Some Interesting Effects of Meditation

There are, broadly speaking, two different kinds of meditation: Concentrative and mindfulness. Concentrative meditations, such as mantra meditation, focus the mind exclusively on a single "object" such as a mantra or an image of a candle flame, etc. Mindfulness uses the ongoing, ever-changing, moment-to-moment experience as the focal point of concentration, such as your breath.
Lots of experiments have been done on meditators. For example, researchers tested the startle response of meditators. Usually if someone is sitting quietly but not meditating and a sudden loud noise occurs, their brainwaves show a dramatic jump. But if the sudden loud noise happens again, there is less of a dramatic jump. And if the noise continues, it gets less and less until there is hardly any response. The person has "habituated" to the sound.

That's the norm.

But the concentrative meditators had a different kind of response to the sudden loud noise: Their brainwaves did not register any jump.

The mindfulness meditators had a different reaction. They registered the loud noise with a dramatic jump. And each time the sound was made, the mindfulness meditators registered the same dramatic jump. That is, they did not habituate to the sound. Their brains responded as if each time the sound was made, it was the first time they had heard it. That's why they say mindfulness meditation can be dehypnotizing. It allows a fresh, unhabituated experience of things, preventing old habits from running the show, and allowing for new possible responses to things.

Another study, which measured concentrative meditators only, showed that those who had meditated regularly were found to get less upset at normally-upsetting stimuli, as measured by a rise in heart rate. And their heart rate returned to normal faster than non-meditators. When they measured their galvanic skin response (measuring sweat on the surface of the skin — a measure of stress), meditators showed a less stressful reaction to the stressful stimuli, and returned to normal faster.

So for example, if they show upsetting pictures to a subject, like a picture of a mutilated cat or grisly car accident, and their heart rate rises to 100 beats per minute normally and takes seven minutes to return to normal, a meditator's heart rate would only rise to, say, 90 beats per minute and return to normal in four minutes.

Adam Khan is the author of Self-Reliance, Translated and Principles For Personal Growth. Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.

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