Science and meditation

Day 15 & 16

(I usually try to avoid getting on the internet at all on Sundays, which is why I didn’t blog yesterday.)


I found myself wondering what the brain chemistry is behind meditation. A quick search on the internet reveals a smattering of different articles, but nothing that clear cut.

1. The most straight forward research suggests that regular meditation raises serotonin levels. Serotonin is necessary to feeling stable and balanced mood-wise.

2. Another study suggests that regular meditation can physically change the brain so that it has more folds (gyrification)! This may allow it to process information faster. Which seems odd, we tend to think of zen monks as being calmer than most, not faster thinkers.

3. Another study suggests that meditation may make us less susceptible to pain. Again, that’s cool, but it’s not why we meditate.

4. Another study suggests that people who meditate can focus their attention better for longer, that seems like a real no brainer! And I imagine that you can get the same benefit to focus from playing chess or learning how to play piano etc. Likewise studies have found that meditation is relaxing. Again, no duh.

5.Yet another study found that long term meditators need less sleep. this might be because it increases GABA levels in the brain.

In short, there seem to be no shortage of scientific studies about meditation, but all seem to just be looking at one tiny piece of the puzzle. None are able to give us a broad big picture so far. This is no surprise as science is by nature reductionist, it works by taking something complicated and reducing it down to smaller parts. Ultimately I’m fine with that. I like sitting down to do something that science still hasn’t figured all out and mapped out in a flow chart. Meditation is ancient, and in many ways just how it works, and exactly what it does is a bit of a mystery. Even if it is also very simple. Just breathe.

One Comment on “Science and meditation

  1. Pingback: What I learned from 21 days of meditation | Anthony Alvarado

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