our brains. Specifically, we'll be exploring a pilot study that investigates the effects of Automatic Self-Transcending (AST) meditation on cognition, brain activity, and autonomic arousal. So, grab your favorite beverage, get cozy, and let's dive into the science of meditation!

Understanding Automatic Self-Transcending (AST) Meditation

Automatic self-transcending (AST) is a unique form of meditation that involves minimal cognitive control, leading to a state of transcendence. Unlike other forms of meditation that require focused attention, AST creates a transitional state of consciousness not mediated by voluntary processes. This technique falls under the category of null-directed methods (NDM), which includes practices like Transcendental Meditation (TM) and Zen satori. During AST meditation, individuals experience a state of "Stilled" thoughts and gain "Pure Awareness," characterized by the absence of sensory and mental contents.

The Electroencephalography (EEG) Activity during AST

The study focuses on the electroencephalography (EEG) activity during AST meditation, a way to noninvasively measure brain activity, showing increased activity in the frontal cortex of the brain during AST. Additionally, functional magnetic resonance imaging studies have shown increased blood oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) in frontal areas during meditation, indicating enhanced awareness and decreased motor activity.

Immediate Effects of AST Meditation

The pilot study aimed to investigate the immediate effects of AST meditation on cognitive function, EEG activity, and autonomic arousal. The study involved three healthy AST meditation volunteers, each with varying years of meditative practice. The volunteers underwent a protocol involving simultaneous recording of EEG and skin conductance, followed by a 20-minute AST meditation session. The results revealed immediate beneficial effects on cognition and executive control after AST meditation, as evidenced by different patterns of P300 and skin conductance activity.

Characterizing Frontal EEG Synchrony

In addition to studying the immediate effects, the research also aimed to characterize the frontal EEG synchrony during resting state, cognitive activity, and AST mental states using both traditional EEG and wireless EEG. The findings showed an overall increase in the frontal coherence of alpha1 and beta bands during AST, compared to other mental states. Notably, the study demonstrated that wireless EEG exhibited similar characteristics to traditional EEG, indicating its potential for describing cortical dynamics during AST.

Implications and Future Research

The findings of this pilot study shed light on the immediate effects of AST meditation on cognition, brain activity, and autonomic arousal. The results not only highlight the beneficial impact of AST meditation on cognitive function but also demonstrate the potential of wireless EEG in studying meditation practices in natural environments. This opens up avenues for further research into the neurological and cognitive effects of meditation, paving the way for a deeper understanding of its mechanisms and potential applications in various settings.

So, there you have it! A glimpse into the intriguing world of AST meditation and its effects on our brains. It's incredible to see how practices like meditation can have tangible impacts on our cognitive function and brain activity. As research in this field continues to unfold, we may uncover even more fascinating insights into the power of mindfulness and transcendence.

Until next time, keep exploring and staying curious about the wonders of the human mind!


Citation: Lucas Galdino et al., “Effects of the Automatic Self-Transcending Meditation on Cognition and Mental States in the EEG, Skin Conductance and Behavioral Performance: A Pilot Study,” October 14, 2022, https://doi.org/10.1101/2022.10.11.511756.

Glossary

  • Alpha 1 Band Oscillation: Refers to the rhythmic electrical activity in the brain at a frequency of 8-10 Hz, associated with a state of relaxation and increased awareness.

  • Autonomic Arousal: The physiological response of the autonomic nervous system, including changes in heart rate, blood pressure, and skin conductance, in response to emotional or cognitive stimuli.

  • Frontal EEG Synchrony: The coordinated electrical activity in the frontal lobes of the brain, particularly in the alpha1 and beta bands, which is associated with cognitive processes and mental states.

  • Cognitive Function: Refers to the mental processes involved in acquiring knowledge, understanding, and using information. It includes abilities such as attention, memory, problem-solving, and decision-making.

  • Neurological and Cognitive Effects of Meditation: The impact of meditation practices on the brain's structure, function, and cognitive processes, including attention, memory, and emotional regulation. This area of study explores how meditation influences the nervous system and mental functions.

  • Mindfulness and Transcendence: Practices that involve focused attention and heightened awareness of the present moment (mindfulness) and experiences of going beyond ordinary consciousness (transcendence). These practices are often associated with meditation and self-reflection.