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Meditation research at SpARC

Meditation research at SpARC

Research by the Spiritual Applications Research Center

The waveguard touch was purchased by Mr. Avinash Arora from the Spiritual Applications Research Center (SpARC) in Rajasthan, India. The research done at SpARC by neuroscience researcher Mr. Kanishka Sharma, which was recently presented at the 2016 International Conference of Psychology in Yokohoma, Japan, focuses on the psychophysiological basis of various states associated with Raja yoga meditation. Raja yoga is a type of yoga that has been widely practiced in India and beyond for many centuries. Although there is some research available that indicates potential health benefits related to practicing yoga (Sukhsohale, Phatak, Sukhsohale & Agrawal, 2012; Chattha, Nagarantha, Padmalatha, Nagendra, 2008), research on the effect of meditation on cognition is rather sparse. SpARC is dedicated to exploring the cognitive effects of Raja yoga meditation.

Setup of meditation research

The current study consisted of a group of long-term meditators and a control group, ranging in age from 30 to 50 years. For this experiment, a gel EEG cap was used for the signal acquisition.

The SpARC team has experienced some major disadvantages of gelled electrodes. Long setup times, difficulty finding participants, and cross connections due to excess gel insertion have caused the SpARC team to look for alternatives to the conventional EEG.

There are several requirements that EEG equipment used in meditation research needs to fulfill:

  • Complete relaxation and focus are paramount for successful meditation. Distractions may induce a different recorded electrophysiology and dilute the interpretation of the EEG recording. Therefore the EEG cap needs to be comfortable in order to avoid interfering with the paradigm of the study.
  • High density EEGs are vital to ensure a detailed overview of which brain areas are activated during meditation.
  • Accurate acquisition of lower frequency bands (alpha and theta).
  • Quick setup time and easy application.

Designed as a solution for the challenges above, waveguard touch is seen as a perfect alternative for future research for SpARC.

Figure 1: The waveguard touch being used at SpARC.

Outcomes of research

An increase in alpha and theta frequency band energy and coherence was found during and after meditation. These results indicate a relaxed mind and confirm the existence of the state of meditation that occurs during Raja yoga.

Figure 2 shows the brain connectivity that was measured in the control group and in the long-term meditators. A score of 1 (red) indicates a high degree of brain connectivity, whereas .834 (blue) denotes a lower degree of brain connectivity. The observed brain connectivity among long-term meditators was substantially higher than in the control group, which implies that Raja yoga meditation can potentially increase brain connectivity.

Figure 2: Connectivity between brain nodes in control group (left) and in long-term meditators (right).

Another aspect that was explored during this study is source localization. The high electrode density enables source localization with great resolution and accuracy. It was found that many different regions of the brain were activated, such as the insula, the superior temporal gyrus, the inferior and superior parietal lobule, the post central gyrus, the anterior cingulate cortex, and the transverse and the medial temporal gyrus.

Psychological testing showed a decreased number of mistakes on a continuous performance task after meditation. The performance on an attention network test showed faster decision making and high alertness in long-term meditators.

Summary

This study tentatively shows cognitive benefits of Raja yoga. However, more research is necessary to describe the cognitive effects that meditation may have. SpARC will continue to explore how meditation affects cognition. Future research will focus on visual consciousness, perceptual and attentional engagement, and cognitive control displayed by Raja yoga meditators.

SpARC researchers will use the waveguard touch and dry EEG equipment for future research, because of its high electrode density, short application time and subject comfort. SpARC would recommend this setup for other researchers in the field of cognitive science.

References and publications of related topics

  1. Chattha, R., Nagarathna, R., Padmalatha, V, Nagendra, H.R., 2008. Effect of yoga on cognitive functions in climacteric syndrome: a randomised control study. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology 115(8). 991-1000.
  2. Fiedler, P., Strohmeier, D., Hunold, A., Griebel, S., Mühle, R., Schreiber, M., Pedrosa, P., Vasconcelos, B., Fonseca, C., Vaz, F. and Haueisen, J., 2016. Modular multipin electrodes for comfortable dry EEG. Presented at the 38th Annual International Conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society (EMBS)
  3. Sukhsohale, N.D., Phatak, M.S., Sukhsohale, S.D., Agrawal, S.B., 2012. Does Raja yoga meditation bring out physiological and psychological general wellbeing among practitioners of it? International Journal of Collaborative Research on Internal Medicine and Public Health, 4 (12), 2000-2012.
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