The One Most Remarkable Trait Of Long-Term Meditators’ Brain
Experienced and high-level meditators share some common traits. They are generally more compassionate and mindful. They are normally more resilient and resourceful. They appear to be well grounded and at peace with life.
Moreover, according to science, their brain looks and works differently than most people’s brain.
They seem to operate at a different level of awareness, at a higher level of consciousness, we might say, from where they experience life, interact with the outside world and with the inner world, and make sense out of both.
It doesn’t only show in their actions and in their words. It also shows in their brain.
And it shows in their brain waves.
As revealed by groundbreaking research led by neuroscientist Richard J. Davidson on long-term meditators and the impact of a steady practice, their brain might be functioning in a gamma wave state— the fastest and strongest type of brain waves — all the time.
All the time.
Definitely, something unique and rare to witness.
Ordinarily, you tend to display a mix of up to five brain waves, rising and falling in different areas of the brain at the same time, depending on what you are doing and on what specific functions you are activating at a particular point in time.
This means you may show alpha in one isolated location and beta in another one. Simultaneously.
A coherent pattern of gamma waves rhythmically oscillating in synchrony across the whole brain and independent of what you might be doing, is certainly remarkable.
Even more so when such an uncommon scenario keeps repeating itself and becomes a consistent pattern of the brain activity, which then translates into an everyday state of the mind — and a quite peculiar one too.
That was the case of all the 21 Olympic-level meditators who agreed on having their brains mapped and assayed by Davidson’s team.
It’s not that we don’t show gamma waves.
We do. Of course we do.
We all experience gamma waves from time to time. It generally happens in short bursts. And it lasts no longer than a fifth of a second — R.J.Davidson
So, this is something different.
The Oscillating Brain
Your brain is a dynamic, highly integrated, multi-functional, electrochemical organ.
And it never sleeps.
There is always a certain level of chemical and electrical activity going on in there, whether you are in deep sleep or mentally alert, whether you are figuring something out or completely engrossed in meditation.
Your brain never rests.
Communication runs fast and efficient from one area to another. Information is distributed through a highly organized system of impulses, both electrical and chemical.
Neurons talk to each other. And when messages are transmitted between them, it generates a distinctive and rhythmic electrical pattern, that can be now easily detected and measured using EEG — electroencephalographic — recordings.
Scientists call it neural oscillation.
It’s the brain wave.
The most widely accepted classification system divides them into five — so far — bandwidths or bands, going from the highest, most subtle and fastest oscillation to the lowest and slower one. Gamma being the highest and delta the lowest.
You are probably already familiar with the other three in between and their Greek names: second in line after gamma is beta, followed by the slower alpha and the still lower theta.
Each of them corresponds to broadly different functions and distinctive mental and brain activities. It reflects and “talks about” a unique state or level of consciousness. It comes with its own frequency and unique set of characteristics.
So, advanced meditators seem to have a thing for gamma waves, that is the most recently discovered range, the fastest and strongest brain wave with a frequency between 30 and 100 Hz — or cycles per second.
Quite interestingly, such high frequency may be associated with heightened states of consciousness and flashes of insight.
We all have experienced that. Haven’t we?
Gamma Or The Insight Wave
We all access gamma waves. From time to time and for short moments. When that happens, everything clicks together.
It’s pure bliss. It’s sudden realization. It’s creative insight. It’s the experience of oneness. It’s the Eureka moment.
It’s the instant when all your senses come to life, simultaneously, into one single experience.
Gamma waves are usually associated with heightened perception, high level of information processing and brain synchronization. They seem to appear and can be detected when different regions of the brain harmonize and neural pathways start oscillating at the same rhythm, in perfect synchrony.
As explained by psychologist Daniel Goleman, co-author of Richard Davidson on the book that tells the story of this jaw-dropping discovery — Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body:
We get gamma when we bite into an apple or we imagine biting into one. And for a brief period, a split second, inputs from taste, sound, smell, vision, all of that comes together in that imagined bite into the apple.
We all harness gamma waves, at times. Long-term meditators, though, show gamma consistently and as a lasting trait. No matter what they are doing, the gamma state is their everyday state of mind.
And that is something that science has never seen before — Daniel Goleman —
How does it feel like?
Deeply Relaxed Yet Alert
The 21 yogis and lifelong meditators, who took part in Davidson’s research, describe it as an extraordinary level of alertness combined with a profound state of relaxation. A spaciousness and vastness, a relaxed readiness to whatever may be.
“It’s very spacious and you are wide open. You are prepared for whatever may come”
You probably know how it feels. You may have been there already even for just a few seconds.
It’s a shift in consciousness. It’s human nature and it’s within everyone’s reach.
All beings by nature are Buddha, as ice by nature is water. Apart from water there is no ice; apart from beings, no Buddha — Hakuin Zenji, “Song of Zazen” as translated by Robert Aitken
It’s the great human potential and it’s yours by birthright. You just have to claim it.
The mind has to be quiet to access gamma.
Relax and be aware.
This is what the age-old practice of meditation is all about. It’s about being aware. It’s about immersing yourself in the moment and in what you are doing, whatever that may be.
You meditate by being aware, and relaxing. It’s very simple — Mingyur Rinpoche —
Just Be Aware
Your brain will take care of the rest. And the rest will take care of itself.